The Critics’ Top Seven
TV Shows of 2004 (Sort Of)
go raving mad, rabies-style, when they compile their lists for the top albums
of the year and, consequently, the number of yearly Top 10 lists floating
around the internet and in magazines is astounding. End of the year
lists for the top television shows, on the other hand, pique the interest
of only a handful of TV critics, presumably because New Year’s Day cuts through
the main television season at a meaningless point. The critics apparently
save up their computations for the end of the season, or at least the midway
point. Consequently, Top 10 lists for 2004’s TV shows are hard to come
by, and roughly half of the twenty-odd lists I found applied only to new series.
hours tabulating a list of music critics’ nineteen favorite albums for my
last article, I felt a little sheepish. Surely I have better things
to do. Upon completion of that dubious task, I did a little soul searching,
with hopes of persuading myself to show a little self control when it comes
to compiling long numerical lists.
myself less guilt-ridden, I concocted a plan: compile the critics’ Top
10 TV shows of 2004. The difference: instead of spending many
hours combing the internet, entering many numbers into a database, I would
approach this lackadaisically—an afro pick instead of a lice comb, if you
will—and scribble the results on a piece of scratch paper. If I could
apply the knowledge that I gained in my Top 19 albums list to my TV list—the
knowledge that compiling lists takes many, many hours if you put a lot of
effort into it—I could whip up a Critics’ Best list in thirty minutes, or
maybe an hour tops. If I then averaged the total number of hours spent
on these two projects, those hours that I wasted on the Top 19 list look statistically
What I didn’t
take into account was the scarcity of Best Shows of 2004 lists that I alluded
to earlier. There aren’t enough to make a compilation statistically
meaningful, particularly because I was too lazy to note more than the top
three shows on each critic’s list. As a result, I could only create
a Top 7 list.
comes with a price. In my case, that price is more guilt; I am sorry
that I only have this meaningless Top 7 list to present to you, although not
guilty enough, I suppose, to go back and create a better list. Here
is the definitive, poorly-tabulated list of the TV critics’ seven favorite
shows of 2004:
- Lost, ABC – 25 points
- Desperate Housewives, ABC – 24 points
- Arrested Development, Fox – 20 points
- The Wire, HBO – 18 points
- Deadwood, HBO – 13 points
- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central – 8 points
- The Sopranos, HBO – 6 points
Top 7 list didn’t take very long, I figured I might as well compile a second
list based on the viewing trends of the Lewis household, which watches it’s
fair share of television.
- Arrested Development, Fox – As I mentioned in an
earlier article, my wife considers this to be “the funniest show in
the history of funny.” The fact that I’ve seen each episode no fewer
than two times—and the pilot at least five times—suggests that I agree with
her. Even after multiple viewings, we can’t bring ourselves to delete
the show from Tivo without a dispirited sigh. Recently, I was discussing
Arrested Development with some fans of the show, who were telling
me that they’ve begun to reevaluate their relationships with friends who
don’t like the show. I see where they’re coming from.
- The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Comedy Central – Occasionally
the contributors lay on the irony and sarcasm a little thick, but it is
mind-boggling how many top-notch lines the writers can pack into the show,
with heavy doses of the “PPFFFF—I can’t believe he just said that” type
of humor. The show likely isn’t as funny for those whose politics
swing right of John 3:16, but even the leaders of Bush’s campaign seemed
to enjoy their stints on the interviewee’s couch.
- Chapelle’s Show, Comedy Central – Not every skit clicks—at least
for a PBS-watching mid-thirties white couple—but the highs match anything
we’ve ever seen on TV. Rick James, Prince and the waters of Lake Minnetonka,
the Racial Draft, the Wayne Brady Special, I Know Black People, Charlie
Murphy’s grin: genius.
- State of Play, BBC America – This conspiracy thriller debuted
in Britain in 2003, but didn’t make its way to the U.S. until this past
spring. This mini-series’ plot took a back seat to the humor that
the script and great cast—most notably Bill Nighy and Kelly MacDonald—wrung
out of the tension.
- The Office, BBC America – The Office is brilliant
comedy, the type that is consistently painful to watch. This was particularly
true of the final “Christmas Special” episode that aired in 2004.
If this list included the episodes from past years, it would be tied at
the top with Arrested Development.
- Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness, PBS – Helen Mirren reprises
her Emmy-winning role as Jane Tennison, Detective Superintendent of the
London Metropolitan Police, after a seven-year break. This installment’s
plot, cast and acting are as good as any in this masterful series—arguably
the best TV police procedural franchise ever—and the cinematography is stunning.
- Table for Five, IFC – This is the show to watch if you’re itching
to go to a great dinner party, but don’t want to leave your house or don’t
have witty, famous friends. In each installment, actor and director
Jon Favreau hosts a dinner with four people connected with the film industry.
These actors, directors, producers and writers eat, drink, cuss, smoke cigars
and tell anecdotes. Because Favreau promises to let the guests nix
any portion that they find embarrassing, they warm to the task and consequently,
most episodes make me laugh out loud—something that rarely happens while
watching a sitcom (even though I feel a little embarrassed that I’m spending
a half an hour watching rich people eat a free meal).
- Independent Lens, PBS – This series capitalizes on the resurgent
popularity of documentaries, consistently delivering provocative and touching
snapshots of American life. Notable documentaries in the series covered
immigration, adoption, prison rodeos, polka and Dr. Seuss. “The New
Americans” documentary, which follows families and individuals from five
nations as they leave their homelands and start life in the U.S., was the
most engrossing show we watched all year.
- Foyle’s War 2, PBS – It is a pleasure just to watch suspects
squirm in this WWII police procedural, as Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle
interrogates them with a bevy of nods, blinks and soul-searching stares.
Michael Kitchen plays Foyle, who keeps southeast England safe during the
Battle of Britain. With luck, Hollywood will find Kitchen a career-defining
role, like Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, so that he gets the movie roles that
he deserves. Maybe the new Harry Potter book will include a character
that nods, blinks and stares meaningfully.
- Nature, PBS – While I’m often disappointed with National
Geographic, National Geographic Explorer and Nova,
I seldom finish an episode of Nature without wishing that I had
a spare $20,000 to travel to Croatia, Africa, British Columbia, Western
Russia, etc., plus another $100 million to give to research and preservation.