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Top TV Shows of 2009

I’m rather late on this, but here is a list of my favorite television series of 2009. As in years past, these don’t necessarily represent the best shows on television, but they are ones that I looked forward to the most—and ones that generally brought God-talk into these open spaces. Interestingly, half of them were either cancelled or went off the air. I’ll leave up to you as to whether that adds more fodder to my theory of why good television shows get cancelled or simply says something about my taste, heh. In alphabetical order:

Battlestar Galactica. This four season science fiction epic concluded its run last spring. Its final season (playing out over the Springs of 2008-2009) represented some of the best as well as the worst of the series. At its best, a few key episodes plunged us into a dark exploration of love, faith, and what it means to be human—something at which this series excelled. At its worst, it revealed weakness in its storytelling and the downside of developing a story on the fly rather than writing with a firm ending in mind. Not that the end was disappointing—in fact, I was more than satisfied; but more than once in the last season, the getting-there was rather irritating. But the great moments of the series outnumber its weaker ones, and in the end, it pays off wonderfully. As I said about the finale, science fiction is often described as the modern myth, a means by which we explore the human condition and strive to explain the world around us, and Battlestar Galactica represents some of the richest exploration I’ve encountered—and that brought quite a bit of God-talk into these open spaces. For more on this series, see the Battlestar Galactica category.

Castle. My latest guilty pleasure, this series follows playboy-ish and wealthy suspense/mystery writer Rick Castle (Firefly’s amazing Nathan Fillion) who initially partners with New York detective Kate Beckett as research for his novels—but the two end up a good team and continue working together to solve crimes. The show weaves a classic style, smart and witty dialogue, interesting characters, and both poignant and laugh-out-loud moments to make what could have been a run-of-the-mill series into a show that I can’t wait to watch every week. And it’s not without its deeper moments that explore why we make the choices we do, what it means to love, and what makes us who we are—all of which bring God-talk into open spaces (though, I’m aghast to realize, not in these spaces—yet).

Community. This ensemble series about an eclectic group of students at a community college premiered last fall—and while the initial draw for me was Chevy Chase (whom I remember watching during his SNL days), it didn’t take but one scene and I was thoroughly enamored with Abed and his pop-culture-rich chorus-like commentary. And I must admit another draw is the overt deconstruction of community by the characters even as they work through the twists, turns and ties of forming an authentic one. And Community isn’t without its God-talk—case in point, the debate regarding the nature of man in episode “Debate 109” (you can catch a clip of part of that debate on Hulu).

Defying Gravity. This science fiction series followed a group of astronauts on a six-year mission in our solar system. Most of the astronauts (as well as the world) think the mission is purely exploratory and scientific, but a hidden agenda is revealed once they are on their way: the mission is really to collect a series of recently discovered life forms. While the series definitely had its weak points (the most irritating having to do with violations of the rules of physics), those were overwhelmed by its better points—like its regular exploration of themes like the relationship between faith and science, free will and the existence and plans of an Other, what makes us who we are, why we make the choices we do—and the consequences of those choices—all of which brought plenty of God-talk into these open spaces. The series definitely had moments and philosophies with which I would argue, but it’s a real shame this story won’t continue to play out. For more on my thoughts on this series, see the Defying Gravity category.

Kings. Directly based on the story on the story of King David, this short-lived series takes the story and characters to a modern day New-York-like kingdom—and in doing so, it provokes some intriguing thoughts about the original text. Ian McShane’s portrayal of Silas (a.k.a. Saul) added depth and nuances to (and, on my part at least, even sympathy for) the biblical Saul that got at some interesting ideas about why he made the choices he did. I initially was a bit frustrated with David’s character; the biblical counterpart—who as a boy had killed lions—was much more battle-hardened early in life, while this rendition seemed much too innocent and ignorant. However, by the end of the series, King’s David grew more similar to the biblical counterpart and, like Silas, provided some insights and thoughts into how life for David must have been. I particularly appreciated the exploration of David’s struggle between his passion to support and his moral fortitude to confront a king chosen by God who had slipped so far from the path. All in all, I found it a wonderfully played story that brought God-talk into these open spaces—and I was deeply disappointed it was cancelled. For more on my thoughts on this series, see the Kings category.

Lie to Me. I could have blogged on this one far more than I did. The series focuses on Dr. Cal Lightman and The Lightman Group, a private company that assists in investigations using psychology, particularly the science of deception detection. Similar to what draws to me to the other shows on this list, the series explores why we make the choices we do and the consequences of those choices—not only in the cases the group investigates but in their own lives as well. I also resonate with the series exploration of the value of truth, the motives we have for lying, and the effects and consequences of both speaking truth as well as concealing it. For more on my thoughts on this series, see the Lie to Me category.

Life on Mars. An American reimagining of the British original, this closed-arched one-season (albeit, not by choice) series follows a present-day cop who gets hit by car and wakes up in 1973. He doesn’t know why he’s there, if it’s a real experience or all in his head. As the series progresses, we not only watch Sam get clues to his predicament but also an engaging exploration of a common human experience: those times when we find our lives turned upside-down, when nothing seems to be the way it should be, when we feel lost and far from anything familiar. Like Sam, we try to make sense of it all—of who we are and why we are here—as we try to find our way home. This series was fantastic—up until the last episode. I still wonder if they planned that ending all along or if it was cooked up quickly when the writers got wind the series was slated for cancellation; I hope it’s the latter. To be honest, I half-pretend it ended like the British original. For more on the series, see the Life on Mars category.

Lost: While I passionately shunned this series for a season (and I still think the Mr. Eko incident symbolized the weakest point of the series), the series recovered to become on the most brilliant I’ve encountered. It is a compelling story with complex and engaging characters, and the series has always been fertile ground in which to discuss fate, free-will, love and the choices we make—all themes and issues that bring God-talk into these open spaces. The last season began this month, and I love that I can’t predict what’s going to happen within each episode, let alone how the series as a whole will end. As a side note, could it be the decision to give this series an end date and close its story arch that breathed such life into the series? Heh, that’s my opinion. For more on this series, see the Lost category.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This series followed the young John Connor after the events of Terminator 2 but before Terminator 3 (though there are hints it wasn’t even in the show’s cannon) and Terminator: Salvation. Though we don’t know yet how the Terminator story ends, it was fascinating to watch as a middle part of it filled in and fleshed out. Thomas Dekker carried off the weight a young Connor must have felt knowing his role and stake in the future. And I really resonated with seeing this story through Sarah’s eyes, as the mother of a boy who was destined to save the human race. The series delved far more overtly into issues and themes surrounding faith and God than the films, and that brought a plethora of God-talk into these open spaces. The series’ final episode wasn’t meant to be the last, but I must admit it was a fitting end to a series that tells only a small part of a much larger story. All in all, The Sarah Connor Chronicles added some thoughtful and thought-provoking material to a franchise I appreciate. (For more on this series, see the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles category.

The Office. This series follows the antics and lives of a group of people working in a sales office for a paper company. In the midst of its cringe-worthy satire, I’ve somehow come to care about these now iconic characters—of which even the best have their flaws and the worst their redeeming moments, and who, in their own painfully hilarious ways, get at favorite themes of mine: exploring what it means to be human and why we make the choices we do. And among its laugh-out-loud humor, the series also has truly moving moments—the best of last year’s being the last scene in the episode chronicling the misadventures of Jim and Pam’s wedding. As we realize what Jim and Pam were up to during the time they were missing from their own wedding, the documentary style camera settles on Jim’s face—an extraordinary, powerful and completely unexpected moment that made me blubber. Well done.

As a final note, it was hard to whittle down this list because there were a bunch of other shows I watched on a regular basis and enjoyed last year, including Pushing Daisies (another of the cancellations), Bones, Leverage, Doctor Who, Glee (about which I have mixed emotions), Smallville, Reaper (yet one more cancelled) and Eureka—all of which brought God-talk into these open spaces.

Comments

Tami Chaffee said…
The Young & the Restless didn't make the list?! I can't believe it. ;)
Carmen Andres said…
ROFLOL! did you know i just discovered i have an ap on my phone that lets me watch the previous day's episode? heh.
Well, I was hooked on four out of the 10. LOL The other ones just didn't pull me in fast enough, I guess. LOL Victims of my short attention span.
Carmen Andres said…
beth, or instead, maybe it says less about your attention span andmore about my (lack of) taste :)
Benjamin Ady said…
What? No Fringe?