Year in Review in Television: 2010

There are just a few disadvantages of being a television critic, one of which is that you have to watch everything…at least once. While it means that you are exposed to a number of duds throughout the year, watching everything puts you in a position to be able to comment intelligently (or stupidly if you happen to often disagree with your local tv reporter).

I am not a television critic. I don’t get to see every show. I have to make compromising choices in what earns those coveted but preciously few season pass spots on my DVR.

Which means its time to present to you my no doubt incomplete list of the top television of 2010, as always in no particular order.

30 for 30 – Into the Wind – Most Americans I would bet are unfamiliar with the story of Terry Fox, the 22-year-old Canadian who attempted to run across the country, hindered by his right leg, amputated just below the hip. I know I was. But for Canadians, Terry Fox, inhabits the spot reserved for folk heroes, as they celebrate his Marathon of Hope each year fittingly with a run.  Into the Wind tells the story of Terry Fox mostly through interviews and archival footage. Starting in St. John’s and ultimately cutting his run short  outside of Thunder Bay due to the return of his cancer, the documentary exposes the raw power of the Terry Fox’s race across Canada and ultimately the race against his own mortality, a race that Terry Fox lost.

Parks and Recreation – Comedies need time to find their footing and voice; Parks and Recreation is no exception to that rule.  Debuting with an abridged six episode first season, the show was roundly criticized. With its return the next season however, the show found its footing, transforming Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope from a caricature into the hard-working, optimistic, yet naive bureaucrat who just wants improve her town of Pawnee and move up in the city government. Poehler is surrounded by one of the best ensemble casts on television including Nick Offerman as her boss, Ron Swanson who has quickly established himself as one of the cult heroes of modern television. A late season edition of Adam Scott has propelled the show into becoming one if not the funniest yet heartwarming comedies on television today.

24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic – Hockey has often been called the sport that you simply have to see in person to capture and understand its very essence. Finally hockey has received the television treatment that it deserves, overcoming the barriers of not being able to witness the sport in person.  Part of the larger 24/7 series on HBO, Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic drops in on the two teams as they prepare for their New Year’s Day battle out on the ice at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.  The show has succeeded in allowing the audience to get to know the individuals that make up both organizations while at the same time underscoring the camaraderie that exists among these people that makes them part of a team.  And it is this unity that makes hockey the sport that it is.

Fringe – When Fringe began two and a half seasons ago, the show seemed content to follow the model of mainstream science fiction on television mapped out many years ago by another fellow FOX hourlong, the X-Files. Featuring mostly “monster-of-the-week” episodes while doling out small nuggets of its mythology in an episode here and there, Fringe broke out of its derivative mold at the beginning of 2010 to become something new. Fringe is now focused on it’s own story, the interaction of two mirror universes and the dire consequences that result from their meeting. Wonderfully written  and acted this dual nature of the show allowed its cast to show off multiple facets of the same person, slightly askew particularly John Noble and Anna Torv. In a couple of weeks Fringe will be moving to the vast wasteland where scripted television goes to die…Friday. Hopefully we can enjoy the final hills of this roller coaster ride even if the station house is just around the next corner.

Louie – After a shortlived HBO sitcom Lucky Louie failed to garner a second season, Louis C.K. pitched a wholly different show to FX featuring a much looser format consisting of small short films intertwined with segments of his standup comedy. Together these two elements brought one of the more compelling half hours of television of 2010. Louie never tries to be laugh out loud funny. Instead it goes for earnestness in its most raw form as it attempts to face head on all of the good and bad about us.

Archer – Archer is best described in one paragraph brought to us by television critic Alan Sepinwall: “What if the world’s most handsome, efficient secret agent (played by H. Jon Benjamin) was also a petulant, narcissistic little mama’s boy? What if the spy agency where he worked was a hotbed of office romances, HR complaints, budget reviews and the other weird drudgery we experience at our own far more mundane workplaces? What if the whole story was told as a raunchy, gut-bustingly funny animated comedy? Well, then you’d be in what Archer himself would call danger zone.” Archer brings little new to animated comedy but it does not need to because if you do something extremely well then there is little need to reinvent the wheel. Featuring one of the best voice casts on television led by the aforementioned Benjamin along with Jessica Walters, Aisha Tyler, Judy Greer, and Chris Parnell, Archer escaped it’s low rated first season with a thirteen episode pickup and returns this January.

Community – Community is in fact two different types of show. One is big, bold, and brash, plot-driven,  and filled with pop culture references galore. The other is a smaller, more character driven, and more emotional. Season one episodes “Contemporary American Poultry” and “Modern Warfare” are the key examples of this first show, and frankly some of the best episodes of television this year on any channel, in any genre, broadcast or cable. This season’s episodes “Mixology Certification” and the tremendous bottle episode “Cooperative Calligraphy” highlight the later. Featuring the story of disbarred lawyer Jeff Winger and his diverse Spanish study group as they wind their way through Greendale Community College, Community in its often weird and wacky way shows us the difficulties that we face as we aspire to achieve.

Rubicon – And finally we get to the namesake of our blog, a small show lasting one season that has frankly been lost among its bigger siblings: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Walking Dead on AMC. Rubicon, starring James Badge Dale in the second of two career defining roles on television in 2010 (the other being HBO’s World War II opus, The Pacific), is the story of an intelligence analyst and his fellow coworkers as they navigate the shadowy underbelly of a conspiracy perpetrated by the very man that sits atop API, their employer. The show lost its creator and show runner after the pilot due to disagreements with the network who then brought on board Henry Bromell to try and salvage the ship. And while Rubicon’s cancelation would seem to indicate that the network ultimately failed in that quest, the thirteen episodes of the series that did arrive to television brought the viewer one of the more compelling shows on television in a long time. A commanding yet nuanced performance by Badge Dale as Will Travers was accompanied by that of Arliss Howard as Kale Ingram playing Will’s cryptic and shades of gray boss and Michael Cristofer as Truxton Spangler, Rubicon provided a chest-tightening atmosphere of suspense missing from television and film in years.

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