Key Points:

Here's what kept TimeOut's tv writers glued to the screen in 2008.

1 TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES

(TV2)

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There have already been three

Terminator

movies since Ah-nuld first chased Linda Hamilton's original Sarah Connor back in '84. So a spin-off TV series, which takes off somewhere after the events of T2 - and predates or wisely forgets the lame T3 - might have seemed like bit of a long shot. But it's been the sci-fi TV breakthrough of the

year, especially in the wake of a lacklustre second season of

Heroes

and this year's stillborn

Bionic Woman

revival.

That's mainly because the show wasn't really about cyborgs sent back

from the future to kill Sarah's saviour-of-mankind-to-be offspring

John - though it sure had mindbending fun with the old time-space continuum, those identity-stealing killer robots and things blowing

up quite a lot.

No, this was an often-touching tough-love drama about a mother's protective instincts towards her sometimes single-minded teenage son. Its human drama got fine performances from Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker as Sarah and John. Solid too is

90210

alumni Brian Austin Green as the battle-hardened Uncle Derek and Summer Glau as Cameron, the good cyborg-from-the-future who is even more fun in that bodyguard role than her T2 predecessor - yeah she can take on all comers in a fight, but she's really cute too, a fact which unsettles hormonal teenager Connor,

especially as his older self was the one who sent her back in time in the first place. It all made this the genre show of the year. - RB

2 SUMMER HEIGHTS HIGH

(TV One)

Schoolteachers the country over must rue the day TV One decided to introduce New Zealand audiences to Jonah Takalua, whose catchcry "Puck you, Miss," and "Oh, Miss farted!" have become the most quoted lines in schoolyard this year.

The cheeky Tongan schoolboy is one of three characters played by Australian comedian Chris Lilley, who has fast earned a reputation as one of the best comic talents to emerge from the Lucky Country.

His other imaginings - the equally self-obsessed drama teacher Mr G and visiting private school girl Ja'mie King - complete the line-up, as they are followed, mockumentary-style, through the halls of

Summer Heights High.

Lilley's uncanny ability to master the mannerisms of his characters - from the coquettish hair flip of a 15-year-old girl to the slouching skulk of Tokalua - has been described as "fantastically alarming" and

we can only hope he revives them for a second series. - JH

3 BREAKING BAD

(C4)

The most unlikely telly hero of the year award must go to Walter, the wimp-turned-drug chemist of

Breaking Bad.

We were introduced to

Walter looking his inimitable best. He stood in the middle of a desert, in his revolting Y-fronts and socks, a man with a gun - and cancer.

Walter is a man who wanted the American dream and watched it laugh in his face. He is a loser - a chemistry teacher who has to prop up the dream with a second job in a car wash. He is bullied at school by his

students and was bullied at the car wash by his boss. At home his wife made him eat vege bacon, for his cholesterol - a bleak joke about a man who has never smoked and who has incurable lung cancer. The real skill was in the writing (and the acting) that made us care about a complete loser who became a criminal so that he might die without leaving his family destitute. And to make us do it the hard way: deciding on the

morality of any of this was left up to those of us watching. - RB

4 MAD MEN

(Prime)

There hasn't been much grown-up non-high-concept American drama worth getting excited about since

The Sopranos

went out to dinner for the last time. But then came along

Mad Men

- written by onetime

Sopranos

scribe Matthew Weiner - with its cynical view of America's early 1960s sexist, racist, booze and cigarette-fuelled good old days set against the swish offices of Madison Ave ad agency Sterling Cooper.

There, the go-to guy is Don Draper, a man caught between several rocks and hard places. There's his seemingly perfect homemaker wife in the

suburbs and his bohemian mistress in the city as well as his most demanding client, the Jewish princess department store owner. There are the executives above him relying on his genius and the younger guys

below him angling for his office. And then there's a sense of change in the air and not just the social and political upheavals to come

in that pivotal decade but the change in advertising. No, simply telling folks why they should buy something is giving way to selling an image.

If that's not enough to worry about, Draper has personal demons and

possibly some growing pangs of conscience about the stuff he's spruiking - from ciggies to Dick Nixon.

It's got a lot on its plate has

Mad Men

, but it comes with smart writing, performances and swish style in abundance. Its pitch is perfect. - RB

5 THE JAQUIE BROWN DIARIES

(TV3)

And in a truly odd moment of satire colliding with reality, Jaquie Brown was one of the Herald's New Zealanders of the Year for starring in a

comedy about a telly trout called Jaquie Brown which was based (you hope loosely) on her previous life as "the number one lightweight journalist in the country".

This was the show that kept on giving. The day after the

Diaries

delivered the rudest joke ever heard on local television, workplaces everywhere were kept entertained by accounts of attempts to explain said joke to younger, and older, members of the family who perhaps mercifully didn't get it. The joke does not bear repeating but we would all like to see Jaquie Brown attacking Jackie Clark with a satay stick again. - MH

6 THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART

(C4)

To experience the build-up to this year's historic US election, you didn't have to be hypnotised by the wall-to-wall blather of CNN and the

other American news networks, or accept the hand-me-down local coverage.

There was always

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

.

This supposed fake news show take on the protracted campaign - dubbed by the show "the long, flat, seemingly endless bataan death march to the White House" - was as hilarious as it was insightful. As well as the rival campaigns in the primaries and the election itself, Stewart still had the outgoing Bush adminstration providing plenty of material. And when he had to host the show without the aid of his striking writers early in the year - it was briefly retitled

A Daily Show with Jon Stewart

- he barely missed a beat.

By the time the election was in full swing Stewart's combination of quick wit, political acumen and interviewing skills - his chats with Clinton, McCain and Obama among other candidates offered the participants a chance to prove they were humans possessing a sense of

humour - made him compulsory four-nights-a-week viewing; even half a world away his live election night special with Stephen Colbert was the place to be when the Obama victory was finally announced. It capped

a vintage year for the smartest of American comedy institutions. - RB

7 THE PRETENDER

(TV One)

Thank God for Dennis Plant, who made an oddly dull election campaign

decidedly odder. Some people thought Plant was a real politician. Perhaps that was wishful thinking. He and his team had the best

lines of the campaign.

His media bloke, Johnny, advised Dennis not to talk to the media.

"They're just like monkeys," said Johnny. "You never smile at a monkey' cos they'll rip your bloody head off."

Dennis, sounding tough: "Any monkey corners me, they get a boot

in the bum, mate." Dennis, later, sounding concerned: "There are no actual monkeys, are there?"

Johnny: "No."

Dennis' health policy was succinct. It was "bam". He should now be Prime

Minister, but as Dennis knows, politics is a farce. And

The Pretender

was brilliant farce. It was that rare as a politician's kept promises thing: telly that reflected the mood of the nation (to put it in grandiose Dennis terms) and reflected it back at us in all of its absurdity. - MH

8 OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE

(TV3)

As the West Family embarked on their fourth season of

Outrageous

shenanigans, they proved more entertaining than ever, regularly topping the ratings for national viewers aged 18-49.

The season began with one new arrival - Loretta's unwanted baby, whom

Cheryl adopted and named Jane - and ended with two pending additions to the clan, as both Cheryl and Sheree found themselves up the duff.

Introduced this year, Sheree first met the family as Wolf's new missus, but as the season wrapped she had moved on to a younger model, in the shape of Van West. Little does she know, she also slept with Van's

twin Jethro one night and it is actually his baby she is carrying.

Alongside this were all manner of bust-ups and break-ups between family

and friends, but the most scandalous moment - for both the series and New Zealand television at large - came when Munter walked in on Kasey in the throes of lady-love passion with an IRD inspector. Truly outrageous. - JH

9 ROCKED THE NATION

(C4)

The shallow shafts of Kiwi music history have been a popular excavation

site in recent years but C4's

Rocked the Nation

managed to dig deep and find some fresh gems, while putting a new shine on some old favourites.

Countdowns have long been the favoured format of music channels, but this six-part special - presented by one-time

Radio With Pictures

host Karyn Hay - went beyond the superficial, tracking down eye witnesses and experts to recall the top 100 moments in New Zealand

music history.

The top 10 may have held few surprises, with the story of Split Enz topping the list, but there were plenty of obscure moments along the way. Such as number 39, New Zealand's own singing cowboy Tex Morton, who was the first person to record country music outside of the United

States and outsold Bing Crosby. - JH

10 JAMIE'S MINISTRY OF FOOD

(TV One)

The second-most-unlikely telly hero of the year award must go to Jamie Oliver. Yes, he has grandiose notions about his ability to save the world (or Britain) from horrid food. Yes, he can be - and usually is - a

total prat. But there was something rather endearing about this show which involved going to Rotherham and attempting to teach a handful of non-cooks to cook and to "pass it on".

He is a world class moraliser and many of the good folk of Rotherham thought he was a moralising, superior prat - and said so. And, yes, he got a telly show (and a cookbook) out of it, but he showed his heart here. He really wanted the woman who fed her kids kebabs and cheese-slathered chips every night, out of polystyrene containers, on

the floor, to learn how to feed her family. That doesn't seem like an

outrageous desire. It was good telly too. - MH

(JH) Joanna Hunkin (RB) Russell Baillie, (MH) Michele Hewitson