By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Dec 21, 2009 at 11:00 AM
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There are a few non-reruns scattered among the Christmas specials this week, but the year is really over for television.

That allows us a little time to think about what we've been watching for the past 12 months, and in that spirit, here's my list of the best series on television for 2009.

1. NBC's Thursday night comedies. Just as it was in the days of "Seinfeld" and "Cheers," and "The Cosby Show" before that, NBC's Thursday night is again must-see TV.

It starts at 7 p.m. with the newest entry, "Community," created by ComedySportz alum Dan Harmon and featuring Marquette grad Danny Pudi. That's followed by the most improved show of 2009, Amy Poehler's "Parks and Recreation," which has moved beyond its roots as a clone of the documentary style of "The Office."

This year's "The Office" is dealing with the uncertainties of the economic mess we're all in and "30 Rock" remains the daffiest show on television.

The best way to digest the night is to DVR the lineup and watch each episode twice, just so you don't miss all the hidden gems.

2. AMC's "Mad Men." While it's ostensibly about a 1960s ad agency, this drama is about the lies that people live. The last season took us through 1963, climaxing in the penultimate episode with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And it was one of the rare television treatments of how that event left a nation reeling -- and relying for the first time on television to get them through a terrible weekend.

It's the closest thing we have on TV these days to the novel-like structure of "The Sopranos," TV's best drama ever.

And it's on its way to surpassing Tony and his Jersey boys.

3. Comedy Central's "Daily Show." No, Jon Stewart's nightly look at the events of the day isn't a news show, despite what some of its regular viewers think. It's political satire of the highest -- and sometimes lowest -- order. While Stewart lambasted George Bush for eight years, Stewart hasn't spared Barack Obama. He's even synced some of the current president's speeches with the previous president's to show how some things really haven't changed all that much.

Sure, he's a liberal. But that doesn't stop him from skewering his own.

4. ABC's "Modern Family." This new sitcom looks at various types of families, an idea that could be hokey and politically correct. But here, it's funny and full of well-drawn characters and believable situations.

Most importantly, it doesn't have the meanness that you find in so many modern comedies. And, no, the kids don't have the answers to life's questions. Nobody does, which is an essential part of the humor you find muddling through real family life.

5. Travel Channel's "No Reservations." Host Anthony Bourdain is one of the few real writers to host his own TV show, using his finely-honed ear for language to narrate his travel/food documentaries in a style that fits his smart-guy, world-weary persona. And the folks who put together this show have tried out all sorts of tricks, from animation to cinema verite, to make it one of the most creative hours of television.

6. Fox's "Family Guy." Bawdy, naughty and politically incorrect, this animated show is all the wonderful things "The Simpsons" used to be. Keep the kids away.

7. CBS' "How I Met Your Mother." It's the best comedy about a gang of young friends since, well, "Friends." And the star of this one, without a doubt, is the hilarious Neil Patrick Harris, whose supporting character has entered the pantheons of second bananas that includes Don Knotts' Barney Fife and Art Carney's Ed Norton.

Quickly gaining on "HIMYM" is another CBS comedy, "The Big Bang Theory," which may replace it in 2010, thanks to another second banana: Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper.

8. HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The recently completed season of Larry David's sitcom resurrected the old "Seinfeld" show with a fictional reunion of the best sitcom of the 1990s. That alone earned it a spot on the list. Then there was all that cringe-inducing comedy that Larry David is known for.

It's not clear when another season will air. But it's worth waiting for.

9. MSNBC'S "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." I know this pick will turn off folks who don't like Olbermann's liberal focus. After all, he's the mirror image of Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, who airs opposite him at 7 p.m. week nights.

But the key difference here is Olbermann's writing. He uses language like a weapon, tearing into the folks he doesn't agree with and as a tool to rally people. Unlike most commentators, liberal or conservative, he has enough of a sense of humor to laugh at himself now and again.

His nightly "Worst Person in the World" segment is mean and unfair and frequently the funniest thing on TV each night.

10. A&E's "Hoarders." Sometimes, it's not easy to watch. But it's usually harder to look away as this well-produced "reality" series introduces us to people who just can't throw anything away for various reasons and with a wide range of consequences. Their stories are tragic and compelling.

It's all handled sensitively, and I challenge you to say you don't see a little tiny bit of someone you know -- or even yourself -- in these sad folks.

That's my list. Which shows make your list?

"I find tinsel distracting": That, of course, is the explanation from Frank Costanza for the lack of tinsel on his Festivus Pole. Wednesday is the actual observance of Festivus, but the "Seinfeld" episode that brought it to the world a dozen years ago is scheduled to air tonight at 6:30 on Channel 6.

Here's a taste of Festivus.

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.