A couple of documentaries made the list.
NEW YORK — You’re doggone right it was a lousy year for TV! Take away that rollicking presidential race and the Olympics, and what have you got? Blame the writers strike at the start of 2008 and the economic meltdown now ringing it out — they’re convenient excuses.
But if the pool of excellence was shallower, that doesn’t mean a few shows didn’t stand tall. So instead of the top 10 shows, these dozen are as good as it gets any year:
“Breaking Bad”: A high school chemistry teacher with terminal cancer becomes a meth dealer to make ends meet. Even if unwittingly, this nervy AMC drama drives home a pair of powerful truths: Teachers are shamefully undervalued in America, and the country’s middle class is on the ropes.
“Larry Flynt”: The Right to Be Left Alone” (IFC) and “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” (HBO): You can’t ask more from a documentary than for it to change your mind about something you thought you knew. These films correct the record on the man long vilified as America’s smut merchant, and on the film director convicted 30 years ago in a sex case involving an underage girl. Each film, in its own way, is a revelation.
“Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson”: Women want to be with him, men want to be him (and maybe vice versa), and everybody has a good time tuning in to him. Thanks to Ferguson, it’s a great day in America every night on CBS when this sublimely unhinged Scotsman ends the day with late night’s best talk show. (Jimmy Fallon, your work is cut out for you.)
“Lost”: This screwball ABC serial is better some seasons than others. This season’s was masterful, adding time travel to the show’s epic weirdness, and to its storytelling bag of tricks.
“Mad Men”: It was a second season for this AMC drama, a second brilliant display of Americana as viewed through the prism of a Manhattan advertising agency in the early 1960s.
“Recount”: A white-knuckle dramatization of the 2000 Florida ballot dispute, this HBO film takes an election that was never in doubt, and deftly keeps the viewer guessing who will end up in the White House.
“Secret Diary of a Call Girl”: Funny, sexy, glamorous, racy, smart, heartwarming, eye-opening, even downright educational, plus sexy. In the title role of Showtime’s tell-all comedy, Billie Piper has a strong rebuttal to the age-old saying, “Money can’t buy happiness.”
“The Shield”: For seven seasons, no drama series ever reached further with a surer hand than this FX cop saga. Then, with its finale, it reached even further and perpetrated near-perfection.
“Sons of Anarchy”: In its first season, this FX drama sizzled with its twist on “Sopranos” family values. But here the mobsters are members of an arms-dealing motorcycle club in less-than-charming Charming, Calif. Ron Perlman is terrific as the boss and, as his wife, Katey Segal could give Carmela Soprano a fright (Tony, too).
“30 Rock”: Zany, smart, irrepressible and sometimes just plain nuts, this NBC comedy is a behind-the-scenes romp through corporate chicanery and pop-culture foolishness. For 30 minutes weekly, Tina Fey and Company rock!
“The Wire”: Set in a forlorn version of Baltimore, this HBO drama had an unvarying message: What people do best when they form into groups is get in everybody else’s way. Wrapping up a five-season run, it was a sprawling, unforgettable feast of human fallibilities.