It’s that time of year when critics start throwing around Top 10 Lists like rock stars toss around $100 bills at after parties: indiscriminately and while wearing as little as clothing as possible. And now that I’ve disturbed you past the capacity for rational thought, let’s get into my little contribution of this annual rite.
The notion of Top 10 lists such as these as someone defining a piece of pop culture is inherently silly, to be sure. I’m going to try and sidestep the inanity of this endeavor in two ways. One, I’m going to say straight off what should be clear but isn’t always: I don’t consider my list to be the start and end of the conversation. Secondly, I’m choosing my ten favorite shows of 2010, which is quite different than listing the ten best shows. The latter denotes that there’s some sort of objective measure at work here, as if you can simply plug in a show’s attribute to a one-size-fits-all formula and spit out an unequivocal winner.
Bullshit, I say.
My favorite Top 10 shows will not be yours. I can almost completely guarantee that. But neither you nor I should view this as a bad thing. It’s just…a thing. It’s there. It’s fun to write about, hopefully it’ll be fun to read about, and hopefully you’ll have fun putting your own two cents in the mix. But try to keep the feedback in the spirit in which this is written: in other words, expressing shock because I’ve supposedly forgotten some show isn’t a way to contribute to the conversation; it’s just a way to betray your own misunderstanding of the purpose at work here.
Since this was a killer year for television, and a killer year for me personally just trying to keep up with it all, I’m actually going to break this up into two parts. Today, I’m going to talk about the shows that didn’t make the cut either because of my own inability to accurately assess it or because they simply didn’t make the grade. In the former case, I either haven’t gotten onboard yet or simply didn’t watch enough to feel comfortable ranking it. In the latter case, it says much more about the quality I saw in the Top Ten than in thinking these shows are in any way approaching bad television.
“Parks and Recreation”
These three shows have already appeared on some Top 10 lists and will undoubtedly appear on more before the year is out. I didn’t get on the “Breaking Bad” train yet, but with AMC about to run all three seasons on Wednesdays leading up to Season 4, I certainly will. As for “Parks,” I was one of those schmucks that didn’t like Season 1 and stupidly didn’t watch Season 2, where it made a quantum leap in terms of quality. (I’m eight episodes into the season thanks to Netflix Instant Streaming and love it.) “Justified” had the bad misfortune on airing on “Tuesdays,” the same night as “Lost.” So, the FX drama fell out of my rotation due to my excessive writing about sideways flashes, but I really liked what few eps I saw and look forward to catching up with the first season on DVD in January
Missed It By That Much
Until the final episode, this show was in my Top 5 for the year. Even with that finale being so lackluster, the ride between Episodes 4 and 11 was so impossibly good that it still was probably going to sneak into the Top 10. But then the “Terriers” finale showed how to do a season-ending episode that feels like a series-ending one, knocking “Rubicon” out due to direct comparison. I don’t feel cheated having spent my Sundays inside API. Far from it. Between the ways in which the show demonstrated the affects of that job on its employees and the eighteen shades of awesome that was Truxton Spangler, this show had a distinctive look, feel, and tone that separated it from everything else on TV. Until it all fell apart in the final hour. Sigh.
I feel like I need to lock myself up in Castle after leaving this off the Top 10, but we all know that Castle is fairly prone to infiltration. There have been some huge highs in the episodes aired in 2010 (“Third Phase,” “Couch Lock,” and especially the final two hours of Season 3), but also some saddening lows as the show tried to figure out its identity after Chuck downloaded the Intersect 2.0. Throw in the misuse/miscasting of Brandon Routh (never comfortable until his final arc) and the underuse of Linda Hamilton (to date given far too little to do), and you have a show with a head as crowded and confused as the Nerd Herder at the center of the story.
It’s somewhat sacrilegious in the online television criticism world to not bow down in fealty to this sit-com. Oh well. I’m already going to some form of hell when I shuffle off this mortal coil. I like “Community” quite a bit, and actually would easily cast my vote for 2010 Comedy MVP to Donald Glover. (Watching him grow in confidence in talent over the show’s run is truly incredible.) Problem is, while it’s made up of everything I should love, I can SEE all of those influences trying to, well, influence me. “Community” plays like the type of show people who love talking about television would want to create, which is why so many of my peers have fallen head over heels for it. And that’s awesome that they love it. I don’t enjoy being unable to un-see the marionette strings at work. But I do, so while I enjoy it, I enjoy it from a slight distance. Just a slight one. But that puts me well behind others with their faces up against the glass.
“Spartacus: Blood and Sand”
Of all things I watched this year, I consumed nothing as quickly and ravenously as this STARZ series. And that makes a kind of sense: after all, this show deals in appetites of all sorts: for violence, for sex, for power. It’s the human id given gladiatorial form, but it’s not simply about mere carnality. It’s about class, and how no matter how much one tries, there will always be someone above looking down. It’s about desire, and the inability to have everything one wants. And it’s got enough emotionally resonant relationships to fill a half-dozen other shows. Push past your preconceived notions (and, to be fair, the first 3-4 episodes) and you’ll be surprised at what you find.
On a recent edition of “Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan,” my podcast partner came up with the perfect way to describe this show: it’s the “A” student that does everything by the book but never reveals the humanity behind the academic, machine-like façade. Everything about the show is done correctly, but without a sense of surprise, a sense of play, or a sense that it’s interested in showing a pulse beneath the gorgeously designed exterior. Sure, the pulse sticks out occasionally–in Richard Harrow’s body language, in Van Alden’s generally batshit demeanor–but all too often its subsumed under a handsomely produced but distant storylines. Season 2 looks to feature more emotional storylines, to be sure. But given that Atlantic City swallowed so many lives during the time depicted onscreen, it’s curious how untempted I was to lose myself inside of it.
Coming soon: My Top 10 Favorite Shows of 2010!