My Top 10 TV Series of 2010
December 23rd, 2010
I wasn’t going to make this list.
I did a Top 15 shows as part of The A.V. Club’s Top 25 Shows of 2010 list – which is really fantastic, and features my writeups on United States of Tara and Cougar Town – earlier this month, so I technically thought about what my Top 10 was, but looking back on it I didn’t like it. Knowing that the list was going to be aggregated, I think I steered clear of series I knew didn’t have a chance, or at the very least ranked them lower than I might have otherwise, and the result was a list that wasn’t wrong so much as it was unrepresentative of a broader view of the year in television.
And yet, since I have this particular outlet and have been in a list-making mode of late, I did put together a Top 10. It’s largely the same, although I’ve made a few changes to make it slightly more representative. This does not imply that series were elevated above their station in order to add a sense of diversity: there is no hierarchy here, and I consider these 20 series to be on more or less similar levels (outside of those shows which I clearly label within the writeups as the finest within their respective genres, which should not come as a surprise to anyone).
And I like the sense of diversity. These shows aired in different countries, at different times of year, and on a wide range of networks, and represent the ten shows which make me very glad to have been both obsessed with and paid to write about/study television in the past year.
Breaking Bad (AMC)
It’s hard to say that a series with four more acting Emmys has been living in Mad Men’s shadow, but there exists this pervasive sense that Breaking Bad is playing second fiddle to its more nostalgic counterpart. In its third season, Breaking Bad played second fiddle to no one, delivering stunning arcs for its Emmy-winning protagonists and simultaneously building a stronger supporting cast (with Dean Norris doing particularly fantastic and sometimes overlooked work) which signals more big things in its future (which, sadly, won’t be until July).
I do not entirely understand the cult of Community, a fervor of fan support which seems hell bent on judging anyone who thinks the series less than awe-inspiring, but I do understand Community as a funny television series. While most associate the series with pushing the envelope, my favorite parts of Community are those which never fail to seem honest and real: when the show cuts through its own lovingly crafted, often hilarious bullshit and reveals a character-driven sitcom with a heart, few comedies can compare.
Cougar Town (ABC)
Look, I would never make the argument that Cougar Town is better than any of the other comedies on this list, but I just really, really enjoy watching it. I like the risks the show takes in pushing its characters to the brink of unlikability, I like the way the show draws its relationships (whether they be romantic or platonic), and I think we can all agree that the way they’ve turned the awful, yet unchangeable, title into a running gag has been a winning turn. While I don’t know if television as a medium is better for its existence, my weekly television schedule is substantially improved by its presence.
Dan for Mayor (CTV)
Unless you have a good memory of my blog output, or similarly hail from the Great White North, you probably haven’t heard of Dan for Mayor. Initially the story of a bartender turned mayoral candidate trying to prove himself to the girl he loved but lost, the series is a prototypical example of comic world-building: by using the supporting cast to give us a window into each candidate’s campaign, the series’ was able to build character while engaging in some effective – and charmingly small-scale – satire. Like its hero, Dan for Mayor is scrappy and winning, sadsack without ever descending into sad – certainly my favorite Canadian series of the year, and definitely one of the year’s highlights on either side of the border.
Huge (ABC Family)
There are two “one-and-done” series on this list, but I think Huge hurts the most. Being so focused on adolescent identity crisis, the ABC Family series from Winnie Holzman and Savannah Dooley was a show waiting to happen. It was strong as it was, subtle in some moments and transcendent in others, delivering both quiet moments of teenage awkardness and triumphant moments of self-realization with the same deft hand. And yet it was also about potential: who would these characters become? How would Camp Victory change them? To know that Alistair’s exploration of his sexuality remains trapped in time just feels wrong, although it does nothing to diminish the summer’s dramatic highlight.
Louis C.K. wasn’t trying to be funny in making Louie. Sure, the show is ostensibly a comedy, and features hilarious standup performances and some brilliant “short films” of which many are comic in nature, but the driving creative force behind Louie never feels as if it wants us to laugh. At its finest, Louie interrogates our beliefs, and follows its impulses to whatever end it may lead to (even if that end is an honest conversation with a struggling father instead of the awkward humilation we might expect). It’s investigative comedy, a television experiment which reaped dividends for its writer/director/producer/editor of a star, FX as a network, and television as a whole.
Mad Men (AMC)
Despite its unquestionable quality, we are reaching the point where the ubiquity of Mad Men on lists like this one could feel rote. And yet the show’s fourth season, while perhaps not its absolute finest, was certainly up to the series’ previous standards. Yet to show a sign of any loss of direction or focus, watching Don Draper navigate his newfound circumstances and seeing the tenuous business built around him threatened to crumble under the weight of his ongoing identity crisis (and the shifting stability of just about everyone else at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) made for some of the year’s finest television.
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
The greatest testament to the greatness of Parks and Recreation, 2010’s best comedy series, is that I can no longer imagine the series being less than perfect. The show started off weak, a fact I think most of us agree on, and yet the episodes which aired in 2010 were ceaselessly entertaining – they were charming, they were hilarious, and they continued the important task of opening up the world of Pawnee. While the show was anchored by two relationships, one platonic and one romantic, it never felt as though it was only about those relationships – this year, Parks and Recreation became an ensemble, and in the process it became my favorite show on television.
Looking back, perhaps because we are sadly unable to look forward, Terriers’ success stems from two qualities. The first is an initial transparency: the way in which the series played with serial and procedural storylines, as well as light-hearted comedy and more dramatic elements, showed viewers the kind of balance being considered by Ted Griffin and Shawn Ryan as they figured out what they wanted this show to be. The other quality is that as they searched for the formula to a great television series, they more or less just went ahead and made one anyway, a stellar cast and a strong vision coalescing into one for the record – or, sadly, history – books.
Work of Art: The Next Great Artist (Bravo)
I am aware that this choice seems idiosyncratic, but I think that reality television is a rich genre capable of spectacular highs and tremendously fascinating failures. Work of Art was the year’s finest example of the genre because it did both simultaneously, every moment a delicate balance between investigating the creative process of the contestants and implicating the editors in their attempts to sculpt that process into traditional reality competition narratives. The tension which emerged from this process, including the performative and active resistance offered by the contestants, was some of the finest television of the year, if not always for the reasons the show itself believed.
- Doctor Who (BBC)
- Fringe (FOX)
- Justified (FX)
- Lost (ABC)
- Men of a Certain Age (TNT)
- Party Down (Starz)
- The Good Wife (CBS)
- Treme (HBO)
- United States of Tara (Showtime)
- Weeds (Showtime)