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Heart attacks
The best television of 2005
BY JOYCE MILLMAN


Reality TV and disaster movies were nothing compared to Mother Nature in 2005, so it’s only fitting that a hurricane tops the list of the year’s most memorable television programming.

1 KATRINA COVERAGE | As the world watched, Hurricane Katrina brought misery to the Gulf Coast and a massive career boost to CNN’s intrepid (and fabulously groomed) Anderson Cooper. But the real storm hit when the sun came out and the failure of government at every level lay exposed in the glare of the 24-hour cable news channels. The effect of seeing poor African-American residents of New Orleans begging for food and water was something no amount of Bush Administration voodoo could exorcise from viewers’ eyeballs. Jolted by this glimpse of a separate and unequal nation amid the floodwaters, Americans responded to the celebrity appeals of hurricane-relief telethons and turned thumbs down on the president’s " handling " of the crisis. For an intense week, the TV images of the social impact of Katrina threatened to become this generation’s version of Harvest of Shame, Edward R. Murrow’s famed 1960 CBS documentary about the plight of migrant farm workers. And then, you know, a new season of America’s Next Top Model started and people, like, moved on.

2 LOST | ABC | The brilliant first season ended with the show moving to the next level — literally, with the castaways’ discovery of a subterranean biosphere. The second season is carrying this reinvention farther by introducing several new castaways who had been seated in the missing tail section of the plane. Lost remains the most surprising show on television, a haunting and often profound meditation on guilt, faith, and redemption set in a shadowland between life and death, reality and illusion. (Read Chris Nelson's "Lost on the Web," a guide to fansites.)

3 VERONICA MARS | UPN | This sparklingly written mystery/drama about a teenage sleuth (feisty Kristen Bell) in a socio-economically divided suburb was anointed the (un-sci-fi) successor to Buffy the Vampire Slayer by no less than Buffy creator Joss Whedon. After singing the show’s praises on his Web site, Whedon was invited on for a cameo appearance. No disrespect, Joss, but we knew Veronica was cool even before you showed up.

4 ROME AND DEADWOOD | HBO | Deadwood depicts the birth of American capitalism amid the blood and filth of the Old West; Rome depicts the struggle to maintain the ideals of the Republic amid the blood and filth of Julius Caesar’s reign. Okay, they’re basically the same show. But what a show . . . Deadwood had a mesmerizing second season, with the fine cast making beautiful work of the writing’s Shakespearean rhythms. The lavish and sensual Rome gave us the everyday life of the empire as seen through the eyes of two fictionalized, flawed heroes, Vorenus, a tragic centurion much like the stiff-necked sheriff on Deadwood, and Pullo, his genial brute of a pal. And then there are the women of Rome and Deadwood, who display even more shrewdness, ambition, and animalistic appetite than the men. Neither series would have been possible without the inroads into adult storytelling made by HBO’s Sunday-time-slot forerunner, The Sopranos. Actually, The Sopranos is pretty much what you get when you put Rome and Deadwood together.

5 VIVA BLACKPOOL | BBC AMERICA | The best mini-series of the year, Viva Blackpool was a murder mystery/drama/comedy/musical about a cheeky Elvis-worshipping arcade owner who dreams of building a Vegas-style casino in his cruddy English seaside town. Yes, the six-hour program owed a lot to Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective — the production was laced with fantasy musical numbers in which characters bared their souls as they sang along to recordings by everyone from Elvis Presley to Elvis Costello. But Viva Blackpool pulled off the homage with a style and chutzpah all its own. David Morrissey (as rascally dreamer Ripley Holden), Sarah Parish (as his depressed wife), and David Tennant (as a charming, junk-food-chomping detective) made an unforgettable romantic triangle. Watch for it on DVD.

6 BONES AND HOUSE | FOX | What do women want (part one)? To judge from the popularity of House and its newly minted sex symbol, Dr. Greg House (Hugh Laurie), we want a dark, damaged bastard whom we can rehabilitate (or so we think) with our boundlessly forgiving love. What do women want (part two)? To judge from the popularity of the rookie crime drama Bones, we want a brainy, courageous, somewhat vulnerable heroine (Emily Deschanel as forensic anthropologist Temperance " Bones " Brennan) with whom we can identify. And because we’re women, we want her to have a hunky FBI-guy partner. The fact that he used to be Angel the vampire in a previous TV life doesn’t hurt either.

7 RESCUE ME | FX | In its second season, Denis Leary’s drama/comedy about a troubled New York firefighter remained uncompromising in its willingness to portray dark emotions, hilariously inappropriate male behavior, and unspeakable tragedy.

8 TOM CRUISE | Ranting against psychology on The Today Show, bouncing on Oprah’s couch, parading Katie Holmes around as if she were a show pony, the wee superstar displayed dark emotions, hilariously inappropriate male behavior, and unspeakably tragic public-relations advice.

9 NO DIRECTION HOME | PBS | Martin Scorsese’s documentary about the youth and times of Bob Dylan was a treasure trove of rare or never-seen footage, from the quirky magnetism of the cherubic, teenage Zimmy to the rush of his electric fuck-off to an audience of unhappy British folkies and the crackling sexiness of his 1960s coupling with Joan Baez.

10 THE GIRL IN THE CAFÉ | HBO | For once, master of cloying British romantic comedy Richard Curtis (Love Actually) wrote a movie that did not make you want to rip your own head off. Available on DVD, this unlikely blend of love story and plea for African poverty relief was tender, soulful, and funny, with affecting (and Golden Globe–nominated) performances from Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald. This was one from the heart.


Issue Date: December 23 - 29, 2005
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