Doing a top 10 list of TV shows for the year can be a little tricky. Unlike Movies or Video Games, the same series continue year after year without much change, so these lists can feature a lot of the same shows. I could have filled the list with perennial favorites like The Daily Show or 30 Rock, but decided to limit my selections to things that are new, or significantly different in 2010. Plus, I can be pretty finicky with television (and I don't have enough time to watch everything I'd like to), so my list will undoubtedly be missing a few things, simply because I haven't watched them yet. For example, I just - just - started watching the first season of Breaking Bad (look for a TRS review in the new year), so I didn't consider it in my list. I also haven't gotten around to watching Sons of Anarchy yet, and somehow never found time to watch the latest season of Mad Men. I know, I know. So please take my list below as what I loved watching in 2010.
No show filled me with more joy, anticipation, or drop-everything-and-watch-this-now urgency when it appeared on my DVR than Louie. The show is not like anything else on TV - so brutally honest and truthful, so achingly funny and insightful. It tackles taboo subjects boldly and unflinchingly, but never fails to be entertaining. I think it is a work of genius.
Across all my top 10 lists this year - from True Grit in movies and Red Dead Redemption in video games - Westerns have been very prominent. Justified continues the trend, as a fantastic modern Western on television. Wonderful, quirky characters, whip-smart dialog, and an awesome over-arching seasonal plot made it a can't-miss new show. Plus, it has Waltin Goggins. 'Nuff said.
Yes, it made my top 5 list last year as well, but I think Community deserves recognition in its second season because, as funny and smart as it was last year, it felt like this was the year in which it really found its voice. Almost every episode turns into a spot-on genre parody of some kind, from the geek-awesome Zombie episode, to the brilliant Space Camp send-up, and the cast has really found their groove. It is self-aware pop-culture comedy at its best.
The BBC's new Sherlock Holmes series consisted of only three episodes, but what incredible television they were! I would never have guessed an updated, modern day take on the Holmes/Watson relationship would work, but in the hands of Steven Moffat, it has become my preferred interpretation of the characters. Great performances, perplexing whodunnits, and a fantastic way into the head of the smartest guy in the room, it is brilliant on every level. I cannot wait for more.
I am saddened to hear that this series will not return, because the Shield (best show ever) creator, Shawn Ryan, delivered another excellent hour-long drama. After several "dynamic duo" references in the show, I began to realize it is, in fact, a skewed version of Batman and Robin. They work in questionable ways outside the law, have their own Commissioner Gordon and Batmobile, and relate to each other much like the caped crusaders. I loved hanging out with the two main characters, and their week-to-week shenanigans were always interesting and fun. Well worth picking up on DVD when it is released.
6. Walking Dead
I love the audacity of putting a no holds barred zombie show on television, but I wish I liked the casting choices just a little bit more. This could really have been my favorite show of the year if I felt affinity for the characters. As a fan of the comic, I just didn't think a few of the actors worked as well as I hoped. But from an action standpoint, it conveyed the Zombie Apocalypse that we are all preparing for in the coolest, most visceral way.
Damages had one of the best first seasons of television, but I didn't feel the second was nearly as strong. This year - its third - returned to the high level, with a timely, relevant take on the Bernie Madeoff scandal as its central theme. One of the coolest things about this show is the use of comedic actors and personalities in dramatic roles. The addition of Martin Short and Lily Tomlin to the cast this year continued that very interesting trend, but the biggest stand-out was Campbell Scott. Another tight, season-long mystery with thrilling twists and turns. Great TV.
8. Cougar Town
I avoided this show, as many of you probably have, because of its title, so it was new to me this year. I'm so glad I was introduced to it! Very, very funny writing, a playful wit, and characters that I wish I knew in real life. No show has more fun than this. It is a constant good time - like hanging out with the funniest people at a hip party. The cynicism and irony of most great post-modern sitcoms is enjoyable, but the unabashed positivity here is so refreshing. I promise you the show is not representative of its title. Give it a shot.
9. Boardwalk Empire
While Boardwalk Empire never reached the heights of the Sopranos for me, it was like watching part of a Scorsese movie every week. Finely-crafted, fascinating, and violent, it made for riveting television.
There are many continuing comedies I love more than this - It's Always Sunny, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, just to name a few - but as a new show in 2010, I thought Archer was an underappreciated gem. Yes it is darkly cynical and in-your-face, but damn is it ever funny. I really like the style of animation, top-notch VO talent, and the constant barrage of jokes. Good watchin'.
Ok, there you have it. My 10 favorites from 2010. Let me know your thoughts!
I've got one more list coming to round out the year... a list of the top 10 of everything else. See you then.