One of my favorite things about late December, besides chocolate-covered pretzels and the Nordstrom after-Christmas sale, are year-end lists.
I always like to compare my taste and faves against others whose opinions I respect. When we match, I’m often tickled that we’re on the same page, and it’s even better if they list something — be it an indie film I never saw or a PBS drama that slipped by — that I didn’t see but can check out later on.
Anyway, here’s a look at my top 10 TV shows of 2010. Unlike movies, a TV list is always a bit more bifurcated because, in broadcast, one season ends in May and another begins in September. Tying the two together, and looking at the healthy number of cable entries that debut 12 months a year, here’s what I came up with.
Oh, and one caveat, I didn’t watch AMC’s “The Walking Dead” or FX’s “Terriers.” With its strong reviews, I will come back to “Walking Dead” at some point, maybe in summer, but I just didn’t have room for it when it launched a few months ago. And, though I’m in the minority on this one, I wasn’t all that impressed with the first two episodes of “Terriers” and stopped watching. Yeah, I know it got better, but it just didn’t connect with me. Sorry.
The top 10
1) Friday Night Lights: I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I should like this fifth-year series best out of a plethora of great TV until I realized it’s the only show where I actually catch myself smiling … during the credits. I enjoy returning to Dillon week after week that much. And in last week’s episode that brought Jason Street (Scott Porter) back for a cameo, it was as if old friends I hadn’t seen in awhile were coming home. It’ll be heartbreaking to say goodbye.
2) Breaking Bad: Those who argue that Bryan Cranston — or any actor, actually — shouldn’t win an Emmy three years in a row obviously don't watch “Breaking Bad.” Creator Vince Gilligan has taken his characters and asked them to contemplate what it means to be moral, to provide for their family and the ultimate cost of both. Not only is Cranston a gem, but bravura performances from Anna Gun, Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito and Dean Norris are perfect complements. Not to be missed.
3) Justified: Timothy Olyphant looks to be having a million times more fun as a U.S. marshal than he did as a sheriff on “Deadwood.” His loosey-goosey approach to the law make this series a treat. FX alum Walton Goggins might be the best villain out there, if only because his so-called “conversion” as a do-gooder was so convincing.
4) Boardwalk Empire: What a great series does is take viewers to a time and place one might find unfamiliar, but then draws you in with compelling characters. That’s what creator Terence Winter did with “Boardwalk” and with stellar work from a cast that includes Kelly Macdonald and Michael Shannon, especially, this one lived up to high expectations.
5) Lost: Speaking of living up to expectations, no show had more weight on its shoulders than “Lost,” and, if the emotional connections of Jack and Co. mattered more to you more than the Dharma Initiative, both the entire last season and final episode were winners.
6) Mad Men: The death of an ex-wife and a quick marriage proposal were both integral components in the continued psychological unraveling of Dan Draper, who also had to contend with the weight of a failing business. The more layers we see of him, the more we understand what makes him so uncomfortably coarse. And R.I.P. Mrs. Blankenship, your take-no-guff persona will be missed.
7) In Treatment: Three seasons under its belt, rarely have we seen anyone like Gabriel Byrne’s psychiatrist Paul Weston. Forced to deal with other people’s issues when he can’t even confront his own, this gem of a show reinvents itself each time out with new patients. Irrfan Khan was an absolute revelation — one which Emmy will surely forget — as a Calcutta native going to extremes to return to his homeland.
8) The Good Wife: Hardly any other broadcast drama mixes so many elements so well: Office politics, lingering unfulfilled romance, workplace rivalries and unconventional casting that pays off. Having the smarts to add “Friday Night Lights” fave Scott Porter as Kalinda’s nemesis is only one move that has made sure “The Good Wife” remains far from a ho-hum legal procedural.
9) 30 Rock: Even with the great Alec Baldwin at her side, it’s Tina Fey’s ability to laugh at herself that makes this, week in and week out, the funniest show on television. The live episode was a rousing success and the continued knocks against NBC and the Kabletown merger prove mocking your own network works in wonderfully hilarious ways.
10) Sons of Anarchy: While I believe the trip to Ireland was a bit overbaked and the hunt for Jax’s son played out for too long, hanging with these honorable thieves and murderers is always time well spent. Here’s hoping next season we get to concentrate more on fellas like Opie and his merry band of renegades, who were forced to take a backseat.
The second tier
11) The Big Bang Theory: Now in its fourth season, the show could be getting stale. Yet, both the writers and actors haven’t become satisfied with their success. By relying on Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar and guest actress Mayim Bialik instead of forcing the terrific Jim Parsons to carry the load every week, the show is a continued treat.
12) Louie: Just when you think Louie CK’s show isn’t much more than a ditty about a divorced dad by day and standup by night, he delivers an episode about bullying, generational violence and the challenges of being a father that might’ve been the most thought-provoking half-hour of the year.
13) Rubicon: With its sometimes glacial pace, this was tough to hang with at times but it paid off. Mostly. The somewhat disappointing final episode never really tied the storyline together, but the slow-build character study of each was like a good ’70s European film.
14) Treme: Expectations were high, and it wasn’t close to being “The Wire,” but David Simon’s look into post-Katrina New Orleans gave viewers a remarkable glimpse into the Big Easy’s underbelly that’s never mentioned in brochures. I could’ve done less with Steve Zahn’s rebellious hippie Davis and more on Wendell Pierce’s trombone-blowing Antoine, but that’s what next season is for.
15) Modern Family: It’s still very funny, though — and this is no fault of anyone — the show doesn’t feel as fresh as season one. That being said, I can’t remember a comedy coming out of the gate so strong, so the quality after the oh-so-slight fall here would still make nearly any other laffer jealous.
16) Curb Your Enthusiasm: The way Larry David was able to turn his season into a pseudo-“Seinfeld” reunion was remarkable. Even when he thinks he has no story left in him, David continues to crack up both himself and an appreciative viewership.
17) Men of a Certain Age: Maybe because I’m of that same certain age this well-crafted look at three guys resonates with me. Our trio are all on disparate courses, but all share similar traits that anyone can relate to. Kudos to Ray Romano, who was often underappreciated on his sitcom but holds his own with Scott Bakula and the great Andre Braugher.
18) Nurse Jackie: Carmela who? Well, nobody will forget Falco’s seminal role in “The Sopranos” but her transition from HBO to Showtime has been seemless. Jackie is probably more manipulative than Tony’s ex, and absolutely more deceptive.
19) Southland: I’m a sucker for a good LAPD story told well — “The Shield” being the gold standard — and partners Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz form a solid duo of cops that not only deal with the drecks of the city, but their own issues as well.
20) Blue Bloods: In what was a fairly dismal broadcast season, the ‘Stache made this NYPD drama one of the few shows worth watching. Tom Selleck is perfectly cast as the top cop in Gotham and a family that never lacks for excitement.
Honorable mention (in alphabetical order):
24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic
Bored to Death
CBS Sunday Morning
Eastbound & Down
Hard Knocks With the New York Jets
The Life and Times of Tim
Pardon the Interruption
The Sports Reporters
World Series of Poker