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.
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.
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.
Each week I think that the new episode of The Vampire Diaries is going to be just like every other teen soap; and each week I’m surprised that an hour has passed so quickly. The Vampire Diaries isn’t just about pale skinned heart throbs and the women they love; it wouldn’t work if it was just about some dude who pines for the human chick (like a certain book/movie series). With consistently written and well drawn characters, cinematic visuals and terrific acting, The Vampire Diaries is romantic, yes, but it’s also true to life with the way it handles human emotions. Most impressive is the pacing. Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, the co-creators,take their time developing their story arcs (something The Walking Dead should learn) allowing the details of their supernatural/small town world to filter out as needed.
This blue collar comedy may have had a high concept premise, but it quickly settled into one of the most delightful (and wacky) comedies on television. The way it handles parenthood and family with an abundance of laughs and heart have not only made Greg Garcia’s comedy my favorite new show, but easily one of my favorites of the year (the Halloween episode is already a classic). Newcomer Lucas Neff is a true comic discovery; Garret Dillahunt finally receives a chance in the spotlight after years on strong supporting roles, and Martha Plimpton reminds us that she’s one of the funniest actresses of her generation. All this, plus Cloris Leachman!
Subtle and funny, creator J.G. Quintel’s show about a blue jay and a raccoon who work at a park, managed by a gumball machine and a yeti, uses animation like it should: with no boundaries. This isn’t some animated sitcom; The Regular Show is what I’d imagine The Mighty Boosh would be if the guys on that show were cartoons. Subversive and surreal, it’s a series that kids and their parents (and those stoners in college dorm rooms) can all enjoy for different reasons.
Viewers may have tuned in to TV Land’s throwback sitcom (taped before a live studio audience!) because of 2010’s “it” girl, Betty White, but they returned (making it a surprise summer hit) because of the chemistry and comic timing of the three leading ladies. We haven’t heard from Jane Leeves since Frasier; Wendie Malick has been relegated to thankless small roles on sitcoms and bad comedy movies ever since Just Shoot Me ended, and Valerie Bertinelli was known more for her Jenny Craig ads and her divorce from Eddie Van Halen. How great that all three shine in this sturdy, but very funny sitcom and that they don’t have to rely only Betty White zeitgeist to succeed.
At least AMC let this low-rated conspiracy series play out all of its episodes before they pulled the plug. Mad Men was great this year, but I was more excited to find out what happens next on Rubicon when Sundays rolled around this summer. James Dale Badge deserves another shot at being a star; it was great to see Arliss Howard again, and Michael Cristofer gave a scene stealing performance worthy of an Emmy.
The success of Community as a comedy series and a cult hit stems from the superior acting from their eclectic cast. It would be easy to credit the writing and direction, but without the right combination of actors to gel as a team and pull off whatever is thrown at them, the show wouldn’t work. Moreover, as the producers saw what they had in their cast of Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover and Chevy Chase, the stories got more outlandish as their trust in their cast grew. Season 2 has been even more insane and the actors haven’t missed a beat.
Worst TV moment of the year: Fred: The Movie (Nickelodeon)
As a parent, I was subjected to this monstrosity when my children wanted to watch it. You may say, “Dude, all you had to do was leave the room.” Nope, not possible. Fred’s voice carried throughout the house and drove me to the point of insanity. It would’ve have been nearly acceptable if the movie was even remotely funny. It was not. It sucked. It made me wish that Fred was at the tail end of the human centipede. Am I just being a grumpy old man out of tune with the youth culture? Well, my kids didn’t laugh either, if that tells you anything.
This column also appeared on Premium Hollywood.