TV: Hank Stuever's best TV of 2010 - FX's 'Louie' leads the list

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2010; 9:33 AM

Your personal enjoyment of the year in television depended entirely on how much you love Betty White. But it wasn't all octogenarian, all the time. Here, along with White's much ballyhooed "Saturday Night Live" hosting gig, are some shows, moments and other TV or laptop screen-centric vibes from 2010 that turned me on.

"Louie." FX has become my favorite network, thanks to consistently good shows such as "Sons of Anarchy," "Justified" and "Terriers," which, sad to say, has been prematurely offed after its great first season.

But really I come to praise "Louie," the dark and insanely (and profanely) funny comedy starring Louis CK. Watching Louie bumble through awkward situations is more uncomfortable than a barrel of Larry Davids - and smarter, too.

"Treme." David Simon and company may have lost a lot of "Wire" fans with this HBO series about post-Katrina New Orleans. Good riddance, perhaps, and time to move on. "Treme" was a tough fit (is it a show about music? civic rage? chronic dysfunction?) and yes, after a fantastic first few episodes, it did start to drag. (Mardi Gras felt like a chore.) But the finale, thanks to standout performances from Melissa Leo and Khandi Alexander, made for a beautifully elegiac payoff.

The BP spillcam. The sight of all that oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico was more frightening and more relentless than all the zombies seen in AMC's oddly stultifying hit series "The Walking Dead" (which turned out to not have enough zombies for the discerning horror fan).

For several weeks this spring and summer, I found myself returning to the live, underwater feed of the environmental disaster. Spillcam seemed to symbolize so much about our world now: the end of responsibility, the lack of oversight, the feeling of apocalyptic doom.

"Work of Art." Bravo's soul may belong to the devil (pernicious "Housewives" clones!) but I do hope they bring back another season of this reality competition, in which visual artists of varying potential and talent compete in the manner of "Project Runway" and "Top Chef." It turns out that watching people make art is much more intriguing than watching them sew or cook. And the results are far more subjective, giving the viewer a lot more to think about.

Betty White hosts "SNL." Facebook users demanded it, Lorne Michaels acquiesced, and 88-year-old Betty ruled the land. We all expected the show would treat her gently and use her in a few sketches, but as it happened, she worked harder at it than any other host all season. This seemed to cheer up the national mood immensely, if briefly.

The "Lost" island was purgatory, after all!

Oh yes, it was. We were right all along.

Telling you, it was.

Was too . . .

And the worst TV of 2010...

Everyone assumes the least fun part of the TV critic's job would be having to watch all those stupid reality shows. And they'd be half-right, though I often find real promise and underlying moral lessons in some of the genre.

The creepiness I can't shake this year is that so many reality shows hold women in such low regard -- both as viewers and as subjects. Bravo, especially, persists with the pernicious formula of its "Real Housewives" franchise, adding Beverly Hills and (of course) the heinously boring and mean-spirited Washington version to the increasingly nasty versions already based in New York, New Jersey and Atlanta.

On a not-very-subliminal level, "Real Housewives" encourages women and men (gay men, it's implied) to tune in and decide which woman they hate the most, while the story lines are built around encouraging the women to hate each other. Everyone then mouths a lot of nonsense about how empowered they feel, egged on by the leering Andy Cohen, a Bravo programming executive who hosts a talk show, "Watch What Happens Live."

We tried to break the "Real Housewives" habit in my house, with a fair amount of success and only occasional lapses. Out with it went so much else -- E!'s Kardashian sisters, Bravo's unctuous Patti Stanger of "The Millionaire Matchmaker"; and Logo's "The A-List: New York," a gay rip-off of the "Real Housewives" formula. I know it's hard to go cold turkey, but I recommend you do what you can to get these people off your DVR.

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