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Instead of annotating all the qualifiers these kinds of lists truly need, let’s just cut to the chase and say that reasonable people can disagree.
1. Breaking Bad. AMC. This riveting and audacious series about life, death and meth just continues to astonish. Brilliant writing, acting, cinematography and sound flesh out stories that are both unvarnished and funny.
2. Mad Men. AMC. Don Draper’s existential crisis finally collapsed upon him fully – and we found out a lot about how a man rebuilds from the ruins. Intelligent, sumptuous, laden with surprises, playing out under the ominous change that’s coming.
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3. The Pacific. HBO. Following Ken Burns’ epic The War, who thought there was room for more narrative, more emotion? But this miniseries showed that the Pacific theater was a brand new kind of hell and profoundly different in its scarring and scorching of the human spirit.
4. Treme. HBO. How do you follow up arguably the best drama ever made for television? David Simon answered with something wholly different than The Wire. Equally complicated and artful, this look at post-Katrina New Orleans was lyrical and heartfelt.
5. Lost. ABC. It might not have ended how everyone wished, but it was a hell of a ride and massively entertaining along the way. Will broadcast ever be this daring again?
6. The InBetweeners. BBC America. Like Freaks & Geeks shot through with punk energy and disdain, this coming of age story from England was riotously and consistently funny, showing up the best of its cross-pond cousins along the way.
7. Boardwalk Empire. HBO. Burdened by expectations that were impossibly high, this series about Prohibition, power, booze and lust built impressively from episode to episode, laying the groundwork for our next televised epic.
8. Men Of A Certain Age. TNT. Easily the most unexpectedly great drama of this bunch, it was also arguably the least clichéd and most accurate depiction of a man’s midlife crises put on television.
9. 30 Rock. NBC. Furiously funny at every turn – a comedy that’s both intelligent, gaspingly juvenile and able to pull off sight gags, physical humor and beat-perfect dialogue.
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10. Terriers. FX. This season’s tragedy of great not being good enough. Successful beyond being the best buddy show in ages – it was smart, serious and touching. But also largely unseen.
11. Modern Family. ABC. Proof that if you infuse a familiar concept with great writing, an array of interesting characters and some out-of-flavor, irony-defeating sweetness, then not only can you play ball in the big leagues, you can hit it out of the park on a regular basis.
12. The Walking Dead. AMC. It’s not so much about the zombies as the living. A genre hit that draws in even non-horror fans because it rattles the bonds of humanity by twisting our moral compass.
13. Sons Of Anarchy. FX. There was some complaining about the pace of the middle episodes and the detour to Ireland, but creator Kurt Sutter should be applauded for shaking things up in Season 3 – a creative necessity — then delivering a finale that brought all the complainers back into the fold.
14. Louie. FX. A bleakly funny and painfully honest look at one man’s midlife shortcomings – which conveniently substitute for our own. This is what happens when you mix life with honesty and funnel it through a comedian.
15. Parks and Recreation. NBC. Of all the things NBC did wrong in 2010, not appreciating or knowing what to do with this late-blooming gem was one of the bigger ones. Comeback series of the year.
16. Tie: The Life & Times of Tim. HBO. Ridiculously, outrageously funny. A minimalist slice of animated genius. Archer, FX. See above, sub out “minimalist” and insert “filthtastic.”
17. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. FX. Officially one of the least appreciated great comedies on television. Do they need to kill the Big Bang Theory people to get noticed?
18. Tie: Life, Discovery Channel; Great Migrations, Nat Geo. Breathtaking in HD and the result of passionate, dedicated people in any format. A gift to viewers.
Email Tim Goodman at Tim.Goodman@THR.com
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