We’re nearing the end of December here meaning it’s time for everyone to say goodbye to 2011 and welcome in the new year. And what better way for a TV criticism site to let go and move on then by introducing what I further to as Remotely Interesting Retrospective. I originally planed on making a set top ten list with a number one show, but the fact of the matter is this year was so great for TV content that it’s nearly impossible to choose a singular series as number one. Instead I’m breaking my favorites down to First Tier and Second Tier shows. Any of the five shows in the First Tier could easily be number one given the episode or the timing. The Second Tier is to highlight five shows that were particularly outstanding this year and deserve some extra recognition. In addition to a top ten list I will be writing my thoughts on every series, and there’s a lot of them, that I watched in 2011 to let you know how they fared this year. And don’t worry, all the write ups will remain spoiler free, dealing with only broad strokes rather than fine details, so go ahead and read without fear. Without further ado I present to you what I consider the five “second best” series of the year.
(Second best shows of the year)
Archer: A spy comedy that is infinitely more complex and intelligent than it might first appear. The only comedy on this list that can move effortlessly between jokes about inappropriate office relationships and the importance idioms play in our ability to understand language. It effortless balances between crude jokes and witty dialogue. Archer could have easily taken the easy way out for it’s second season and just delivered more of the same, and yet the show decided to take things to the next level by introducing more multi-episode storylines and even a tinge of drama with the macho-obsessed Archer getting breast cancer. It’s a plot that could have been played as a one note joke, but rather they made it a driving force behind the overall narrative for multiple episodes. Archer is a pure delight with non-stop, rapid fire jokes, and some of the wittiest dialogue in any comedy today.
Cougar Town: The best show with the worst name on this list. Blah blah blah it has a terrible title…blah blah blah I don’t want to watch a show about older women hooking up with younger guys. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to defend this show, but I’ll continue to do it again and again because it’s that good. But let’s get it out of the way here: this show has nothing to do with cougars. The title is irrelevant. A more accurate title would be Scrubs In A Cul-De-Sac In Their Forties With Lots of Drinking Wine and Playing a Game Called Penny Can. Ok maybe that isn’t a better title, but regardless each episode of Cougar Town is one of the most pleasurable half-hours you can spend. The show is relatively light and fluffy, but it knows what it is and it does it fantastically well. Like the majority of comedies on this list, it’s quirky and oddball but never without a dose of heart and love. At its core the show focuses on a group of people who without each other would be terribly lonely, but really that’s the basis of every great sitcom. To explain the appeal of Cougar Town is a difficult task, and watching a single episode might not make you a convert, but after a few episodes as you get to know the characters and learn their ticks you’ll surely fall in love and wish you too could join in on a game of Penny Can. To explain just how great this comedy is let me point out it only aired twelve episodes in 2011, with it’s third season sadly still on hold by ABC till March, and despite that small episode count it more than holds its own against every other show on this list.
Doctor Who: 2011 was the first year I watched this famous British sci-fi years and as you’ll read later in the retrospective Doctor Who was one of my favorite discoveries of the year. Season six is a darker turn for the series, showing how traveling with the doctor isn’t always as fun as it may appear at first. While adventure and excitement may follow our time traveling hero, so does misery and pain. Beneath the peppy attitude is a sad man, held back by the great burden of being the last remaining time lord. Showrunner Stephen Moffat also decided to experiment with more mythology based episodes, as opposed to the usual one offs the show generally consists of. Personally I enjoyed the new direction and found the tale of the Doctor and River Song riveting, yet at the same time I was disappointed by the show’s frequent decision to take the easy way out and skipping past things quickly. Many of the big reveals occur suddenly and then are brushed aside a minute later as the heroes’ get swept up into some other adventure. The timey-whimyness may be too much in the forefront at times, but nonetheless it’s great television with one of the most interesting leads out there today.
Game of Thrones: If there was one show I feel bad about not putting on the First Tier list it’s this one. Game of Thrones delivered the most confident first season of television I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a show that right off the bat knows what is and what it’s going to do. As someone who wasn’t familiar with the books it took a little while to fully grasp the world the show takes place in, but once I did I found myself hooked by the beautiful landscapes, delightful writing, and amazing performances. This is epic fantasy done right. It really is Lord of the Rings for television, and I can’t express how happy I am we have something like that. It begins its first season as more of a political thriller than a full on fantasy, but judging by the finale it appears we’re heading deeper into that direction. Perhaps the only downside to this season is it plays more as a prologue to future seasons, a beginner’s guide to the world and the characters. But with a world as complex and dense as the one in Game of Thrones, that’s exactly what the show needs. I’d be more excited for season two if my friend didn’t already tell me it’s the seasons based off book three that are going to be the breathtakingly stunning ones.
Happy Endings: Out of my top ten shows this was the one I debated about the most. A good batch of the episodes Happy Endings aired this year weren’t particularly great, but it’s how the show transitioned from middling pilot with a dumb premise (the whole runaway bride, YouTube video thing) to one of the funniest joke machines on TV that make it notable. Happy Endings isn’t a sitcom like Parks and Recreation or Community where even if the joke aren’t especially funny you’re still interested because of the characters, but rather it’s a nonstop stream of punch lines and gags. And really there’s nothing wrong with that. With episodes like “Spooky Endings”, the best Halloween episode of 2011, and “Lying Around”, which features the best Fred Savage cameo I’ve ever seen, Happy Endings is a show that’ll keep you laughing from start to finish. And if there happens to be a joke that doesn’t work, don’t worry because they’ll be another that will only seconds later.