The year 2010 wasn’t necessarily the most groundbreaking in television, but it certainly wasn’t one that will soon be forgotten. With hit cable dramas like Mad Men, the farewell to one of the most innovative series in the past decade, Lost, and an obsession with singing sensations on Glee, there was unquestionably a lot to talk about at the water cooler. Take a look back at the year with some of my favorites.
Best Drama: Breaking Bad (AMC)
This was not an easy category to choose a winner. With great character dramas like Friday Night Lights, fantastic writing on shows like Mad Men, and edge-of-your-seat dramas like Sons of Anarchy, I ultimately landed on the show that encompasses all three: Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston is superb as Walt, the humble chemistry teacher and family man that starts cooking meth to pay for his cancer treatments, and over time becomes the morally ambiguous big bad that we love watching so much. At his right hand is the underrated Aaron Paul as Jesse, the crass and profane former student that introduces him to this world. Each episode has an underlying slow simmer, a tension that builds over time into an explosive, and often bloody, final few minutes. Only Breaking Bad could base an entire hour of television on the idea that there is a fly loose in the lab, and turn it into a compelling mesh of breaking points, motivations, and secrets. Walt always has his identity and life on the line, running from the DEA, creepy Mexican twins, and the truth. I just hope he keeps on running; I’m hooked for the rest of his journey.
Best Comedy: Community (NBC)
Community stands out as best comedy this year because of its innovation. From the action-spoof hit episode “Modern Warfare” that featured a paintball game that goes awry on the community college’s campus, the show had a new identity. Following up with spoofs of gangster films, space expeditions, zombie epidemics, and a Claymation new Christmas classic, it quickly became the cleverest comedy on the air. TV for TV people, chock full of pop culture references, delivered by a diverse and strong cast, hopefully this show will rise beyond cult status and get the attention it deserves.
Best Reality Show: Teen Mom (MTV)
Teen Mom is arguably the most surprising hit this year. While MTV’s comeback is hugely hinged on drunken nights on the Jersey Shore, they’ve also developed one of the most compelling reality dramas. The show follows four teen moms (Maci, Farrah, Catelynn, and Amber) through their challenging lives as young women balancing school, jobs, parents, complicated love lives, and their new babies. From Amber’s abusive relationship with her baby daddy to Farrah’s reveal about the death of baby Sophia’s dad, the drama can certainly run high. But it’s more in the emotional moments that it’s clear how attached we’ve all become to these girls. Maci finally finding a good partner and stepfather for her son, and Catelynn and her boyfriend Tyler reuniting with baby Carly one year after they gave her up for adoption was particularly touching. More than just the most effective safe sex PSA there is, I’m cheering for these girls and their families to be okay, and can’t wait to invite them into my home week after week.
Best Supernatural/Sci-Fi Show: The Vampire Diaries (CW)
The Vampire Diaries was 2009’s best new show, but in 2010, it really stepped up its game. With one of the most intense cliffhangers (or rather, one of seven) in their season one finale with the return of feisty, maniacal vampire doppelganger Katherine, it’s kept viewers on the edge of their seats and hasn’t suffered from any hint of a sophomore slump. The show is ultimately about humanity; it digs deeper into its characters, their emotional core, and just how far someone will go for love week after week. With a mythology that gets richer over time, I’m always confident there are surprises around every corner. Not to mention the talented cast (spearheaded by Nina Dobrev’s Elena and Katherine and Ian Somerhalder’s Damon) who aren’t so bad on the eyes, either. In a crowded genre of vampires, this show stands above the rest.
Best New Show: Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Boardwalk Empire was certainly the most expensive debut this year, and with talent like Steve Buscemi and director Martin Scorcese attached, was among the most highly anticipated. With a flashy and visually stunning pilot (a big mark from Scorcese), even the brutal murders of this period gangster drama were pleasing to watch. But it was only as the season continued that the true depth of the show was revealed in morally ambiguous characters and a standout cast. From Michael Shannon’s portrayal of a tortured, religious FBI agent to Michael Pitt’s post-war soldier with daddy issues, this show is the epitome of the flawed protagonist. Steve Buscemi isn’t the most obvious choice for a leading man, but in his subdued performance, Nucky Thompson is still a captivating manipulator. Newcomer Jack Huston as the masked sniper is the most disturbing and sympathetic of them all. With gore, greed, and girls, Boardwalk Empire is well on its way to making its mark as a cornerstone series.
Best Episode: “The Suitcase,” Mad Men (AMC)
The complicated relationship between Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) has been developing since the very first episode. It was “The Suitcase,” the seventh episode of the show’s fourth season, that gave us the greatest insight into the unique connection between these two flawed characters. Peggy wants to celebrate her 26th birthday, but after a major Samsonite pitch bombing in Don’s eyes, she’s stuck at work until she can come up with something worthy. She’s at the mercy of Don, who’s struggling with the news that Anna, the only woman who has known the full Don/Dick persona, has passed away. What results is an all-nighter full of arguments, confessions, tears, and breakdowns. In the most fascinating look at characters this year, “The Suitcase” was more than just a passing of the torch of the women in Don’s life, it was some of the best writing we’ve seen in quite some time.
Best Comeback: Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
Grey’s Anatomy has certainly had its ups and downs (sadly, the ghost sex storyline is hard to forget). But after clearing out some of the off-screen problems, the medical drama bounced back in a big way with a killer finale. With a grief-crazed sniper loose in the hospital, the body count grew as tensions rose in this edge-of-your-seat episode. Derek was shot, Meredith had a miscarriage, and Christina was traumatized from performing life-saving surgery on Derek at gunpoint. Each character was deeply changed by the trauma, and the show is better than it has been in years. The seventh season has gotten back in the groove of romantic drama set against tragedy, and is quickly regaining a high spot on my DVR.
Best Canceled Show: Party Down (Starz)
There have been a lot of critically acclaimed shows canceled this year (Lone Star, Rubicon) but the one show that I think will take on a bigger cult life post-cancellation like Arrested Development and Freaks and Geeks is Party Down. The low-rated Starz show about misfit caterers all trying to make ends meet as they pursue careers in the entertainment industry was a comedy too funny for mainstream TV. With a terrific cast (Ken Marino, Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch until she got the full time Glee gig), hilarious guest stars (Steve Gutenberg, Kristen Bell, Ken Jeong) and smart, snappy writing, this show will get its proper recognition. It’s just too bad it couldn’t have lasted another season. I hope they had a great wrap party, and tipped their caterers well.
Best Cast: Parenthood (NBC)
Parenthood is a solid, if not groundbreaking, character-driven family drama. What brings me back to the show week after week is the pitch-perfect cast. Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) are a big draw for me to be returning to our small screens, but Bonnie Bedelia and Craig T. Nelson are also great as the flawed leaders of the Braverman clan. Perhaps most surprisingly, Dax Shepard (Punk’d) is showing his true range and talent in one of the most relateable, natural performances. And I can’t forget the younger generation, with old pros like Mae Whitman (Arrested Development) and Sarah Ramos (American Dreams), and newcomers like the adorable Tyree Brown and Miles Heizer, they’re certainly pulling their own weight. The chemistry this cast has is what brings it all together, and are an eclectic group I’d be happy to have at my dinner table.
The Worst Thing about TV in 2010: Little originality
The film industry has been suffering from a lack of original stories for a while now. Depending on limited series and sure-hit remakes has been the answer to tough economic times. The trickle down has made its mark now in television. With hardly any Fall 2010 shows becoming smash hits (let alone lasting more than a few episodes), and remakes like Hawaii Five-O and spin-offs of procedural dramas being considered among the best, it seems like people are giving up. All of the original, quality programming these days can be found on the cable networks, and with shows like Charlie’s Angels in the works, it doesn’t look like network television is making a comeback any time soon….
Leave your thoughts on the best and worst in the comments!