Thursday, January 13, 2011

Best Shows of 2010

While the last three lists were compromised by not being able to pay for stuff, this one was actually probably enhanced - there's a lot of time to sit around watching television when you don't have a job. The last couple of years for TV have seemed a bit dry in comparison to what we had before that, but 2010 was another one for the ages. There were are a couple shows that I unfortunately had to cut to trim this list to ten, although a few will get recognized tomorrow. But these shows in particular entertained me an amazing amount this year. Remember, this is recognizing these shows for the seasons which ended in 2010.

Best of 2010

10. The Venture Bros. (Adult Swim)

The Venture Bros. fourth season was its biggest ever, and while maybe not the best, it was still pretty excellent. After some felt the third season strayed too far into building up its own world and just wasn't funny enough, the fourth struck a nice balance between comedy and mythology, developing further one of the most interesting and detailed science fiction universes to come around in a long time. It's a cartoon so consistently well-written and presented that almost every new episodes feels like it could be a contender for the best one ever, although the hour-long finale had the best case of all.

9. The Pacific (HBO)

Major Dick Winters, former leader of Easy Company and the man Band of Brothers spent the most time focusing on, died last week. Not only was he a great man, but he provided a central character around which possibly the best miniseries ever could build. The Pacific lacked that sort of central figure that the whole thing could be tied back to, but it still managed to match and even exceed its spiritual predecessor in some areas, from the scale and intensity of the battles to the harrowing way the horrors of war are portrayed. It wasn't as great as Brothers, but that's quite a lofty goal, and it was still quite good for most of its run.

8. Sons of Anarchy (FX)

This is the most inconsistent show on the list this year, with a tendency to occasionally go too far with some of its plot threads and have its characters make questionable decisions. But besides #1, it was also the best show at producing exceptional individual moments that make all the hiccups seem totally worth it in the end. Sons of Anarchy's world is a tough place to live, and that's just as evident in this season as the first two, especially in the final episode, which had one of the best conclusions I've ever seen and really helped cement the show as one of my favorites. Best finale all year.

7. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Parks and Recreation was definitely iffy in its brief first season, but the second was just about brilliant from beginning to end. It reminded people of what The Office was like when it was really cooking and not just the acceptable sitcom it is today, and in some ways it was even better. The central cast isn't as big, but in many respects it's stronger, and whatever wacky idea they were tackling, they just seemed to nail it every week. It's been away for way too long, and I can't wait for its return a week from today.

6. Lost (ABC)

Kind of a drop on this list compared to the last two years, but that's more due to the strength of the competition than anything Lost actually did wrong. Like the show's whole run, its final season wasn't perfect, but its strengths were great enough to overcome issues of unanswered questions or uneven pacing. We got some really great payoffs for all the best characters, and I personally thought the ending was perfectly fitting what they had built up. I'll miss seeing it this spring.

5. Community (NBC)

Technically I'm not including what the show has done so far in its sophomore season, although I will say it really helped cement Community as my favorite comedy currently running. The first was plenty excellent on its own, as it transitioned from a likable Joel McHale vehicle about community college into a stunningly brilliant ensemble comedy about anything and everything. The themed episodes get the most attention, but every week you're bound to see something you weren't expecting. The show is hilarious, but it also manages a lot of sentiment without ever seeming cloying. Just a great show.

4. Mad Men (AMC)

This was my favorite season of Mad Men, and it's slowly creeping up my list of the best stuff you can watch these days. It's not as careful and well considered as it used to be, but it's a lot more enjoyable, with a seemingly conscious effort to make the show quicker, funnier, and more dramatic. It was just a bit dry for me before, but I thought they struck a great balance between entertainment and intelligence this time. And yeah, that finale was pretty crazy. Looking forward to what's next.

3. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

You could swap this and Mad Men and I'd probably hardly notice, but for now I'm taking Empire by a nose. I think some people find it a bit slow, and while I can tell why, I don't really care because I'm always glued to the screen regardless. The show looks great, it uses violence and sex effectively without seeming too trashy, and I love the way they slowly build up their own slightly fictionalized version of 1920 over the course of the season. It's not quite the powerhouse it might have been and still could be, but it's damn good just the same.

2. Dollhouse (FOX)

A lot of people probably forgot about this already, but Dollhouse's second and last season finished airing way back at the beginning of 2010, and so it goes on this list. Dollhouse had a lot of warts in its first year, but it still ended up as a pretty series by the end of the season, and while season two couldn't help but stumble a bit again, I thought it quickly rounded into the best thing Joss Whedon as been involved with since Firefly and one of the best pieces of science fiction TV period. They really did a lot with what little time they had, and I know for one I won't be forgetting about it for a while.

1. Breaking Bad (AMC)

After seeing the final season of The Shield, I decided it was actually better than Breaking Bad's first effort, which is why I can't really say Bad was my favorite thing on TV for three years in a row. But for a while there it was. They stepped up their game yet again in season three, which was both the show's most thrilling and funniest yet. You might be wondering how I could say Anarchy had the best finale all year after Bad's, but the truth is it honestly just felt like another good episode and solid cliffhanger after all the amazing stuff that came before. It seemed like every week they were topping themselves in terms of mind-blowing events that were going on, and they never let you catch your breath. We have to wait a bit longer than usual for season four, but I bet it will be worth it.

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