Whatever you may think of "The Jay Leno Show," it has made compiling a list of the year’s best TV much easier.
Not that it made the Top 10. That Magic Bullet infomercial had a better shot. But by keeping five dramas off the air, there were fewer contenders to wade through. And there already were too many notables — from past favorites "30 Rock" and "House" to newcomers "Glee" and "Party Down" — that didn’t make the cut.
NBC has vowed to stop programming on the cheap, which should make this even more difficult next year. But until then, these are TV’s best series:
1. "BREAKING BAD," AMC — Every other series should want to be this good. As Walt White, Bryan Cranston’s descent from chemistry-teaching family man to cancer-ridden, meth-manufacturing loner has been haunting and beautifully tragic.
2. "SONS OF ANARCHY," FX — After a solid first season that played out like "Hamlet" on Harleys, "Sons" roared into its second year as a sort of supercharged Western, with Katey Sagal turning in a stunning, achingly raw performance as the woman wronged.
3. "MODERN FAMILY," ABC — Merging the tired fake-documentary style with the dated family sitcom should have been as relevant as putting an 8-track player in a covered wagon. But as it bounced among three very different branches of the same family tree, "Modern Family" was the year’s most consistently hilarious comedy.
4. "BETTER OFF TED," ABC — Weaponized pumpkins. Eight-legged octo-chickens. A medieval fight club in the subbasement. There’s something very wrong going on at Veridian Dynamics. But the "Racial Diversity" episode — new sensors that controlled everything from the water fountains to the elevators didn’t recognize black employees, so the conglomerate hired white people to follow them around and trigger the detectors — was the most perfect 30 minutes of television all year.
5. "TRUE BLOOD," HBO — While Bill and Sookie became a cultural phenomenon, the Southern-fried drama found meatier parts for its supporting cast — including Las Vegas native Rutina Wesley’s Tara — and discovered something far scarier than its vampires, shape-shifters and demonic orgies: militant evangelicals.
6. "MAD MEN," AMC — For long stretches, 2008’s best series became "The Don and Betty Draper Show," relegating everyone else to the occasional pot smoking, crazed dancing or attacks by a flesh-eating lawn mower. But "Mad Men" recovered in a big way with the three stellar episodes that closed the season and laid the foundation, "Ocean’s Eleven"-style, for Sterling Cooper Draper Price.
7. "LOST," ABC — In its time-trippiest season yet, the island-set drama finally let Josh Holloway’s Sawyer come across as more than eye candy. I still have no idea what’s going on, but as it closes in on its final year, it’s still the only show I never let linger on my DVR.
8. "FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS," DIRECTV/NBC — I’ve never really bought into the notion of a "real America," that certain parts of the country better represent the American ideal. But if there were such a place, Dillon, Texas, would be its capital. Each episode that visits with Coach Taylor and the rest of the town feels like a gift.
9. "THE OFFICE," NBC — Turning to the folks at Dunder-Mifflin for feel-good moments is usually like looking for substance on "Keeping Up With the Kardashians." But seeing the cast dancing in Michael’s Café Disco and boogying down the aisle at Jim and Pam’s wedding were moments of pure, unadulterated joy.
10. "CHUCK," NBC — Sweet, smart and funny, it’s the girl next door of TV shows. And knowing that the only thing that saved it from cancellation was a Subway promotion almost makes up for all those years of having to put up with the sandwich-maker’s pitchman, Jared, and his giant pants.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at email@example.com or 702-380-4567.TELEVISION
1. "Breaking Bad"
2. "Sons of Anarchy"
3. "Modern Family"
4. "Better Off Ted"
5. "True Blood"
6. "Mad Men"
8. "Friday Night Lights"
9. "The Office"