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BEST OF 2006 / TELEVISION | ROBERT LLOYD

A surprisingly inventive bunch

December 17, 2006|ROBERT LLOYD

THERE are times when a list like this seems an impossible chore, but in what felt like a particularly good, inventive year even for mainstream television (read: fewer new cop shows), many more programs might have made this list. But these are some that came from an unexpected angle and took me out of myself, either by delight or awe or through suspense or sympathy. It is always nice to be surprised.

"Animals" (Ogilvy & Mather New York). Endlessly re-watchable American Express ad, in which Ellen DeGeneres lives out her childhood ambition -- to work with animals -- by letting them run her television show. Possibly the most perfect 120 seconds of TV this year.

*

"Brotherhood" (Showtime). In some respects the anti-"Sopranos," this involving tale of two Irish American brothers, one a politician, one a crook (and each a little of the other), in Providence, R.I., was all the more convincing for its slow pace and quiet tone.

*

"30 Rock" (NBC). Absurdity is played straight in Tina Fey's brainy show about competing kinds of logic/illogic, set backstage at a sketch comedy. Now compatibly installed in a Thursday lineup of skewed sitcoms.

*

"The Upside Down Show" (Noggin). Australian import for kiddies (of any age) mixes dry humor and physical exuberance as duo David Collins and Shane Dundas transform space via "mime with noise" -- what you don't see is what you get.

*

"Ugly Betty" (ABC). Although the worldwide domination of the "Betty la Fea" franchise might have betokened its domestic success, this charming, ever-deepening urban fairy tale is like nothing else on network television, from its nonstandard heroine to the cool flamboyance of its production design.

*

"The New Adventures of Old Christine" (CBS). A top-flight, old-school, personality-centered sitcom. Hail to thee, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, your stuttering rhythms, your dogged hopefulness.

*

"Wonder Pets!" (Nickelodeon). A duckling, a turtle and a guinea pig travel the world saving baby animals while singing light opera. Could you have imagined this?

*

"Country Boys" (PBS). The poor are nearly absent from American television. David Sutherland's six-hour documentary went deep into the Kentucky hollers to tell the story of two boys attempting in fits and starts to break free from history, and told it in depth, at length and without judgment.

*

"When the Levees Broke" (HBO). Spike Lee's generous Hurricane Katrina documentary masterfully orchestrated a wide array of regional voices into a compelling narrative of novelistic heft and scope.

*

Edie Falco, in the first few episodes of this year's "The Sopranos" (HBO). The season went astray after Tony woke up from his coma, but while he was out, Falco gave us the unvarnished Carmella, too worn down to do anything but feel.

*

The worst

There may have been worse series put on the air this year ("twentyfourseven," anyone?), but measured in terms of waste of talent, none I saw were more vexing than NBC's sub-geriatric sitcom "Twenty Good Years." But these are just bad shows: Far worse is the continuing disinclination of the FCC (or at least of its chairman, former telecom lobbyist Kevin Martin, following in the ideological footsteps of Michael Powell) to act as a custodian of the people's trust, preferring to strew rose petals in the path of runaway media conglomeration. Bad for everyone but the conglomerates.

*

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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