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Top 10 Episodes of TV in 2008 — Part Two!

Today we continue my list of the 10 best things I saw on TV in 2008!  (Click here to read yesterday’s installment, listing numbers 10-6 and several honorable mentions, if you missed it.)

5.  Battlestar Galactica: “The Hub” (season 4, episode 9, aired on 6/6/08).  Trapped on a Cyclon basestar with Gaius Baltar, cancer-stricken President Laura Roslin begins seeing visions of her long-dead friend (who bought it on Kobol in season 2) Elosha, and Helo is given an order that puts him at odds with his conscience (as well as his Cylon wife).  In one of my favorite moments of the entire fourth season, Baltar attempts to preach to a mechanical Cylon Centurian.  But the emotional climax of the episode comes at the end, when Roslin must decide whether to let Baltar, who she now knows to be responsible for the genocidal Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies that nearly eradicated humaity, bleed out and die.  In any other show we’d be certain that, by the end of the episode, she’d “do the right thing” and let him live.  In Battlestar Galactica, in which there are never any easy answers or easy decisions, the result is terrific suspense and gripping character drama of the best kind.

4.  30 Rock: “Believe in the Stars” (season 3, episode 2, aired on 11/6/08).  30 Rock has made great use of some phenomenal guest stars in the past (Steve Martin, Jennifer Aniston, Carrie Fisher, Paul Reubens, Isabella Rossellini, Edie Falco, Matthew Broderick, Will Arnett, Rip Torn, and so many others), but Liz Lemon’s hilarious plane ride seated next to Oprah Winfrey takes the cake.  That story-line alone would make this episode a winner, but there is so much more fun to be had as Jack puts Kenneth’s country-boy morality to the test and Tracy and Jenna begin a bizarre social experiment in order to see who has it harder in America: blacks or women.  Best line of the episode comes from Tracy:  “I watched Boston Legal nine times before I realized it wasn’t a new Star Trek!”

3.  Robot Chicken Star Wars Special: Episode II (aired on 11/16/08).  I’m not sure what more can be said that I didn’t already cover in my initial review of this special on 11/24/08.  For 22 gut-busting minutes the Robot Chicken gang mercilessly skewer all six Star Wars films in their second Star Wars special.  The jokes are delightfully random, from the House parody “Dr. Ball, M.D.” (“she lost the will to live?  What is your degree in, poetry??”) to the Cantina Band’s attempt to pitch a commercial jingle (“it works better as an instrumental”), to an awkward meal on Cloud City (Leah to Vader: “you know where I had great soup?  Alderaan!”) but they are always hilarious.  Seth McFarlane’s depiction of the put-upon, profane Emperor Palpatine takes center stage here, whether getting his hair done (“you’ve got the face for it” says his barber), haggling over prices with bounty hunters (“let’s just say SUBSTANTIAL reward”), or harassing Darth Vader (“feels like I just dipped my wang in hot lava, something you know a thing or two about, am I right?”).  Bonus points to the show’s writers for being unafraid of extremely obscure references (such as the origin of the bizarre dragon skeleton that C3P-0 shuffles by in one scene on Tatooine in the original Star Wars).  Pure genius, and more laughs-per-second than anything else I saw on TV all year.

2.  The Wire: “-30-” (season 5, episode 10, aired on 3/9/08).  I have selected the finale of The Wire, which so beautifully brought to a close the five-year-long exploration of the City of Baltimore and all of its kids on the corner, its cops on the street, its drug lords, its police detectives, its city officials, its dock workers, its judges, its school teachers, and all the sad, lost folks in between.  But really, I am using this number two spot on my list to give praise to the entire fifth season as a whole.  (It is almost impossible to single out an individual episode.)  I have sung the praises of this astounding achievement in television before, and I will do so again.  The Wire‘s dissection of a modern American city is staggeringly complex (there must be at least 50 major characters weaving their way through the series by the fifth season), honest and brutal.  Each season has a focus, even as it carries all the characters’ stories forward, and season five’s spotlight was on the decline of the American newspaper.  If the show didn’t get to delve quite as deeply into that topic as it did in previous seasons (such as season 4’s look at struggling schools and the kids falling through their cracks), it can be forgiven as the show also had so many character arcs to bring to some sort of resolution.  Not everything is tied with a bow, and not everyone’s storyline ends happily, but the resolution felt just right.  Sticking the landing on a show this acclaimed and this complex is no easy feat, and David Simon & co. made it look easy.  This is a show I cannot wait to revisit, and if you’ve never seen it then you NEED to go out and get your hands on season one right away.  Once you meet McNulty and the unfortunate Snot Boogie, you’ll be hooked.

So what could possibly be on the top of my list, if The Wire is coming in at number two?

1.  The Daily Show Indecision 2008 election coverage.  Every night, week after week, Jon Stewart and his marvelous team of writers and performers did their best to expose all of the ridiculousness, hypocrisy, corruption, and other shenanigans happening under our noses.  I’ve always thought their work bordered on brilliance, but somehow their election coverage this past year, from the primaries straight up through election night, reached a new level of quality.  Every night, day in and day out, Stewart and the Best F—-in’ News Team on the Planet took what Stewart calls his “morning cup of sadness” (when he gets up and, with his team, starts investigating the day’s events) and turned it into the sharpest political satire around.  There was nothing more consistently hilarious or intelligent on TV this year, and the fact that we got to enjoy it almost daily is astounding.  Well done!

OK, whew!  That’s my list!  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Be sure to let me know!  Otherwise, I’ll see you right back here tomorrow for my thoughts on the season premiere of Lost, and then on Monday for part one of my Top 10 Movies of 2008!

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