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.
2010 was another great year of television, despite the fact that most of the new fall network shows were forgettable. While the big four seem to have a handle on coming up with new comedies, they still can’t develop innovative dramas to compete with the cable channels. Fox made an attempt with their excellent “Lone Star,” but viewers stayed away and the series was quickly cancelled (despite support from the network president). With Lost leaving the airwaves, it seems that if you want to watch something other than a procedural, you’ll have to tune to AMC, FX or HBO. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great cop, lawyer or medical shows (“The Good Wife” immediately jumps to mind), but the TV landscape is wide open enough that stories about all walks of life should be able to survive.
Best Drama: Friday Night Lights (Direct TV/NBC)
There was a lot of great drama on television this year (“Southland” was exceptional, “Lost” went out in glorious fashion, “Men of a Certain Age” was moving and effective), but I would be remiss if I didn’t place “FNL” at the top of my list, just where it has been since the show premiered in 2006. It’s hard to believe that this will be its last season. No other show has me cheering and laughing and crying week in and week out. Even during the cringe worthy moments (Julie’s affair with the TA) I can’t bring myself to raise the remote and fast forward through them. I’ve stated time and again on Popdose that this show is the most realistic portrayal of small town life I’ve ever seen on television, with beautifully written and acted characters, smart direction, and perfect music selections to create the mood of each scene (not to mention W.G. Snuffy’s poignant score). I love the Taylors; I love the community of Dillon, Texas; and I love Friday Night Lights.
Best Comedy: Modern Family (ABC)
A tough category. There are so many strong comedies on television right now, including NBC’s Thursday night lineup and ABC’s Wednesday shows. Of all of them, “Modern Family” makes me laugh the hardest; so hard that my wife and I have to rewind to hear the second and third jokes of each scene. With a great cast and insightful writing, “Modern Family” is a modern classic.
Best Reality: The Biggest Loser (NBC)
I generally hate reality shows on network television, however there is something truly inspiring about “The Biggest Loser” that grabs me every week. Here is a series about people seriously having to take back their lives otherwise they could die. The money at the end never seems to be as important as the health benefits they receive. Unlike most of the reality competitions shows, the inspiration that comes from watching “The Biggest Loser” occurs from watching every contestant, not just a select few. Obesity has overtaken our country and the men and women of “The Biggest Loser” prove that you can take back your life and that you are in control of it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There aren’t many producers around these days whose name can help sell a movie or TV show, but Gale Anne Hurd is the rare exception. Probably best known as one of the co-creators of “The Terminator” franchise, Hurd has been an important player in numerous mega- or merely major productions, including both “Hulk” and “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Abyss,” “Armageddon,” “The Punisher,” and the underrated 1999 comedy “Dick,” which starred Dan Hedaya as Richard Milhous Nixon and a young Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as a couple of teenagers who wind up bringing down a presidency.
Clearly one of the more hands-on producers around, Hurd is pleasant and businesslike when talking to a member of the show-biz press, but clearly has the gumption to deal with the biggest and most difficult of personalities, which is how I segue into the obligatory mention of the fact that she spent the part of the late eighties and early nineties being married to first James Cameron and then Brian De Palma. Moreover, she began her career working for one the most fascinating and effective producers in the history of the medium, Roger Corman, but more of that in the interview.
Still, nothing she’s done is quite like her current project, the zombie horror drama and comic book adaptation, “The Walking Dead.” The AMC television series, adapted from a series of acclaimed comics by Robert Kirkman primarily by writer-director Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” “The Mist”) is currently receiving maximum exposure on the web. The publicity train was only just getting started when I spoke to Ms. Hurd at a mammoth new San Diego hotel adjacent to the Comic-Con festivities last summer.
I had typed my questions on my laptop, which I was afraid might be a little off-putting. So, after a quick greeting, I tried to explain why.