Monday, 2 January 2012

Favourite TV Shows 2011 - Top 11 Shows, #11 - 2

So here we are, to take a look back at what exactly my favourite TV shows of 2011 actually were. Whilst the vast majority of the new series were absolutely terrible (here's looking at you Whitney) but there were major bright spots thanks to the debuts of both Game of Thrones and Homeland. But as always, it's the returning shows where the best stuff was coming from, even in a year that didn't have a new season of Mad Men. So first are the honourable mentions followed by the full list down bellow.

Honourable Mentions
Bob's Burgers
Black Mirror
Cougar Town
Shameless US
Sons of Anarchy*

*for the vast majority of its fourth season, 'Sons of Anarchy' was actually enjoying a place within the Top 10. But then that finale aired, and it was pretty terrible, so sadly it gets relegated to an honourable mention thanks to a mostly good season.

11. United States of Tara
I came to United States of Tara late. However, because of people talking about the leap in quality the show had made in it's third and ultimately final season, I decided to give it a go. The first two seasons of United States of Tara were fairly lighthearted with occasionally forays into darkness out of necessity it's very hard to avoid the fact the main chracter is suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID). But the shows third season dives into the deep end of this darkness and begins tackling what actually caused her DID. What follows is a 12 part psychological thriller built around the family drama, where even though no one actually dies there's a very real, palpable sense of tension and dread. This is only made possible because of the fantastic performance that Toni Collette gives, jumping with ease between each of the different personalities, as well as the other fantastic cast members, including a brilliant guest role from Eddie Izzard. Whilst it is sad that Tara ended when it did, the final episodes hopeful note, even after the terror of the previous episodes, was the perfect end to what had become a great series.

10. Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire made it onto this list for one reason, and one reason only, that finale. The second season of HBO's gangster series was gripping, gorgeous and filled with many fantastic performances, including the brilliant Jack Huston and Michael Kenneth Williams, however it lacked cohesion from episode to episode. It felt like episodes alternated between being fantastic and slightly underwhelming, Jimmy's attempts at overthrowing Nucky felt like they played out in the background much of the time, and the lack of some of the stronger members of the supporting cast in some episodes was sorely felt. Then the finale pulled all of these seemingly disparate strands to make the season worth it, culminating in one of the most visually striking scenes of the season as Jimmy and Nucky have their final stand-off in the rain by the war memorial. It was a gutsy move to end their second season on, that I hope pays off in a big way in season three.

9. Doctor Who
If you've read this blog in the past, I've been quite critical of Doctor Who in years past. I thought Season four ended on a dreadful note, some of specials that aired in 2009 had some fantastic moments but that 'The End of Time' didn't truly come to life until David Tennant was saying goodbye and then Steven Moffat's first season as show runner was marked by the fact that almost no one, apart from Moffat himself, could write a compelling episode. Season six they fixed that. Yes the less said about the clone two-parter the better, but that led to the fantastic ending moment where the Amy we've been with most of the season is revealed to be a fake. All five of Moffat's episode were superb, but unlike every other season of Doctor Who they weren't the best; Neil Gaiman's 'The Doctor's Wife' which celebrated the Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS and was terrific, but perhaps the best episode was Tom MacRae's 'The Girl Who Waited', the episode that proved beyond a shadow a doubt that Amy Pond is easily the best of all the modern companions.

8. Adventure Time
The production schedule for Adventure Time makes it very difficult to tell what seasons actually aired in 2011, and it's even difficult to say if there has been a marked improvement from season to season. All I know is that in terms of what each episode actually achieves  there's no show that is as creative as Adventure Time. From 'The Real You' to  'Death in Bloom' to 'Mortal Folly & Mortal Recoil' the episodes of Adventure Time season two that aired in 2011 would have earned it a place on this list, but then season three had 'Still', 'Memory of a Memory', 'Too Young', 'Fionna and Cake', 'What Was Missing', 'Thank You' AND 'Holly Jolly Secrets'. It's a stellar run of episodes for what is sure to become a children's TV classic in the years to come.

7. Homeland
There weren't many great new shows in 2012, there were some very good ones, which I have mentioned above in my honourable mentions, but in terms of great new shows? There were only two, Game of Thrones (which makes an appearance later) and Homeland. Homeland was a show that could have gone wrong at any second, the fact that it came from the creative team behind 24, a show known to go off the rails on occasion, meant that it was always a worry that Homeland could as well. Luckily Homeland didn't, in fact it just got better, particularly when it came to the episode 'The Weekend' wherein Carrie and Brody, both played masterfully by Claire Danes and Damien Lewis laid out almost every single secret that the two of them had in one of the best episodes of TV from the entirety of 2011. Whilst occasionally the flaws in the shows logic would show, particularly in the bunker scenes in an otherwise fantastic season finale, the performances by Danes, Lewis and Mandy Patinkin and the fact that the viewers expectations were frequently subverted, made Homeland's debut season one of the best in recent memory.

6. Justified
Like the second season of Sons of Anarchy, Justified took a leap in its second season and ascended to greatness. Of course Sons of Anarchy wasn't able to maintain that level of quality into it's third of fourth season, but for one glorious moment it was as good as any other drama on TV. I'm not saying that Justified's third season is going to follow the same trajectory, but it's going to be tough to find a villain who will be able to compete with Mags Bennett, played to perfection by Margo Martindale a character actress who finally got to prove just how good she could be given the right role. Justified's flaws are still it's flaws, the green screen in driving scenes is still awful and the other Marshals, Tim and Rachel are woefully under utilised  but everything else about season two made up for that. The supporting cast featuring fantastic performances by Jeremy Davies and Kaitlyn Dever as well as Walton Goggins' Boyd Crowder getting to be a little bit more villainous than he was in season one and then there's Timothy Olyphant as Raylan, who might not be as flashy as the other actors on the show, but is the necessary anchor to it all. But at the end of the day, Season two of Justified gets this high for Margo Martindale alone because that's just how fantastic she was.

5. Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation season three was an all time great season of television, and I'm going to be saying that for a lot of the shows that will be appearing on the rest of this list. If Parks and Recreation had only aired it's 16 episode third season in 2011, then it would have probably placed a little higher on this list. Not that the episodes from season four were bad, but they lacked the cohesion and sheer brilliance that season three had. The whole cast wass utilised as well as any ensemble that I can think of on television, particularly thanks to amazing work from Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza and Adam Scott and classic episodes such as 'Flu Season', 'April and Andy's Fancy Party' and 'Li'l Sebastian'. Season three was a triumph in terms of pretty much everything, that I can't help but look at season four in a less light, even with fantastic moments such as April and Andy visiting the Grand Canyon in 'End of the World'. However, even if Parks and Recreation maintained it's season four level of quality for the rest of it's run, then I can almost guarantee it a top 5 placement next year, I just don't see them topping season three.

4. Louie
Louie season two took the foundation of what Louis C.K. did with the first season and just ran with it to all kinds of weird and wonderful places. The unpredictability of what exactly could happen on any given episode of Louie was ratcheted up a hundred fold. The premiere of season two was a 20 minute fart gag, 'Country Drive' had Louie singing the entirety of The Who's 'Who Are You', there was meditations on suicide, and a double length episode set in the Middle East. Maybe not everything in this second season hit its mark (I was not a fan of the episode 'Joan') but when Louie was working, which it was 95% of the time, it was one of the most hypnotically fascinating shows on television. Sometimes hysterical, other times deeply poignant, it's hard to say if a balance was hit between these emotions, only that each moment felt right and they felt earned. Louis C.K. proved himself to be something special with this season of Louie and I can honestly say that I have no clue what season three is going to hold, but that's perhaps the most exciting thing about it.

3. Game of Thrones
Many people would argue that Homeland had the stronger debut season in 2011, however in my opinion, almost no show on television this year was able to compete with how much excitement I had to watch a new episode of Game of Thrones each week. Yes, it took at least two viewings of the first episode and then about two further episodes until I was able to remember names and characters, but that didn't stop The Wire from being engrossing, and it also helped the George R. R. Martin's Westeros feels like a real place with a rich history. Of course, the vast majority of the praise for what makes Game of Thrones work should go to David Benioff and D. B. Weiss for their fantastic work adapting the novel to the small screen, but also knowing what to add and to take away. The fact that their additional scenes fit seamlessly into the narrative shows just how well they understand this series. Everything about Game of Thrones seemed to click, from great performances by Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke et al, to the stellar direction, particular by Alan Taylor for the penultimate episode of the season, 'Baelor'. That episode was the perfect culmination of the season and also the strongest example of what Weiss and Benioff had an almost uncanny ability to do, chose end of episode cliffhangers, because if you weren't going to come back after that ending, then there's something seriously wrong with you.

2. Breaking Bad
I am going to say something completely hyperbolic right now. I think that season four of Breaking Bad is about as good as a season of serialised dramatic TV can get. I would put it on the level as The Wire season three/four, which is about as good as television can get in my opinion. And yet, it only just misses out on the top spot of this list, but for lack of trying. Season four built on all of the foundations that Breaking Bad laid out for itself it's also seminal third season. Giancarlo Esposito completely dominates the entire season as Gustavo Fring, creating one of the greatest villains to ever grace the small screen and possibly one of the greatest villains ever. Of course Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn and Dean Norris are all fantastic and should really go without saying, particularly with Cranston's being a three time Emmy winner for this show. Where season four really exceeded though was in the building of tension, from the superb use of silence in the season premiere 'Box Cutter', the meeting with the Cartel in 'Salud', Walt's laugh at the end of 'Crawl Space' or the eponymous moment from the finale 'Face-Off', Breaking Bad  season four was a master class in making your audience sit on the edge of their seat. Now with three straight seasons of near perfection, it's hard not to wonder what the final 16 episodes are going to hold for Walt and Jesse, all I do know is they probably won't disappoint.

1. ???
And my number 1 show of 2011, will be revealed in a post dedicated entirely to it, and why it was the best TV show to air in this calendar year

No comments: