What a terrific year for television. No matter what genre or style you happen to be a fan of (with the possible exception of science fiction), there was something moving, thought-provoking or just plain entertaining on the menu for you. We saw returning favorites up their game (Parks & Rec, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Justified), auspicious debuts (Game of Thrones, Homeland) and out of nowhere pleasant surprises (Wilfred, Revenge, Alphas).
Here's my list of the tops in TV for 2011. Inspired by the methodology from the AV Club's Best TV of 2011 list, I assigned a total of 150 points across my favorite shows of the year, with a max of 15 and minimum of 1. First, the grid, and then a few thoughts:
The top two shows were a contrast in focus. Breaking Bad delved deeply into the psyches of a handful of flawed, fascinating characters, while Game of Thrones lived up to the hype and expectations of fans of the novels, and showcased an entire sprawling world, yet both proved that while plot machinations and unexpected reveals can keep you on the edge of your seat, it's really the characters that matter.
Justified is just like a fine bourbon of the kind they drink in Harlan County; it gets better with age. Mags Bennett was a wonderful creation, rightly earning Margo Martindale an Emmy, and Raylan Givens is right there in the pantheon of gunslingers we'd all want to be, with Mal Reynolds and Han Solo.
Speaking of sci-fi, it wasn't exactly a good year. Stargate Universe got canceled just as it started to get good, Terra Nova was a willfully stupid, disjointed mess, Falling Skies was schmaltz and Torchwood: Miracle Day took some fascinating ideas and dumbed them down so much that we almost forgot how good Children of Earth was. Still, Fringe doubled down on its alternate universe plot and continued to feature unsung, award-worthy work from its leads (now including Seth Gabel as Lincoln Lee), and Doctor Who produced some awe-inspiring episodes (particularly the openers and Neil Gaiman's), though the master plot for the season crawled up its own ass a bit. Despite that, Matt Smith, Karen Gillian, Arther Darvill and Alex Kingston gave it everything they had and sold the emotion, if not the logic, of all the twists and turns. Now, how about a spinoff with Madame Vastra and Jenny?
Friday Night Lights didn't have an undefeated season on the screen (did anyone care about "Epyck?"), but it spiked the ball in the endzone with an emotionally perfect finale. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose, y'all. Texas Forever.
Comedies had a VERY strong year. What do you like? Satiric and profane? Optimistic and sweet? Cynical and pop-culture aware? Realistic and continuity be damned? Just laugh out loud funny? All here and accounted for in 2011.
Good "pulp" is hard to do right. If it's too self-serious, it can become dour and bludgeoning. If it's too operatic and over the top, it ventures into unintentional comedy. For me, Sons of Anarchy and Luther struck just the right balance (anchored by captivating performances), and gave me the thrill of reading dime novels as a kid.
There's probably no middle ground with American Horror Story. You either love it or hate it. To me, it was a wildly amusing cuisinarting of every plot point under the sun (Ghosts! Sex! The Anti-Christ! Murder! Rape! Flashbacks! Abortions! The Pope! Bitchy gays! School shootings! Teen love! And MORE!) made all the more enjoyable by Jessica Lange chewing ALL THE SCENERY as Blanche DuBois by way of The Exorcist. Come for the worst fictional therapist since Dr. Chilton, and stay for the Rubber Man! Of course, since this is a Ryan Murphy joint, we know the center won't hold and it will soon devolve into an even more incomprehensible and less amusing disaster, so enjoy it while you can.
And finally, lowered expectations can lead to pleasant surprises. I didn't hold out much hope for Alphas, after Heroes, No Ordinary Family and The Cape, among others, shit the bed on telling engaging superhero stories. However, slowly but surely, Alphas assembled a solid cast and offered up a compelling take on the genre within a SyFy budget. I'm also not one for prime time soaps (at least since I was a kid watching JR Ewing). But on a lark, I added Revenge to the DVR and lo and behold, I was entertained week after week with this Hamptons-based riff on the Count of Monte Cristo, featuring Madeleine Stowe's icy queen bitch and an ageless dog. Both shows sound silly and lightweight, but give 'em a try and perhaps you'll be as entertained as I was.
Agree? Disagree? What makes your top TV of the year?