Friday List: Top 10 individual television seasons

If you’re a regular reader of TV Surveillance, you know I love a good list. Or a mediocre list. Or even a horrible list. The point is, I have a lust for lists. This fall, I’d like to provide you folks with more lists than ever and hopefully that will result in a weekly or bi-weekly feature I’m going to christen the Friday List. Creative, right? Anyway, some of these lists will be very serious, others will be less so, but my hope is that they are all fun and also catalysts for some discussion either here on Twitter

I think the headline of this gives it away, but let me explain just a little further. We like to talk about what the best series and episodes are, but it feels like the discussion about the best individual seasons is somewhat lost among those two louder talks. I’ve thought about my favorite individual seasons of series often, especially in light of a few recent seasons that you will find below. Some of these are obvious choices, others not so much.

Nevertheless, a few caveats are necessary before I get into it: First, this is obviously a list based on my personal tastes, preferences and viewing habits. I like what I like and have seen what I have seen, so a number of surely wonderful series won’t have a representative here because I watched enough of them to make a judgment. Series that fall under this umbrella include Buffy, Angel, The Sopranos, The Shield, Deadwood and Seinfeld. I’ve seen many episodes of some of these and basically no episodes of others, but unfortunately, they won’t make an appearance here. Feel free to tell me how dumb I am for not making a commitment to them. Secondly, I’m only allowing a series one seasonal representative on this list. Of course the first four seasons of The Wire are tremendous, but only one makes the cut.

With all that in mind, here are my top 10 television seasons, in reverse order.

Just outside the top 10: Parks and Recreation, season three; The Office, season two; Party Down, season one; Justified, season two; Hill Street Blues, season one

10. The X-Files season three: I’ve only recently gotten around to watching The X-Files but through four-and-a-half seasons of this great series, this season sticks out the most. Season three does a masterful job of furthering the series’ mythology while still providing a number of enjoyable standalone episodes as well. This feels like what I expected The X-Files to be after all those years of wanting to watch it.

9. Twin Peaks season one: This is the shortest and certainly weirdest season on the list, but that ultimately works to the benefit of Twin Peaks. Like most folks, I’m not particularly fond of how everything played out in season two, but that can’t take away from the spooky, awkward charm of this David Lynch-driven project.

8. Friday Night Lights season three: I battled with myself over what Friday Night Lights season to pick for this list and my heart eventually drew me here. Although I love the first season of the series a lot, season three is where FNL really seemed to become something more. The shorter episode order allowed the series to hone in on the important stories and deepen character relationships. No other series has managed to say goodbye to most of its original cast so well and the quasi-ending that is the final two episodes is nearly as good as what season five offered.

7. Lost season five: I’m a major Lost supporter and if I would have done this list a few years ago, I could have easily placed even the worst season on a list like this. More viewing and writing has shown me that there is more out there, but I still have to put a Lost season on here. Freed from longer episode orders and writer’s strikes, season five is Lost at its pulpy, fun best. The time travel device worked much better than I could have ever expected and the time in Dharmaville was well spent.

6. Mad Men season four: Mad Men‘s fourth season stands out as its most tonally experimental and riskiest, but it all pays off. The deconstruction of Don Draper was difficult, but engaging to watch, Peggy became a much larger presence and episodes expertly tip-toed the line between depressing period drama and wacky comedy. Any season with “The Suitcase” is going to be very high on a list like this.

5. Arrested Development season one: Picking between Arrested Development‘s first and second seasons was probably the most difficult decision I had when crafting this list. I really do love season two, but season one will always stick out for how innovative and original it was at the time (and still is, really). There is no individual season of television that I have watched more on DVD than this one.

4. Freaks and Geeks season one: Sigh. Even though it only lasted one season, Freaks and Geeks managed to leave a big mark on my life and on the lives of fans everywhere. Freaks and Geeks was able to get inside the screwed up minds and emotions of high school students everywhere like no other series before or after. It’s raw, insightful and oftentimes very funny and just damn enjoyable to watch.

3. Community season two: I think my love for Community is well-documented, however I don’t think my fanboy nature is really getting the best of me in this regard. Season two is consistently hilarious and more importantly it is consistently experimental and odd. The series might not have always nailed the landing, but I have to give Community massive props for trying the things that it did.

2. The Wire season four: The top two spots are dedicated to what are, in my opinion, the two best dramas in the medium’s history. The Wire‘s creative team was always fantastic at crafting an entire season’s worth of stories that would just build and build and nowhere is that more present than in the series’ fourth season. To see the journey of those kids from the premiere to the finale is staggering, heartbreaking and kind of uncomfortable. I’m still not entirely sure how David Simon pulled it all of without much screen-time for the series’ lead character.

1. Breaking Bad season three: I was honestly never sure that something could surpass The Wire‘s fourth season and yet here we are. Breaking Bad‘s third season is masterfully paced, resulting in the most engaging, exciting, manic and suffocating stretches of television I have ever seen. The performances, the writing, the direction, the cinematography, it is all glorious. The fact that this season feels expertly constructed even though Vince Gilligan has said that he made this season up as he went along is a testament to everyone working on the series.

Alright folks, there you have it. Your thoughts?


5 responses to “Friday List: Top 10 individual television seasons”

  1. Good list, I haven’t seen all but I’d probably add The Office season 3 and Fringe season 3, and maybe Veronica Mars season 1.


  2. I really agree in the 1st and 2nd place.


  3. If you had all 5 seasons of The Wire 1-5 it would be tough to argue that.


  4. Nice list. Season 3 of FNL is indeed the almost perfect one.
    I feel like i have to mention Season 4 of the Sopranos, Season 2 of Carnivale and Season 1 of Deadwood. But you did a good job!


  5. Agree. I think now Breaking Bad’s fourth season would be number 1 though (season 5 is split, not really over yet).


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