The Best Television Shows of 2008
By Bert Ehrmann
January 2, 2009
The best TV series of the 2008 season was also the best of the 2007 season –
I thought that the sophomore season of Mad Men couldn’t be as good as the first – but how wrong I was! In the second season of the show, Don (John Hamm) and Betty’s (January Jones) marriage is on the rocks, onetime secretary Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is now a copywriter in charge of (shock!!!) men and homosexual Salvatore (Bryan Batt) and wife are now seemingly a happily married couple. I can’t think of another television series with a storyline that’s more intertwined, complex and fulfilling on TV today than that of Mad Men.
Mad Men is an odd assortment of 1960s nostalgia mixed with the realities of the day. If you were a white man you ruled the world. If you were a woman you were second class at best. But what’s interesting in Mad Men is that these dynamics are in the process of shifting, and I can only imagine the casualties that will be left in this wake.
Underbelly: Underbelly is an Australian crime drama in the vein of The Sopranos that hasn’t found any cable channel here stateside that’s willing to pickup and run the series. And that’s a shame – Underbelly is one of the finest crime dramas I’ve ever seen. The difference between The Sopranos and Underbelly is that whereas The Sopranos is realistic fiction, Underbelly was based on actual events. In Underbelly, important underworld characters in control of large portions of the city are unexpectedly killed, and when the guy you’d least suspect to be in control of things starts running all of the Melbourne criminal syndicates, that’s when things REALLY start getting interesting in Underbelly.
Generation Kill: Generation Kill wasn’t technically a TV series, it was a mini-series, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that in a year of a lot of disappointing TV Generation Kill was anything but a disappointment. Based on the book of the same name, Generation Kill follows the First Recon Marines and their trip north during the opening weeks of the second war in Iraq. These soldiers, wanting to do good and help the people of Iraq, instead find themselves doing some terrible things following orders and trying to stay one step ahead of the enemy.
Chuck: For all the problems that NBC has in their primetime schedule, I none-the-less found a few of their series to be some of the best TV of the season. I originally only started watching Chuck after the first season was released on DVD last summer. I had missed the initial airing of the show last fall since the writer’s strike was looming and I didn’t want to get too attached to any of the new shows I didn’t think had much chance of surviving the strike. Regardless, when I did catch-up on Chuck, I saw just what I was missing – a fun show that doesn’t take itself too seriously with writers who have an obsession with 1980s pop-culture.
The Office: To be honest, I found the ’06-’07 season of The Office to be a letdown. It seemed as if NBC was bent on running hour-long “super-sized” episodes of the series that never seemed to gel when, it seems to me at least, The Office runs “fine tuned” at 22 minutes. Luckily, this season has ditched these extra-long episodes allowing this comedy gem to return to form. I think there is an argument to be made that this current season of The Office might just be the best ever.
Shows that were good but none-the-less weren’t good enough to be included in the top five include; My Name is Earl, Burn Notice, The Wire, Venture Bros, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Survivorman, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and Gavin & Stacy. And even though I’m not much of a fan of the show, kudos to the creative team behind The Shield and that mindbender of a final episode!
The first season of Mad Men and Chuck as well as the last few seasons of The Office are all available on DVD. The current seasons for these series are available for digital download. The entire Generation Kill mini-series is also available on DVD.