The Best TV Shows of 2009 ... and the Decade

  • Comments: ↓ 245 user comments
  • Publish Date: January 2, 2010

The best and worst new shows of 2009

ImageCongratulations

The story of 2009 in television? Quality control. While ABC's "Modern Family" was far and away the best-reviewed new series of the year (indeed, only 2005's "Everybody Hates Chris" out of all new network programs in the past five years received better reviews), a total of 36 out of 78 (46%) of all first-year primetime series on broadcast networks or cable in 2009 received generally positive reviews from critics. (This number excludes shows with fewer than seven reviews.) That's right: almost half of all new shows in 2009 were actually good.

More strikingly, only six new programs -- a miniscule 7.7% -- received mostly negative reviews from critics (i.e., they received a Metascore of 39 or below). Compare that total to previous years: eight crummy shows in 2008, 19 in 2007, and 23 in 2006. Either critics are getting less picky, or programmers are passing on the most terrible shows. (We hope it's the latter.)

Before we get to the critics' picks for best shows of 2009, let's look more closely at the programs that premiered during the past 12 months, starting with the best of the bunch.

Best Reviewed New Television Series, 2009
  Show (Network) Genre Metascore Users
1 Modern Family (ABC) Comedy 86 8.6
2 Men of a Certain Age (TNT) Comedy/Drama 79 8.1
3 White Collar (USA) Drama 78 8.6
4 Glee (Fox) Musical 77 8.3
5 Nurse Jackie (Showtime) Comedy/Drama 76 7.2
6 The Good Wife (CBS) Drama 76 8.6
7 The Electric Company (PBS) Family 74 8.0
8 FlashForward (ABC) Sci-Fi 72 7.0
9 Important Things With Demetri Martin (Comedy Central) Comedy 71 7.9
10 The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (HBO) Drama 71 9.5

American television series with seven or more reviews and debuting between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009 were eligible for the above list. Shows are scored and ranked based on reviews published at the time of the original first season debut; returning series are excluded from this list. The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). Although scores have been rounded to the nearest whole number, movies are ranked prior to rounding. User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

Note that two first-year series finished in Nielsen's list of top-ten shows in 2009. Both were on CBS, but only one received mostly positive reviews: the Julianna Margulies drama The Good Wife 76, which finished 10th in the ratings. The bigger hit was the spinoff NCIS: Los Angeles 59, which finished sixth in the ratings for the past year in spite of mixed reviews from critics. You won't find any of the following programs near the top of the ratings chart, however.
Worst Reviewed New Television Series, 2009
  Show (Network) Genre Metascore Users
1 The Jeff Dunham Show (Comedy Central) Comedy 20 2.4
2 The Cougar (TV Land) Reality 33 2.4
3 13: Fear Is Real (CW) Reality 33 4.2
4 Surviving Suburbia (ABC) Comedy 35 2.8
5 Hank (ABC) Comedy 37 4.4

What becomes noticeable again from the chart below (other than the fact that despite a shift to a year-round schedule, a large proportion of shows still premiere in the fall) is just how few "bad" new shows there were in 2009. Of course, those big yellow bars reveal that there were plenty of mediocre programs, receiving mixed reviews form critics. The median score for all new programs fell in this "mixed" range, at 59.

Totals of New Primetime Television Series by Month of Premiere, 2009

Only first-year shows with at least seven reviews in Metacritic's database are included. Both cable and broadcast shows are included. Green represents the number of positively-reviewed shows (Metascore of 61 or higher). Yellow represents shows receiving mixed or average reviews (40-60). Red represents negatively-reviewed shows (0-39).

A roundup of television critic Top 10 lists for 2009

ImageDressed for success

A winner of virtually every television award for Best Drama over the past year, AMC's "Mad Men" was also a winner with critics, who added the third-year show to their year-end Best of 2009 lists more often than any other program. In fact, "Mad Men" didn't just appear on those lists; it tended to appear in the #1 position.

ABC's single-camera sitcom "Modern Family" led a crop of four freshman programs that landed in the top 10 of top-10-list mentions, with Fox's hit musical "Glee," NBC's struggling Amy Poehler comedy "Parks and Recreation" and Showtime's Edie Falco dramedy "Nurse Jackie" filling out that group. "Modern Family" also earned honors as the most-saluted comedy of the year. For "Parks and Recreation," the turnaround in critical reception is noticeable; the show received a mediocre Metascore of 59 when it debuted in April, but critics (and any remaining viewers) have noticed a marked jump in quality in Season 2.

The remaining shows that appeared with some frequency on the critic lists are tallied in the table below. Remember that our summary list is not weighted or scored in any way; shows are simply ranked by the frequency with which they appear in critic Top 10 lists, in any position on those lists. (The number of times they appear in the #1 position is indicated as a convenience.) A full list of publications used -- with links to many of the individual lists -- appears beneath the table. And keep in mind that this isn't an exact science; some critics had definite rankings, while the order of shows in other lists was a bit fuzzier.

TV Shows with Most Mentions in Year-End Critic Top 10 Lists, 2009
  Show (Network) Genre # 1's Top Ten Lists
1 Mad Men (AMC) Drama 10 20
2 Lost (ABC) Drama 2 14
3 Modern Family (ABC) Comedy 2 13
4 Glee (Fox) Musical 2 12
5 Breaking Bad (AMC) Drama 0 11
5 Friday Night Lights (DirectTV 101/NBC) Drama 0 11
5 Nurse Jackie (Showtime) Comedy/Drama 1 11
8 Big Love (HBO) Drama 0 10
8 Parks and Recreation (NBC) Comedy 1 10
8 True Blood (HBO) Fantasy 1 10
11 Sons of Anarchy (FX) Drama 0 8
12 30 Rock (NBC) Comedy 0 7
12 Dexter (Showtime) Drama 1 7
14 The Good Wife (CBS) Drama 0 6
14 The Office (NBC) Comedy 0 6
16 Chuck (NBC) Action/Comedy 0 5
16 Party Down (Starz) Comedy 0 5
18 Battlestar Galactica (Syfy) Sci-Fi 0 4
18 Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) Comedy 1 4
18 The Big Bang Theory (CBS) Comedy 0 4
18 The Middle (ABC) Comedy 0 4
18 Torchwood: Children of Earth (BBC America) Sci-Fi 0 4

The 25 individual Best of 2009 lists used to compile the above data were from (with their #1 overall pick indicated):

The following lists are not included in the results above because they either are divided into multiple categories or offer an alternative take on the year (e.g., worst shows, best episodes, etc.).

What are your favorites?

What are your picks for the best shows of 2009 and the decade? What did the critics miss? (South Park? Family Guy? How I Met Your Mother? House? It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia?) Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (245)

  • JD  

    Hmm, I'll give it my own whirl with explanations:

    1) Battlestar Galactica (show was a non-stop ride of action and intense drama and managed to ask some great social questions even though it was a scifi show)
    2)The Wire (close 2nd, this show worked off a great premise and had a pair of the most compelling characters ever with the brutally honest, flawed womanizing alcoholic Det. McNulty and Omar a robin hood who stole from drug dealers and gave to the poor, sometimes!)
    3)The Sopranos (using the mafia as a means to again make relevant social commentary)
    4)Rome (great series dramatizing ancient Rome to great effect and did a better job than most in keeping it historically real)
    5)Weeds (hilarious premise with a drug dealer Mom who becomes addicted to a life on the run even when there's no need to run!)
    6)Firefly (a short run doesn't change the fact that this show exemplified Whedon at his best by combing scifi adventure, drama, comedy and sometimes a little horror with a touch of romance!)
    7)Monk (a clever series about one of the most unusual characters ever depicted on TV, a sufferer of OCD who uses his 'weakness' as a strength by obsessing over details that no one else can see!)
    The Shield (once again, the main character Vic Mackey, at times a villain, but almost always a sympathetic one, playing a dangerous game of deceit and somehow always a step ahead of everyone!)
    9)Mad Men (like Pleasantville, this series looks at 1960s not from the counter culture perspective, but rather the establishment view to great effect and shows just how advertising functions as a type of propaganda far more effective than anything the former Soviets came up)
    10)Angel (a dark horse to be sure, it starts slow and lost much of its audience I believe as a result, BUT by the 2nd season it assembles a great cast of characters and the tense drama never lets up once they enter the formerly cursed hotel and later become part of a demonic law firm to naively change it from within!)
    11)Futurama (simply put this show manages to get more laugh out loud moments than of the other cartoon comedies and still manages a poignant moment here and there)
    12)Entourage (saved by none other than the hilarious Johnny Drama played brilliantly by that other Dillon brother!)
    13)True Blood (somehow this show, still in its early stages, manages to combine extreme sex and violence while still managing to move a coherent plot forward to great effect!)
    14)Family Guy (while inconsistent and at times gross for no real point or purpose, Stewie and Brian keep this show afloat and the fighting chicken has made Peter more than a Homer ripoff)
    15)The Daily Show (what other show manages to satirize our dismal news landscape while being consistently hilarious AND informative?!)
    16)The Colbert Report (a much needed spoof of the idiocy of rightwing infotainment run amok!)
    17)Scrubs (one of the tightest comedies ever written and another laugh out loud and witty series that, in its heyday, was better written in terms of jokes than all the other sitcoms, including the ratings giant Friends)
    1Buffy the Vampire Slayer (another Whedon show that gave great poignancy to the high school experience while maintaining an entertaining backdrop of horror and violence)
    19)The West Wing (if nothing else, this series gave us a glimpse of a Presidency we can only wish would exist)
    20)The Office (British version, which most of us in the US have not seen, is funnier and avoids the sometimes forced humor of its lesser American cousin; without a doubt the best export of the decade in TV)

  • David  

    what about NBC KINGS!!!!! NBC KINGS!!! NBC KINGS!!!!!
    I know its nbc fault for the poor marketing but "great achivements deserve recognition." NBC KINGS IS ONE OF THE BEST!!!


    "KINGS IS NOT A POLITICAL DRAMA. KINGS is an alternate reality, adventure type of thing. Countries still have KINGS. Its a nice version of scarface where one guy rises from nothing to become a KING" ITS A MODERN DAY monarchy that has all the makings of an? EPIC story, LOVE, WAR, hope, FAMILY, courage, ROYALTY, power and CORRUPTION. the language in KINGS is gorgeous. WATCH IT, YOU WON'T BE DISAPOINTED

    I am not exagerating, it is one of the best.

  • brendan  

    (sorry for double post) is this only counting american shows? in that case V was awesome.

  • brendan  

    um doctor who? the longest running sci fi show and widely considered one of the best it definitely deserves to be number one or at least higher than american idol

  • Ahmed  

    oh c'mon kyle XY is awesome and no one notice it its sux that abc wont make a fourth season , really sux

  • tara  

    1.Bones
    2.CSI:Miami
    3.CSI:NY
    4.House
    5.NCIS
    6.The Vampire Diaries
    7.Eleventh hour
    8.Prison break
    9.Lost
    10.Stand off

  • Ronnie  

    Best Series Ever:
    1. Fringe/ 1. Dexter
    2. Prison Break / 2. Mind Your Language
    3. 24 / 3. Chuck / 3. Flashforward (cancelled.. f up)
    4. How I Met Your Mother/ 4. LOST
    5. Heroes( Nothing can beat the first season of heroes on this list except maybe dexter)
    6. Leverage 7. The 4400
    8. Two and a half men / 8. Big Bang Theory
    9. Scrubs / 9. White Collar / 9. V
    10. CSI's

  • LILLY  

    I FORGOT A REALY IMPORTANT ONE PRETTY LITTLE LIARS BEST SHOW EVER . WATCH IT

  • LILLY  

    I FORGOT TOP GEAR ITS SIMPLY GREAT ....

  • LILLY  

    THESE ARE THE BEST SHOWS EVER ,.........................
    TRUE BLOOD (REALLY GOOD ONE OF THE BEST)
    VAMPIRE DIARIES( I LLOVEEE IT SO MUCHH )
    BURN NOTICE (REALYY GOOD)
    ONE TREE HILL ( USED TO BE MY FAV STILL IS ONE OF THEM)
    PRISON BREAK (AWSOME)
    SKINS (LOVE ITT )
    SHAMELESS (ALL OF THE SEASONS )
    MISFITS (I HAD TO WATCH THIS TO FIND OUT NATHANS POWER AND REALLY LIKED IT AND WILL KEEP WATCHING IMMORTALITY HIS POWER
    F.R.I.E.N.D.S (MAKE ME LAUGH JOEY MY FAV CHARACTOR)
    DEXTER ( JUST GREAT NO OTHER SHOW LIKE IT )
    FAMILY GUY ( FUNNY SHOW )
    SPARTICUS ( REALLY INTRESTING SHOWS A LOT OR GORE WHEN FIGHTING)
    DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES ( JUST CANT STOP WATCHING IT SO GOOD)
    90210 ( FIT BOYS )
    GLEE ( LOVE THIS SHOW )
    CHARMED ( USED TO BE MY FAV SHOW WHEN LIKE 12 STILL LOVE IT JUST NOT AS MUCH AS I DID THE LOL )
    V ( REALLY GOOD SHOW )
    DOCTOR WHO ( DAVID TENNANT BEST DOCTOR LOVE THIS SHOW )
    2 PINTS OF LARGER AND A PACKET OF CRISPS ( FUNNY STUFF )
    AND THERE PROBERBLEY MORE IVE FORGOTTON WHICH I LOVE BUT THESE ARNT IN ORDER THERE JUST SOME SHOW I REALYY LOVE AND YOU SHOULD WATCH EM IF YOU HAVNT SEEN EM ALL READY .....

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