Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best of 2010: Television

Going to the movies today is no longer cheap and, let's be honest, given the cost, your odds of getting quality entertainment for the time and money are not in your favor. Television, however, is still relatively inexpensive (and the major networks are still technically free) and produces entertainment that lasts longer than a couple hours. It allows for intricate plotting and character growth and you don't have to wait two or three years to continue the story (although AMC shows make it feel that long between seasons).

It's a sad fact that when I started jotting down lists of film, music and TV for these best of compilations, coming up with ten-plus TV shows was easy. I have yet to find ten movies that I feel are worthy of a Top 10 list, though. Not only did I see fewer films in the theatre, I also didn't feel any real desire to see many.

10. Parenthood - NBC
From the producers of Friday Night Lights (that'll show up later on this list) is another well-written, very well-cast series that relies strongly on its characters. Following various members of a large family, there isn't a wasted character among them and the acting is superb.

9. Terriers - FX
Add this one to the list of great, cancelled series. The occasionally comical tale of two private detectives who get in over their heads started slow but eventually ramped up into a densely plotted crime drama that fans of The Shield would appreciate. Given the slow-burn of that series to creative peaks, I'm surprised this one wasn't nurtured longer.

8. Glee - Fox
The first season was a bubble-bursting delight of music, comedy and stylish storytelling. Season two has been a bit uneven, but still capable of making me smile, dance and burst into song (much like its characters) at any point. Recent highlights like the all-male "Teenage Dream" and Gwyneth Paltrow's turn as a substitute (please bring her back!) have ensured this show will always be on my must-see list.

7. The Walking Dead - AMC
The pilot alone would have put this show near the top of the list...a grim tale with the perfect tone about humans in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. The subsequent episodes of the short first season weren't nearly as masterful, but there is still so much promise in this series, especially if they expand upon more of the brilliant comic book material.

6. Modern Family - ABC
The only sitcom to make this list is here for a reason...it's incredibly funny and that cast is so spot on from top to bottom. The Emmy was well-deserved and it hasn't lost a beat in its second season.

5. Mad Men - AMC
I've commented in the past that this show, while amazing, hasn't deserved the Best Drama Emmy for three straight years. The recent 4th season, however, was probably the best of the series so far. Focused on the deconstruction and resurrection of central character Don Draper, every episode wove new depths of character and drama. Don's probably the best "anti-hero" since Vic Mackey...a man who we are meant to admire and despise in the same moment.

4. Friday Night Lights - DirecTV/NBC
There is so much that is so impossibly perfect about this series. Every time a key character leaves the show I assume it will never be the same, but new characters become just as important, memorable and fascinating. At heart, it comes down to the core duo of Coach Taylor and his wife (Kyle Chandler/Connie Britton), the best couple on television. No spoilers on the final season, please...I'll have to wait until NBC graces us with its re-airing next year.

3. Lost - "The End" - ABC
The final season of Lost was a mixed bag...the flash-sideways world was confusing and occasionally unnecessary and we still have so many questions that will never be answered. But damn...could you ask for a finer final episode? I know opinions on that are mixed as well, but for this fan, who religously followed the series from the beginning, it was a resolution filled with emotional payoff and delirious moments of satisfaction.

2. Fringe - Fox
I keep talking about how I'm surprised this show is still airing and Fox's recent announcement to move the series to Fridays (a.k.a. where smart sci-fi goes to die) has only filled me with more dread...but I should really call attention to the fact that this show gets smarter and cooler every season. This season's alternate-reality plot has been tense and the former "creepy of the week" aspect has evolved into a carefully constructed world where "fringe" science is closer than we think.

1. Breaking Bad - AMC
AMC deserves some kind of special award for producing innovative, bold television in the "basic cable" realm...the kind of series that are typically expected from HBO or Showtime. Breaking Bad is probably the pinnacle of the new dramatic class...edgy, always unexpected and darkly funny. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul desevered their Emmys this year and waiting for a new season (probably next summer) is agonizing.

Honorable Mentions: Men of a Certain Age, The Big Bang Theory, Community, Stargate Universe, Justified


  1. God I loved Terriers. Easily my favorite new show of the season. I was so bummed about its cancellation.

    I just started watching Breaking Bad a couple of weeks ago when amc started rerunning the show in order from start to finish. I feel pretty dumb for not catching up on it a million years ago.