Best. Season. Ever.

Last night I finished the fourth season of The Wire. As a whole, it was one of the most satisfying seasons of television I’ve ever watched (if “satisfied” is what I can really call myself while shrieking “NO! NO! NO!” at my TV as I watch one of my favorite characters get executed on a street corner….damn this show!!). I pretty much worship well-done, serialized stories. Though The Wire consistently leaves open storylines in a finale to be continued later, each season also embraces a single theme that entwines itself with a certain story arc. In this case, the evolution of a new batch of characters—a group of middle school students at the point in their lives when they must choose whether or not to embrace “corner life”—affected me even more deeply than anything in previous seasons, and the genius ways in which long-term characters came in and out of their lives impressed me beyond what I can express here. Best season of the show so far, and I can’t wait until the fifth and final one comes out on DVD next month.

DVD culture, and the revered status of such seasonal-arc-committed series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seems to have led to a rise in shows where each season is, in certain ways, a story within itself. Shows through the 70s and 80s, and even many from the 90s, are generally a lot more episodic than many of the most popular or buzzed-about shows of the last decade or so. Though there are currently some mostly episodic shows that I very much enjoy (Psych and Bones, along with several sitcoms, come immediately to mind), these arc-driven series compel in a way that goes above and beyond, and probably brings me a little too much joy. Getting to the point: here’s a list, in no particular order, of what I consider some of the most successful single seasons television has given us.

*Buffy the Vampire Slayer season two.

If you are a Buffy fan talking to another Buffy fan, there will be a point at which you debate which is the best season of the show. Because I can’t resist gothic style tragedy, season two gets my vote. The introduction of twisted vampire couple Spike and Drusilla, the doomed, doomed, doomed Buffy and Angel romance, the brutal deaths of two great supporting characters that only hinted at the torture Joss Whedon was to deliver us in the future, and the realization of all of the main characters that life is going to stay dark and dangerous forever all serve to make this season one of the great stories of all time.

*Friday Night Lights season one.

The great thing about having a sports theme: you’ve got a built-in end point. There’s no better way, really, to wrap up your season than with a championship game. Besides the team’s storyline, season one of this lovely series showcases great development for each of its main characters, and deftly deals with such heavy themes as small-town racism, the pressure put on high school athletes to be the best, and the limitations a person can face based on the stereotype others have applied to them. It’s beautiful stuff, without a bad episode anywhere, and if the show had ended here it would have felt complete. Thank the lord it didn’t, though.

*Entourage season two.

A.K.A. “the Aquaman season”. Though we don’t actually get to see the premiere of Vince’s comic book epic until the beginning of season three, the making of the movie dominates this season, and the focus that provides elevates the show well above the fun but frivolous first season. Here we get the best mix of raunchy humor and actual emotion that the show has served up to date. Plus, the Playboy mansion episode, which is easily the funniest of the series.

*24 season five.

This show is very hit-and-miss, and the most recent season was close to unwatchable. The season before that, however, was marvelous. Everyone but a few close friends believe Jack to be dead as the season opens, but the truth comes out quickly when all those friends but one end up murdered on the same day and Jack is framed for it. It’s a great way to open a season that never stops heartlessly dispatching characters we’ve come to love (remember the nerve gas in CTU scene?!), and that maintains the level of urgency in a way no other season of the show has managed.

*Angel season three.

In the first episode, we figure out that Darla is pregnant with Angel’s son. By the last episode, that son will be a full-grown, sort-of-evil man who locks his father in an iron cage and drops him in the bottom of the ocean. That’s some serious ground to cover in one season! Some Joss fans hate the Connor storyline, but I love it, even though (or maybe because) it brings so much torment and sorrow for my favorite Buffyverse character, poor poor Wesley.

*Lost season four.

There’s so much going on in Lost, it’s kind of hard to really focus on just one season. Yet, if any of them feel “whole”, it’s this most recent one, which was all about the flash forwards, the freighter, and the Oceanic Six. Unlike any of the other seasons, it starts out going in a different direction than the show had before, AND ends indicating that next season will also reinvent itself a bit as we enter the “getting back to the island” phase of the journey. Some major questions are answered, and the shorter length leaves no room for meandering into subplots. Overall, I can’t wait to rewatch all of the episodes in quick succession, which is a clear mark of a brilliant season.

*Arrested Development season three.

It’s even more manic and crazy than ever, and in its 13 episodes it seems to bring up every storyline of the first two seasons and hilariously conclude them all. Though an Arrested movie would be divine, the final episode of the series satisfies so well that I’ll still be okay if it never happens.

*The Sopranos season four.

Johnny Sack vs. Ralph, Christopher’s addiction reaching critical, Junior finally having his RICO trial, Carmela and Furio’s attraction, the brutal fight between Carmela and Tony that dredges up all of the resentment of the last three years….the finest season of one of the finest shows ever.

*Freaks and Geeks season one.

Just one season is all it got, but Judd Apatow and Paul Feig were smart enough to wrap everything up beautifully, with an episode they actually filmed ahead of time because they didn’t know when they would get canned. Every character comes to some sort of acceptance of his- or herself and their place in the world of high school, and in her ultimate rebellion, Lindsey pretends she is headed to a math conference but instead drives off into the sunset with Kim to follow the Grateful Dead for two weeks. And we know everything will be alright.

Who’s got something to add to the list?


4 Responses to “Best. Season. Ever.”

  1. 1 patty July 29, 2008 at 11:34 am

    oh my god, i’m so glad you included that picture from freaks and geeks. carlos the dwarf! i love love love that show, and everytime i play dodgeball, the gym scene with sam, bill, and neal always plays through my mind.

    i still have your dvds, by the way. you may never get them back, mwahahahahaha!

  2. 2 Becca July 29, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Does Firefly season one count?

    (New) Doctor Who season two is up there for me (Sara? Yes?). West Wing season two as well–season one ends with Josh and the President shot, and season two begins with both the reverberations of the shooting and backstory of the main characters. It’s brilliantly done.

    And, to keep to things thematically with creator and season number, season two of Sports Night is excellent. They’ve all but jettisoned that ridiculous laugh track and the characters have settled in…it’s fantastic work.

  3. 3 Brandi Sperry July 29, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Firefly is great, but I personally disqualify it from this list because it wasn’t satisfyingly wrapped up during its incarnation as an actual TV show.

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Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

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