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Many Happy Returns: My Other 10-Best List

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The dirty secret of my annual top 10 TV shows list is that it is not  really a top 10 TV shows list. Like TIME TV critics before me, I  concentrate on new shows and series, on the theory that a list of the
straight-out best shows would include, say, Lost or South Park every  year, and thus be insufferably boring. Not too boring for a blog, though! In the interest of completism, here are 10 more reasons for you  to believe I know nothing about TV, a.k.a., my Top 10 Returning Shows of 2005:

Lost (ABC)
By rights this show should have jumped the shark. (An  underground doomsday machine? Sawyer pulling a bullet out of his arm?)  Instead, it leaps onto the shark’s fin and back, daring the damn thing
to bite. It’s the TV equivalent of The Lord of the Rings: with a vast  cast and branching story, it invites obsession while also entertaining  casual viewers. It’s the biggest little cult show on TV.

Deadwood (HBO)
Still  great the second time around, David  Milch’s poetic saga of the brackish pool in which the West was spawned  reached new heights of intrigue and poetry, as it explored the incursion
of big business into the frontier gold trade and gave new depth to  peripheral characters like Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens).

Arrested Development (Fox)
Its third, attenuated, and, without divine (or Showtime’s) intervention, last season has been uneven (the Charlize Theron subplot was too much hooey for an admittedly funny payoff), but this is still the bust-a-gut funniest sitcom going. Going, gone?

Veronica Mars (UPN)
A worthy, more minor-key successor to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this high-school mystery is a suspenseful study of how all the unfairnesses of life — class divides, bigotry, corruption — play out both in the larger world and in the microcosm of school. It also features the best, most believable father-daughter relationship in primetime.

Entourage (HBO)
Largely because the producer realized this is really The Ari Gold Show and let Jeremy Piven run with his character, the second season went from decent diversion to addiction. Week after week, it corrupts me expertly, making me root for Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) to sell out and make that crappy Aquaman movie I’m sure I’d never actually watch in real life, so I can keep tagging along on his
trip through movie-money Babylon.

American Idol (Fox)
The producers are probably starting to exhaust the talent of America’s amateur singers — no one has yet outdone Kelly Clarkson from season 1 — and yet it doesn’t matter. Raising the age limit was a good move, however, allowing in the more interesting likes of Bo Bice, who could soing a Lynyrd Skynyrd song and make you believe he had heard the band once or twice in his life.

Six Feet Under (HBO)
This series sometimes meandered, wallowed, and detoured down fruitless cul-de-sacs, but the last few episodes utterly redeemed it, taking vviewers through the same mourning process that this
about the funereal Fischer family was based on. Burying not only Nate (Peter Krause) but every other major character in an over-the-top, but haunting, elegiac coda, SFU joined the ranks of the few TV series to go out at their peak.

Rescue Me (FX)
In its second season Denis Leary’s comedy-drama went from being just That 9/11 Show to a funny, poignant, searing look at what men do to screw themselves up. Offensive, scathing and soaked in
guilty Irish Catholicism, few shows as well embody their creator’s voice as Rescue Me does Leary’s.

The Shield (FX)
Casting a big movie star is a stunt that aging shows will sometimes use to revive interest. This time, it worked not just commercially but creatively. As a principled, bull-headed and un-PC police captain, Glenn Close was a perfect complement–and foil–to Michael Chiklis’ loose cannon Vic Mackey. Anthony Anderson stood out too, in an against-type villain role that, any other season, would have
stolen the show.

South Park (Comedy Central)
The Daily Show gets all the buzz nowadays, but this is still Comedy Central”s funniest and most incisive parody of current events. Each season, its satire not only gets sharper, its characters become better drawn. If a cartoon sitcom can leave me genuinely moved over an episode involving a leather-bound masochist named Mr. Slave, something is deeply right with it. Or deeply wrong with
me. Take your pick.