Might as well face it: If you don't have cable, you don't have TV. Not a lot of TV worth watching, anyway.
Of the best TV series of 2010, eight are on cable.
Oh, the networks still have some worthwhile shows. But unless you want to fill your life with procedural dramas featuring cops, lawyers or doctors, you've gotta pay.
Here's my 10-best list.
1. Justified (FX): OK, it's a cop show. And yes, he solves pretty much every case inside an hour. But the stories of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a character created by the great Elmore Leonard, and the singularly excellent performance by Timothy Olyphant as Raylan make this the show of the year. Olyphant commands the screen with pure Eastwood-esque calm and confidence. He's unflappable, whether he's negotiating a surrender or having his gun and badge taken by a rifle-wielding escaped convict. Superb work.
2. Boardwalk Empire (HBO): A sprawling, wonderful mix of history and fiction set in 1920 Atlantic City, N.J., this series continued to surprise every week thanks to expertly written characters and extraordinary actors. In particular, Michael Shannon (who plays Agent Nelson Van Alden), Vincent Piazza (as Lucky Luciano) and Stephen Graham (as Al Capone) turn their secondary roles into star vehicles.
3. Louie (FX): "Every day starts with me, like, my eyes open and I reload the program of misery," comedian Louie C.K. says in the title role where he plays a version of himself. His pain is our pleasure, even when we're cringing. Make sure to see the episode where Louie goes down south to perform a show. Easily the funniest half-hour on TV this year.
4. Mad Men (AMC): The best of the returning series found the ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce struggling to hang on and Don Draper finding love – or something like it – in the presence of his angular, young secretary. Four seasons in, Mad Men remains exceptional TV. It feels like you're watching a novel.
5. The Big C (Showtime): A comedy about a woman with cancer? Yep, and Laura Linney handles the roles perfectly. She's funny, strange, uncomfortable, confused, spontaneous, off-putting. In short, everything you might be if you were shockingly diagnosed with terminal skin cancer in your mid-40s. Completely fearless writing – what other show kills off a main character before the end of the first season? And John Benjamin Hickey, who plays her homeless-by-choice brother Sean, turns in genius performances week after week.
6. Men of a Certain Age (TNT): How do you handle getting older? With any luck, as well as Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher do. Even when these three buddies are messing up, they're endearing and wholly believable.
7. Sons of Anarchy, The League, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX): FX programming is fearless. A series about a brutal motorcycle gang? Check. A group of friends trying to one-up each other in fantasy football and in life? Check. Not very bright friends/family members scraping by in the City of Brotherly Love? Check. And all are excellent.
8. Modern Family (ABC): I'm not finding the second season quite as funny as the first one, but the family members are still some of the best on TV – especially Eric Stonestreet as Cameron, Rico Rodriguez as Manny and Ty Burrell as Phil. When you like spending time with characters, it doesn't matter whether they're always "on."
9. 30 Rock (NBC): Still smart, still funny, still clicking on all cylinders. This season's live episode was one of its best yet.
10. The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret (IFC): Talk about painful comedy. David Cross plays a notorious liar who gets insanely over his head when he's sent to England to sell an energy drink that turns out to be toxic and run a business he has no ability to run. The first season was only six episodes, which turned out to be just enough. You have to be in the right mood to watch this, but if you are, man, it's funny.