It’s that time of year again. And I mean, it’s really that time of year. Any more time and it’d be next year. Speaking of which, how many of you are absolutely sick of the fact that I can’t get my s**t together and update this thing more regularly? Well, too bad! I’m pretty set in my ways, and if I wouldn’t change for any of my three wives, I probably won’t change for you. Anyway, it was a pretty good year for TV, and for those of you who care, these are my top 10 picks. If I had more time on my hands, this list might look somewhat different**, but I can’t watch everything. So, in no particular order…
Lost. I’d be remiss (what does that mean?) if I didn’t mention one of the greatest TV shows in the history of TV (and shows). ‘Lost’ earns its place on the list more in recognition of the entire series than the sixth season, which most people will admit had its problems. But for all of the questions that were left unanswered and weird, glowy caves that had holes in the middle that needed to be plugged up or else the world would explode — I mean, seriously, what was that? — the show delivered a finale that was as emotionally satisfying as I could have hoped for. And before the numbers, polar bears and four-toed statues, it was the characters that made the show what it was. And that damn dog gets me every time.
Treme. For a little while, ‘Treme’ felt like the kid who was a little too cool for school. It didn’t really invite us into its world, but kept us at arm’s length, telling us that we just didn’t get it. But slowly, as if in the arms of a generous lover, it opened up to us. And once the characters started doing a little more than hang out, drink and play music it turned into appointment television. And the fact that it comes from David Simon and could probably go on for six or seven seasons without building toward any clear ending makes it one of the best character studies in recent memory.
Louie. Hands down, the best comedy of the year. FX told Louie CK that, even though they couldn’t pay him as much as other networks, they would give him complete creative control over his own show, and the opportunity was not wasted. I hate to sound trite (no I don’t), but he’s really reinvented the sitcom, with each episode taking the form of a mostly-self-contained short film. And not only is it hilarious, but introspective and thoughtful. Not to mention gorgeously shot. If you haven’t caught this one yet, you can stream it on Netflix. I really can’t recommend it enough.
Archer. ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ are all good and well, but man cannot live on live-action drama alone. Solid animated fare is important, and unfortunately ‘American Dad’ can’t carry the load all by itself. ‘Archer’ comes from the fine folks who brought us ‘Frisky Dingo,’ which for two short years carried the mantle ‘Arrested Development’ left behind after it was canceled. The show takes the world’s most self-absorbed incompetent, gives him a double-0 rating and sets him loose on the world. Hilarity ensues. And when I say hilarity ensues, I mean it. Did you read what I said about ‘Frisky Dingo’? The show comes back for another season in January, so check it out.
Breaking Bad. Suck it, ‘Supernatural’ fans. In its third season, ‘Breaking Bad’ made the jump from engrossing (and high-grossing!), to the best show on TV. And the season before was already pretty great. Watching the lengths Walter White is willing to go to, at first to provide for his family, but then to satisfy his own ego is completely devastating. Walter shooting that drug dealer in the head at the end of “Half Measures” had me screaming at my TV, and if the season finale is any indication (it is), things are only going to get darker going forward. Unfortunately, AMC’s schedule is all jacked up, so the show won’t be back until July. The curse of cable television!
Mad Men. This is another show that doesn’t really have any sort of clear end in sight. And because it’s AMC’s darling, they’re probably going to try and keep it around for as long as they can. The trick then becomes how to keep it feeling fresh and not like it’s spinning its wheels. Season 4 did that. Don has his own agency, and now that he’s divorced he’s back out on the prowl. Although I guess that was the case even when he was married. Anyway, the season featured some of the series’ best work. “The Suitcase” and the showdown between Don and Peggy being only one example. Expect that one to be showered with Emmys at next year’s ceremony. For my money, the show came in just a hair behind ‘Breaking Bad’ this year, but…it was a very fine hair.
Fringe. I don’t think anyone really gives a s**t if a show comes “from the mind of J.J. Abrams” anymore. And if you ask me that’s only worked in ‘Fringe’s’ favor. When it wasn’t the hit some expected it to be, it kind of dropped off the radar. That really gave it carte blanche to go balls to wall and make a show for the people who were watching it, the people who were carrying it into second and third season renewals. This season’s proved that like no other, and really shows what risks the showrunners were willing to take with things. Thankfully they all paid off. I’m feeling a little better about the show’s move to Friday now than I was when I first heard about it, so hopefully its audience will move with it and it’ll be back for a fourth season.
Boardwalk Empire. AMC winning all those Emmys must have really pissed HBO off, because they’re coming back in a big way. It took ‘Boardwalk Empire’ about four episodes to find its footing, but after that it was strong all the way to the finish. It’s always good to see such a big show get things right, and that was before we saw exactly how big a freak Agent Van Alden was, and met Richard Harrow (who’s thankfully been promoted to a series regular in season two). What the show lacks in ‘Sopranos’ it makes up for in ‘Deadwood,’ which sucks me in every single time. Can we lay down some cash that season two will open with a montage of all the characters getting dressed in the morning?
30 Rock. Oh ’30 Rock,’ it’s so good to have you back. After a lackluster fourth season, the show’s really amped things up this year, delivering several episodes that are as good as anything they’ve done in the past. I mean, you’ve got Matt Damon! Paul Giamatti! Liz’s Julia Roberts laugh! John Effing Slattery! I cower before the brilliance of his performance. Now, if the show could just find more excuses to bring Jon Hamm back, all would be right with the world. Really, this is the show propping up NBC’s Thursday night lineup. ‘The Office’ has turned into the grandpa with Parkinson’s disease. Every once in a while it remembers how good it was, but it mostly thinks we’re its wife and yells at us for not having supper on the table when it gets home from work. ‘Outsourced’ is garbage and ‘Community’ is too busy smelling its own private parts to do much else. When the lineup grows by a hour come January, it’s gonna be ’30 Rock’ and ‘Parks and Rec,’ so get ready for it.
Justified. FX is really trying to roll with the big dogs as of late, at thanks to shows like ‘Justified,’ it’s paying off. The show had a mix of procedural and serialized storytelling, and I think that as the season progressed, it realized how much stronger those serialized elements were, and so followed them more as the season closed out. Timothy Olyphant is a great actor, and fans of ‘Deadwood’ know that this role was almost tailor-made for him. The back and forth between him and Walt Goggins is great, but honestly, I’d watch a show of Olyphant just ramming Dewey Crow’s face into steering wheels.
And there you have it. A pretty good year, all things considered. And next year we’ve got ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Luck,’ ‘Lights Out,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ and more ‘Parks and Rec’ to look forward to, so it’s going to be pretty crowded. So until then and as a always, excelsior true believers!
**’Community’ still wouldn’t be on it, because it still isn’t that good.