Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Top 13.5 Shows Of 2011

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If you’ve been following the blog, you’ve seen my (infrequent) TV Power Rankings where I list what I feel are the best shows airing on television at any given time. Because I love lists [1] and it’s considered standard for critics [2] to compile a year-end list, here are what I consider to be the 13.5 best shows that aired in 2011. Why 13.5? Because I’M A MAN. I’M 33. I do what I want. Here now without any further adieu, I lovingly present to you the Top 13.5 Shows Of 2011.

[1] Who doesn’t love lists, really? You know who doesn’t? Communists.
[2] Something that I fool myself into believing that I am. Humor me, please.

Honorable Mention: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia; New Girl; Curb Your Enthusiasm; The Walking Dead; Bob’s Burgers; Portlandia; Childrens Hospital; Happy Endings; Awkward

13.5. Cougar Town (ABC) – The fact that Cougar Town is currently without a place on ABC’s schedule while the flaming pile that is the now-cancelled Work It  “earned” a timeslot is infuriating not only for the fact that ABC would think that airing Work It was a good idea, but because Cougar Town has developed into one of television’s most consistently funny comedies. Unfortunately, its uninviting title (owing to a premise that the show has long since abandoned) has scared away many who would probably enjoy the show and has been a source of frustration for its creative team. Almost a post-Friends Friends, its ensemble cast has gelled into a comedic force that encompasses the heart and absurdity of a show like Scrubs, which isn’t surprising since both series were created by Bill Lawrence. ABC has said that the show will air at an unspecified point in 2012 and from this man’s point of view? Would make a really nice pairing with the nearly-as-funny Happy Endings. (Ed. Note: ABC announced Tuesday that Cougar Town would be returning to its schedule on February 14, taking the place of Work It. Ironic, no?)

13. Treme (HBO) – HBO’s Treme is definitely not a show for everyone. Its glacial pace with regard to its storytelling can be frustrating for some but for those willing to grant it the faith to watch through patient eyes have been rewarded with one of television’s most unique shows. More than anything, it’s a show where the city of New Orleans IS the main character and all of the people who inhabit it are secondary. I know some people abandoned it in frustration during its first season in 2010 but David Simon and his team actually did tighten up the narrative a bit in its sophomore season, which made for an even better year than the first, one that included no small amount of surprises like (SPOILER ALERT) the shocking death of Steve Earle’s street musician, Waylan (END SPOILER ALERT). It’s not The Wire, Simon’s last project for HBO, but it’s not trying to be. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but Treme makes me feel like I actually have. It makes the city that vibrant, and earns it a place on this list.

12. Sons Of Anarchy (FX) – Even if it didn’t completely stick its landing, the fourth season of FX’s biker drama, Sons Of Anarchy, was an encouraging rebound from the morass of the ill-advised Irish adventure that encompassed much of season three. Series creator Kurt Sutter went back to basics in returning the focus of the show to the SAMCRO crew and their machinations in the California town of Charming. The complex web of conflicts included a new sheriff, an ambitious prosecutor, Mexican drug cartels, and no small amounts of violence. Basically, it was the pulpy goodness that Sutter says is the series’ raison d’être. By far, the most compelling aspect was the internal conflict between Charlie Hunnam’s Jax and Ron Perlman’s Clay that unfolded throughout the season. Some critics, including myself, took issue with some of the choices that Sutter made in the series final episodes as they lessened the impact of that particular storyline but just as the third season’s strong finale couldn’t save a bad season, this year’s slightly disappointing final chapter doesn’t ruin what was a fine return to form for Sons Of Anarchy.

11. Archer (FX) – Put it this way – you can’t be dumb and expect to fully enjoy Archer. A bawdy and ribald take on the spy genre, the show’s second season in 2011 didn’t quite reach the heights of its out-of-nowhere triumph of a debut season in 2010 but it continued to be the show that’s home to television’s smartest and most intelligent references and jokes. Creator Adam Reed experimented with actual story arcs in the season’s final few episodes as well as the three-episode mini-season that aired in September (“Hearts Of Archness”) so when the show returns later this week it should be interesting to see if he continues in that vein.

10. Game Of Thrones (HBO) – When HBO announced that they were going ahead with an adaptation of the acclaimed fantasy novel series A Song Of Ice & Fire, I was skeptical. Outside of something mainstream like the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, fantasy has never been my bag. So after the first footage of Game Of Thrones leaked out and was INCREDIBLE, I was much more excited for the series to air and that excitement was rewarded by just how good the show’s debut season turned out to be. My wife is even more fantasy-averse than I am and she enjoyed the hell out of it as well. HBO poured no small amount of money into this project and it most surely shows on the screen as the sets and overall design of the show are breathtaking to watch. And then (SPOILER ALERT) killing off the ostensible main character – Sean Bean’s Ned Stark – in the season’s penultimate episode? (END SPOILER ALERT) That took some BALLS.  It also seemed to play just as well to newcomers as it did to veterans of the books, which is not an easy feat to accomplish. I, like most viewers, cannot wait to see what happens next when Game Of Thrones returns to HBO this April.

9. Parks And Recreation (NBC) – The great television critic Alan Sepinwall had the number nine show on my list, NBC’s Parks And Recreation, as his top show of 2011. Much as I respect the hell out of Sepinwall’s opinions – and love Parks And Rec itself – that’s a little too lofty a perch for Parks And Rec to sit, in my opinion. While it’s probably the most consistently funny show on the list, it doesn’t aim quite as high as two other sitcoms that I have ahead of it, but that’s not taking anything away from Parks And Rec itself. In the past two years, it’s evolved from an uneven and at times disappointing first season into, as I said, perhaps the most consistent comedy on television. It’s hard to hate on a year that integrated new cast members Adam Scott and Rob Lowe seamlessly into the ensemble, (SPOILER ALERT) gave us the wedding of Chris Pratt’s Andy and Aubrey Plaza’s April (END SPOILER ALERT), as well as provided numerous classic Ron Swanson moments (“I worry what you just heard was: Give me a lot of bacon and eggs. What I said was: Give me all the bacon and eggs you have.”). In episodes like “Smallest Park” and “Citizen Knope” the show also hit on the perfect combination of hilarity and heart, earning it a well-deserved place in the top ten.

8. The Vampire Diaries (CW) – The Vampire Diaries is the best drama currently airing on network television. You heard me: The Vampire Diaries is the best drama currently airing on network television. Whether that’s more an indictment of network TV drama than it is an endorsement of The Vampire Diaries is up for debate, but the fact remains that it’s a wildly entertaining show that in some aspects has burned through six seasons of plot in two and a half years. Plot twist upon plot twist is expertly executed with no looking back, and it’s the perfect melding of supernatural storytelling with Dawson’s Creek-esque teen drama. You know all of that hype afforded to True Blood and the Twilight series? The Vampire Diaries is the franchise that’s really deserving of it – and then some. There is, in fact, a sense when you watch a show like this that you know that its breakneck pace will not be sustained for much longer, simply because it’s not possible to keep such a frenetic energy for any length of time. Until then, just enjoy the ride. I know I am.

7. Boardwalk Empire (HBO) – HBO’s Boardwalk Empire saw the risky storyline gambit that Game Of Thrones pulled off and raised it to another level. Its sophomore season had a much cleaner narrative throughline than its first year did – the battle for control of Atlantic City waged by its two central characters, Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson and Michael Pitt’s Jimmy Darmody. In the end, one man emerged victorious and the other suffered real consequences as (SPOILER ALERT) Nucky shot and killed Jimmy in cold blood in the finale’s final moments. Dispatching Pitt from the show is a risky yet incredibly bold and incredibly ballsy move by series creator Terrence Winter. Arguably, it’s even bolder than Game Of Thrones killing off Sean Bean’s Ned because there, Game Of Thrones’ creative team is just staying true to the books. Here, Winter is essentially blowing his show up at the end of his second season. (END SPOILER ALERT) One thing is certain – the choices that Winter made in Boardwalk Empire’s finale (indeed, one of the best moments on television in 2011) will make for an incredibly compelling beginning to season three.

6. Community (NBC) – If you’ve spent any length of time on the site, you’ll know that my feelings on Community are pretty clear. It’s a gem that not nearly enough people are watching, nor is it a show that NBC is treating properly. However, that’s a story for a different time. For now, let’s just reflect on an incredible year that saw the show venture off into different genres (mind-bending alternate timelines; anime games of foosball; paintball; an Apocalypse Now/Hearts Of Darkness homage; more paintball) with relative ease, all while showcasing perhaps television’s tightest and most talented ensemble. That more people aren’t watching Community is a crime (couldn’t help myself) because it’s doing so much more than the average sitcom. It tries new things. It challenges the genre to be something more. It doesn’t always land, but it always TRIES. And in today’s television landscape that’s to be commended – not punished. Thankfully, it will be back on the air at some point in 2012 to finish its third season and I’m not going out on a limb in saying that it’ll probably be back on this list at this time next year. I just hope it’s not the last time.

5. Homeland (SHO) – The top first-year series on this year’s list, Showtime’s Homeland might have had the highest degree of difficulty of any show present here. The drama – about a Marine prisoner of war who’s suspected to have turned terrorist by a CIA analyst – could have easily fallen prey to the melodramatic histrionics that pockmarked much of 24’s seven-season run, particularly when considering that much of the 24 creative team was behind Homeland. Instead, Homeland turned out to be a nuanced portrayal of two people whose lives become intertwined (sometimes literally) and the effects that their choices have not only on them, but on their families as well. Its plot twists were expertly executed throughout the entire season, building towards a satisfying and powerful finale that stayed entirely true to what the series had been attempting to do for its entire run. The three central performances – Claire Danes’ CIA analyst Carrie Mathison, Damian Lewis’s tortured Marine Nicholas Brody, and Mandy Patinkin’s surprisingly understated CIA vet Saul Berensen – were some of the best on television in 2011 and it believably set up a second season for a show whose premise had seemed very close-ended.

4. Justified (FX) – Justified has provided me a roller-coaster of emotions since it premiered in Spring 2010. I was at first excited for a new project from Graham Yost (Boomtown, Band Of Brothers) and Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood), then dismayed at how it seemed to be turning into a slightly-better version of a network procedural, and finally encouraged when the second half of its debut season became more serialized and finished with a pretty tight and entertaining story arc. So, to see it go from “promising” to one of television’s five best shows in its second year was enthralling. Wisely, it stuck to the serialized storytelling in its second year, basing the entire season around the conflict between Olyphant’s Marshall Raylan Givens and the drug-dealing Bennett clan, lead by the remarkable performance of eventual Emmy winner Margo Martindale as the murderous and cutthroat Mags Bennett. The show was note-perfect from beginning to end in its second season and the fact that it began its third season this week has me giddy.

3. Friday Night Lights (NBC) – This one was tough. Full disclosure: Friday Night Lights is without question my favorite show that has ever graced the television airwaves. It had everything I have ever wanted in a television show: realistic plotlines, naturalistic conversation, atmosphere in spades, incredible music, and above all, great performances. The citizens of Dillon, Texas were the types of people that I was glad to spend an hour a week with for the past five years. But the saying that all good things must come to an end is a prevalent one for a reason and the fact that this little-watched gem of a show managed to make it to five seasons (thanks to an unusual sharing arrangement made by NBC and DirecTV) was nothing short of a miracle. Its fifth and final season was every bit as good as the four that preceded it and its finale was a gut-punch of emotion that was a fitting capper to a brilliant run. It could not have ended in a more perfect way, or in a way that was truer to the characters that we had grown to love. This is my way of saying, yes, it got a little dusty in the room when that one aired. If some cruel, cruel person allowed me to watch just one show for the rest of my life, Friday Night Lights would be it. And I can think of no higher praise for a television show than that.

2. Breaking Bad (AMC) – Again, if you’ve spent any time reading this blog in the past, you’ve noticed the roughly eleventy billion words I’ve written about Breaking Bad in the past year. In 2011, the show was tasked with following up on one of the best seasons that a television show has ever had and, by every measure, lived up to the high standards that it had set for itself. It also clearly set up the series’ end-game as 2012 will see Breaking Bad enter its final stretch run (AMC has yet to announce whether the series’ final 16 episodes will air as a single season or as two eight-episode mini-seasons but, either way, there are only 16 hours of Breaking Bad left). Bryan Cranston was expectedly brilliant, but the fourth season showcased the brilliance of Aaron Paul as conflicted meth dealer Jesse Pinkman and the sublime menace of Giancarlo Esposito’s drug kingpin Gustavo Fring. Satisfyingly, the show seemed to find some mainstream appeal as almost every Sunday night – and every following Monday morning – people were talking about the show. The final season will be dark and it will be brutal – of this I’m sure – and I’ll be hanging off of every minute of it.

1. Louie (FX) – And finally, we come to 2011’s best show. FX’s Louie, as I’ve said in the past, is the perfect example of what happens when networks get out of the way and let talented people do what they do. For those unfamiliar with how Louie works, FX gives creator/star/director/editor/caterer (maybe not that last one, but the guy does almost everything on the show) Louis CK a more modest budget than most half-hour shows receive and, in return, he gets free reign to do what he wants. He shoots the show, edits it himself, and sends it into the network And they air it. Simple as that. And that’s lead to the creation of some of the most ambitious entertainment on television in 2011. The stretch of shows that ranged from the season’s fifth episode (“Country Drive”) to its eleventh (“Duckling”) was a creative hot streak unlike any that I can remember in recent years that saw CK make a compelling episode out of nothing more than a car ride with his daughters (“Country Drive”), to an incredible examination of his real-life feud with comic Dane Cook with Cook himself (“Oh Louie/Tickets”), to a poignant look at serving in a USO capacity (“Duckling”). Simply put, to watch Louie is to watch an entertainer who is so completely on his game that it’s almost unfair for his contemporaries. It aims higher than almost any other show on television. Even its misses are admirable but when it hits, it hits harder than anything. And that, more than anything else, is why Louie was television’s best show in 2011.


2 Responses

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  1. No Walking Dead?! What’s up?!

    Rob Spicer

    January 18, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    • Haha… it was an honorable mention, Rob. There were definitely some strong episodes (particularly at the beginning and end of the Fall 2011 run) but it lagged a little in the middle of the season. The episode where Daryl went out into the woods and saw his brother was pretty bad. In my opinion, it just wasn’t as consistent as some of the shows earned a spot on the list proper.


      January 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm

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