It’s that time of year, when television critics everywhere reveal their annual 10 Best lists. Mine will be along in a couple of weeks. Before then, here’s the first installment in a my look back at 10 significant shows you likely won’t see championed in anyone’s "Best of" columns.
“Revenge” (ABC) – The year’s most surprising success story is a trashy prime-time serial in the grand tradition of “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and “Falcon Crest.” For too many years, viewers have been expected to sympathize with the everyday trials and tribulations of wealthy people who could buy their way out of almost every problem (hello, “Brothers and Sisters”). So it is indeed refreshing to once again be able to watch fabulous-looking one-percenters do terrible things to each other and suffer for their dastardly deeds. In that context, “Revenge” has been the feel-good program of the year, and it’s only going to get better when William Devane -- the formidable Gregory Sumner from “Knots Landing” -- joins the cast next month as the patriarch of the deliriously dysfunctional Grayson family.
“Tosh.0” (Comedy Central) – With apologies to E!’s “The Soup” (my usual pick), this year Comedy Central’s uncompromisingly crude “Tosh.0” was TV’s funniest show. If you think it’s easy to slap together the most shocking and unreservedly vulgar videos available on the Web and package them in a consistently entertaining manner, just compare “Tosh” to the clip crap that clogs truTV and other networks, and then get back to me. (One caveat: I’m not including G4’s genial “Web Soup” in that smackdown.) Fearless goofball Daniel Tosh may be missing a sensitivity chip or two, but I think he’s the only comedian who truly understands Generation Digital. And get this: His work is bringing families together! I’ve heard from several friends that “Tosh.0” is one of those rare shows they enjoy watching with their kids.
“Face Off” (Syfy) – After “Project Runway,” “Top Chef,” “The Next Food Network Star” and “Design Star,” I didn’t think I could muster any interest in yet another formulaic reality series in which a number of people who share a particular skill set compete to be honored as best in show by a panel of colorful judges. Then along came Syfy’s special-effects make-up competition show “Face Off” and it proved to be the happiest surprise of the year, at least for fans of science fiction and horror movies who enjoy an inside look at how the magic happens.
“Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan” (G4) – Except for the occasional documentary (such as National Geographic Channel’s “Restrepo”) or scripted effort (like Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy-Award-winning “The Hurt Locker” or FX’s short-lived Steven Bochco series “Over There”), anyone who has not served (or had a loved one serve) in either of our two long-running wars would be hard-pressed to understand in even a small way what it’s like to be there. (By contrast, those of us who grew up during the Vietnam War watched it play out every night on the evening news, sometimes in brutal bloody detail.) This is especially true of young people, which makes all the more noteworthy G4’s decision to run a weekly observational reality series about heroic soldiers who locate and dismantle IEDs in Afghanistan. Not to understate the reality of the dangers our troops in both wars face on a daily basis, but there is something about getting to know a particular group of soldiers on a weekly basis as they put their lives on the line that makes “Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan” entirely more impactful than an occasional war report on broadcast or cable news.
“Days of Our Lives” (NBC) – The bright note in an otherwise terrible year for soap operas (and the millions of loyal viewers who watch them and support their advertisers) was the revitalization of this 46-year-old daytime drama, which like so many other soaps during the last decade, had been allowed to corrode into something almost unrecognizable. “Days” in September briskly disposed of the sleazy storylines and frequent violence that had been rotting it from within and replaced them with relationship-driven stories about romance, family, friendship and community -- in other words, the very things soap fans crave but have been largely deprived of for entirely too long. “Days” also brought back a number of beloved long-absent veteran cast members, including Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn, and gave them all great material to play. But Alison Sweeney as scheming Sami Brady and young Chandler Massey as her tormented teenage son Will are stealing the show.