The year is coming to an end so we at Film Punk decided to talk about what we think is the best television of 2011. We decided that rating Comedies and Dramas in the same basket was completely daft so we each made two separate lists.
I'll say now that I'm not a TV person, which is strange because the fucking thing is never off in my house. The deal is I've got my broken computer hooked up to the television to constantly watch films, I'm addicted to TCM and haven't totally lost faith in TV being as good as film. I'm one of the last few who doesn't think that TV has surpassed film in writing or direction. It just hasn't. Look around you. Everytime someone makes the argument that TV is where good ideas are coming from, I'd like to ask them the last time they watched a film from West Africa, Romania, Iceland or Argentina. I would then wait about ten seconds and then say "yeah, that's what I thought." But, all the same I do enjoy my stories when they come on. Every week, usually via Skype, Dizzy and I watch Parks & Recreations because it's the funniest show currently on television. Beyond that is the emotional chutzpah to back up even the tiniest throw-away gag. These guys have it down in a way they never quite got out of The Office. Children's Hospital gave it stiff competition, but as the show is only 9 minutes of absurdity, it can't quite compete with reigning heavyweight Parks, though goddamn if they don't come close. NTSF:SD:SUV was nearly as good as Children's but I wanted more from bit players like Peter Serafinowicz and Rebecca Romijn. The Heart, She Holler came and went amicably enough but has nothing of Delocated's immediacy or charming charmlessness. And as ever I remain a loyal and loving fan of the degenerates on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, who continue to outdo themselves even as I keep thinking they can't possibly. Up All Night is lightweight, to be sure, but it feels lived in and gentle and I greatly enjoy spending time with the three tame nutjobs at its center.
My drama choices remain limited by my family being dirt poor and my not having the drive to download whole seasons of television. So yeah I missed Game of Thrones. I watched Mildred Pierce, but let's face it, that was a fucking movie and so it'll show up in my year-end movie round-up. Anyway, I enjoyed Pan Am because I'm a gentleman and the chance to watch four adorable women dressed as Pan Am stewardesses in a blue-screen version of the 60s is not something I can pass up. Or as I told Andrew Nigrosh, it's like a 60s Toy Store and everyone's on a shopping spree. I'm watching Hell on Wheels because I recognize it as a Western and it's trying to win me over and I'm letting it because I like watching people in the costumes trying out the accents while the creators attempt to combine every fifth western ever made into a cohesive unit and unsurprisingly can't quite do it. It's better than Bonanza, anyway, right? And I like The Walking Dead even though no one else but me and Jonathan Maberry seems to. It's a touch like a 70s road movie with zombies, which is all I could ask for from this show. And it got me to like Jon Bernthal and Norman Reedus, who I was definitely not a fan of in Season 1. But the series many directors have let them fill out their characters and this has become as kind of lovely and pastoral as a zombie serial can be, so I have a great time every sunday with those three. I always save Pan Am for last as a kind of pick-me-up. And of course The Closer, another show which has much in common with movies I like, namely a cast filled with fantastic character actors who never got nearly enough to do in movies. Watching the team work together/bicker is the reason I keep coming back and I will be ever so sad to see it go.
1. Parks and Recreation has achieved a status in my mind that only 30 Rock has ever had (and it lost it last season). When an episode of Parks and Rec starts I know it will be good. I know it. I don't have to worry one bit. It's got an amazing cast of incredibly talented funny people who manage not only all the right comedic timing but also manage to play each character with real heart. The writing team only adds to this great recipe with just the right balance of serious storyline and absolute absurdity. Literally every one liner, every fake tv ad, every accepted fact in the world they created is funnier than anything on almost any other network and most of them are treated as throwaway jokes.
2. When they weren't busy kicking the Tony's asses, Matt and Trey were creating another kickass season of South Park. The show definitely has its ups and downs but when the duo are at the top of their game, their satire is both razor sharp and incredibly funny. And when they don't feel like getting political they'll spend 22 minutes on some of the most obscene fart jokes to every be heard, and its still brilliant. This season they actually went for a pretty serious turn by having Stan's parents get divorced and ending their half season with a downer. A lot of people were confused but the message the boys were sending was clear. If you take life too seriously, your whole world will be shitty. After 15 seasons they're still damn near perfect.
3. Curb Your Enthusiasm sent Larry back to his homeland of New York City this season. Most of the humor was fairly similar to what the show has done in the past but they brought in a number of great actors to help add to the improv storyline including Ricky Gervais and Ana Gasteyer. The new environment invigorates Larry a bit and his jokes and humor are a lot more fresh than previous seasons.
4. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia........is perfect. Always.
5. Workaholics was a recommendation from a bunch of people I would never trust. That said this show is incredibly stupid but just so damn funny. It definitely borders on stoner humor but the self awareness of the writer/actors puts it just over the bar that Family Guy and modern Simpsons seems to have fallen under.
1. Since Breaking Bad has made its way onto Netflix I've got every Tom Dick and Harry coming up to me and asking me if I watch the show. I politely tell them to go fuck themselves. I discovered it. It's mine. You can all go die. In truth I have been watching the show from the beginning and even though I've been madly in love with it since day 1 I can definitely point out flaws (Particularly in season 2). But luckily for the television community, season 3 came along and really showed off what the show had to work with. What's nice is this year in it's fourth season, Breaking Bad built on all the greatness it had already made for itself. Though getting off to a slow start, the amount of amazingly tense moments they create on the show leaves your hair gray. Not to mention creating a villain so terrifying that you see him at night when you close your eyes. I agree with Tim that it's a tad stagnant in the middle but I think all of the seasons suffer from that. I think more than anything though, this season left me really wondering how the show is going to conclude in its fifth and final season.
2. What can I say about Game of Thrones that hasn't already been said? Its shot beautifully. It's resurrected brilliant actors that I thought would never see the light of day again. And it's got CGI that should make most filmmakers shoot their own dicks off. Now I've read all the novels and I've never seen a screenplay so closely adhere to it's source material. They sold the show to HBO not just because its good, but its because it's got a built in audience of probably millions. It's got minor flaws like everything else but I'm happy to say that I really don't think the show could have gotten off to a better and more complete start.
3. Boardwalk Empire was the definition of the HBO slow burn last season and their style hasn't changed much. What they did come into the second season with though, was an established cast of great characters. Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson fell flat with almost everyone that watched the show but not to the fault of the actor. The writers just accidentally made all the tertiary characters far more interesting. This season has followed Nucky, the king of Atlantic City, lose control of his town to his son figure Jimmy Darmody. The 2nd season has set up what I hope will be a Breaking Bad-esque 3rd act and by that I mean a shit show. An all out war for control of the titular Boardwalk Empire. It may seem unfair to list the show before its season actually concludes but the 9 or so episodes that have already aired have proven the show worthy of a best of list. It's acting is beyond flawless and its less is more style of photography just helps viewers to pay attention to the story and characters which are both pretty damn complicated.
4. I've never been more at odds with a television show then I was with Walking Dead this season. AMC knows its their cash cow at present so watching it on tv is all but insufferable. They put in far too many commercials that aren't even scheduled to be part of the episode but I guess that shouldn't fault the show itself. The writers gave me enough to talk about. The show had 7 episodes that really centered on two plot points. One being the rescue of Sofia, a little girl who disappears in the first episode. The problem is that the show was incredibly stagnant this season. They found a farm house and didn't leave it. They're still there in fact. I can't even really decide why I've put it on this list. I yelled at the tv all for seven weeks but at the end of the day I kept coming back to the show for some reason. I hate all but 3 characters and was furious at the story line the entire time. But the midseason break did end well and I'll be happy to return to it when it comes back on tv next year.
5. Now Mad Men would have been on this list but all that contractual bullshit kept it from entering it's 5th season in 2011 so there that is. I'm only 3 episodes into Hell on Wheels and its far from a perfect show but its got the makings of something wonderful once it actually finds its groove. I won't call it one of the best of the year but I will call it promising enough to keep your eyes on it.
Unlike Scout, I watch a ton of TV. I subjected myself to watching every pilot this fall, and religiously keep up with my old standards. This year was a really great year for television. I am in the camp that firmly believes that TV gets better every year and is quickly catching up with films. My camp regards Scout's camp like that strange Mennonite commune across the river from our dock. We sometimes watch them toiling in the sun, cutting wood and such, while we sip our martinis and blast Cee-lo from our party boat. Anyway, I digress. Here are my picks.
5. Community, in my opinion, sort of lost its way in season 2. I started feeling like the writers were too smart for their own good and their quest for constant self awareness had started to seem more like a gimmick and less like something that naturally came from the characters. It still had some great high points, and was at times funnier than it’s ever been, it just wasn’t very consistent. This season still has all the meta story telling tropes from last season but now I feel like their being used to really tell us about the characters. With the strongest ensemble on television, I’m glad to be back with them.
Best Episode: Remedial Chaos Theory
4. South Park started to get on my nerves a couple of years ago. It’s not that it had gotten worse, really. South Park never really deviates far from the norm. It was that I had changed. I vividly remember the awful sinking feeling the first time I didn’t laugh at a South Park episode. But this season in what almost looked like an attempt to sabotage their own show, Matt and Trey did something really unusual: they let their characters grow. They allowed Stan to get depressed and lose faith in what is basically the show’s premise. In his own way, even Cartman began growing up. In the twelve or so years I’ve been watching this show, the one thing I never expected is for it to become an earnest tale of children growing up. But have no fear, the tasteless Penn State jokes are still included.
Best Episode: Ass Burgers
3. Parks and Recreation is amazing. I didn’t start watching it until recently actually, because the first season just seemed like a terrible The Office rip off. Since then the show has grown so much, becoming one of the most consistently funny shows on television, with a more grounded personal arch that 30 Rock, but a more straightforward approach to humor than The Office or Modern Family.
Best Episode: I'm Leslie Knope
2. Archer really impresses me with its ability to generate effortless humor. So often when watching sit coms I get that nagging feeling that everyone is trying too hard. Archer manages to crack me up but at the same time I get the feeling that the writers really don’t care if I laugh or not. If a joke sinks, there’ll be another one in about half a second.
Best Episode: Swiss Miss
1. Adventure Time is, I kid you not, the best comedy on television in my opinion. It is pure uninhibited imagination. All the best moments of iconic kid’s shows like Invader Zim and Spongebob Squarepants paired with the dark undertones from Ren and Stimpy make for probably the most effective kids show I’ve ever seen. There’s one scene in particular that really sums up why this show is brilliant. Finn lands by his treehouse being carried by a flock of smiling balloons. He thanks them for the ride and then promptly released them from their blood oath. They respond by squealing with delight and shouting, “finally we can go to the stratosphere to die!” The show is filled with childlike adventure but underneath it you can’t help noticing the dark truth behind the stories. Like, why is Finn the last human on the earth? The show sometimes hints at the fact their used to be many humans. In fact they used to rule the world. But now in this strange trippy kingdom populated by talking fruits and dogs that can enlarge their livers at will, the humans are gone. All but Finn. I’m not sure if Adventure Time will ever explain these questions, but even posing them strikes me as remarkable in a show meant for 11 year olds.
Best Episode: As another testament to this show's integrity, I can't pick a best episode. They all impress me equally.
5. Last year Justified was probably the best cop drama on television. It should be noted that the cop drama genre has become a really small pond these days, filled with those three eyed fish from The Simpsons that I call NCIS, so Justified wasn’t really that big a fish. But it had everything I wanted from a good cop drama: Cops and robbers each with fun character flaws, having at each other in manageable one hour blocks, usually culminating in someone getting shot in the face. It was a simple show that gave me exactly what I wanted, and nothing more. This year, though, Justified managed to completely transcend its cop drama roots and tell a story about family, and loyalty, so deeply human and tragic that I found myself riffling through my Shakespeare collection, trying to find which play it was ripping off. The focus of the show was still on the rather rigid Timothy Olyphant, but decided to use him to tell other people’s stories instead of telling his own. The show became about a place, so much more than about a person, and in the end I found myself enjoying even the episodes that didn’t end in someone being shot in the face.
Best Episode: Bloody Harlan
4. Doctor Who had a terrific season last year. Stephen Moffat finally took over as head writer and suddenly the show was jumping into seriously uncharted territory with some of England’s cleverest writers. This season, the old crew is back, same every place, same every time, but a little bit of that freshness that kick started season five is lacking. A part of me thinks I’m getting sick of Amy Pond, another thinks that maybe the writers have gotten a little too hung up on trying to confuse their audience. Either way they took a slight step down this year. Regardless, it’s still one of the best shows on television. The writing is sharp and the plot twists while sort of torrential in their delivery, are still well thought out and very very clever.
Best Episode: The Doctor's Wife
3. Breaking Bad, like Doctor Who, found itself coming off an exquisite previous season. And much like Doc Who, it couldn’t keep the momentum it built last year. We ended season three in somewhat of a pickle. We began season four with this pickle being resolved, in as much as a pickle is ever resolved on AMC. But then for about five episodes, I kept feeling like the writers were saying “now what?” Jessie got his opportunity to shine, but Walter just sort of stagnated. He became pathetic, much like season two Walter. I felt like the show had taken one giant step backward, and I was frustrated. Now, it should be noted that the last four episodes of the season are brilliant, but a part of me felt like they weren’t really earned. I wanted Walter to be a badass the whole season and when he finally was (and boy was he) I had a hard time figuring out why it took him this long.
Best Episode: Face Off (Also, best pun)
2. Homeland has completely reformed my ideas about what television is. Usually a show is only as strong as its premise. Star Trek TNG worked so well because its premise allowed for infinite variation. Seinfeld worked because its premise was the anti-premise, a sort of Sartre-esque limbo with a laugh track. Homeland on the other hand is like an exercise in rejecting its own premise. I spent the first few episodes ready for a show about vicarious living, a show where the characters reflect the vicarious nature of television by spying on each other’s personal dramas. But soon that was abandoned and suddenly the show was about the relationship between the hunter and the prey. A sort of cat and mouse game between the two main characters, but soon the game was suddenly over and I was presented another new premise. And while it would seem like this should confuse and enrage a TV viewer, it didn’t. It was fitting, in fact it was inevitable. I couldn’t imagine a show about the CIA that ever let anything be as it appears.
Best Episode: The Weekend
1. Game of Thrones has a truly expansive universe. In a way that no other show I’ve ever seen has ever had. When Catelyn Stark took Tyrion Lannister to see her sister at that crazy cliff castle place I didn’t feel like the writer had invented a new place for his readers to go. I felt like this crazy castle had been there the whole time only in the periphery, not yet in focus. When Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark recount old battles they fought together it seemed impossible that these pasts were invented by the writer but instead that these back stories were always inside them, just waiting for the moment to come out where we, the audience, could see them. This immersive sort of world coupled with some truly complex and engaging character relationships (my favorite being between Robert Baratheon and his bat shit crazy evil wife) made for my favorite show of the year and probably the best fantasy series ever made.
Best Episode: A Golden Crown