Sunday, January 1, 2012

Top Ten TV Shows of 2011

No need for essay-length preamble, you know the drill. Also, standard "I haven't seen everything" disclaimer applies (perhaps most notably I haven't yet seen the acclaimed second season of Justified), so if your favorite show is missing there's no need to stress; it might just be on my to-see list and wasn't excluded deliberately.

Unless of course your favorite show is The Walking Dead, in which case I excluded it extremely deliberately. Sorry. Starting with our runners-up:

Noble Runners-Up (in alphabetical order)

30 Rock (NBC) – Between the freewheeling absurdity of "Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning," the satirical edge of "TGS Hates Women," and the show's slightly masturbatory but still hugely entertaining love letter to itself in its hour-long hundredth episode, "100," the fifth season of 30 Rock ended strong last spring, keeping its reputation as one of TV's funniest and most irreverent sitcoms rightly intact.

Awkward (MTV) – Likely the year's biggest surprise for me and the tiny handful of others way outside MTV's target demo who caught it, Awkward emerged from nowhere to instantly become one of the best high school sitcoms ever. It's not necessarily doing anything that teen movies haven't been since the 80s, but it's an exercise in high school underdog formula executed with remarkably fresh, youthful, and sometimes cheerfully vulgar energy, and lead Ashley Rickards feels like a star on the rise.

The Chicago Code (Fox) – The most tragically canceled one-and-done season of television to air in 2011 came from the very same executive producer behind 2010's tragic one-and-done Terriers, Shawn Ryan, a man on a simultaneously hot and cold streak of artistic success and commercial failure. Nevertheless, these thirteen episodes did a fine job telling a thrilling, complex, and more or less complete story about the intersection between police and politics, with Delroy Lindo giving one of TV's meatiest, most entertaining performances of the year as corrupt Alderman Ronin Gibbons.

Fringe (Fox) – Network TV's best sci-fi show remains network TV's best sci-fi show, and not by a little. Despite the fourth season's controversial new direction (though few will deny the greatness of "And Those We've Left Behind," one of the best episodes of the series), Fringe's 2011 run continued to command cultish love even as it alienated mass audiences with its hard sci-fi, alternate timelines, parallel universes, and animated episode, all while Anna Torv kept delivering not one but several of television's quietly great performances as the many versions of FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham.

Louie (FX) – Comedian Louis C.K.'s loosely-connected series of short films masquerading as a TV series continued to demand respect with its remarkable confidence, command of tone, and week-to-week unpredictability in its second season. Once a comedy, Louie now blurs genre lines unlike anything else on TV, having one episode build in its entirety to a massive fart while other episodes included straight-faced, relatively unsmiling depictions of Louie traveling to Afghanistan to entertain the troops and trying to talk a failed comedian friend out of suicide. 

The Vampire Diaries (The CW) – TV's best supernatural soap (fuck off, True Blood!) kept its foot on the gas and blew through 2011 without letting up on its alarming pace of jaw-dropping plot twists, agonizing cliffhangers, cool violence, nasty villains, and major character deaths for a second. Marrying the outer trappings of a teen drama to the internal combustion engine of a relentless thriller, The Vampire Diaries kicks ass.

Top Ten TV Shows of 2011