Wednesday, December 28, 2011

THE BEST OF 2011 - The Best TV Of The Year


- There was a lot of great television in 2011, but you had to know where to look to find it. More than ever, the quality offerings on the major networks were few and far between, with cable increasingly becoming the home for top-tier scripted content. Perhaps not everyone agrees, but to me, Fall 2011 was one of the weakest Fall seasons - in terms of great new shows - that I can remember. But a mix of great Spring and Summer TV, and returning hits hitting their stride, ensured that I was glued to the tube just as much as ever. That said, this was also a year in which I found myself watching way too many middle-of-the-road series. I'm usually an optimist when it comes to certain sorts of TV, and if I see a spark of potential, it's hard to give up on a show early in its run. At the same time, with so many legitimately great series on the air, I realized that I no longer had the time or patience for shows that were only okay. I began dropping series midway through the Fall, and never looked back. Between new and old favorites, TV on DVD, blu-ray, Netflix, and Hulu, and competition from movies, videogames, books, and the interwebs, I just wasn't going to waste time on TV that I didn't feel passionately about. But 2011 was a year of new TV discoveries, new insights into what I do and don't like, new ways of watching my favorite shows, and a year in which - for me - the very bar of what great TV can be was raised. So here's what the year in TV was to me:

- The Year Of Breaking Bad: Late last year, I finally dove in to Breaking Bad, and I've never looked back. This year, I powered through the entirety of the series to date in preparation for the then-upcoming Season 4. It was almost a come down, to watch only one episode per week and not be able to marathon the show as I had with the past seasons. But Breaking Bad was so good, so incredible, that I actually felt sort of embarrassed that I hadn't begun watching it earlier. Breaking Bad was THE event television of 2011, and I suspect the same will be true of 2012. Quite simply, the show raised the bar for what I want out of a TV show. The writing is so unpredictable, the acting so good, the production so lush, that I began looking at other, lesser shows with a more critical eye. Not every show is going to be as good as Breaking Bad, but now, the standard has been set, and any new TV drama in development had better take notes.

- The Year of Summer TV: TV got a kick in the pants this past Summer when Game of Thrones debuted and promptly redefined the TV landscape. TV had never been this epic, and the show, I think, may just usher in a new era of genre TV, along with other high-concept series like The Walking Dead. But overall, this Summer had nearly as much good TV as the Fall. With shows like Game of Thrones, Louie, Futurama, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Children's Hospital - my DVR was pretty much filled to capacity.

- The Year I Dropped Glee and Gave Up On American Horror Story: Confession time, people - for a few years now, I've watched Glee. And in its first season, despite the show's ups and downs, I looked forward to each new episode. The show had an entertaining, unpredictable mix of subversive humor and teen melodrama, and I thought it was a fascinating example of how a hit TV show can offer up something new and different in a landscape of sameness. Glee was something totally unique, and for that, I kept watching. But this year, I got fed up. I was sick of the show's overbearing angst and preachy lessons, it's weird sensibilities and lack of likable characters. Once, the fact that the show was so different week to week was a strength - now, that just translated to no plot or character consistency, and no compelling plots to latch on to. The show had simply settled into a pattern of trying to have each episode top the last in terms of randomness, shock-value, and grating moralizing. Interestingly, the exact same thing happened to Ryan Murphy and Brad Fulchuk's other show, American Horror Story - only at a much more rapid rate. After a weird but intriguing pilot episode, the show just became a freakshow of absurd moments and nonsensical plotlines. I had learned my lesson - there would be no reward for investing in the show for the long haul - no payoffs, no justification to keep watching except to be part of the conversation of "what weird, random, obnoxiously stupid stuff is going to happen *this* week?" Thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather be watching legitimately great shows like Breaking Bad and Justified.

- The Year of Going Out With a Bang: It's funny, this past Summer, if you had asked me about the state of two of my favorite shows - Chuck and The Simpsons - I would have not been very kind to either. Chuck had a boring, plodding Season 4, and The Simpsons was in the midst of an extended streak of mediocrity that really and truly made me want to see the show receive a mercy killing. Much to my surprise, both shows have managed a turnaround in recent months. Chuck's fifth and final season has been fantastic so far, with a winter finale that ranks among the show's best-ever episodes. The Simpsons has, remarkably, strung together several great episodes, something the show hasn't done in years. It's nice to be reminded of why I loved these shows in the first place.

- The Year of Don't Call It a Comeback: Who would have ever, ever thought that Beavis & Butthead would be on the air with new - and hilarious! - episodes in 2011? Not I. Even for me, someone who grew up with the show, the show now only existed to me as a hazy memory from back when I lived and breathed all things MTV. But lo and behold, Mike Judge's crude cartoon creations are back, and man, has it been fun to watch their triumphant return. Funny as ever, it' a blast to see Beavis & Butthead riff on the latest and not-so-greatest in pop-culture.

- The Year of High-Concept Fall Failures: Trust me, I had enough TV shows to watch that part of me was hoping that there wouldn't be a lot to like in this year's Fall TV offerings. But I never expected that, when all was said and done, when the smoke cleared, there wouldn't be a single new Fall TV show that 100% won me over. I had been excited by several new shows, but almost all turned out to be creative flops, if not also ratings flops. Terra Nova was the one I couldn't wait for, but after watching three episodes, I quickly realized that watching this sci-fi dinosaur series would be an excercise in pain. I tried to watch Once Upon a Time, but it just didn't measure up to the level of quality I look for if I'm going to commit to a weekly serialized show. On the comedy front, I liked Suburgatory at first, but it quickly fizzled into standard sitcom fare. 2 Broke Girls intrigued me thanks to Kat Dennings, but I was rapidly turned off by its lowest-common-denominator laugh track-infused attempts at humor. The only new Fall TV show I'm still watching? New Girl. I don't yet love it, but there's some smart writing, a good cast, and it seems to be slowly but surely finding its comedy legs.

- The Year TV Went Full-On Geek: Game of Thrones solidified it: TV can now do just about any genre, and in some ways, it can do 'em better than the movies. I mean, movies have their limitations. They're one-and-done. Even with an ongoing franchise like Harry Potter or The Dark Knight, you miss out on a lot of the richness and detail of the books or comics. But Game of Thrones showed that longform storytelling is often where it's at for geek-friendly adaptations. Walking Dead also made a compelling case. And both proved that we no longer have to talk about TV geres in terms of boring old cliches like medical drama, law drama, cop drama, etc. - now, add zombie apocalypse and high fantasy to the list.

- The Year That Steve Carrell Left The Office: There were some great episodes of The Office in 2011, but overall, the show felt all-over-the-place as it struggled to figure out how to handle the departure of Michael Scott. The send-off episodes were a mixed-bag, with a guest stint from Will Ferrell disappointing. So far, this season has felt directionless, with Ed Helms' Andy character still trying to find a consistent voice. There are still glimmers of the old Office hilarity here and there, but time will tell if the show still has one last great run ahead of it.

- The Year That The Friday Night Death-Slot Kills and Kills Again: Fringe is one of the best shows on TV, but it's been relegated to an obscure Friday night timeslot where few watch it, and even fewer watch it live. Some might say that the lowered expectations of Friday nights actually help the show to survive, but to me, it's just sort of a shame. Even as FOX pushed the heck out of new show Terra Nova, it continued to all but ignore its best drama, and one of the best series on network TV. I don't know what the future holds for Fringe, but I do know that it deserves better than Friday nights.

- The Year That Smallville Ended: I wrote a long retrospective peice about Smallville over the summer following the series finale, so I won't go into too much depth about the show here - but certainly, the end of Smallville was the end of an era. Though the show never matched the potential of its best episodes with any degree of consistency, it still opened the door for more high concept series that would follow in its footsteps. What will the next big superhero TV show be? 2012 may hold the answer.

- The Year That Cable TV Takes Over: The best shows on TV in 2011 were inarguably on cable. AMC, FX, HBO, Cartoon Network, and other nets housed the best shows of the year, by and large. But therein lies a problem. Cable TV is pricier than ever, with premium networks like HBO and Showtime adding even more heft to absurd cable bills. Something has to be done, whether it's a la carte channel packages, over-the-top subscription services, or shortened windows for DVD and blu-ray release. Cable TV has never been more creative, but it's also never been less consumer-friendly. Something's gotta give.

- The Year That FX Cancelled Great Shows: It's hard to fault FX for cancelling a terminally low-rated show, but man, it was a double-dose of pain early this year when, only months after unceremonously axing the great Terriers, a similar fate awaited Lights Out - yet another critically-acclaimed but low-rated FX drama. FX is to be credited for developing high quality shows, but man, what can they do to get people to watch? And on that note, this was ...

- The Year That Comedy Kicked Ass, And Nobody Watched: What is with you people? Sorry, don't mean to be accusatory, but it just hurts me that amazing comedies like Community and Parks and Recreation garner such relatively low ratings, even as every pile-o'-crap show with a laugh track or celebrity dancing proves to be a hit. In 2011, these two network comedies were so good that they vaulted into the upper-echelons of the all-time greats. But their ratings stagnation proves a couple of points: a.) people are stupid, b.) older people are stuck in their comedy ways, and won't watch shows that don't feature a chorus of fake, annoying laughter that follows every overly-telegraphed joke, and c.) the younger people who like shows like Community aren't watching it on the air, which means lower Nielsen ratings. Interestingly, Community was just the recipient of a first-of-its-kind deal with Hulu, who paid a hefty sum for the rights to make available past seasons of the show - which shows the value of the show in the world of online streaming. This whole phenomena is nothing new this year - we've seen young-skewing shows like Family Guy, Arrested Development, Veronica Mars, and more all get the axe due to low ratings, only to find post-mortem success in other mediums. And this is a trend that stretches across all genres. Shows like Breaking Bad, Justified ... these are modern classics, but they are watched only by niche audiences. It's all part of the fragmentation of modern TV, I know, and it's probably only going to get worst from here. But dammit, it's still sad to me that a show like Community doesn't get the recognition it deserves in the here and now - except from bitter critics and bloggers like me.

- The Year Where The Fall Felt Like Only a Prelude to The Winter of 2012: Like I said, this Fall's crop of ne shows was mostly underwhelming, but more and more, it felt like the Fall TV season was only a warm-up to mid-season, when a lot of the big-guns will be unleashed. Not only are great shows like 30 Rock, Justified and Eastbound & Down set to return, but high profile new series like Alcatraz, Touch, The River, and Smash are all set to debut in the new year.

- The Year When The Next Big Thing Was Right Around The Corner: We've already seen a lot of changes to the way we consume TV - and now, for many of us, things like DVR, Netflix, and Hulu are a regular part of our television diet. But still, there is a sense that these services are in some ways a prelude to the next major paradigm shift. That shift may involve the a la carte cable packages I mentioned earlier. It may involve a company like Apple or Microsoft circumventing the cable companies and offering some kind of competitive service (already, we're seeing the seeds planted for that with some of the new services available on XBOX). Or it may be the cable companies reestablishing some relevance with things like TV Everywhere (see: Comcast Xfinity as an example). Who knows. And it may not happen in 2012. But soon enough, the other shoe will have to drop.

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 ...


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.

2.) Community

- 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.

3.) Louie

- 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.

4.) Justified

- 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.

5.) Boardwalk Empire

- 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.

6.) Fringe

- Fringe ended last season with a total shocker: in an effort to bridge the gaps between two parallel earths, Peter Bishop somehow blinked himself out of existence, becoming unstuck in time and space. Now, after having seen numerous alternate worlds and realities, we were confronted with yet another - a world where an adult Peter never existed. At times, learning all the ins and outs of yet another reality became a bit tiring, but even when the overall mytharc faltered, Fringe was still awesome sci-fi drama. John Noble remains underrated - in Walter Bishop he continues to create one of the best-ever characters on TV - funny, tragic, and entertainingly insane. Anna Torv continues to impress, playing multiple iterations of Olivia Dunham without missing a beat. And Fringe is still capable of delivering amazing standalone episodes that are pure sci-fi goodness: witness this past November's memorable ep "And Those We've Left Behind," guest starring Stephen Root in a time-travel mind-bender. It was proof that Fringe is still on top of its game.

7.) Parks and Recreation

- 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.

8.) Game of Thrones

- 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.

9.) Children's Hospital

- 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.

10.) 30 Rock

- 30 Rock has been off the air since early this Summer, but man, the second half of Season 5 was so good that I had to put the show in my Top 10. For a while there, it seemed like perhaps 30 Rock had lost some of its comedic mojo. But Season 5 was a return to form, and the show absolutely nailed it with a strong of classic eps to close out the season. Even with tough competition from shows like Parks and Community, 30 Rock remains perhaps the most quotable show on TV - when the show is on its A-game, there's no better written comedy out there. And the cast remains amazing - there are few people on TV who reliably crack me up more so than Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan.


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.

13.) Beavis & Butthead

- 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.

14.) The Walking Dead

- 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.

15.) Chuck

- 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.

16.) Tie: Futurama / The Simpsons

- Okay, I decided to double up on this one, but I'm happy to do so given how cool it is to see these shows putting out great episodes here in 2011. Futurama continues to have a great run following its return to TV, and The Simpsons is in the middle of its best season in years. Craziness! Futurama has some duds this past Summer, but it had several awesome episodes as well. As for The Simpsons ... okay, so the first couple of episodes of the seasons weren't that great, and the Halloween episode was a mess ... but over the last several weeks, the string of "The Food Wife," "The Book Job," "The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants," "The Ten-Per-Cent Solution," and "Holidays of Future Past" were each legitimately great episodes. How did this happen? Is it a fluke? Will the rest of the season go back to nu-Simpsons mediocrity? I don't know, and I'm trying not to question it. For now, I'm just happy that the greatest TV show of all time still has a little gas left in the tank.

17.) Modern Family

- Modern Family has slid a bit in my estimation since it's breakthrough first season, but it's still one of the best comfort-food shows on the air - a show with great characters and an always-awesome cast. I think the show is getting repetitive in its storylines (how much bickering do we need between Mitch and Cam?), but the brilliance of Ty Burell as Phil Dunphy always makes the show reliably funny and entertaining.

18.) Eagleheart

- If you haven't seen Adult Swim's oddball action-show parody starring Chris Elliott, then it's time you tune in to one of the most delightfully wacky shows on the air. From a team of former Conan O'Brien writers, this show puts its Walker, Texas Ranger-esque lead in all sorts of insane situations, and gets a ton of laughs from the always-great Elliott and a very funny supporting cast.

19.) New Girl

- New Girl has been the one new comedy of 2011 that's been reliably funny and that shows a lot of potential. So far, the cast is strong, the writing has glimmers of real wit, and the show seems to be finding its legs after a bumpy first couple of episodes. This could definitely be one to watch in 2012.

20.) Mildred Pierce

- Okay, so it was a miniseries and not an ongoing show, but I wanted to give a shout-out to this HBO drama. It featured some fantastic performances from the likes of Kate Winselt, Guy Pierce, and Evan Rachel Wood, and it morphed from conventional period drama into a truly twisted tale of love and revenge. Certainly, a memorable miniseries from HBO.


- 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.


The Best TV Heroes of 2011:

1.) Hank Shrader - Breaking Bad
2.) Raylan Givens - Justified
3.) Ned Stark - Game of Thrones
4.) Olivia Dunham - Fringe
5.) Patrick "Lights" Leary - Lights Out

The Best TV Villains of 2011:

1.) Gus Fring - Breaking Bad
2.) Mags Bennett - Justified
3.) Dickie Bennett - Justified
4.) Walternate - Fringe
5.) Gillian Darmody - Boardwalk Empire

The Best TV Anti-Heroes of 2011:

1.) Walter White and Jesse Pinkman - Breaking Bad
2.) Nucky Thomspon, Jimmy Darmody, Richard Harrow - Boardwalk Empire
3.) Boyd Crowder - Justified
4.) Tyrion Lannister - Game of Thrones
5.) Daenerys Targaryen - Game of Thrones

Best Actress in a Comedy:

1.) Gillian Jacobs - Community

Runners Up: Alison Brie - Community, Amy Poehler - Parks and Recreation

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy:

1.) Jane Krakowski - 30 Rock

Runners Up: Aubrey Plaza - Parks and Recreation, Erin Hayes, Malin Ackermann, and Lake Bell - Children's Hospital

Best Actor in a Comedy:

1.) Joel McHale - Community

Runners Up: Alec Baldwin - 30 Rock, Louie CK - Louie

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy:

1.) Donald Glover - Community

Runners Up: Danny Pudi - Community, Nick Offerman - Parks and Recreation, Adam Baldwin - Chuck

Best Actress in a Drama:

1.) Kelly MacDonald - Boardwalk Empire

Runners Up: Anna Torv - Fringe, Emilia Clarke - Game of Thrones

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

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama:

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

- And that wraps up my coverage of the best in television of 2011. Thoughts? Comments? Critiques? Hit me up - and stay tuned for further coverage of the Best of 2011!


  1. I gotta go with Giancarlo Esposito - Breaking Bad for supporting actor. Still havent started Fringe yet, but Gus really was a performance for the ages.

  2. Hi Paul - I hear you. When I thought about the best supporting actor category. there were so many great performances this year it was hard to narrow it down. Even on Breaking Bad alone, there are several performances that are, in my mind, award-worthy. In the end though, I guess my sentimental favorite was John Noble. He's so great on Fringe week in and week out, and the amazing thing is that Walter Bishop is the show's funniest character yet also its most intense. Noble really brings the full range of emotion - it's just a tour de force performance every week.