2010 has been a fantastic year for television. This year brought us a slew of great new programs and if we include the second halves of all the series that debuted in the fall of 2009 (which I am for these features), we have probably just experienced the best run of newbies since 2004. While we were just getting comfortable with great new series like Justified, Boardwalk Empire and Louie, we had to unfortunately say goodbye to the likes of Lost, 24 and Law & Order. NBC mishandled its attempts to correct its late night situation and continued to dig itself deeper into a primetime hole. Meanwhile, the ever-popular True Blood and a stable of great new series helped HBO regain its early-aughts swagger. 2010 gave us a reborn Coco, awesome Survivor tribal councils, the Rally To Restore Sanity, “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” the World Cup and even more awesome episodes of Jersey Shore. LeBron made his decision, CNN brought David Blaine on as an analyst during the Chilean Miner Saga, Dancing With The Stars became about politics and President Obama made appearances on more non-news programs than I can even count. Broadcast ratings might be down, but 2010 yet again proved that “television” does not always happen on the big screens in our living rooms. It’s everywhere, it’s everything and this is my celebration of it.
Throughout the next week or so, I’ll be going through all sorts of random categories and giving out fake awards for the best, worst and all that was in between for television in 2010.
Yesterday, we looked at the worst new series of the year. Today, I follow that up with the best new series of the year. Makes sense. Yay logic.
This is actually an easier list to make than I thought it would be, as so many of the great “new” series in 2010 actually debuted in 2009 and just ramped up the awesome in the second half of their first seasons and into their second seasons. Thus, those series (i.e. Modern Family, Glee, Community) will not be included in this list. It’s been a rough 2010 for the broadcast networks and this mini-list hammers that point home pretty obviously. All five of my favorite new series are on cable and I’d imagine that most people would have a similar sort of configuration.
5. Rubicon (AMC): Rubicon is a weird case and I’ve had trouble trying to figure out what to do with it in all my pre-planning for these features. The beginning and end chapters are messy and disappointing, but there is a stretch of about seven episodes there in the middle that are just so damn good. The glacier-like pacing was a welcome and slightly unique feature in today’s heavily serialized cable dramas. The characters were so likable and until that finale, things seemed to be building in an intelligent and complex way that made the series an obvious “anti-24” as so many called it. I am not as sad to see it go after a really mediocre end to the first season, but I’ve been able to swallow the bad taste from that episode enough that I can still remember the series fondly.
4. Louie (FX): Kind of like Rubicon, only for different reasons. I also had trouble finding where to put Louie on these various lists. I am smart enough to realize that Louie is one of the most innovative comedies, nay, series, to come along in a while. It’s surprisingly complex, obviously funny and unexpectedly full of heart and a lot of the time, I enjoyed the first season. I don’t think I “like” Louie as much as I “respect” it as an interesting approach to comedy, production, etc., and I think that’s okay. I just found out that all the episodes are on Hulu, so I’m going to see if I warm to them the second time around, but even if I don’t, that doesn’t mean Louie isn’t one hell of a new series. Definitely the best new comedy of 2010.
3. Boardwalk Empire (HBO): It took me a long time to warm up to Boardwalk Empire. I really liked the pilot, but like a lot of people, found that there were too many plots, many of them detached and slightly uninteresting to really grasp hold of what Empire was going to be as a series. Because of that, my viewing of the series often started and stopped throughout this fall, where I would let four or five of them back-up on the queue, then watch two, then let a few more back up, then watch a few more. I just never had any motivation to watch it, and when that happens, there’s usually a reason. With Boardwalk, I’m not really sure if there is a concrete reason, and by the time I made it to the last handful of episodes, it didn’t really matter. The season took the long away around to telling its stories, but because of that, when the payoffs came, they had even more oomph behind them. Additionally, season one felt like it was laying a lot of groundwork for what should be one hell of a series moving forward. Now that we are more familiar with these characters and this setting, I think subsequent seasons won’t take as long to get moving. That’s probably one of the most obvious things I have ever said.
2. Justified (FX): This FX drama snuck up on me when I started working on my episodes list and I realized that there were a good half-dozen Justified efforts that I just adored. It’s not that I didn’t know I really loved the series, it’s just been a while. A lot of things have happened since May when Justified ended and I know that’s not an excuse, but I’m kind of using it as one. In any event, apart from the fantastic performances, I particularly enjoyed how Justified really digs in to its sense of place. The part of Kentucky the series takes place in already feels like a fully-formed setting, jam-packed with dirtbags, anti-heroes and a whole lot of corruption. The series also nails the sense of “stuck-ness” Raylan feels once he’s back in Kentucky by continuously bringing in his family, ex-wife and all sorts of other figures from his past that just repeatedly remind him of why he totally hates the place to begin with — and now he can’t really go anywhere. Also, Timothy Olyphant + cowboy hat = Mortal-lock win. We all know this.
1. Terriers (FX): Speaking of things we all know! It’s wildly unfortunate that the best new series of 2010 and one of the better drama series to come along in a few years is already canceled, but as I wrote right before the Terriers finale, I’m actually okay with it ending after the initial 13-episode run. Yes, it wasn’t really a candidate for the dreaded sophomore slump because it wasn’t weighed down by “big” questions or mythology or anything like that, but sometimes, it’s just alright for us to see a great story begin and end in a fairly short amount of time. In any event, Terriers was appealing from the get-go, but quickly turned in to one of the most enjoyable viewing experiences of the year. Much like Justified, this series had a great sense of place in its portrayal of Ocean Beach. It’s a location I have never actually been to, but I feel like I have after watching Hank Dolworth and Britt Pollack do their unlicensed PI thing up and down its beautiful, yet complicated streets. Hank and Britt were two of the most realistic, complicated and enjoyable characters we’ve seen in a very long time and the rest of the cast of characters weren’t too shabby either. From great standalone stories to finely-tuned and surprising ongoing narratives, Terriers literally offered it all to us. Unfortunately, it is no longer with us, but it was one heck of a ride for 13 weeks.
Honorable mentions: Raising Hope, Parenthood, Hawaii Five-0, The Walking Dead