Top 10 Television Shows for 2006

I have not always been a television connoisseur. In fact, in recent years, I think that the networks have produced an inordinate amount of trash. I’m also guilty of bemoaning the takeover of reality-based programs. I think many of them are more degrading than entertaining. However, I will admit to an unparalleled obsession with regard to “Dancing with the Stars.” I guess you can convert even the coldest heart when the entertainment factor is so on target.

I’m happy to say that television’s 2006 season is one of the best of the last decade. Not only were some old favorites pulled out of the fire – – think 7th Heaven – – but some newer favorites were also re-energized; case in point, Desperate Housewives. My Network TV came on board to show the old-timers how to change it up and cable television continued to produce some of the best shows to date.

With all of that in mind, I found it really difficult to choose the top 10 television shows for 2006. I decided to eliminate reality, quiz, magazine, and talk shows from the list; not because there are no worthy choices among those shows, but because they typically run for a limited or a specific period of time. This makes them a little more difficult to compare against programs that run for an entire season. I will, instead, address them in a separate article.

Keep in mind, if you ask 10 different people what their favorite television show is, you are likely to get 10 different answers. It is, after all, a subjective decision. However, I tried very hard to remain objective and hope that this list covers at least a few of everyone’s favorites.

My top ten television program choices for 2006 are:

Grey’s Anatomy. Let’s face it, this show has everything: Good stories, good characters, good actors, love and sex, friendship and family. You are drawn into the exciting and unusual plot lines by excellent writing and the cast is seamlessly woven into every aspect of the story. You care what happens to these characters. You get angry with them just like you do with your best friends. It is a show that touches the heart as well as challenging the mind. I’m a huge Katherine Heigl (Izzie) fan and who doesn’t love “The Nazi” (Miranda Bailey) or want to be in Meredith’s shoes with McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey)? All of this earns this series the number one spot on my list.

Heroes. This serial saga about people who discover they have superpowers is proving to be the little show that can. It can, and does, build its audience each and every week. It can, and does, keep you guessing about exactly where the story is going. It can, and does, offer an amazing cast of characters that are played by equally amazing actors and actresses. It can, and does, provide some of the most thought provoking issues of our time in a way that is beautifully stitched into the theme of the program without losing any of its entertainment value. It is hard to choose a single outstanding character here. Obviously, Hayden Panettierre (as Claire Bennet) is the focus of the show. “Save the cheerleader; Save the world!” Rightfully so! This young actress is charming, beautiful, undeniably talented, and skilled in her craft. I think that Sendhill Ramamurthy (as Mohinder Suresh) is the McDreamy of all McDreamys. He is not only stunning to look at but backs up his looks with obvious intelligence, charm, and talent. And everyone loves Masi Oka (as Hiro Nakamura). He is just one of those characters everyone wants to embrace. This show undeniably has one of the strongest casts on television today. That earns it the number two spot on my list.

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CSI, CSI, Miami, and CSI New York tie for third place. It is difficult to choose between these three shows. Each has its own dedicated following. Each has a strong cast of characters that are thoroughly realistic in the portrayal of their roles. I personally prefer the original CSI but that may be colored by my love for actress Marg Helgenberger. I’ve been a fan of hers since the days of China Beach. On the flip side, I’m not a devoted non-fan of David Caruso. His arrogance turns me off. As for CSI New York, it may well be the weakest of the three shows for reasons that no one can quite explain. The strength of the CSI series lies in the plot lines and the remarkable writing. Each one is like a mini-movie complete with a hero, heroine, and bad guy (or girl). The network was smart to capitalize on the winning combination that sets CSI apart from many of its would-be opponents.

Lost. Now if this list had been put together in 2004, Lost would have been at the top. It might have even made the cut as the second top rated show this year had it not been for the network’s decision to divide the series into two parts; showing a few episodes in early fall but holding the remaining ones until spring. Big mistake! I know of many Lost devotees who are both discouraged and disappointed in ABC’s careless decision that obviously gave no consideration to the fans of the series. Lost is an enigma into itself. It challenges the mind and the imagination as hundreds of thousands of people everyday try to figure out exactly what the island represents and what secrets it and its inhabitants hold. It is also blessed with an outstanding – – and beautiful – – cast led by Matthew Fox (as Jack), Evangeline Lilly (as Kate), and Josh Holloway (as Sawyer). I personally would love for the series to move just a smidgen faster than it does but I can also see the wisdom in drawing out the story line for maximum impact; something this show does very well.

Brothers and Sisters. I know this is a new show and still somewhat untried, but I have faith in this unparalleled cast, the intricate characters they portray, and the outstanding stories written by obviously talented writers. Who would have thought that Sally Field and Calista Flockhart would not only be believable as mother and daughter but totally intriguing as well. This drama is based on the lives of a fictional American family – – the Walkers. The adult siblings, led by Flockhart (as Kitty Walker) and Rachel Griffith (as Sarah Whedon), include three more brothers; one of which is gay and another of which is a recovering drug addict (supposedly caused by his service in Afghanistan). Patricia Wettig rounds out the cast as the mistress of the family’s fallen patriarch. The family dynamics of this group is complex, much like real life. You have the token Republican in Kitty who must deal with a house full of far left liberals and a strong mother (Fields) who seems to get on everyone’s nerves. However, it is the love and respect that rings true here. Everyone wants a family that will come together when needed to stand up for one another. That is the Walkers in a nutshell.

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Desperate Housewives. This series took a pounding last year with loose plots, poor writing, and ill-conceived characters that seemed more like caricatures. This year, however, the show’s originator, Marc Cherry, dedicated time to improving the show and it is working like a well-oiled machine. Still there are the housewives: Teri Hatcher (as Susan Mayer), Eva Longoria (as Gabrielle Solis), Felicity Huffman (as Lynette Scavo), Marcia Cross (as Bree Hodge), and Nicollette Sheridan (as Edie Britt). Also still aboard are their handsome better halves: James Denton (as Mike Delfino), Doug Savant (as Tom Scavo), and Ricardo Antonia Chavira (as Carlos Solis). Kyle MacLachtan (as Orson Hodge) joined the show this year as Bree’s new husband and Jesse Metcalfe made a return as Gabrielle’s one-time lawnboy, and lover, John Rowland. This is another solid cast that can pull off both drama and comedy with equal flare and panache. This year’s story lines have also been strong and brought in outstanding guest stars in memorable roles. All in all, it looks like the housewives are back on the right path.

House. This is another series that might have ranked higher in past years. For some reason, the show is floundering – – albeit only slightly – – this year. I can’t quite put my finger on the problem. I just know I’m not as committed to watching as I have been in the past. The strength of this show lies in its lead character played with credibility by Hugh Laurie. The supporting cast is also good; particularly Lisa Edelstein (as Lisa Cuddy), the hospital administrator, who is equally frustrated and awed by the both the brilliance and arrogance of Dr. House. I would love to see an occasional change in the show’s plot line. It remains pretty standard from week to week: Patient comes in with disease that no one can diagnose. House and his crew spend 55 minutes of the show time trying to determine what the problem is, all the while poking, prodding, torturing, and playing guinea pig with the patient. At the last minute, the diagnosis is found and the patient cured. I realize that this is part of what makes House the show it is, but predictability is not always a good thing.

Law and Order, SVU. Some of you may wonder why I didn’t choose to declare a tie with the Law and Order series as I did with the CSI series. The answer is simple. SVU is superior. Now don’t get me wrong. I still love the other two, which include the original Law and Order and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. In fact, I’m becoming quite a fan of the latter. Still, SVU is tops. A lot of that has to do with its stars. Mariska Hargitay (as Detective Olivia Benson) is totally amazing! She brings strength, depth, femininity, vulnerability, and believability to a role that in lesser hands could come across all wrong. Her partner, Christopher Meloni (as Detective Elliot Stabler) is equally skilled in bringing a wide array of emotions and nuance to his role. Ice-T as Fin and Richard Belzer as Munch are great supporting characters. Even George Huano as B.D. Wong, the psychiatrist they routinely use to profile perps, offers an often-sympathetic yet credible performance. Completing the cast are Diane Neal as ADA Casey Novak and Dann Florek as Captain Donald Cragen. I am amazed that, each year; this series only seems to get better. I can’t wait to see what they have in store in 2007.

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ER. Many would say that this series which recently entered its 12th year, is tired. I disagree. It seems to have re-energized itself this year with the addition of John Stamos (as Dr. Tony Gates) and the merger of Maura Tierney’s Abby Lockhart with Goran Visnjic’s Dr. Luka Kovac. Laura Innes (as Dr. Carrie Weaver) is finally off her crutches and has recently been re-melded into the ensemble cast with a regular back-story of her own. Linda Cardinelli (as Sam Taggart) has been mellowed to allow viewers to care what happens to her and a new potential love interest has been brought in for her in the form of a new male nurse. Mehki Phifer (as Dr. Greg Pratt) has become less militant in his handling of the medical students and is developing into a good leading man. Even Scott Grimes (as Dr. Archie Morris) is showing signs of becoming a decent human being. The stories this year are strong and the acting remains top-notch. Let’s face it, it is hard to say anything bad about a series that brought us George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Sherry Stringfield, Juliana Margulies, and Noah Wyle.

7th Heaven. Okay, it is highly unlikely that this series would make anyone else’s top 10 list. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good, wholesome, family-oriented show that still tackles hard core issues like homelessness, segregation and bigotry, teenage pregnancy, and the need to support our military (even when we don’t believe in the war). Sure, some call it sappy. I call it hopeful. Some call it wishful thinking. I call it having faith. Amongst a multitude of violent and sexually over-the-top shows, this little series refuses to compromise. I like that! Those who do not don’t have to watch it. Stephen Collins (as Reverend Eric Camden) represents the father that all of us want – – and deserve – – to have and Catherine Hicks (as Annie Camden) is a perfect partner for Collins. Although I admit I’m a little peeved over the rewrite of their on-screen daughter Mackenzie Rosman (as Ruthie Camden), I do realize that she is probably a more accurate representation of a typical teenage girl now than she was before (when she was just a little too perfect). Beverly Mitchell (as Reverend Lucy Kinkirk) has finally settled comfortably into her role as one of the show’s anchors and George Stults (as Kevin Kinkirk) is just plain charming. I realize that many see this “Christian” show as politically incorrect. To them, I say “just don’t watch it!”

As I said, it was difficult to limit my choice to just 10 shows. I think the following certainly deserve an honorable mention:

Battlestar Galactica

Medium

NCIS

Without A Trace

Ghost Whisperer

Close to Home

Stargate SG1

We are lucky that there is currently a good cross-section of excellent television shows to choose from. I suggest we all enjoy it. Next year could bring another drought.