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October 6, 2015

The Best TV of 2010: The Top 10 Roster

by Maureen Ryan, posted Dec 2nd 2010 2:30PM
Narrowing down my yearly Top 10 list to only ten individual TV shows proved very difficult this year. There was just too much good TV, and thank goodness for that. None of the new shows that the broadcast networks debuted this fall made the cut, but no matter, there was still plenty of good drama and comedy to choose from.

So much, in fact, that I decided expand my list a bit. There are, as you can see below, ten entries in my Best of 2010 list, but a couple of entries mention multiple shows. I've got a new job and new editors, so why not try a new way of approaching the Top 10 list, right? All I can say is, it would have melted my brain and hurt my heart to leave any of the shows below off my list.

By the way, in the next week or so, I'll post a long list of runners up -- more than two dozen scripted shows that didn't quite make the cut here but which were nevertheless pleasing, compelling or noteworthy during the past year.

Without further ado, here's my list of the best television shows of 2010:

ABC's comedy trifecta -- 'Cougar Town,' 'Modern Family' and 'Better Off Ted.' These three comedies were delightful in different ways, but they had at their cores an ultimately sweet belief in power of the friendship and family to get people through life's weirder moments. 'Modern Family's' outstanding cast continues to impress, and even wobbly episodes reliably supply sharp observations and goofball charm. 'Better Off Ted,' which ABC treated terribly for reasons I'll never understand, is one of the best workplace comedies of the past decade. I miss its inspired whimsy, surreal humor and incisive wit more and more as time goes on. Last but certainly not least, the delightful 'Cougar Town' has become the comedy I most look forward to watching every week. I'm as addicted to its mix of silliness, sarcasm and deft observations about friendship as Jules and her friends are to pinot noir. Long live Penny Can!

AMC's drama trifecta -- 'Mad Men,' 'Rubicon' and 'Breaking Bad.' 'Mad Men' had its finest season in 2010, as the wheels came off Don Draper's formerly golden life and the ad man nearly fell into an abyss of pain and regret. We always knew Jon Hamm was a terrific actor, but he rose to new heights in depicting Don's depths, and Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, Jared Harris and Christina Hendricks did particularly outstanding work as well. 'Rubicon' certainly wasn't as consistently gripping as 'Mad Men,' but after a wobbly beginning (and despite a weak finale), it offered some incredibly compelling characters and thoughtful commentary on the toll that the war on terror takes on those who analyze the methods and parameters of evil. 'Breaking Bad' has a chilly reserve that keeps its characters at a distance, but it was impossible not to be transfixed by Walt White's latest round of rationalizations and grim choices, and no show on television has a more distinctive and evocative look.

'Boardwalk Empire,' HBO.
A classically made crime story and a panorama of urban life in the fast-changing 1920s, this handsome drama boasted top-notch production values and was chock full of well-calibrated performances (supporting actors Stephen Graham, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Shannon, Jack Huston and Michael K. Williams were particularly impressive). In corrupt politician Nucky Thompson's world, everyone has a price, but Steve Buscemi did a subtle job of showing us a very smart man who hasn't realized how much the world has changed -- and how much those prices have gone up. Kelly Macdonald was equally good as Mrs. Schroeder, an immigrant whose cozy arrangement with Nucky almost cost her her self-respect.

'Fringe,' Fox. 'Fringe' knows that good science fiction isn't necessarily about the weird or alien things out there, it's about what lurks in the human heart: loneliness, secrets, dreams and a desire for both connection and autonomy. This year, the show managed to amp up its mythology and yet tell inviting and evocative weekly stories, and the dual-universe Olivia switcheroo made the plot thicken in wonderfully complex ways. All this and John Noble's continually amazing performance made for an imaginative, exciting yet emotionally grounded ride.

'The Good Wife,' CBS. Watching 'The Good Wife' is not just like having your cake and eating it too, it's like having your cake, eating it and then finding out it's made of organic, locally grown vegetables. It's almost too good to be true. It has so many things that could be cheesy or soapy or predictable -- standalone weekly stories, courtroom shenanigans, a love triangle, for heaven's sake! Yet this show manages to be both escapist and dramatically challenging by handling all those elements in smart, thoughtful, creative ways, and by giving its top-notch cast of regulars and guest actors frisky, engaging material to play.

'Lost,' ABC. We have to go back -- and give this show one last tribute for six seasons of memorable, sometimes confusing but often compelling drama, which wasn't really about a weird island but about the people who found redemption, connection or damnation there. Imitations of this grand saga will always fail, because 'Lost' had an ever-evolving DNA all its own: It managed to mix sci-fi mythology, character drama and an epic quest tale in ways that made our hearts sing when it all came together with crackling brilliance. No other show took as many risks along the way, and even if it didn't always stick the landing (and in its finale, I thought it did), 'Lost' will live on as one of television's finest achievements. See you in another life, 'Lost.'

'Parks and Recreation,' NBC.
In its second season, 'Parks and Recreation' developed into the most nimble, enjoyable workplace comedy on television. Each character -- from the irrepressible Leslie Knope to the 'stache-tastic Ron Swanson to the endearing would-be sleazeball Tom Haverford -- is fully realized and capable of delivering moments both heartwarming and hilarious. Nobody aside from Leslie seems to get anything done, but that's fine. Nothing's more fun that killing time with the work-averse crew from 'Parks and Rec.'

'Party Down,' Starz. Television exists to break our hearts. Proof of this can be found in the cancellation of the wry, terrific 'Party Down,' which wasn't just a show about cater-waiters but a surprisingly thoughtful examination of how hard it can be to fight cynicism and embrace the tiny shards of hope that life occasionally offers. The show didn't just lovingly goof on the sometimes cracked ambitions of its characters, who inhabited the scuffling lower reaches of the entertainment industry, it subtly made us understand why those ambitions -- in love and life -- actually kind of mattered. Just watch the brilliant episode 'Steve Guttenberg's Birthday' and you'll see what I mean.

'Spartacus: Blood and Sand,' Starz. This show didn't have a promising start, but it quickly developed into one of the most addictive and compelling dramas of the year, full of twists and turns and energetic performances from John Hannah, Lucy Lawless, Andy Whitfield, Viva Bianca and the rest of the show's solid cast. 'Spartacus' did an increasingly assured job of depicting the conflicting ambitions of gladiator owner Quintus Batiatus, who craved wealth and status, and Spartacus, a slave and warrior whose glory in the arena could never make up for the freedom he lost. This was an observant, smart soap opera that took its characters seriously and took viewers on an sexy, shocking, well-crafted ride.

'Terriers,' FX. This engrossing gem developed into the best new show of the year, rising above its low-key beginnings to tell memorable tales about love, loss, corruption and the lead characters' nutty yet admirable tenacity. 'Terriers' was a wily, amusing and emotionally rich update of classic film noir storytelling, set in a memorably scruffy beach town and full of delicious twists and compassionate observations about human nature. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James gave the performances of their lives as two private investigators possessed of some intelligence and lots of guts. Fingers crossed that Britt and Hank return to charm us in a second season.

Remember, come back here next week for my Runners Up list! See if your favorite shows made it. And feel free to offer your Top 10 list in the comment area below!

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Glad you put "http://www.hbomax.tv/hbo-la/mad-men on your list. I really like that show along with The Walking Dead, but if only one had to make the top ten I think i'm happy with that.

December 05 2011 at 8:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My FAVORITE show(HOUSE) has NOT been mentioned.This dose not suprise me aat all.House has been getting away from what the show was orginally about.sad ONLY 1 PERSON has mention on their top 10. How the mighty have fallen, cuz somone thought the audience would fall in love with cuddy and house getting togather NOT. GET BACK TO what the show about and stop making house love struck its lame lame lame

December 26 2010 at 8:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lon Horiuchi V

Sons of Anarchy didn't make it because with the lilts and brogues and mush-mouths you can't understand half of what's said. That they can barely ride may have something to do with it as well. There's an obvious anti-Gentilian, anti-Christian bent built into it also. Just read the credits and starring and you'll think you just watched Schindler's List by mistake. Plus, they've plagiarized my writing in a few episodes, those creative types of The Tribe. Enjoying your hilltop, beachfront and other exclusive digs at our expense, Tribesmen? Illegal hiring and contracting discriminatory practices going well for you?

December 26 2010 at 6:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My List Would Be
(Not in order)
Desperate Housewives
Breaking Bad
30 Rock
Ugly Betty
Cougar Town
Modern Family
Big Bang Theory
How I Met Your Mother
I ABSOLOUTLEY HATE Mad Men and think Desperate Housewives should get way more attension for its amazing 7TH season which has been a HUGE comeback from the last half of season 6 and seems to get even better with its mid season finale which may be its BEST EPISODE EVER and thats for a show in its 7th SEASON!

December 17 2010 at 4:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Terriers was one of the best new shows out there. It has excellent writing, characters, acting, and plot lines. The performances and dialogue were real, unlike a lot of cookie cutter cop shows out there. It's too bad people didn't give it a chance and get to see what a great show looks like. I'm a fan of Dexter and I'd put it up there with that. It had been dropped by FX but I wish another network would pick it up. It's one of the best shows you've never seen.

December 17 2010 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good list but you left off two of my faves: Sons Of Anarchy and Supernatural. Sons rocks thanks to Katey Segal,Ron, Pearlman, and Charlie Hunanum's excellent performances every week and despite the fact Sam has no soul and he and Dean are kind of on the outs with eachother Supernatural continues to please with great peformances by the lead actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackels as well as the supporting players espesically Misha Collins who is wonderful as angel Castiel.Neither of these shows get the recongnition they desereve,although kudos to the Golden Globes for nominating Katey Segal this year,but as long as they continue to be so dam good I'll keep tuning in.

December 17 2010 at 12:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

this is what they call digetal tv and we have to pay for it, nothing but reruns and paid comercials.Or sports. so I have to watch DIY or cooking shows.

December 17 2010 at 7:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

where is Law and order suv& csi Miami, we all seniors like these

December 17 2010 at 6:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

where is law and order suv I love that show and all
my elerly friends do to + csi Miami

December 17 2010 at 6:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I usually agree with Maureen Ryan, but I found this just a weird list. Spartacus? This is easily one of the worst shows in the history of TV. The Walking Dead, far and away the best new show of the year (and possibly the best since the debut of Mad Men - and yeah, people can say there weren't enough episodes, but it was nearly as long as Season One of Twin Peaks) isn't on it. Agree on Fringe, which is having its best season yet. Glad that Glee, the most overrated piece of junk in recent years, didn't. Cougar Town? I've tried it and find it unwatchable, the ABC version of Two and a Half Men. Where is Being Human, perhaps the best show on the BBC right now? I regret the cancellation of Terriers, which I like, but a Top Ten show? Justified is a much better show of the same kind.

On the other hand, I'm glad she included Party Down. I've shown it to several friends and all almost hurt themselves laughing. Ditto Archer, which may be the funniest animated show since the early days of The Simpsons.

I do agree with the inclusion of Parks and Recreation. Man, did that show ever improve from Season One, which I thought was rather bland. But it really found a nice grove and unexpectedly became one of my favorite shows, though I do think that its stealing Adam Scott was one of the nails in the coffin for Party Down, a show I liked more than than P&R.

Last comment. I would put three AMC shows in my Top Ten (and Mad Men and The Walking Dead in my Top Three). A network that has managed to attract great shows. I used to love the network when it had access to the films that TCM now won't let it use, but it has reinvented itself as the originator of new shows. I semi-enjoyed Rubicon, but found it a tad ponderous and slow moving. I loved the guy (forget his name - he played Robert Leckie in The Pacific) in the lead, but the episodes piled up on my DVR and I only very slowly finished the series. Breaking Bad, on the other hand, after a disappointing Season Two, rebounded in a huge way. Another Emmy for Bryan Cranston, I'm sure (though when is Jon Hamm going to win the one he deserves?).

December 11 2010 at 10:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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