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2010 Year End TV Review: Will Harris

You’d think it’d be easy for me to pull together a “Best TV of 2010” list, given that I’ve attended two TCA press tours (one in the winter, one in the summer), participated in two editions of Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings (one in the spring, one in the fall), and pulled together the site’s annual Fall TV Preview, but damned if that doesn’t somehow make the task harder. Nobody likes to feel like they’re repeating themselves, and given that there’s going to be some inevitable content crossover between all of these various pieces, I often find myself bouncing back and forth between all of these features, wondering if I’m subconsciously recycling a particularly nice choice of phrase. Hopefully, I’ve managed to make this sound at least somewhat original, but if for some reason you feel I’ve failed at that endeavor, please, for God’s sake, don’t take it out on the shows. It’s not their fault, and they shouldn’t be held accountable for my lack of creativity.

Oh, and one other note: in a further effort to avoid conceptual duplication, I’ve only written about each show once, so if you see a show’s title without anything written beside it, look back and you’ll find where I’ve already written about it. That, or I screwed up. Either’s possible, really. (I’m only human, after all.)

Best Shows to Come and Go within 2010

1. Terriers (FX) – It’s a testament to the quality of “Terriers” that FX president John Landgraf held a teleconference with journalists after breaking the news of the series’ cancellation in order to explain his actions, but I don’t think anyone really blamed the guy, anyway: the show’s ratings were as deplorable as the writing was phenomenal. Between the awful ad campaign for the show (no, it wasn’t about dogs) and the fact that many of the viewers who did tune in were kind of bummed out by too-real character traits and developments like alcoholism, infidelity, divorce, and mental illness, it’s not a surprise that it wasn’t a huge hit. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing.
2. Lone Star (Fox) – I’d like to think that this “Dallas”-esque series about a con man leading two lives would’ve been battling with “Terriers” for the top spot if only Fox hadn’t canceled it after only two episodes…but, then, if they can’t canceled it after only two episodes, then maybe viewers might’ve embraced “Lone Star” enough that it wouldn’t have been canceled at all. Oh, wait, never mind, I forgot: it was on Fox, so it probably still would’ve been canceled, anyway. Even so, Kyle Killen provided an intriguing concept and delivered it with the help of a top-notch cast. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of it.

3. Warren the Ape (MTV) – So falls another network effort by one of our favorite fabricated Americans. Greg the Bunny couldn’t keep a show alive on either Fox or IFC, but it really seemed like a given that the shenanigans of Warren the Ape were tailor-made for MTV viewers. Not so, apparently. Frankly, the whole thing smacks of anti-puppetism. Warren himself has conceded that “fabricated Americans still have a very long way to go in this country, and I think it’s always going to be an uphill battle.” How right he was.
4. Happy Town (ABC) – Note to ABC’s publicity department: while I appreciate your intentions when you underlined the comparisons between “Happy Town” and “Twin Peaks” with a giant Magic Marker, you have to expect that “Twin Peaks” fans are going to offer up their equivalent of the old “I knew Jack Kennedy” line. Yeah, I know, you only meant it as a point of reference, and you never intended to imply that the two series were on even creative footing, but try telling them that. For my part, I thought it was a creepy little sleeper of a show…but, unfortunately, the other five people who agreed with me weren’t enough to keep it on the air.

5. Sons of Tucson (Fox) – I’m still not quite sure what Fox was thinking by trying to slot this poor live-action sitcom into the midst of their otherwise-animated Sunday night line-up. Maybe they’d hoped it would instill viewers with a bit of nostalgia for the days of “Malcolm in the Middle,” given the similarity in feel between that show and “Tucson.” If so, the plan failed miserably. In a perfect world, the network would raise the series from the dead and team it with “Raising Hope.” Now that’s a double bill I could get behind.

Best 2010 Premieres to Survive the Year

1. Parenthood (NBC) – Although I was on board with this series since the first time I read the names of the cast members (which, at the time, still including Maura Tierney rather than Lauren Graham), I admit that I’m way late in officially joining the “‘Parenthood’ is awesome” club. What can I tell you? Too many shows, not enough hours in the day. Having finally had the time to devour Season 1 on DVD and begin to dig into Season 2, however, I just can’t say enough good things about the series. It’s about as realistic as family dramas get, full of strong performances and writing that’ll make you laugh and cry, sometimes even simultaneously.
2. Boardwalk Empire (HBO) – I used to be kinda iffy about period-piece series, but “Mad Men” effectively threw that issue out the window for me, so it was pretty easy to embrace this tale of sex, crime, and politics set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Frankly, the mere presence of Paz de la Huerta was more than sufficient to inspire me to tune in every week, but it’s been fascinating to see Steve Buscemi step into the role of an unlikely power figure, and Michael Shannon’s eye-popping performance as Agent Nelson Van Alden has been a blast to watch. I’m already ready for Season 2.

3. The Walking Dead (AMC) – It’s based on a comic book, it’s about zombies, and it’s helmed by the dude who did “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” and “The Mist.” Basically, I was always going to tune in for the first episode…but, holy crap, what a first episode it was. Even if the subsequent installments didn’t always match the premiere, the exploration of humanity through the prism of a zombie invasion has proven consistently intriguing and deliciously gory.
4. Raising Hope (Fox) – Not everyone enjoys the taste of Greg Garcia’s comedies, but I saw a lot of people I recognized in the characters of “My Name Is Earl,” and I’m seeing the same thing with the Chance family. The show could almost coast by on reaction shots from Hope herself, who may well be one of the cutest babies ever to grace the small screen, but the comedic trifecta of Lucas Neff, Garret Dillahunt, and Martha Plimpton – aided ably by the legendary Cloris Leachman – have great chemistry together. Here’s hoping Fox finds the right companion show for the series, because “Hope” deserves the chance to grow up.

5. Justified (FX) – Here’s another one I need to play catch-up with, but I’ve seen more than enough to fall in love with the show already. Timothy Olyphant was the perfect casting choice for US Marshall Raylan Givens – who better to play a modern-day cowboy than an alumnus of “Deadwood”? – and Elmore Leonard’s sensibilities are firmly in place throughout.

Best Sitcoms of 2010

1. Modern Family (ABC) – Given that this ensemble comedy emerged fully formed from the womb, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that it’s managed to maintain its consistency in its second season, but you never like to take these things for granted. It’s a rare sitcom that earns appreciation from the viewers, the critics, and the Emmys, but “Modern Family” deserves every bit of the praise that’s been heaped upon it.
2. Raising Hope (Fox)

3. Community (NBC) – Another second-season series, but one which definitely has taken its time to figure out what it wants to be. When “Community” first kicked off, I didn’t get the impression that creator Dan Harmon actually intended for the driving force of the show to be its pop culture references (I figured the goal was to find the middle ground between heart and snark), but both the show’s ensemble and its writers have found their respective grooves, transforming the show into…an eventual cult classic, probably, since it’s definitely playing to the cool kids rather than the huddled masses. But you don’t hear me complaining.
4. Parks and Recreation (NBC) – Like “Parenthood” above, this is another case where I became a full-fledged series supporter as a result of DVD. If you weren’t impressed by Season 1, fair enough, but you should still check out Season 2. The show really takes off in a big way, fixing the issues from its freshman year and coming back smelling like roses. P.S. I’ve already seen the first few episodes of Season 3, which kicks off in January 2011, and if they counted in the final tally, “Parks and Recreation” would’ve ranked even higher.

5. How I Met Your Mother (CBS) – Last season was somewhat hit or miss, and executive producers Craig Thomas and Carter Bays freely admitted as much, but this season, while still not entirely up to the standards set in the show’s earliest years, has shown a comeback. Jennifer Morrison has begun to settle in as Ted’s friend / nemesis, Zoey Pierson, but the best part about her character is really her husband, The Captain, played to perfection by Kyle MacLachlan. Meanwhile, I don’t know if we’re actually going to see Marshall and Lily get pregnant or if it’s destined to occur in the mists of time beyond the run of the show, but the process of getting there has been an enjoyable one. We’ll see where the rest of the season takes us, but right now I’m enjoying this creative upswing.

Best Dramas of 2010

1. Breaking Bad (AMC) – Vince Gilligan continues to take Walter White and transform him slowly but surely from Mr. Chips into Scarface, but he’s not the only character going through a transition. In fact, Season 3 found just about everybody on “Breaking Bad” suffering through growing pains of some sort, with Jesse struggling to maintain equality in his relationship with Walt and stay clean and sober, Skyler dealing not only with a disintegrating marriage but the recent changes in the man to whom she’s been married for all these years, and Hank having to conquer obstacles on the way to emotional and physical health. Throw in the enigmatic Gus, the ridiculous Saul Goodman, and the terrifying Cousins, and you’ve got the best season of “Breaking Bad” to date.
2. Mad Men (AMC) – When Season 3 ended, the Sterling Cooper agency was no more, and when Season 4 kicked off, we said “hello” to Sterling Cooper Draper Price. Living up to the previous season’s finale was tough, and it took awhile for “Mad Men” to really build up a head of steam this year, but as America evolves in the ’60s, so have these characters, and creator Matthew Weiner continues to keep us guessing about where their paths will lead them.
3. Terriers (FX)
4. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
5. The Walking Dead (AMC)

Best Reinvention of a Classic Property

Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated (Cartoon Network)

Like many members of Generation X, I have maintained a soft spot for Scooby Doo and his teenaged mystery-solving companions for many years, but virtually all of that sentimentality comes courtesy of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” (1969 – 1970) and “The New Scooby-Doo Movies” (1972 – 1973). With all of the damage done to the franchise with the addition of Scrappy-Doo, the ill-begotten attempt to infantilize the Scooby gang (“A Pup Named Scooby-Doo”), and the consistently disappointing live-action films, it’s no wonder that my adoration of the original series had dissipated considerably. Thank heavens, then, for “Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated,” which plays both as a direct sequel to the events which took place within the episodes of “Where Are You” and a love letter to those who loved the original series and have spent 30+ years waiting for the magic to return. Inevitably, the characters have been modernized somewhat, but their back stories have been expanded to make them less two-dimensional. Another nice tribute to the old-school shows: although Matthew Lillard voices Shaggy, the voice of his dad is provided by Casey Kasem. Stalwart Frank Welker continues to play Fred as well as capably filling the shoes of the late Don Messick as the voice of Scooby himself.

Best TV-DVDs of 2010

The Six Million Dollar Man
Every episode of the series, all of the TV movies that preceded and followed it, plus more special features than your brain will be able to process. If you grew up in the ’70s, it’s worth every penny.

The Larry Sanders Show: The Complete Series
First they gave us Season 1, then they didn’t give us anything else for a very long time. Then, instead of Season 2, they gave us a best-of set, which – while awesome – still wasn’t what the fans wanted. Now, at last, Shout Factory cuts to the chase and just gives us the whole damned series…which is all we ever wanted in the first place.

Guiltiest Pleasure of 2010

Hellcats (The CW)
There’s no good reason why a grown man should feel comfortable about watching a drama about college cheerleaders, but surely you can at least understand why I find it hard to avert my gaze.

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