Last September marked a new era when AMC's Mad Men
became the first basic cable show to win the best drama award at the Emmys. For the last several years, the original programming on basic cable has been catching up to the broadcast networks, and now it has arguably surpassed it.
Check out our list of top 10 cable shows, which contains some old favorites, some obscure cult hits, and a couple new arrivals.
10. Burn Notice
returns to USA this January 22 at 10/9c for a third season. Burn Notice offers up a unique brand of action and spy thrills.
9. Raising the Bar
had an excellent freshman run this fall on TNT. It has been picked up for a second season in 2009.
8. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
is the uniquely bizarre sitcom on FX about four friends who own a dive bar in Philly. The show has been referred to as "Seinfeld on Crack." The show is between seasons right now, but full episodes can be watched online at FXnetworks.com, and the first two seasons are available on DVD. Sunny is certainly an acquired taste. I would suggest giving it a shot, but it is not for everyone.
7. Law and Order: Criminal Intent
made its move to the USA in 2007. This version of L & O gives a deeper look into the criminal psyche and has less of a courtroom drama aspect. Vincent D'Onofrio
is excellent as Det. Robert Goren. Show creator Dick Wolf says his character is based on Sherlock Holmes. New episodes featuring Jeff Goldblum
begin January 9 at 10/9c.
comes back for new episodes January Fridays right before Monk on USA at 8/7c. The concept behind Psych is one of the funniest I've ever heard. A guy who has great observational skills decides he's going to con everyone into thinking he's a psychic detective. Sean (James Roday
) and his longtime best friend Gus (Dule Hill
) open up their own private detective agency and begin solving crimes for the Santa Barbara police department. Sure the idea of a really observant guy solving crimes totally got jacked by CBS, but this is the original and is a great comedy along with being a good crime drama.
is a new series on TNT Tuesdays at 10/9c. Timothy Hutton
stars as Nathan Ford, a former insurance investigator who turns vigilante after the insurance company refuses to pay for his son's medical treatment and leaves him to die. The pilot episode of Leverage was especially fun for me because the opening scene was shot at the building I work at in downtown Chicago. Leverage is a newcomer, but I like what I've seen so far. The elements of espionage and crime thriller really create a great psychological drama.
returns for a second season January 7th on FX. The first season was a capturing sequence of events with Quentin Tarantino
-like jumps back and forth through the timeline. At the end of the first season, the main character Ellen has finally had murder charges dropped against her, and the audience finds out that it was her boss, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close
) who killed her husband and then tried to kill her.
3. South Park
, Wednesdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central. If you think South Park is all potty humor and swearing, then you're wrong. South Park just keeps getting better and better and offers the best satirical comedy on television. Earlier this season, they did a spoof on High School Musical
where one of the kids was being pressured by his father to join the theater program, but all the kid really wanted to do was play on the basketball team…LOL. The simplicity of the animation allows for creators Matt Stone
and Trey Parker
to turn out episodes very quickly, sometimes in just a few days. In contrast, an episode of The Simpsons
takes months to produce. The end result is that South Park can have episodes with topical storylines.
returns to the USA network Fridays starting January 9 at 9/8c. Emmy-award winner Tony Shalhoub
is back for an eighth season as Adrian Monk, the obsessive-compulsive detective. The storylines of Monk are rooted in drama, but you would be hard-pressed to find a detective show that would make you laugh as much as this one.
1. AMC's Mad Men
is about a high powered advertising agency on Manhattan's Madison Avenue during the changing times of the early 60's. Season two begins set in Valentine's Day 1961. The filming of Mad Men is truly masterful and artistic. Everything from the cars to the clothes to the people really makes you believe you are back in time. Some actors are so transformed into their 1960's persona that you only later realize that they are someone you recognize from another TV show or movie. The mysterious and intriguing Don Draper (Jon Hamm
) and the rest of the cast of characters create the best suspense and high drama on TV. All of that makes Mad Men something worth checking out. Mad Men's second season wrapped up earlier this fall. Negotiations are still in the works, but all signs point to a third season arriving this spring.
This list focused on comedies and dramas, but we would like to give an honorable mention to Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
, which returns Mondays this January on the Travel Channel. Host Anthony Bourdain brings a truly different kind of travel show to the table (pun intended?). The author and former chef travels the world in search of local foods and cultures. The often sardonic nature and personality of Tony and the dazzling locations truly make this show like no other on television.
Did one of you're favorite shows not make the list? Let us know in the comments below!
Story by Kevin Olsta
Starpulse contributing writer