#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.
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).