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TINY SCREEN: That’s Entertainment: Or How to Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Television:

Television was the place to be this year, not just because it was the watering hole around which we all gathered to watch Hurricane Katrina’s effect on the South or the tsunami’s devastation in the East, but because the work being done on TV was, on the whole, far more satisfying than paid entertainment elsewhere, including the multiplex.

While there were many memorable episodes of reality-TV, there is the sense that they are carefully edited for effect and don’t really ring true. While you could say, wasn’t it funny when that loser on Survivor walked off, hissing “Scumbags. I hope you all get bit by a freakin’ crocodile.” It wasn’t exactly moving. No, to remember something is to not have been moved by it and most reality, save for a half-second here or there, isn’t all that rewarding. It might be if it didn’t seem so damned fake.

The real reality remains in the written word. Only our interpretation of life to create art or entertainment has any lasting effect on humanity. So with no further ado, the great entertainers on Television for 2005:

“Lost” – It’s no fun when you realize your favorite TV show is also America’s favorite.  But what can you do? “Lost” remains as exciting now as it ever was. Somehow its makers have managed to marry “Survivor” with “24” to create the fast-paced, creepy island thriller. The best parts are still the flashbacks.

“No Direction Home” – The two-part documentary on Bob Dylan by Martin Scorsese was among the very best the year had to offer in any medium. It includes interviews with the reclusive genius as well as some of his Greenwich Village cohorts, some never before interviewed on camera. The highly anticipated television event did not disappoint.

“Oprah” – Okay, so she’s not fiction or art but the woman changes our lives every day. After so many decades, she is still the must-have talk show where life happens, shit happens and miracles happen. Everything about Oprah is memorable because she simply exists on a higher plane than the rest of us. 

“Jon Stewart and the Daily Show” – Okay, so maybe he hit his peak last year. Stewart and writers still deliver consistently funny commentary on news, politics and life as we know it. With a new set and an always fresh take, there is still only one place to get news that doesn’t make you feel like you’re being had.

“Criminal Minds” – It is the best new show on television, yet the rest of America hasn’t completely caught on. A mix of “CSI,” “Law and Order SVU” and “Crossing Jordan,” “Criminal Minds” would be nothing without its great cast, led by Mandy Patinkin. It is frightening and as taught a thriller as you can get. Somebody is doing something right.

“Desperate Housewives” – It’s still one of the bright spots of the week. Who doesn’t like escaping to Wysteria Lane where the thighs are thin, the clothes magnificent and the evils of the world alive and well. Whether it has staying power or whether it’s as good this season or last is beside the point; when it’s this good who cares if it could be better.

“GirlZ Rule” – Where else but TV could not so young women have such juicy, leading roles?  Kyra Sedgewick on “The Closer,” Patricia Arquette on “Medium,” Geena Davis on “Commander-in-Chief” are just some of the newcomers joining the ranks. 

The cast of “Entourage” – Some of the best comedy of the year came out of Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven’s) mouth. Out is the observant cast of “Seinfeld,” in is the caustic boys and girls of “Entourage,” who truly take no prisoners.  Somehow, through the pot haze and bikini clad starlets Entourage proves, of all things, endearing.

And from across the pond…the Brits have released some of their crime shows on BBC America this year, whether they are new or old, they’re new to us.  Shows like “Waking the Dead,” “Touching Evil” and “Sea of Souls,” the BBC still trumps the US in terms of challenging material, although the foul-mouthed HBO gives it a run for its money.

Those delightful chefs on the Food Network.   Of the how-to shows, the food network provides a guiltless pleasure of watching people drop bucketfuls of butter into dishes without even blinking an eye.  While the men are more proficient, probably, the women are the reason to tune in: Paula Deen, Rachel Ray, Ina Garten and Sandra Lee make mealtime an adventure.


Notable TV This Week

Thursday, January 5

Princess Mononoke (****), 7:30 p.m., followed by Spirited Away (****), 9:30 p.m., TCM.

Dancing with the Stars, new season premieres, 8 p.m., ABC.

This is Spinal Tap (****), 8 p.m., IFC.

Will Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (****), the original, 8 p.m., AMC.

CSI, all new, 9 p.m., CBS.

Friday, January 6

Annie (**), with Carol Burnett, 8 p.m., FAMILY.

Halloween (****), 8 p.m., AMC.

The Road Warrior (****), 8 p.m., IFC.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (**), 8 p.m., DISNEY.

 In Justice, 9 p.m., ABC.

Saturday, January 7

Enough (*), with J.Lo fleeing her abusive husband, great BAD film, 8 p.m., CBS.

Jaws (****), 8 p.m., AETV.

Private Parts (**), the life of Howard Stern, 9 p.m., VH1.

Super Size Me (***), 10 p.m., SUNDANCE.

Sunday, January 8

Casino (**), 7:30 p.m., USA.

Dr. No (***), 8 p.m., AMC.

Remember the Titans (***), 8 p.m., TNT.

Masterpiece Theatre: Henry, VIII, 9 p.m., KCET.

Monday, January 9

 The 11th Annual Critics Choice Awards, 8 p.m., WB.

Frontline: Country Boys, 9 p.m., KCET.

Emily’s Reasons, new series with Heather Graham, 9 p.m., ABC.

Jake in Progress, another young dating series premieres, 9 p.m., ABC.

Tuesday, January 10

Lovely & Amazing (***), 7:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

The 32nd Annual People’s Choice, but what do they know? 9 p.m., CBS.

Frontline: Country Boys, 9 p.m., KCET.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (***), 9 p.m., FMC.

Boston Legal, 10 p.m., ABC.

Wednesday, January 11

Desperately Seeking Susan (***), 8 p.m., WE.

Criminal Minds, is finally back! 9 p.m., CBS.

Frontline: Country Boys, 9 p.m., KCET.

Lost, 9 p.m., ABC.

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