Quality TV is becoming more difficult to find each year. And not because there is so little of it, but rather it is coming from so many different sources. A couple of years ago it was easy enough just to see what HBO were producing. Nowadays, there is a slew of US cable channels producing very strong series. The result of this is that it’s no longer easy to find the best of it. There are so many contenders and not all of the great ones are that well known.
Of course, this isn’t to say that there isn’t great TV coming out of areas other than the US. There is. But, with so much output coming from the US, the percentages are weighed in favor of most of the best content coming from there.
5. Mad Men.
Can a top 5 list of TV not include Mad Men? Mad Men continues to serve as one of TV’s strongest offerings. While each episode is dense and intricately plotted, the show does feel like it’s being made up on the fly. And that’s not such a bad thing for this show. Characters don’t have an arc per se. What they do have is a sense that they are just living a life and reacting to the era. This was no more evident than it was in this years season.
There was nothing new about this season. Mad Men has established itself as what it is and has no desire to reinvent the wheel at this stage of the series. While 2010’s season 4 offered a new office for the staff to work from and challenges associated with establishing a new advertising firm, the show continued on the same track for the viewers. With writing and performances consistently high, Mad Men continues to be one of the greats.
Best episode: The Beautiful Girls.
4. Doctor Who.
While I’ve long been fascinated by Doctor Who, I’ve never really felt the love for it. That changed this year with Steven Moffat coming on board to run the show.
Moffat is a writer who seems tailored to every TV desire I have. As a writer, his scripts are always tightly plotted and logical, he tends to play around considerably with story structure and non-linear scripts, and he always manages to bring the funny.
With its charismatic new cast and a lowered budget (forcing the show to be as clever as possible about using its limited budget), Doctor Who is firing on all cylinders this year. Yes, aspects of it can be a bit stupid, but look past that and you’ve got the sharpest, most imaginative show on television.
Best episode: The Eleventh Hour
The last 3-4 years saw the resurgence of the sitcom. Comedy was back in a big way. It was only natural that we would start to see reactions against this and sitcoms become a heck of a lot more meta. And so, along came Community.
At first Community worked like a Bill Murray film from the 80’s. A bitter, sarcastic guy (Joel McHale) is forced to attend a community college in order to study law to enable him to pass the Bar exam. He meets a rag-tag group of losers and quickly they forge a bond. Very quickly, the shows writers (led by Heat Vision & Jack co-creator Dan Harmon) began to play with the shows format and style. By the end of the first season, each episode serves to work as a commentary on sitcoms, and pop-culture in general. The characters are all well-developed and beyond-charming. And the cast are all magnificent.
While not as successful as Modern Family (the other big sitcom to launch at the same time), the flexibility of this shows structure means that the writers are unlikely to enter a dry patch at any point in the series run. This year has seen attacks on pop-driven religious movements, a love affair with a trampoline, an action-fueled paintball masterpiece, and an episode filmed entirely in claymation. The viewer is never sure exactly what they’re going to get from an episode of the show. It’s a welcome break from comfort television.
Best episode: Modern Warfare
Talk about a show flying under the radar. With Louis CK involved, comedy nerds have been onto this one for a while, but this just hasn’t gotten anywhere near the buzz it deserves.
Louis CK is a highly regarded stand-up comedian (with good reason) who was in very high demand from all the US TV networks to create a sitcom for himself to star in. He decided to turn them all down in favor of working for US cable channel fx who, while they were unable to pay him much, was able to offer him complete creative freedom. The result has the comedian writing, staring, directing, and editing each episode of his show that is produced for approximately $250,000 US an episode (a pittance compared to most shows).
Louie features Louis CK starring as himself, a New York-based stand-up comedian who is divorced from his wife and has weekly access to his two daughters who are his life. Each episode is usually split into two halves, with each story working as a sort-of short film about an experience the comedian has. These vary in tone and structure, offering subjects like an awkward first date, a disturbing experience from his childhood at a religious school, being humiliated as an adult by a teenage bully, and working through the realisation that he hates his mother. These are stories that don’t have a punch-line, nor are they mined for easy laughs. They are slices of life that are, at times, emotionally difficult to get through. This is an absolute gem of a show.
Best episode: Bully.
I’ve talked up Terriers quite a bit on this blog. Would it be #1 on my list if it hadn’t been canceled? I’m not sure, but it would still certainly be in the top five.
For the uninitiated, Terriers is about two low-rent unlicensed private detectives. One a former police officer, the other a former petty thief. Both have very flexible morals and are altogether charming in their flea-bitten mongrel type of way. Each episode works as a stand-alone story, but there are constant plot threads that weave in and out of episodes. The primary storyline, which involves a hidden real-estate scheme, serves as the backbone for the series. It is in the final episode, however, that elements from every story throughout the series culminates in the resolution of the series. Very clever plotting.
Terriers is a funny and emotionally engaging series. It’s characters are layered and nuanced. Each has a history and motivation for everything they do. The show, however, is an investment slow-burn. Episodes move along at a steady and speedy rate, but the viewer isn’t conscious of just how invested they’ve been in the show until the last few episodes.
Best episode: Change Partners
Non-top 5 worthy mentions: Justified, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Archer, Parks & Recreation, Spooks, Spiral, East West 101, Wilfred, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Gruen Transfer, Better Off Ted.
What was YOUR 2010 Top 5 shows?