Yeah, so it’s February and most anybody who’s anybody posted their Top 10 TV Shows of 2010 near the end of 2010. When it felt like a flood and you couldn’t remember whose was whose. Well, consider mine “fashionably late.” Because if there’s one thing that Old King Clancy is, it’s fashionable. I’m also now the second member of this collective to post his picks. You can find Nonpopulist’s Top 15 here at his own site, and yeah, there’s a lot of crossover with mine. Hey, at least I beat Gally, who’s been too busy emo twittering to post his. And well, you can just assume that Logic’s are “The Ultimate Fighter” and Dane Cook specials.
As a standard disclaimer, like anyone that’s not a paid TV critic, I can only rank what I’ve actually seen. I haven’t seen any of the AMC shows that top everyone’s lists – Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Maybe by next year I’ll have Netflixed that shit so I actually can see it. I don’t have HBO so I’ve never seen Boardwalk Empire. Never seen Lost, which is a long story. Don’t watch Sons of Anarchy. Just heard of Archer a couple weeks ago and it’s not on Netflix streaming anymore, but last week’s was awesome. And a few of my favorite shows (30 Rock and HIMYM) had very uneven years so they didn’t make it. Point being, can’t judge your favorite show if I’ve never seen it, so get off my dick. Unless you’re Kristen Bell. Anyway, let’s get down to business. Tell your disappointment to suck it; we’re having a TV party tonight!
Honorable Mentions: Justified (FX) – More Boyd and more awesome are directly proportional. They really need to figure out what to do with Winona’s character. Law and Order (NBC) – Ironically, the mothership got cancelled after 2 of its strongest seasons in years. The dynamics between McCoy, Cutter, and Rubirosa were great. And Lupo and Bernard were a little off (see: Bernard’s constant references to porn), which was awesome. Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family) – My guiltiest of guilty pleasures. Does a surprisingly good job of making everyone a suspect. I bet CW’s kicking themselves for passing on it, considering it would be the “best” show on their network and it’s been a surprise hit. Todd Margaret (IFC) – Admittedly, any mention of ThunderMuscle made me laugh hysterically. Nice reveal of Dave as the mastermind. And a nice moment in that Todd’s dad really did live in Leeds.
#10 Huge (ABC Family) – This is probably the only surprise you’ll find in my 10. It was a show about teenagers at weight loss camp that got cancelled at its halfway point. I thought the show did a great job of not only addressing the confusion, frustration, and hypocrisy surrounding body image and weight loss and the strain that put on all the characters, but also showed the characters having normal teenage problems such as friendships, dating, parental pressures, divorce, sexuality, etc. Nothing was ever neat and tidy, wrapped in a bow. It wasn’t perfect; I could have done without the clichéd “inappropriate” camper/counselor relationship that just seemed like it wanted to fit in with generalized teen soaps and didn’t like that every time the two ostensible leads would have a bonding moment, it would seem wiped out by the next episode. But all in all, a very underrated show that really got screwed.
#9 Community (NBC) – Alternately one of the best and most maddening comedies out there. I get more excited to watch it than most of the shows ahead
of it and some parts of it could have been rated much higher, but the frustrating elements balanced that out, so for me, #9 is about right. Admittedly, I rewarded the consistency of some likely lesser shows, as you’ll see later. Anyway, I hated the show when it first started, because everyone was a giant dick except Annie, but that was in 2009, and by 2010, they got things pretty worked out. Except I still don’t like Ken Jeong pretty much anywhere. He’s so far over the top that I find him generally unbearable. He has to be used in incredibly small doses and even then I’m rarely down with it. The Jeff-Annie thing bugged me in that it was just kinda icky that she’s 19 and he’s … how old is he supposed to be? Late 30s? It just kinda made him more gross, which is tough. Anyway, I always say if you’re going to fail, fail ambitiously. Question is, can one be ambitious and lazy at the same time? The genre parody episodes that are most often referenced as the best as actually my least favorites. It’s clever for a while, but then just feels forced and can become a series of layups. However, I will say that I do like that they at least manage to forward the “plot” in those episodes such as Jeff and Britta doing the wild thing in the paintball episode or Shirley and Chang doing the same in the zombie one. I thought the funniest episode by far was the one where Jeff had to play pool in shorts. The most underrated and perhaps “best” episode was the one where they went to a bar for Troy’s 21st birthday. They dialed down the comedy and instead held up each character except Troy, who was kinda the audience POV, to the reality microscope. Abed is desperate enough to find someone whose interests connect with his that he will hurt someone’s feelings in order to have that hour. Shirley continues to use her moralizing to cover up her uncomfortability with herself, which is alienating to the others. Pierce finally puts down his ‘50s male ego and asks for help, if only for one minute, and finds that people will help him when he’s not an asshole. Annie has no idea who she is and is willing to try whatever will give her a positive response. And Jeff and Britta, for all their supposedly flirtatious sniping are exactly the same person, and both really douchey. And Troy calls everyone out on their shit because when you’re sober, drunk people are infuriating. It was a phenomenal episode. I only hope they can go more in that direction in 2011. If all that discovery is just swept under the rug, which is what I’d cynically expect, I’ll be bummed. It does say a lot that I had more to say about this show than any of the others.
#8 Cougar Town (ABC) – As I was saying about rewarding consistency over the home run. This show just makes me laugh. And gained a ton of respect for realizing the initial premise sucked and changing on the fly to a simple adult ensemble comedy, which fortunately for the rankings, they did right about the turn of 2010. Much like I once said about Friends, this ensemble renders everyone likeable as a group, yet I wouldn’t want to meet any one of the characters in person individually. Although I sincerely hope this show holds up better over time. Sweet Christ, Friends is unwatchable! What the fuck was I thinking back in the ‘90s. I would like to see some eventual character development in terms of self-improvement, since we actually want our characters to grow over time; otherwise their flaws become magnified. I’d also like to know exactly how Travis got a girlfriend as hot as Kirsten. Seriously. I have no clue what a hot grad student is getting out of this deal.
#7 Damages (formerly FX) – Owner of the best theme song on TV, the only one that can take the “Terriers” theme. Fun with twists! The show jerks you around and it’s fun to let it. I like how they show you the snippets of the future but once you figure out the context, it’s completely different than how you imagined. Anyway, nice recovery from S2, which was all over the place and in which characters took half a season off and you forgot what their deal was and didn’t even care much (and by that I mean William Hurt). Good timely story connected to the Bernie Madoff dilly-o. Interesting that Patty Hewes really took a step back this season and let Tom and Ellen do most of the heavy lifting while she dealt with her repressed abortion. More Patty probably would have pushed the show up a few notches. Good work by Campbell Scott, who’s usually reliably good, even though he went from the “noble” one in his family to desperate and mindfucked pretty quickly. RIP Tom Schayes. You’ll be missed, buddy. And a shitty way to go out, literally. Speaking of shitty ways to go out, this show got picked up by DirecTV, but unlike Friday Night Lights, it won’t be run on any other network, which means I’ll have to wait for Netflix. If they even still have DVDs by then. Balls. Also, I really hope that some day, Patty pays Ellen in sandwiches. Seriously, she is thin to the point of having to look away from the screen. My friends who say Rose Byrne is hot can have her. Yikes!
#6 Modern Family (ABC) – Again rewarding consistency over the home run. I laugh every time I watch it, usually a lot. Was the dog butler in 2010? Best prop of the year in any show, if so. Maybe because my parents had a smaller dog butler when I was a kid. Anyway, incredibly reliable. Usually good
comic twists. And I like that there is character development for the most part. Especially in Manny and Jay’s relationship. And Cameron and Mitchell’s realizing that Lily isn’t perfect and it’s not their fault; she’s just human. And that Hailey outsmarted everyone in the no electronics contest. And that Alex is secretly insecure behind the superior exterior. And Luke has decent insight into human behavior and emotion when he’s not perpetually distracted. And Phil misses Dylan because he doesn’t have any guy friends. I too miss Dylan because the “Do Me” song might be the funniest thing the show has done, even though it was 2009. Hasn’t been as strong this season as last, but hopefully it will close strong.
#5 Better Off Ted (ABC) – Another show that really got screwed to the point that when I originally wrote this list, I forgot it’s S2, or what ABC fucking
showed of it, actually was in 2010. Since I wound up watching both seasons on Netflix, it’s easy to forget. (Sorry, Justified, which got bumped). Anyway, this was one of the best workplace comedies in TV history and should have appealed to anyone that every worked in an office or for a corporation at any level. As completely absurd as the workplace scenarios were, there was a vast kernel of truth involved, kind of a Eugene Ionesco-ish touch. For instance, in my favorite episode and the first episode I ever saw, a misprint in a corporate memo stated “Employees must now use offensive language in the workplace,” resulting is predictable hilarity. But Veridian’s strict adherence to the memo and refusal to admit a mistake is universally common. By the way, if you saw the episode and wished they’d pushed it more and hate the FCC, check out the clip below. So why didn’t people watch it? Well, besides ABC never giving it a consistent time slot or push? Well, the name is pretty brutal, but smart, biting comedy can be a tough sell. (/goes off and kills self). For the record, I would also like for Andrea Anders, a former Phoenix Pub Open Bar host, to sit on my lap. She’ll soon be seen in the upcoming ABC comedy with Matthew Perry, which is probably not enough to make me want to watch a show with Matthew Perry unless she’s Medieval Fight Clubbing his ass. (Sadly, that episode was 2009 or this could have been #1).
#4 Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC) – OK, this is a tricky one because, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t have DirecTV. So my 2010 is Season 4, which actually ran in 2009. And I’m not counting the beginning of Season 5 because I don’t see that until April. Yes, I could get it online, but I’d rather watch stuff
on my TV than computer and my internet connection isn’t strong enough to run my computer through my TV. (I’m also about as tech-savvy as your average waterfowl. So, Season 4. By no means a perfect season and because of the shortness of the episode order, plots always feel rushed. BUT, its high points can usually top any other TV drama and while I’m about the 8 millionth person to say this, Matt Saracen’s dad’s funeral episode was enough in itself to earn this ranking. I will also give huge props to the show for showing, with Tammy’s storyline, the intense amount of scrutiny that education professionals are under all the time in that the tiniest action can be misinterpreted, blown up, and cost you your job. It’s enough to make one not want to work in education. That Matt and Julie storyline was really strong in this season as well in that both sides’ actions and emotions rang true, even if it wasn’t comfortable. Having Coach Taylor start over as an underdog was a good move for the show, since they’d maxed out the high wire act at West Dillon a bit. And I liked the forfeit story at the beginning of the season in that what Coach Taylor thought was the right thing almost lost him his team. Another similar situation was Riggins taking the weight for his brother because of the baby. It was noble, but I’ll be really interested to see how that plays out in Season 5 since it should have some severe ramifications on his life and future once he gets out. Also looking forward to seeing how Vince both grows into being a leader and struggles with it. His story was occasionally a little all over the place in S4 and needed some more episodes. It was a nice touch that early on, after the whole fight with Luke Cafferty, it was revealed that Vince actually did steal the watch. It was daring for the show to make one of its lead characters, at least at the beginning of the season, kind of a dick, even with knowing the circumstances of his family. He came a long way in S4. Long enough to sway Jess into dumping Landry for him? That part of the story didn’t work as well, but women are always suckers for seeing growth from assholes rather than consistency. Says the single guy. Anyway, looking forward to a strong close.
#3 Parks and Recreation (NBC) – Jabba the Hutt, Jabba the Hutt, Jabba the Hutt, Jabba the Hutt … (/points) GALLY BLOG READERS! I’m going to get a bit writing class nerdy on these next two. At the risk of sounding exactly like Maureen Ryan, one of my favorite TV critics, my favorite thing about this show is that all its characters have dreams, be they large or
small scale, and the show respects that. A former writing teacher once told me that every character has a goal and the story comes from when their attempts to achieve their goals come into conflict with each other’s. And as a writer, you have to see the big picture and goal and dream fulfillment brings that next level of emotional stakes to comedy that makes it enduring. Shows without hopes, dreams, and emotional investment can still be funny, but they don’t really hold up over time. Anyway, I’d like to give the Parks and Recreation staff some sort of Medal of Honor for the changes they made between S1, which was brutal, and S2, which was phenomenal. Another thing Maureen Ryan mentions about respect for the characters is that their desires aren’t the butt of jokes; the jokes are just situational and well-written. After all that highfalutin hoo-ha, the show is fucking hilarious. The one thing they still need to fix is Rashida Jones’ character. They have yet to really find her anything to do and haven’t given her any hopes and dreams. Good job axing Mark, who they also couldn’t find anything to do with. Love the addition of Adam Scott, who has some of the best line delivery in the business. We’ll see on Rob Lowe – good energy, but hopefully they can make a character there. I hope ratings are up and S3 is a big year for Parks and Rec so it doesn’t get cancelled or fucked over again by NBC. And I’d give my pinky toe for another appearance of Freddy Spaghetti. Maybe even remixed by DJ Roomba.
#2 Louie (FX) – A different former writing teacher once said that good comedy involves a prescription for how the world should work. Louie has something different that may be even more interesting. It doesn’t know how the world should work, but is fascinated by how it does and is driven by a boundless curiosity as to why things are the way they are. Those who don’t like the show might call it “nihilistic” or “overly dark,” but I think it’s just the opposite. Louie does get an awful lot of mileage from self-loathing (while not in the show, I can’t pass an airport Cinnabon without thinking of his riff from “Chewed Up”) and involves a ton of dark humor, but that curiosity about the world never dies and that’s unspoken optimism there. The first scene to catch attention was the poker scene where he asked a gay friend how he felt about his use of a gay slur in his act. It went viral because viewers connected with the curiosity that turned what could have been a cheap scene full of gay jokes, which you can find anywhere lazy, into a very smart and engaging set piece. However, I think the absolute pinnacle of the show’s curiosity came in the season finale about the bully in which Louie follows him, sees his parents bully the bully, argues with the parents, and winds up smoking a cigarette with the abusive father and bonding over how difficult raising kids is. Then it ended. It didn’t condone the behaviors at all, but took a couple steps back to look at the big picture and admitted with the ending, that it has no fucking clue how to fix this. That really stuck with me and shows more ambition than probably any other show out there.
#1 Terriers (FX) – I first watched the show because I love detective shows and love smart dialogue, but had no idea what I’d be in for. One critic (I forget which one) mentioned that “Terriers” is kind of the grown-up Veronica Mars, and should appeal to fans of that show. Since I’m in the tank for S1 of V-Mars as being one of the best seasons in TV history, it’s a layup. The tone in this show could switch from light to heart-attack serious in a pin drop and never feel off. It was one of the funniest shows on TV and also one of the most heartbreaking. If you’ve read any of my TV and movie stuff from former sites, you’ll know about my abhorrence of Hollywood clichés, so it makes perfect sense that my favorite part of the show was the way they actively defied clichéd tropes and standard conventions. (No wonder it was cancelled). Alan Sepinwall and Dan Feinberg mentioned this frequently on their “Firewall and Iceberg Podcast,” which if you don’t listen to, I will come over to your house, chain you to your radiator, feed your cat, and then make you download it. Hank and Gretchen did not get back together. The way Hank got the loan for his house. The “bad guy’s airport plot was defeated, but he didn’t wind up in prison. However, Britt did. Hank didn’t start drinking again. Hank and Laura Ross didn’t wind up together. The list goes on. Not only did it actively defy the clichés, but it made fun of the clichés as it defied them. See, for instance, Laura Ross’ speech about why she and Hank wouldn’t be dating. In many ways, the show was every bit as meta as “Community” without absolutely hitting us over the head with a steel chair with it the way that show did. By the way, I don’t think the final scene was actually a real choice, rather more of an “Incident at Owl Creek Bridge” scenario for Britt. It’s nice to have a show where actions have consequences and you can’t charm your way out of things or juke a loophole in the system. After his speech to Katie that showed how much he really had grown, he was going to jail, but it’s nice to entertain that last dream of life without consequences before the consequences take place. That’s a well-deserved #1 for the one and only season. Play us out, Rob Duncan!