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Top 10 Shows of 2002, 12.25.02 ...

Before we get into the Top 10 shows on TV last year, remember when we last saw John Crichton (Ben Browder), the astronaut had drifted through a wormhole - without his ship. He's now floating in space around a place he hadn't seen in a long time: Earth.

Easily the best show on TV regardless of the genre, "Farscape" left fans with that cliffhanger before going into its midseason hiatus.

But that's not the only suspense awaiting the viewers. Fans working through hope to rescue the show from cancellation by getting more viewers to watch the new episodes that begin Jan. 10.

The Sci-Fi network stunned producers and fans alike this fall by saying the show wasn't getting good enough ratings to justify its cost.

Such is the land of TV, where the best shows aren't always the most popular.

And what is popular can be horrible, frighteningly horrible.

These are the days when all privacy is sacrificed on "reality" shows such as "Survivor." Next week, "High School Reunion" premieres on The WB, and the first episode takes viewers into a very private conversation during a date.

These are the days when someone like Anna Nicole Smith can achieve fame, and that's scary. "The Anna Nicole Smith Show" is television at its most shallow level; it runs on pure emotion and no intellect.

These are the days when contestants, including Darlene Randles of Ventura, must eat reindeer testicles to win $50,000 on "Fear Factor." No wonder I find TV hard to swallow at times. (Randles ate the reindeer parts but failed to win the $50,000.) These are really weird days.

But if you can get past the weirdness, there's still some great TV out there.

The highest-rated shows are still dramas and comedies that are driven by the ideals behind becoming better people.

The highest-rated show on TV, "CSI," involves science and is proof that networks should never underestimate viewers.

"The West Wing" still explores important civic issues. "ER" still tackles its characters' strengths and flaws while educating viewers about today's medicine.

TV still enlightens, still informs, still whets our curiosity and still inspires our sense of wonder on sci-fi shows such as "Farscape." Viewers still want more than Anna Nicole Smith. (Thank goodness!) And with that in mind, here's my list for the 10 best shows of 2002. I address the 10 worst shows in the accompanying story.

1. "Farscape" remains the best show on TV because it's unpredictable, because actions have consequences and because nothing stays the same from week to week. If a disaster strikes one week, it's not forgotten the next, and the writers have constantly surprised viewers. This is a rare series that puts a single human being in a universe of aliens.

It's literally "Stranger in a Strange Land" (though it's unrelated to that Robert Heinlein novel). "Farscape" is a metaphor for the alienation that people experience and our efforts to connect with one another despite it.

Ultimately, "Farscape" is about whether we can put the community's needs above our own and what we learn when we succeed or fail. And with the brilliant sets, effective aliens, witty dialogue and cool effects, each episode is like a short feature film.

2. "The West Wing" remains a great show because it tackles characters and issues honestly. The dialogue remains insightful and witty, and the series doesn't get buried under the weight of national problems. I just wish the series would slow down a bit, become less wordy and allow the actors a chance to act between the lines.

3. "Frasier" is still a great sitcom after all these years. The credit goes to the writers and to Kelsey Grammer and the rest of the cast for creating a show that remains funny but allows its characters to grow and change. Most sitcoms don't allow that.

4. "Everybody Loves Raymond" still has some of the best arguments for a married couple on TV, as Emmy winners Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton play a couple who are hilarious in their fighting. Somehow, they manage to make up by the end of each episode.

5. "Scrubs" continues to blend comedy with a realistic, sensitive approach to the problems young doctors face during their first years in a hospital. The fantasy sequences remain priceless.

6. "Angel," the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" spinoff, continues to produce surprises as it takes its characters and Los Angeles this season into hell. (That's no minor meteor shower that we've been seeing, folks.) 7. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has returned to being a show about empowered heroes taking on the villains, and this year Buffy's determined to fight the root of all evil. That's a big improvement from last season, which left Buffy in too much angst. The series is back to what it originally made it great: heroes who can joke even when they're terrified, who are courageous at the crucial moments. I'm glad Buffy is on our side.

8. "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" stands out for presenting intelligent mysteries solved with a Sherlock Holmes penchant for deduction. It's elementary, my dear viewer; TV's highest-rated show respects the intelligence of its fans.

9. "Gilmore Girls" portrays a mother-daughter relationship realistically, with sensitivity and little melodrama. It remains one of the best hours on TV.

10. "ER" reached its peak this year with the dramatic story line setting up star Anthony Edwards' exit. The series isn't as good without Edwards and other stars who have left over the years, but this season is a chance for the other actors, including the talented but underused Ming-Na as Dr. Chen, to shine.
Credit: MyInKy

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