10) Happy Endings
As is often reported from every TV website and outlet known to man, there have been many sitcoms about six friends hanging out this year. It seemed to be everyone's agenda to find the new Friends, and most of them were pretty bad, some were sort of OK and others were sort of awful. But I think this one was the best, a nice little underdog of a show that began airing in a death-slot about a month ago, yet somehow found an audience anyway and got renewed in spite of all odds. This makes me happy because while its hardly a ground-breaking show, it's winning and consistently funny, which is all it needs to be. Yes, I know it has got Elisha Cuthbert in it, but it manages to be a good show anyway. So there.
9) The Walking Dead
I don't care what anyone says about this, The first season of The Walking Dead was very shaggy indeed, containing at least two downright awful episodes and almost its entire cast is made out of wooden performances and two-dimensional characters. The only actors who gave good performance were either guest stars (Lennie James and Noah Emmerich) or glorified extras (Andrew Rothenberg's performance as Jim was much subtler and intelligent then any of the leads, and the episode where he played the biggest part, 'Wildfire' was the shows best) Yet there was enough here to convince me of a much stronger season two, the seeds are there and all way need is one maybe two engaging characters to make this really work as the great show it wants to be. In the meantime, all you can call it is OK to good.
8) Raising Hope
Another sitcom that caught me a bit by surprise, mostly because Raising Hope is working off a terrible premise, but as the year went on it became apparent that there were many talented people in this cast with great acclimation for being funny, and that Garrett Dillahunt is a secret comic genius. Putting the usually intense, frightening Dillahunt in a wacky sitcom by the creator of My Name is Earl was certainly risk, but its one that paid off, with him giving one of the most consistently hilarious performances of the year. Similarly Shannon Woodward and Martha Plimpton lend great support and slightly vanilla lead Lucas Neff grew into his role as the season progressed. Its a consistently funny and unique feeling show, that's even occasionally clever.
7) The Killing
I think this would have been higher a couple of weeks ago, but as the first season of The Killing has progressed I've soured on it somewhat, with its slightly bare bones and cliched approach to both characterization and plot development, but it still has enough about it that works, mostly the fantastic lead performance from Mirelle Enos, a terrificly layered and subtle one that is probably high in the running for best on television right now. Joel Kinnaman lends some interesting moments to is partner character, but elsewhere things are kind of progressing on a surface layer, with very little dimension or depth. Billy Campbell's politician character is probably the worst example of this, just an endlessly and boringly stoic one note.
6) Lights Out
I actually wasn't all that excited for this, mostly because it looked like Rocky the TV show, regardless of whether it was on FX or not. Being the story of a once disgraced boxer getting one last shot against his rival and all, but it was a fantastically executed show in the end, featuring many great performances from its regular cast and beyond, with the likes of Eamonn Walker and David Morse, and a great central performance by Holt McCallany, who most will recognize as the 'his name was Robert Paulsen' guy in Fight Club. He shows some unexpected range and gravitas in his work here. Cancelled though, which sucks.
5) Game Of Thrones
The timing of this list is a little unfair to Game Of Thrones, what with only being four episodes in and all, but what can you do. As it stands its a promising show with a lot of things that are working and a few that are not, If its not the most spectacularly looking show in the history of TV then I'm not watching some great TV, and a number of its cast are giving some great performances, particularly Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey who recovers from her somewhat flat performance as Sarah Connor with some intelligently villainous bounce, and Sean Bean makes for a great anchor. Some characters work less well, such as Harry Lloyd's ridiculously evil blonde prince and the many interchangeable lessers in the cast, but its a promising show to be sure, and I expect to eat my distrustful words by the end of this season.
This under-seen and under-appreciated conspiracy thriller was in many ways 24 for smart people, but that's certainly reductive. In the end it was uncompromisable is in its intelligence and pace, and I imagine that's why it turned a lot of people tuned out, almost understandably. At first it seems fair to be a little bored by it, but once you cotton on to its wave-length it quickly became pretty awesome, if admittedly slow moving. There's a chance you'll watch this and find it incredibly boring, and there's a chance you'll watch it and find a tremendously engaging show. For me it was the latter. For most people it must have been the former because it too is cancelled.
The final member of the trio of great, cancelled shows. While I do think that many critics and occupants of the internet liked this show more then I did, I still saw a great, entertaining show with some fantastic lead performances from Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James. There were a few things that were cable show rote, like the whole ex-wife and new husband thing which I always frickin' hate because everyone always does it in the same exact, allegory for petty revenge type way. But for the most part, a pretty stellar piece of television making.
2) Boardwalk Empire
Here's the thing, by all accounts Boardwalk Empire is the best at a number of things. It's cast is nothing short of phenomenal, it looks amazing, there are individual scenes and moments that just blow your mind to hell. But. And its a big but, its sort of a badly executed TV show simply because it pays no mind to the episodic structure of TV. I love serialized television, but a great TV show does both tell a great serialized story and create distinct episodic TV, and for all the spectacular production values of Boardwalk, because an episode doesn't have its own story it can be frustrating to watch. Its a shame, because if it had paid this more mind, this would have been amongst the best television ever, just for the performance of Michael Shannon alone.
If second place looks like it cost about 5o million an episode, first place looks like each episode is put together on spare change, and yet its still a uniquely excellent experience. Starting of feeling like its just going to be Curb Your Enthusiasm with Louie C.K, which would have been fine, but instead became one of the most experimental, interesting comedies in living memory. Not afraid to be serious or profound. Its just awesome, for lack of a better word, and I can imagine the second season only being better.