Ten Reasons We Loved Watching TV in 2011
by melanie809 created 09 Dec 2011 | last updated - 27 Dec 2011
It's not hard to come up with a long list of series that made TV worth watching in 2011. No, the hard part is limiting that list to just ten entries. Note that this is not our idea of a definitive Best of the Best list, although you'll see a lot of the shows on this list on many Best of 2011 TV lists. Rather, this is a list of shows that we not only loved watching in 2011, but loved encouraging other people to watch. With that, here are ten reasons why we loved TV in 2011, in no particular order.
“ "Louie" Newcomers to this FX half-hour may have been baffled by the idea that it was a comedy and its star, Louis C.K., is one of the most sought-after comedians on the circuit. Not every episode is a parade of gut-busting laughter; then again, not many cable shows that call themselves comedies are. But each episode of "Louie's" second season gives us something else most cable half-hours don't: meaningful, profoundly artistic commentaries on the awkward comedy of human existence.
The raw beauty of "Louie" is that it wildly veers between wrenchingly hilarious situations and heartbreaking moments of realism. Many critics cite "Louie: Duckling (#2.11)," based on the comic's visit to Afghanistan to entertain the troops, as the perfect culmination of that idea. Once you've seen the episode and its climactic moment (where Louis C.K. disarms a potentially deadly situation by falling head over heels as he chases a baby duck), you'll understand why.
But my favorite second season episode, and the one I cite the most when introducing people to the series, was "Louie: Subway/Pamela (#2.6)." The "Subway" portion perfectly captured the beauty, chaos and low-brow comedy of life on the ground in Manhattan, while "Pamela" presented a portrait of unrequited love that Woody Allen would have a tough time writing any better. The next time someone insists that a television comedy can never achieve the level of high art, sit that person down for an episode of "Louie." ”
“ "Game of Thrones" Initially a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for viewers -- which camp you stood in largely depended on your stomach for gore and tolerance for unapologetic, often unromantic nudity and sex -- the first season of "Game of Thrones" blossomed into an illustration of the brutal truth that might often conquers right.
The personification of that idea, the honor-driven Ned Stark (Sean Bean) paid the highest price for holding true to his moral compass, resulting in one of the most shocking TV moments of 2011...that is, unless you read the books. (Even those who had, however, were moved by Bean's performance and the construction of that scene.)
But the most memorable character in "Game of Thrones" ended up being Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), a meek disenfranchised royal who began the season as her spoiled brother's pawn with nothing but the threads on her head, and ended it as a Khalessi destined to change the fate of the world. In a time during which circumstance has upended many of our lives, that final scene of Daenerys rising from the ashes, unburned and accompanied by three newborn dragons, surely sent chills of excitement down millions of spines.
We eagerly await the new season, due to return in the spring of 2012. ”
“ "Parks and Recreation" Modern workplace comedies don't usually get many points for sweetness and optimism. Nevertheless, these very qualities fuel this NBC comedy, which not only found its creative stride during its third season but brought one of the funniest characters on television into full, meaty bloom: Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman).
The heart of the series may still be Amy Poehler's cheerfully driven bureaucrat Leslie Knope, and the antics involving Donna Meagle (Retta) and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) even spawned a catchphrase this fall: "Treat Yo Self." But the stalwart, prematurely grizzled Ron Swanson is the cement that holds the Pawnee Parks Department together. Ron represents some lost version of the American male, the kind of man who chops wood for fun, takes pride in being able to survive on beans, and can dig a perfect ditch.
Ron is so set in his ways, in fact, that the episodes where he comes unglued -- thanks to jaw-dropping encounters with his ex-wives Tammy Two (played by Offerman's wife Megan Mullally) and Tammy One (Patricia Clarkson) -- resulted in some unforgettable, truly epic moments of comedy that will be difficult to top.
Leslie continues her quest for political office this season, and true "Parks and Recreation" fans are in her corner. But Ron, you had us at meat tornado. We're hoping to see a lot more of your weirdness unfurl in 2012. ”
“ "Breaking Bad" Our first glimpse of the cancer-ridden Walter White (Bryan Cranston), shuddering as he stood in front of his broken-down R.V. meth lab while holding a gun, presented a jarring portrait a frightened, desperate but determined man. White never stopped being determined, but in the fourth season he traded in his fright for ferocity and stopped being a pawn.
Many series encourage viewers to revel in the main character's bad deeds. But our tense dive into Walter's moral descent during "Breaking Bad's" fourth season tested our loyalty in daring ways as the once-gentle chemist and father risked everything to take down his nemesis Gus Fring...including committing a truly sinister act that is only divulged in the season's final frame.
"Breaking Bad" had a rough start. Even when it found its rhythm, it wasn't everyone's cup of tea; its current, perfected incarnation still can be very difficult to watch. But if you have the stomach (or the appetite) to power through the first three seasons, the explosive fourth is the reward you were hoping to receive for your loyalty and effort - and will leave you scared of Walter White as opposed to scared for him. ”
“ "Downton Abbey" Love, rivalry, tradition, secrets, betrayals -- all common and expected ingredients in a period piece about post- Victorian upper class life in Britain.
While these elements certainly added plenty of spice to "Downton Abbey," what gave the series its beautiful soul was its thoughtful and elegant examination of class dynamics.
Set just prior to the beginning of World War I, the series introduces us to the Crawleys, the inheritors of a vast country estate who are lacking in the resources to maintain the house, the land, or the staff devoted to maintaining its upkeep. The direct heirs to the estate die in the Titanic disaster, and with the current Earl of Grantham lacking any male heirs, the family's hopes are pinned on a distant relative, a middle-class solicitor who finds the idea of being waited on by others distasteful remnants of a bygone era.
As "Downton Abbey" examined the ways in which changing economic realities were leading to the decline of the aristocracy, it also navigated viewers through the estate's servants quarters, where the cooks, maids and valets are just as reliant on the Crawley Estate's status quo remaining in place -- and where its denizens also engaged in their own version of political and social maneuvering.
What makes "Downton Abbey" so addictive, however, are its touching portraits of humanity, even within the smallest interactions.
Beautifully-rendered performances, lovely costumes and a gorgeous setting all work their magic as well, but combining all that with Julian Fellowes's thoughtful storytelling allows a look into the heart of these characters -- and what we saw there sparked an unique love affair U.S. viewers can't wait to continue when Series Two premieres here on PBS in January 2012. ”
“ "Justified" Season two surpassed the high bar set by the first season of this FX drama, and not just because Timothy Olyphant's fiery-tempered U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens fought most of his battles with his wits and fists as opposed to his sidearm.
In telling the tale of a crime family lording over a faded mining community, "Justified's" writers uncovered a treasure of a performance by Margo Martindale, who played the clan's multifaceted, iron-willed matriarch Mags Bennett. Martindale made Mags easy to like but dangerous to trust, and her contentious face-offs with Raylan, rooted in an intergenerational rivalry between her family and his, often began with friendly conversation and, perhaps, an offer to sample Mags' legendary Apple Pie moonshine. Like the woman herself, the drink occasionally masked a deadly poison. That did not stop people from agreeing to a glass of it.
The warm humanity in Martindale's villain demonstrates the care with which the writers render "Justified's" characters, be they heroes or criminals. Raylan Givens is a thrill to root for, without question. But when Mags's world crumbled and she brought her reign to the ending she chose, it broke our hearts to watch her go.
Fortunately, we have not seen the last of Raylan's biggest rival (and one of our favorite current TV characters) Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Season three of "Justified" kicks off on January 17. ”
“ "Homeland" Initially a conspiracy thriller mixed with romantic tragedy, "Homeland" grew into an exploration of psychological contents under pressure.
Special agent Carrie Anderson (Claire Danes) was once consumed with catching Marine Sgt. Nicolas Brody (Damian Lewis), who she suspected had been turned by Al Qaeda while in captivity for years, so she would not fail to stop another terrorist attack. Now, as the first season draws to a close, she's a wreck. Carrie got too close to Brody, emotionally and physically; a hospital stint from a blast injury left her unable to mask her mental illness, effectively ending her career.
Viewers do not have a clearer understanding of Brody's intentions, either. The producers toyed with us throughout this season, never making it clear whether Brody was a terrorist or just a man trying to survive. Throughout, Lewis and Danes each created empathetic portraits of torn loyalties - bending and, yes, even breaking under the weight of their circumstances. "Homeland" has been cleared for a second season, and we can't imagine the series without either Danes or Lewis.
The fact that the penultimate episode has kept us guessing as to their fates, however, only highlights how successful the producers have been at constructing the first season's story arc. ”
“ "Awkward." Jenna Hamilton's (Ashley Rickards) wobbly existence is niftily summed up by the title of this MTV series. A smart and largely invisible girl with a wicked sense of humor, Jenna has faithful friends, a quiet existence, and a mother who would give Dina Lohan stiff competition in a Narcissistic Mother-Daughter pageant.
But one day an anonymous "care-frontation" letter smacks her life sideways. It opens with, "Jenna: As you are now, you could disappear and no one would notice"... and only gets crueler from there. After reading the letter, she experiences a freak slip-and-fall in the bathroom that knocks her unconscious... and wakes up with the world thinking she tried to kill herself. Suddenly the girl who lamented her unpopularity is all anyone can talk about. It doesn't help matter that her not-a-suicide-attempt is highlighted by a stint in the world's worst arm cast.
Oh, and did we mention the fact that she's secretly hooking up with the most popular guy in school, a boy who refuses to publicly acknowledge her existence?
Creator Lauren Iungerich and the "Awkward" producers put Jenna through the social wringer during season one, but there is never a point at which you pity Jenna Hamilton. Instead, "Awkward" is a realistic tale of a spiritual growth spurt, where a one-time wallflower dares to bloom under the pressure of bullying. When this thoroughly enjoyable, largely underrated series returns for a second season in 2012, we hope life is a little kinder to Jenna...but for the sake of her situation's comedy, not too kind. ”
“ "Community" This show was one of the reasons we loved TV last year, and it remains one of our favorite reasons for watching now. Moreover, it demonstrated tremendous creative growth between season two, when it was still finding its voice and heavily reliant on pop culture references and film spoofs, and season three, when creator Dan Harmon made a point of exploring the inner workings of his characters.
Jeff, Britta, Abed, Shirley, Troy, Annie and Pierce still get sucked into send-ups of popular movies and films (its recent "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"-meets-"Glee" parody, Community: Regional Holiday Music (#3.10), was uniquely inspired), but Community: Remedial Chaos Theory (#3.4) was one of the most creative, imaginative 30 minute episodes of 2011.
In showing several versions of one scene via a number of different timelines, the writers explored the varying effects of each character on the group's social dynamic...and challenged the idea that Joel McHale's smug Jeff Winger is the group's leader. The end was validating for a number of reasons, topmost being that it confirmed what we already knew: Abed rules. ”
“ "Revenge" The first episode of this marvelously addictive primetime soap opera opens with a famous quote attributed to Confucius: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." The legendary sage could not have foreseen the likes of anti-heroine Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), a ravishing and mysterious woman of apparently endless means who is bent on destroying the lives on all the people who ruined her father.
From the moment Emily showed up in the Hamptons, life for the community's ruling clan, the Graysons, has been upended in turmoil, and the collateral damage from her vengeful schemes has resulted in at least one unintended death so far.
As series co-star Madeleine Stowe noted before the series began, in the current climate there's something delicious about a fantasy of taking down the rich. "Revenge" allows viewers to have their cake and eat it too: Almost every episode is a buffet of high fashion and over-the-top soirees in settings most people can only dream of enjoying. The added promise of noirish mystery at each step is a nice bonus and, yes, there will be schadenfreude, since the heroine's goal is to wipe the smug grins on the faces of the richest characters in addition to draining their bank accounts.
Emily's vendetta road may be getting rocky but "Revenge" is a smooth guilty pleasure well-suited for the times. We can't wait to see what exciting perils and intrigues the next intersection is hiding. ”
“ Runners Up: As always there are many, many more series that we watch and love than there are slots on a year end list. If I had endless amounts of time and space to hold forth on their virtues, this viewer would rave about the quirky hilarity of "Portlandia" and the endless moments of ribald genius within our favorite episodes of "Archer" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia". I'd tell you why the second seasons of "Boardwalk Empire" and "Luther" were even better than their first. I changed from being suspicious of "Once Upon a Time" to being utterly enchanted by it.
I would pledge allegiance to the always entertaining "Modern Family" and "The Big Bang Theory", marvel at the stunning fourth season of "Sons of Anarchy", and make a case for a recent discovery of ours, the highly underrated "Happy Endings". I have recommended all of those series to curious viewers and will continue to do so in 2012.
Lastly, while I still profess love "New Girl", my feelings have a lot less to do with what Zooey Deschanel brings to the mix than the fabulous contributions of Max Greenfield, better known as Schmidt. May he be around long enough to save a down payment on a condo with all the contributions he's still making to the apartment's douchebag jar. ”