You know I have my own personal television commandments, right? Thou shalt not answer the phone during "24." Thou shalt not trust anyone who doesn't own a television. Thou shalt not get too attached to a quality show on ABC. Thou shall judge television shows on a level playing field.
Therefore all of my Top 10 Best Shows of 2002 are primetime shows on network television. Cable television doesn't have to play by the same rules (less episodes per season and a longer break between seasons), so I don't think it's fair to compare them. I'm saving my list of the best cable shows for a later time.
Okay, enough with the caveats, here's my list:
1. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Tuesday, UPN, 8 p.m.): In its seventh season, "Buffy" is still the show I look forward to most each week. It's still the one that surprises me, that bring tears and giggles, that gives me goose bumps, and that offers the most reward for watching (Xander and Buffy's doozy of a fight this season harkened back to the end of season two). "Buffy" also features the best ensemble and most-robbed-of-Emmys cast on television. This season's Big Morphy Bad, who knows the Scoobies and preys on their weaknesses and insecurities, has provided some gut-wrenching moments. Spike smoldering on the cross ... his realization that he was still killing ... Buffy's pledge to help him ... Willow's devastating heartbreak ... . It doesn't get any better than this. Those who have never watched the show continue to miss out.
2. "Gilmore Girls" (Tuesday, WB, 8 p.m.): What I love most about "Gilmore Girls" is that it intelligently plays to all audiences. Want some juicy teen romance, look no further than the burgeoning relationship of Rory and a totally smitten Jess? Want a look at how messy relationships can become as you get older? See the years of hurt and pain that underline every conversation Lorelai has with her parents and with Christopher. Want to laugh? Watch Kirk deal with his new cat ("He's always been a cat person, he's just never had a cat," Rory observed). Want to feel like you have to be intelligent to keep up? Catch the obscure pop-culture references and rapid-fire dialogue. Special shout out to Lauren Graham, who is able to let viewers know when she is joking and when her witty remarks are masking a deeper pain. The characters are never perfect (I love Lorelai but sometimes I get so mad at her), but the show always is.
3. "Alias" (Sunday, ABC, 9 p.m.): Quite simply, Sydney Bristow rocks. She can defeat her enemy with a swift kick, find out a horrifying secret about her father, tentatively pursue a relationship with her mom and put on a brave face when she meets Vaughn's girlfriend. I do have concerns that the show is toying with its own carefully thought out premise (You know how I can't stand that Sydney is rarely at SD-6, and Dixon seriously needs more screen time.) But I have loved everything with The Mom and with The Vaughn. But the best thing about "Alias" is that it is the perfect fusion of an outrageous fantasy world of double-agents, crazy costumes and nefarious government plans with very real emotions of friendship, romance and family.
4. "Scrubs" (Thursday, NBC, 8:30 p.m.): The first show to be worthy of the post "Friends" timeslot and the only show to effectively use the voice-over technique; "Scrubs" is unlike any comedy on television (and that's a good thing). Zach Braff is wonderful as the innocent and sympathetic soul of the show. You have to get into the show's world (where roommates J.D. and Turk have a stuffed dog for a pet and the ob-gyn doctors try to recruit Elliot into their sorority-like practice) and enjoy the ride.
5. "Boomtown" (Sunday, NBC, 10 p.m.): The best new show of the season. Read my column from Nov. 4 to find out why.
6. "Everybody Loves Raymond" (Monday, CBS, 9 p.m.): There was a scene a couple weeks ago when Ray saw Robert's new girlfriend eat a fly. For about five minutes Ray held a mixed look of shock and disbelief before he turned to Robert and in a horrified hush whispered, "She's not the one." I still laugh thinking about it. This moment probably wasn't that funny on paper, but with this deft cast, it became a brilliantly executed instant of perfect comedy. Later in the episode, a distraught Robert worried that he would always be alone while his mother fretted that he would never give her grandchildren. Both tones (the dramatic and the comic) worked perfectly. Credit the stellar cast, the witty writing, and the fact that when it comes to families, the amount of relatable things to make fun of, is endless.
7. "24" (Tuesday, FOX, 9 p.m.): Yes, the Kimberly story line is a big problem and even Sherry's return seems to be stretching the bounds of believability (Why would the President accept her offer for help?). But the true star of the show is the format, which the producers are bravely executing for a second season. Just when you think you've figured something out, the show immediately does something to make you doubt your own fearless predictions (if the father of the bride was really guilty would we have known it this soon?) No praise of "24" can come without a mention of Kiefer Sutherland's portrayal of a heartbroken man running on the steam of flat-out revenge. Even though Jack seems to have a threadbare grasp on his sanity, we still have full confidence in him.
8. "The Bernie Mac Show" (Wednesday, FOX, 8 p.m.): America, you should be watching "Bernie Mac." Bernie's break-down-the-fourth wall confessions make this one of the best comedies on television. And if you don't believe me, I'll beat you to the white meat shows.
9. "The West Wing" (Wednesday, NBC, 9 p.m.): Yes, the show has faltered over the past year and Sorkin does have a pesky habit of introducing characters who then disappear or die an untimely death (poor Mark Harmon). But I think last week's reunion episode proved that Aaron Sorkin is desperately trying to get on our good side. Besides, when "West Wing" is good, it's very, very good and when it's bad, well it's still better than most things on television. Where will Sorkin go with the Josh and Donna relationship? What will happen when Danny writes that story? Will Sodapop win the election? All reasons to keep tuning in.
10. "NYPD Blue" (Tuesday, ABC, 10 p.m.): Not many dramas make it this far (look at how quickly "Felicity" faded out) or are still this good when they do (I'm talking to you "The Practice"). The characters are always true to themselves (now I'm calling you out "ER.") The slightest looks (whether its silent disapproval from the one-man Greek chorus of PAA John or Andy giving one of his classic grumpy glares) resonates and holds true. With this cast even the most banal storyline (like the Lieutenant's ex-wife being a drug addict) is fascinating to watch.
Best Show Worth Saving: "Firefly." The Joss Whedon drama was recently cancelled by FOX (who do they think they are? ABC?), but Whedon is shopping the show to other networks. Have I mentioned lately how fond I am of UPN? You can still catch the original two-hour pilot this Friday on FOX. Check out www.savefirefly.com for how you can help the show.
Best Reason Not to Watch "ER": "Without a Trace"
Best Guilty Pleasure: "Fastlane." My love for this show grows with every episode.
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