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2010 Year End TV Review: Jason Zingale

It was an especially transformative year of television, at least for me, as my TV viewing diet underwent a bit of restructuring. Once-favorite shows began collecting dust on the DVR (sorry “Burn Notice,” but you’re losing your sizzle), and in the case of a few (like “Chuck”), were deleted altogether. Consequently, NBC’s “Community,” which spent most of its freshman season on the fringe of receiving similar treatment, is now the highlight of my Thursday nights. That’s because while shows like “Burn Notice” and “Chuck” are pretty much running on dead fumes at this point, “Community” has just begun to hit its groove. “How I Met Your Mother” also bounced back from an off-year with some of its funniest episodes to date, “Glee” and “Castle” continue to be as guilty as they are pleasurable, and the new season of “Top Chef” might just be the best yet. But none were able to crack my Top 5, which goes to prove that while there might have been a few misses this year, the hits were a lot more memorable.

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1. Terriers

Clever, funny, dark and provocative, “Terriers” may have wowed critics with its flawed characters and rich storytelling, but that didn’t change John Landgraf’s recent decision not to renew it for a second season. I don’t blame the FX President for the low ratings (most networks would have given up after only a few weeks), but I do blame the rest of America for failing to tune in to the best new show of the season. Yes, you heard right. Although I enjoyed “The Walking Dead” and the overrated “Boardwalk Empire,” the buddy detective drama delivered better acting and writing week in and week out. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James had unparalleled chemistry as the scrappy private investigators (the titular terriers, if you will) caught in the middle of the case of a lifetime, so it’s a shame that we won’t get to tag along on any of their further adventures – especially since the season finale left things wide open. Another brilliant but cancelled television show that, ten years from now, will still be missed.

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2. Modern Family

It hasn’t even completed its second season, but “Modern Family” already seems destined to become a comedy classic. It’s that good, and anyone who says otherwise should get an X-ray to see if their funny bone is broken. Of course, considering that it’s one of the most-watched shows on TV, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t agree. But for those who still haven’t experienced the funniest half-hour of television, it’s about time that you do, because there isn’t a single show that even comes close to matching the number of laughs in an average episode. And although the writing staff certainly deserves some credit, it’s cast members like Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara who make every joke that much funnier. Even the kids are funny, and that’s saying a lot from someone who isn’t particularly fond of child actors. It’s almost unbelievable the way the show fires on all cylinders so consistently, but that’s what separates a great show from a good one, and “Modern Family” is nothing if not that.

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3. Sons of Anarchy

The third season of FX’s outlaw biker drama may not have been its best, but after a sluggish start, the series redeemed itself by getting back to the kind of top-notch storytelling that fans have come to expect. Many of those fans were quick to criticize the ambitious Ireland subplot that dominated most of the season, but along with fleshing out some of the club’s back story, it also set the stage for what turned out to be a killer finale. Many of the supporting players got lost in the background this year, but Charlie Hunnam gave the performance of his career, guest stars Paula Malcomson and James Cosmo proved themselves worthy additions to the cast, and Ally Walker put the finishing touches on what might just be the best TV villain in quite some time. The show may have stumbled a bit along the way, but no matter how you felt about the season as a whole, those who stuck around for the long haul were given plenty of incentive to come back next fall.

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Sons of Anarchy 3.13 – NS

It was another special 90-minute episode of “Sons of Anarchy” tonight, but I honestly didn’t expect any less from the season finale, which opened with the typical montage, this time scored to an upbeat pop song while the club enjoyed a cheerful breakfast feast at the clubhouse. The festivities didn’t last long, however, as Gemma is becoming increasingly worried about Jax’s deal with Stahl after discovering a case file on the IRA council in his cut.

She’s still staying mum on the subject, but after Clay tells her about their expanding business relationship with the Irish, Gemma decides to try and save Jax’s skin before any more harm is done by turning herself in. Not that it will do her any good. Stahl has already exonerated Gemma of all the charges (apart from fleeing custody, which has landed her a few months under house arrest), so there’s really nothing she can do. Nevertheless, Gemma promises Stahl that deals like the one she made with Jax never work out because there’s no trust, and it’s going to end badly for one of the parties involved. If only Gemma knew just how right she would be…

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With the hours ticking away until Jimmy is out of SAMCRO’s reach for good, Clay visits Otto at Stockton to set up a meet between him and Lenny the Pimp. Lenny agrees to reach out to his Russian contacts, but warns Otto that while they’re certainly not loyal to Jimmy, it’s going to take a hefty sum for them to flip on him. And as Clay soon learns, he wasn’t kidding, as the Russians ask for $2 million in exchange for Jimmy – money that the club simply doesn’t have. Thankfully, those boxes that Chucky has been trying to show someone for days just so happens to contain $5 million in counterfeit bills. It’s apparently from his time working for Henry Lin, and though he was supposed to destroy it, he decided to keep it instead.

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Sons of Anarchy 3.12 – June Wedding

Well, the boys are back in town, but they’re not celebrating just yet. In fact, Jax barely has time to unpack before Stahl comes looking for an update on Jimmy. When she learns that he’s been given safe passage to the States in exchange for Abel, she realizes that it means Jimmy is under the protection of the Russians. Luckily, SAMCRO happens to know someone with ties to the Russians – First 9 member Lenny “The Pimp” Janowtiz, who’s currently spending his days in a maximum security prison – so Jax asks Stahl to set up a meeting between Lenny and Otto in order to get some info on Jimmy’s whereabouts. And they better hurry, because Jimmy has already made a deal with the Russians to give them a piece of the IRA gun trade while he heads on a permanent vacation to South America.

Of course, Gemma is still worried that the club is going to catch wind of Jax making deals with Stahl, although he seems pretty confident that it’s all going to work out in the end. She’s not, however, and lets Unser know about her concerns. Unser offers to look into it for her, but Gemma tells him that she would rather he just focus on finding Tara. Plus, Gemma’s never been afraid to get her hands a little dirty, and before you know it, she’s kidnapped Stahl outside the police station and threatened to tell her superiors about the fake statement that was fed to her if she doesn’t put an end to the deal she made with Jax. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

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And as if anyone needed more problems at the moment, Tara is still missing. Worse yet, the Mayans are planning to kill Salazar as retribution for ordering Alvarez’s assassination, and Jax is worried that Tara might get hurt in the attack. Clay warns Alvarez that they need to capture Salazar alive in order to prove that Jacob Hale is dirty, because if they don’t, Hale will likely be voted the new mayor of Charming and his changes will put an end to the Mayans’ heroin trade. I’m not too sure that Alvarez is even scared of Hale, but he agrees to join SAMCRO in the hunt when they come across some new info about his possible whereabouts. The search comes up empty, but they do find a pair of dead bodies – Salazar’s girlfriend and an innocent bystander. (You didn’t think they’d actually kill Tara, did you?)

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Sons of Anarchy 3.11 – Bainne

It was always going to come to this, but I don’t think anyone wanted to admit it. After his showdown with Father Ashby last week, Jax is seriously considering leaving Abel behind in Ireland so that he may grow up in a life that doesn’t involve guns, pornstars and murder. But before he makes his decision, he at least wants to make sure that his son is in good hands. When Jax arrives at the orphanage, however, the head nun tells him that Abel has already been adopted and refuses to reveal any information about the couple. Gemma isn’t particularly happy about this revelation and decides to hold one of the other babies at gunpoint until she gets some answers. It was a pretty sadistic thing to do, but the nun clearly believed that Gemma was capable of following through on her threat, so she gave Jax the couple’s name and the hotel they’re staying at in the interim.

Jax convinces Gemma to let him stake out the situation on his own, and when he follows the couple from the hotel to an outdoor market, he gets a chance to observe just how well they’re caring for Abel. It’s probably the first time we’ve seen Jax smile all season long, and although the thought of letting Abel go brings him to tears, he ultimately decides that it’s in his best interest. Of course, Gemma doesn’t agree, and will do whatever it takes to convince him otherwise – even if that means revealing Tara’s little secret.

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Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much control in the matter, as the decision is pretty much made for him when they learn that Jimmy O has murdered the couple and taken Abel hostage after torturing (and then killing) Sean Casey for information on his whereabouts. Jimmy just wants safe passage to the United States and is offering Abel’s return in exchange. The IRA council agrees to Jimmy’s deal, but on one condition: that SAMCRO kills him when they get back to the States. And as an added bonus, the IRA offers the Sons the chance to expand their gun trade by making them their main contact for the Northwest region. And apparently, Father Ashby is also part of the deal, as he’s agreed to go as Jimmy’s hostage in trade for Abel. Jax seems to think that means Ashby has signed his death sentence by getting in the car with Jimmy, but I feel like we haven’t seen the last of him yet.

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Sons of Anarchy 3.10 – Firinne

Tonight’s episode marked a pivotal turning point in the season, as truths were revealed and more than a little blood was shed. But before I get to all the Irish-based drama, it’s probably best just to get the Charming stuff out of the way. There’s not a whole lot happening apart from Tara and Margaret’s recent kidnapping, and while they wait to find out what kind of demands Salazar is going to make for their safe return, Tara takes the opportunity to ask about Margaret’s tattoo. It seems that Margaret used to be quite the groupie, and even began dealing drugs for the guy she loved. They even OD’d on heroin together on Christmas Eve of all days, and although she survived, she keeps the tattoo as a reminder of her mistakes.

It was another nice moment between the two women, but it’s a little silly to think that it took an event like this for Margaret to open up to Tara – especially considering how judgmental she was of her in the early days. Of course, none of that will matter if SAMCRO can’t meet Salazar’s demands, and while they have no intention of killing Alvarez as requested, Kozik suggests they ask Alvarez to help them create the illusion that they have. The Mayan boss isn’t too pleased about SAMCRO making a house call, but after Kozik practically begs for his help, he finally agrees. The only problem is that the $250,000 that’s supposed to be in Alvarez’s safe isn’t there, so they’re going to have to come up with the ransom money another way.

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Meanwhile, over in Belfast, Father Ashby has received word about the attack on SAMCRO and visits Jax with news from the IRA. If the Sons can prove that Jimmy was involved in the car bombing, the task of killing him will no longer fall on the club. But first, they need a confession from one of his men, and Jax knows exactly where to start. When McGee overhears Clay talking about the possibility of traitors within SAMBEL, he warns Liam to get out of town, but not before throwing him under the bus in order to save his own skin. With Liam on the run, the Sons turn to the only person who might know something about his whereabouts: Cherry. She tries to protect him at first, but after Gemma convinces her that Liam had a hand in Half-Sack’s murder (at least indirectly, anyway), she tells SAMCRO about the money she found in his jacket and where he’s probably hiding out.

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