Unlike my Top Five Films of 2010, choosing my Top Five Television Seasons of 2010 requires me to put a fairly large disclaimer in place. Basically, every season on the list I have seen this year, but may first been aired in 2009 (or even 2008).
This represents the fact that with one exception, I watched all of these on DVD. I think this reflects a shift in the way many tv fans viewing habits have changed over the past decade. It means this list may not entirely representative of television in 2010. However, at the very least it reflects the way I, and many others, have experienced television this year.
5. Mad Men – Season 3
One of the great things about Mad Men has been the way it effortlessly intertwines the real-life events of the 1960s into the lives of its characters.
The highlight of season 3 for me was seeing how the show’s characters responded to the Kennedy assassination. In seeing something so shocking and tragic, they are forced to take stock of their own lives and what’s important to them.
Of course, while their responses may be life-changing and somewhat drastic, the genius of the show comes from the previous six or seven episodes that allow these big things to happen. Mad Men is a show never afraid to take its time, a show which allows its plot to flow effortlessly from the development of its characters.
4. The Pacific
While not quite reaching the heights of Band of Brothers, which remains the greatest mini-series ever made, The Pacific was nevertheless a welcome return to the themes and setting of Spielberg’s original series.
The choice to focus on just three men, as oppose to many, took a while to get used to. Once I did, however, it transported me into a war I wanted to escape from immediately.
In the UK, not as much attention is paid to the Pacific Front of the Second World War. Therefore, it was good to get an appreciation of the atrocious conditions the allied soldiers had to endure in their fight for freedom.
The nature of the war allowed Spielberg to take up themes we normally associate with films about Vietnam. How war changes men in different ways, and stays with them and their loved ones for the rest of their lives.
Like Band of Brothers it paints with so many strokes that as soon as you watch it, you feel you need to watch it again to catch everything you missed. Simply great, ambitious, cinematic television.
3. Doctor Who – Season 5
Some people thought Matt Smith had no hope of ever reaching the heights of Tennant’s Doctor. However, within minutes of eating custard and fish fingers it was obvious Smith had his own equally charming take on this age-old character.
Credit must also be given to Moffat, who has allowed the series to move in a new and interesting direction since taking over as show-runner from Russell T. Davies. A direction more concerned with the mythology of the Whoverse.
Perhaps this is best represented by the recurring appearances of River Song. She has given the show an added dimension with hints at future events, and insights into the Doctor’s character not even he knows.
Finally, Amy Pond as the new assistant, struck the right balance between wonderment, vulnerability, and sauciness. The opening episode of the season gave us by far the most ambitious and unique introduction to an assistant yet; brilliantly picking up the existing themes of how people are both helped and left helpless by meeting The Doctor.
Despite this season’s changes, Doctor Who remains the most exciting and creative show on British television. Long may it continue.
2. Breaking Bad – Season 1
I debated whether to put this on the list at all, since season one was first aired in 2008, and has been available in the UK since 2009. However, 2010 was the year I discovered Breaking Bad, and it’s a series I hope many more people in the UK discover in 2011.
Breaking Bad takes the drug-dealing of The Wire and mixes it in with the family life of something like Friday Night Lights. Its main character, Walt, is a chemistry teacher with cancer. Only he can’t afford the treatment. (Damn American Health System!)
After being accidentally introduced to the kind of money crystal meth dealers make via his brother-in-law, a cop, he decides to go into business with a small-time dealer, Jesse. Walt uses his chemistry know-how to make the drugs; Jesse, his contacts to sell it.
All of which sounds like the set-up for an outrageous comedy. Yet there’s so much more to Breaking Bad than the funny that naturally comes from the odd couple at its heart.
The genius of Breaking Bad is the way it combines the dark comedic elements with its incredibly touching familial moments. The way each member of Walt’s family deals with his diagnosis giving the show the kind of reality and truth so few television shows ever achieve.
It’s my belief that as more and more people watch Breaking Bad, it’ll be mentioned in the same breath as The Wire and Mad Men. In other words, television you simply must see.
1. Friday Night Lights – Season 4
A show few in the States have seen, and even fewer in the UK. For a British viewer to watch it, one must own a multi-region DVD player and import the DVD boxsets from America. The fact I am willing to do this every year should be testament enough to the quality of the show.
Whether its Matt Saracen, Tim Riggins or Tami Taylor, there’s a pure unadulterated joy in spending time with these characters that no other show has ever given me.
It’s recently been announced that Season 5 will be its last. However, no matter how it ends, I’ll still be thinking about how the lives of these characters are going; what they’re doing; and who they’re with. If that sounds like a sad and pathetic thing to do, then I know you’ve yet to watch one of the greatest television series ever made.
As a quick epilogue to the Top Five TV Seasons of 2010, here are my Top Three Most Anticipated New Series of 2011. And by ‘new’, you can assume I mean ‘available on DVD in 2011 in the UK’:
3. Boardwalk Empire
Scorsese does The Sopranos in the prohibition era.
2. The Walking Dead
A serialised zombie apocolyspe show from Frank Darabont.
From the makers of The Wire.