Jan 11, 2012

5 in '11: TV

2011 was a good year for TV. Even though Mad Men didn't air, and Grey's Anatomy and Gossip Girl stopped being appointment television, and Taylor Armstrong wreaked cringe-inducing havoc on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (only for Camille Grammer to rise from her first season ashes like the glorious phoenix she has revealed herself to be), it was still a good year for couch potatoes. We grappled with the frustrating humanity of Amy Jellicoe, we traversed the Seven Kingdoms with Ned Stark, and we did lots of secret, sexy things with Kalinda Sharma. It was a good year to be a TV fan! I'm still kind of mad about Taylor Armstrong (especially since I don't think any of the women will call her out at the reunion), but I'm working on it. Until then, enjoy my five (actually, six) favorite shows of 2011.

#5. Enlightened/Community (tie): Community was a lock as my #5 show of 2011, until I watched Enlightened at my parent's house over Christmas. Jeff, Britta and the rest of the study group are old friends by now, whereas I'm just meeting Amy, Levi and Helen, but I still can't bring myself to choose between the two. Community had another strong year that continued to explore the different relationships between the core cast, and they rocked their Western parody in Part 1 of last season's finale. They're doing what they're doing, and they're doing it well. Enlightened, meanwhile, burst onto the scene with such force and personality it became impossible to ignore. The protagonist, Amy Jellicoe, is really the worst. She's self-absorbed, irresponsible, tardy, pushy, whiny, and at her worst, unstable. She bothers people, she makes messes, and she causes scenes. She also cares about the world around her, and wants to make it a better place. She often goes about creating change in the most abrasive way possible, but you can't fault her for trying. Amy is the worst, but you also love her the most. She's so human. You're embarrassed for her, but only because within her you see yourself.

#4. Happy Endings: As the most fun show on TV, Happy Endings is like hanging out with a group of hilarious, pop culture savvy assholes, who nevertheless love each other. I've written before about my love for Max and Penny (still my favorites), but I'd also like to take a moment to praise Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. as newlyweds Brad and Jane. They are so weird together! And thus, so perfect. They're horny, silly, and totally on the same page (except for when they're not). The writers have even found ways to mine laughs from Alex and Dave, the two least naturally funny characters. While a lot of the show revolves around the characters getting into zany scrapes and petty competitions (over sweaters), it never fails to remind us that these people really like each other, and thus, we do too.

#3. Game of Thrones: Having read George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, I was technically spoiled for the first season of HBO's television adaptation (the plan is for each season of the show to cover a different book in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series). Despite knowing the major plot twists and turns (the Lannister twins' incestuous relationship, Ned's death, the birth of Dany's dragons), I still enjoyed the hell out of these ten episodes. Part of it comes from watching the story come to life onscreen, and comparing the actors' portrayals with the characters I had imagined in my head. The cast is uniformly fantastic, even choices I initially questioned, such as Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister. Reading the books, I pictured Cersei as more of a blond bombshell with less impulse control. Headey gave her a weariness and a dignity that made her cold, calculating moments all the more forceful. The scene (not in the books) in which she and Robert discuss their pitiful marriage, and laugh over the fact that their union is all that holds the Seven Kingdoms together, breathed new life into both characters. While the first book was told almost exclusively from the perspective of the Starks (plus Tyrion and Dany), the show allowed its focus to wander, creating new moments that expanded and deepened the story.

#2. The Good Wife: Smart, slick, sexy, and cynical, The Good Wife is the best show you're not watching. Whenever I tell someone I love this show, they reply "Yeah, my mom watches it." To which I say, hooray for the good taste of moms! The Good Wife started as the story of Alicia Florrick, wife of a disgraced States Attorney, making a delayed go at the world of corporate law. Two and a half seasons later, the show has broadened its focus, magnifying the lives of its supporting cast, including Diane Lockhart, a partner at Alicia's firm, Cary Agos, Alicia's rival at the States Attorney's Office, and fan-favorite Kalinda Sharma, Lockhart & Gardner's private investigator. It's a pleasure every week to watch smart people do well at their jobs, while navigating a minefield of ethically ambiguous decisions. Plus, this show gets the best guest stars. Highlights this season include Anika Noni Rose as the series' Darth Vader, Special Prosecutor Wendy Scott Carr, and Carrie Preston as magical-elf-turned-brilliant-litigator, Elsbeth Tascioni.

#1. Parks and Recreation: The second best show of 2010 becomes the best show of 2011, thanks to the general awesomeness of everyone in Pawnee, IN (and Mad Men not airing this year). Even if Mad Men had aired a new season in the last 12 months, who knows if it could have bested the phenomenal Parks and Recreation. This show has been firing on all cylinders for two and a half seasons now. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, the way it did with The Office, but it hasn't. Part of that has to do with the hilarious cast of guest stars the show gets to rotate through, like Mo Collins as local talk show host Joan Callamezzo. If anyone in the cast should get singled out, however, it's Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope. The woman is killing it, every week, every scene. If anything, Poehler has taken Leslie to new heights this season, as Leslie struggles to balance her political ambitions with her relationship with Ben. The romantic push-and-pull between the two lovable nerds has allowed Poehler to show us Leslie at both her most vulnerable and her most passionate. Their sweeping, Christmastime kiss was a thing of beauty. This season also gave us the exquisite episode in which Ben joined Tom and Donna on their day of self-indulgence ("Fine leather goods? Treat yo'self!") and ended up crying in the mall in a Batman costume. And we got the episode where Andy tried to pick a college class, with help from Ron and April. And we got the mock U.N. episode, and April saying "The moon will join your coalition!" And we got Tammy 1. This show is just the best.

Honorable Mentions: Friday Night Lights (for the heart-breaking series finale, the only episode I watched this year) and Downton Abbey (for the first three episodes, the only ones I've seen so far).

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