A scoundrel seeking karmic redemption, a hostile physician, an amoral fireman and ruthless Roman soldiers have invaded the upper echelons of TelevisionWeek‘s Winter Critics Poll.
Forty-eight critics participated in the semiannual survey, in which pundits nationwide rank their favorite (and least favorite) series, movies, miniseries and networks.
ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” which occupied the No. 2 spot for the two previous surveys, took a sharp drop to No. 13 amid complaints that the show lost its focus.
Meanwhile, programs starring quirky, flawed antiheroes populated the top 10. Among them are Jason Lee’s Southern not-quite-gentleman on NBC’s “My Name Is Earl,” Hugh Laurie’s caustic doctor in Fox’s “House,” the neurotic pencil pushers of NBC’s “The Office,” Denis Leary’s wicked civil servant in FX’s “Rescue Me” and the cutthroat soldiers of HBO’s “Rome.”
“I think if you look at the list, you’ll see there’s few smooth edges,” said Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s snarkiness and anger and jadedness. Most of them dabble in the darker areas of the psyche-and very few shows really do that, at least at the network level.”
At No. 1 for the third poll in a row is the ABC drama “Lost.” Critics gave kudos for its intense season premiere and the show’s ongoing momentum despite its inherently challenging premise.
“It towers over TV right now,” admired Rick Kushman of The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee. “‘Lost’ could have wandered aimlessly. … Instead it expanded everything. It opened up so much new territory fans don’t even know which [mysteries] to argue about.”
Right behind “Lost” was NBC’s breakout comedy “My Name Is Earl,” which, along with “The Office” (No. 12), gave the Peacock Network two entries in the top 20. During last winter’s survey, NBC had three shows on the list: “The West Wing,” “American Dreams” (which has since been canceled) and “Scrubs.”
“[‘Earl’] has all the makings of a classic,” wrote Terry Morrow of The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel. “Like the title character, ‘Earl’ thrives by living on its own terms. It helps that Jason Lee musters such a likable performance as the underdog title character.”
At No. 3 is Fox’s medical drama “House,” which has gained ground in every survey since its 2004 debut. A year ago “House” was No. 10; last summer it was No. 6.
“You know you’ve found a well-constructed series when its central figure is selfish, angry and seemingly without compassion-and you love the guy,” wrote Mr. Kushman.
Though “Housewives” dropped out of the top 10, ABC lead-in “Grey’s Anatomy” climbed from No. 12 to No. 4.
“‘Grey’s’ is now my Sunday highlight, with ‘Desperate Housewives’ taking the role of an opening act,” wrote Victor Balta of The Herald in Everett, Wash. “After just one season, the writers have managed to make me care about a dozen different characters.”
“Everybody Hates Chris,” but critics certainly do not. At No. 5, Chris Rock’s “Chris” gives UPN two top 10 favorites, along with No. 9 “Veronica Mars,” which has mostly held steady in the poll since its debut.
“Not since ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ have we seen such an instantly enjoyable family comedy,” wrote Matt Roush of TV Guide. “Funny and frenetic and grounded in family love.”
Fox’s presumably canceled “Arrested Development” continued to garner praise at No. 6 but fell from its perch as the poll’s top comedy. Fox had a new entry, however, with drama “Prison Break” (No. 7), which critics praised for its escapist fun.
FX’s “Rescue Me,” meanwhile, bounced from No. 6 a year ago to No. 18 last summer, and then back up to No. 8 in this poll. Those who praised the show tended toward the superlative.
Wrote Bill Brioux of The Toronto Sun: “Leary asked the brutally tough question: ‘What if bad things happen right when you finally try to be good?’ The answer was frightening, funny as hell and one of the bravest trips into the dark edges of the human condition ever put on television.”
HBO, which for years had shows such as “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” topping the critics poll, managed to squeak into the top 10 with its new historical drama, “Rome.” Though the series divided critics, those with patience claimed the show was a worthy investment.
“A slow(ish) start, some historical fact stretching, but damn, this thing was addictive,” wrote Mr. Goodman. “The longer it ran, the better it got.”
Best & Worst Series Chart
Best Movie, Miniseries or Special Chart
Rodi Alexander, Bergen News Group (Palisades Park, N.J.), The Elizabeth (N.J.) Reporter; Marc Allan, Nuvo Newsweekly; Michael Ausiello, TV Guide/TVGuide.com; Victor Balta, The (Everett, Wash.) Herald; Chuck Barney, Contra Costa (Calif.) Times; Walt Belcher, Tampa (Fla.) Tribune; Robert Bianco, USA Today; Hal Boedeker, The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel; Lawrence Bonko, The Virginian-Pilot; Bill Brioux, The Toronto Sun; Roger Catlin, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant; Kevin Dickson, In Touch Weekly; Brent Furdyk, TV Week Magazine (British Columbia); Shelley Gabert, Emmy Magazine; Glenn Garvin, The Miami Herald; Judith Gaultney, OnSat; Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle; Ellen Gray, The Philadelphia Daily News; John Griffiths, Us Weekly; Jeff Hidek, Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.); Mike Hughes, Gannett News Service; Wayne Karrfalt, Extra Extra; David Kronke, Los Angeles Daily News; Rick Kushman, The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee; William LaRue, The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard; Charlie McCollum, San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News; Mike McDaniel, Houston Chronicle; Mark McGuire, Times Union (Albany, N.Y.); Bruce Miller, Sioux City (Iowa) Journal; Gerri Miller, Satellite Direct; Terry Morrow, The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel; Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post; Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Alan Pergament, The Buffalo (N.Y.) News; Robert Philpot, Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram; Ginny Rohan, The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record; Matt Roush, TV Guide; Rob Salem, The Toronto Star; Dusty Saunders, Rocky Mountain News (Denver); Alan Sepinwall, The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger; Chase Squires, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times; Jonathan Storm, The Philadelphia Inquirer; Kevin D. Thompson, The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post; Ken Tucker, New York Magazine; Miki Turner, ESPN.com; Nancy Van Valkenburg, Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah); Mark Washburn, The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer; Andrew Wineke, The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette.