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Wait 'Til Next Year: My 10 Next-Best List for 2006

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Every year, my top 10 TV list is something of a misnomer. The first five, six or seven shows are usually pretty obvious and come to me more or less immediately. Beyond that, you have essentially a fifteen-way tie for eighth place. Below, in alphabetical order, is my next-10 list: shows that could just as well have been in one of the lower spots in my top 10 but for some reason (or none) didn’t.

And yes, I could do another next-10 list—which would include Weeds, PBS’s Country Boys, South Park, King of the Hill… but that’s the path to madness.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX): A show I dropped the critical ball on when it came out in 2005 was hilarious in its second season, with new cast member Danny DeVito proving that he’s even funny sober.

The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman (IFC): There’s not really such a thing as indie TV—unless you count YouTube—but Laura Kightlinger’s acerbic comedy about a woman on the fringes of Hollywood came close in spirit.

Project Runway (Bravo): Still a great reality show; season 3 just didn’t stand out sufficiently that I thought it needed to get back on the list. Don’t hate me, Heidi.

Rollergirls (A&E): In a weak year for reality TV—the first in a long time I haven’t had a reality show in my top 10—this fascinating docu-reality series, from the makers of Laguna Beach, about Texas roller derby queens, came closest to making my list.

The Shield (FX): For some reason, Forrest Whittaker didn’t get the media attention Glenn Close did for her guest turn on the show a year earlier, but his performance as an obsessed investigator was staggering. And as Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) finally saw his corruption begin to catch up with him, it set up what promises to be an explosive season 6 in the spring.

The Sopranos (HBO): After a strong few beginning episodes (more Dead Tony! more Dead Tony!), the season went into an overlong detour as the Gay Vito Show. It’s still one of TV’s best, and it’s reasonable to excuse the meandering because the show ended in the middle of season 6, which concludes next year. So I’m withholding judgment for another 12 months.

The Thick of It (BBC America): I loved this black-hearted comedy of British political maneuverings, which played like The Larry Sanders Show with less money and different accents. It’s being remade for American TV, and could continue in The Office’s tradition of British classics we Yanks managed not to screw up.

30 Rock (NBC): So, so close, and in a weak year for comedies (only one in my top 10) I badly wanted to include it. While Tina Fey’s inside-sketch-comedy sitcom gave Studio 60 a schooling this season, the episodes weren’t consistent enough to merit a spot. But it’s gotten better almost every week—the last episode was the first one where each subplot was grade-A—and is a serious contender for next year (if it’s still around).

Ugly Betty (ABC): For me, ABC’s charming comedy was like Heroes: excellent premise, appealing execution, not quite strong enough writing to be truly great. I thought one of the two should make the top 10, and awarded the spot to Heroes on the strength of its last few year-end episodes.

When The Levees Broke (HBO): Clear-eyed, outraged and—in the best sense of the word—terrible, Spike Lee’s four-hour documentary about Hurricane Katrina and its physical and racial aftermath was the last (so far), best word on a heavily covered subject.