It was a year of highs and lows to be sure, but now it's time to honor the year's best. I didn't see everything of course (I hear great things about Homeland, and I'm behind on True Blood!), but I did see a lot, and I think that's reflected here. So here they are ...
DANNY'S TOP SCRIPTED TV SHOWS OF 2011:
1.) Breaking Bad- Season 3 of Breaking Bad ended on one of the most intense, nail-biting cliffhangers I've ever seen, and Season 4 picked right back up and never lost an ounce of narrative momentum. Season 4 was a giant chess game, between Walter White and Gus Fring, between Fring and Walter's brother-in-law Hank, between Skyler and her scheming boss Ted, between on-edge Jesse and the hard-to-read Mike The Cleaner. Everything eventually came to a head in one of the most amazing season finales I've ever seen, with Walter finally getting the best of Gus. In this season, Walter in fact became "the man who knocks," and in witnessing his transformation, we're witnessing one of the great American stories of a good man gone bad. Funny, action-packed, completely unpredictable, and intense-as-hell, Breaking Bad this year was the best thing on TV, bar none. We already knew it was great - in 2011, it became legendary.
- Explosively funny, mind-bendingly clever, and unfailingly ambitious, Community will do anything and everything in the name of comedy. This year, the show parodied everything from Apocalypse Now to Glee, and in between it packed in more gags, references, and witty asides than I could count. This was also the year where each and every member of the Community cast finally felt fully formed. Jeff, Britta, Annie, Piere, Troy, Abed, Chang, and The Dean - joined by a calvacade of great side characters and bit players. There hasn't been a world this full of awesome concepts and characters - or a show this sharply and smartly funny - since the heyday of The Simpsons. If you're not watching Community, then you're not watching the best comedy currently on TV.
- As good as Community is, Louie is so fresh and unique that it was close to coming in at #2. Louie isn't always laugh-out-loud funny, but when it is, it's gut-bustingly hilarious. Louie isn't always poignant and dramatic, but when it is, it's as powerful as any drama on the air. What Louie is, always, is a gloriously unfiltered look into the mind of comedian Louis CK, and it just keeps getting better and more must-see as it goes on. In a world where so many TV shows feel processed and created-by-committe, it's amazing to see a show that is this raw and the product of so singular a voice. And what a voice it is.
- Justified was great in Season 1, but man, did business pick up in Season 2. The show's sophomore season upped the ante by pitting hero Raylan Givens against the veangeful Bennett clan, led by the formidable villainy of Mags Bennett (brought to life by a phenomenal performance from Margo Martindale). Jeremy Davies was a standout as Mags' loose-cannon son Dickie, and Walton Goggins continued to be a scene-stealer as the unpredictable Boyd Crowder. This was an awesome season of TV - 100% certified badass.
- Boardwalk Empire has a deep, deep bench of talented actors that comprise its sprawling cast, but it wisely ended its second season by refocusing on the central conflict between its two leads - Steve Buscemi's bootlegging kingpin Nucky Thompson, and Michael Pitt's emotionally-scarred prodigal son Jimmy Darmody. To that end, the final few episodes of Season 2 were so good that I had to reevaluate my thoughts on the show. To me, the exploration of Jimmy's tortured past in S2's penultimate episode, followed by his shocking confrontation with Nucky in the finale, put this show over the edge for me. Boardwalk Empire is now, officially, one hell of a show. The standout performances on the series are simply too numerous to mention, the characters too uniformly great to single out just one or two favorites (though I'll echo others and say that Richard Harrow is the man). I can't wait to see where the show goes from here.
- Parks is another show that, to me ... well, it's crazy that more people aren't watching. What they're missing is a show that's clever, hilarious, filled with great characters, and that even has plenty of heart mixed in with the irreverant humor. The cast of Parks & Rec continues to amaze me, and it feels like each week I have a new favorite character. The show smartly has evolved to take full advantage of its ensemble. Sure, Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope is still front and center, but she's surrounded with the best group of funny people on TV - Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Rashida Jones ... the talent here is insane, and the writing is up to the level of the talent. A modern-day comedy classic.
- It took me a little while to learn to love Game of Thrones. After watching the pilot, I was literally on Wikipedia trying to figure out who all the characters were. But the show's creators had faith that, in time, the show's sprawling storylines would start to gel into a cohesive whole ... and gel they did. By the second half of the season, GoT became must-watch TV, a fantasy epic marked by several fantastic performances. By the time we got to the amazing finale, I was 100% hooked and dying for Season 2. This show simply felt epic. From the amazing production value to the huge scope of the storylines, this show was not only awesome, but redefined kinds of stories are possible on TV.
- I've always hated the notion that comedy can only be great if it incorporates the elements of conventional drama. I don't buy the idea that comedy has to adhere to traditional notions of plot or character to be great. I love absurdist humor - to me, when done right, it's as praiseworthy as any other type of comedy - and no one is doing it better than the mad geniuses behind Children's Hospital. In short, fifteen minute episodes, Rob Cordry and co. pack in more crazy gags and jokes than most shows do in twice the time. Anything can happen, and usually does. And the comic timing of the cast is the best in the biz. Rob Cordry, Megan Mullally, Ken Marino, Rob Huebel, Erinn Hayes, Lake Bell, Malin Ackermann, Henry Winkler, and a parade of guest stars make for a veritable comedy dream team.
THE NEXT BEST:
11.) Lights Out
- Here's one that I'm sure is going to fly under-the-radar of a lot of Best-Of-2011 lists, as it premiered way back in January and ran through the Spring. But man, Lights Out evolved over the course of its single season into one heck of a show - the first time I've ever seen a TV show that encapsulated the big-fight feel of the Rocky movies, but with the story expanded to a season's worth of drama and build-up. For whatever reason, this FX show failed to pick up a big audience, and it was a little slow coming out of the gate. But man, once Eamonn Walker joined the cast as an ultra-intense trainer, the show began firing on all cylinders, and it rode that wave of momentum all the way up to its awesome series finale. Holt McCallany was fantastic as our hero, "Lights" Leary as well. This was a show that deserved a bigger audience.
12.) Curb Your Enthusiasm
- I love Curb - it's one of the best comedies of all time, but I have to admit it had something of an inconsistent season. When it was up, it was really up - witness the instant classic "Palestinian Chicken" episode. But even when it was only okay, there are always little gems - conversations, one-off jokes, musings, and Larry David-isms - that make Curb one-of-a-kind. More, please.
- As I said earlier, it's a complete trip to have this show back on TV and on an MTV that is a universe away from what it was during the duo's 90's heyday. But while MTV has changed, B&B haven't, and thankfully so. Mike Judge's playground to mock culture and society remains as sharp and hilarious as ever.
- Season 2 of The Walking Dead struggled at times, and though there were moments of awesomeness, certain plotlines dragged, and the show had a hard time making its characters truly pop. The same characters that I loved from the comics too often felt boring or annoying on the show. But there were signs ... as the season went on, the show picked up some serious steam, all culminating in a legit-awesome mid-season finale that gave me hope for what's to come. Can't wait to see where things go from here.
- Chuck is almost at its end, so as a longtime fan of the show and its endearingly geeky world, it pleases me greatly to say that Season 5, so far, has been pretty great. Season 4 was often a struggle to get through, no question. But Season 5 has been getting better with each episode, and the recent Christmas episode, which saw the return of Brandon Rough as arch-villain Shaw, was absolutely awesome - a reminder of just how great Chuck can be. It also reminded me that, man, I am going to be sad when this show is done. Even through the rough patches, Chuck's got some of the best characters on TV, and I've always been happy to spend time with them through thick and thin.
OTHER TOP TV:
- A lot of what I make a point to watch on television is scripted, but every so often, something off the beaten path catches my eye. One show that was a total must-watch for me in early 2011 was AN IDIOT ABROAD. The brainchild of Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, An Idiot Abroad sees the pair send their beleaguered buddy Karl Pilkington off on one globetrotting adventure after another. Karl, a man who barely likes to leave his house, is totally out of his element, and his reactions as he visits each of the fables Seven Wonders of the World are always hilarious. Karl's everyman insights are often boneheaded, yet at times oddly brilliant in some strange, simplistic way. The great thing about Karl is that he has no pretentions of culture whatsoever. He'll never be in awe of something just because - and sometimes, that makes him a moron, yet sometimes, you can't help but admire his simplistic worldview. The cool thing about An Idiot Abroad is that, even though it's hilarious, it also functions as a fantastic travelogue, with great scenes of world culture and historic sites. Mostly though, there are few things that crack me up more than the idiot-savant mad genius of Karl Pilkington. A second season of An Idiot Abroad premieres on the Science Channel in early '12, and personally, I can't wait.
- I thought that CONAN had a pretty darn good year, particulary this past winter when he really brought his A-game. His series of shows in New York were consistently hilarious, and he finished out the year with some strong new comedy bits (the Human Centipede Menorah, anyone?) and the return of some old favorites (Clutch Cargo!). Conan is still my go-to choice for late-night hilarity.
- That said, I've also got to hand it to LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON. Jimmy's show has been getting better and better. He's got the best band on TV in The Roots, and his comedy sketches, musical parodies, and guest bands are increasingly becoming the best in late night. The writing on the show is very, very strong, and Jimmy keeps getting better as a host. Mostly though, Late Night has, in the last year, become the source of more buzzworthy comedy clips than any of its competitors.
- Of course, even if I don't watch them as much as I'd like, I once again have to hand it to John Stewart and THE DAILY SHOW, as well as Stephen Colbert and THE COLBERT REPORT. In these tumultuous political times, Stewart and Colbert are the one-two-punch that helps to bring some sanity back into the national political discussion. There is so much absurdity in national politics at the moment, it's nice to know that Stewart and Colbert are there to make sure it doesn't go unnoticed.
- I still feel like SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE can be wildly inconsistent, but I will say that I've enjoyed seeing a new wave of talent slowly but surely take over the show, even as old hands like Bill Hader continue to impress. Hader's Stephon is probably the best and most consistently hilarious recurring SNL character in years, and few other things on TV in 2011 made me laugh harder than the always-awesome club recommendations of Stephon.
- Finally, here's the Best Show I Watched on DVD/Blu-Ray This Year: DEADWOOD. In 2011, an episode or two of Deadwood became a weekly tradition, and I came to admire the show's Shakespearean drama and Old West grit. The cast of the show - maybe even more so in retrospect - was absolutely stellar. And Ian McShane's Al Swearengen has quickly shot to the top of my list of all-time great TV characters. Okay, I'll admit - sometimes a few minutes of Deadwood go by and I'll realize I have no idea what the characters just said (even if I can tell their mood from some strategically-placed expletives). But in general, it's been a pleasure to immerse myself in David Milch's Old West epic.
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy:
1.) Jane Krakowski - 30 Rock
Best Actor in a Comedy:
Runners Up: Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock, Louie CK - Louie
1.) Donald Glover - Community
Runners Up: Danny Pudi - Community, Nick Offerman - Parks and Recreation, Adam Baldwin - Chuck
1.) Kelly MacDonald - Boardwalk Empire
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama:
1.) Margo Martindale - Justified
Runners Up: Anna Gunn - Breaking Bad, Gretchen Mol - Boardwalk Empire
Best Actor in a Drama:
1.) Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad
Runners Up: Sean Bean - Game of Thrones, Steve Buscemi - Boardwalk Empire, Holt McCallany - Lights Out
1.) John Noble - Fringe
Runners Up: Dean Norris - Breaking Bad, Giancarlo Esposito - Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul - Breaking Bad, Peter Dinklage - Game of Thrones, Mark Addy - Game of Thrones, Michael Shannon - Boardwalk Empire, Michael Pitt - Boardwalk Empire, Jack Huston - Boardwalk Empire, Eamonn Walker - Lights Out