It’s not been a banner year for television.
Just a few months ago, I found myself anxiously awaiting the start of the new TV season, but now, there’s only been one new show that captured my attention (AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has wrapped up its six-episode first season).
Freshman shows like The Event and Raising Hope failed to capture me, and funny, promising shows like Running Wilde never caught on with viewers. So while television overall might be in a bit of a slump, the good news is that the shows I watch (or at least most of them), consistently shine with great writing and acting. Modern Family continues to perfect its blend of belly laughs and heartfelt moments, while Fringe continues to push toward eclipsing The X-Files’ peak years.
I now offer to you my humble list of my top shows of 2010:
10. Boardwalk Empire (9 p.m. Sunday, HBO)I like this show but don’t love it. It’s more of a respect for it. Great writing, mostly great acting, sometimes brilliant directing. Jack Houston’s portrayal of a war veteran missing half his face is one of quiet terror and sympathy, and I’m pleased to read he’s becoming a regular on the series. Maybe then they’ll provide less time to Michael Shannon, who is normally reliable but has veered into near-self parody with his portrayal of an alcohol-busting federal agent. Also, I hope for a bit more to happen in the second season; otherwise, it will venture more toward Boredwalk Empire.
9. The League (10:30 p.m. Thursday, FX)Sure, I’m biased with my love of fantasy football, which this show builds around, but The League is also one of the funniest 30 minutes on TV. The football jokes are just a bonus. One complaint this season, though: the show’s writers didn’t give enough regular time to Taco, choosing instead to allow him to perform “comedic” songs (I use the quotation marks since the songs were far from funny despite their intent).
8. Friday Night Lights (9 p.m. Wednesday, DirecTV 101)This show moves me and infuriates me. There are moments of sheer brilliance in each episode, often bookended, however, by head-scratching scenes of nonsense. Friday Night Lights features some of the most fully realized characters on television, but then offsets that by surrounding them with buffoonish stereotypes. That said, I watch week after week, if only to see Coach Taylor and Mrs. Coach.
7. Cougar Town (9:30 p.m. Wednesday, ABC)Terrible name, fantastic show. It’s become the second-best ensemble comedy on TV (trailing only the No. 2 show on this list), and Bobby is perhaps my favorite character currently on air.
6. Eastbound and Down (10 p.m. Sunday, HBO)Kenny Powers and company returned in Mexico for yet another shot at redemption. Did he find it? The jury is still out on that one, but at least he found the most twisted, darkest comedy on television.
5. The Walking Dead (10 p.m. Sunday, AMC)Most reviewers will say things like “A show about zombies features the most humanity on TV right now.” While that’s true in a way, it’s also reducing The Walking Dead to being “a show about zombies.” It’s about survival and human nature. The zombies and the gore (which is extreme for television) are just added bonuses.
4 (tie). Fringe (9 p.m. Thursday, for now, although it’s moving to Fridays in January, FOX)It’s difficult to say much about this show without giving too much away, so allow me this much: it realizes that all truly great science fiction also needs to have characters we care about. And while we love all of Fringe’s characters, Dr. Walter Bishop (as played by John Noble) shines above all others, bringing humor and sadness to a role that would likely be played over the top in lesser hands. Give this guy an Emmy now.
4 (tie). Men of a Certain Age (10 p.m. Monday, TNT)Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula star as men who contemplate life and love, family and friendships, all while facing turning 50. It’s at times hilarious and dramatic, while also being the scariest thing on TV, at least for men of a certain age.
3. Breaking Bad (10 p.m. Sunday, AMC – note: it has the same time as The Walking Dead, but that’s because AMC airs them at different points in the year)I put off watching this show until the summer, but once I started, I couldn’t get enough of the drama and dark comedy. There’s not a better acted show on television, and so far, through three seasons, there hasn’t been a wasted moment.
2. Modern Family (9 p.m. Wednesday, ABC)Shaking off any signs of a sophomore slump, Modern Family continues to grow richer and deeper as the family’s personalities continue to develop and strengthen. It’s a wonderful blend of zinging wordplay, broad comedy, physical pratfalls and genuine emotion. If you haven’t caught on to this yet, don’t delay. It’s the best comedy, by far, on television.
1. 30 for 30 (various times, ESPN)While not technically a series, this run of 30 documentaries capturing intriguing sports stories of ESPN’s first 30 years on the air deserves the top spot for brining attention to stories you might not have heard of and giving new perspective to those we thought we knew everything about. Nearly every episode created instant phone-calling among my friends, all of which included the phrase “That might be the best thing I’ve ever seen.” The debate continues between us over which documentary takes the top title, but for my money, nothing comes close to “The Two Escobars,” a look at Columbia’s love of soccer, cocaine and Pablo Escobar.
Other shows I watch (and recommend) that didn’t make the list: Man v. Food, Community, 30 Rock, The Office, Children’s Hospital, Bored to Death, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia