No pretense. No fucking around. It’s the top ten TV shows of the year, as decreed by two guys who watch a whole lot of television. Let’s do this.
David Simon Cowell’s Top TV Shows of the Year
Top 5 Comedies (in no particular order):
Community – Clearly the gold standard of sitcoms these days. It isn’t just the great ensemble or the consistently sharp writing. Community is the only network television show that looks for ways to subvert the normal conventions on a weekly basis. This season has featured an animated show, a show set in only one room, and several top-notch movie parodies. You get the feeling that the creative team isn’t just thinking about jokes, but how to change the form itself.
Party Down – A new twist on the workplace comedy, this Starz original show set each episode at a different catering job. Despite the time gaps, they were able to give each character a fully formed identity. This cancelled show will be missed.
Louie – The most laugh-out-loud funny show of the year. Sure, some of the episodes were little more than a couple of sketches thrown together, but Louie C.K. is so on his game that it doesn’t matter. And he’s fearless when it comes to subject matter (i.e. when the main character tells his mom that he wishes there was another 9/11 at that moment so he’d have to hang up the phone and go watch it on TV).
The League – An up-and-down season for sure… the premiere was awful and a couple of other episodes were sub-par at best. But it’s still the best approximation of 30-something male American life in the 2000’s I’ve ever seen.
Parks and Recreation – Was ambivalent at best about the first season, but this show found its footing in its second year. Can’t believe it was delayed for the insipid Outsourced.
Top 5 Dramas (in no particular order:
Lost – May not have been its strongest season, but was without a doubt the show I spent the most time thinking and talking about. To be able to get so many people excited about a finale in this fragmented age is quite a feat… plus the effort paid off in the end.
Mad Men – Also not its best season, but rebounded from a shaky start to draw me back in. Not sure how much gas this show has left (it’s already four seasons in), but is fun viewing every week at worst.
30 For 30 – Between The Book of Basketball and shepherding this series, Bill Simmons had a pretty solid year. This series features a different director telling a story they’re passionate about. There were very few misses, and the best (The Two Escobars, Run Ricky Run, Once Brothers) are among the best sports documentaries ever.
Boardwalk Empire – Around mid-season, this show seemed like it was heading for disaster. But once they brought the Michael Pitt character back from Chicago, it started to get consistently interesting. The way they handle historical characters is almost always interesting, and most of the actors nail their roles (unfortunately, the exception is Steve Buscemi in the lead).
Teach: Tony Danza – I never knew that I could both care and learn so much at the same time (OK, maybe the Golden Era of Television is over).
The Dilemma’s Top TV Shows of the Year
10. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Just keeps chugging along, occasionally turning out all-time great episodes, like the recent season finale featuring Dee giving birth, and the Ryan Howard/Chase Utley guest spots the week before.
9. Justified – Yawn. Another really good show on FX. Timothy Olyphant found the role he was born to play, and Elmore Leonard actually translates pretty well to basic cable.
8. Boardwalk Empire – This show had a lot to live up to. It was going to save HBO. It was going to be the new Sopranos. It didn’t, and it’s not, but it’s still pretty damn good for what it is. Too much of the first season seemed like set-up, with not enough payoff, but there are enough interesting actors and characters to enjoy the ride anyway.
7. 30 Rock – Rejuvenated, almost reborn, 30 Rock re-focused the action around Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy — the way it should have always been. For a season or two there, Tina Fey and the writers forgot that you need recognizable characters to center the countless jokes around, or else they start to fall flat.
6. Lost – The Sideways World didn’t work. A lot about this season didn’t work. But the emotional connection between viewers and characters never wavered. And I still miss it.
5. Friday Night Lights – The little show that could. Thanks to DirecTV, FNL was saved from the guillotine and cranked out a season only surpassed in quality by its debut run. New characters were integrated well, for the most part, but the old favorites like Coach and Mrs. Taylor still did the heavy lifting. I’m unsure whether I’d be happiest if Eric Taylor were my football coach, my father or my best friend.
4. Parks & Recreation – It’s unfair that NBC benched P&R this fall, allowing Community to skip past it on lists like this. Because the second season of P&R was one of the greatest improvements from one season to another we’ve ever seen in a sitcom. Amy Poehler’s character became recognizable human, escaping the shadow of Michael Scott. And Ron Swanson grew into one of the great supporting characters on TV today.
3. Terriers – Immediately takes its place as one of the great one-and-done shows in history. Terriers was a grower, as it took a few episodes for the unique setting, atmosphere and rhythm to take hold. Unfortunately, by then it was too late. But this show had it all: great chemistry between the two leads, dark comedy and a lingering sense of hopelessness. That’s having it all? Yep.
2. Community – The best show currently on network television. That award might not hold the bragging rights that it used to, but Community has improved on an excellent debut season with an ever better sophomore effort. As soon the show managed to get away from the Jeff-Britta will-they-or-won’t-they, it freed them to explore the dark sides of all their characters and move forward with a lot of creative freedom.
1. Mad Men – We’ve written at length about Mad Men before, but Matthew Weiner’s show has remained consistently excellent over four seasons, while still evolving and taking some significant chances. “The Suitcase” was the best episode the show has ever done, as the writers managed to successfully avoid the Curse of Season Four.
Ed. Note: It’s disconcerting how much agreement there is between the two of us here.