Monday, December 27, 2010

Best of 2010: TV

Top 20 TV Shows in 2010
1. Terriers Season One (FX)
2. Breaking Bad Season Three (AMC)
3. Boardwalk Empire Season One (HBO)
4. Community Season Two (NBC)
5. Treme Season One (HBO)
6. Lost Season Six (ABC)
7. Louie (FX)
8. Parks & Recreation Season Two (NBC)
9. Party Down Season Two (STARZ)
10. Archer Season One (FX)
11. Chuck Season Three and Four (NBC)
12. Rubicon Season One (AMC)
13. Sherlock Season One (BBC)
14. Better Off Ted Season Two (ABC)
15. 30 Rock Season Five (NBC)
16. Cougar Town Season Two (ABC)
17. Modern Family Season Two (ABC)
18. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season Six (FX)
19. The Walking Dead Season One (AMC)
20. Castle Seasons One - Three (ABC)

Favorite Hour-Long: Terriers (FX)
There's no competition here. Boardwalk Empire is close, Breaking Bad is closer, but there was no question in my mind that Terriers was my favorite new show this year. It might be my favorite new show of the past five years. So of course it was under-rated, under-watched and canceled. But it was a perfect single season, which takes the sting out a bit. And Treme was fantastic, although it was early enough in the year that I forgot it in early drafts of this list.

Lost had an ending that I liked quite a bit, and while I understand the disappointment of many, I don't share it. However, while I did enjoy it, looking back, Breaking Bad probably should have topped my 2009 list, and Lost did lose some ground to pretty amazing competition on cable.

Chuck, a consistent favorite, is just outside the top 10. I'm still very much enjoying the show, but it hasn't been as consistently great as it was in season two, which in retrospect was kind of the peak of the show. Rubicon just misses the top 10, largely because of its weak ending, but the rest of the show was really, really good. And Sherlock sits further down than it otherwise might because there were only three episodes, and it honestly feels like cheating to consider it anything but a miniseries.

Then there are the procedurals. TV is lousy with these "formula of the week/weak arc" shows, and I don't have patience for a lot of them. Hawaii 5-0, probably the strongest new network show that wasn't immediately canceled, doesn't make my Top 20... it might squeak into the bottom of a Top 25. I finally started watching Castle, and while I still feel like Nathan Fillion isn't getting to use his full range there, I can now see the appeal. I also continue to enjoy Burn Notice and Leverage, although both can occasionally lapse into basic cable cheesiness, the kind of thing that put me off White Collar and Covert Affairs, and both just missed the cut-off for the top 20.

The Walking Dead sits a lot lower on my list than many critics, but that's because I felt like the 6-episode season was a bit rushed and the characters were more of the USA/TNT caliber than what I expect from AMC. Good, with potential, but not as great as many are claiming.

Doctor Who just barely misses the list, and it would have rated higher had more of the episodes been of the quality of the first episode that introduced Matt Smith, who I think is doing a great job as the Doctor. Despite how much I like him (and Karen Gillan as Amy Pond), the stories have been very standard Doctor Who material for me, not as engaging as Steven Moffat's one-off episodes or most of the other shows he's run.

Also just missing the top 20 cut-off is Dexter Season Five, which had a pretty solid arc with Julia Stiles and a good scenery-chewing villain in Jonny Lee Miller, but was very much in the Dexter formula. I like the show, but I don't love it the way I did in season one.

Best Comedy: Community (NBC)
As with Terriers, there really isn't anyone even close. Much as I loved, and laughed at, Party Down and Archer, Community has shown a willingness to experiment with format that is matched only by how well that experimental spirit pays off in big laughs. One of the most talented ensemble casts on TV, matched with some of the best comedy writing we've seen this decade. And, of course, it's rated much lower than a lot of really poor comedy on TV.

Better Off Ted was another one like that. Great show, got a second season largely due to the strike and the need for fresh content, and was funnier and smarter than most of the comedy on TV. Too funny and smart for the vast majority of the modern sitcom audience, of course.

I don't know how Louie rates, but it almost doesn't matter, because it's so cheap for FX to make. And it's great. Dark, honest and unbelievably funny. I loved Louie C.K.'s stand-up, and I'm glad to see it translated so well into a half-hour comedy on TV.

Parks & Recreation, due to its low ratings, got held back for a midseason launch for its season three. A shame, since after a forgettable first season, it came back strong as one of the funniest shows on network TV, just behind Community, actually. NBC's comedy block is actually stronger than it's been in years, but long-in-the-tooth favorites like The Office and inexplicably green-lit crap like Outsourced keep it from becoming "Must See" again.

Speaking of NBC comedies, 30 Rock has gotten off ratings life support, but has struggled a bit creatively. It's still funny more often than not (unlike say, The Office), but it's only in the past few weeks that it has started hitting its stride consistently again.

More consistent, but alas not as funny at its peaks, is Cougar Town, which I finally gave a shot to despite it's horrid name. I found a fun ensemble comedy that is the heir to Bill Lawrence's Scrubs. Not as funny as Scrubs, unfortunately, but in that same ballpark.

Modern Family is another one that started strong, and had pretty great ratings, but hasn't been as consistent in season two. It's still very funny, though, when it's hitting its stride.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, now in its fifth season, is also uneven, but their boldness in terms of subject matter makes up for one-note characterization. And the occasional highs, like Lethal Weapon Five or the culmination of Dee's pregnancy, or Frank's charity dinner/the Gang lost in the woods episodes, make it worth watching.

Not making the cut is The Office, which had a few really funny episodes but many more that were just really weak, and How I Met Your Mother, which hasn't been consistently funny or clever in a while.

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