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Best TV Shows Of 2004

Here, for your consideration is my first Top 10 list of the season. First up: the best in television in the past calendar year. I've limited myself to regularly scheduled programs (no specials, sporting events, wardrobe malfunctions, or presidential debates--"He forgot Poland!")

10. The Simpsons. Because more than fifteen years into its run, the show is still capable of moments of brilliance, even if it is not as consistent as it once was. Moreover, it retains its delightfully subversive sensibility. As in the past, itís the wonderfully detailed second- and third-tier characters that keep this half hour ticking.

9. Curb Your Enthusiasm, which we need to see a lot more of. It's more or less an HBO version of Seinfeld focusing on George Costanza living in L.A.

8. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. At its peak in this election year. A spot on send-up of the worlds of politics and the media.

7. The West Wing. Despite the continued absence of a sorely missed scripter Aaron Sorkin, the shake-up in the White House staff following Leoís heart attack, the machinations involved in the forthcoming election to detemine Bartlet's successor, and the presidentís recent battles with his multiple sclerosis have returned this program to "Must See TV" status.

6. The O.C. I know, I know: itís mindless, but a guilty pleasure nonetheless. The snappy dialogue makes up for the tedious soap opera angst.

5. Drawn Together. Little seen show on Comedy Central that features totally warped humor. Itís amazing what they have gotten away with, but I guess the animated format makes it easier for the censors to hold their nose. If The O.C. is a guilty pleasure, then this one's a naughty pleasure.

4. Alias. I was a latecomer to this show, having watched the first three seasons on DVD--which may, in fact, be the best way to watch a serial thriller like this. I'll be watching season four when it returns to the air starting in January.

3. The Sopranos. Hard-hitting season #5 was a welcome return to form. Oh, poor Adriana!

2. Arrested Development. Frigginí hilarious. Hasn't missed a beat in its second season, either. Best comic plotting since Seinfeld.

1. Lost. Heads and shoulders above the field. Not just the best new show on TV, but the best overall right now. This was a surprise to me. I watched the premiere with some wariness, but by the third episode I was totally hooked. There is no more inventive, suspenseful character-driven show on the air.

Near misses and honorable mentions: the third season of 24; HBO's Entourage; the new season of Smallville--the addition of a young Lois Lane to the cast has made this program a bit more interesting; Saturday Night Live, which always seems to find its voice in an election year (the debate send-ups were clever); Everwood--I gave Jack & Bobby a try, but this is the only "family drama" that I see with any regularlity; and The Office special, which wrapped up this terrific British import both sweetly and snarkily.

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