Unfortunately I’m the kind of guy who’s lousy at making lists, because I always feel I’m going to leave off something important. So this year, my list is the shortest so it’s obvious I left many things off. It was a pretty good year for TV, and with so many good shows bidding adieu, I worry that next year’s list will be short simply because there won’t be enough quality stuff to fill it out.
1. “Torchwood,” BBC America
Normally, “Doctor Who” would take the top spot on my year-end round up of favorite shows, but this year the spin-off series “Torchwood” was so strong that I’m giving it up to Captain Jack. Its sophomore season navigated an intense and fresh sci-fi vibe that was perfect for the here and now. The thing is that at this point both series (along with the more kiddie-oriented “The Sarah Jane Adventures”) have all become slices of one another. It’s the “Who”-niverse…and in order to see the bigger picture, one must be aware of every facet. The three series work apart from each other, yet gel into a whole via awareness. In any case, this year “Torchwood” delivered stronger material than Season Four of “Who,” which, while refreshing, is a trend I’d like to see reversed once Steven Moffat begins guiding the Doctor in 2010.
2. “Boston Legal,” ABC
After a somewhat tepid fourth season, the halls of Crane, Poole & Schmidt came roaring back to life for an abbreviated 13-episode final season. Nearly every installment this year has been a keeper, and David E. Kelley has done a fantastic job of balancing his usual political grandstanding with eloquent moments of character-driven drama and comedy. At the time of writing, the 2-hour series finale has yet to be unveiled, but there isn’t any reason to believe it’s going to be anything short of an ideal sendoff for James Spader, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen. The show began life as a spin-off of “The Practice“; now, if only the TV gods would allow Kelley to spin a series off “Boston Legal” that follows the relationship of Jerry Espenson (Christian Clemenson) and Katie Lloyd (Tara Summers), I’d be perfectly content to see this show ride off into the sunset.
3. “The Shield,” FX
For some reason, it almost seems easy to want to dismiss the end of the saga of Vic Mackey…but, really, that would be just plain wrong. Shawn Ryan and his cohorts have steadily delivered under-the-radar goods for 7 seasons, and the missteps have been few and far between along the way. I’m not going to miss “The Shield” like I would many a show that’s wrapping things up…like “Boston Legal,” for instance. No, this show ended at exactly the right time and on exactly the right series of corrupt, violent notes. But speaking of spin-offs, who wouldn’t want to see a half-hour cop comedy series centered around Dutch Wagenbach (Jay Karnes) and Steve Billings (David Marciano)? OK, perhaps that’s a tad over the top, so I’ll settle for a drama focused solely on Dutch, who’s had the good sense to move as far away from Farmington as possible.
Go out and buy the first season DVD box set of “Swingtown.” Here’s a show that delivered something decidedly different to network TV…and it was on CBS, no less! While it wasn’t a perfect show, it was still pretty damn good TV, and there’s been no confirmation that it’s been canceled, so clearly this is a situation where some strong DVD sales could help save an ailing show. If you haven’t seen “Swingtown,” the salacious reputation that surrounded it was wholly undeserved, as this was actually one of the more moral programs to be found on TV this year. It was about a group of decent people living in a Chicago suburb in 1976. They struggled with their marriages and with changing gender roles, but always with strong heart and good intentions. A sweetly winning combination of retro kitsch, progressive thought, and loads of groovy parties, “Swingtown” is a series that deserves at least one more season to prove its worth.