Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Best of 2011 - TV

Those waiting for my best movies list (there's gotta be at least one of you) will have to wait a while longer.  Given the poor slate of films I actually saw in theaters last year, I don't feel the list would be broad enough until I see some of the Oscar contenders.

In the meantime, I can speak authoritatively on my other passion...television.  Here are the ten shows that I couldn't stop watching and talking about last year.  (Please note I don't have HBO or Showtime for all of you Game of Thrones & Homeland fans.)

10.  American Horror Story
Horror is a little played out in any medium.  While I didn't consider AHS particularly scary (weirdly creepy is more accurate), I loved the unexpected perversions each week offered up.  Wrapping up the first season story line before moving on anthology-style will hopefully keep it fresh.

9.   Louie
"Based on the life" sitcoms from comedians rarely feel real and while this one may only be loosely based on Louis C.K.'s life, it feels so brutally, uncomfortably honest at times that it could be any of our lives.  When that awkwardness becomes utterly hilarious, you know you're relating.  Standout episode "Duckling" deserves a pile of Emmys.

8.   Happy Endings
The best new series of the year is a little sitcom that ABC tried to burn off as a midseason replacement.  Unjustly compared to Friends, the jokes fly so fast you'll miss two more try to wrap your mind around and subsequently laugh at the first one.  Great characters from a great ensemble.  So many good episodes to choose from, but the Halloween installment stands out in my mind.

7.   Modern Family
The best "traditional" sitcom on TV (there's an entry further up this that I don't think fits the traditional mold) deserves all of its accolades.  I challenge anyone to watch an episode and not laugh out loud at least once.  What surprises me the most is that not a single actor in the ensemble is wasted.  Feature any of them and laughs will follow.

6.   Friday Night Lights
The final season of FNL was guaranteed to be heart-breaking and inspirational.  Wrapping up the story of high school football in Dillon, TX (both East & West), even graduating kids and changing the setting never slowed down the show's potent, honest storytelling, anchored by the wonderful chemistry and love between Coach Taylor and wife Tami (Kyle Chandler & Connie Britton).  Highly recommended series for anyone that loves great characters and moving storytelling.

5.   Community
Fans of Community desperately want it to be beloved and understood by the masses to combat the constant threat of cancellation, but the under-the-radar and way-over-the-head aspect is precisely why fans love it.  I know I enjoy when a gag feels like it was written with me in mind and I'm sure I'm missing half a dozen more that weren't.  This year brought us alternate realities, My Dinner with Abed ("cool, cool, cool, cool, cool") and that Glee-ful Christmas episode that gets funnier with every viewing.

4.   Justified
Season one was cool and introduced us to charismatic Marshall Raylan Givens.  Season two showed us Raylan was all too human...butting heads with a dangerous family led by Emmy winning Margo Martindale.  Beware the apple-pie moonshine...

3.  Southland
I can't thank TNT enough for rescuing this too quickly cast away show from NBC.  A spiritual successor to shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide is never short on shocking & powerful moments, but in an organic way that makes sense to the stories.  This season saw a brutal murder of a main character (in a stomach turning scene that I had to watch twice to believe it even happened), a tense rooftop chase and another character's betrayal.  This isn't a show where you feel comfortable getting attached to anyone.

2.   Fringe
Probably the only truly great science fiction series currently airing, Fringe yet again dared to change its entire structure as it concluded its third season and began the fourth.  Why Anna Torv & John Noble aren't running out of room for acting awards baffles me (other than the typical sci-fi bias) as both have been playing multiple takes on their characters for over two years now.  If this show isn't allowed a proper finish, it will be devastating.

1.   Breaking Bad
Every season I assume that BB has hit its creative peak...tense, carefully constructed plotting, award-worthy seems impossible to top.  Then season 4 came along...not a single wasted episode, each one better than the last, moments that beg you to find someone to talk to about it the next day...and a season finale that exceeded expectations.  One more season to go...and I'm not going to say that they can't top themselves...they will.