TV’s Top 10 includes old favorites and new winners

Todd Vanderwerff

Todd Vanderwerff

The year 2002 will likely go down in the history of television as the year when reality shows spun off into even odder permutations and the year that cable finally overtook network television.

I, however, must summarize the year in television by ranking the top 10 programs that aired episodes in the year 2002. It is worth noting that I have not included any shows from even the most basic of cable stations until the the end of the list.

1.) 24 (Fox, Channel 4, Tuesdays, 8 p.m.) Picture the most intense, most thrilling action movie you’ve ever seen. Now imagine one minute on screen equals one minute in real life for 24 hours. This show would deserve a spot just for making its one day equals one season gimmick work so well, but the fact that it turns that gimmick into thrilling television with a great cast makes it worthy of number one. The series overcame some of its bad first season plot decisions to provide an excellent first season finale (killing the main character’s wife was a masterstroke). This season has been even more intense, as the characters race to find a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles.

2.) Alias (ABC, Channel 13, Sundays, 8 p.m.) This show took a while to grow on me, but once its adrenaline high kicked in, I’ve been hooked. The show combines cartoony action sequences, giddy humor, incredible twisting plot lines, more spy gadgets than you can shake a fist at, solid acting and dramatic scenes with real emotional truth into the television equivalent of cotton candy: it’s so light and sticky sweet that you know it might be bad for you, but you’re having so much fun you can’t stop eating. Underneath all of this, creator J.J. Abrams and his writers have spun a story about a wounded girl dealing with the divorce of her parents. Just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer is REALLY about the power of friendship, Alias is about the way we all eventually become our parents.

3.) Andy Richter Controls the Universe (Fox, Channel 4, Sundays, 8:30 p.m.) I realize this show conflicts with my number two choice, but if sitcoms are your game, you won’t find a funnier show on the air than this. The show miraculously balances witty verbal humor, slapstick and sight gags in one, creating the most surreal workplace show since the late, great Newsradio. Richter leads an ensemble of talented comic players who will have you in stitches. This show has yet to have a bad episode and you should hurry to check it out before it is yanked from the air.

4.)Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS, Channel 11, Mondays, 8 p.m.) Another show that took a while to get its hooks in me. Depending on who you are, this show will either resonate with you or scare the crap out of you (specifically Doris Roberts’s portrayal of the mother-in-law from hell). However, I’m also not joking when I say this sitcom (still stupefyingly funny after seven seasons) paints the most realistic psychological portraits on the dial. Raymond’s twisted obsessions and psychological quirks only grow after every season. While its humor may not be as universal as the humor in Andy Richter or Friends, if you’re one half of a couple or you come from the family from the black lagoon, this show will have you laughing after careful viewing of a few episodes.

5.) Boomtown (NBC, Channel 5, Sundays, 9 p.m.) I feel as if I’m beating a dead horse here after my impassioned defense of this show in our last issue of the first semester. It bears repeating, however, that Boomtown remains the best new show of the season–a taut and riveting portrait of men and women driven to extraordinary lengths by their jobs. As a bonus, it also doubles as a play-along detective show. Genius!

6.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel (UPN, Channel 15, Tuesdays, 7 p.m./The WB, Channel 14, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.) It must be said: if you don’t get these two shows by now, you never will. I shall leave you to your ERs and your NYPD Blues. There is no more realistic and emotionally wrenching story about growing up and taking responsibility for your life than Buffy (which is in what will likely be its final season) and Angel has grown into a show in its own right–a darkly funny noir about finding redemption.

7.) CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS, Channel 11, Thursdays, 8 p.m.) No, not that dark and dour David Caruso infested imitation! Don’t settle for anything less than the original, still TV’s wittiest crime show, sprinkled with a dash of mordant humor and the promise that you at home can help solve a crime. William Petersen’s portrayal of Grissom is one of the least heralded bits of acting on television, though he deserves awards nominations for keeping this train from going over a cliff.

8.) Late Night with Conan O’Brian (NBC, Channel 5, Weeknights, 11:35 p.m.) There is no more difficult thing to do than crank out funny material every night. Letterman continues to do so (and nearly cracked this list) and Jay Leno was never funny. Conan O’Brian is finally the king of late night with gags and jokes that remain some of the sharpest on television. O’Brian seems to have finally gotten over Andy Richter leaving and taken the show to new heights of humor. And as a bonus, you can watch the previous night’s show on Comedy Central (Channel 46) at 6 p.m.

9.) Scrubs (NBC, Channel 5, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.) The new emphasis on the characters’ relationships has me a bit worried, but when this show is on, it’s the only sitcom on the air to match the high-spirited wackiness of Andy Richter Controls the Universe. Note to the show’s creators: more surrealistic sight gags; fewer characters hooking up.

10.) Friends (NBC, Channel 5, Thursdays, 7 p.m.) Still crazy after all these years. Friends remains a bit of light and harmless fluff that entertains consistently. It’s no longer the best sitcom on the air and is starting to show its weak spots, but it remains a funny and moving show about being young in the big city.

And now the special awards:

11-20, listed alphabetically: The Bernie Mac Show, Everwood, Gilmore Girls, King of the Hill, The King of Queens, Late Show with David Letterman, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Life with Bonnie, The Simpsons, Without a Trace

Cable Shows That Would Have Been Listed, if I Could Use Cable Shows: Adult Swim, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Farscape, The Osbournes, Sex and the City, The Shield, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, South Park, SportsCenter

Cancelled Show That Would Have Made the List if You Had Watched It: Undeclared–possibly the only sitcom that has ever captured the rhythms of dorm life.

Not-yet Cancelled, but Might as Well Be: Firefly–a great science fiction show, which deserves your support if it somehow comes back from hiatus.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen: Drama: The West Wing and Law and Order–two formerly juicy workplace dramas which have become pedantic, preachy and overly stagy.

Comedy: The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle, which are both pale shadows of their former hilarious selves.

Best development: TV on DVD. Now when you’ve got nothing to do on the weekend, you can watch the entire first season of Sanford and Son! But seriously, TV on DVD is a good thing and we can look for even more of it this year.

Guilty Pleasure: American Idol,–there’s still life in the old Star Search chestnut if you add a catty British man.