At the end of the year, critics like to look back at the television of the past year. One of the most popular way of doing this is by making a top ten list. I decided to join in the fun, making my list of ten series.
Without further ado, let's get to the ten. They are after the jump along with a list of honorable mentions.
When this show is good, it is one of the most fun shows on television. There is a reason why it was nominated five years in a row for an Emmy. Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and the rest of the ensemble continue to do great work in a series that continues to be very funny. It routinely delivers on the jokes every week. There's something to be said about this approach to the TV comedy because it can make for a very enjoyable half-hour of television each week. This show continued to be strong this year with some great episodes and some great guest stars including Chloe Grace Moretz. I hope that when it returns on January 12, it will maintain the quality that it had this year.
This may be one of the most underrated series on television right now. This series has overcome its horrible title and its horrible original premise to become one of the funniest comedies out there. It took the massive talent of its ensemble and ran with it. I could probably watch these people spend time together for a long time. The chemistry between every member of the cast is impeccable and the show has been able to use that very well. The show also had a strong emotional arc with the end of its second season, involving Travis and his breakup. The arc provided great material for everyone in the cast, especially Dan Byrd and Busy Philipps. I wish this show was on my television (it returns sometime in March), because it is one of the most enjoyable shows out there.
This show may not have the perfect plots every week, but it nails almost every single emotional moment for which it aims. This show is one that brings me very close to tears each week. All fifteen people in the cast are capable of playing the emotional beats very well. Because of that, this may be one of the strongest ensembles in a TV drama. It is led by the extraordinarily talented Lauren Graham as well as featuring the fantastic Mae Whitman and Peter Krause. The ensemble can sell everything that Jason Katims throws at them. They also have a fantastic rapport with each other, which includes the ability to talk over one another. It also is a drama that does fantastic character work, especially with Max. His plotlines are generally the most compelling and the best to watch. This is one of the most emotionally genuine series on television, and that makes it worth watching each week.
This show may not be the best series on the list, but it is my favorite. I will always have a special place in my heart for this show. (I will be writing more about that as we get closer to the series finale on January 27.) The series aims high with a balance of comedy and drama that is very difficult to achieve. Its ability to balance both the emotional moments with the comedic moments is a fantastic achievement. Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski are giving very strong lead performances on both of the show's sides. It also has some very strong supporting performances from Adam Baldwin and Joshua Gomez. This year also featured some very strong guest performances from Timothy Dalton and Linda Hamilton. They both played a major role in this year's arc, which largely was well put together. I do not want the show to end, but it is. My television will feel slightly emptier without this series airing weekly.
If you had asked me at the beginning of the year if I would include this series on my top ten list, I would have pointed at you and laughed. I never pictured myself enjoying a show about three middle-aged men going through their everyday life. Based on a logline, it does not seem like the type of series that I would enjoy watching. (Honestly, it sounds like something my Dad would watch.)
However, I watched the series and I found myself drawn into its world. Mike Royce set up three very strong story arcs for the three main characters. Joe's golf arc was fantastic, as were the repercussions of his gambling problems. Terry dealing with working for the car dealership and his first real adult relationship was great. Owen dealing with taking over the dealership made for some fantastic television, especially with the scene where he was literally frozen from the stress. Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Backula were also giving spectacular caliber performances. (Sadly, only Braugher was nominated for an Emmy).
Sadly, this series was not renewed for a third season. Its cancellation is a sad one, as what it set up in its finale would have made for a great third season. What I am going to do is hold on to the summer run as six very strong episodes of television. (The winter run was also good, but the summer run was much more compelling.) This was a gem of a show, and I'm going to miss it.
This is the only new show on this list because it was the best new series of the year. This series showed the massive world of Westeros in a brilliant and fascinating way. It had the high task of introducing all of the elements of the series in a way that would appease new viewers and fans of the book. That is a monumental task and it's one that the show did really well.
Westeros is such a fascinating world and the people in it are some of the most interesting characters on television. The show did a great job introducing those people to the world and making us care about them very quickly. Ned Stark is easily one of the most tragic characters on the show. His death marked one of the best scenes of the series. His arc was one of the most compelling. Credit also has to go to Peter Dinklage, who won an Emmy for a reason. He made Tyrion one of the most fun and compelling characters on television. Emilia Clarke was also fantastic as Dany (I'm not going to spell out the full name). I cannot wait to get more of this show in April and to watch this world continue to expand.
This show takes some of the biggest risks on television. It's a show where you never know what you're going to get every week. It's a surprise every time you watch it. It has the guts to do episodes like a mockumentary (twice), an episode with multiple timelines, a My Dinner with Andre homage hidden in a Pulp Fiction homage, paintball episodes, and a fake clip show. Almost every risk that the show takes pays off for them. The highs on this show have me literally rolling on the floor laughing. Its sense of humor is one of the most unique on TV today. Every episode is a joy to watch because of this sense of humor. Quite a bit of what makes this show great is how the ensemble works together. They have spectacular chemistry and work together very well. Dan Harmon has also finely developed these characters so that they are people. I am going to miss the show when it (temporarily) goes off the air in early-2012, because it is one of the best and one of the most fun to watch.
The world of Harlan, Kentucky is a dangerous one for Raylan Givens, and his troubles make for some fantastic television. This was my first season of the show (it was the show’s second), and it made me regret not watching the first season. It is one of the most dramatic and fascinating shows on television. The sense of world that the show has is one of the most uniquely interesting. It literally puts you in the world of Harlan and does not let you go. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are both giving spectacular performances as US Marshall Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder.
However, a lot of the credit for the success of the second season goes to one person: Margo Martindale. She won an Emmy for her performance as Mags Bennett. I cannot think of a more deserving win than this one. Mags Bennett was one of the most compelling villains in my television viewership, and maybe of all time. Her performance was the perfect mix of menacing and heartbreaking. The twisted nature of the character made for some very compelling scenes. She may be the best one-season character to air on television this year. She helped bring this show from great television to spectacular television.
Parks and Recreation is a series that had one of the strongest years on television. Its third season was almost perfect, with only one minor blemish. The beginning of its fourth season was great as well, with more blemishes but with the same highs as the third season. This ensemble may be one of the best comedic ensembles on television with chemistry that is incomparable to anything else. The way this group works together to be funny is something that no one else has been able to accomplish. This is especially true for Amy Poehler and Adam Scott. The show has done a very good job with developing their relationship over this year, partly because of their performances. Also, Nick Offerman is giving a performance that is spectacular as Ron F’ing Swanson. On another day, I could have made this my number one show, but that honor went to another show, which had a great season.
This series was the best "comedy" to air in 2011. This show is purely Louis CK’s vision, and his vision is both hysterical and brilliant. There is no other comedy that had the ability to tackle one topic perfectly, and then move on to another topic in the next episode. Like Community, you never know what you are going to get each week. Watching his show is like watching an anthology show. Each episode has its own ideas to present and they are executed perfectly. This series was almost perfect during its sophomore run this year. Every single idea that they presented was presented to perfection.
“Duckling” (Louie goes to Afghanistan) was one of my favorite episodes of "comedy" this year. In fact, it made my top 10 episodes post. “Come on, God” (Louie tackles masturbation) was fantastic as well. Whether the show is talking about those topics, featuring Louie confessing his love to another woman who will never feel the same way towards him, or having Louie allow Dane Cook to tell his side of the story, you know you are in for a good time.
This series had an almost perfect 2011 run and if it continues at that level when it returns next year, it may very well appear at the top of this list again.
I would also like to mention the following shows. All of these shows are great in their own way and on another day they could have easily made the list.
The Chicago Code (FOX)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Doctor Who (BBC/BBC America)
Happy Endings (ABC)
Lights Out (FX)
The Walking Dead (AMC)
That's the ten and the honorable mentions! Feel free to leave your comments on the list in the comments.
(A shortened version of this article will appear in the December issue of the Journalist)