Today’s the last day of 2011 and all week long I’ve been looking back at my TV viewing for the year and writing my thoughts on every single episode I watched. To start things off we covered my Second Tier series aka my five “second favorite” shows of the year, then looked at Other Shows I watched, followed by all the various episodes I sampled in Bits & Pieces. To end 2011 I present to you my top five series of the year. Each of these series fully deserves the crown of “best show of the year”. Some might consider a five way tie a cop out, but I consider it a great year of television.
(Best shows of the year)
Breaking Bad: I’ll be blunt with this one: Breaking Bad may very well be the best drama on television, if not the best drama ever to grace the small (but increasingly large) screen. While many people felt season four had perhaps a slow start, I rarely found a dull moment. Sure suddenly returning to the “Marie steals stuff” subplot may not be the most riveting stuff the series has done, that episode (“Open House”) has the most heartbreakingly emotional go-karting scene ever caught on camera as Jesse goes into pure primal animal mode trying forget the horrifying events from the season three finale. Season three takes some purposeful time away from our central character Walter White to be the supporting characters to feel the weight of Mr. White’s recent dubious decisions. Somewhere around halfway through the season the show decides to become even more amazing than it already is with pitch-perfect episode after episode. The eighth episode “Hermanos” climaxes in lengthy flashback scene that doesn’t feature a single word of english, and then “Crawl Space” delivers perhaps the best shot I’ve ever seen on television with perhaps the best performance Bryan Cranston has ever done. I was physically shaking for ten minutes after the credits rolled. It isn’t enough to say one watches Breaking Bad, but rather one experiences it.
Community: To refer to this series a “sitcom” isn’t enough. In 2011 Community featured the best Dungeons & Dragons episode of television since Freaks & Geeks, a mockumentary spoof that not only perfectly captures the style of the popular format but features perhaps the best use of a guest star ever in LeVar Burton, a Pulp Fiction homage that turned out to secretly be a play on My Dinner With Andre that featured a multiple minutes long monologue about Cougar Town, a clip-show that consisted of completely new footage that fills in gaps we missed throughout the study group’s year, and a two part paintball extravaganza that also works as the best spaghetti western to come out in years. And all of that was just in season two. Season three has taken a turn in a different direction with more college based episodes, but it’s still not without an episode featuring multiple timelines through the help of Abed and yahtzee, a spoof of Heart of Darkness featuring the show’s ninth lead, and a riff on Glee in which we learn “that the word glee literally means glee!”. There are are some clunkers every now and then, but with a show that aims so high it’s bound to happen. Community is by far the least consistent show on this list, but when it does things right there really is nothing better. #SixSeasonsAndAMovie
Justified: Perhaps the show most overlooked by people as we reflect back on the year, but one that rightfully deserves to be listed right along Breaking Bad. Justified aired its second season way back in the beginning of the year, but I can confidently say it had one of the strongest seasons of any show. The season began ten months ago, but I can vividly recall my time spent in Harlan County and I am counting down the days till see Raylan Givens and his hat again. Margo Martindale delivers the best acting performance of 2011 as the terrifying yet kind Mags Bennett. The season could have very well ended on the ninth episode “Brother’s Keeper” and it would have already made this list, but no Justified decided to keep on going and upped the ante at every turn. In it’s first season Justified was an enjoyable hybrid of procedural and serialized cop drama, and in season two it made the leap to truly great television with a larger focus on the characters and the peculiar hometown Raylan grew up in. If you aren’t watching Justified do yourself a favor and do whatever you can to start. Just be careful while drinking that apple pie.
Louie: Is it a drama? Is it a comedy? Who cares because whatever it is, it’s amazing. Louis C.K. becomes TV’s first ever full auteur, serving as the show’s sole writer, editor, director, and of course star of every episode. Like Justified it’s with season two that the show makes the jump to amazing television after a delightful first season. You’ll laugh and come to near tears throughout the show. Sometimes within the same episode. Each episode is a short film that you just want to hold close onto and share with everyone you know. Though the content’s maturity may sometimes stop you from doing that, Louie is truly a television gem. Whether it’s Louie introducing his kids to his great, racist aunt or declaring his love to his already disinterested best friend, Louie tells stories that will stick with you long after you’ve watched. The end of “Duckling” is perhaps one of the sweetest, most memorable moments in television this year. 2011 is, if nothing else, the year of Louis C.K.
Parks and Recreation: This comedy aired 26 episodes in 2011 and I could literally (meant to be read as Rob Lowe) could count the number of not amazing episodes on one hand. This is a sitcom that aired not a single episode lower than a B+. It is by far the most consistent show of the year, with every episode providing both plentiful laughs and a large heaping of heart. Parks and Recreation third season is a perfect season. There is only one episode (“Ron & Tammy: Part Two”) that I don’t love, but even then it’s still a pretty good episode. The addition of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe brings the show to new levels, with perhaps the best execution of integrating new characters a show has ever done. It’s hard to believe the series ever excited without them; it’s just that seamless. This was the year Parks and Recreation gave us Lil’ Sebastian and then cruelly took him away. It was the year where the show’s breakout character, Ron Swanson, was evenly matched by every single character around him. While the fourth season to me was a little bit of a step down at first with a larger focus on the more annoying aspects of Leslie Knope’s personality, it thankfully course corrected itself with the show acknowledging she needed to change. Then the show ended the year with two of it’s strongest episodes yet that perfectly balance the humor and sweetness the show does so well.