2011: The Year In TV (The Best)
It's no great surprise to hear we are living in a golden age of television. Over the last decade some of the best drama and comedy in any medium has appeared on television. I personally consume a significant amount of TV so I thought I should probably turn some of my wasted into something productive and let you kids know what's good and what's cruddy . There's a stupid amount of quality stuff out there and although it was a quiet year for good new shows (let's forget TERRA NOVA even exists shall we) we still had plenty of great suckling on the glass teat.
This is going to be a massive post so I'm splitting it up. Today I'll give you the best of 2011. My top 5 shows plus the best Australian shows, comedies and new series with an extra hidden gem at the end. Tomorrow will feature the rest of 2011 from the solid shows to ones that jumped the shark and some true trash in the end.
TOP 5 SHOWS OF 2011
After a first season of solid yet unexceptional episodes JUSTIFIED seemed to have simply carved a niche as a simple pulpy cable show without any great ambition but with season 2 it stepped up with one of the best told serial stories of 2011. Bringing in a bunch of fantastic character actors and crafting a seasonal arc around one of the most interesting crime families seen in ages, show-runner Graham Yost proved that JUSTIFIED could be soon mentioned amongst the big boys of great cable shows. Its 12 episodes were not only a perfect balance of long form arc story-telling and self-contained stories but also an immaculate example of pacing out a serial narrative that builds to a satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend jumping into JUSTIFIED.
I never particularly enjoyed the first season of LOUIE. I often found it too slight and minimal for my tastes. The experimental nature fascinated me but it didn't entirely click until the second season. Here the show finally found its voice with some profoundly melancholy slices of life that on several occasions achieved a state of transcendent brilliance many shows dream of attaining. Highlights included a magnificent turn by Doug Stanhope as Eddie, a semi-suicidal friend of Louis; an elaborate yet insular double episode following Louis on a tour of Afghanistan; the most meta moment of 2011 when Louis confronted Dane Cook over their past issues; and of course Louis making a move on Joan Rivers. Oh and remember to grab me a pack of blueberries, it's important.
3: GAME OF THRONES
This was always going to be a big show. HBO invested a heap of cash into adapting George R Martin's fantasy series and it needed to be good. Luckily it turned out to be pretty great. Redefining the phrase 'taking its time', GAME OF THRONES took 3 or 4 episodes of character introduction and set up before it kicked into gear. Until about the fifth episode I was concerned the writers had got lost in Martin's immense mythology but once the current story kicked into gear I got one of the most exciting and bloody series of the year. Peter Dinkladge steals the show as Tyrion and is easily my favorite TV performance of 2011. I also love that the term 'sexposition' (when boring expository dialogue is spiced up by onscreen nudity) has now become an accepted term. Bring on season 2!
Over 2011 COMMUNITY gave us some of the best episodes of single camera comedy I have ever seen. Balancing post-modern subversion with genuine warmth was something I never even thought possible until several episodes managed to pull it off. Highlights included the masterful spoof of mock-doco comedy shows, a PULP FICTION tribute episode that magically morphed into a homage to MY DINNER WITH ANDRE including a stunning 4 minute monologue that teetered upon Dadaist genius, a clip show that contained clips from episodes we never saw and an episode that showed seven different realities culminating in a cleverly bittersweet conclusion. Despite a rocky first half to season 3 COMMUNITY still offers enough creative brilliance to keep it a vital show. I'm betting it will get 6 seasons and a movie!
1: BREAKING BAD
Coming off one of the best seasons of TV any show had ever had, BREAKING BAD had quite a lot to live up to. Initially the 4th season spun its wheels a bit, looking like the writers were having trouble moving forward. I still feel the first 6 episodes of this season are quite problematic, dealing with issues of the past rather than looking forward but the back end cured any issues I had instantly. The last 4 or 5 episodes of this season are simply some of the best TV I have ever seen. Reaching a level of cinematic Lynchian intensity at times, creator Vince Gilligan steered the show in frighteningly dark directions concluding the season in a horrifically inevitable place. No TV show gave me as much pleasure as this one in 2011 and while on the whole this season was a little flawed and rocky it still reached heights that any viewer of film or TV dreams of experiencing. If this show can pull off its final 16 episodes then we are looking at one of the greatest TV shows in history.
Best New Series:
I had quite a conflicted relationship with HOMELAND over its 12 episode first season. Showrunners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon constantly teetered on the edge of turning this show into a highbrow cable version of 24 (a series both previously collaborated on) and while ultimately the season tipped slightly into the realm of pulp it still maintained a fantastic level of tension and mystery. HOMELAND never totally came through on its initial promise which explored the ethics of surveillance but did offer up a seriously engaging and fast paced 12 episode run despite one or two twists too many. Damian Lewis and Clare Danes gave two incredible performances deconstructing the usual cat and mouse relationship one would expect with a story such as this. Where it can go with its second season is anyone's guess but at the very least it successfully played out its first season with a terrifically taut climax.
Best New Comedy:
The best new comedy on TV in any medium was this innocuous new animated series from the creator of DR KATZ. Sandwiched into Fox's animation lineup between the numerous Seth McFarlane atrocities it was a miracle that it got renewed for a second season. BOBS BURGERS found its feet incredibly quickly for a show like this and developed a genuinely warm and subtle sense of absurdist humour that was not only absolutely hilarious but also iconoclastic and unique. Beautiful voice work from Jon Benjamin and Kristen Schaal (amongst several others) and lovely low-fi animation created one of the best new animated shows I have seen in years. A real treat.
Best Australian Series:
SMALL TIME GANGSTER
This short 8 episode series quietly appeared and disappeared around the middle of 2011 and while it wasn't particularly original it turned into probably my favorite Aussie series of the year. The story wasn't anything new but the plot moved at a million miles an hour with each 24 minute episode and the cast was packed with the cream of Australian character actors - Gary Sweet as the big boss, Sasha Horler as the beleaguered hit man's wife and Samuel Johnston as a shaggy weapons dealer. All this was anchored by a sensational central performance by Steve Le Marquand as the hit man who couldn't bring himself to kill anymore. It all moved a bit too quickly to generate BREAKING BAD levels of tension but it was never less than entertaining and climaxed on a subversively ironic note. The best action/comedy/drama to come out of this country in ages, SMALL TIME GANGSTER is definitely worth tracking down.
Best Australian Comedy:
THE BAZURA PROJECT
After toiling for several seasons on community TV, THE BAZURA PROJECT finally hit the big time in 2011. Well... it hit ABC2 and it was truly one of the most genuinely original and innovative things to hit Aussie TV in quite awhile. Carving a definitive niche with its blend of broad humour and niche film trivia it always was gonna be a hard sell to general audiences but its the type of show that the majority watches with bemusement while the minority obsess over its intricate throwaway lines and clever wordplay. It's unknown as to whether we will see any more of this in 2012 but we should be thankful at least that we got 6 episodes of something this ambitious and original out of the Australian TV machine at all.
Most Underrated Series:
Premiering on the SyFy channel no one expected ALPHAS to be any good. Half decent trash was what we all expected at best but as its eleven episode season progressed ALPHAS became not only half-decent but actually pretty damn good. With some well known sci-fi writers on the crew and David Strathairn leading the cast this show began to soar as it hit its tail end. Resisting the lure of getting mired too deeply in a mythology this familiar story of regular people with superpowers turned into a heap of fun bettering anything HEROES did in its entire multi season run. Finishing on a truly exciting note this quiet achiever of a show is the superhero story you've been wanting to see for awhile. Great, unpretentious fun.