Is it the funniest show on TV? Most weeks, yes. (But it gets some serious competition from #3 at times.) But it’s also a rich, warm, smart, sophisticated, superbly acted, sharply written show. That’s why it’s number one. Unlike Modern Family, which throws some sentimental goop onto the ends of its shows in the least compelling manner possible, Community has built a cast of characters who genuine like each other and who we can care about, so when it goes for sentimental it succeeds beautifully. It seems the greatest divide among the passionate fans of the show is just which episode is the greatest, which says a lot about how many truly excellent episodes of television it has already given us. Funny, smart, sexy – will you marry me, Community? (I’ve previously written about Community here.)
Oh, Terriers, how we loved you so. You brought us so much humor, so much intrigue, so much Donal Logue. You will go down as one of the all time great one season wonders. You reminded us that great characters can be funny and tragic, and that the best stories are sometimes the least conclusive. We praised you in life, let us praise you in death. And for those of you have yet to experience the charms of Terriers, let me tell you that it even with some unresolved stories, it is well worth your time to watch all 13 episodes.
I’m pretty sure I could sit and watch Leslie Knope recount Friends episodes for hours on end. Sadly, we only got about 90 seconds of that in “Telethon,” one of the many hilarious episodes from the show’s second season. Happily, P&R has created one of the strongest ensembles on television, who take their already solid scripts and find ways to ground them in the absurdities of every day life. (I’ve previously written about Parks and Recreation here.)
I’m going to pause here because I think there’s a significant drop-off at this point. Basically, from here on out any of these shows can be randomly substituted with something from the Honorable Mention list and it wouldn’t make much difference, and the order is just how I felt at the moment and doesn’t even reflect my own opinion most of the time. So above this line: classic, awesome, perfect, other superlatives. Below this line: all solid, and the list just reflects the arbitrary restriction to Top 10.
4. Sunday Night Football
In an age of terrible sports broadcasting, Sunday Night Football rises above its rivals by its beautiful competence. Sports may be the last great must-watch-live television of the twenty-first century, but there’s no inevitability to that, particularly if the quality continues to slide. So, kudos, NBC, for putting together a solid team of smart folks who celebrate, explain, and critique what is happening on the field, and for some pretty smart choices about which games to show. You’ve surpassed the more storied Monday Night Football in quality and interest.
5. Better Off Ted
Phil and Lemm were two characters sent from the comedy gods to entertain us mere mortals. Yet Portia de Rossi somehow stole every seen she was in, even with these two comic goldmines. I hesitate to call this the best satire of recent years only because when 30 Rock decides to go after NBC, it reaches the same heights.
6. Friday Night Lights
Still the best portrayal of family, small town life, local politics, and high school on TV. To say that Connie Britton and Kyle Chandlers are the best dramatic actors on TV is only to say that you’ve watched the show.
Last spring, Fringe transition from solid monster-of-the-week goofs to dense mythology and, amazingly, became better for it. This fall started slow, but it has slowly amped up the drama.
8. Mad Men
Perhaps the most cinematic show on television (and not always in a good way), Mad Men turned in another solid season of drama with only the sparest sprinkling of levity. As Don Draper becomes less and less interesting, the pleasure of watching has shifted to Betty, Roger, Joan, and the rest.
9. The Middle
A take on the family sitcom so old-fashioned, I sometimes forget it’s a single-cam show. Like a comfortable sweater that you are pleased to take out of the closet when the seasons change, The Middle is there to remind you that not all sitcoms have to reinvent the form, satirize their corporate owner, or embrace the mockumentary style. Sometimes doing old things well is good enough.
10. At the Movies
With hosts A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips, At the Movies was again a fun-to-watch show where movies were respected, loved, and occasionally deflated in a tone that was neither arrogant or pandering. With the throw-back graphics and cheesy theme music and lack of shouting and syndication model, the show was a television dinosaur, but a great one.
Honorable Mention: 30 Rock, Castle, Dollhouse, Louie, Men of a Certain Age, NFL Matchup, Party Down, Raising Hope, Sherlock, Work of Art
Not Eligible (Because I Haven’t Seen the Relevant Season): Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Good Wife, Justified, Lost, Rubicon, Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, the HBO shows (Big Love, Boardwalk Empire, Bored to Death, Treme)
Special Award for High Highs and Low Lows: Glee