There’s nothing more infuriating for some people to be told, “You have to watch this show.” For a lot of folks, that’s exactly how you get them not to watch the show. I have no doubt I’ve driven as many people away from watching “Friday Night Lights,” as I’ve encouraged others to see it (let it be known, however, that those who do break down and give in to it are not disappointed). So, you know what: Watch whatever the fuck you want to watch. If you come home after a hard day at the office and just want to plop your ass down in front of “Hoarders,” and wallow in the misery of others, who am I to discourage that? I don’t care what you watch. It’s your life. If “CSI: Wyoming” does the trick for you, then let it be, man. To each their own.
But I’ll tell you this much: As much as we like to bitch and moan about the shitty state of the movie industry, there are a lot of great television shows on your small screen. Many of them are free, even. There are, in fact, more than 10 really good shows on TV right now, enough actually to make this list somewhat difficult to put together. (Notice: I did leave off “Lost,” but that’s only because it’s ending its run in May, and if you haven’t been bull-whipped into watching it already, then I very much doubt you’re about to start. Just ride it out until June, when everyone will stop talking about it). So, watch your “NCIS” and your “RuPaul: Drag Race” and don’t feel the least ashamed our guilty about it. Crappy shows need love, too. The rest of us, we’ll just be over here enjoying our low-rated television programs and praying that they all get picked up for another season. You can just bask in your “Celebrity Apprentice,” knowing that NBC will never take away your Trump.
10. Glee: I put this show on this list reluctantly and almost against my better interests. There are weeks, yes, where “Glee” deserves to be called one of the ten best shows on TV right now. But then, there are others where it doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near this list. There are just some episodes where the acting is over-the-top cheesy, the drama is rushed, and the musical numbers are forced. Then, there are other weeks where the exact same things hold true, but it just works. Auto-tune or no, I actually admire the ability of the performers to learn the choreography and lay down the tracks, week in and week out. If being a regular on “Law & Order” is a 12-hour a day job, I can only imagine what it must be like to learn your lines, record three songs, and learn the dance moves to four more. But the one thing that does remain consistent throughout “Glee” is Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester, who elevates this show to a whole different level whenever she’s on screen. I get frustrated and bored with this show from time to time, but those great episodes — and Sue Sylvester — make suffering through the rest of it an easy decision.
9. Community: “Community” has a genuine mix of the glib and sweet. It’s not as esoterically hilarious as early seasons of “30 Rock” or “Better Off Ted,” or as biting and relatable as early seasons of “The Office,” but it’s a superior show to both of those NBC comedies now. Joel McHale is hilariously wry, and no “bromance” has been as good as the one between Abed and Troy since old-school J.D. and Turk on “Scrubs.” Chevy Chase is brilliant, and Gillian Jacobs as Britta is actually different from most sitcom love interests. Hell, “Community” is different from most sitcoms. It’s a fresh premise with an unusually fresh perspective.
8. Justified: Timothy Olyphant is gripping in the role of U.S. Marshall reluctantly dropped into his hometown, and he’s a pleasure to watch. Frankly, if the show were nothing more than him wandering around towns, gun by his side, Stetson on his head, I’d probably never complain. Luckily, however, the show looks to have a bit more going for it. One of the smart things about taking the big city Marshall and dropping him into a small pond is that in Kentucky, the Marshalls don’t have specialties, because “everybody does everything — witness relocation, judicial protection, prisoner transport, fugitives.” This promises that the series can play with a lot of different types of weekly storylines, while still exploring whatever larger character and plot arcs may come into play. How can you do better than a 21st Century Seth Bullock? — Seth Freilich
7. The Inbetweeners: I’m not even sure we’ve ever even mentioned this show on the site prior to this, but I caught both seasons of the BBC show a couple of months ago, and it is unbelievably hilarious. It follows a socially ill-adjusted British teenager dropped into public school and how he manages to cope with humiliation after humiliation. It’s a coming-of-age sitcom, something like a British version of “The Wonder Years” with the language of In the Loop crossed with, well, American Pie (in concept, only). It’s also something akin to the comedic version of “Skins.” Bonus: There have only been two six-episode seasons (25 minute episodes), so you can catch up on the entire run on a Saturday afternoon.
6. Sons of Anarchy: Currently on hiatus after wrapping up a phenomenal season two, “Sons of Anarchy” is the motorcycle gang version of “The Sopranos,” and while it doesn’t quite have the dramatic gravitas of “The Sopranos,” the plotting is tighter, the stories are more emotionally driven, and the characters are as compelling, starting with Katey Sagal’s phenomenally acted matriarch. I didn’t think that Charlie Hunnam (“Undeclared”) had it in him at first, but he’s improved markedly over the course of the series, and plays superbly off of Ron Perlman. “SoA” has solid supporting cast, to boot, and that season two cliffhanger has had a lot of us aching hard for the next season.
5. Modern Family: This single-camera, faux-mockumentary sitcom over on ABC follows three suburban families: The traditional one, with a neurotic uptight mother (the glorious Julie Bowen, who is the best actress on television that can’t hold a steady job) and the-thinks-he’s-cool Dad (Ty Burrell), in what is essentially a version of “The Office’s” Michael Scott as a father (only considerable less needy), and their three children. Then there’s an older man (Ed O’Neil) in a track suit, married to a sexy younger woman (Sofia Vergara), who brings her child, a chubby junior-high wannabe Lothario into the marriage. Finally, there’s also the hilarious gay couple (Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet), who have just adopted a Vietnamese baby. “Modern Family” is winsome. It’s genuine. And it’s really fucking funny, though the humor is understated and often deadpan. It’s “Arrested Development” without the screwball zaniness.
4. Breaking Bad: Billed as a dark comedy, “Breaking Bad” is certainly far from upbeat. It’s about as dark and deadpan as you can get within the genre. Although the character of Jesse does provide some much needed comic relief, most of the comedic moments are subtle — often leaving you feeling somewhat uncomfortable as to whether or not you’re supposed to laugh. Walter White is an utterly desperate guy with absolutely nothing to lose. His actions, while sometimes bordering on deranged lunacy, are purely motivated by the love for his family, and the frantic, driving need to provide for them. And the result is a poignant, and at times, downright heartbreaking series. — SF
3. Friday Night Lights: Heading into Season Four (on NBC, at least), after the set of perfect endings “FNL” gave many of its departing characters at the end of last season, the writers — just as they have done before — have taken the puzzle of high emotions and plot strands that they so meticulously and perfectly pieced together last season and smashed it — along with our hearts — to fucking bits. They’ve turned our heroes into massive underdogs once again. By the end of the opening episode of this season (which begins May 7th) there’s not a silver lining in sight, although rock-bottom hasn’t yet been hit. And it’s soul crushing. But while the students of Dillon (and East Dillon) may change, inarguably, the best element of the show remains the relationship between Coach Taylor and Tami. Each week, those two put on a clinic in marriage and parenting — they are to marriage what “The Wire” is to police procedurals. Everything about their marriage is amazing, and after 20 years together, the love they still feel for one another is palpable.
2. Doctor Who: There’s not much I can say about “Doctor Who” that hasn’t been written by Steven Lloyd Wilson already (add to that the now weekly recaps of the latest season). If you haven’t seen it, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. It is to sci-fi shows what “The Wire” is to cop shows, what “West Wing” is to political dramas, and what “Deadwood” is to Westerns. And I say that as someone who really doesn’t like to own up to his inner geek. Watch three episodes; it will own you after that, as many of the readers here can attest. It is a remarkably fun, emotional adventure show, and with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan (the British Felicia Day), along with the new showrunner, Steven Moffat, the new “Doctor Who” shows absolutely no signs of slowing.
1. Treme: Yes, we’re only two episodes into “Treme,” but it’s already apparent that David Simon is going to do for post-Katrina New Orleans what he did for Baltimore in “The Wire.” We’ll have our own official review of the show up soon, but Dan perfectly captured the gist of it over on The Houston Press, when he wrote: “If [“The Wire”] was about seeing a city in decline in the aftermath of the death of the American dream, then this show is the reverse of that, a story of the forced rebirth of a culture that outsiders are doomed to misinterpret. “The Wire” asked what would happen if a city fell apart and nobody noticed; “Treme” talks about what would happen if a city fell apart and the whole world watched. Spoiler alert: Both answers are pretty sad.” This show is going to rock your pants off, folks. And maybe, this time, some of you can pay attention from the beginning, instead of hearing about it for years before you cave in.