2007 will go into the books as a pivotal year for TV - and not necessarily in a good way.
A lot of solid shows were canceled in May (I acutely miss "Veronica Mars" every time Kristen Bell pops up on "Heroes"), and the fall schedule did nothing to fill the void ("Life" is a rare winner). Midseason looked promising, but the writers' strike will likely delay the return of favorites like "24."
As traditional TV continues to turn a cold shoulder to quality programming, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick have come up with the best possible solution: Turning their shot-down pilot "quarterlife" into an Internet series. It probably won't become a trend - H&Z are among the few producers willing to spend good money on this medium - but at least we get to see their work.
Here are the top 10 TV shows of 2007.
1. "quarterlife" (new episodes on Thursdays and Sundays at www.myspace.com/quarterlife)
Having already tackled teens ("My So-Called Life"), 30-somethings ("thirtysomething") and 40-somethings ("Once and Again"), H&Z take aim at 20-somethings in eight-minute installments (perhaps befitting our attention spans). "quarterlife" takes an honest look at young adults who struggle to find their niche as they are exposed to office politics (Dylan's magazine idea gets stolen), career indecision (Lisa wonders if she's cut out to be an actor), and old-fashioned romantic entanglements (Dylan likes Jed, who likes Debra, who likes Danny, who doesn't know who he likes).
2. "Veronica Mars" (canceled by The CW)
It worked as a season-long mystery and in shorter bursts, and the Season 4 pitch with Veronica starting her FBI career - featured on the Season 3 DVD - looked promising. The characters were collectively the best on TV - I could watch Logan brood for an hour (and did, in fact, in one episode), and Dick Casablancas was most endearing sexaholic in TV history.
3. "Side Order of Life" (probably canceled by Lifetime)
Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks are getting more press for this fall's "Pushing Daisies," but "Side Order," while more traditional, is also the more enjoyable series. It was great to see Marisa Coughlan in a lead role; in the show's one nod to fantasy, she sees "inner truth" in the photos she takes for her magazine job. The buildup to her inevitable meeting with Cell Phone Man came to an satisfyingly convoluted end in what was probably, sadly, the series finale.
4. "Family Guy" (8 p.m. Sundays on Fox)
This show still does bizarre-but-pointed humor better than anyone. But let's be honest: The real reason "Family Guy" was great this year was September's hour-long "Star Wars" parody. Highlights included Watto flying into a lightsaber fly trap, Peter deciding to haul a perfectly good couch out of the trash compactor and Darth Stewie asking for cost estimates to board up that one vulnerable exhaust port.
5. "The Simpsons" (7 p.m. Sundays on Fox)
"The Simpsons" hit the big screen in the summer and then kept its momentum going this fall. Much like the movie - where Homer and Marge split up for a time - the series has set goofiness aside (somewhat) and returned to its character-oriented roots - Homer gets a life coach, Marge starts a gym and Sideshow Bob works up another scheme. And the Halloween special's 25th anniversary "E.T." send-up, where Bart adopts the seemingly harmless Kodos, was worth the wait.
6. "Gilmore Girls" (series ended on The CW)
So often, shows are either canceled in the middle of a story or they continue long past their prime. "Gilmore Girls," however, ended at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way. The heartfelt finale was satisfying because it did something seemingly obvious (but it's amazing how many shows get it wrong): It gave fans what they wanted. Luke and Lorelai are back together, and Rory is embarking on a career.
7. "The Office" (8 p.m. Thursdays on NBC)
Season 3 ended with a nice moment in the Jim-and-Pam saga - Jim asks Pam out on a date, and she smiles secretly to the camera. Season 4 has featured memorable premises such as Michael's Fun Run, Dwight's ping pong domination and the hilarious romance between clingy Kelly and go-with-the-flow Darryl. And while boss Michael is as annoying as ever, we still get hints of humanity, like when he shares a genuine "That's what she said" laugh with Jim.
8. "Friday Night Lights" (8 p.m. Fridays on NBC)
The performances and small-town ambiance continue to be spot-on in Season 2, even if the plotlines are pure melodrama (Landry kills someone; Tami worries that the young English teacher is taking too much interest in her daughter). On-field action has been sparse, but the off-field team drama has been good - Smash has his mind on college ball, Riggins apologizes individually to his teammates and a juvenile delinquent orphan gets a shot at a fresh start with the Panthers.
9. "The Best Years" (between seasons on The-N)
One little quibble: Although the first season takes place during fall semester, Devon is somehow playing basketball (a winter sport at every college in the country); they should've made him a football player. On the plus side, the Charles University campus would be a cool place to matriculate, and Sam and the gang would be fun to hang out with.
10. (tie) "What About Brian" and "Six Degrees" (both canceled by ABC)
"Lost" is the show that gets all the press, but I liked these less-heralded J.J. Abrams entries better. "What About Brian" was a solid, melodramatic look at a group of pals - the type of pleasant diversion you take for granted until there are no longer any shows like it on the tube. "Six Degrees" also featured cracking-good characters, and by its end, the separate plotlines began to meld together.
JOHN HANSEN, entertainment editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5863.
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