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 Thronesand 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 back 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.
Just in case all the other lists and quasi-lists I’ve done over the last few weeks were not enough, I wanted to finish 2011 with some quick thoughts on all the series that I’ve watched a substantial amount of that didn’t make the top 30 of the year. You folks know that I watch a lot of television, some of it very good and some of it very bad. But most television I watch (and most television that’s on the airwaves today) is just sort of…fine. And that’s okay. Today, I’m going to give some brief love to those just-fine series and point out a few episodes these respective series aired that were pretty good. There is no real rhyme, reason or ranking behind the order these series are listed below, I wrote whatever came to mind first. All right, no more blabbering. Here are some nice words about series that didn’t make my top 30 of the 2011.
Smallville: I’ve already expressed my minor disappointment with the middling final season, but there were a slew of really great moments in Smallville season 10. The writers smartly used long-departed characters to inform the final few steps of Clark’s journey. And that finale was pretty awesome. Best episodes: “Finale,” “Booster”
Alphas: Syfy’s freshman superhero series did the smart thing in starting off as a more logical, down-to-earth procedural. This allowed the characters (and actors) to grow together over the course of the season, instead of keeping the focus on larger, vague mythology concerns. Then when those mythology things actually came up, it felt more organic to the story and more important for the characters. Best episodes: “Blind Spot,” “Catch and Release”
New Girl: FOX’s new comedy hit still has issues with its lead character, but New Girl’s cast has fantastic chemistry and every performer brings a different comedic energy to the proceedings. Even when the episodes aren’t really “good,” I still laugh a lot at New Girl. Best episodes: “Wedding,” “Naked”
2 Broke Girls: The biggest new comedy of the season is slowly figuring out how to not be the most offensive series this side of H8R. Kat Dennings is definitely a television star and Beth Behrs is growing into her own as well. 2 Broke Girls is still very, very broad and sitcommy, but it mostly works anyway. Best episodes: “And the Pretty Problem,” “And the Reality Check”
Falling Skies: TNT’s big foray into science fiction programming could be a lot better than it actually is. Falling Skies had a great pilot and definitely trailed off after that. However, it does feature a good performance from Moon Bloodgood and a somewhat intriguing larger story. I’ll be back for season two. Best episodes: “Live and Learn,” “What Hides Beneath”
How to Make it in America: I am legitimately disappointed that HBO canceled this one. I understand why people hated it, but in season two, How to Make it introduced some somewhat substantial stakes for Ben and Cam. It felt more like a real story in season two and not just a weekly postcard from the streets of New York. Best episodes: “Mofongo,” “What’s in a Name?”
White Collar: It had its problems in the first half of season three, but White Collar remains one of the most enjoyable, fun viewing experiences on television. And I think the major hiccups were solved by the mid-season finale anyway. Best episodes: “Countdown,” “Scott Free”
Up All Night: By the end of 2011, Up All Night figured out how to balance its two different story worlds and keep Maya Rudolph’s Ava from completely overwhelming the primary baby-related stories. Up All Night’s middlebrow domestic humor is congenial and Christina Applegate and Will Arnett are wonderful together. Best episodes: “Birth,” “Parents”
Hart of Dixie: This is the kind of series I wish the CW would do more of. Sure, Hart of Dixie exists in a heightened version of reality and loves playing clichés about the south a bit too much. But it embraces those ridiculous features and smartly emphasizes simple elements like the love triangle/quadrangle/rhombus to create a really charming package. Best episodes: “The Crush and the Crossbow,” “In Havoc and in Heat”
Suburgatory: It feels like Suburgatory is missing that extra something that could made it a great comedy, but the writers are working hard to find it. Plus, the central relationship between Tessa and George started off well in the pilot and has only gotten more interesting since, odd subversive readings by people on the internet aside. Jane Levy is awesome. Best episodes: “Halloween,” “Thanksgiving”
Nikita: It still surprises me how unsuccessful Nikita is because it’s a fine, well-constructed, quality television program. Season two took a little while to discover how the new equilibrium established at the end of season one would actually work on episodic level, but the series still knows how to create a fun twist or two on a weekly basis. Best episodes: “Fair Trade,” “Betrayals”
Modern Family: You know that I’m frustrated with Modern Family’s inability to, well, try. That does suck. Nevertheless, the ABC comedy is still worth watching on a weekly basis, if only for the cast alone. You never know when the series is actually going to pull out another great episode. Best episodes: “Two Monkeys and a Panda,” “Someone to Watch Over Lily”
The Office: I understand why NBC has to keep The Office on the air. Just as I understand why I keep watching The Office even though it is a shell of its former self with absolutely no real point to exist in 2011: I love a few of these characters (Jim, Pam, Dwight, Andy) and like the rest of them. And there’s no doubt that the last few episodes of Michael’s reign as manager were very good. Best episodes: “Goodbye Michael,” “Garage Sale”
House: Like The Office, House is nowhere near its apex of quality, complexity or depth. But even more than The Office, House remains an inherently watchable series, mostly because of Hugh Laurie’s game performance, and also because the writers seem to know what the series is at this point. They’ve embraced the low stakes and comfortable rhythms. Best episodes: “Bombshells,” “The Dig”
The Walking Dead: I end 2011 with much more hope for The Walking Dead than I began the year with, so I guess that’s an improvement? The AMC hit series has no idea how to develop characters or parcel out its story and yet, it’s still good for a handful of really tremendous single moments (like that mid-season finale). Best episodes: “Pretty Much Dead Already,” “Save The Last One”
Suits: A fun workplace dramedy masquerading as a legal procedural, Suits seems a smidgen more interested in its characters and their problems than most USA Network megahits. We’ll see what kind of changes happen with the new showrunner in season two, but I’m hoping the light, humorous, not-so-secretly nerdy energy sticks around. Best episodes: “Play the Man,” “The Shelf Life”
Glee: I’ve said enough about Glee in 2011. There’s more bad than good at this point. But the really great episodes? Those were really great. Best episodes: “Silly Love Songs,” “Asian F”
Burn Notice: The changes weren’t dramatic, but it really did feel like things were somewhat different on Burn Notice in season five. Michael was pulled in more challenging directions this season and the finale’s pay-off actually felt quite earned. Best episodes: “Dead to Rights,” “Bloodlines”
Psych: Although the series is relied too much on gimmick episodes this fall, Psych also fully embraced its goofiest side for the better. At this point, the audience is the audience; the series is smart to drop any pretensions of real drama and just let the actors riff off one another. Dule Hill has been fantastic. Best episodes: “Shawn, Interrupted,” “Last Night Gus”
Warehouse 13: W13 had a supremely disappointing and disjointed third season after what was a very strong second year. However, the series still has one of the better, unnoticed casts around and has the great ability to make the dumbest plots seem important and relevant to the characters stuck in the middle of them.
Chuck: Season five has been a substantial improvement over season four. I still don’t know why I should really care about anything that’s happening on screen, but Fedak, Schwartz and the production team are working a little hard to at least make me feel like I should. And obviously, the cast is still really fun to spend time with. Best episodes: “Chuck Versus the Last Details,” “Chuck Versus the Santa Suit”
Pan Am: Great pilot! I can’t really say anything else because this is a positive space. Best episodes: “Pilot,” N/A
Once Upon a Time: I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but Once is a freshman series that is quickly growing on me, almost in spite of itself. The episode structure, with the flashbacks and the centric episodes, is a smart approach. And the cast is good. These things help me forget how cheesy and stupid the series can be. Best episodes: “Snow Falls,” “That Still Small Voice”
Grimm: One of the biggest surprises of the year, I guess. I expected Grimm to be TERRIBLE and it’s just only mediocre. There’s a solid series in there, and if the writers can figure out a way to ditch some of the cumbersome police elements, Grimm could actually work quite well. Best episodes: “Danse Macabre,” “Lonelyharts”
American Horror Story: Like all Ryan Murphy projects, AHS had some legitimately stirring and powerful moments/episodes and a slew of unbelievably terrible ones. It just comes with the territory. Best episodes: “Smoldering Children,” “Halloween Part 2”
Perfect Couples: NBC should have given Perfect Couples more time to grow. I’m not saying that it would have turned out to be as good as Happy Endings, but there was a real chance for that to happen. By the end, this series was consistently funny. Best episodes: “Perfect Crime,” “Perfect Job”
Mr. Sunshine: Okay, fair the best thing about Mr. Sunshine was its theme song/title card combination. Yet, I think there was a weird little comedy in there somewhere. Maybe. Probably not. I just like Matthew Perry. Best episodes: “Hostile Workplace,” “Celebrity Tennis”
The Secret Circle: Witches still don’t make for the center of a great series and it’s hard to not compare this one with The Vampire Diaries. Nevertheless, The Secret Circle is a fine series that’s growing at a solid rate. The last two episodes have been the most engaging, which is a good sign. Best episodes: “Balcoin,” “Beneath”
Prime Suspect: I’m not one of those people who assume that pilots are the be-all, end-all for television series. Prime Suspect alters that perspective a bit. That pilot was so miserable that it scared the audience away from a rock-solid character-based cop drama. Maybe the hat too. Best episodes: “Regrets, I’ve Had a Few,” “Wednesday’s Child”
Being Human: Syfy’s “North American” adaptation of Being Human struggled at times in season one and was almost always saved by two strong performances by Sam Witwer and Sam Huntington. But seriously, both of those guys were way better than the series probably deserved. Best episodes: “There Goes the Neighborhood,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Me Killing You”
Traffic Light: FOX’s entry in the Great Friends Rip-Off of 2011 wasn’t as bad as Better With You or Mad Love, but also wasn’t as outwardly funny as Happy Endings or Perfect Couples. The cast worked together well and I laughed every week. It just…existed. Best episodes: “Best Man,” “No Good Dead”
Breaking In: I have no idea why FOX wants to bring this series back from the dead. But Bret Harrison is a great talent and Christian Slater finally found a small-screen role where his weird energy fits perfectly. Best episodes: “21.0 Jump Street,” “Take the Movie and Run”
Gossip Girl: The Dan-Blair stories are very good. So of course, Gossip Girl likes to pretend the audience cares about 13 other things. Best episodes: “Petty in Pink,” “Empire of the Son”
And that’s it for me in 2011. Thanks for reading!