Whether you were Desperate, Lost or Off the Rails, you will remember the year in television for many things (and forget for even more). Here are the 10 phenomena which we think defined 2005 on the small screen:



1. Wisteria hysteria

Wherever gritty realism resides, it's not in the shiny executive homes and manicured yards of Wisteria Lane. Suburban melodrama Desperate Housewives was the year's most-hyped drama, and would shock our socks off, we were told.

Hmmm. The shapely Gabrielle bonking the gardener boy while her mother-in-law lay dying, or Bree's husband's secret hankering for a spanking added, if not shock value exactly, perhaps a certain try-hard frisson.

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Yes, Wisteria Lane turned out to be the usual suburban hotbed of crime, psychosis and lurking passions. So far, the drama's most significant contribution is highlighting a new menace to the western world: the dependent, shiftless and randy baby-boomer grandparent.

While there's no doubting the show's services to fashion, its cultural message is more dubious. Is it the feminist's nightmare flashback to the repressed 1950s, with its rigid gender roles of male bread winners and tranquillised domestic goddesses?

Or is its claustrophobic air of closeted comfort a send-up of the modern, terrorised American longing for security?

Not helping the subversive theory is the US First Lady Laura Bush's gushing identification with the show.

2. Running wild and bewildered

If you give something to the island, it will give you something in return. Something like that was promised in Lost. Did we buy this pseudo-mystic nonsense? Well, yes. And, no. Lost is on the list because it was the most promising, and most frustrating telly of the year.

The truth was in there, on that damn island, somewhere. There were weird things on that island, and that wasn't just the acting. There were strange noises and stranger people. Who could you trust? Just about nobody. Everyone on Lost had a past which was chasing them. Or us. Every episode felt like a pilot.

Every episode gave us a piece of the puzzle by way of another character's back story. Which meant that this was taking an awfully long time to play out.

We know it's about redemption. It's possibly about ghosts. It could be about miracles. Lost is the most irritating thing we've watched in years. Did we keep watching? Did we keep coming up with pseudo-mystical nonsense about what it means? Hell, yes. Oh. Perhaps they're all in hell. There's a thought.



3. The 7 o'clock swell

Who says there's no such thing as a TV celebrity in New Zealand? Cue the 7pm current affairs war starring Paul Holmes, who ditched TV One for Prime and $3 million; John Campbell, the bobble-headed presenter whose show flies in the face of punctuation; and Susan Wood, Holmes' power-suited replacement who curls her top lip when interviewing movie stars. Current affairs is the new black. Can three shows compete? Of course not.

It was the year of the incredibly shrinking Holmes and Wood's chance to revel in the glaring studio limelight until TVNZ tried to slash her pay. She took it to the employment court, possibly the only time we saw her leave the studio, and threatened it by reporting on her home life - she was now shouting at her children! The viewers rebelled, as Judy Mother-of-the-Nation Bailey also had a less-than-pleasant year at the hands of management. Give her a pay-rise! Make her read the news about herself! Boot her out! Sell her clothes!

And Campbell's year? Maahvellous, thank you for asking.



4. History repeats

Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We should all steer clear of this error in future, thanks to the dollops of the stuff served up this year. Frontier of Dreams, the year's big-budget local documentary series, had the Kiwi story covered from the country's geological origins to that contemporary force of nature, Helen Clark. With input from 20 leading historians and a wealth of archival material, the series certainly was comprehensive, although its secondary school- level pitch aggravated some.

In the 21st century we can't have history without turning it into an Idol-style talent search. Winner of New Zealand's Top 100 History Makers was, lordy, a nuclear physicist, Sir Ernest Rutherford; the runner-up suffragette Kate Sheppard; and in third place, a man as upright as the mighty Everest he conquered, Sir Edmund Hillary. Who says rugby heroes rule in this land?

The top 10 results showed we like our role models intelligent, inventive, funny and with a strong social conscience.

Just when it was all getting a bit heavy, light relief came in the form of The Unauthorised History of New Zealand.

Wearing his professorial jumper and face full of po, Jeremy Wells canvassed such important landmark topics as the arrival of Colonel Sanders, the banned 1920s animated series Happy Hori, and the New Zealand Nazi Party's bid for power, to bring us the definitive alternative story of Aotearoa.

5. Prop idol

This was the year in which former bruiser and bad boy Norm Hewitt was transformed, as if by the wave of a fairy wand, into Twinkletoes, the dancing prop. Nobody could have foretold this. Nobody could have foretold that anybody would watch this.

Dancing with the Stars? Come off it.

Look at it on paper. A bunch of sort-of celebs, including Tim Shadbolt, the mayor of Invercargill, learn how to dance on the telly.

The thing was hosted by Jason Gunn, who has been described as cheesier than one of those cheese-ball things which passed as cuisine in the 70s (oh, all right, that was us). And it's ballroom dancing.

Rated Norm's socks off, didn't it? And you voted, didn't you? Very odd.

At least it was, somehow, entertaining, unlike those Sing Like a Moron shows which followed. Nobody watched those, did they? Nope.

Can't even remember what they were called or who was on them. And why would we?

They didn't have Norm.

6. Parental super (tele)vision

Call them parenting shows if you like, but the brats were pretty entertaining to watch, too.

At one point this year there were three of these sorts of programmes screening - Little Angels (TV One), Supernanny (TV2), and Demons To Darlings (TV3). In Demons To Darlings Auckland family therapist Diane Levy acted as peacekeeper to a couple of New Zealand families. But for real brat factor, you couldn't go past British show Little Angels.

Unlike most exploitative reality TV, the shows provided useful and free advice for parents who were at their wits' end with their children.



7. Sleeper hit

Ask Marcus Lush if trains and railways are romantic and he will tell you that is a stupid question, though he says trains inspire "incredible passion". That's why his Off the Rails, was subtitled, A Love Story, which sounds pretty romantic to us. Lush's excellent series showed he was less a trainspotter than a man who knows there are a few good yarns in the remotest of sidings.

On his journey from Bluff to the Bay of Islands he took us on the little-known underground train from Penrose to Hobson St in Auckland, did a couple of days' cycling - on an old bike with no gears - along the Central Otago rail trail, and ended with a lovely jaunt from Auckland to Opua.

Lush also popped up on Intrepid Journeys later in the year with a trip on the most famous railway of them all, the Trans-Siberian. It may traverse a continent but we discovered more when Lush had a cuppa with the ladies who used to make the NZ Railways crockery in Temuka.

8. Off the street

If the nation didn't weep when Karen left Coronation Street, it didn't matter. She did enough wailing for everyone.

If there was an award for gritty realism, Suranne Jones would have won it. There have been slappers aplenty on Corrie, but Karen takes the Roy's bacon butty for the most endearing and maddest. She married Steve for a bet, then divorced, then married him again and she dreamed of a fairytale ending with bling and 100 pairs of tarty shoes. She got what all slappers get: screeching and wailing and snot. She was a tart with a heart, and, okay, a few screws loose, but we had a lump in the throat when she toddled off, all false bravado in her horrible pointy boots. A classic Corrie exit.

9. Nurse, the screens!

Elsewhere in telly drama, it was what was on the inside that counted. The always-popular genre, the medical drama, took over the box to the extent that most nights you felt the need to swab down the screen to see the late news.

Prize for most gore was Brit grit contribution, Bodies. Set in the obs-gyn ward (yes, for many of us, it stopped right there), Bodies took the prize for the hardest, darkest of the doc-dramas.

Also among the wave of medical newbies was House, featuring Hugh Laurie with a tongue more cutting than a surgeon's scalpel; the rather anaemic Grey's Anatomy; and the forensically inclined Medical Investigation.

Most original was Brit comedy Green Wing, which took the medical-drama-spoof to new levels. Part sitcom, part sketch show with a whiff of docu-soap, its staff didn't even pretend to practise medicine.

Love, lust, jealousy, bullying and petty rivalries leave little time for healing. Dr Alan Statham (Mark Heap) easily slipped into the slimy, deluded prat chair left vacant by The Office's David Brent.

Even mental health had a look in this year with the Hank Azaria-led Huff, about an LA shrink on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Notable for highlighting in graphic detail such overlooked personality disorders as anal retention.

10. Last laugh

The predicted demise of the sitcom hasn't happened, but the end of stalwarts Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond had doom merchants ready to hammer the nail in the coffin.

Some blame reality TV, which only makes sitcoms appear false. Others suggest the newfound appreciation of the subversive humour in Desperate Housewives renders sitcoms bland..

Whatever the case, producers make less than half the number of sitcoms they used to, and those scrambling for the heights of Friends and Seinfeld have had to rethink their approach.

Sure, Two and A Half Men worked - but Matt Le Blanc's Joey showed it would take more than one former friend to make a show a hit. And then there's Pamela Anderson's Stacked. Say no more.