Stephen King: My Top 10 TV Shows of 2010
10. MORNING JOE (MSNBC)
The commercials are endless and there are too many white guys in ties, but this is still a fine way to start the morning. It's like a big Thanksgiving dinner. Joe Scarborough is the sometimes irritating, sometimes amusing uncle who talks too much (and donates too much, according to his bosses); Pat Buchanan is Crazy Grandpa; and Mika Brzezinski is the sweet, often acerbic mommy who tries (usually without success) to make peace over the mashed potatoes. Good talk for the politically inclined.
9. BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO)
Gangsters with tommy guns, bare-breasted chorus girls, sinister mobsters. We've seen it all before, but Steve Buscemi lends humor and gravitas to the role of Nucky Thompson. The Martin Scorsese-directed premiere was bravura, the Atlantic City sets are luxurious, and the writing is sharp. ''You can't be half a gangster,'' Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) tells Nucky, but the Nuckster tries.
8. SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS (Nickelodeon)
Okay, I'm addicted to life in Bikini Bottom; do you have a problem with that? The show is always witty and often fall-on-the-floor hilarious.
7. SONS OF ANARCHY (FX)
You don't have to be Irish to love season 3 of Sons of Anarchy, but it helps. The split story — between Belfast and Charming, Calif. — occasionally feels strained, but the characters, essentially working-class dudes walking the thin edge of the law, remain magnetic. You care about their struggles.
6. DEXTER (Showtime)
Season 4 featured the brilliant John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer, and probably the most shocking finale of last year. Michael C. Hall is consistently terrific in season 5 as a serial killer bringing up baby in suburban Miami. Props also to Jennifer Carpenter, who plays Dexter's foulmouthed sister, Debra.
5. DAMAGES (FX)
Season 3 wasn't as crisply plotted as the first two, but the premise — the icily unscrupulous Patty Hewes trying to retrieve the stashed fortune of a Bernie Madoff-type scam artist — was deeply satisfying. Ted Danson continues to charm as the slimy businessman Arthur Frobisher...who should really have a series of his own.
4. THE EVENT (NBC)
In this clever, suspenseful drama, the U.S. is holding political prisoners in the Arctic: not terrorists, but aliens who might be terrorists. The Event is 24 crossbred with Lost, and that's a helluva gene pool. Kudos to Jason Ritter in the lead role and Laura Innes as Sophia, the leader of the marooned aliens.
3. BREAKING BAD (AMC)
Bryan Cranston is still riveting as rogue chem teacher Walter White, Aaron Paul finally won his richly deserved Emmy, and Giancarlo Esposito — the chicken king who runs a meth empire on the side — is the smoothest criminal on TV. Season 3 gasped a bit as it reached the finish line, though. Memo to creator Vince Gilligan: It's time for closure.
2. THE WALKING DEAD (AMC)
What makes zombies scary again? Start with fine actors (headed by Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Callies), add taut scripts about likable people under stress, and throw in beautiful ?photography, so that the lush Georgia summer contrasts with the rotters shambling through the streets of Atlanta. All of a sudden you're talking about that 21st-century rarity, ?appointment TV. NBC passed on this series. Need I say more about why basic cable is now the place to be?
1. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (DIRECTV/NBC)
The proliferation of great shows about bad people — many of them noted here — is troubling. But here, on top of my list, is the anti-Dexter: a beautifully crafted drama about decent people trying to live decent lives in a down-at-the-heels Texas town. Last season's highlight was a wrenching teen-pregnancy story in which Becky Sproles (the luminous Madison Burge) comes to Coach Taylor's wife (Connie Britton) for abortion info. Tami gives it...and loses her job. A lot of love and honesty has gone into Friday Night Lights, and it shows every week.