A few days ago we gave you the best movies of 2010, but the reality is that in the last decade, television has become the preferred medium for storytelling that is both daring and intelligent, whether comedic or dramatic, and that balanced showed in 2010. HEAVE’s Chris Osterndorf gives you his best television of the year:
So, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to put Joss Whedon’s masterful Dollhouse on this list since the majority of the season took place in 2009. Nor was I able to see every show I wanted to in time. However I still got to see some great ones, and overall 2010, like 2009, proved to be another excellent year for television.
10. The Walking Dead
In all honesty, The Walking Dead is not the masterpiece some people have hailed it to be. It still needs a lot of work in terms of writing and character development. However, it did have an excellent…
Best Episode: “Days Gone By” (Pilot)-The directing in this episode was as good as it gets in dramatic television. This is one of the best pilot’s in a long time, and will hopefully continue to serve as a template for the show as it finds its place.
9. Eastbound & Down
Although season 2 of Eastbound didn’t have nearly as good of an arc as season 1, it’s still true what they say; when Kenny Powers comes back, he comes back hard. Although this may ultimately be looked at “the Mexico season,” where the whole story of Kenny Powers strayed from the main course, this was also the season where Kenny P. experienced some of his highest highs and his lowest lows. The subplot involving his father ultimately could’ve been more rewarding, but it did feature an excellent performance from Don Johnson, and the end of the season was subtle, although not totally unsatisfying. Ultimately though, this season was great because Kenny was at his most vulnerable and his most destructive. And yet by the end, it seemed like we may have gotten to see a character whose all id actually do a little bit of growing up. And anything involving Stevie Janowski didn’t hurt either.
Best Episode: “Chapter 10” -This was the episode where Kenny faced his very bleakest moment to date. His selfish, animalistic, and downright cruel character came out more than ever, and yet in some strange way we still felt his pain. Not just the best episode of the season, this is the best episode of “Eastbound & Down” yet.
(MILD SPOILER ALERT! I WON’T GIVE AWAY ANYTHING MAJOR BUT THOSE OF YOU WHO WANT TO BE EXTRA CAREFUL SHOULD STILL READ AHEAD!)
It would have been utterly impossible for Dexter to top the genius that was it’s fourth season. Even without the mind-blowing, earth-shattering, life-altering finale, season 4 was still the most compelling “Dexter” ever was, mostly because of John Lithgow’s powerhouse turn as the creepy, compelling and utterly evil Arthur Mitchell, aka, The Trinity Killer. However, with all that said, season 5 of Dexter was actually surprisingly good. Of course it couldn’t top 4, but the fact that it even measured up is an accomplishment. Here, we saw Dexter struggle with his humanity more than ever, learning that his primary concerns actually are for the people in his life, while simultaneously battling his ever present “dark passenger.” As always, the show remains a powerful study in empathy, both in how this self-titled “monster” learns to relate to those around him, and how we in turn learn to relate to him. Despite a new show-runner and some major casting changes, Dexter still manages to be one of the best shows on television.
Best Episode: “In the Beginning” -What’s great about this episode is that it ends with Dexter making a human connection in a way he never has before; he learns that there is someone who knows he is, and doesn’t see him as a monster. In fact this person loves him, and the fact that he doesn’t have to hide who he is causes him to love them back.
This is the best show you didn’t watch this season. As John Luther, Idris Elba is the strongest he’s been in his entire career. Although it’s been compared to Criminal Minds in it’s profiling of serial killers, another apt comparison would be to Dexter, in that Luther is also a police procedural about a man whose almost as dark as the criminals he chases. Besides Elba, the other standout on this show is Ruth Wilson, as the murderous Alice Morgan. Together, they share a chemistry that’s sexual and dangerous and totally fascinating. Their relationship is one of the most interesting on television. In typical British fashion, the show’s first season was painfully short but completely phenomenal. The only thing bad I can really say about Luther is that I wish I had more of it right now.
Best Episode: “Pilot” -This is the one that kicked the whole thing off, and introduced us to several of the most well crafted characters and one of the most well written stories of this television season. It’s the kind of episode that’s impossible not to get hooked by.
6. Boardwalk Empire
Full of romanticism, whimsy and intrigue, Boardwalk Empire was undoubtedly the best new show of this season. The audiences may not have always stuck with it, but the show continued to be excellent regardless. Full of gangsters and flappers, and decked out with the most beautiful sets and costumes imaginable, this show proved to be a sweeping epic that, if not always realistic, was always compelling. Great performances by lead man Steve Buscemi (finally in a starring role! Yay!) as well Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald and Michael Shannon didn’t hurt either. Hopefully people start to watch again, because to cut this show down before it’s prime would be nothing short of criminal.
Best Episode: “Nights in Ballygran”-Sure the Martin Scorsese directed pilot was great, but this was the most important episode in terms of the characters and their relationships. It was small, and subtle in a way, but it also set up everything yet to come.
Honestly I was really disappointed in this season of Lost. And then came the finale.
Best Episode: “The End”(Series Finale)-This is the best episode of any television program this year, and possibly the greatest final episode of all time. My disappointment in the rest of the season was totally made up for over the course of this magnificent two and a half hours. As I always say, television is about characters, even more so than movies, because if you don’t love the characters in television you won’t stick with them over the course of however long the show is on. And for people who lived with and loved these characters for the last six years, this was the best finale possible.
4. NBC Comedies
For a time last year, NBC was doing their Thursday comedy night completely right. They had four great shows lined up together, and it was hilarious bliss. However, because they’re NBC they had to screw things up. Between adding new and less funny shows (I’m looking at you, Outsourced) and now putting six comedies on the same night, NBC is likely to devalue they’re great comedies with lesser ones, and give people comedy saturation to the point where some of these great shows don’t get watched. Alas, what can you do, but watch these shows, and hope they restore their lineup to what it was last season.
First off, we have The Office. Now, I know this show has severely decreased in quality these last few years, but with all the little experimental storylines they tried this season, it still made for television that’s better than most comedies on the air. You had Jim’s promotion to manager and the competition it caused between him and Michael, not to mention Dwight subsequently trying to get take Jim down at every turn. You had the company getting sold and facing new leadership. And of course, you had my personal favorite subplot, that of the romance between Erin and Andy. Ellie Kemper as Erin saved the show for me in many ways, breathing new life into it with her sweet, batty performance, and Ed Helms brought new depth to Andy, who at once seemed like just an obnoxious self-promoter. It’s true that The Office will struggle like crazy without Steve Carell, but if they just bring Amy Ryan back to finish off the Michael/Holly arc, the show still has a chance to go down as one of the greatest sitcoms in history.
Best Episode: “Niagara Parts 1 & 2”-Was there any doubt in your mind that I wouldn’t pick Jim and Pam’s wedding? This is in many ways the culmination of the show’s main storyline, going all the way back to season 1. Jim and Pam are one of the great TV romances, and seeing them get here represents a watershed moment for the series.
Next up is 30 Rock. Although 30 Rock has consistently been the funniest show on television since it first aired, it experienced a bit of a down turn in season 4. The joke writing wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as the other seasons, and with nothing new happening for any of the characters, the whole thing started to feel like a stale recycling of it’s former self. However season 4 had a strong finish, and when 30 Rock came back for it’s fifth season, it was better than ever. It may not be the strongest comedy on TV in terms of character, but there’s no writers room that’s quite as quick-witted than that of Tina Few and her fellows. Not to mention, it also had the funniest episode of any sitcom this year, that being-
Best Episode: “Live Show”-At least for those watching, this was true event television. Leave it to Ms. Fey to remind us of why live comedy can still be a gold mine. This episode felt like a classic 30 Rock but it also used the live format to suit the content. From Tracy’s problem with “breaking,” to the cameos from Chris Parnell and Jon Hamm done as commercials, to the use of the awesome Julia Loius-Dreyfus to play Liz Lemon in the cutaways, “Live Show” was genius upon genius upon more genius.
And now we get to Parks and Recreation. This show has all of the sweetness that The Office had in its first few seasons, without hardly any of the squirming. That is to say it doesn’t subscribe to the “Let’s see how awkward we can make things and find out if you’ll still watch” style of comedy. Although the shows are similar stylistically, Parks and Recreation is more social commentary that The Office ever was. Both shows reflect the lives of average Americans, but what Parks and Recreation has to say about local government is especially relevant for the times we live in. It also has the advantage of still feeling fresh, where many are starting to find The Office stale. But right here, I say to you now, lets stop mentioning these shows in the same breath. Parks and Recreation is it’s own. It has great writers, who have a lot to say, and a truly amazing ensemble. Amy Poehler might at first seem like another wacky boss who shall remain nameless, but unlike him, Leslie Knope is actually smart, hardworking, and dedicated, besides being a goofball. She holds the show together. As far as I’m concerned, Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman and Chris Pratt all deserve Emmys for their hilarious performances. This show is not “The Office: Part 2” like people thought it would be, but it’s better than that ever could’ve been.
Best Episode: “Telethon”-If you haven’t seen this show, “Telethon” is the episode to start with. It’s a hilarious premise, and by about halfway in you’ll be attached to every single character.
Finally, there’s Community. This started off as a good show, but somewhere in between when it came back and when it finished it’s last season, it became a great one. Healthy doses of meta humor and pop culture references put Community on the cutting edge of network comedy, and having the best ensemble cast of any sitcom out there doesn’t hurt either. There’s not much left to say about this show except that if NBC is willing to take a chance on it, it’s likely to only go onward and upward from here. Seriously, people need to watch, because Community is primed to become the best comedy on television.
Best Episode: “Anthropology 101” (Season Premiere)-Hilarious, touching and groundbreaking. This is Community saying “We’re back, and we’re better than ever.” This is where everything clicked, and we all started to realize that it was no single-season, one hit wonder. Oh, and Betty White played a crazy, blowgun wielding teacher, so yeah.
3. Breaking Bad
And then it all fell apart. Breaking Bad had a stellar second season, but nothing could have prepared me for the depths of human tragedy the show would go to in it’s third. Gone are most of the elements of dark comedy, leaving us with an intense, brutal nightmare. Breaking Bad is a parable for our times, even premiering the same night the U.S. passed it’s watered down healthcare legislation. Coincidence? Probably, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the show might be the most important in today’s America. Breaking Bad is also a thrill in that it is TV’s most unpredictable rollercoaster. Where I can at least guess (oftentimes very well) about what’s going to happen on other shows, Breaking Bad never fails to throw me for a loop. And the most insane part: the writers make it up as they go along! Seriously, where were you guys in those first few seasons of Lost? Thus year, Walter White starts to finally face the consequences of his actions, no longer able to get away scot-free like in the past. All of a sudden, his decisions start to not only hurt those he doesn’t know, but begin to hurt those he loves as well. Not only was Bryan Cranston superb this season, but Aaron Paul took Jesse’s character to a new level (and, like Cranston, was rewarded with an Emmy for it.) And then of course there’s Anna Gunn, as Walt’s scorned wife Skyler. Gunn, whose always been good, faced a major change in her character this season, and came through it with a performance every bit that was every bit as great as her male counterparts. This show is not always fun to watch, but it’s also a show that you can’t look away from. Brilliant to it’s very core, watching Breaking Bad is like a punch to the face. It hurts, but you walk away with a good story.
Best Episode: “Half Measures”-Although most will certainly pick “One Minute” for it’s masterpiece of an ending, the end of “Half Measures” doesn’t have any less impact. It also sets up “Full Measure,” the show’s heart-stopping finale, and gives all the character’s some quieter, more emotional moments.
I can only assume anyone saying that Glee has jumped the shark hasn’t actually been watching it. This is one of the strangest shows on television, in that despite its many cheesy, cringe-worthy moments, it’s got an unparalleled emotional resonance. The first half of last season was spectacular, and when it came back in 2010, it fumbled a bit, but eventually found it’s way again, and returned to it’s original glory. Between the Madonna, Britney, and “Rocky Horror” episodes, Glee continues to be a show that just makes you feel good. Other stellar musical moments such as “Teenage Dream” and “The Dog Days Are Over” also added to the fun. And of course there was Gwyneth Paltrow (who I don’t even usually like!) and her brilliant rendition of “Umbrella.” But like I said, there is also real emotion in this show. This season in particular has featured a brilliant performance from Chris Colfer, as the flamboyant, bullied, and ultimately hopeful Kurt. Come Emmy time, if Colfer doesn’t get recognized, it’ll be the biggest travesty since, well, I don’t know since when, that’s how big it’ll be. Glee hasn’t jumped the shark, in fact, it’s better than ever, and continues to be the best, and certainly the most fun show on network television.
Best Episode: “Journey” (Season Finale)-It doesn’t get any better than this. There wasn’t a single moment that lagged in this wonderful end to the show’s first season. We also got to see one of the most profound moments involving Jane Lynch’s scene-stealing Sue Sylvester (Emmy’s most deserving award recipient this last year.)
1. Mad Men
For the last three years, people have been saying that Mad Men is the best show on television, but I never really agreed until season 4. Here, the show underwent its most radical changes, picking all the characters up and moving them to somewhere else in their lives. Don Draper in particular underwent his greatest personal journey, trying to become a new person while not being able to escape his old self. His struggle with alcoholism and with losing his dear friend Anna gave Jon Hamm a chance to turn in his best performance yet (he may just get that missing Emmy that Bryan Cranston has helped him allude these past few years.) Of course, the other standout performer was Elisabeth Moss, returning to the forefront after being featured much less in season 3. As Peggy continues to evolve, so does Moss, bringing new elements to the character season after season. It’s true, Mad Men is the best show on television, and it will probably continue to win the awards and trophies and praise it has so effortlessly received in the past few years. And you know what, it totally deserves it.
Best Episode: “All The Beautiful Girls”-Although most were blown over (and with good reason) by “The Suitcase,” I prefer the slightly more subtle “The Beautiful Girls,” which gave the female cast of Mad Men in particular a chance to shine in ways they never had before.