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TELEVISION | TOM SHALES
It wasn't one of the 10 best years -- but looking back, it's not as hard as you might think to find 10 best shows, one of them a landmark.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

1. "Planet Earth," the epic BBC documentary co-produced by the Discovery Channel, ranks as one of the most stunningly visual TV experiences ever -- and served as a persuasive ecological drum-beater without a peep of sermonizing. Even on repeated viewings, "Planet Earth" is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

2. "The Sopranos" finale (HBO), a satisfying yet provocative conclusion to David Chase's spectacular novel for television, was the most impressive cable program of the year.

3. "White Light/Black Rain" (HBO) shockingly and movingly retold the story of the first uses of the atomic bomb, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, making that epochal tragedy all the more vivid by including the accounts of survivors and children's interpretive drawings.

4. "Dancing With the Stars" (ABC), the most engagingly entertaining example of the new "reality" game shows, held an audience not with violence or back-stabbing but with something pleasing, sweeping and pretty -- and mostly "live."

5. "High School Musical 2" (Disney Channel). With a larger budget than the first film had (in 2006), director Kenny Ortega updated the movie-musical genre in an accessible, joyful and not-too-pretentious way.

6. "Pushing Daisies" pilot episode (ABC). Although the unwieldy premise didn't readily lend itself to the weekly-series structure, the first installment of this daring, quirkily ambitious comedy-drama was as gorgeous and cleverly edited as the proverbial "major motion picture."

7. "The War" (PBS) found master documentarian Ken Burns returning to the kind of film he does best: the historical pageant. He not only chronicled the greatest generation's triumph in WWII, but also offered his own intelligently debatable interpretation of key themes and events.

8. "Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War" (PBS). Proving again that he plays a distinctive, valuable role in television, Moyers reported on reporting -- how the media rolled over and played along obediently with the administration's prosecution of the Iraq war.

9. "Damages" pilot episode (FX) gave diva Glenn Close her juiciest TV role yet, as a ruthless attorney who runs a shark tank of a law firm and gets involved in a complicated case of deceit, profiteering and murder.

10. "Tell Me You Love Me" (HBO) sometimes had slow-moving story lines, but this sexually outspoken drama -- a kind of "La Ronde" with a wise old shrink (regal Jane Alexander) -- eschewed formulaic technique for a very v¿rit¿ style of storytelling that required a cast of actors who laid themselves bare in more ways than one.

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