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. Read more of this post

Armchair Scheduling: NBC Fall 2011

My goal was to get all of my armchair scheduling pieces up by this past Monday, but that clearly did not happen. Still, I wanted to weigh in on some of the decisions that new NBC President Bob Greenblatt has made over the last few days. As @BigTVFan astutely pointed out earlier this week, it seems as though Greenblatt is shifting the network’s focus towards women, which I personally think is a mistake.

NBC’s comedies may not set the world on fire with their ratings, but they are the best on TV. When you have a core competency (ie. Must See TV Thursday) that skews towards young males, I’d reason that’s the audience you should be targeting. Never mind the fact that ABC already targets middle-aged women and The CW targets younger women, while no broadcast network actively courts young men.

NBC had several pilots in development this year on the comedy side that I was excited about, none more so than Peter Tolan’s Brave New World and Dan Goor’s Family Practice. And, had I written this piece last week, they would have been included in my mock schedule below. Alas, the peacock passed on both shows yesterday, presumably because they were too much like the “niche” comedies they already have. I put niche is quotations, because I don’t buy into the notion that Community’s audience is its audience or that Parks and Recreation can’t cultivate a bigger following; I just think they need a hefty promotional push.

On the drama side, NBC picked up pretty much what I expected them to. They passed on high profile pilots Wonder Woman and 17th Precinct, but both had tested poorly so that wasn’t much of a shock. The one surprise, to my mind, was their decision to order Grimm over Metro or A Man’s World. Grimm has drawn mixed reviews from both brass and critics and doesn’t have the pedigree of either Metro or A Man’s World. Apparently, Greenblatt thought Metro was too high concept for broadcast, which I can see, but A Man’s World would have paired nicely with Harry’s Law.

Lately, there has been talk that NBC will bring their new reality hit The Voice back as early as September. If they do that, they stand the risk of potentially killing a viable franchise before it has time to sprout legs. Far more likely would be a decision to move The Sing Off to fall, though that would conflict with judge Nicole Scherzinger’s new gig as the host of X-Factor. All that being said, my predictions are below. Read more of this post

2010’s Top TV Series: Part 2

5. The Vampire Diaries

It seems as though most of the critical community has checked out on The Vampire Diaries, which is a real shame. Brilliantly paced and expertly crafted by co-creators Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, TVD was bound to be overlooked, because of the fact that it airs on The CW. But, The Vampire Diaries isn’t just a show for teen girls. TVD has one of television’s most bountiful casts. Characters like Tyler and Caroline, who were menialized last season, have been seamlessly usher to the forefront of the show this fall. Even guest stars are allowed to shine on The Vampire Diaries. Last spring Malese Jow proved she could be an emotional powerhouse, and this fall Taylor Kinney wowed audience as Mason Lockwood. If you’re someone who wrote TVD off, I implore you to reconsider.

4. Party Down

I will lament the loss of no 2010 show more than Party Down. Starz’s decision to ax the series was in no way unfounded; its ratings were beyond awful. To me, it’s more upsetting that people didn’t watch Party Down when they had the chance to. Even with the loss of Jane Lynch, Party Down continued to be one of the funniest shows on TV. Moreover, the show had a real heart to it. It’s hard to single out one episode of Party Down, because they all offered something different. “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthdayis an example of how stunt casting can be done correctly, while “Party Down Company Picnic” had Kristen Bell showing off comedic chops not seen in films like When In Rome. However, “Cole Landry’s Draft Day Party” was probably my favorite episode of the show’s 2nd season. It was an episode where everything fell perfectly into place. Something tells me that Party Down will cultivate a following on DVD, in much the same way Arrested Development did. And, I’m OK with that.

3. Parks and Recreation

The first season of Parks and Recreation gets an unfairly bad rap. Those first 6 episodes were far from perfect, but they hinted at what the show could potentially be. Over the course of its 2nd season, Parks and Recreation blossomed into TV’s best comedy. It introduced us to the one and only DJ Roomba, it provided us the joys of Ron F-ing Swanson, and it gave Adam Scott a new venue to show off his acting chops after the cancellation of Party Down. NBC made the foolish decision to sit Parks and Recreation this fall, so they could launch the shamefully unfunny Outsourced. Thankfully, Parks & Rec will return to the schedule on January 20th.

2. Mad Men

When I look back on the 4th season of Mad Men, I’m impressed by what the show managed to achieved, in spite of creator Matt Weiner’s delusions concerning dating in the 1960s, alcoholism and motherhood. HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall had the opportunity to speak with Weiner, shortly before the 4th season premiere. In the interview, Weiner said he didn’t think Don was going to struggle too much in season 4 or act “off his game.”  However, Don was “off his game” for the vast majority of the season. Gone were the grandiose scenes of triumph that had littered seasons past. Instead, we got a Don who was in over his head… a Don who spent most of the season in a drunken stupor. This provided some interesting tension and led to “The Suitcase.” I, however, tend to prefer Mad Men episodes like “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” which mix wry humor with nuanced drama. Once the season had concluded, Weiner spoke with Vulture, and made similarly ignorant comments about Betty that left me sighing. Basically, what I learned this year is that I love Mad Men, but not Matt Weiner.

1. Friday Night Lights

I adore Friday Night Lights, but I’ve had really bad luck with DirecTV’s service. Because of this, I’m forced to watch FNL when NBC reairs the series during the summer months. So, to clarify, I’m ranking season 4 of the drama atop my list of 2010’s best. Sending Coach Taylor to East Dillon and introducing a slew of new characters could have been the death of Friday Night Lights, but it actually reinvigorated the series. Matt Lauria and Michael B. Jordan were welcomed additions to the cast, and newcomer Madison Burge dazzled in a particularly captivating arc during the latter half of the season. Season 4 was also home to “The Son,” which I’d wager was the best hour of television to air in either 2009 or 2010, depending on when you saw it. The work that Zach Gilford did in that hour was so superb that it made the Emmys failure to recognize him reprehensible. The only consolation was that the episode itself was nominated for Best Writing in a Drama Series. Taylor Kitsch should also be commended for the work he did in season 4, particularly the last few episodes of the season. The final season of Friday Night Lights is currently running on DirecTV, and while I’d love to be watching it live, waiting until summer helps me delay the inevitable.