2011: A Year In Television

As I expressed in my recap of 2011 in music, I think listing art is a somewhat silly exercise. Still, as someone who started this blog to talk about television, I felt like I should share my thoughts on this year in TV.

Last year, I lamented the incredibly weak crop of fall pilots and the continuing erosion of broadcast ratings. Neither of those problems were really solved in 2011, though ratings seem to have stabilized for the time being. But, even with a less than stellar crop of new series on the network side, there were a handful of new treasures and even more returning favorites stepping up their game.

If all goes according to plan, I should have a piece up early next week praising individual performances and shows that missed my Top 10, but I wanted to make sure to get my list of this year’s best up before the ball dropped. So, without further ado, I give you my Top 10 TV Shows of 2011.

10. Happy Endings

Happy Endings has been funny from the get-go, but it hasn’t had an easy run by any stretch of the imagination. After taking an early beating from critics who wrongly judged the show on its premise rather than its content, it looked like Happy Endings was headed for an early grave. Thankfully though, by midway through its spring run, the show started to win over viewers and critics alike. With one of the best ensembles on TV, and whip-smart writing, Happy Endings has become both a constant source of enjoyment and a genuinely great comedy series.

9. Boardwalk Empire

Most of the problems that were endemic to Boardwalk Empire‘s first season reared their ugly heads again this fall. Yet again, the show stalled a bit during the first half of the season and struggled to give all of their talented actors the appropriate amount of screen time. Michael K. Williams all but disappeared in the back half of this season and  Michael Shannon’s story was glaring misstep for the show. But, even with those issues, Boardwalk continues to be one of the most gripping serial stories on TV. And, unlike other shows who copped out this fall (*cough* Sons of Anarchy *cough*), Boardwalk Empire went for broke with its finale.

8. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia always has a few outstanding episodes per season, but it’s been a few years since they’ve a truly outstanding season overall. This fall, Sunny was firing on all cylinders. Pound for pound, no other show on TV made me laugh more often. In fact, out of this season’s 13 episodes, there was only one (“The Anti-Social Network”) that didn’t have be busting a gut.

7. Homeland

Dubbed “the show of the fall” by just about everyone who took the time to watch, Homeland is a thrilling look on what it means to be a patriot, as shown through the eyes of a male solider returned home from war and a female CIA operative who believes he has turned. Even as aspects of the mystery were gradually revealed, EPs Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon were careful to avoid taking sides. Right up until the finale, I wasn’t sure which of the two fantastic leads I was suppose to side with, and then they went and shifted the dynamic up again. It’s also worth noting that Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin are all fantastic in their respective roles.

6. The Vampire Diaries

I carry a torch for The Vampire Diaries, both because of its quality and the fact that most people have simply written it off. The back half of last season was better paced than just about anything else on TV at the time, and guest star Daniel Gillies made me to want to stand up and clap every time he came on screen. This fall, TVD has spent a bit more time on a ghost story than I’d have preferred, but it’s also had absolutely terrific episodes like “Disturbing Behavior.”

5. Parks and Recreation

Season 3 of Parks and Recreation, which aired entirely in 2011, is about as consistent a season as humanly possible. Unlike many, I didn’t particularly like “Flu Season” and I thought “Eagleton” was a tad too broad but, outside of those two episodes, Parks and Rec was simply aces. This fall, the show has been just as good, managing to be both funny and touching. November’s “End of the World,” in particular had be beaming from ear to ear.

4. Louie

Louie was a show that just missed my list last year, in part because the split episode structure used in the show’s first season yielded mixed results. This summer, Louie committed to telling longer form stories, some of which were more dramatic than comedic, and the show grew exponentially as a result. I’m won’t be posting a Best Episodes of 2011 list but, if I did, “Country Drive” would almost certainly be #1 or #2. No episode of television from 2011 better captured the human condition than that half hour.

3. Boss

Based on its near absence from the numerous Top 10 lists I’ve read these past few weeks, I liked Boss much more than the greater critical community. Whereas I’m typically hesitant to recommend shows to my friends, I’ve been singing Boss’ praises from Day 1. The dialogue on this show is so grandiose and the overall plotting of the first season really impressed me. I didn’t see any of the revelations from the season finale coming, which is incredibly rare. Thank goodness Starz renewed Boss before it aired though, because boy oh boy were the ratings bad.

2. Game Of Thrones

A sprawling epic that made me race for the TV every Sunday night this spring, Game of Thrones is most definitely the Best New Series of 2011. Yes, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had the benefit of source material but that can be a double edged sword. Before the show even started airing, I was preparing myself for backlash from fans of George R.R. Martin’s novel series, but that backlash never came. Benioff and Weiss managed to successfully adapt a famous series, and add new beats in, without alienating anyone. That’s no easy feat.

1. Friday Night Lights

As I explained last December, I watched Friday Night Lights on NBC. So, all of the show’s 5th and final season qualified for this list, and what a final season it was. Jason Katims and company were able to properly service most of the new group of kids (poor Hastings Ruckle) while simultaneously bringing back several of the actors who helped make the show great. Sure, there were some blemishes, I’m looking at you Epyck Sanders, but that didn’t detract from the overall joy this show brought me week in and week out. Texas forever, y’all.

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