5. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (Bravo)
Ah, the Fab Five. How do we thank thee? Let me count the ways: First, you probably have done more for mainstreaming homosexuality than any pop-culture icon ever (when did you think you'd ever see five gay men giving a Marine a make-over on American television? Exactly.) Second, you boys are friggin' hilarious. Carson and Ted are sharp and quick enough that you wonder if they were doing stand-up before re-doing New York. Third, there's a heart beating beneath the grooming tips and humor of your show. Watch the toupee episode, folks, and if it doesn't make you tear up when that schmuck finally shows his bald head to his kids for the first time ever, check your chest. And four... well, this straight guy finally knows how to shave properly and hell, I'm even moisturizing. Who says television isn't educational?
4. "The O.C." (FOX)
Easily the most fun and entertaining new show of the year is the same one I mocked when I first saw the ads during the World Series. Not another "Melrose Place"/"90210"-esque examination of the rich and brainless, I thought. Well, actually, nope, it's not that at all. "The O.C." has writers who actually know how to write! Characters are three-dimensional and the show had you loving them by the second episode. And unlike those soap operas that took themselves SO seriously, "The O.C." knows its genre and lovingly, with tongue firmly in cheek, adores mocking itself and its characters. Though labeled as a teen drama, there are more laughs to be found in this show than 90 percent of so-called sitcoms. The majority of those laughs come from patriarch, Sandy Cohen, played by Peter Gallagher in a role that finally showcases his talents, or his wise-ass, quick-witted son, Seth (the irreverent Adam Brody). This is a show that respects its audience's intelligence, and in return we'll follow it anywhere.
3. "Angel" (WB)
To be honest, the last several seasons of Joss Whedon's brooding vampire-with-a-soul-kicking-demon-ass-in-Los Angeles show were stronger, smarter, more inspired than the final seasons of "Buffy." With "Buffy" retired, its spin-off can finally get the respect it's been deserving for the past four years. A lot went down for Angel and his crew in 2003, and in typical tradition, most of it was very, very dark, as the show required a lot from its audience. Angel had and then lost a son. He fell in love with Cordilia, only to have her fall into a coma (and off the show). His crew battled and defeated a god-like demon that felt like a pointed (and very daring) metaphor for the religious right. And finally they took over a corporate law firm that may or may not be corrupting them. Oh, yeah, and Spike (James Marsters) from "Buffy" joined the show, sending the humor quotient even higher. As long as the execs at the WB keep giving this show air time, Whedon and company will continue to turn out the smartest drama on network TV.
2. "The Wire" (HBO)
The best show on HBO wasn't "Six Feet Under" or "Sex in the City" in 2003; it was the second season of the crime drama "The Wire." It doesn't get the ink -- or the ratings -- of "The Sopranos," but creator David Simon's detailed, complex character tapestry might just be as good. You could call "The Wire" a cop show, but you'd only be half right. It does examine law enforcement in Baltimore. However, the show spends as much time on those the cops are going after as it does on the boys in blue ... and often you can't tell which side is morally correct. What also makes it fascinating and different is that while many cop shows follow one story a week, "The Wire" takes 12 weeks to investigate one story. Season one examined the drug war and its effect on the streets of the city. With season two, the action shifted to the waterfronts and focused on smuggling. The real theme of the season was the decline of the working class in American cities, and how it's forcing legitimate business men to turn to crime. If that sounds too heady and a bit dull, it's not. The show juggles about 20 characters and those interactions between people are the backbone of the show. It's a crushing, touching tragedy that's methodical in pace and lethal in execution.
1. "The Office" (BBC America)
It's doubtful there has ever been a more excruciating television sitcom than the English import "The Office." Set among the ringing phones, droning copy machines and awkward silences of a paper company in Slough, the mock-documentary nails what it's like to suffer through corporate Hell. In this case, Satan is one David Brent (wincingly played by co-creator Ricky Gervais), an offensive, cowardly clown of a boss, who's under the delusion that every miserable, bored employee in the office adores him. Other than his creepy, ex-military right hand man, Gareth (the brilliant Mackenzie Crook), no one does. Like most offices, not much "happens" in term of plot in "The Office." There is a casual flirtation/possible budding romance, the threat of downsizing, and David, embarrassing himself at every turn (playing the guitar and singing during a motivational meeting; trying to beat his boss in an impromptu dance contest). The show is so painful that you often watch episodes through your fingers, like a horror film. It is the type of comedy that makes you cry, not only because it's hysterical (which it is) but because it's so damn sad and pathetic ... and real. It's no surprise it's become such a sensation over here in the States.
"Arrested Development" (FOX)
"Da Ali G Show" (HBO)
"Aqua Teen Hunger Force" (Cartoon Network)
"The Bernie Mac Show" (FOX)
"Dinner for Five" (Independent Film Channel)
"K Street" (HBO)
League of Its Own:
"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" (Comedy Central)
Gone But Not Forgotten:
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