Top ten TV shows of 2008

The Wire's Omar Little

Continuing our series of year-end reviews, Libcom presents our pick of the best television programmes broadcast in the UK in 2008.

The Wire - Season 5
Let's just get it out of the way. The list might have been a little less predictable if it’d been “top TV shows of 2008 that aren’t the Wire”. Everyone knew it was going to be top – having had its official coronation by pretty much every critic ever as “the best thing on TV”. Of course, the key thing here is they were right, 2008 starting with one of the finale season of what is probably the best show ever to grace television. For those yet to watch it, the show is ostensibly a police procedural drama, but is far, far more than that, being a biography of the city of Baltimore – and by extension the United States as a whole. A biting critique of the failure of American institutions to protect they supposedly should, the Wire presents a far more prescient critique of modern capitalism than a thousand political documentaries.

Predictably, those who had come to the show late, but wanted to show they knew about it first had to have their opinion that it “wasn’t as good as the other seasons”. But then it was obvious they would say this before it aired, no matter how good it had been. Tedious howls that ‘people acted out of character’ or ‘it just lost the realism of previous episodes’ (conveniently forgetting that, for example, previous seasons had seen drugs secretly legalised in half of Baltimore) can be safely ignored, and the season can be enjoyed as it should, and equal part of the whole series. Let's just hope history treats this show as it should, and it’s remembered for what it is – the greatest work of fiction of our times – War and Peace for our generation.

The Shield - Season 7
In pretty much any year that hadn’t featured The Wire, this would have been universally hailed as amazing, but unfortunately no matter how different they are, this was always going to live in the shadow of The Wire. For fans of police based serials, it’s been a great television year – with excellent final seasons to both of these shows, the only worry being the void their absence will leave in our TV schedules. After the not-great-apart-from-Forest-Whitaker seasons 5 and 6, the Shield seemed a little tired, and as if it had taken the show as far as it could. It was hanging dangerously close to each character descending into stereotype. However, season 7 blasted this apart, with what is probably the best season of an already great show. As Vic Mackey’s world starts to completely collapse, and the end of the STRIKE team becomes ever closer, the Shield strips itself down to the basics of what made it great – it was fast, the twists came when you least expected them and Vic acted like he always has. Every character slotted together perfectly, and combined into a welcome but unexpected return to top form.

While far more episode based and less arced than the Wire, the season was still full of little gifts to fans who had watched the show all the way through. The return of Andre 3000 in the final episode will raise a smile and the ending, whilst far from what was expected, was the perfect finale to the season. Perhaps fittingly for such a great season, the final episode excelled even further and was almost certainly the best of the entire series. The highest praise I can give it is that it was as good as an episode of the Wire.

Charlie Brooker's Screen Wipe
Sister show to critic and a miserablist Charlie Brooker's Guardian guide column about television, Screen Burn. Unless you have watched it, you might not realise how enjoyable watching a middle-aged man in his living room shouting "cunt!" at his television set can be.

If you're quick, you can even catch his 2008 TV review show on the BBC's iPlayer.

Gossip Girl
For those who haven't seen it, Gossip Girl is a New York teen socialite drama, like The OC meets Cruel Intentions. On crack.

The story basically revolves around wealthy teenagers in the Upper East Side to attend a private school alongside Dan and Jenny (Little J), who are merely middle-class and live in (shock horror!) Brooklyn. It is narrated by "Gossip Girl", the unseen author of an eponymous blog about the scene.

This year has seen parts of seasons one and two, and while the soundtrack of the second doesn't have as many gems as the first (which included Sebastien Tellier, Crystal Castles, LCD Soundsystem...), the plots have been making up for it.

The most intriguing storyline so far has beenthe dramas of Little J she attempts to eke out a career as fashion designer.

Excellent touches include the show's use of real world tools such as social networking sites and blackberries. Other highlights are the clothes, Little J's new "look", and the always-excellent characters of narcissistic rich boy Chuck Bass, and scheming high school queen Blair Waldorf.

The few downers for this season include a very unbelievable cup of tea wielded by Serena over a sleeping Blair, and Dan being his usual self-righteous douchebag self.

Sons of Anarchy - Season 1
Nothing to do with anarchism - despite the show incorporating an Emma Goldman quote - but Sons of Anarchy is probably the best new show of the year. Any modern TV drama that tries to mirror Shakespeare (Hamlet in this case) really shouldn’t work, but it somehow does.

Sons of Anarchy focuses on a Hell' s Angels style motorbike gang based in the small town of Charming, California. Created by a former producer and writer for the Shield, Sons of Anarchy manages to avoid both drowning in pretention, and also raises itself above just being “The Sopranos on motorbikes”. Gripping throughout (despite the slightly weaker second half of the season), Sons of Anarchy hits a perfect balance between a satisfying story arc throughout, and also episodes that work individually. Outstanding performances from Ron Perlman and (libcom poster lookalike!) Charlie Hunnam complete the package. With so many great shows ending this year, it’s good to have a show to look forward to.

Dexter - Season 3
A perfect model study in how a show can keep up the tempo. Each season of Dexter has left a nagging feeling that maybe they’ve done all they could with the show, and the next season would just be dragging it out. For the second time, they’ve shown this isn’t the case. Taking the show in enough of a new direction to keep it interesting, but still keeping the same old Dexter everyone loves, the third season takes on what would otherwise be a fairly predictable mix of family, marriage and friendship, and then throws a loveable serial killer into the mix.

Managing to avoid the slight problem previous seasons have had where the endgame became a little predictable a few episodes before it should have, Dexter season 3 has been one of the years most dependable and fun shows. Only worry now is once more the creeping suspicion that surely they can’t do it again next year is once more upon us.

Never Mind the Buzzcocks
Simon Amstell's fourth season of hosting BBC2 comedy music quiz show was perhaps not quite as strong as the previous three, but still one of the only things worth watching on terrestrial TV.

Replacing departed team captain Bill Bailey were a series of guest captains, including Divina McCall and Dermot O'Leary - an episode shot with Russell Brand stepping in was postponed due to the Andrew Sachs phone call "scandal" and has yet to be broadcast.

As with his previous music show Popworld Amstell is at his best when ruthlessly mocking the fame-seeking "celebrities" desperate enough to appear on his show. Highlights this season included Lee Ryan from Blue, and annoyingly pompous James from Glasvegas.

Generation Kill
Coming a few months after the end of the Wire, from the same creators, Generation Kill never really had its own chance to shine. Based on Evan Wright’s book and articles for Rolling Stone, that recalled his time embedded with a US Marine Corps unit during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, Generation Kill gives a first hand account of the details of the invasion.

Careful not to obviously pin its colours to either side on the pro/anti war scale, the mini-series was concerned more with the conduct of the war and those who fought it, rather that the rights and wrongs. Unfortunately, some of the ‘it’s not as good as the Wire’ backlash was fair – it really wasn’t at the standard of the Wire, or if we’re honest with ourselves, even that close. The constraints of having to work from someone else’s work, rather than having freedom to plan out the story alongside the script, also occasionally shine through - as great as it is, it’s always going to be the show David Simon did after the Wire.

Harry Hill's TV Burp
Doctor-turned-comic Harry Hill's digest of the week's TV is probably the most laugh inducing half-hour on the box. Part review, part piss-taking and part filled with quite genius modified re-enactments, watching this show means you never actually have to watch Eastenders, Corrie, Casualty, or Bring on the Wall.

The IT Crowd
The third season of Father Ted cocreator Graham Linehan's award-winning sitcom set in the basement IT department of the fictitious Reynholm Industries Corporation.

It follows two computer technician geeks and their technologically challenged but socially adept "relationship manager" Jen.

Possibly funnier than the first two seasons, this series takes the trio into ever more farcical situations, including sexual harassment lawsuits, working class culture and naked granny calendars.

Comments

Refused
Jan 2 2009 14:48

"Gossip Girl". This is the work of Steven.!

Steven.
Jan 2 2009 16:49
Refused wrote:
"Gossip Girl". This is the work of Steven.!

ha ha, not all of it!

I did write the gossip girl bit though. Are you a fan?

jef costello
Jan 2 2009 16:59

That's reminded me about The Shield, I'll have to get that at some point.

Where on earth is Peep Show?

Refused
Jan 2 2009 17:38
Steven. wrote:
Refused wrote:
"Gossip Girl". This is the work of Steven.!

ha ha, not all of it!

I did write the gossip girl bit though. Are you a fan?

No, no I am not. You are clearly 12 years old.

Libertaria
Jan 3 2009 04:16

Sons of Anarchy is one of the best shows I've seen in a very long time.

Honorable Mention: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Anarchia
Jan 3 2009 10:03

Mad Men too, although I'm quite out of date on that (only seen the first couple of eps of season 2).

jef costello
Jan 3 2009 17:16

It did seem a bit rushed and I felt that the newspaper good guys were a bit underdeveloped. There wasn't much in the way of depth to the two of them either. I thought that the way it came together in the end worked even though few other series could have got away with it.