The Best (and Worst) Television of 2010

  1.  Best of 2010
    1. The Wire.  A show about law enforcement so real, even law enforcement officers praised it.  What the critics - and we - loved about the show, though, was that instead of exploring the phenomenon of crime in a vacuum, the show dared to expose its roots in failed education systems, corrupt political systems, and citizens willing to be manipulated by the media into believing what others wanted them to believe.  Talk about timely.
    2. Lost.  2010 was the year we lost Lost, much to the dismay of the show's legion of generally satisfied though still-puzzled fans. Wonder if Hollywood appreciated the irony: one of their most popular shows wasn't a "lowest common denominator" reality show but a vehicle that required time, attention, loyalty, and critical thinking skills.
    3. Breaking Bad.  This show about a chemistry teacher turned crystal meth maker has a theme that continues to resonate in this era of Wall Street bankers gone bad: once you first compromise your ethics, the long, slow, inevitable slide towards corruption begins.
    4. Mad Men.  Season 4 of our favorite show about advertising may be set in the 1960s but the show's theme remains timeless: the disconnect between perception and reality, and the ability of people to find a way to believe what they want to believe. Too bad the fashion isn't timeless too - so many gorgeously tailored suits!
    5. Boardwalk Empire.  Steve Buscemi chewed scenery as Nucky Thompson, an Atlantic City crime boss coping with the upheaval of prohibition.  Would Nucky's "civilized" approach to crime - avoiding violence, exercising a paternal responsibility for his neighborhood and organization - survive the influx of blood-soaked mobsters interested only in profit?  If you didn't get it before, the show slaps you across the face with it now: laws that attempt to impose one person's morality on other people tend to end in disaster.
    6. The Pacific.  Everyone agreed it wasn't "as good as" HBO's Band of Brothers, but everyone also tacitly understood why: this episode in America's warfighting history was more ambiguous, more miserable, and a whole lot more brutal. The show didn't shy away from those realities.
    7. The Good Wife.  Talk about timely!  This show tells the story of a political wife humiliated by the exposure of her husband's long affair with a hooker.  But the show goes further than merely giving us the answer we've always wanted to the question Why doesn't she leave him?, providing a sophisticated courtroom/political drama-driven soap opera unlike anything I can remember in television before
  2. Other Noteworthy shows of 2010
    1. Modern Family
    2. Human Target
    3. Life Unexpected
    4. Parks & Recreation
    5. Friday Night Lights
  3. Worst of 2010
    1. Bridalplasty.  Brides compete, Survivor style, for the chance to win free plastic surgery in time to look perfect for their weddings.  Demeaning on so many levels, I stopped counting.
    2. Skating with the Stars.  Can we all agree that ice skating, when not performed at the very highest levels of expertise, is simply excruciating?
    3. Toddlers & Tiaras. Little girls wearing too much makeup get bawled out by their moms for blowing the talent competition or gaining weight. Appalling.
    4. Teen Mom.  I've heard some say that the show is worthwhile as a cautionary tale for the teens who watch it.  I've also heard some say it's an appalling piece of exhibitionism, exploiting teens who have so little self esteem they'll seek any attention they can get - whether from boys or television producers, both of whom should know better.
  4. Shows that ended in 2010
    1. Lost
    2. 24
    3. The Wire
    4. As the World Turns
    5. Heroes
    6. Larry King Live
    7. Law & Order
    8. At the Movies
  5. Television Trends
    1. Shows/movies about vampires (Twilight:Eclipse, Vampire Diaries, True Blood), ghosts zombies (The Walking Dead) and all things weird/supernatural (Alice in Wonderland, Inception, Fringe, Supernatural) continued to dominate.
    2. NCIS/CSI/Criminal Minds/Law & Order/Castle/The Mentalist/etc. continued to populate TV Guide's list of most-watched shows, proving that we Americans still love our formulaic crime dramas.  After a hard day at work, who wants to think?
    3. The popularity of reality/talent shows continued to rise, a category now populated by television shows to include:  America's Got Talent, Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol, The Sing-Off, Live to Dance
    4. Shows about cooking: Hell's Kitchen, Top ChefJamie Oliver's Food Revolution, everything on the Food Network, and anything having to do with decorating cakes
    5. Comedies: clever (30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Community), mediocre (Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother) and just plain bad (Two and a Half Men)
  6. Fading Fast.
    1. Glee's ratings stayed strong, but the show increasingly relied on gimmicks (guest stars; tributes to Madonna, Lady Gaga and Brittany Spears; a Rocky Horror Picture Show tribute) to keep viewer attention - never a good sign
    2. Men of a Certain Age.  Got some preliminary attention due to critics falling all over it, until people actually watched and realized the show was about middle aged guys whining about being middle aged.  Who needs a show that real?
    3. Desperate Housewives.  Whoever came up with the idea of shooting the show into an alternative future in which Gabriella is fat and has children should be bound, gagged, and dropped into the La Brae Tar Pits.
    4. American Idol.  Don't know why people are still watching - after years of seeing mediocres win while the real talent gets voted off in preliminary rounds, isn't it time someone starts questioning the paradigm?
    5. Simpsons.  Breaks my heart to put this in the "fading" category, but the edge is gone and many of the shows are starting to feel rewarmed.
  7. Won't Go Away
    1. Extreme Home Makeover.  Don't think I can take too many more episodes of worthy people getting dream houses while everyone in the community cheers and cries.
    2. Two and a Half Men.  I can't explain why this is still on the air.  Soon their going to have to call it two and a half grandfathers.
    3. Scrubs.  Young people behaving immaturely is funny; old people behaving immaturely is just embarassing.  (See Seinfeld.)
  8. Television News:
    1. Some television shows won Emmy Awards.
    2. John Stewart & Steve Colbert flouted their popularity by staging a fake political rally at the National Mall that drew over 300,000 people - more people that the vast majority of "real" rallies manage to draw.
    3. Jay Leno and Conan O'Brian engaged in some sort of unseemly and overblown conflict over The Tonight Show.
    4. Bristol Palin on Dancing With the Stars proved that Americans can  be partisan about anything, even dancing.

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