Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best of 2011 - The Year In Television

Welcome to part 2 of Genres & Judgements' Best of 2011 lists, this one is for the ten best TV shows of the year.

There is so much good television on these days, especially comedies. When I started to think about the shows I was going to have to leave off this list, I almost turned it into two -- one for comedies, another for action/drama shows -- but 10 is just such a nice, simple number. And I'm lazy. Who knows, maybe next year! Onward...
10. The League (FX)
What a transformation The League has made. It's always been good for some laughs, but a few adjustments made in season three -- namely fewer plots revolving around fantasy football, more Nick Kroll and dropping that bizarre requirement of earlier years of a Jon Lajoie musical number in nearly every episode -- it's gone to the next level (evidence). There were also a bevy of well-placed guest stars throughout the season, including Eliza Dushku, Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman, but none were better than Jeff Goldblum's turn as Ruxin's father (during the best Thanksgiving-themed episode for any show ever). It doesn't matter if you don't follow football or even play fantasy sports. The best parts of The League have little to do with that stuff.

9. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
While most of the best dramas in 2011 built themselves into a fury before ultimately pulling back the reins during that final episode to the colossal disappointment of their audience (I'm especially looking at you, Sons of Anarchy), Boardwalk did no such thing. If anything, they went further than I ever dreamed they would. The reason this show is sitting this low on my list is because the early episodes continued the first season's slightly tedious plotting. But that changed in a hurry during the final slew of episodes. It'll be interesting to see if the show can continue at this level with the necessary changes as a result of the finale; I hope it can.

8. Parks & Recreation (NBC)
It's pretty safe to say this is the most consistent comedy on TV; it never ceases to make me smile a few times an episode, and that's between when I'm bursting at the seams laughing. The supporting characters are the best part about the show, especially Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson who never fails to kill his scene ("You had me at meat tornado."). The latest stretch of episodes haven't been quite as good as when season three ended in the spring (hence its drop in my hierarchy), but with recent events in the show, it appears that the less-interesting subplots have been excised. See what the gang in Pawnee is up to here to see what I mean.

7. Doctor Who (BBC)
Matt Smith's second year in the TARDIS was even better than the first. That said, this year's Who was one of the victims of building more anticipation for a grand ending than the show was able to deliver upon. However, in this case, the small stories away from the larger story arc of the season were mostly outstanding and still enabled to maintain its position in my good graces. And that big story... man. Is anything better in the Who-verse than River Song? There's so much magic evident when Alex Kingston and Smith share a scene. I know more River means less Amy and Rory, and would spoil us with too much of a good thing, but dammit if sometimes I want it anyway. Enjoy the Christmas special this week because it'll be a while until we get more adventures with the Doctor -- Fall 2012.

6. Game of Thrones (HBO)
What a debut season. After some slow plotting early on, Thrones failed to yield from my attention once it got going. Any other complaints regarding this fantasy action-drama are likely to be nit-picks. Having recently finished the novel which this inaugural season is based upon, I can attest that they really trimmed most of the fat from the narrative, leaving all the best parts to play out on screen. What's most exciting about this series is to hear from fans of George RR Martin's novels that the best is yet to come. We'll get at least three more years of Thrones, as they're already making preparations to split book three, A Storm of Swords, into two television seasons. Winter is coming, indeed.
Did I leave your favorite show off? Got any guesses as to what the final five are? Find out after the jump.

5. Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)
Yeah, FNL ended ages ago, and only a handful of episodes originally aired in 2011, but how could I leave off one of the best shows ever, especially when it has the uber-rare perfect series finale? Honestly, if you haven't watched it yet, I don't know how many times you need to hear it's one of the best all-around television shows ever filmed before giving it a shot.

4. Justified (FX)
In its first season, Justified propped up its star, US Marshall Raylan Givens, to near mythical status as a law-abiding gunslinger. It was great. But in season two, they decided to keep him from solving all his problems with his sidearm and allow him to fail, whether it be professionally or personally. Raylan was forced to find balance between his work, his past, and the people he cared for. Positioned against a far-more crafty adversary than the Crowder clan, this achieving that equilibrium proved to be a struggle. In the process, the show went to the next level, elevating itself to must-watch status.

3. Community (NBC)
No comedy on television is more experimental than Community. It's willing to change the status quo dramatically within a few episodes. When it works, it's funnier than anything else on right now, and when it misses, it'll miss significantly. Fortunately, missteps are not the norm from this group. Mostly, the show has continued to build upon it's own jokes, much like Arrested Development did, which makes it a little tricky to jump into new episodes cold, but also garners bigger laughs from the loyalist of fans. For the moment, Community has been struck from NBC's returning lineup at the start of 2012. But it'll be back. I mean, what are people gonna watch instead? Whitney?

2. Louie (FX)
Louie is a comedy, but it doesn't always seem like one. I'm never quite sure from week to week if Louis CK is going to go for slapstick, slice-of-life or biting satirical humor, and that unpredictability is probably why I enjoy it so much. No other show feels more honest. Sometimes that honesty can make you uncomfortable, but you know deep down it's true. Because of that, I can't take my eyes of it.

1. Breaking Bad (AMC)
After naming it the best show on television last year, I had hoped that creator Vince Gilligan would continue to produce more good material for the show. Little did I realize he would find a way to outdo himself, forging one of the most powerful string of episodes ever. In other words, Breaking Bad is even better than when I thought it was the best show on tv last year. That a mere ringing of a tiny bell can create that much tension speaks volumes to how engaging BB can be. Relish it now because it all comes to end next season.

The Rest:
11. Boss (Starz)
12. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
13. The Hour (BBC)
14. Sons of Anarchy (FX)
15. Archer (FX)
16. New Girl (FOX)
17. Treme (HBO)
18. True Blood (HBO)
19. Fringe (FOX)
20. Modern Family (ABC)
21. Lights Out (FX)
22. The Walking Dead (AMC)
23. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)
24. 30 Rock (NBC)
25. The Borgias (Showtime)
26. Shameless (Showtime)
27. Underbelly: Razor (Nine Network)
28. The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (Disney XD)
29. Bored To Death (HBO)
30. The Chicago Code (FOX)

Did Not Watch Yet:
Homeland (Starz)
Damages (Audience Network)
Happy Endings (ABC)
Strike Back (Cinemax)

Best Guilty Pleasures:
American Horror Story (FX)
Beavis and Butthead (MTV)
Once Upon A Time (ABC)
Smallville (CW)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Cartoon Network)

2011 Television Show Recaps 
Breaking Down the 2011 Television Season (Part 1)
Breaking Down the 2011 Television Season (Part 2)
The 2011 Summer TV Report Card

More of the Best of 2011
Best Albums Of The Year
Films Of The Year

Genres & Judgements: The Year In Television (2010)

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