2010\'s Must See TV

Posted In:   From Issue 717   By: Mark Leffler

23rd December, 2010     0

When T.S. Eliot wrote his epic poem The Wasteland, could he have foreseen the rise of reality TV shows like The Real Housewives of New Jersey or The Kardashians?

Sure, the majority of TV shows are lame. We hold that truth to be self-evident.

Probably better to just ignore them than to rage against the flickering glow of the cathode rays bouncing off our retinas.

Like the poor, bad TV will always be with us.

However there is still much to love and even respect on TV. So here are some of our favorite shows from 2010:

The Walking Dead: A group of survivors of a catastrophe have to band together to survive, while coming under attack from outside forces beyond their understanding. The Walking Dead has a lot in common with the last show that really totally captivated me, LOST. An episode ends and you can't wait to see what happens next. A palpable sense of fear and suspense. Great writing and a terrific cast that makes for must-see TV.

Adapted from a successful comic book (ahem, excuse me, “graphic novel”) series of the same name, The Walking Dead premiered on AMC Halloween night, posting ratings that doubled those of Mad Men's season finale. Zombies have become, for lack of a better term, cool.

The comic's creator/writer, Robert Kirkman (also a series producer) has said that he loved zombie movies but always wondered what happened to the survivors after the credits rolled. How did they survive, could they survive, in a world filled with The Walking Dead whose numbers appear to be legion? The series focuses less on gore (although there is plenty of intense and bloody violence that makes it unsuitable for young children) and more on the relationships between the survivors.

LOST: I'll state up front that LOST was my favorite TV show for the past six years. And while I was sorta disappointed and sorta let down by the finale, no show in recent memory has reached so high and taken so many chances.

Romantic couples and triangles existed alongside characters named for scientists and philosophers and plot lines involving metaphysical speculation, alternate realities and time travel.

The duo leading LOST's creative team, Carleton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, led viewers into uncharted territory as exciting and mysterious as the island where the majority of the series was set. What began as a simple concept to make a TV show like the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away became a landmark TV series that fans will be talking about for years.

There had never been a show quite like it, and while the networks keep trying to make lightning strike twice, (Daybreak, Jericho, Heroes, V, The Event to name but a few), nothing has equaled its ratings, critical acclaim or rabid fan base.

One interesting side note: the creators of LOST made a website, The Fuselage, where fans could post questions and comments about each episode and submit questions to the actors and creative team. Another wiki format website, Lostpedia, created an encyclopedic resource for fans to consult. We will likely see more shows do this.

The Big Bang Theory: The true revenge of the nerds. TBBT has made it hip to be square and geeky. Created by Chuck Lorre, who is rapidly becoming the new Sherwood Schwartz (Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch, My Favorite Martian), TBBT might be the smartest comedy on TV. Science consultants hide “easter eggs” in scripts, such as putting famous scientific equations on blackboards in the background.

As with all really successful comedies, the show is impeccably cast. No doubt a sizable portion of the male viewers tune in to ogle Kaley Cuoco, who also appeared on the excellent Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. But the real breakout talent of the show is Jim Parsons, who won an Emmy for his wickedly funny portrayal of Sheldon, who displays many of the symptoms of the autism spectrum disorder Asperger's Syndrome.

The show has been bought for syndication, so beginning next fall it will be seen on FOX affiliates and on TBS.

Also, TBBT is the most popular comedy in Canada and it was briefly and illegally copied in Belarus with clones of all the major characters. The show was called The Theorists.

House and Lie to Me: Someone at FOX was smart enough to realize that their new crime procedural starring the brilliant Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) would make a good fit airing immediately after their Monday night ratings blockbuster House. House also happens to star one of the best British actors, Hugh Laurie. Although a huge portion of the House audience doesn't know he's a Brit, since his character seems quintessentially American with no trace of an accent.

The Daily Show and Colbert Report: Yes, it pushes a liberal/progressive agenda with its comedy and satire. Yes, Colbert is mocking shows like The O'Reilly Factor with its over the top flag waving, chest thumping faux patriotism. It's still the sharpest and funniest political humor on television. Many of the writing staff for the shows cut their teeth writing for the online parody newspaper The Onion.

Daily Show host Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert teamed up for The Rally to Restore Sanity/ The Rally to Keep Fear Alive on the National Mall in Washington D.C. October 30th, drawing over 200,000 people, about double the number that was estimated attending radio and cable stem winder Glenn Back's Restoring Honor rally. And there's nothing funny about that.

Editor’s Note:

Two shows are missing from Mark’s list that I would be remiss not including in this year-end wrap-up:

Mad Men:  The third season of AMC’s Emmy award winning series about the cast of characters populating the Sterling Cooper Draper advertising agency in the early 1960s was undoubtedly one of its most poignant.  Apart from the meticulous staging & costuming, the zeitgeist of the era is epitomized within the prevailing attitudes and seeming invincibility of the characters; with cracks starting to form in the fabric of the country, and the foundation of each character’s dreams starting to topple, perhaps under the weight of hubris, and a portent of darker days to come.

Hung:  The second season of HBO’s post-financial meltdown ‘comedy’ wasn’t as lifting as the first; but it still carries weight and sufficient irony to make this a compelling viewing experience. Shot entirely in Detroit, this tale of a struggling teacher beleaguered by a status-seeking ex-wife and mounting financial strains who decides to become a male gigolo (a ‘Happiness Consultant’) in order to make ends meet, demonstrates the lengths people will go to in order to survive; and questions the entire notion of family values in a nation where the middle class is constantly eroded in the name of ‘free trade’ and the rise of hierarchy in the new Gilded Age.

Honorable Mention: Breaking Bad, 30 Rock, The Office and Parks and Recreation, Burn Notice, Fringe, Austin City Limits, Saturday Night Live.

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