The best (and worst) of TV 2007
Thu Dec 27 2007
Photograph: Craig Blankenhorn
1 The Sopranos (HBO)
Even before the final episode aired, the last half-season of David Chase’s Garden State gangland saga embodied everything that was great about The Sopranos. Then came the Chase-directed “Made in America,” which miraculously restored Journey’s street cred and created the kind of zeitgeist moment that wasn’t supposed to be possible anymore in a fragmented, 600-channel cable universe. Lots of TV dramas are compared to novels these days, but few others (maybe only The Wire) have achieved the scope and substance of literary fiction while painting between the lines of small-screen convention. Full review
2 Mad Men (AMC)
Mere weeks after The Sopranos ended its run, David Chase protégé Matthew Weiner offered up the next great TV drama. Drawing on the stories of John Cheever and the films of Billy Wilder for inspiration, Weiner’s chronicle of the advertising world in the early 1960s instantly established itself as one of the medium’s greatest studies of class in American society. As Don Draper, creative director of the Sterling-Cooper agency, Jon Hamm displayed a George Clooney–caliber charisma that should earn him movie roles galore once the series has run its course (which hopefully won’t be for awhile).Full review
3 Friday Night Lights (NBC)
The second season, which began in October, has left some fans frustrated, but the 11 episodes that aired between January and April were close to perfect. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are never less than eerily believable as a married couple, and Britton and Aimee Teegarden have begun to edge out Gilmore Girls’ Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel as the mother-daughter pairing of the decade. On the field and off, it’s the most cinematic program on network TV by a mile. Full review
4 30 Rock (NBC)
With each successive episode, Tina Fey’s inspired sitcom went further into glorious absurdity—and strayed further from the realm of backstage satire. The bittersweet romantic travails of Fey’s Liz Lemon gave the series a strong, realistic female voice unlike anything else on the tube, while the supporting ensemble (led by Alec Baldwin) proved themselves the comedy equivalent of the ’27 Yankees. Full review
5 South Park (Comedy Central)
After ten years and 167 episodes, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s no-holds-barred cartoon continues to display stunning creativity. This year’s “Imaginationland” three-parter, featuring literally hundreds of cameos by characters from fantasy fiction and children’s books, was one of the series’ finest moments.
6 The Shield (FX)
The penultimate season of FX’s merciless police drama featured some of the best (and most overlooked) TV acting of the year courtesy of Michael Chiklis, Walton Goggins, CCH Pounder and guest star Franka Potente (Forest Whitaker, in a brief reprise of his searing role from last year, wasn’t too bad either).
7 Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Larry David’s real-life divorce got his creative juices flowing like the Mississippi. After limping over the finish line of its fifth season in 2005, Curb was on fire this year, in no small part thanks to the inspired addition of J.B. Smoove to David’s gallery of sidekicks.
8 Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi)
BSG’s hard left turn into the realm of Cylon mysticism could have been a disaster, but it quickly built to the series’ most gobsmacking cliff-hanger yet (no small feat for a program where each season has improbably ended on a more shocking note than the last). Battlestar Galactica: Razor
9 Lost (ABC)
After wandering off course during its second season and the earliest episodes of the third, the desert-island thriller pulled back on the soapiness and cranked up the intensity. New regulars Michael Emerson and Elizabeth Mitchell were consistently riveting.
10 Chuck (NBC)
It began as a mere lark, but Josh Schwartz’s slacker-spy comedy developed real heart as the relationship between Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski’s characters grew more complicated. Kevin Smith should tune in and learn a few things about the right way to do geek-culture references.
1 Big Shots (ABC)
For fans of The West Wing, Alias and The Practice who were psyched to see Joshua Malina, Michael Vartan and Dylan McDermot return to TV, this deadly dull dramedy about rich assholes was a painful reminder about why we should be careful what we ask for.
2 The Tudors (Showtime)
Casting Jonathan Rhys-Myers as a rock-star version of Henry VIII was an inspired move (the much-married king didn’t blimp out until late in life), but there’s really no excuse for decadence being this dull.
3 Private Practice (ABC)
The Grey’s Anatomy spinoff magnifies its big sister’s flaws by a factor of ten—and then adds insult to injury by wasting a cast loaded with talented TV veterans.
Final grade: The general mediocrity of the networks’ fall lineups was frustrating to say the least—for the first time in years, the fall brought a measly two new shows worth getting excited about (Chuck and Reaper), which also happened to be eerily similar to each other. Between the slim pickings and the uncertainty created by the writers’ strike, 2007 would qualify as an off year for television…if not, that is, for the summer arrival of Mad Men and the revitalization of Lost and Curb Your Enthusiasm, both of which had been starting to go in circles. After starting strong in 2006, 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights really came into their own during the winter and spring, establishing themselves as modern classics in the making. Cable’s FX shored up its status as a source of quality trash with Dirt and Damages, while David Milch’s beyond-gonzo John From Cincinnati and the explicit relationship drama Tell Me You Love Me revealed that HBO is unafraid to take chances and avoid the formulaic in its pursuit of a successor to The Sopranos.