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Cable Television Rundown: 2010 In Review, Halfway Through

Since we're just about halfway through the year, and since I loooove lists, and since it is really weird to watch True Blood and Treme back-to-back on account of the shows both taking place in Louisiana but one dealing with weird neck-twisting vampire sex and the other dealing with the really real realities of finding real dead bodies underneath boats in abandoned houses so I'm feeling in a weird kind of mood where I need to soothe my brain with some lists, here is Qualler's Top 10 Shows of 2010 1/2.

Because the year isn't complete, and because I'm not quite ready to rank them totally, it's gonna be a little haphazardly thrown together. I typically start my Top 10 list thought-process this way -- throwing a bunch of crap on the wall to see how it sticks, then move stuff. Bear with me.

Definitely awesome shows
First, Breaking Bad, because it does so many things that I love to see in a TV show so well -- intense action, darkly comic character interactions, and overarching themes. Quickly, Breaking Bad has become my favorite show on TV because of these elements, and I can't wait to enjoy the rest of season three this summer.

has succeeded as well by being as well-written as Breaking Bad but does things I don't think I have ever seen by immersing the viewer into an environment, letting us swim a little bit, fall in love with the characters, bop along to the music, and let stuff happen. Arguing that Treme is low on plot is pointless; the point is not the plot, but is the realism and the humanity. As Chris pointed out at TV night at our place last night, it's a hopeful show, one that I will certainly spill a lot more internet ink on in the future.

Justified, Lost, and The Pacific were all really, really awesome in their own ways, too. But what was most surprisingly interesting (and will continue to be interesting) is ESPN's sports documentary series 30 for 30. Yes, ESPN has what can surely be described as the network's first "good show" ever. By taking idiotic talking heads out of the equation and passing the cameras to actual documentary filmmakers, the series has produced more quality sports documentaries through this series than HBO has with its more vaunted documentary sports department.

In particular, the episode "June 17, 1994" was a jarring piece of work that one doesn't even need to be a fan of sports to be jarred by. The date itself is famous for having been the day that OJ Simpson went on his Ford Bronco drive in California, but a bunch of other sports-related stuff happened that day, too (The NY Rangers celebrated their first Stanley Cup since 1954, Arnold Palmer played his last round of PGA golf, Game 5 of the NBA finals took place in NYC, the World Cup kicked off in Chicago, etc.) The doc is a damning criticism of the 24-hour News Cycle which was, in some ways, born that day, using only footage from news broadcasts and sporting events on that day to show how rampant speculation and misinformation has been a part of how journalism is conducted and has been conducted since at least 1994. It also shows how morbid curiosity can seem fun at the time it happens and be proven to be totally and utterly tasteless in hindsight (see: gag-inducing murder jokes told by baseball announcers during the Kansas City-Seattle MLB game shown in the doc.) And yes, this thoughtful programming airs on ESPN, the network that also employs Stuart Scott.

I also highly recommend the episodes "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks", which mostly deals with Spike Lee and how he interfered with a lot of NBA games in the 90s, "Muhammed and Larry", a doc that covers the later years of Muhammed Ali's career that most people don't remember (i.e. when he started sucking and was a little crazy), and especially "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson", directed by Hoop Dreams documentarian Steve James, which covers NBA star Allen Iverson's trial over a high school brawl set to the backdrop of race relations and James' relationship with his hometown.

Shows that will definitely be awesome but haven't started yet
Obviously, those would be the heavy-hitters of Fall: Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy. Duh.

Shows that the jury is still out on
I'm curious about what Dexter is gonna do this year to follow up on last season's mostly placeholder but mostly entertaining placeholder season, while for the most part True Blood this year has been exactly what I expected: entertaining and totally forgettable except for the parts where awesome stuff happens (which I think I can list here: Sookie doing mindreading stuff, Eric flying, Jason being funny, and guest stars entering the show to act well and/or get naked). AMC's Rubicon I'm quite certain will be good because of the network's excellent track record and because the pilot shows that it will be an homage to 70s-era conspiracy thrillers in a cool kind of way. And, I think Boardwalk Empire, written by Sopranos staff writer Terrance Winter and starring Steve Buscemi will be good, at least based on the cool costumes and stylish mobster violence. High hopes, HBO - high hopes.

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  1. Blogger chris | 3:50 PM |  

    I assume this is just your (hypothetical) drama list, yes? I want to split up comedies and dramas because that would give me more room to work with, but ultimately I like the dramatic things in Party Down and the comedic things in Breaking Bad so I find myself unable to do that. As of now (without all the ones that are probably going to be awesome like you mentioned), my list stands:

    1) Justified
    2) Party Down
    3) Lost
    4) Breaking Bad
    5) How To Make It In America
    6) Treme
    7) Community
    8) Parks & Recreation
    9) Modern Family
    10) Trauma

    I am almost positive that by the end of the year, Mad Men, SoA, Rubicon, and Boardwalk will be replacing many of these. Which makes me so nervous. I can get rid of #s 9 and 10 on my list easy, but the rest? Oy vey!

  2. Blogger qualler | 3:59 PM |  

    You're right -- eventually there will be comedies introduced and the definite right way to go about that is by splitting up the categories. I'm not quite ready to rank them all, but the upper echelon is definitely Breaking Bad and Treme. It's still early obviously but I'm surprised How to Make It is higher on your list than Treme -- obviously HtMI is a lot better than I expected, but does it really linger with you longer and better than Treme has? Granted, now I've seen the first 3 eps at least twice and loved them more the more times I've seen them, whereas I was not crazy about it when it first started.

    Either way, True Blood, I'm afraid by example of the neck-twisting vampire sex (that's a phrase that never gets old) from last night, is starting to go the way of Nip/Tuck -- shocking for the sake of shocking but leaving one feeling icky inside. And TB never had the benefit of starting as a particularly good or at least intriguing underlying message like Nip/Tuck did.

  3. Blogger chris | 4:07 PM |  

    Right now HTMIIA slightly edges out Treme for me personally, but I am anticipating Treme inching up the list with every ep I see. In fact I would not be surprised at all if it ends up at #1 or 2 by the time I see the finale.

    I am quite surprised how much HTMIIA has stuck with me since I saw it. Obviously it hasn't with many other people and technically it's a comedy, but I find the way it portrays how it feels to be a confused yet ambitious mid-20s dude to be so spot on that I was entranced by each and every episode as much as I was entertained. Which is a whole other reason I don't feel right about splitting up comedies and dramas. I basically just want to delineate between network sitcoms and the rest of television.

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