10. Breaking Bad
Here's a show that is beyond a lot of others on the list in terms of visual artistry and narrative intensity, it's a show I feel like I should absolutely love, but still hasn't one hundred percent clicked for me. I always enjoy it when I'm watching it, but, despite having had the episodes on DVR since they aired, I still haven't finished the third season. I'm getting there, and I'm sure in the next couple of months I'll wrap it up, but I just didn't feel that need to see what happens next that you feel on a truly great series. So, Breaking Bad remains a show I really respect, but don't outright love.
9. Doctor Who
This year of Doctor Who got a lot of great press, but didn't hit me as hard as any of the Davies years. I think part of it is the feeling that, despite some continuity with the previous version, this is basically a reboot of the franchise, and I feel like it's too soon for a reboot that hits a lot of the same beats as Davies did over the course of his run. To me, it feels like Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run, perfectly solid on its own terms, but unable to shake the feeling that I didn't really need anything else after Grant Morrison finished his run. There's some really fun stories here, but it doesn't feel essential or 'real' to me in the way that Davies' run did. But, it's still a great show, and I'm excited to see where it goes next year.
A show that made more terrible creative choices than any other show on the list, but also the show that I was more engrossed in than anything else on here. Frustrating as it was, it was also really exciting to be part of the excitement surrounding the final season. As a standalone entity, this season was poorly plotted and not great, but as an experience, it was a lot of fun, and did have a few satisfying moments along the way.
7. Bored to Death
A bit more lightweight than most of the shows on the list, Bored to Death works thanks to the charm of its ensemble and the investment in the small scale mysteries that drive the show from week to week. It does a great job of telling small scale noir stories that intersect nicely with relatable plot arcs for the main group. Few shows were as outright fun as this one on a week to week basis.
Once you accept that this is not The Wire 2, you can appreciate Treme on its own terms as a slice of life verite journey through the world of post Katrina New Orleans. I'd be happy if we never heard another speech about how no outsiders can appreciate New Orleans, but once the show got past its preachy phrase, there was some really great character work and an enjoyable energy propelling the series. And, visually it's truly astonishing. Getting something to look like it's all just happening and being captured in the moment is not easy, and this show makes you feel like you're there and these are real people. I'm excited to see it develop and continue to come into its own.
This year, the show maintained the easygoing humor and sweet natured ensemble interaction of the early episodes, and added huge visual scope (the paintball episode, the stop motion Christmas) and a more intense character focus (the Annie/Jeff stuff in the conspiracy episode, the bar episode), creating a show that somehow manages to soar into freeform flights of fancy one week and be intensely grounded the next. There were a few bumps in early season two, with one two many gimmick episodes in a row, but the last few episodes have been uniformly fantastic, and the ensemble continues to reveal new layers and chemistry in every single combination.
4. Parks and Recreation
The show has been unfortunately absent from TV since May, but looking back on the close of the second season, Parks was TV's funniest show, with one of the deepest comedy benches ever, and a commitment to expanding its universe and creating a world that was simultaneously surreal and consistent and believable. As with Community, the characters could occasionally move towards the absurd, while still maintaining consistency and believability.
3. Eastbound and Down
In it second season, Eastbound pulls off the nearly impossible task of making a comedy sequel that is even more satisfying than the original, pushing Kenny Powers to increasingly dark and disturbing areas, all in an absolutely gorgeous set of episodes. The production on the series was amazing, the Mexico setting providing the opportunity for a whole new level of visual flourish than the series used in its first season. It was extremely funny throughout, but the story worked just as strongly on a dramatic level, and the triumphant return home at the end of the season was a particular emotional highlight. It's simultaneously sophisticated and juvenile, a good place for a comedy to be.
2. Friday Night Lights
It's been amazing to watch Friday Night Lights come back from its second season slump and just get better and better. The fourth season's closing run was full of extremely intense moments, none more than Tim Riggins' increasing maturity, and the realization that he would have to go to prison to keep his brother with his family. The Thanksgiving scene at the end of that season still sticks with me, an amazing capper to the series' best season yet. Season five is still bringing the pieces together, but it looks every bit as strong as four. Still visually majestic, I'll be sad to see the show go.
1. Mad Men
I've been a Mad Men fan since the start, and always felt it was a great show, but this was the season that confirmed Mad Men's place as one of the all time best in TV history, a drama to stand with The Wire and The Sopranos when critics reflect on the golden age of TV. The fourth season broke down the mystique surrounding Don Draper that the show had spent three years reinforcing, while skillfully advancing the story of his two closest analogues, Peggy Olsen and Sally Draper. I love the structural experimentation of the season, the use of voiceover, or the two actor showcase “The Suitcase.” In totally upending the show's status quo, Weiner let the characters grow just as real people do, and offered myriad opportunities for drama and conflict. This is the most ambitious visual art being attempted in any medium, it's synthesizing the best of classical Hollywood, classic European art cinema and more contemporary verite to create something that, though set in the past, feels intensely modern.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
10. Breaking Bad