Thursday, January 13, 2011

Best TV of 2010

Best series television of 2010 (in alphabetical order):
Breaking Bad (AMC): The best pure drama. Dark stories. Bleak sense of humor. Well written, well acted.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central): At its best, the most essential show on television. It deconstructs the news with insight and humor.
Fringe (Fox): The best science fiction show on television. What started as an X-Files retread has found its own way. One improvement on the original: it has story arcs that actually go somewhere.
The Pacific (HBO miniseries): A bookend to the Band of Brothers miniseries. Harrowing and very human.
Sherlock (BBC via PBS) An update of Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day. Surprisingly successful. Stars Benedict Cumberbatch as a creditable Holmes.
Treme (HBO): The most satisfying new series of the year. Excellent ensemble acting. Filled with the music, sights and sounds of New Orleans.
United States of Tara (Showtime): A surprisingly uplifting portrayal of a family whose mother has dissociative identity disorder. Toni Collette plays the title character and all of her alter egos. A tour de force.
30 Rock (NBC): Funny and rapid fire. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin are unstable comedic dynamite.

Next best:  
Being Human (BBC America): Appealing actors playing a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost. Stories are uneven in quality.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO): Well-crafted and a visual treat. Stories are a bit predictable.
Friday Night Lights (NBC): Perhaps the best family drama on TV.  It has a weakness for the sentimental.
Justified (FX): An adaptation of Elmore Leonard.  The main character is well-played by Timothy Olyphant.  Sometimes the lawman stories feel routine.
Louie (FX): A wicked sense of humor. If only he was a little less self-satisfied.
Rescue Me (FX): Reveals a lot about male bonding and male humor. Self-indulgent by definition.
Rubicon (AMC): Fascinating look inside the intelligence industrial complex. Filled with paranoia and betrayal. The story went flat toward the end.

These are genre-related shows (fantasy, science fiction, horror) that I wanted to like. Alas.
The Walking Dead (AMC): Started strong, then the cracks started showing: bad acting, weak stories, and uneven pacing.
Caprica (Syfy): The story went from too slow the first season to over-condensed this season.  It had several story-threads with potential. By the end I found it hard to care about any of them.
True Blood (HBO): The amped up sex and violence seems to have replaced interesting stories.
Lost (ABC): Went from puzzling and entertaining to silly and embarrassing.

The trend for series to become shorter continued. A season of 10 episodes is becoming common on cable and broadcast TV. Seasons of six or eight episodes are not unusual. The Sherlock series had only three episodes, although that is a BBC import. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Too many long seasons are padded out with endless filler, making shows unwatchable.  In many ways I believe the miniseries, with enough time to tell a novel-length story, along with a beginning, middle, and end, is the ideal form for television.

There was the usual turnover. Rubicon arrived and departed. Lost overstayed its welcome and is gone. Caprica was canceled and the remaining unaired episodes were burned off in a marathon January 4. New shows were Justified, LouieSherlock, Treme, and The Walking Dead, with Treme the best of these.

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