Yesterday, I started listing my Top 10 of 2010. Only, the thing is, I never actually got to the Top 10 itself. That’s the blogging equivalent of “Lost” calling its penultimate episode “What They Died For” without actually explaining what they died for in that hour. But hey, I love me some “Lost,” and if you think that show might crack the Top Ten, well, you just may be onto something there.
Again, as I stated yesterday: calling these shows the Top 10 of 2010 is the shorthand way of saying, “These were my ten favorite programs of the year. This is no way suggests some objective scale by which pieces of art can be quantified in a manner that defies dissension. You disagreeing with them is not only within your right but also understandable since this list comes from a singular viewpoint based on a variety of factors.”
But that’s waaaaay too long of a title. (And the acronym for that? A total BITCH.) So I’ma gonna call it “Top 10 of 2010” and everyone’s happy. We good? Good.
Today, I’m counting down #10-#6. Later this week: the final five.
Last week’s episode of “Community,” a show that just missed my Top 10, had a lot of people criticizing it for not being funny enough to be considered a worthwhile episode. Those people must have absolutely HATED most of “Louie,” a hour-hour program on FX that defied convenient description. Reading a blurb about a particular episode might give you an idea of subject manner, but couldn’t help you determine tone. Louis C.K.’s resistance to convention may have cost him viewers looking for an easily identified 30-minute program, but thrilled me to no end.
Look, so much of TV consists on a formula being replicated on a weekly basis. People want to sit down and know when they turn on Program X, they should get Experience Y. That experience will vary, to be sure, but within say a standard deviation either way from the baseline result. “Louie” took that premise, flipped it on its head, and asked the central question at the heart of most of these episodes: “Why?” An inquisitive show at heart, “Louie” took aspects of modern life, asked “Why?” and then followed the answers down to their surprising conclusion. Sometimes the answers were hilarious; sometimes they were harrowing. But they always sprung from the mind of a man that not only looks at the world in a unique way, but the art of deploying the viewpoint on television in an equally idiosyncratic one.
9) Modern Family
“Modern Family” does what it does with such ease at times that it’s forgivable to not recognize just how smart it truly is. What the comedy landscape needed desperately was a sense of warmth, something lacking in (admittedly funny) shows such as “30 Rock” and “The Office,” or even shows such as “The Daily Show” which traffic in irony, sarcasm, and other techniques that tend to either look down upon fellow citizens or at least provide distance between them.
At times, the show gets too “One To Grow On” with the life lessons it occasionally imparts by episode’s end. But from the opening minutes of the pilot episode, there was not only an assurance about the type of comedy it wanted to provide, but a set of clearly delineated characters that have only grown over time. Looking at last year’s Emmy nominations shows just how strong the ensemble is, but it’s the children that have really impressed in Season 2 (especially Haley and Alex, whom the show now knows how to employ to more consistent effect).
If I had one minor criticism, it’s that the show’s embarrassment of character riches sometimes forces it to shoehorn certain members into C-stories that might have been best left on the cutting room floor. But if leaving them all in yields episodes as strong as “Manny Get Your Gun,” then I’ll risk having them all in for denouements such as that.
8 ) Weeds
A situation in which circumstances may have contributed to my overall impression, “Weeds” made this list because I tried to cancel my house phone line. We moved into this house about 14 months ago, and we got a special Triple Pack deal from Comcast that expired recently. When I tried to get rid of the phone, I found that it would cost me MORE for reasons only Comcast and Beezelbub himself can comprehend. However, by asking if there was a NEW Triple Play package, I basically got to keep my old rate, PLUS get Showtime. So apparently the Devil AND God both had a hand in the proceedings.
In any case, the timing worked out that we got Showtime around the penultimate episode of Season 6, so the missus and I watched the first ep right away. Then the second. Then the third. Two days later, we were left gasping for the final episode to air right then and there. Neither of us disliked the show after Agrestic burned to the ground, but it didn’t really feel like a compelling program again until this year with the Botwins on the lam. Most compelling? Nancy finally realizing that her actions have had consequences she can no longer outrun, actions that started well before Season 1 and date all the way back to Dearborn, Michigan.
Atop that, Justin Kirk, Alex Gould, and Hunter Parrish all turned in their best work on the show to date, as their proximity to Nancy wore them down to the nub, no matter how brave a face they tried to put on for show. Their grief over the life they will never have (even flush with money and leaving America) was increasingly palpable, and inspired ever-increasing pathos. It’s hard to imagine where the show goes from here, but I’ll be sure that whatever Comcast package I negotiate between now and then has Showtime on the bill.
7) Doctor Who
I’m gonna get killed for this pick by some people. But to those I say, in my best Matt Smith impression, “The Doctor is coooool.” (It’s like bow ties and fezzes that way.) I watched the Eccleston/Tennant years with fair regularity, but it was never truly appointment television for me. But for whatever reason, the Stephen Moffat/Matt Smith/Karen Gillan triptych just worked on nearly every conceivable level. (Note to Kurt Sutter: if you want to pull a “Gotcha!” on your audience, watch how this season of “Doctor Who” did it.)
This season had pretty much everything you could want from this unique series, even if early episodes didn’t really hint at the greatness in the back end. But once The Weeping Angels popped up at the end of the season’s first third, things took off in a huge way. (“The Walking Dead: fans: I see your scary zombies and raise you some Weeping Angels. Nightmares…for…days.) Anchoring it all was Matt Smith, who was the youngest Doctor ever but played him with the oldest soul. Here was a Doctor that still felt every death in every previous incarnation, but also felt every betrayal of the human race that he so desperately loves.
By season’s end, only one of the two major storylines was actually answered. The crack may have been sealed, but silence is still yet to fall. With expansive storytelling that doesn’t forget the small moments (nor the chance to mock all-powerful entities for saying “comfy chair”), “Doctor Who” is worth checking out even if you think you’re not a fan of the show.
6) Better Off Ted
Of all the premature cancellations in 2010, this one hurt the most for yours truly. What one finds funny is entirely subjective, but nothing made me, myself, and I laugh more or with greater gusto since the demise of “Arrested Development” than this criminally overlooked show. When I meet God at the pearly gates, I’ll first thank him for the sweet Comcast deal that landed me Showtime essentially for free, and then ask him for insight into why this show didn’t pull “Modern Family”-esque numbers.
I actually have a few ideas why, and listed those a few months back here on the site. But I’ll be mourning the loss of Ted, Veronica, Linda, Phil and Lem for quite some time. I’ll have a lot more to say about this show in the near future: come back for a special treat for those that miss the happenings over at Veridian Dynamics.
Coming Soon: The Top 5 Shows of 2010!