The year of 2010 was a year where television was on. Some of that television was compelling and some of it was not. I’ve compiled my list of the best. You can feel free to casually scroll though the titles, but if you want to relive the highs with me, I’ve broken down the key episodes so you can remember the gasping you did when someone took a fateful baptism, turned into claymation, and finally left that damn island.
Without any more adieu, my 10 favorite shows of 2010 with an additional 10 runners up.
Following the misadventures of a group of students at a community college, this is the FUNNIEST show on TV because it’s not only wacky and out there, but also grounded by real characters who continue to evolve. What started out as a standard one camera show based in our reality soon became another that was willing to try anything. It works, and though the homage episodes (one to gangster films using chicken fingers; one to space movies using shameless Kentucky Fried Chicken propaganda from the 90’s) are often the most showy, the smaller episodes (Britta trying to be nice to Troy’s evil grandmother no matter how impossible it is; Annie makes the whole cast spend an entire episode in the study room trying to figure which one of the group stole her pen) are just as funny and remain true to the characters.
This cast is top notch. There’s a reason why Danny Pudi’s Abed is the breakout character, sort of a geeky Dwight from The Office. But I love both Alison Brie’s prescription pill addict gone goody goody Annie and Donald Glover’s often very confused delivery as Troy. Of course I would feel remiss if I left out the supporting ladies Gillian Jacobs and Yvette Nicole Brown as uncomfortable in her own skin Britta and sweetly self righteous Shirley, respectively. And Joel McHale is the glue that keeps the show together, with added props given to him for gracefully evolving with the series into an ensemble instead of fighting it to remain the lead. Really, only Chevy Chase and Ken Jeong seem like they could be the weak links, but seeing how often they shine, it’s just not the case.
"Investigative Journalism" in which Jack Black suddenly becomes a member of the group.
"Beginning Pottery" in which Jeff takes a pottery class where no one is allowed to act out the classic scene from "Ghost."
"Modern Warfare" in which Greendale becomes a post apocalyptic wasteland because of a paintball game.
"Epidemiology" which is the best zombie movie a zombie movie could be in 23 minutes.
"Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas" which optimizes the obscure and heartfelt that Community balances so perfectly.
2. Mad Men
Mad Men continues to rock my world in a way few shows can. This season we saw Don in a new light, an unsuccessful one. We saw other characters in a different light (Peggy the powerful and Betty the bitch) but my favorite thing about the show is the ability to let smaller characters come forward and have a huge impact. We may never see Salvatore again, but his small role still pops into our minds when we see Lucky Strike’s closeted hot shot come in and boss Roger around at the Sterling Cooper Draper Price’s Christmas party. And especially notable is Sally Draper, a character I never thought during the first or even second season would become such a major player in this universe but she (and the actress that plays her, Kiernan Shipka) have matured into the most fascinating to watch.
But perhaps Mad Men’s greatest strength, even more so than the way it allows one generation to relive history and another to view it in the context of every day life, is the way that it so seamlessly flows between comedy and drama. It’s not uncommon to find yourself laughing hard with (and often at) the characters and feeling goosebumps for them in the same scene. It’s a delicate act and Matt Weiner and Co show no signs of disappointing us in the near future.
"Waldorf Stories" in which Don wins a Clio, descends into a deeper drunken despair, and unknowingly steals a slogan. Also, Peggy wins a game of Chicken regarding nudity.
"The Suitcase" which could be a two person character play between Peggy and Don stuck at work on her birthday, except for the occasional interruption by her boyfriend Paul (with her family, Surprise!) and her former lover Duck. But the meat of the episode is Peggy finally standing up to Don and Don finally cracking over the news he receives from LA.
"The Beautiful Girls" in which Sally runs away from home to be with Don and, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the entire series, falls flat on her face in front of the office. Also, Joan and Roger totally do it in an alley and Miss Blankenship gets the Weekend at Bernie’s treatment during an important meeting.
"Blowing Smoke" in which someone is finally proud of Sally, Betty wants to continue confiding in a room adorned with cartoon animals, Don doesn’t get a phone call from Ted Kennedy, Trudy snips Pete’s balls off regarding their bank account, and Midge from season 1 returns and she’s not the girl you remember.
3. Friday Night Lights
Few shows with such a well oiled machine of an ensemble would dare mix it up and bring in new faces, but in order to stay believable, that’s exactly what Friday Night Lights had to do. A new class of students are the focus of Dillon high, with reminders of the old sticking around. The fourth season (which I watched on NBC this past summer) began the journey for many of these new characters and the fifth season (which is at about the halfway point on Direct Tv channel 101) is seeing everyone to the end of the show for good. While the Taylors continue to be the most fascinating and believable family on TV, new characters have bloomed including Vince who evolves from thug to role model, lost babe in the woods Becky, and Buddy Jr. being “re-imagined” as the personification of Buddy’s mistakes and hopefully his redemption…
When the show wraps for good in the next couple months, I know it will be one that has gone out on top creatively and I fully expect to be sobbing because honestly, it wouldn’t be Friday Night Lights if I wasn’t blubbering like a little baby when all was said and done.
"The Son" is possibly Friday Night Light’s finest episode ever, in which the perpetually saddled with responsibility Matt Saracen literally buries his father.
"I Can’t" in which Tami counsels a pregnant Becky on her next step (abortion or motherhood) while Luke deals with the ramifications of possibly being a baby daddy on his own. This is also the episode that goes to a dark place with Vince having to decide how he’s going to help his mother. Not surprisingly, Michael B. Jordan who plays Vince was also on The Wire.
"Keep Looking" which finds stripper Mindy unexpectedly taking on the role as caretaker for Becky and Buddy finds out how being a crap dad has affected Buddy Jr.
"Kingdom" in which the team bonds during an away game, Coach compromises his integrity for the win, and everyone in Julie’s dorm finds out that "Julie Taylor Is A Slut!"
A show that admittedly started slow, but by the end of episode three was firing on all cylinders creatively. Part laid back dude comedy, part detective noir, part surfer soap opera, the show could best be defined as the love child of a “Veronica Mars”- “The Big Lebowski”-“Chinatown” orgy. The dialogue is a writer’s dream, the performances great, and the surprises plentiful. Just when you think you know where it’s going, guess what… you don’t. It’s too bad nobody watched. Blame the (terrible) advertising, blame the masses not ready for such dense tet-a-tet dialogue, blame the show for not putting its best foot forward in the pilot when it really should have (the pilot should always be a strong example of what’s going to happen but shows lately have not been adhering to this very basic philosophy… this is definitely going to be a blog topic for a later date). None the less, another good one bites the dust but not before delivering an incredibly satisfying first season. I urge anyone interested in a smart and fun mystery to seek this first season out on demand or dvd when it gets released. Watched back to back, it’s an awesomely addicting ride.
"Change Partners" is the third episode in the series but probably should have been the first as it’s the first episode to get all the elements right. A crafty case involving the affair of a rich banker’s wife (sublime guest star Olivia Williams), check. Character serialization kicking into gear (an old friend of Britt’s decides to blackmail him about his past, Hank’s suspicions of his ex-wife’s new fiancee kicks in), check. An ending that hooks you with a stellar cliffhanger (a mysterious figure disappears into the roof behind Hank while he relaxes, oblivious to the intruder), check.
"Fustercluck" accelerates the action on so many levels, most excitingly with the death of a major player that literally comes out of nowhere.
"Asunder" is the episode the series has been building to, a wedding in which all the character’s stories reach a boiling point. A taut and tense episode filled with twists and turns galore and an emotionally wrenching final act.
"Quid Pro Quo" in which many characters, good and bad meet their fates, for better or worse. And then there’s still one more episode after it to (loosely) put the pieces back together.
5. Vampire Diaries/True Blood
This is not a cheat! If you could put these two shows together, you’d have a number one on my list. As they stand, they are two separate but equally worthy heirs to #5. If Vampire Diaries could have the freedom to go as far out there as True Blood does, it would be even stronger but alas it’s limited by being a network show. If True Blood could have character arcs and payoffs as great as Vampire Diaries, it would be adored for more than its stylistic charms (which are, I must say, very enticing) of over the top sex, gore and language. These shows are similar on the surface, yes but they do offer different approaches. Bill and Sookie get to have the hot and dirty sex, Stefan and Elena get to have the tortured true love. Eric Northam gets to be sexually ambiguous and scheming, Damon gets to be aloof and shirtless. Alcede’s wolf gets to be cool as a cucumber, Tyler’s wolf gets to be pained and terrified. Sidekick Tara gets great R-rated comebacks and constant victimization, Bonnie gets to be holier than thou and powerful.
True Blood is here because of its consistent ability to go over the top in a way that’s damn near impossible to take your eyes off of. The only problem (and this has become one that has reappeared all three seasons) is that the adrenaline is so strong in the beginning, the ending can never deliver the way it should. Great storylines like Tara’s dabbling with darkness in the form of crazy vampire Franklin, Eric and Bill’s dealings with the powerplays in vampire monarchy of Sophie-Ann and Russell, and Sookie’s quest for self discovery are weighed down by nonstarters like Sam and his boring family, Jason and his boring hick girlfriend, or total letdowns like Sookie’s origin or Tara’s aborted suicide. As much as I love True Blood, it can really kill all the goodwill it garners by following a string of superior TV with a complete thud (see the season finale).
Vampire Diaries is here because the excitement and cliffhangers do not disappoint. The actions have reactions and the characters continue to learn from their mistakes and behave in ways that make them believable in unreal circumstances. Though it is missing some of the humor that makes True Blood so much fun, it also delivers story arcs with exclamation points that cap off the action perfectly.
Key Episodes (True Blood):
"It Hurts Me" in which we see Bill’s (flashback) transformation from man to vampire, Jessica seeks advise from Pam, Franklin interjects himself into Tara and Jessica’s lives, and Bill and Lorena have some really twisted hate sex.
"I Got A Right To Sing The Blues" which opens with one of the most awesome scenes of True Blood history, a swirling continuous take in slow motion in which Russell drags Bill and Sookie into his house, someone gets staked, and someone gets really pissed that the house is getting destroyed. Oh yeah, Tara gets to be a real badass for once. She takes a bite out of Franklin, crushes some skull with a mace, and rescues Sookie with nothing but her sassy attitude and a bowl of almonds.
"Night on the Sun" which has a kick ass training sequence between Bill and Jessica, Sookie breaking up with Mr. Compton, and Eric exacting a very sexy and gory revenge.
Key Episodes (Vampire Diaries):
"Isobel" in which Elena meets her real bitch of a mom and Damon meets her mom’s two lovers, a gay rodeo cowboy and a french hussy.
"Founder’s Day" is the first season finale, an episode that brings all the storylines together in a flurry of excitement, then ends with a delicious cliffhanger in which someone is not who they appear to be slices off someone’s hand…
"Masquerade," the single best episode the show has done so far which brings all the players together in unexpected ways for one mission (take down Katherine or Elena, depending on which side the characters wind up). Part John Hughes teen adventure, part Heist movie, part psychological thriller, the episode ramps up everything I love about the show. It was so good I had to watch it twice to revel in all the action.
"The Sacrifice" would qualify solely for the scene where Caroline and Tyler discover a videotape of Mason’s transformation. It is so deftly played, it’ll break your heart. Of course it also has bad ass things like Katherine being all Hannibal Lector in her tomb, an emerging love triangle with Bonnie/Jeremy/the new warlock, and lots of Damon and Elena tension.
The show continues to evolve from the mystery of the week format into a rich and dense exploration of family, duty, and parallel universes. In a science fiction fan’s wet dream of a season, this third one has been using the parallel universe to make our heroes villains (and then redeem them too), a perfect way to get you to see the characters as fully realized. Also pushing the show are the lead performances by Anna Torv who has given Olivia so many dimensions, and John Noble who gives the show its quirk and heart in Walter.
"Peter" is the episode that changes everything (including the opening sequence). By the end of it everything we know about Joshua Jackson’s character (Peter), Walter’s insanity, and the Observer’s motives have shifted.
"Olivia," the first episode to nearly take place "over there." It shows just how expansive this new universe is going to be.
"Entrada" in which Peter discovers the woman in bed beside him is not who he thinks she is and the proverbial pieces that have all been put on the table come into place.
7. Parks and Recreation
I think we all wanted to love this when it first started. Amy Poehler was finally going to star in her own show and it was from the team that brought us The Office. However, no amount of goodwill could have made that first season consistently funny. Thankfully the show got into its groove and the episodes that aired in 2010 were the funniest yet. With the late season addition of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe in very funny roles (The Boy Mayor and Perfect Male Specimen, respectfully), they’ve joined what is gelling into one of the funniest ensembles on television.
"Park Safety" is possibly the funniest half hour of television that aired last year. An episode that puts the show’s secret weapon front and center, Jerry Gergich (who is both a schlemiel and a schlamazel according to Ron). There are so many great one liners (My favorite is "Scientifically hummingbirds are the world’s cutest animals. I mean they’re so small, they have tiny beaks and they only eat sugar water. I mean what beats that? Come on. Baby monkeys in diapers? Yeah, they do. Baby monkeys in diapers are cutest."-Leslie) and a really funny guest turn from Andy Samberg as Carl, a ranger who is oblivious to how loud he talks. But nothing beats the scene where Jerry makes a presentation and an ass out of himself while the whole office tries not to laugh. It’s two minutes that are hysterical in its purest form.
"Sweetums" in which the new privatized concession stand for the Pawnee parks distributes health bars that are actually pure sugar. We also discover that Ron can drink. A lot.
"Freddy Spaghetti" in which a concert for kids in the park must go on after the big act is booked somewhere else. Leslie goes on as Renatta Ricotta, Tom has an awesome new girlfriend, April tells Andy her feelings, and Rob Lowe’s character Chris is really really strange. It’s an episode that says goodbye to a regular character and brings in two new ones to the fold in a way that leaves us wanting more!
Since the show premiered in the spring of 2010, it’s gone on quite a journey. It started as a show that was not as funny as the promos made it out to be. But once I accepted that it was not an hourlong comedy, I was free to love what it really is: A depiction of the life of a family focusing on the small moments as much as the big ones. The way the characters talk, with real pauses and tics and laughs, it’s so genuine. And, being that it comes from the same crew that makes the incomparable Friday Night Lights, it’s also heartwarming. This show aired 23 episodes, a 13 episode first season and 10 episodes of the second last year and what’s happened is that it’s carved out a neat little universe for itself. The Braverman family is the focus with the patriarch and matriarch having their own late marital issues, their two sons (one dealing with his son having Aspergers, the other discovering he is a father to a five year old) and their two daughters (the oldest a single mom/general failure in life no matter how well intentioned she may be and the youngest an overworked ice queen), but then there’s the grandkids who have their own problems, Alex the volunteer who pushes Haddie to be better, Gaby the behavioral therapist working with Max, Jasmine’s judgmental mom, Suze the mom of another Asperger’s kid. The show continues to enrich and the stories always resonate. If you’ve not watched this show, I say get in now. Its viewership is small and deserves to be on the air for many years. A show with values like this could actually make you a better person. How can you argue with loving that?
"Rubber Band Ball" in which Julia and Joel worry their daughter might have Aspergers, Crosby meet’s Jasmine’s family for the first time and also sees the birth of Jabar on a videotape, and in a moment that could warm even the coldest heart, mother Camille confides in her oldest daughter Sarah the she thinks Sarah is the bravest of all her children.
"Team Braverman" features the most realistic high school fight I’ve ever seen when Amber and Haddie come to blows over Steve. The rift between them spreads to the whole family as everyone picks a side to fall on. And we see Kristina grapple with Max not realizing he is Autistic even as he is excited about "raising money for those kids with Autism!"
"I’m Cooler Than You Think" finds both Sarah and Adam wanting to connect with their kids, Julia and Joel struggling over having another child, and Crosby fighting Jasmine’s mom for time with Jabar.
"Orange Alert" is the Halloween episode which finds Zeke trying to throw the best Halloween even as he finds opposition from most of his family, Amber has to act responsibly in the face of lying to her mom about going to a party, and Kristina’s micromanaging of Max’s trick or treating climaxes at the scariest house on the block.
9. Boardwalk Empire
Martin Scorsese producing a TV series was a very exciting prospect for anyone who loves good television. So while I was initially grabbed by the pilot episode’s design and grand scope, the subsequent episodes left me cold for quite a while. As beautiful as it looked, it took a while for the show to compel. The change began once the show turned its focus to the widow Margaret Schroeder. Not that the lives of Atlantic City royalty Nucky Thompson, aspiring Kingpin Jimmy, and repressed Agent Van Alden were boring, it’s just that her journey was so much more fascinating. And then, to quote my astute friend and co- pop cultural enthusiast Adam Sass “once the show got its weird on” it REALLY began to pop. Introducing a character with half a face, secret lesbian affairs, and exploring the most twisted mother and son relationship on TV really gave the show some juice. It’s typical of many HBO shows to take their time laying the foundation in the first season for a strong series and that’s exactly what the first half of Boardwalk Empire did. But then it showed us what was behind the curtain, wetting our appetites for what is sure to be a spectacular second season.
"Anastasia" which introduces us to the Atlantic City chapter of the KKK, brings Jimmy to Chicago where he and Al Capone become partners, and gives us the first hint that Margaret Schroeder has the brain to spar with the most powerful men in Atlantic City when she banters with the best at Nucky’s surprise party.
"Home" introduces the most interesting character on the canvas, Richard Harrow, the man with half a face who is instrumental in Jimmy’s revenge for the opium loving prostitute who was victimized to get to him. And Jimmy’s wife is having a torrid affair, but not with who we suspected.
"The Emerald City" in which agent Van Alden does not make love to Margaret no matter how much he pretends Lucy is, Nucky retaliates against the D’Alessio brothers after their botched assassination attempt, Jimmy gets really angry-like throwing someone through a glass door angry, and Margaret realizes what a pawn she is in Nucky’s game, but is it too late?
"Paris Green" is the penultimate episode of the season but it’s the meatiest as it concerns a botched baptism, Margaret’s discovery of Nucky’s behind closed doors life, Angie’s desperate plan to flee to Paris, and the discovery that someone is poisoning the Commodore. Did I mention that there is a baptism in the woods that goes horribly wrong?
A show that captured my heart and my brain for endless hours finally came to a conclusion. Was it the conclusion I wanted? No, it did fall short. But in all realistic probabilities, the show could never have reached the heights it set up for itself. SO while the show lacked the grand ending it should have had, it did still succeed in providing the emotional ending for the characters it needed. I know that the creators maintained to the very end that the show was about the characters first and foremost, but that attitude shortchanges that the show was also about the magic of the Island and in the end they shortchanged that aspect. Still, it was a cathartic ending to see Jack finally sacrifice himself for everyone else and watching the gang ascend to Heaven, rebirth, or another planet. Which ever ending you choose, well that is part of Lost’s charm isn’t it?
"Ab Aetemo" in which we discover Richard Alpert’s "origin story." It is, quite possibly, one of the most moving love stories told on tv (including Penny and Desmond, the other star crossed lovers of the show).
"Happily Ever After" in which, in an alternate universe, Charlie shows Desmond something new by driving the car into the ocean, and then Desmond fully awakens when he meets alternate Penny.
"The Candidate" in which Sun and Jin are finally reunited on the island, and then get on a fateful submarine…
"The End" in which Jack gives NotLocke a badass beatdown and everything comes full circle… Jack lies in the grass and Vincent comes to his side as he closes his eyes forever. I just got goosebumps typing that.
A show that should have come out of the gate with more boom, let this be a lesson to showrunners. Grab your audience and make sure they know that there is some good shit coming down the line. Had people gotten through the slow first episode, slower second and third, they would have discovered a rich and tense series full of moral ambiguity. Alas, it is a one season wonder…
12. Cougar Town
Though not as culturally prolific as the show leading into it, this one has really won me over with characters that love each other and have all kinds of in-jokes. What other show would have an In Memorium montage for a big wine glass?
13. Modern Family
ABC’s crown jewel is consistently funny, often times hilarious, and always rooted in characters we’ve come to love.
THIS was the teen show it aimed to be the first two seasons. But now it’s really hitting its stride and finding the perfect mix of over the top guilty pleasure cheese and topical awareness.
15. The Walking Dead
A perfect pilot, with spotty episodes following it. None the less, this was the scariest thing on TV and when it hit the right notes, it played them perfectly.
A slow burn series that paid off in dividends in the end.
17. How To Make It In America
At first I thought this was going to be a lame Entourage knock off. Thank HBO it wasn’t. It’s a show about the underdogs, about figuring out who you want to be in your 20’s, and about the endless possibilities (fame, love, redemption, heartache) that can happen in New York City.
18. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Always twisted, always funny.
Some deep shit was going on in this show. I didn’t even know what it was half the time but damn if I didn’t enjoy myself trying to figure it out.
20. Lone Star
Only two episodes of this complex soap set in Texas aired, but it was the best new show this year anyway. Some things are just too beautiful for this world.