5 THE SIMPSONS (Fox) Unappreciated now because the media celebrated Bart-mania years ago, The Simpsons continues to be the most reliable satire on network TV.
Representing a final flourish of ’90s irony, it’s a deconstruction of talk shows that’s now even better than David Letterman’s.
4 NEWSRADIO (NBC) Former Sanders collaborator Paul Simms has managed something Shandling has opted not to try: an iconoclastic sitcom that nonetheless adheres to the strictures of network TV.
I’m thinking not only of the racism embedded in the soul of Andy Sipowicz (the earthshakingly good Dennis Franz) but of the increasing complexity of Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits).
Whether Bobby was cruelly slapping around that squirrelly little creep Henry (Willie Garson), or finding himself unable to resist the little-boy selfishness that’s been mucking up his relationship with Diane (Kim Delaney), Smits somehow managed to make every flicker in Bobby’s mind register on his stoic face.
And, as if in response to the criticism that NYPD seems unable to create a female character who’s not primarily a foil for the men, there seems to be a breakthrough: new addition Jill Kirkendall (Andrea Thompson), a cop who is already looking like the most resonant crime-solving woman since Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect.
2 THE X-FILES (Fox) The concept most alien to this show — displays of simple human emotions — is what kept The X-Files fresh and intriguing this season.1 NYPD BLUE [PROGRAM of the YEAR] (ABC) TV’s most varied, humane, and exciting drama took more chances this year than a hit show needs to, and became a deeper, richer series for the effort.Earlier this year, cocreator Steven Bochco told EW: ”This is now [cocreator-producer] David Milch’s show; if I disappeared tomorrow, the quality of that show would not suffer for a second.” And a key to Milch’s production work this season is his knowledge that once you’ve set up a character people care about, that creation can do questionable, even bad things, and the viewers won’t merely accept the behavior but feel that badness in their bones.Dave Foley, as the radio station’s put-upon news director, is probably the subtlest actor in sitcoms, whereas Phil Hartman and Andy Dick thrive on reckless excess.And it’s apology time: A while back, I tagged Joe Rogan as a Tony Danza wannabe; Rogan’s smart work this season as dim fix-it guy Joe made my remarks seem churlish.This season, Anthony La Paglia replaced Benzali and offered a hero who was prickly and arrogant in a more engaging way.