It is that time again folks! The end of the year is upon us and that means it is time to look back on the highs, lows and WTFs in television from the past 12 months. There is a lot to reflect on in regard to television 2011. Charlie Sheen went crazy. Well, crazier. Comedy supposedly made a big comeback. We found out what The Event was, I think. Steve Carell and Michael Scott said goodbye and we were sad. The guys from Entourage also said goodbye, and we were less sad. AMC tried to break a Guinness Book World Record for number of stupid PR disasters by a cable network.
This year brought us a number of great new series such as Homeland, Happy Endings and Game of Thrones and a slew of horribly awful ones such as The Paul Reiser Show, How to Be a Gentleman and Charlie’s Angels. True Blood and Glee kept getting worse while Community and Justified kept getting better. 2011 was the year of Louis C.K., the year of sexposition and the year of The Killing. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting all sorts of lists, podcasts and pieces reflecting on the year that was. So join me in saying farewell to what was a very compelling year in television. There will be so many lists.
Writing about reality television is not something I do too often. I watch a substantial amount of it, but I cannot say that I am too interested in describing what happened on a weekly basis. There are certain reality programs or certain episodes that deserve more attention than that, but even then, my interest to write is low. I say this because the short list of reality competition programs I am providing to you now is far from full of the “best” of the year. All lists are subjective, but this one is the most subjective of all you will see from me. I do not really consider these five series the greatest reality competition series on the air right now. In fact, I know that some of them are kind of awful. But they are my favorite. Here’s why.
Survivor (CBS): After all these years, Survivor remains one of the best reality competition series on the airwaves. Because of its age, the series has its obvious tricks, tics and rhythms, but I think Survivor did a fine job of mixing it up just enough in 2011. Bringing back Boston Rob and Russell again to mix it up with a bunch of newbies injected some new tension and life into the formula and frankly, it was nice to see Rob finally win (if only because that meant he’d be done). Coach and Ozzy are less interesting and therefore this fall’s iteration hasn’t worked quite as well and Redemption Island hasn’t worked as well as I think they thought it would, but Survivor is still Survivor. It just works.
Standout competitor: Boston Rob
Big Brother (CBS): Big Brother is miserable. It airs three times a week during the summer and at least two-and-half of those episodes are plodding, boring and supremely manipulative. The cast is regularly stuffed with the worst kind of people on broadcast network television. The competitions are stupid. And yet, I’ve missed less than 10 episodes since BB started more than a decade ago. This summer’s version was especially awful thanks to the return of “famous” former players who ended up dominating the game so handedly that I was embarrassed for all the new folks. Rachel, this season’s winner, is my least favorite human. God, I love it.
Standout competitor: Rachel Reilly (ugh)
The Challenge (MTV): Although CBS and Mark Burnett would never like to admit it, they have to know that MTV’s Challenge has surpassed Survivor on the, well, challenge part. Whereas most Survivor continues to reboot or reintroduce past challenges and merge immunity and reward competitions, The Challenge keeps getting crazier. MTV puts those Real World/Road Rules cast-offs in hilariously dangerous situations. Sure, they get the luxury of staying in lavish locations instead of barely surviving out in the wild, but The Challenge makes up for it with said insane competitions and a sense of mythology and history that’s unprecedented in reality television.
Standout competitor: Johnny Bananas and CT
Design Star (HGTV): This gem was my favorite reality competition series last year and while this summer’s offering wasn’t as strong design-wise, Design Star finally found a nice rhythm as a television production. The new producers brought with them the fun guest judge and adviser conceits, and put more focus on showing the audience how these contestants would look on television. Watching various competitors trying to mumble their way through a design reveal was certainly more awkward than watching them picking a tile backsplash, but it made for better television.
Standout competitor: Karl Sponholtz
The Glee Project (Oxygen): In its first season, The Glee Project was much like the series it serves as a feeder system for: Sometimes moving, oftentimes ridiculous and stupid, but always interesting. I didn’t watch this one at first because I wanted to stay away from all things Glee for a bit, but of course I got sucked in anyway. It was very intriguing to get an inside look at how producers try to cast for a cultural phenomenon and how difficult working on something like Glee can be. Mostly though, The Glee Project allowed us to get total confirmation of things that we already knew: Ryan Murphy is an ass and his thought-process in regards to character and story often make very little sense. Also, we got to see Zach Woodlee almost-cry at everything.
Standout competitor: Cameron Mitchell
Other reality-competition series I liked this year: The Voice, America’s Next Great Restaurant, Hell’s Kitchen, The Amazing Race