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TV Year In Review: The Best, The Worst & The In Between

December 26th, 2008 7:31am EST
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Breaking BadIn a year that saw the writers strike bring forth more reality TV than we ever thought possible and reduce quality drama to a war of attrition, the boob tube still managed to deliver quality drama series at an impressive clip.

BEST TV DRAMAS OF 2008

5. "BREAKING BAD" (AMC) - The aforementioned strike meant we only got seven episodes of former "X-Files" writer Vince Gilligan's masterful meth-strewn series, but after enduring its visceral fury, could we have really taken anymore?

Unlike another suburban drug dealing series, the torpid "Weeds", "Breaking Bad" offers a modern-day morality tale, and explores the inner reaches of a deeply flawed man, Walter White as portrayed by the brilliant Bryan Cranston (see great performances), as he struggles to capture a life he once held so close but now seems impossibly out of reach. The best new show of 2008 with sincere apologies to the delicious "True Blood."

Dexter4. "DEXTER" (Showtime) - This season, our favorite serial killer series finally delivered on the promise of an in-depth psychological look into the mind of its hero, and the series was all the better for it.

The writers plunged Dexter's depths with a new character - Jimmy Smits' ADA Miguel Prado. He became Dexter's first friend and allowed the hero to open up in a way we'd yet to see, certainly a more intimate look than we got from his mind games with insipid Lila.

This was because Prado seemed to share a relationship with his own 'Dark Passenger' and it was only through Dexter that he was able to explore and indulge in his homicidal ways. Through Prado we saw the birth of Dexter and ultimately the self-destructive insulation a life of bloodlust brings. All this with the series' trademark macabre humor and the energy of sun-drenched Miami.

Mad Men3. "MAD MEN" (HBO) - This won the Emmy for Best Drama, but only takes the bronze in this list. This isn't for lack of quality, as this show has taken over the mantle from "The Sopranos" to create a thematic series that is more concerned with exploring its subtext than creating superficial plots.

Its second season was slightly inferior to its first, but that is hardly an insult. This show provides razor-sharp writing and about a half-dozen of the best performances on television, especially from its women. This year, we saw a complete restructuring of the American Dream as the anti-heroic Don Draper tried in every way to escape what appeared to be an idyllic life, and seemed to find something better in bohemia.

The best thing about this series is its promise: We've yet to experience the real sixties and how things like the Kennedy Assassination, The Beatles, The Summer of Love, and The Moon Landing will change things at Sterling Cooper, but we can see all that just around the corner. This has the greatest potential of any show as it goes forward. Amazing to think as it's already of one of TV's best.

The Wire2. "THE WIRE" (HBO) - The show many pundits call the best series in the history of television ended its run with its worst season. The fact that it still managed to come in second on this list is a testament to how great the series was as a whole.

In 2008, creators David Simon & Ed Burns added the staff at the Baltimore Sun to their expansive view of the city to complete the mosaic of urban decay with which their program has concerned itself.

As with every season, the creators integrated enough new actors to fill a normal show's entire cast and didn't miss a beat. The show never felt overcrowded and we never felt a disconnection from the characters we'd come to know over the four previous seasons.

When the end came, in true "Wire" fashion we were left with very little resolution save the knowledge that the cycle of drugs, political corruption, journalistic dishonesty and many other problems would continue in much the same way with a different cast of characters at the forefront.

Lost1. "LOST" (ABC) - The best season of one of the best dramas in the history of television. This year, series end firmly in sight, the creators took us on a breathless ride where questions, answers, and more questions flew at us faster than the monster consumes the jungle.

This breathless storytelling made "Lost" potentially the last appointment series ever in this brave new world of TiVo. The cliffhangers and inevitable revelations removed the frustrations of the third season and replaced them with a "Who Shot J.R." urgency each week.

Couple that type of storytelling with excellent acting and writing that looks beyond pulp and into deeper question about humanity and you have the best drama of 2008.

Honorable Mentions: "True Blood", "Fringe", "Life On Mars" and "The Shield"

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