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Top 10 Shows of 2010: The Best and the Rest

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Where did Louie land? Look to the list! / FX

TIME’s annual collection of top-10 lists is up, including my list of the Top 10 TV Shows of 2010. (Also up is my list of Top 10 TV Episodes, which I’ll cover in a separate post.)

After the jump, I’ll post my complete list, along with a partial list of honorable mentions. But first a couple caveats. Number one: This is not the Top-10-and-Everything-Else-Sucks list. If I left your favorite show off, it doesn’t mean I hate it, it means I had 10 shows, none of which I wanted to take off to make room for the other.

Beyond that, last year I posted some thoughts and explanations that still hold up, so, slightly modified, here they are:

* I had 10 slots to fill. I love more than 10 TV shows. There are different ways of dealing with that problem. You could do a top 20, or 30, or 50 list. You could do lists of comedies, reality shows, best performances, etc., etc. Some critics do, and that’s great. I didn’t, because I’m lazy and because it starts to get into everyone-gets a-trophy territory.

* Related to which: “Why didn’t you include _____?” I don’t blame you for asking. But I probably won’t answer! (1) That way lies madness; and (2) it inevitably leads to my response focusing on the relative flaws of some show that I actually like a lot and thus seeming to bash it. Again, the blanket answer is: because I didn’t want to remove any of these 10 shows to make room for it, that’s all.

* “You forgot _____!” I probably didn’t. I keep a running list throughout the year and revise constantly. (I find this is the best way to guard against favoring shows that ended the calendar year strong and forgetting, say, a Parks and Recreation that was brilliant from January through May.) There may be a show or two I overlooked, but pretty much anything with a serious shot I thought long and hard about why to include or not.

* However, that doesn’t mean I never regret my choices. There are probably one or two I’m regretting already. Any honest top 10 list is really a top 9 list, and a 15-way tie for 10th. There are a good two dozen shows or so that, on a different day, might have made a slot, but just didn’t (see my honorable mentions, below). But overall, I think this list gives a pretty fair sense of what I think was best on TV this year.

* Someone will also ask how I could claim X show is two places better than Y. Here’s the dirty secret of list-making: beyond a point–I knew pretty much straight off that Breaking Bad was #1–the numbering is arbitrary. It has to be, because with so many genres competing, to an extent you’re comparing apples and oranges. I suspect that numbered lists make possible a kind of Mobius illogic, where I might believe 8 to be better than 9, and 9 better than 10, yet, if pressed, believe 10 is superior to 8. I cannot rationally explain it, which is why I hate numbered lists; but readers and my editors like them, so here you go.

* Don’t worry! There will be a 10 Worst Shows list too, as part of my holiday-time Robo-James Cavalcade of Robo-Posts. There’s still time to nominate your least favorites!

* Finally, time.com did a bang-up job formatting the lists, but they had 50 of them to produce, so they may have made mistakes–and I almost certainly did. If you find any, note them and I’ll get them fixed. (Note: my failing to honor your favorite show is not a “mistake” except in the moral sense.)

Without further ado, here’s my list (and please click through my writeups for my full explanations).

1. Breaking Bad

2. Mad Men

3. Parks and Recreation

4. Louie

5. Boardwalk Empire

6. Party Down

7. The Pacific

8. The Good Wife

9. Rubicon

10. Terriers

And here’s my (incomplete) list of honorable mentions:



Friday Night Lights

Men of a Certain Age


Modern Family


Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

The Walking Dead


Sons of Anarchy

Bored to Death

The Venture Brothers

In Treatment


Again, that’s not the sum total of all worthwhile on TV, but a selection of those that I thought had a particularly good 2010. (The “particularly” being one thing that makes it hard to compare a consistent long runner like The Daily Show, which I still love.)

But enough about me: let’s see your list!