Andrew Osborne’s Best of 2010: Television

1. PARTY DOWN!

I’d heard media-savvy hepcats championing this Starz Original sitcom long before I finally figured out what the hell Starz was and how to find it on my teevee — and since I came to the party late, I also knew going in that the series had been cancelled after just two seasons.   But once I got hooked into the foul-mouthed wordplay of the show’s stellar ensemble (including deadpan everyman Adam Scott, wise-ass sex bomb Lizzy Caplan, doomed TV masterpiece veteran Martin “Freaks & Geeks” Starr, pre-Glee Jane Lynch, loveably hilarious Megan Mullally and national treasure Jennifer Coolidge), the knowledge of the show’s impending demise added an undertone of melancholy to a series that already dealt with the crushed egos and fragile dreams of misfit cater-waiters serving the L.A. elite.  A classic (though R-rated) sitcom on par with The Office, which — like the British version of The Office — never had a chance to break bad.  Speaking of which…

 2. BREAKING BAD

Forget the rambling, incoherent storytelling of Lost…this gripping tale of a schlubby schoolteacher turned deadly drug kingpin is how long-form serialized TV drama is supposed to be done.  Every episode — even the weird one where Walt and Jesse just hunted a fly for an hour — pushed the story forward with humor, pathos and sudden moments of chest-tightening suspense.  Or, as Bryan Cranston’s bad-ass protagonist said to a would-be assassin in this season’s satisfying, horrifying final episode:  “…yeah.”

 3.  MAD MEN

The 2010 finale wasn’t (and probably could never be) as satisfying as last year’s “Happy Christmas!” reboot.  And the characters’ downbeat downward spiraling in their new domestic and professional lives generally had less dramatic juice than the earlier implosions at Sterling-Cooper and within Don and Betty’s marriage.  But the steel cage throwdowns (and breakthroughs) between Don and Peggy and Peggy and Joan still made this a formidable cycle of episodes — plus bonus points for providing the perfect mantra for any difficult professional situation:  “That’s what the money’s for!”

 4. PROJECT RUNWAY

The fashion industry seems even more arbitrary and ridiculous than Hollywood and the music business combined, but the personalities and drama of this series’ return to New York resulted in some fascinating heroes (Mondo!), hissable villains (fuck you very much, Ivy!) and a whole lot of grey area in between (Michael C., Gretchen, and even Nina and Michael Kors).  Plus the wit and wisdom of Tim Gunn has pretty much transformed him into the Dalai Lama of reality TV.

 5. SURVIVOR:  HEROES VS. VILLAINS

Survivor may be a bit long in the tooth, but every time I’m about to write it off, another great edition comes along to restore my faith — and, even with WAY too much Li’l Russell and Gravedigger Jim, the all-star cast provided some great (and terrible) strategery, wisecracks and rooting interest (hello, Boston Rob, Courtney and hat-burning two-time champ Sandra).  Plus:  The Dragons.

 6. TRUE BLOOD

Yes, I know:  the show is freakin’ ridiculous.  The main character is a fairy, ferchrissakes, and nearly everyone else is a vampire, a witch, or a were-panther…not to mention most of the characters spend most of their time naked while trying to kill and/or love each other as histrionically as possible.  In other words, how could I not love it?

 7. MODERN FAMILY

The fact that this extended family sitcom is the most consistently funny network show (with one of the most likeable ensembles) on TV earns it a spot on this list.  The fact that the popular mainstream hit may help to foster increased acceptance of same-sex couples is merely a bonus (though it would be nice if they’d let Cam and Mitchell actually kiss more than once a season). 

8. BOARDWALK EMPIRE

It took a while to get up to speed, the storytelling can be a bit sluggish and Michael Shannon’s deranged federal agent is the flattest TV villain since M*A*S*H’s Frank Burns.  But the sheer ambition of the series and the frequent high notes (Chalky White’s chilling showdown with a Klansman, pretty much every scene with masked assassin Richard Harrow, etc.) bodes well for the second season. 

9. DAMAGES

The TV equivalent of a pulpy John Grisham page-turner, Damages somehow never became a buzz show with the nation’s water cooler intelligentsia.  But try renting it between seasons of your other favorite shows, if only for a dark, layered performance from Martin Short that’ll make you wish he played shady characters more often.

10. THE WALKING DEAD

I wasn’t sure if I had room for another ongoing serial in my crowded TV line-up, but then I remembered:  there’s no such thing as a bad zombie story!  Even in its cheesiest incarnations, there’s something primal and compelling about the walking dead genre that works for me every time, and AMC’s incredibly gory (if occasionally over-weepy) televised adaptation of The Walking Dead comic book is no exception.

Honorable Mention:  Nurse Jackie, The Soup, Chelsea Lately, The Amazing Race, Men of a Certain Age, Poker After Dark

Most Ambivalent Feelings About:  Jon Stewart in general and the Rally to Restore Sanity in particular.

Most Disappointing Show I Kept Watching Anyway:  David “The Wire” Simon’s Treme

Most Predictably Ridiculous and Completely Illogical Ending To A Ridiculous and Illogical Show That I Couldn’t Help Liking:  Lost

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