Monday, March 12, 2012

COLUMN: Best of 2011 TV

The one good thing about suddenly finding oneself single is that I've been able to dedicate considerably more time to one of my favorite pursuits: sitting around feeling incredibly sorry for myself while watching an absolutely unhealthy amount of television.

In fact, I've watched so much TV this year that I feel compelled to turn it into a Best of 2011 list, if for no other reason than the Golden Globes got it ALL wrong this year. Besides, I wonder if it's possible to write off one's cable bill if one claims one watches TV for one's job?

So, without further adieu, these are MY picks for the ten best TV shows of 2011:

10 - Destination: Truth (SyFy). There's no denying the cheeziness of the premise: A snarky, low rent Indiana-Jones-type leads an expedition of explorers on a weekly quest to capture evidence of ghosts, yetis, Nessies, and Bigfoots aplenty. But its host Josh Gates' ability to mix over-the-top sensationalism with quirky humor that makes D:T the best "reality" show on TV.

9 - South Park (Comedy Central). How is it that Trey Parker & Matt Stone can run around winning Tonys and taking Broadway by storm, yet still produce television's most biting and spot-on social commentary in the form of four trash-mouthed cartoon fourth-graders? With most episodes created in less than a week's time, South Park is a thing of magic.

8 - The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central). Every television show has its ups and downs, but there's never been a nightly show with the consistency, class, and belly laughs of The Daily Show. I spend my workdays in a true media hub, soaking up the daily news as it breaks... then I get to come home and watch Jon Stewart skewer it mercilessly. If you can't find the humor in life, it's not worth living.

7 - Louie (F/X). Louis C.K. has always been one of my favorite stand-up comedians, and his short-lived HBO series "Lucky Louie" showed promise but was hindered by its strange sitcom format. C.K.'s new series, shot more like an indie film, fits his scathing sad-sack humor like a glove. Interspersing a fictionalized version of his real life with small-room stand-up, this cheaply-produced series gets laughs without pandering or fearing to tread on controversial subjects.

6 - Glee (Fox). Yep, I'm a straight guy who likes "Glee" - sue me. It's a feel-good forward-thinking quirky series that takes an honest yet fun look at some pretty serious social topics -- and with great tunes to boot. What's not to like? With half the main cast set to "graduate" and possibly leave the show at the end of this season, NOW is the time to catch Glee at its finest before it jumps the shark.

5 - Homeland (Showtime). I'll admit it, I tuned in to the premiere of this show simply to see Claire Danes crash and burn in a role beyond her ability. Instead, I was wowed by her portrayal of a flawed yet caring CIA officer who becomes convinced that a recently released American POW has been brainwashed into an Al-Qaeda terrorist. With more twists and turns than Mandy Patinkin's beard, this thoughtful and well-written thriller is the surprise hit of the year.

4 - Greek (ABC Family). 2011 was the farewell season for this fantastic sleeper show. What could have been a lame family-friendly version of "Animal House" instead was an edgy and addictive coming-of-age serial, mostly at the hands of the show's fantastic young cast. Predictable? Sure, a little. But fans of the show couldn't wait to see Cappie and Casey drive off together after graduation.

3 - The Vampire Diaries (CW). Let's get one thing straight -- "Twilight" this ain't. Okay, sure, maybe every single member of the cast hails from the Island of Improbably Attractive People, and maybe the main theme of the show is a romance between a human and a vampire. And, sure, there are werewolves, too -- but that's where the teenage schlockiness stops. The thrills are massive, the plots addictive, and the writing (from Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson) makes this series waaay more than just another teen soap.
2 - Fringe (Fox). It's an absolute crime that the best sci-fi thriller on television -- and maybe one of the best in history -- is lost in the void of a Friday night timeslot. Seemingly always on the verge of cancellation, Fringe (now it's in fourth season) continues to push the boundaries of time, space, and reality while being the most groundbreaking show to air since Lost. A word to new fans, though: don't start watching now without catching up on old episodes or you will have NO idea what's happening. I watch every episode religiously and STILL don't know what's happening half the time... but it's the most fun ride on TV.

1 - Parks and Recreation (NBC). What started as The Office's ugly stepchild has spent the last three seasons becoming the most consistent gut-buster on TV. While The Office has floundered this season with poor writing and a much-missed Steve Carell, Parks & Rec has flourished with the funniest cast and best writing on TV. Who wouldn't want to live in central Indiana, marry April Ludgate, go into business with Tom Haverford, and go out for a steak (or two or five) with Ron Swanson? With that, I conclude my two-part look back at 2011 with a "sayonara, sucker!" and a finger stuck in the air (I'll let you pick which one.) Some years are best left in the dust, and 2011 was one of 'em. Here's to a prosperous and awesome new year full of higher highs, fewer lows, a ladder for every pitfall, and surplus amounts of quality television to live life vicariously through.

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