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The 10 Best Television Episodes of 2010

By Seth Freilich & Dustin Rowles | Guides | December 20, 2010 |

By Seth Freilich & Dustin Rowles | Guides | December 20, 2010 |

treme-9.jpg10. I Wish Someone Would Care, “Treme.” I had plenty of problems with HBO’s David Simon post-Katrina series, in particular the long musical interludes and the narrative slog the series took between episodes 3 to 8. But this episode, which had John Goodman’s character quietly taking a page out of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” mixed heartbreak and liberation deftly. “The ending of the book is not the end,” Creighton told his college class, the day of his suicide. “It is a transition — a rejection of disappointment and failure. She’s not moving toward the darkness. She’s embracing spiritual liberation.” — Dustin Rowles

143559_512x288_generated.jpg9. Sweetums, “Parks and Recreation.” “Parks & Rec” came into its own in its second season, finding its way to one of the best comedies on TV, and “Sweetums” represents most of the show’s strengths, from its commentary on small-town politics (this time in the form of a public forum), to its sweetly developed relationships (both Leslie and Ron and April and Andy), to hilariously stupid one-off bits (DJ Roomba!!!) to Ron F’ing Swanson. Seth Freilich

walking-dead-amc-tv-show.jpg8. Pilot Episode, “The Walking Dead.” Darabont did done something different with the zombie creations — made them human. They’re mindless creatures, but they’ve somehow managed, through the recognition their eyes show, the movements of their jaws, the gut-roiling moans they emit, to make them seem less monstrous and make you truly understand that these are people. This near-humanizing adds a layer of complexity to the struggle and one can sense the hunger that compels them. Maybe it’s just me, but you also get the sense that they are, brain-dead or not, flesh-eaters or not, suffering, making the conflicts, the hunting and killing by both the living and the dead, even more affecting and terrifying. —TK

rubicon-the-outsider_article_story_main.jpg7. The Outsider, “Rubicon.” “Rubicon,” just like “The Walking Dead,” took an established genre (70’s-style, contemplative espionage intrigue, in this case) and rather than trying to unpack it and blow it apart, was content simply modernizing it a touch and trying to make it as rich as possible. And The Outsider was the first episode of a mostly excellent one-and-done season where “Rubicon” really hit its stride and showed its potential. You wouldn’t think analysists talking and reviewing documents could be gripping, but there we were for an hour, hearts racing to see what they decided. Already a great episode, The Outsider gets pushed over the top thanks to Truxton Spangler’s (Michael Cristofer) fantastic spiel about the value of his intelligence agency. —SF

party-down-steve-guttenberg_article_story_main.jpg6. Steven Guttenberg’s Party, “Party Down.” It would’ve been easy to pick nearly any of the episodes from this too short-lived series from “Veronica Mars” creator Rob Thomas. This one sticks out because of the way they used Steve Guttenberg, who could’ve been an easy target of mockery, is made an affable cheerleader for the rest of the caterers, who helped Roman realize the flaws in his sci-fi script and then stole the girl away from McLovin. — DR

Terriers-Hail-Mary-1-425x235.jpg5. Hail Mary, “Terriers.” Another one-and-done series, “Terriers” was as close to perfect as you can get. Its tragic ratings mean most of you missed seeing one of the best finales of the season. “Hail Mary” managed to wrap up the seasons’ threads in a completely satisfying way while also staying true to the characters and their own arcs of growth (or decay) that they experienced over the season. There can be little doubt which way Hank’s truck turned at the end, but that moment, deciding whether to live up to the past or flee to the unknown, was the perfect high-note for the series to end on. —SF

mad-men-episode-.jpg4. The Suitcase, “Mad Men.” Don and Peggy’s fight night — which used the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston boxing match for the world heavyweight championship as a backdrop — ran the gamut of emotions, but never did the interactions feel forced or unbelievable. The intertwining of their storylines for one night, with each taking as many blows as they give the other, was nothing short of beautiful. And, like the Clay-Liston fight, there was no predictable outcome or easy answer. What did occur, though, was memorable. —Sarah Carlson

DIRECTV_FriNigLig_00016.jpg3. The Son, “Friday Night Lights.” While this episode has extra resonance for those of us who have lost a parent, anyone can appreciate the absolutely stellar performance Zach Gilford gives while Matty Saracen tries to cope with his father’s passing. But the standout scene of this episode - which represents the whole hour’s ability to be both gut-wrenching and heartwarming — is the quiet moment where Coach offers his QB the support he needs the most, silent companionship during a long walk home. —SF 2. Modern Warfare, “Community.” I never watch an episode more than once, but this episode of “Community” I watched three times in under 24 hours, just so I could catch all the allusions. It brought in every cliche and trope imaginable, referencing — among others — The Book of Eli, Scarface, Boondock Saints, Rambo, The Matrix, “Friends,” “Cheers,” “Lost,” and even “Glee”, ending in a beautiful paint-ball Mexican stand-off and monster green-paint explosion. There were more movies and television shows referenced in 22 minutes than all of the Movie Movies. It was brilliantly inspired. Nothing on any sitcom in 2010, 2011, or 2012 will top that episode of “Community” (although, two other episodes of “Community” came close — the stop-motion Christmas episode and the Halloween zombie episode). It killed. Not even to mention the fact that Jeff and Britta had carnal relations. Funny, unexpected, and smart. And the most entertaining half hour of television all year long. — DR

breaking-bad-fly_article_story_main.jpg1. Fly, “Breaking Bad.” Two guys spend a night in a secret meth lab, chasing a fly. That shouldn’t work as an engrossing episode of television, yet Fly is the single best hour of TV this year. What could be dull or silly in pedsetrian hands managed, instead, to showcase everything that is amazing about “Breaking Bad,” from the writing to the direction to the consistently wonderful performances of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. One Minute almost made this list and, yes, it’s a fanstastic episode with the most intense minute of television this year, but there’s a quiet beauty in Fly which we rarely get to see on TV. —SF

Honorable Mentions: “Father’s Fraternity” — “Men of a Certain Age”; “Going Down in Flames” — “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains”; “Dual Spires” — “Psych”; “The Booth Job” — “Parenthood”; and “Happily Ever After” — “Lost.”

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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