The first half of Justified’s debut season was made up of mostly stand alone episodes; the quality of which varied greatly. However, around the halfway mark of the season, Graham Yost and company began to unfurl a heavily serialized story that was utterly captivating. As Raylan Givens, Timothy Olyphant is suave and self-assured. If it weren’t for the abundance of strong male leads on television this season, Olyphant would have almost certainly been nominated for both the Emmys and Golden Globes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sneak in next year when Bryan Cranston isn’t eligible. Individuals looking for a definitive episode from this season should seek out “Blowback,” which was not only Justified’s best episode but also one of the best episodes of television to air in 2010.
In 2009, after a stellar 2nd season, Chuck topped my list of TV’s Best Shows. Yet, because of its recent struggles, Chuck falls to number 9 this year. The first half of the show’s 3rd season featured a number of strong episodes, including “Chuck Versus the Pink Slip,” “Chuck Versus First Class,” “Chuck Versus the American Hero,” and of course “Chuck Versus the Other Guy.” The additions of Brandon Routh and Kristin Kreuk were met with mixed reviews, but I thought both provided interesting tension. Having said that, I cheered right alongside other Chuck and Sarah shippers when they finally decided to give it a go. More recently, Chuck has struggled to balance its more comedic elements with the family drama that arose from Linda Hamilton’s addition to the cast. The back and forth of Hamilton’s story has been incredibly frustrating, and questionably written at best.
8. Boardwalk Empire
Unlike most people, I found the pilot of Boardwalk Empire to be incredibly underwhelming. Martin Scorsese’s direction was gaudy and Terence Winter’s script was overwrought. The second and third episodes did little to change my opinion of the show but, during the show’s 4th episode it came alive. From there on out, the show continued to improve each week, culminating in a sizzling finale. Winter has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, especially Michael Pitt, who steals the show with rich performance full of nuance. Guest star Jack Huston was also fantastic as war veteran Richard Harrow, making his recent upgrade to series regular status all the more sweet.
Fringe has always been a very good show, but 2010 saw its evolution into a great show. Beginning with the season 2 episode “The Bishop Revival,” Fringe began to push boundaries. The writers’ decision to merely tease the alternative universe paid dividends when we finally traveled “over there” in the season finale. This fall, Fringe changed shape yet again, splitting time between both universes. Since then, it hasn’t missed a beat. “Amber 31422,” in particular, was one of my favorite hours of TV to air in 2010. People may be quick to dismiss Fringe because of its Sci-Fi branding, but the show is so much more. Week in and week out, the writing staff tackle some of life’s more universal themes with brutal honesty. Come January, Fringe will move to Friday nights. At first, this had me worried, but after some thought I’ve decided it may actually thrive on the night. Besides, if nothing else, we got this awesome new trailer for the show.
Earlier this week, I ran a piece discussing why certain shows failed to make my list, while simultaneously commenting on the current state of the television industry. In that piece, I mentioned several shows that were prematurely canceled by their respective networks in 2010. Sharp observers likely noticed that I didn’t mention Terriers, an intentional decision since I knew it would be on my list. Terriers was this fall’s greatest revelation. For 13 weeks, the show managed to be funny, smart, dramatic, emotional and a long list of other things. With Terriers, Shawn Ryan, Ted Griffin, and Tim Minear crafted a gem that will likely find a second life on DVD. And, when it does, I hope people cherish episodes like “Change Partners” and “Sins of the Past” as much as I did.