It's a tradition that critics of all stripes end each calendar year with Top 10 lists. 10 is a nice round number, and a seemingly easy way to separate the best from the rest, but it's a number I've always struggled with. In all the years I've been writing about television, I almost always had to find a way to cheat the confines of 10, whether through ties (often but not always involving thematically-similar shows), more nebulous groupings (in 2001, my #2 entry was "Fact-based movies and miniseries," a particularly shameless canard that allowed me to squeeze "Band of Brothers," "Boycott," "61*" and a bunch of other strong movies and minis into a single entry), or multiple lists. In recent years, I've done separate lists for new and returning shows, and last December, when working on my Best of the '00s choices, I wound up coming up with a ridiculous 7 different lists encompassing more than 50 different shows.

The argument against my "Everybody gets a trophy" approach is that if you honor everything, than nothing seems special. My feeling has always been that there's so much good stuff on television - particularly over the last 10 or 11 years - that you can still make a clear demarcation between the truly special stuff and the rest even if you go past 10 and into 12 or 15 or even 20.

Still, the editors at HitFix wanted all of our critics to do lists of 10 and only 10 for our video lists, while leaving us free to go longer on our individual blogs, and I found the exercise really interesting. Forced to stick to 10 shows overall - particularly in a year that had featured so many great rookies, and so many veterans delivering series-best work - I had to make tough decisions. There's always a lot of apples-to-oranges comparisons going on, and I shuffled entries in and out of the back of the list a bunch of times before finally settling on my final 10, but when I did, I was happy with that 10, even as I was disappointed with some of the shows I left out.

Fortunately, I did have that freedom to do my usual new/returning split here on the blog, and all the shows that just missed the cut of the top 10 are represented somewhere in these two. So go watch the video list, then you can read my takes on the best new shows and the best returning ones, and then you can feel free to pelt me with your "No love for (show x)?" complaints in the comments for any or all of these posts.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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