Any list - particularly one involving television with its massive viewership and serial nature, is open to debate. For every group of Mad Men devotees there are no doubt an equally massive number of passionate fans of Family Guy, NCIS, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, or True Blood. This is, therefore, a subjective list of the best in narrative (as in it doesn’t include reality or talk programming of any kind) television currently on the air.
1. Mad Men (AMC)
Four seasons in, the best thing on TV. Already but a few pegs below The Wire and The Sopranos, and on par with Deadwood, as one of the best shows of the past decade.
2. Dexter (SHO)
Going into season six, Dexter may well have slipped some, but remains intriguing due to its signature color drenched cinematography and a gripping lead performance from Michael C. Hall, elements that help make this serial killer/police show one of the best on the air.
3. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Misanthropic Larry David brings his innovative black comedy back for an eighth season (Seinfeld only ran for nine) and it shows no signs of slowing down.
4. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Great start to a sweeping series that hints at the possibilities of becoming an all time great. One hopes only that, ala Deadwood, budget considerations don’t force a premature end.
5. Breaking Bad (AMC)
Bryan Cranston heads a solid cast as Walter White, the ex-science teacher turned cancer survivor/big time meth dealer/manufacturer. Three seasons in, the show continues to prove itself to be a singular series without legitimate comparison.
6. Men of a Certain Age (TBS)
Ray Romano’s first series following Raymond is an insightful, tonally complex look at middle aged men and their problems. Smart, understated, and well acted.
7. Friday Night Lights (NBC via DIR TV)
Yes, it’s nearly over, but Friday is technically still alive. It will be missed.
8. Nurse Jackie (SHO)
The brilliant Edie Falco heads a marvelous cast of a show that revels in the minutiae of one morally compromised woman.
9. Weeds (SHO)
Last season (six) was not a high point in the shows history as, with the advent of the Mexican criminal plot, it began to devolve into the absurd. While the jury is still out after a few mediocre first few episodes of season seven, Weeds has been a long time quality mainstay.
10. Louie (FX)
Like Seinfeld with less set dressing than season one and way, way, way more depression. From the brilliant comedic mind of Louie C.K., something of an anti-show. It’s at times, shockingly honest, in a really refreshing (though sobering) way. Like Men of a Certain Age minus any of the good times and/or friendly banter or comeraderie, or Curb except meaner and a lot lonelier and more misanthropic.
Ten More Good Ones (in no particular order)
Episodes (SHO) Matt Leblanc (that’s right, Joey) stars as a version of himself. Surprisingly good first season.
Californication (SHO) While it dropped off some during a wildly uneven fourth season, threatening to become a kind of parody of itself, the show survives thanks to consistently profane and clever writing; David Duchovony’s mostly likable miscreant writer Hank Moody; a quality supporting cast (Evan Handler; Natascha McElhone; Pamela Adlon); fun guest stars, and a high insider Hollywood quotient.
The Office (NBC) It has become de rigueur to bash this show in recent seasons, but it’s still one of the best things on TV. Will be interesting to see where the show goes following the Michael Scott departure.
The Sarah Silverman Show (COM CENTR) Absurd, but consistently funny stuff from the twisted mind of one of the best comics out there.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FOX) Perhaps television’s most irreverent half hour keeps chugging along as it heads into it’s seventh season.
Modern Family (ABC) Disappointing fall-off after a stellar season one. This year might be make it or break it.
Parenthood (ABC) Though there are times when one wishes this family drama would take more chances, it is network television and this is about as good as it gets right now in terms of narrative drama heading into next season.
Life and Times of Tim (HBO) Critically (and critically) neglected animated series.
How To Make it in America (HBO) Another one the critics seem to have missed. An energetic show about two NYC hustlers trying to earn a buck.
The Ricky Gervais Show (HBO) Arose out of the podcast run by Gervais and his British Office partner Stephen Merchant, revolving around their animated discussions with idiot (savant?) Karl Pilkington.