TV Surveillance’s Best of 2010: The Best (and Worst) of the Rest

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.

It’s time for the biggest (and probably last) Best of 2010 feature: The Best Series list. Unlike my Top Episodes list, this batch of 25 series is ranked in order from top to bottom. I spent a lot of time figuring out where each series went placement-wise and particularly struggled with my last few series. But just like my episodes list, there are a few things to know about the logic and rationale behind this list. First of all, as always it’s nice to remember that I don’t watch everything. So if you’re angry that there is no Good WifeDoctor WhoSherlockor Men of a Certain Age on here, it’s because I haven’t gotten around to watching them yet. And secondly, if you’re a regular reader you know this, but just in case you’re not: I try to stay in-step with the biggest and critically well-respected series on television, but I also watch and respect series that not a lot of folks in the overarching critical community discuss. That’s fine, but just know that’s why a few series make this list.

Today is most certainly the end of all my Best of 2010 nonsense and I just wanted to stop and say thanks to all of you who have been retweeting it on Twitter, liking it on Facebook and in general, just reading it. It’s been a pleasure to do this feature and also run this little corner of the internet for the past seven months and I am overwhelmed with the support I’ve gotten from people from the beginning. So yeah, THANK YOU.

Anyway, today brings us to all the series that couldn’t quite cut it into the top 25, but I still enjoyed or at least have something to say about. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on each series because honestly, I’m short on time today and these series didn’t make the main list for a reason so they don’t necessarily deserve the same amount of detailed descriptions. Instead, I’m going to put various series in fun little categories of distinction. That should be cool, right?

The series that I am currently trying to catch up on that would absolutely be on this list had I finished my viewing before this week is The Good Wife (CBS): I’m almost through the first season of The Good Wife now and unsurprisingly, it’s awesome. This is what everyone has been telling me. I never thought different, just didn’t have the time. If I would have finished earlier, it probably would have been in my top 20 based on the first season alone and I’ve heard good things about the second as well, so yay!

The various series that might have been on this list had I not been a full-time undergrad/graduate student in 2010 who is also in a long-term relationship and enjoys watching a lot of sports and thus would have even more time for television are Bored To Death (HBO), Men of a Certain Age (TNT), Doctor Who (BBC), Nikita (CW), Sherlock (BBC), The League (FX), It’s Always Sunny (FX), Dollhouse (FOX), Eastbound and Down (HBO) and Damages (FX): I’ve seen individual episodes of all of these series’ 2010 outputs except for Sherlock and I really enjoyed them. But at a certain point, I just have to stop watching television and live my life out there in the real world and so they’ll be on an Amazon wish-list or a Netflix queue at a certain point. And that’s not to knock the people who did find time for all these series, I just could not, but didn’t want to ignore them in my considerations.

The departing series that I feel obliged to mention because it’s historically relevant and was previously awesome even though it was mostly mediocre and sometimes flat-out awful in 2010 is 24 (FOX): I was always a passing fan of 24 during the early, “good” years, but at that point I was in high school and thought I didn’t have time for that kind of serial commitment outside of Lost. Thankfully I got up in  December of 2006, just in time for the dreadful season six, actually pretty good season seven and then the just “meh” season eight. I really missed the boat on 24 in terms of live viewing. In any event, it’s hard to knock a series that was so innovative and groundbreaking, but unfortunately, season eight of the series was just boring and 24 should never be boring. There were definitely some good episodes and even better individual moments, but one of the biggest and best series of the 21st century limped to the finish line and now it sounds like the movie might not even happen. THEY SHOULD HAVE JUST KILLED JACK AND MOVED ON.

The two HBO “comedies” I found myself enjoying in 2010 even though one of them has always been terrible and the other is more or less its hipster, east coast replacement are Entourage and How To Make It In America: Listen, I was a late teens male a few years ago, so obviously I once thought Entourage was cool and good. I now know that was unbelievably stupid and the series has been awful for a good five years. However, this season was at least interesting with its crazy Vince arc that I couldn’t help but keep watching. It’s probably the story the series should have told in like season three instead of going down that terrible Medellin route. On the flip side, How To Make It In America was quickly labeled as I labeled it: The hipster, east coast version of Entourage. Fortunately, it became something slightly more than that during the second half of its first season thanks to a few rock-solid performances (more than you can say for Entourage) and a nice little arc. It’s not great television, but it’s inoffensive and seems to have a sense of direction, which is what Entourage lacked for years.

The series that I generally despised but couldn’t stop watching until I finally did around episode 20 and now makes me wish it was still on if that meant no Event is FlashForward (ABC): FlashForward was a terrible series, but it was better in 2010 than it was in 2009. That’s an accomplishment. But despite the fact that I couldn’t really care for the characters on ABC’s 892nd attempt to riff on Lost, I would take a bullet for anyone on FlashForward compared to how little I care about The Event. Can we just stop with the hyper-serialized global conspiracy series now?

The two major sporting events that reminded me why I love sports so much this year are The World Cup and the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament: I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything there is to know about soccer and I’m fully okay with that fact. The people who have been trying to tell us that soccer was the next big thing in America since 1987 can stick it and call me a dumb American all they want. ANYWAY, despite my inherent lack of knowledge of soccer, I really got into the World Cup this year and it was a beautiful experience. You don’t have to know everything about something to enjoy it and there was no more exhilarating sports moment in 2010 than Landon Donovan’s goal in the extra time. Of course, because I was born and raised in Indiana, I obviously eat and breathe basketball so Butler’s majestic run to the national title game this past March was a much more personally satisfying experience. Though I didn’t go to Butler (almost did!), I’ve been a major fan of their basketball program for 10 years and even though they couldn’t pull out the victory against Duke in the end, it was still one hell of a run that I will never forget.

The two major sporting “events” that reminded me why I hate modern sports and sports journalism so much this year are The Decision and anything to do with Brett Favre and in particular, his penis: Sigh. Vomit. LeBron killed his image, possibly forever, in just one hour and Brett Favre continued to sully his with constant wavering and of course, with his glorious sexts. Thanks, King and Gunslinger, you made me personally avoid ESPN’s TV broadcasts for at least two months in total this year.

The best documentary series of the year is obviously 30 For 30 (ESPN): The World Wide Leader might have continued to embarrass itself with its news reporting, but the glorious documentary series 30 For 30 helped its image a whole lot throughout 2010 with a number of great documentaries. 30 For 30 is the best thing to happen to sports storytelling in a long time and I can’t wait for both the second half of them to come out on DVD and for ESPN, Bill Simmons, Connor Schell and the rest of the team to continue bringing us great sports docs.

The other few reality/unscripted series I enjoyed outside of HGTV’s Design Star are Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (CBS), Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (ABC), Say Yes to The Dress (TLC), Cake Boss (TLC), Jersey Shore (MTV), Teen Mom (MTV) and What Not To Wear (TLC): Don’t judge me.

The cable network I watched the most this year is HGTV: I said this in my ode to Design Star, but my girlfriend and I just adore HGTV. It’s a great thing to watch if you’re in your early 20s and thinking about “real life stuff” like home buying, renovations and more. I will literally watch any one of the network’s programs, at any time of the day and be fully satisfied. The best ones, however, are: House Hunters, Income Property and The Antonio Treatment. Swoon.

The other program I watched on a weekly basis but certainly never wrote about because this isn’t really the space for it is WWE’s Raw (USA): Listen, I’ve been a wrestling fan for nearly all of my life and I don’t think that will ever change. I’ve never been to a live event, I’ve never put a friend through a table or anything, but professional wrestling is criminally underrated for its storytelling prowess. It’s not high art by any means, but the struggles of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars when they came to guest host Raw proves how difficult it really is to perform live in front of 20,000 people.

The broadcast late night show I found myself caring about the most by the time 2010 ended is Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (NBC): Jimmy’s still rough as an interviewer, but no one really cares about that stuff anyway. These days, late night shows have to have great bits, running gags and YouTube-worthy setpieces for the next morning. No one else had more than Jimmy in 2010.

The cable late night show I found myself NOT caring about by the time 2010 ended is Conan (TBS): I love Coco, I really do. But thus far, his new TBS program hasn’t been anything different and that’s just unfortunate. This guy has all the support in the world to just try some crazy, random stuff and he hasn’t really done that. I have no problem dropping in on Conan a few times a week, but there is little to no reason why he can’t be the guy from the tour or the last two weeks at NBC on a general basis.

The most disappointing television event of 2010 is The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear (Comedy Central): Before all the people who went there attack me again, I understand that it wasn’t “meant to be televised,” and it was “a totally different experience” for those of you who actually went to D.C. I get it. But you know what? It was on television and thus I’m allowed to judge it however I want in reference to its performance or watchability as a television event and good lord was The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear boring until the last 45 minutes. It was excruciating.

The various broadcast procedurals I always find myself watching when I’m with my parents and can’t really complain about even though I’d never actually watch them regularly (I don’t think) are NCIS and Blue Bloods: A couple good ones from CBS. I can’t hate. The actors are solid, they have good chemistry and the cases/crimes are interesting enough to sustain an hour.

The five series that would have been numbers 26-30 had I extended my top 25 to a top 30 are, in order, Warehouse 13 (Syfy), How I Met Your Mother (CBS), Dexter (Showtime), Psych (USA) and Lone Star (FOX): A few disappointments that would have been higher in previous years, a few straight-up fun hourlongs that don’t get enough credit and one series that was cancelled oh too quickly.

The five series that would have been numbers 31-35 had I extended my top 25 to a top 35 are, in order, Sons of Anarchy (FX), Smallville (The CW), Southland (TNT), The Walking Dead (AMC) and The Office (NBC): All series that enjoyed when I watched them, but couldn’t actually say they had “fantastic” 2010s in any way.

The five series that would have been numbers 36-40 had I extended my top 25 to a top 40 are, in order, House (FOX), Lie to Me (FOX), Burn Notice (USA), True Blood (HBO) and The Good Guys (FOX): Apparently, FOX had a lot of mediocre series this year that I still watched.

The various other series that I watched, kind of liked, but wouldn’t really go on any list are: V (ABC) and Human Target (FOX): I watch too much television.

Okay folks, I think that’s enough, don’t you? Again, I hope you’ve enjoyed all the coverage. I’ll probably be taking a few days off for the new year, but I’ll be back with some 2011 preview-ness pretty soon. Happy New Year!



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