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50 Wonderful Things From 2010

The thing that's frustrating about this time of year is that it can wind up feeling like listmaking is all about eliminating things you would like to compliment. You'd like to compliment 13 TV shows, but you're supposed to pick 10, and all you can feel is the three that were left out.

So I decided to eschew the whole thing. Honestly, the hands-down best part of this job is coming in every day and being repeatedly delighted, and if I ever get to the point where I'm not repeatedly and genuinely delighted, it will be time to quit. In absolutely no particular order, with no attempt at completeness, with no promise that I have located the most anything of anything, here are 50 things I heartily, unironically, truly admired and enjoyed this year. This is a list I came up with without breaking a sweat, which is how you know that even though critics can be ... well, critical, we spend a lot of our time being treated to other people's good work.

Here are some treats I was particularly happy to encounter in the last 12 months. I thank everybody who made this stuff. It's a pleasure to take it in.

1. Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon doing the History Of Rap. I've said it before, but I'll say it one more time: Jimmy Fallon has found exactly the right job for himself and exactly the right show for him to do, and between this and the great Emmy opening, he's had maybe the best pop-culture year of anyone. (This clip has been taken down, unfortunately.)

2. Ken Burns' The Tenth Inning. A love letter to a deeply flawed game, is what it really was.

3. Tiny Desk Concerts. Just to name a few essentials: The Heligoats. Nick Lowe. Jimmy Cliff. Bettye LaVette. Watch more here. (Special mention: the Tinier Desk Concerts -- in particular, The Polka Dots.)

4. Craig Ferguson's robot, Geoff Peterson. Designed by Grant Imahara from Mythbusters. Ferguson continues to be wonderful at what he does, and this was a marvelous marriage of the sensibility of his show with the sensibility of Mythbusters -- which, while we're at it, is also consistently a joy.

5. The last 15 minutes of Lost. Many hated it; I loved it. Immensely moving, incredibly satisfying, and fully earned. I still cry. Every time.

6. Ron Swanson taking a header on the grass during the season finale of Parks and Recreation. Great show, miraculous cast, and an unexpected moment of completely extraneous physical comedy.

7. The descriptions of people in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. I didn't love everything about the book, but the ability to sum up human beings in bite-sized descriptions is the thing at which Franzen is a superhero.

8. The expansive, imaginative Inception cinematography. In some ways, it may have been too good for its own good, in that its slickness allowed it to be taken for granted.

9. The Night Of 140 Tweets. A fundraiser for Haiti that brought prolific and funny tweeters together at the UCB theater in Los Angeles. (Still available at Amazon.)

10. Ben Folds on The Sing-Off. Still great. Makes it seem like it's possible to be a reality-show judge and come off well, which is quite an accomplishment.

11. Helena Bonham Carter in the opening scenes of The King's Speech. Yes, Firth and Rush have fabulous chemistry that carries the movie, but the confident, wry way that Bonham Carter lifts the beginning of the film is very important and humanizes the king. She's done a lot of fairly extreme acting (to put it mildly) in recent years; it was interesting to see her do everything small again, and learn that she's still got that, too.

12. The pop-culture ascendancy and triumph of The Hunger Games series. Tied to the release of the third book, Mockingjay, the passage of this series into legend was richly deserved.

13. James Wolk in Lone Star. The show was flawed, yes. And doomed, perhaps. And it was two episodes and out, unfortunately. But the central performance from James Wolk was one of the best I've seen in a while, and deserved better.

14. Glen Weldon's piece on the graphic memoir Special Exits. I'm not too shy to tell you that right here in this very blog, we had the privilege to run one of my favorite pieces of writing from this year: lovely and touching but not mawkish or sentimental, from a friend and colleague who helped light up my 2010 big-time.

15. The voice acting in Disney's Tangled. Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Donna Murphy, Ron Perlman, M.C. Gainey, Paul F. Tompkins, and many more. It's a special movie, very nicely executed, and the acting is part of the reason why.

16. Will Leitch's discussion of the Jim Joyce blown call. Top-notch writing that exemplifies how you do rapid response to a big controversy without acting like a jerk. That Leitch is often tagged with being the worst of the Internet just because of his association with Deadspin is, to say the least, ironic. (See also: Leitch's devastatingly introspective Roger Ebert post.)

17. The Mad Men episode "The Suitcase." And specifically the part where Don Draper (Jon Hamm) yells, "THAT'S WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR!" So very much genius in a single hour of television.

18. The NPR rap. Spectacularly done and also weirdly moving, from the standpoint of someone who works here.

19. That moment in the Community episode "Contemporary American Poultry" where they discuss the phrase "streets ahead." Show creator Dan Harmon does sometimes let his temper get the better of him on Twitter, but this was a perfect example of needling detractors without overreacting.

20. The part of Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work where she shows off her many, many drawers of jokes on index cards. Comedians work, just like everybody else. And they create a product, just like everybody else. I've never seen it illustrated better than in this moment in the very smart and admirably restrained documentary about Rivers that came out this year.

21. Conan O'Brien's speech about cynicism. "I hate cynicism -- it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen." A great way to go out on his last Tonight Show.

22. ESPN's 30 For 30 documentary "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks." This has been a series with installments I loved and installments I didn't, but "Winning Time" is pure, joyful, sports-loving brilliance, and the only thing I would have changed about it was that I wished it were longer.

23. Jesse Eisenberg's twitchy, unsettling performance in The Social Network. Putting aside matters of veracity (as I think you have to), it was a tremendously specific interpretation of a young, intense entrepreneur.

24. Edgar Wright's dynamic direction of Scott Pilgrim Versus The World. The film wasn't commercially successful, but the highly stylized presentation was genuinely inventive and surprising, and the warmth of the story survived the gimmicks.

25. The unsparing ending of Toy Story 3. I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it, but there's a lusciously unsparing brutality to the march of time, and the movie threaded the needle perfectly so that it neither denies that nor gives in to it in despair. It's hard for sadness and happiness to be conveyed at the same time, I think, but they got it done.

26. Baby Monkey (Going Backwards On A Pig). I am a cheap date.

27. The moment on Modern Family where Sofia Vergara says "Shia LaBeouf." Clip here. I am not a crackpot.

28. The Cee-Lo song. Yep, it has profanity. It's also a great song. I listen to it regularly. No regrets.

29. Damon Lindelof accepting his TCA Award. Upon being honored by the Television Critics Association this summer, the Lost co-creator did a hilariously dark reading of some of the angry, profane tweets that followed the finale. It was pretty epic, I have to tell you. Hard to watch, as I mentioned, but something I actually look back on very fondly. (Special mention: Tom Hanks on the same night, cracking up the room with his opener about looking around the room and seeing Ryan Murphy and others dressed down: "This is the last [bleep]ing time I'm dressing up for you people.")

30. The OK Go Rube Goldberg Machine video. Some things that go viral deserve to go viral. It's colorful, meticulous and vital, in addition to just being a freakishly impressive accomplishment.

31. My Old Spice message. I am not made of stone over here, people.

32. Zach Gilford's performance in the Friday Night Lights episode "The Son." Gilford and the creative team at FNL have kept Matt Saracen awkward, uncomfortable, and only reluctantly heroic throughout the show's run. This was a mesmerizing, heartbreaking payoff to years of character development, and a fine example of why this show is so, so very good. NBC's deal with DirecTV kept the show on the air long enough for Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton to get their ridiculously overdue Emmy nominations, and fans will get a much more acceptable send-off than they easily could have had a couple of years ago.

33. Bill Carter's book, The War For Late Night. Even if you're so very over the whole story of Conan and Jay, Carter (who wrote The Late Shift about the original Leno-Letterman standoff) has written a very compelling story of human beings who all think they're right and all wind up feeling wronged.

34. "Mapping The Heavens" at UCB Theater in L.A. While in L.A. for press tour, I was lucky enough to be rescued by a pal with a car who nabbed available tickets from Twitter (no, really!) and taken to see live comedy from Dave Holmes and Rob Delaney, as well as Patton Oswalt and Chelsea Peretti. If you ever get the chance to see any of these people live, please do it.

35. The Choir. There are not enough words to say how joyous this BBC show is, and while it doesn't technically belong to 2010, that's when it came to BBC America, and that's when I saw it, and it made me happier than anything else all year long, musically speaking.

36. Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right. I haven't always been a fan of Bening, but this sometimes unappealing performance as a genuinely unpleasant person who was nonetheless very loving really turned me around on her.

37. Judge Judy hearing a case involving stolen armor and members of the Society For Creative Anachronism. You're just going to have to take my word for it.

38. The "So You Wanna Be A Chef" chapter of Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine To The World Of Food And The People Who Cook. There are people who find Bourdain too acidic to be enjoyable; I am not one of them. This is a fine and vibrant book, and in this chapter, he shoots straight about the many people who are not cut out for a chef's life.

39. Dan Fienberg's Hitfix review of Grown Ups. The fact that I'm not taking shots at anything here doesn't mean that taking shots doesn't have its time and place. In this review at Hitfix, Dan does the difficult job of giving enough of a damn about the stupid movie Grown Ups to explain what's actually wrong with it, which is more trouble than many go to. One of my favorite takedowns of the year.

40. Moby-Dick. No, it's not from 2010. But my reading of it was, and I'll be a grape popsicle if I'm not going to cram it into every list I make for the rest of my life. But seriously -- it feels like an accomplishment, and it has given me the opportunity to make jokes I otherwise could not have. ("Randy Jackson is now the Ishmael of American Idol," for instance.) Read the classics. They are handy.

41. "Safety Dance" on Glee. Kevin McHale, who normally uses a wheelchair to play Artie, got a shot at dancing in this joyful production number that was also one of the first to showcase the fantastic Heather Morris (Brittany), whose role has been expanding ever since. Part of the very good "Dream On" episode, directed by Joss Whedon and co-starring Neil Patrick Harris, it was one of the most organic-feeling dances the show has ever produced.

42. Crystal Bowersox singing "People Get Ready" on American Idol. This was a very, very underwhelming season of Idol, but every now and then, something good happens in spite of everything else that's happening, and Crystal's performance was one of the many reasons that her not winning was so irksome.

43. Jon Hamm's hook hands on 30 Rock. It's sick and it's wrong, but it was so funny.

44. When Tim Gunn took on superhero costumes. Seriously, just could not have been more delightful, this. "From the deltoids up, I get it." Oh, Tim Gunn.

45. James Franco and Mila Kunis in Date Night. Date Night is a pretty cute comedy, and Tina Fey and Steve Carell are pretty good in it. But when James Franco and Mila Kunis show up, the movie briefly becomes -- no fooling -- brilliant.

46. The stalk-eyed fly on Discovery's Life. 'Nuff said. Watch.

47. The Betty White renaissance. It's incredibly strange that we're already at a point where people are like, "Okay, enough Betty White already." For once, we have managed to appreciate and salute someone with a long history of being great for reasons other than death. That's a good development, whether you entirely buy into the groundswell or not.

48. Johnny Weir's press conference. The Olympic skater found himself criticized by two skating commentators for being a bad example for male skaters and perhaps being in need of a gender test. While keeping an admirable grasp on his temper and his tone, Weir stood up for himself and, in turn, for everyone who identifies with him. It was a fine, fine moment of grace.

49. "Chuck Versus The Other Guy." Chuck is a show that has never quite been able to stay stable for a long period of time, but as facile as it seems to salute the "finally, the leads get together!" episode, it was … great. It was touching and sweet and worth the wait. Payoff that fans really want is a very hard thing to do with any sort of integrity, but this was an example of doing it right.

50. Claire Danes in Temple Grandin. It's hard to play people whose affects are unusual, as the real Temple Grandin's is. It's hard to adequately convey that they are unusual without being a cartoon, but Danes was just wonderful in this HBO movie that told both Grandin's personal story and a story about the evolution of livestock management. It could have been strange; it was lovely.

So there they are: 50 things that brought me a lot of happiness in 2010, that I enjoyed unironically and unreservedly. Feel free to add your own, and let's all look forward to an equally good 2011.

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Linda Holmes
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.