So Bad It Was Great the Worst of Human Behavior Defined the Best of the Year in TV

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Byline: Ted Cox Daily Herald TV/Radio Columnist

It was a great year for violence and bad language on TV, and an awful year for sex and love, which just goes to show how messed up American popular culture is right now.

When I look back at the year in TV and radio, it's amazing how many of the most memorable or significant moments have to do with gruesome violence and people getting whacked. If it wasn't Joe Pantoliano's Ralphie Cifaretto being beheaded on "The Sopranos," it was Bill Maher getting the guillotine at ABC's "Politically Incorrect."

Yet that only proves the battle between life and death remains the most compelling of all dramatic devices; it was deployed with rare skill in shows ranging from "The Sopranos" and "24" to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and, most unlikely of all, "Late Show With David Letterman."

After all, "The Iliad" is filled with brains being spilled on the dirt and bones being ground into the dust, which is partly how Homer's epic poem managed to pass orally from century to century until written language developed enough to get it down on paper - or slate.

Yet let's be clear: It isn't just the violence that makes "The Iliad" a classic; it's the characters, like Achilles, who as a complex and deeply flawed hero was the Tony Soprano of his era.

So I make no apologies for the following list of the year's top moments in TV and radio, which breaks from violence only to make room for events like the cussfest in the season finale of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." If anything, TV should apologize to viewers for depicting shows like "The Bachelor," "Elimidate" and "Temptation Island" as the utmost in human relationships.

For better or worse, these were the defining moments of the year on TV. Compared with last year's defining moment, they were infinitely easier to bear.

1. Tony kills Ralphie on "The Sopranos" and disposes of the body with Christopher. Tony beat Ralphie senseless against a kitchen floor over the death of a horse, then called right-hand man Christopher to help chop up the body to make identification almost impossible. The graphic shots shocked viewers and punctuated a season many called "boring." It was still TV's best series. If I didn't put a self-imposed one-mention rule on this list, Christopher's intervention would make it as well.

2. Willow flays and fries a "nerd" villain in revenge, only to be pulled back from the brink of apocalypse by the word known to all men in "Buffy." Distraught over the murder of her lover, Alyson Hannigan's witch Willow exacted gruesome vengeance on one of the killers, then decided the only way to halt human suffering was to end the world. Not Buffy but Xander swayed her with an expression not of vengeance but of love.

3. Jack's wife is killed in the first-season finale of "24." An action-packed, real-time drama aimed for a tragic climax with the death of Jack Bauer's wife, Teri. If it wasn't quite the end of "King Lear," it was nevertheless powerful television. Kiefer Sutherland's Jack went on this season to perform his own gruesome murder-mutilation.

4. Michael Chiklis kills Reed Diamond in the pilot episode of "The Shield." When Chiklis' rogue detective calmly offed a fellow cop - played by former "Homicide: Life on the Street" star Diamond, no less - it let viewers know this would not be a conventional police show. Chiklis went on to stun the industry as the first lead actor to win an Emmy on a basic-cable series.

5. PBS' "Frontline" ponders the very existence of God in "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero." What kind of a god would allow Sept. 11 to happen? …