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The Tops in Television for 2010, Some Thoughts

By April MacIntyre Jan 1, 2011, 1:25 GMT

The Tops in Television for 2010, Some Thoughts

Yes, it\'s that time of year for deep appreciation to those who delivered the best in television in a variety of genres.

Yes, it's that time of year for deep appreciation to those who delivered the best in television in a variety of genres. 

2010 was a very good year for the smallscreen, full of surprises like CBS remaking "Hawaii Five-0" and doing it well, to Showtime taking a chance on a new unscripted format for the top comedians in the world to shine in Paul Provenza's "The Green Room," which thankfully is coming back for another season.

Reflection of what turned us on reveals we like cable and premium cable a crapload more than network fare, so if you were looking for a list that had "Glee", "Gossip Girl" or "Modern Family" in it, you need to go elsewhere.

To each his own, but for us, here are the top 15 in television as Monsters and Critics salutes the best of TV for 2010.

TOPS

Boardwalk Empire

HBO is back in its glory with this beautiful, showy and riveting period drama that absolutely nailed it for tops in writing, performances, casting, and crafts like 
production design, set decoration, costuming, makeup, hair and cinematography.

From the addictive opening music and great montage of star Steve Buscemi 
on the shores of Atlantic City, surveying his empire, to the closing shot of the empty bottles bobbing in the surf, this series gave us so many memorable 
characters and moments.

For Buscemi, always a favorite in so many past films, it was his chance to carry a big production as the leading man.  Like the late, great actor John Cazale, Buscemi is so profoundly talented, he makes the other actors even better by his presence.  The fastidious attention to details in the interior sets, the hairstyles so carefully recreated to the balls out Scorsese moments where the gangsters let the Tommy guns fly, this series is glorious, and shame on you if you missed it.

Breakout performers:

 

Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody: Sultry, smoldering and an intellect consumed (and resigned he is damned) by Catholic guilt for his World War I kills, Darmody 
internalizes and is a chess piece played between Nucky (Buscemi) and the Commodore, his father (Dabney Coleman) as well as his mother, just 14 years his 
senior thanks to a little child rape from dear old dad.  Darmody is a sensualist, and is frustrated to no end his wife has gone Lesbian.

 

Jack Huston as Richard Harrow: Here is a rare actor who can convey pages of dialogue without speaking. Harrow is haunted but not broken, disfigured but not 
defeated. Enigmatic and seemingly emotionless, he is a sharpshooter who did his best in the war, and like Darmody, returns home to an uncertain future.  
Chance has him find Jimmy, and in effect a new life as his right hand man, loyal as any soldier would be to his commanding officer. The scenes he shared with Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) to me foreshadow a possible romance or emotional connection, as Margaret is tiring of Nucky's manipulative ways but her survival instincts keep her close to him.  There is something there, and we get next season to see where the writers take us on Harrow's interesting path. 

Michael Shannon as Agent Nelson Van Alden: Another exceptional actor who has imbued himself with fire and brimstone, self-righteousness, suppressed carnal 
energy and jealousy as he covets what he cannot have (Margaret) and succumbs to his ego.  Like all blinded by religious fervor; he has become the devil he 
rails against. Van Alden is now a murderer, an adulterer, and still covets his neighbor's wife. How many more deadly sins will Nelson flirt with in season two? 
Can't wait to find out.

Kelly Macdonald as Margaret Schroeder: Instinct and fearlessness brought this pregnant woman to the boss of AC's office in a bid to get her husband a job. 
Turns out, that action set off a chain reaction that made the boss fall for the damsel, freeing her from an abusive brute who only promised Margaret a life of 
poverty, pain and fear.  Now, Margaret has fully educated herself on the ways of Nucky Thompson, and will overlook the niggling corruption details to keep from 
going without.   But she is not passionate about Nucky, and how this relationship progresses, with all that she knows, will be compelling.

Sons of Anarchy

The third season of one of TV's best told tales of a larger than life motorcycle club, all bound together by secrets and a sense of fraternal bond, took us out of 
the familiar of Charming and dragged us to a damp, dark and not-so-friendly place across the pond.  I loved every minute of it. This was the season that filled us 
in on the missing Intel on Gemma, Clay and the genesis of the club's livelihood.

The SAMCRO men are the engine of the series, but the women of SAMCRO are the soul. Specifically mother, Katey Sagal as Gemma, who keeps meeting 
one test after another and manages to keep her cool.  Gemma is a pure alpha female, her sexual power still smolders, and she is more a tactician than most 
all of the men in the club.  Her son Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is a chip off her block, and this season showed how cunning this mama's boy truly is. 

The season for me was necessary: I needed to see this Irish SAMCRO history and watch the slow deconstruction of the "John Teller as saint" myth.  All the talk about the IRA and the guns, their business dealings now has context and makes me even more connected to the show and excited for season 4. 

Hal Holbrook as Gemma's dad Nate was beautiful; Stephen King as the cleaner was a jaw dropper and the continued quirk that Sutter infuses Kim Coates' character Tig added the right amount of levity at key moments. Outstanding cast, clever writers, excellence in the crafts and kick ass music from start to finish, FX's Sons of Anarchy has an army of fans from here to County Cork, for good reason.

Breakout performers:

Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller: As last season was Katey Sagal's (who should have won an Emmy for her work in season two), this season is Charlie's. He blew 
us away with the tortured acceptance that maybe his son would fare better away from him and the life. The realization that his father was not the hero he thought 
he was, combined with his heart finally giving way to tell his head that SAMCRO was priority one all made for riveting scenes delivered by Hunnam.  He owned 
season three, and is deserving of an Emmy award for his performances.

Maggie Siff as Tara: Pushed to her limits this season, Tara shocked us (and herself) when she faced down a gangster's girl and shanked her. She is carrying 
Jax's baby, nearly aborted but now embraced.  Jax did his darndest to shut her out in the beginning of the season, but the girl's got moxie, and she hung in there 
and fought. Will she keep to town and practice medicine there? Especially finding out the dirty secrets that bitter Maureen Ashby (Paula Malcolmson) made sure 
were tucked inside Jax's suitcase from Ireland.  There will be more bad blood between Gemma and Maureen?  You can bet on it. Interesting to see how Tara 
reacts and manages this information in season 4.

Paula Malcolmson as Maureen Ashby: The sting of being rejected has been simmering and steeping like a pot of bitter brew, extra strong tea left on too long. 
John had a fling and a baby with this lassie, but wound up returning to Gemma.  Back in Charming, while waiting on her straying husband, Gemma soothed her 
bruised ego by being pulled into Clay's lustful orbit.  Cut to all these years later, the poorer MC relation and the "other woman" has a few barbs left for Gemma, 
who she strongly suspects had a hand in John's demise. Oh the fun we'll have finding out the particulars...

Kim Coates as Tig: The enforcer for Clay, the loyal pit bull with a damaged sense of.. well everything. Coates eats scenery as Tig, and his physical and sexual 
energy elevates every scene he is in. Especially enjoyed when in scene with William Lucking (Piney).  For whatever reason, these two ping off each other 
artistically and are always fun to watch together.

Katey Sagal as Gemma: Heart and soul (with a side of strong arm) our mama Grizzly kicks a heart condition's ass and snaps her son out of his guilt trip.  
Gemma is laser focused and will even hold a gun to a baby AND a nun to get the information she needs. I don't think I have ever seen a woman hold a gun to a 
baby in a bid to get her way, but Gemma is unlike any female character on TV, fearless and feline, she is the show's juice.  Her scenes with Unser (Dayton 
Callie) and her dad Nate (Hal Holbrook) this season were deeply moving and emotional.

Michael Marisi Ornstein as Chucky: When an actor can take a very small role and make it leap off the lens, you have gold (see Jack Huston's Richard Harrow for 
Boardwalk) Chucky is comic relief in an understated way, he has become a watcher of the club's welfare, and has earned a place at SAMCRO's table. Ornstein 
made the most of what could have been a blip on radar, and the fans of the series love him.


Breaking Bad

AMC stuck gold years ago with Vince Gilligan's complex noir tale of life's happenstance and survival. Walt (Bryan Cranston) has gone full circle it seems from 
when he was a working stiff who had two jobs to survive, to being served the news he had an aggressive cancer, to figuring a way to insure his family makes it 
despite the onerous cost of medical care that bankrupts people in this country. Walt went "Bad," and this past season, one that saw his success and cash flow 
bolster his ego and complicate his life even more. 

Skylar (Anna Gunn) is now back in the picture, and Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) is older and wiser. Hank (Dean Norris)  Saul (Bob Odenkirk and Jesse (Aaron Paul) all add to this series in so many ways.  The cliffhanger ending from last season sets up so many great possibilities for the new one.  Walt cannot go back to his old life, but how far will he go? One of AMC's top shows.

The Walking Dead

Another AMC effort that smacked viewers in the face with feature film level crafts and excellent stories of human survival after a truly apocalyptic event. The 
writing was dead-on, and the performances led by Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Shane (Jon Bernthal) rang true.  The emotions felt by all in the cast were not 
overplayed, and the human instincts for survival coupled with the stress revealing people's character under duress was what made this zombie tale head and shoulders better than any of its ilk.

Great performances by Morgan (Lennie James), the father who gutted us with his task of resolving to put his zombie wife down. Bernthal, who was on fire as Shane; Dixon (Michael Rooker) nailed the angry white man rendered irrelevant by the extreme situation, and Norman Reedus as Dixon's brother Daryl, who is less of a sociopath but still loyal to his odious brother.  Crafts note: Greg Nicotero outdid himself in the makeup design, his zombie effects get better and better, and the series was lucky to have him onboard.

 

Luther

BBC America gave us a delicious psychological thriller disguised in a cop show that served actor Idris Elba so very well. John Luther is an intellectually brilliant 
but impulsive murder detective. His dedication to his gruesome vocation sees him make an unlikely truce with his lead suspect in a multiple homicide, Alice (Ruth 
Wilson) , a beautiful genius who evades his grasp early on, and with whom he becomes locked in a lethal battle of wits.

Created and written by suspense novelist, and one of the lead writers on MI-5, Neil Cross. Luther's scenes with the psychopath Alice, the femme fatale he knows murdered her family, yet cannot prove, display the kind of writing and casting alchemy that is far and few between on TV.  This was a short series (like Walking Dead) and if you missed it, look for it. Brilliant is an overused word, but fits this effort.

Terriers

Short lived but so enjoyed, I'm a tad bitter that this did not make it past one season, but for me was a favorite on FX that featured a stand out cast led by Donal Logue as Hank  Dolworth, along with Michael Raymond-James as Britt, his terrier-like partner who doggedly navigated Ocean Beach on an instinctual level. These two PI's had 
rough pasts, and were both fighting to rebuild their lives and solve a hell of a crime as deep as they come.  It should still be on the air.

 

The Green Room with Paul Provenza

Anecdotes that will make you wet yourself with laughter and spirited conversations that entertain, Paul Provenza gave us a fantastic first season of the best 
minds in comedy, and served them up in a salon setting that had Jonathan Winters sharing insightful stories about his past, along with Martin Mull, Penn Jillette, 
Robert Klein, Paul Mooney, Andy Kindler, Roseanne Barr, Sandra Bernhard, Dana Gould, Bobby Slayton, Eddie Izzard, Brendon Burns, Jim Jeffries, Patrice 
O'Neal, Larry Miller, Rick Overton, Tommy Smothers, Reginald Hunter and Drew Carey.

The Green Room was a gem on Showtime, a crazy, creative unleashed 
bullpen of fast thinkers whose wit and wisdom made for one of the best of the year.  Season 2 promises to be even more off the hook.  Can we look forward to 
comic David Feldman being plucked out of the audience and on to the stage? Hope so.

Eastbound & Down

Sick and wrong, just the way I like my comedy.  Danny McBride plays the kind of washed up, egomaniacal jock whose pithy asides are side-splitting in their un-
PC matter-of-fact delivery, served up with a side of Mullet and strippers. 

There are numerous websites devote to just recording Kenny Powers' xenophobic, racist, sexist quotes.  His best line for me? "Sure, I've been called a xenophobe, but the truth is I'm not. I honestly just feel that America is the best country and all the other countries aren't as good. That used to be called 'patriotism'."

Okay maybe not the best one,  but you get the drift, we need more Powers in our lives.  HBO gets bonus points for using Don Johnson and Eddie "Piolin" Sotero in season 2; Piolin is the top Mexican DJ in the country and had a hilarious cameo as a Mexican baseball announcer. 

Words to live by for 2011, courtesy of Powers: "A true champion, face to face with his darkest hour, will do whatever it takes to rise above. A man fights, and fights, and then fights some more. Because surrender is death, and death is for pussies."

Justified

Elmore Leonard writ large for the smallscreen, as lead actors Timothy Olyphant and Walt Goggins came at us guns a'blazin' and just set the damned house on fire this past year.  This fantastically written FX series reveals a morality that extends beyond the crime show. The good and the bad here have history and a sense of camaraderie, and all the players shine in a small town drama with big city problems.


No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain

The anti-Paula Deen.  Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on the Travel Channel is one of the best food and travel fusions on the air.  His recent holiday 
special included chef Michael Ruhlman preparing dinner for fellow chefs Mario Batali, Ace of Cakes' Duff Goldman and David Chang, along with Marky 
Ramone.  Bourdain's show is addictive, and his insights and interviews with locals make it tops in this genre. No screaming chefs, contests, or predictable 
moments.  Bourdain is dead sexy without even trying.  If you are a true foodie, you have to watch this series.

Hawaii Five-O

This network show makes the M&C list mostly because of how much my dad (age 75) loves this drama, and he was a die-hard Jack Lord original gangsta fan 
back in the day.  Lead actors Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan have terrific chemistry, and the show looks like money. The episodes I watched were very good, and it would kill my old man if it went off the air, so CBS, don't kill my dad prematurely, please.


From Monsters & Critics' Ian Cullen, across the pond in Manchester UK:

Sherlock

Steven Moffat & Mark Gatiss Breath New Life Into An Iconic Fictional Sleuth.  Individually Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are two of the hottest writers in TV land 
over here in the UK, but when theyíre working together they make for a formidable team. Especially when it comes to a series that both are passionate about.

This creative duo have succeeded at something that many a writer have tried to do in terms of bringing the classic fictional detective of Sherlock Holmes and 
Dr. Watson into the present day.

The only time a contemporary version of Holmes ever worked in the past was in the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movies of the 1940s, and many have tried 
to emulate those movies in the past, but failed miserably.

Moffat and Gatiss succeeded because their love and knowledge of the characters is such that they knew where to update things, and how to keep true to the 
core values of the Arthur Conan Doyle creations, and because of this they have brought us one of the most successful television adaptations of Holmes in the 
form of Sherlock to have hit for years both in Britain and the USA.

Whitechapel

Another crime procedural that needs mentioning is Whitechapel, which centres on an obsessive compulsive Detective Inspector who seems to be a moth to 
the flame when it comes to copycat crimes.

The first series, which aired in 2009 was a surprise success, and put former Spooks star Rupert Penry Jones on the map with viewers of ITV. The relationships 
in this series between the compulsive DI Chandler and the journeyman detective sergeant Miles (Phil Davies) are what really makes this show work - and this 
relationship, which started out as antagonistic in the first series grew into an entirely different beast in the second series, which saw the duo investigate a surge 
of copycat crimes, which were allegedly committed by the sons of the late Reggie Kray.

Whereas the first series was a whodunit. The second series was more a case of how did they do it and how do you prevent a criminal organisation, which has 
its eyes and ears everywhere including inside the walls of the police department.

Powerful acting, strong storylines and some brilliant red herrings are what make this crime series work, and the way in which it is set in the modern day, but kind 
of looks like a period piece makes this series a unique and fun viewing experience.


Doctor Who

Steven Moffatís First Year At The Helm And New Doctor To Boot

I have to admit. Itís always a bit of a worry when you have a new actor playing the Doctor in this iconic British series, but it can be double the worry when you 
have a new team behind the scenes, but when it comes to Steven Moffat a few fans. Myself included were willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

For some reason. Iím not sure why. But the opinion on Moffatís first year as showrunner on Doctor Who is mixed. Some loved it whereas others felt the season 
was a little uneven and canít quite put their finger on the reason why.

My take is a little of both.

I loved the addition of Matt Smith as the Doctor. I felt he brought back a bit of the more Alien and eccentric nature to the character. So as one of the silent 
doubters who thought that Smith lacked the experience to play the role. I have to take my hat off to the actor because he truly embodies the role with ease and 
is very believable.

The writing in the new show was a tad uneven, but itís a new team behind the scenes and I really thinks itís a case of them needing to find their feet.

Moffatís scripts were good, but I canít help but feel that his stories lacked a little of the pop that stories such as Blink and Girl In The Fireplace had, but they 
were still great stories.

I especially enjoyed The Beast Below, which was very thematic given that we had an election year, but was also a brilliant character driven story, which 
examined the new Doctors relationship between the mysterious Amy Pond.

The loose story arc for the series involved a crack in time and space, which was something that had every fan guessing right to the end.

My theory was that it was caused by Timothy Daltons spittle during his scenes as Lord President Rassilon in the finale David Tennant adventure ĎThe End Of 
Time.í

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond was simply fantastic, but the addition of Arthur Darvill as Rory was what completed this series for me. Because itís been awhile since 
weíve seen a triumvirate in Doctor Who, and Rory and Amy Pond being a married couple really sets up some interesting story ideas for the forthcoming 2011 
season.


Merlin

Shine Entertainment Work Magic In The Third Season Of Merlin.  In terms of fantasy series on television. I think ĎMerlin,í which is produced by Shine 
Entertainment for the BBC has come on leaps and bounds this year, and season three or series three as we call it here in the UK has to have been the 
strongest yet, with only really one poor episode out of the 13.

The thing that made this yearís series so special was the fact that Katie McGrath finally got to play the true nature of Morgana, who had been the kind hearted but 
strong minded ward to Uther Pendragon and Arthurís half sister via a dalliance between Uther and some conquest in his past.

The third series really begins to get into the mythology of King Arthur and the Knights of Camelot, and by the time the last episode of the series aired. We seen 
at least four iconic images from the classic Arthurian legends.

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Boardwalk Empire

HBO's period drama from Mark Wahlberg and Martin Scorsese depict the life and times of Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, the undisputed ruler of Atlantic City, who was equal parts politician and gangster.  ...more

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