News and inbox are getting full, but I wanted to get this on the record before everyone else starts putting out their own lists – the PopRox top 10 shows of 2010. There are some definite changes from last year’s list.
10. AMERICA: THE STORY OF US (HISTORY CHANNEL): The greatest compliment to pay this miniseries of pivotal points in American history is that it taught me at least three things in each installment. Riveting, educational entertainment for an armchair American history buff like me. That is to say I’m very interested in American history, but it would take a lot for me to read anything about it. The only American history book I’ve considered reading is Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, because supposedly it would knock me on my @ss. Oh wait, now I don’t have to, because I watched this miniseries. Superlatives: Best miniseries, most surprisingly educational.
9. DAMAGES (FX, moving to DirecTV): I was out. I was so frustrated by the second season’s silly, pandering, convoluted plot that I was pretty comfortable dumping Damages from my TV rotation. Now? I contemplated getting DirecTV so I could watch the fourth season. The show did the right thing this year, taking the main action away from Ellen and placing it squarely on the shoulders of this season’s crime d’jour, the Madoff-like Ponzi scam. It meant less screen time for Glenn Close, but that was probably a good thing since the abortion/miscarriage plot was pretty played out from the jump anyway and wasn’t necessary at all. No matter. The return to the format of giving away the murder in the first episode and the clues that were revealed throughout the year kept fans coming back each week. Superlatives: Best supporting performances from Martin Short, Campbell Scott and Lily Tomlin. Best weekly suspense.
8. PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC): Maybe it’s a sympathy vote for the show getting the shaft from NBC when it got pushed to midseason. Maybe it’s because I’m a huge fan of Adam Scott, and would really like to see what he’s going to bring to the show. Or maybe the show is just freakin’ funny and improved more than any other show from 2009 to 2010. Yeah, that’s it. It took a big risk adding a heavyweight like Rob Lowe and an up-and-comer like Scott to the cast, but the transition for the last couple episodes of the season not only was easy, but it was really funny. Lowe may have had the funniest scene of last year when he said his goal is to run to the moon, although I can’t find the video for that and it p!sses me off. Superlatives: Most improved, most LOL laugh-out-loud moments.
7. WALKING DEAD (AMC): This very easily could have turned into the worst, cheesiest show of the year. Just hearing the word “zombies” makes my eyes roll. What I wasn’t expecting was a hall of fame pilot episode, the most haunting pop culture moment of the year (“Now I remember why I dug all those graves” — still gives me chills) and some of the best hands-over-your-face TV of the past decade. The season was only six episodes long, which sometimes made it feel like they were trying to cram in double the amount of action like a square peg into a round hole, but they trimmed out the core cast with some necessary deaths and hopefully the show will be running lean next year. Superlatives: Best new show, best pilot, most impactful single line of dialogue.
6. FRINGE (Fox): Just in time to be canceled! Who cares, Fringe has really been on fire this year. It’s been challenging and confusing — but not to the point of being clunky (are you listening, Burn Notice?). It’s been fast — but not to the point of being dizzying. It’s been well-acted, well-written and well-produced — but it never got bogged down in trying to become a Mad Men-like sweeping character study. Quite simply, Fringe is easily the best sci-fi show on TV and one of the best dramas. Superlatives: Best sci-fi, best single supporting performance (John Noble as Walter).
5. GLEE (Fox): It might have been a flashing red light with a blaring siren hooked up to it warning about how season 2 was about to tank. The immense popularity, the constant publicity, the upcoming guest stars — it was a recipe for a cluster frick of a second season. Those of us that believed that underestimated producer Ryan Murphy and the Glee team. From the opening scene of the season premiere — Glee’s Big Gay Summer– directly but indirectly addressing the show’s popularity as an Internet and iTunes sensation was as funny as it was cathartic. It was the show’s way of saying, “There, it’s out of the way, now let’s have some fun.” And no show is more fun than Glee — even if it’s also the most poignant. Superlatives: Most fun, most in tune with young people of today, best lessons to be learned.
4. VAMPIRE DIARIES (WB): I’ve heard it all. I’ve been called a 12-year-old girl, I’ve been called a vampire lover, I’ve been called a Twilight sympathizer — whatever that means — because I’ve tried to push Vampire Diaries on friends and other TV lovers. But I don’t go into these kinds of things lightly, I only recommend stuff that I think is a good match to the people I recommend it to. This year, I’ve been recommending Vampire Diaries to a very distinct audience — those that are missing 24 and Lost. It might sound like the weirdest reach for a recommendation ever, but you’re only saying that if you haven’t seen the show. Its refreshing lack of weekly B-plots means we’re always getting some kind of action, some kind of plot advancement and we don’t have to worry about Stefan and Damon opening Salvatore Brothers Detective Agency in downtown Mystic Falls. No offense, Angel. Superlatives: Best serial drama, hottest cast (especially since Susan Walters is in the cast, was my #1 TV lady in her Dear John and Mulva days, and wouldn’t even crack the top 10 of this show).
3. COMMUNITY (NBC): The complete surprise of 2010 since its first 10 episodes in 2009 weren’t exactly side-splitting. But the show hit its comedic stride this year and is now wholly in the argument for funniest show on TV. It gave us the funniest half hour of the year (the chicken fingers episode last season), gave us the best ensemble cast, produced no less than three breakout up-and-comers (Joel McHale, Donald Glover and Alison Brie) and somehow, unbelievably, reinvigorated the seemingly comatose career of Chevy Chase. The guy who’s been a walking punchline since Fletch 2 20 years ago is now accepted back into the ranks of funny people. Five years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to think of a scenario where that could even be possible. Superlatives: Funniest single half-hour of the year, best comedic cast, best place to go to find someone who will be the star of a Judd Apatow movie in five years.
2. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, Season 4 (NBC): As has been my practice for the last three years, I’m avoiding every last bit of recap, gossip and information about season 5 — the final season — airing on DirecTV right now. So this ranking has nothing to do with whatever is going on there, it has to do with the gut-wrenchingly brilliant season 4 that aired on NBC over the summer. It was one big, long, painful, exciting, excruciating journey that at times made you feel like you’d been run over by a Mac truck, but at other times made you feel like a better person just because you watched. It might not always be suitable for younger kids, but it seems like a blueprint show for adults to watch with their high-schoolers and talk about after. It’s everything a TV show should be. Superlatives: Best family show, most effective awkwardness, best sports show ever.
1. MAD MEN (AMC): This show should have hit its peak already. There is no way it should be able to churn out the material it keeps churning out — but it does. Every time you think it can’t get any better, it does. Every time you think it can’t get more engaging and thought-provoking, it blows you away again. Don Draper is TV’s best and most layered character, and to witness his complete deconstruction and rebuilding this year was just awe-inspiring. The last three minutes of this year’s finale, with Don and Betty sharing a drink in their home they just sold, couldn’t possibly have been done any better than it was — just like this show. It’s the one show on TV I have absolutely no complaints about — and that’s why it’s #1. Superlatives: Best characters, best writing, most surprisingly funny (thanks to Roger Sterling, who also gave the best guest appearance of the year on 30 Rock).
JUST MISSED: Raising Hope, because, along with Nikita, it’s the only new show that even belongs in the same sentence with Walking Dead as a “good new show” this year … The Office, because it’s still very funny … Modern Family, because it’s probably TV’s closest real-life depiction of family … The Middle, because Brick might be the best character on TV and I’m going down the dangerous road of becoming Mike Heck in 15 years … Being Human (BBC America), because it came back strong after a pretty boring opening to the season … Ditto for Justified, which gave us the best season finale of 2010.
HOPING FOR BETTER 2011s FROM: South Park, 30 Rock, Sons of Anarchy, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Rescue Me, Louie, Cougar Town.
HAVEN’T WATCHED, WILL CATCH ON DVD: Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Eastbound and Down.
LOST TRACK OF BUT LIKE: The Good Wife, Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time.
WE’LL MISS YOU: 24, Lost, Nip/Tuck, Running Wilde, The Good Guys, Lie to Me.