Finding the Good in an Ugly TV Year

Remember how the critics loved Lone Star, a quirky fall Fox series where Big Love meets Dallas?

Probably not.

Critics love quirky, but it's a harder sell for viewers, who obviously weren't enchanted by a cute Texas con man with two wives. Fox whacked that ratings disaster faster than you can say Tony Soprano. This year there were shows that were gone before their time, while others needed killin' and the ax didn't fall fast enough.

So as 2010 winds down, we look back on a mediocre TV season to see what stood out:

Best New Series

Even in a year with tougher competition, HBO's Boardwalk Empire would landed on top. HBO knows how to recruit top directors (Martin Scorsese) and producers (Terence Winters, The Sopranos), cast stellar actors (Steve Buscemi, Kelly MacDonald) and market that series to bring in the viewers. HBO's mob connections, first with The Sopranos and now with Prohibition gangsters, has paid off. Buscemi's powerful performance as early mobster Nucky drove this well-written drama that just kept getting better with each new episode.

Best Series You Might Have Missed

Idris Elba (The Wire), plays complicated British cop Luther. He's a man who falls prey to his demons and suffers a mental breakdown when his wife leaves him. To catch up on the six-episode series, buy the DVD.

While it's easy to overlook a series airing on BBC, it's a little harder to ignore a broadcast network series like ABC's Detroit 1-8-7. Yet viewers haven't charmed to it, probably because it airs against The Good Wife. Or more likely because it started with a shaky pilot and some bad reviews. But Detroit has stepped up since then, delivering a series with complex moral issues, and a lead cop (Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos) who has more than his fair share of secrets.

They Picked Up What???

Where to start? So many candidates, so little space. Let's go with shows from each of the Big Three broadcasters: NBC's Chaseis a poor substitute to the superior USA series In Plain Sight, also about a kick-ass U.S. Marshal. ABC's No Ordinary Family came out of the gate as a fun little excursion, but quickly turned into the cruise from hell with little character development and boring stories. And then we have $#*!My Dad Says, which would have died a merciful death if not hammocked between two hit shows –- Big Bang Theory and CSI.

Gone But Not Forgotten

FX kicked the buddy show Terriers to the curb, but did it in the classiest way ever by holding a conference call with critics to say what we all knew: Great show, bad ratings. But never fear, creator Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit) is back with a terrific new midseason series, Fox's The Chicago Code. Still, too bad Terriers had to be put down before its time.

Funniest Comedy

The lone standout is Fox's Raising Hope. The humor has all the subtle undercurrents of a junior high boys' locker room. And no one is saying that's a bad thing, especially if you're a fan of Malcolm in the Middle or My Name is Earl.

Most Disappointing New Comedy

When you hear the creator of Arrested Development is coming back on the air with a new comedy starring Will Arnett and Keri Felicity Russell, you get some high expectations. Those were shot down after the first episode of Fox's Running Wilde, a comedy that never quite got its act together despite the addition of David Cross.

Most Engaging New Drama

Justified provided a not-to-be-missed season on FX. Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens brought Elmore Leonard's iconic character magnificently to light as Raylan struggled with his feelings as a lawman vs. his lawless upbringing. The contemporary setting didn't stop this from being in the best tradition of Western flicks.

Supernatural Hit

Slow-witted zombies don't make the most fascinating villains, but they don't have to when you stack the deck with watchable characters and compelling stories. AMC stays on a winning roll with The Walking Dead, about a group of survivors from a zombie holocaust. There are heroes, sex, love and lots of killing. And even a dash of gallows humor. What's not to love?

Supernatural Miss

After watching too many of those promos about what WASN'T the event, by the time the series rolled around no one cared what The Event was. Jason Ritter creates a beguiling actor, but even his charm isn't enough to hold our attention in this aliens have landed series. We'll stick with the reptilian version of aliens in ABC's much more watchable series V.

Reality Scores

When Seth climbed under the table, sobbing because he didn't have enough liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze his dessert, we knew Top Chef: Just Desserts had some major drama going with our new nutty buddy. When producers said that pastry chefs could whip up more drama than any basic chef on the planet, you knew this had to be good.

Reality Bites

This show just left us cold. And can Vince Neill ever be taken seriously as a real rocker after this? Well, maybe that ship had already sailed. Too bad the show didn't feature at least a few hunky skaters on the ice, instead of has-been celebrities who didn't know a triple Lutz from a butterfly spin.