Friday, January 6, 2012

Favorites of 2011: Top 15 TV Shows

If you're anything like me, you only skim "Best of" lists.  In fact, it's very likely you didn't even read that sentence, let alone this one.  When I click to see a list, I want to see a list.  I don't need commentary.  What I need is simple, I need to validate my own favorites by finding them on your list and at the same time scoff at you for the ones that shouldn't be there. Yet here I sit, typing away, compelled to offer some rationalization to the choices below and a perfunctory introduction to our journey through my favorites of the last year.  Creatures of habit we are (apparently when I don't think anyone is reading type in Yoda speak I do).

A few other things to skim past:

- No honorable mentions this year.  They are a cop out. If it doesn't make the cut, it deserves no mention.

- I have expanded my TV list to 15 and my movie list to 41. I'm seeing more stuff (150 movies this year) so naturally more will get ranked.

- This is for newly viewed items in the calendar year 2011.  This means the final half of last season, and first half of this season for many TV shows, and also means there will be movies that came out last year that I am just getting around to seeing.  But for me these things were new this year.

- This is a "favorites" list, not a "best of" list.  Embrace the subjectivity of art.  This is my list and it is influenced by many factors that might be unique to my perspective.  Having said that, I'm pretty sure its also completely infallible.

Here's what to expect over the course of January:







My Favorite 15 TV Shows From 2011:



15. The Glee Project - I watched the first episode of this show with some friends as a joke. The show must act as some sort of time warp, because next thing we knew we had seen 10 episodes and it was five o'clock in the morning.  The conceit is that they are using the show to cast new parts in "Glee", but the behind the scenes look into casting and the amazing group of kids they gathered up made this show better than the one it was supposed to feed.  Maybe next year cast members on "Glee" will compete to see who can get on "The Glee Project". (video)


14. The Mentalist - I'm still not tired of Simon Baker's great performances in this show.  It's a perfect combination of charm and depth that fits the character so well you can't help but be drawn in.  I was a bit disappointed in the "Red John" stuff from the end of last season, because it took some of the most powerful moments of the show and immediately undermined them by telling us we didn't see what we thought we did. I'll still be watching, but you only get to cry wolf so many times "Mentalist", if you sell me on Red John again, it better be Red John.


13. So You Think You Can Dance - Great judges, great performers, a great host, and great dancing, but more than anything I can't pull myself away because in some three minute chunks there is more story and emotion in this show than in an entire season of most. (video)


12. Once Upon A Time - I'm struck mostly by the visual beauty and conceptual genius of this show.  The acting and individual stories sometime stray, but overall I find myself compelled to stick around and see if this  sleeping beauty of a town will ever wake up. (video)


11. House - There comes a point in almost every show that stays on the air for a while where, as if out of nowhere, you lose interest.  After spending many years at the top of my list, House must have crossed that point for me this season as it drops out of the top 10.  Still, Hugh is always worth watching and I chuckle every time someone says lupus.


10. Penn & Teller's Fool Us - Penn Jillette is my favorite atheist, but he (with his partner Teller) is also my favorite magician.  This show is an incredible look at how the mind of a magician works as fellow illusionists perform for P&T and attempt to pull the wool over their eyes.  The masters are rarely fooled, but when they are it is pure wonderment and makes for genius TV.  Even when they know how it's done, hearing Penn try to both explain the trick and not give away the trick is sometimes more entertaining than the tricks themselves. (video)


9. Survivor - It amazes me how a show like this can stay fresh.  I loved both seasons this year.  The introduction of Redemption Island added a "do or die" element to the show that made the beginning of each episode almost as compelling as those amazing Tribal Councils are at the end.  Boston Rob returned one more time and played a near perfect game, controlling his tribe as if they were his puppets until the jury had no choice but to give him the prize.  And though the "spiritual" aspect of the most recent season's players was off putting and misguided, it made for extremely compelling TV as well.  Survivor remains the best reality show on TV and a must see in my book. (video)


8. New Girl - Two words... Zoe - E.  Though I thought the pilot left a bit to be desired, this show caught fire quickly and became a first see DVR show.  You know the kind, where when you click to see whats on your DVR, your eyes immediately lock on it.  There's a new one?! Must.... watch.... now...  So much fun. (video)


7. Fringe - Fringe continues to get better and better each year, and I think much of it has to do with the fact that the show literally can change it's universe at a moments notice. There are no boundaries to where this show can go, and the skill and depth with which the writers and actors take us there is pretty impressive.


6. Parks and Recreation - Parks and Rec is another show that seems to be just catching its stride.  It's hilarious like it's Thursday counterparts, but what always seems to catch me off guard is just how touching this troupe can be even in the zany universe they occupy.  Plus, without Parks we wouldn't have this, and that would make me very sad.  


5. Community - I guess it's not surprising that a show that took such big risks (like the claymation episode or the multiple universe episode) would alienate too large a portion of the audience to stay on the air.  But I, for one, will severely miss it.  Joel Mchale is great as the centerpiece, but it's the world around him that makes this show sing. I'll miss each of them for their own reasons, but probably Abed and Troy most of all. Maybe we can petition for them to be transferred over to the office somehow to give that show some new life.


4. Doctor Who - It is possibly the oldest and most expansive sci-fi universe ever. That age and breadth gives the show a underlying gravitas that isn't immediately evident in the goofy characters and sometimes broad humor.  But if you spend enough time with "The Doctor" and his companions it becomes very clear that there is extreme heart in the leftover kitsch from bygone seasons. (video)


3. Modern Family - Many of my favorite shows depend mostly on amazing characters and performances, and don't get me wrong, this show is loaded with them.  But what really makes this show stand out, and the reason it's my favorite comedy on television is the writing.  It's both clever and intricate, with deliberate and beautiful synchronicity. In many ways "Modern Family" is an old school, plot first, sit com textured with so much modern sensibility that it can't help but feel fresh and new. Also, man, that Phil Dunphy guy slays me.


2. Breaking Bad - Maybe it's not fair to the other shows that I watched 4 full seasons of "Breaking Bad" this year.  Then again, maybe it's not fair to the rest of the shows that the show has Bryan Cranston in the lead role and "X-Files" alum Vince Gilligan holding the pen.  Wow, it's hard to describe how much this show grabbed me when I started into it earlier this year.  Few writers have the guts to tell such powerful, beautiful, and believable stories with this much panache and abandon.  It's as if Gilligan says, "Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but I've got the skill and actors to pull it off."  Rarely can a show live up to the hype when I watch it after the fact (I'm looking at you "The Wire") but somehow "Breaking Bad" met my expectations and exceeded them. (video)


1. Sherlock - 3 Episodes and out.  But that's all it took to lock me into this incredible modernization of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It probably helps that each episode is as long as a feature length film, and feels as well produced and slick as anything on the silver screen.  In fact, in less than a year Steven Moffat (the guy also does "Doctor Who" by the way) and company made three Sherlock Holmes movies head and shoulders better than the one Robert Downey Jr. and company made (and I liked that movie!)  Benedict Cumberbatch (yep) is a complex, interesting, and hilarious Holmes who uses technology in exactly the way I would assume Sherlock would if he were alive today (um, or a real person).  I'm also a huge Martin Freeman fan, who if you didn't see him in the UK version of "The Office" or "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" you can check him out as Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit" come Christmas 12.  These two have great chemistry and are both incredible actors in there own right, but it's the mystery solving that really gets me going.  Each puzzle is finely crafted in a way that is not immediately obvious but will reward the careful viewer.  It may also be a factor that the third episode ended in possibly the best battle of wits moment I can remember with Moriarty and Holmes facing off in a do or die moment with Watson in the balance.  Season two, now please. (video)