To cope with the lack of TV over the holiday season, last year I decided to do a few year-end “favorites” posts for the blog. Now keep in mind that I said favorites of 2011, not “Best of 2011” – it’s an important difference. I’m pretty sure Breaking Bad is going to top almost every single TV critics list of the best shows of 2011, and I’m sure that’s very well deserved. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten around to watching Breaking Bad. (Hey! I’m just one person, OK! I don’t get paid for this!)
Not all of these shows were the best things on TV this year – some of them might fall more into the guilty pleasures category. But I enjoyed them all immensely, and thus they’ve made my favorites list. Check it out, and share your own in the comments.
And by the way, spoiler alert – if you don’t watch a show I mention and plan on doing so, skip over the little blurb. I mention stuff.
1. Parks and Recreation (Seasons 3 and 4)
By far, my favorite comedy on television and my favorite TV show of the year. I only caught up on this show over the holidays last year, so it wasn’t on my 2010 list – but after absolutely stellar third and fourth (thus far) seasons in 2011, it tops the list. Honestly, I can’t even list all my favorite episodes, too many stand out. “Flu Season”? “Ron and Tammy: Part Two”? “Andy and April’s Fancy Party”? Oh my god, “Ron and Tammys”??? Anything featuring Ben and Leslie??? I can’t choose!
2. Friday Night Lights (Season 5)
I almost put this in the number one spot, but since only six episodes aired in 2011 I felt like Parks and Recreation edged the show out just a little. But oh, what an amazing six episodes they were. In fact, the latter half of FNL’s finale season was by far the strongest – the beginning portion of the season got a tad bogged down by Julie’s hot for teacher storyline. But the last six episodes? Absolutely beautiful. Coach and Tami’s relationship was always the heart of the series, and so to watch them make the decision to leave Dillon because of a career opportunity for Tami was a brilliant way to show both the strength of their marriage and the way even a strong marriage can be tested. I might have placed Friday Night Lights at number two on this list, but the series finale “Always” was the best TV I watched this year.
3. Community (Seasons 2 and 3)
It breaks my TV-loving heart that Community has been benched by NBC. I still don’t want to think about what this means for the future of the show. It’s so quirky and hilarious and different, I don’t understand why more people don’t watch. The latter half of season two was experimental, but so often in a fantastic way. Sure, “Critical Film Studies” wasn’t my cup of tea because I’d never heard of My Dinner With Andre, but I didn’t need to know a lot about Dungeons and Dragons to understand how awesome “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” was. “Paradigms of Human Memory” was possibly the best flashback episode ever. The final two episodes, which used paintball to parody Western and Star Wars movies, were so well done. The third season has been even more experimental, but in a way that played around more with storytelling devices than the actual plot. “Remedial Chaos Theory” is an episode that became an instant classic, and it was pretty impossible not to love the Glee-bashing Christmas episode, “Regional Holiday Music”. You did 2011 proud, Community. I hope I see you in 2012.
4. Parenthood (Seasons 2 and 3)
I’m a huge, huge Parenthood fan, so it should be no surprise that the show ended up in my top five. I really think there was some strong work done on the show this year. In particular, Parenthood has been a great vehicle to let Mae Whitman and Lauren Graham shine. We saw Whitman’s character Amber go way off the rails in the end of season two, and slowly pull herself up by the bootstraps this year. The return of John Corbett as Amber’s dad and Sarah’s ex Seth provided both characters with some really great material. One thing that’s unique about Parenthood is the character of Max, a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome. His storylines are always fantastic, and I never stop being impressed by the actor who portrays him.
4. Survivor: Redemption Island (Season 22)
Yes, it was a predictable season. But Survivor continues to be one of my favorite shows, and the way Boston Rob dominated and orchestrated this season was a lesson in how to play a near perfect game of Survivor. That, combined with some fantastic challenges, watching Russell Hantz cry and debating whether Phillip Sheppard really was that crazy, made for a fun season.
5. The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business (Season 18)
While I wasn’t a huge fan of the most recent season of The Amazing Race, it had big shoes to fill following an exciting all-stars season last Spring. The show did a great job casting the teams, and I think you’d be hard up to find a more likable final three than Gary and Mallory, Flight Time and Big Easy, and winners Kisha and Jen. The season provided one of those rare opportunities where I would have been happy seeing any of the teams win, yet was still completely invested in watching the finale.
6. Game of Thrones (Season 1)
At first, I hated this show. I thought it was boring, there were too many characters and – shameful admission time! – I used to sometimes watch it with the speed turned up, so everyone talked real fast and I could get through it in 40 minutes. And then episode six happened. “A Golden Crown” was the turning point for me, and from there it just got better and better. The surprising death of a main character was not only shocking, but painfully emotional as his young daughter (Aria, one of my favorite characters) was in the audience. It took time to build this world and for me to be captivated by it (and, admittedly, I took much longer to warm to the series than almost everyone I know) but once it did, holy cow. I can’t wait for the second season.
7. The Big Bang Theory (Seasons 4 and 5)
The Big Bang Theory was not a show I expected to like. It was created by Chuck Lorre, it has a laugh track, it began with a mostly male, nerdy cast and one hot chick – basically the fantasies of the show’s writers, right? Wrong. Once I got into the show, I realized it was so much more than that. But for me, The Big Bang Theory really hit a whole new level with the addition of two more female characters, Amy and Bernadette. These characters have allowed the gang to hang out in fresh, fun combinations and have allowed Penny to do more than just crack a few jokes at Sheldon’s expense, and have jokes cracked back at her. The engagement of Howard and Bernadette provided (and continues to provide) fantastic comedic opportunities, and Sheldon’s bizarre relationship with Amy Farrah Fowler never fails to make me laugh.
8. Sweet Home Alabama (Seasons 1 and 2)
I love this show. Sweet Home Alabama is a dating show, but the comparisons to The Bachelor franchise pretty much end there. (OK, and I’m pretty sure they use the same voice-over guy.) In season one, Devin Grissom dated and eliminated city guys and country boys until she was left with one. They aren’t together anymore, but that doesn’t matter – the show never placed a forced or unrealistic emphasis on marriage. The second season was even more fun, with former college football quarterback Tribble Reese choosing a new girlfriend from among a group of sweet country gals and slick city girls. The dates are fun and casual, the people are charming and down to earth (mostly, anyway) and the show reminded me that it’s possible to stage a reality TV dating show without making me cringe.
9. Chuck (Seasons 4 and 5)
Chuck will continue to air new episodes throughout the holiday season and doesn’t wrap up for good until January 27th, but I think it’s safe to say it was one of my favorite shows of 2011. The last half of season four brought us a memorable season finale that featured Chuck and Sarah’s wedding as well as Chuck and the gang leaving/being forced out of the CIA and starting their own private spy company. While the final season started off a tad shaky, the past few episodes have been great and I have full confidence that the show will go on out a funny, sweet and action-packed note.
10. The Voice (Season 1)
The Voice couldn’t have come at a better time for me, really. I used to love American Idol, and I still watch. But after more than a few lackluster seasons (Hi, Scotty, Lee and Kris) and several before that which made me think Simon Cowell might be the richest, most bored person on earth, the show had lost its sparkle. New judges Steven Tyler (beautiful!) and Jennifer Lopez didn’t inject the energy into the show that I’d hoped. And then The Voice came along. No lousy, painfully awkward auditions. No dull, repetitive critiques from judges who don’t even look like they listened to the performance. No tired, heard-it-a-million-times covers. I like the competitive rapport between the coaches on The Voice and the exciting, contemporary musical performances offered up. I would have been happy seeing any one of the final four contestants walk away a winner last season. So, The Voice lands on my list for revitalizing my interest in the musical competition reality show. Let’s see if they can make it on again next year.
Honorable mentions: New Girl and Up All Night were shows that I have really enjoyed so far, but haven’t shown me enough to make the list this year. Modern Family is still a favorite and almost went on my list. And weak storylines on Glee (Hi, Quinn!) and How I Met Your Mother (Hi, Zoey!) kept them off the list – although I think we can all agree that “Bad News” and the storyline surrounding the death of Marshall’s father, was worth an honorable mention.
Disclaimer: I made this list up a couple weeks ago, before I marathoned all ten episodes of Revenge. I loved that show, and it probably should have earned a spot somewhere around #6 or 7. thus bumping The Voice to an honorable mention.