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TV’s Top Ten of 2009

Television’s outstanding moments, programs, and performers of the year.

by
Jim Kearney

Bio

December 30, 2009 - 12:00 am
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1. Outstanding Moment of Live Television

Rick Santelli’s shout heard ‘round the world (CNBC)

Santelli’s rant against mortgage subsidies and for a “tea party” revolt triggered a movement. CNBC regulars Larry Kudlow and Charlie Gasparino also provided insightful analysis and support for free markets in a year when American capitalism was under siege.

2. Best Series Finale

Monk series finale (USA Network)

Not only did the obsessive-compulsive detective finally track down his wife’s killer, he also found her daughter so he could live happily ever after. Monk’s series finale generously rewarded its audience with happily-ever-after endings for all the series regulars.

In a decade rife with graphic violence, tabloid scandal, young lust, and dark pessimism, shows like Monk and CBS’ #1 hit NCIS won audiences with a traditional tone and worthy themes.

3. Outstanding New Comedy Series

Modern Family (ABC) updated the domestic comedy and restored not only the genre itself, but also the fundamental decency needed in a family show.

Writer-creators Chris Lloyd (Frasier) and Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me) have given us a series with heart, but not schmaltz. A deft mockumentary format keeps it fast-paced but not manic, and the stories are character-driven and without predictable contrivances.

This modern family of eleven adds up 5+3+3. Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell head a funny family of five at the center. Bowen’s character, Claire Dunphy, has a gay brother and a re-married father, who add two trios in the extended family orbit.

Eric Stonestreet (Cameron Tucker) and Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell Pritchett) are a very human pair of adoptive parents who both happen to be men. Stonestreet is hilarious, an Oliver Hardy to Ferguson’s Stan Laurel, and his future will be golden with awards for his work in this show. If you must, find a political subtext to this duo. I’ll just enjoy the laughs.

Got some kind of problem with gay couples? Your unease is also represented fairly by the family patriarch played by Ed O’Neill. Discomfort like this is new for a network family comedy, and Modern Family plays it well in both directions, with both laughs and feeling.

The rivalry between Claire and her gorgeous stepmother Gloria Delgado-Pritchett (Sofia Vergara) is another comedic lode which the show will mine for a long time. Gloria’s son Manny has a unique comedic persona as well, seeing himself as a romantic lead and action hero despite his diminutive stature.

Modern Family airs Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. on ABC. Episodes I most strongly recommend include “The Pilot,“”Coal Digger,” and “Fizbo.”

4. Outstanding New Dramatic Series

The #1 Ladies Detective Agency (HBO)

For several years HBO has struggled to recapture the magic of its original programming of a decade ago. In 2009 the network revisited innovation by setting aside its hip, edgy mentality for The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, based on Alexander McCall Smith’s popular mystery novels.

Never before has HBO done an episodic hour with such traditional values, including respectful language, a gentle sense of everyday justice, deference to the small business work ethic, and a refreshing absence of irony. Turns out you don’t need sex or vulgarity to create exotic, one-of-a-kind television.

The series is the first ever shot in Botswana, and it’s a lyrical, visually ambitious, and captivating yarn with an immensely likable lead character played by Jill Scott. While not exactly a globalized Murder, She Wrote, the series is a sharp turn away from the cynical, elitist posture we’ve come to expect recently from HBO.

Extraordinary visuals depict a culture where an auto mechanic is still the respected local techie, and wild animals haven’t conceded the landscape to wireless networks. An energizing African score intones the series with bounce and optimism. Unfortunately, two key partners behind the scenes have passed away, making continued production difficult. The DVD set of its remarkable first season is all that we have, for now.

5. Outstanding Long Form Original

Into the Storm (HBO)

Previously reviewed here on PJM, Into the Storm (about Winston Churchill) is a work of drama and history deserving of close study by our statesmen, their spouses, and anyone with questions about the stakes and requirements of warfare. Brendan Gleeson won an Emmy for his portrayal of Churchill. The film is a great choice on Netflix if you’re not an HBO subscriber.

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