Monday, January 03, 2011

2010 Top TV, part 1

Yes, I know everybody got their Best of 2010 posts out of the way last week, but I figure there's still a grace period in January where we're both looking ahead AND looking back. I expect to have some of both in the coming weeks here on Low Res, starting today with the first of a two-part look at the best of TV in 2010. I tend to judge TV shows by complete seasons, which makes yearly retrospectives tough to pull off. In this case, I'm picking the 20 best episodes of the season -- limit one per show -- and listing them in the order in which they aired. Please do enjoy and comment!

TOP 20 TV EPISODES OF THE YEAR, GROUP 1


DOLLHOUSE
Season 2, Episode 13 "Epitaph Two: Return"
Aired: January 29, 2010
It was a rollercoaster ride, watching Dollhouse, and that refers to not only the twists and turns of the plot but of the inconsistencies in the series as it lurched and sped and slowed and dazzled its way through two seasons. I loved this series very much, but it was a love borne of much fretting and enduring and filling in blanks. But of the small handful of episodes that aired in 2010, I have to give love to "Epitaph Two," the series finale and coda to the previous episode's climax. In many ways, I came to care about this show through a narrowed set of characters, and this episode really served up satisfying, harrowing, lovely conclusions for Adelle, Topher, Victor, and Sierra. And that's all I really needed.

COUGAR TOWN
Season 1, Episode 15 "When a Kid Goes Bad"
Aired: February 10, 2010
Choosing just one Cougar Town episode is pretty well impossible. The impact of the show is how each episode fits in with all the rest, building on a cast chemistry that gets better and richer as the season(s) wear on. I zeroed in on this Valentine's Day-centered episode because it hits so many of the story beats I love, from Ellie and Grayson's battle over out-of-date Christmas lights doubling as an epic power struggle; to Jules and Bobby actually being pretty great parents to Travis (while still being ... Jules and Bobby); to Laurie's first meetings with Smith's disapproving dad; to Andy's guilt over not sticking up for Laurie to said dad. The impact of these moments, and they way they weave all the characters through each other's lives, is a fairly amazing accomplishment in ensemble comedy. I'm not sure any comedy bests the Parks and Rec ensemble (especially now that Mark's been jettisoned), but I'd have a hard time putting any other comedy above Cougar Town in that regard.

ARCHER
Season 1, Episode 7 "Skytanic"
Aired: February 18, 2010
The ISIS gang end up on a floating hydrogen death trap perfectly safe helium blimp rode where they must dispatch with a bomb. Along the way, Lana defends the smoothness of her vulva, Carol/Cheryl is NOT choked to death during sex, and Ray Gillette gets JUST SO EXAPERATED by Archer and his refusal to follow proper radio protocol. "Mancy," indeed. And if any of this sounds like the confused ravings of a crazy person, you clearly haven't watched Archer. And that needs to be remedied, like, immediately.

RUPAUL'S DRAG RACE
Season 2, Episode 6 "Rocker Chick"
Aired: April 5, 2010
The best reality show on TV came back for a second season and defied the odds by being even better than its immaculate first season. The rocker episode stands out for so many reasons, both wondrous (Berlin's Terri Nunn sprouting a quite obvious crush on Raven) and risible (awful Tatiana once again refused to move beyond her timid mall-girl act and still managed to skate by). By the time Jujubee laid down an intense "Black Velvet" while lip-synching for her life, this episode had roared into my highest regard.

SURVIVOR
Season 20, Episode 8 "Expectations"
Aired: April 8, 2010
The "Heroes vs. Villains" season of Survivor was celebrated and rightfully so. After two previous attempts at all-star seasons that underwhelmed to one degree or another, I was not at all sold on #3, especially once the cast list came out and was packed with some of the more loathsome (Russell, Coach), overexposed (Rupert, Boston Rob) past contestants. What a fantastic surprise that this season turned out to be one of the most twisty, compelling, and ultimately satisfying of the whole series. The top hour -- and there were many to choose from -- was this mid-season hour, which saw Sandra and Courtney rebound from Boston Rob's ouster to engineer Coach's demise. Their tribal-council fist-pound was a victory for unathletic bitches everywhere.



UGLY BETTY
Season 4, Episode 20 "Hello Goodbye"
Aired: April 14, 2010
It's easy to forget this episode as it was a series finale that came and (relatively) went back in the spring. But I shall not forget! By the time Betty hit its fourth season, the majority of those still paying attention had soured on the show, but that final year really sent the series out on a high note, none higher than its last hour. It's essentially a series of goodbyes and grace notes, framing just how far Betty has come. My favorite aspect was learning that the show valued the relationships that I valued, as the most emotional goodbye of the hour involved Betty and my beloved Marc St. James, the show's all too secret weapon.

FRINGE
Season 2, Episode 18 "White Tulip"
Aired: April 15, 2010
I had really wanted to choose an alt-universe episode of Fringe for this list, as those episodes helped the show find another gear of excellence at the end of Season 2 and the beginning of Season 3. But man, just reading the episode description of this one brings it all back in such vivid detail. Peter Weller plays a self-engineered time-traveler who keeps trying to (we eventually learn) keep his wife from dying. This gets the Fringe treatment, which means not only Walter and Astrid and Olivia doing their thing, but also things like the ways Weller must alter his body in order to move through time; the implications and side effects of the travel itself. The story also serves as a dark mirror for Walter's story, as he agonizes over his own past actions. It all comes together into a fairly devastating conclusion, too.

COMMUNITY
Season 1, Episode 21 "Contemporary American Poultry"
Aired: April 22, 2010
I went through all my reasons for loving this episode on Extra Hot Great last week. You really should listen! If you're looking for the Cliff's Notes version: this episode does all at once what Season 2's episodes have only been doing in pieces. It fuses the show's sublime knack for genre parody with great character work and big laughs. Endless bonus points for both "streets ahead" and "Annie's Boobs."

UNITED STATES OF TARA
Season 2, Episode 6 "Torando!"
Aired: April 26, 2010
I resisted picking this episode because it was submitted as Toni Collette's Emmy episode, and the baity nature of the episode (it's the one where all five of Tara's personalities emerge within the same locked-down afternoon in the basement) made it seem retroactively cheap. But the truth of the matter is, this show is at its best when all the Gregsons are bouncing off of each other AND Tara's various alters, and this episode is pretty much nothing but that. Plus Marshall's annoyance at the news station's misspelling off "Tornado!" is delightful.

Come back tomorrow for the final eleven Best Episodes! Spoiler: it was one hell of a May.
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1 comment:

Jim M said...

I said it when it aired and I'll say ...err... write it again now:

If the pace, plotting and character interaction for the rest of Dollhouse had been at the same level as in Epitaph One AND Two, I think we'd still have a show. Heck, I might have been able to get past the whole "these are really prostitute slaves" ickiness I felt the first few episodes.

I think Caprica stumbled for similar reasons: take too long getting back story built up chronologically and people just get bored and walk away. (There, no spoilers.)