Saturday, April 14, 2012

A super-belated top 10 tv shows of 2011

Doing top ten lists in December is overrated. I half-worked on this in December, shelved it while working on a top 25 characters of the year. The lag in time has allowed me to make a better and more accurate list as I have a better idea which shows resonated with me in retrospect. This is true even if the show took a nose dive after the New Year as is the case with Parks and Recreation. Like any blogger who aspires to be a TV critic and doesn't possess superpowers to slow down time so he or she can watch everything, compromises had to be made in terms of what to watch and what not to watch. The pool of shows I selected this from is listed down below.

  1. The Onion News Network, IFC, Seasons 1 and 2-Even though this is my #1 slot, I don’t have a whole lot to write here except that this is the program I was most blown away by week in and week out. I know it doesn’t score too many points for originality or risk as it is was basically an extension of their youtube channel, but that doesn’t mean the show’s not on the edge creatively. Both the first and second seasons came out this year and the show added a new level of complexity in the latter as the show became experimental and semi-serialized in the form of Brooke Alvarez’s rivalry with do-gooder news reporter Brady O’Shaw. Examples of episodic arcs included the broadcasting of the apocalypse, the computer becoming a sentient being and falling in love with Brooke, and the revealing that the icy Brooke was once a famous Russian cosmonaut as a baby. I imagine that in the same way hard core fans of The Daily Show and Colbert Report cling to those shows as a bastion of cutting edge satire, I see this as program as both the most funny and twistedly honest program on television. On second thought, maybe I do have a lot to write about it.     
  2. Parks and Recreation, NBC, All of seasons 3, 1st half of Season 4-No longer in the shadow of Office, Parks and Recreation has an incredibly strong cast that didn’t lose a beat with the arrival of Adam Scott as geeky outsider Ben Wyatt and Rob Lowe as hyperactive city manager Chris Traeger. The show hasn’t just created a strong sense of place and time, but it’s created an inviting one. Leslie Knope was originally an irritating opportunity for Amy Poehler to try out a leftover SNL impression. Now, she and her gang of government bureaucrats have become the best definition of a great ensemble: you see them less as actors and more as a group of friends we want to hang out with.
3.      Archer, FX, Season 2, 1st 3 episodes of Season 3-The show isn't just another spy parody but a first-rate spy parody and a wacky office comedy to boot. The key to the show is that the characters are uniquely idiosyncratic creations rather than the means to and end for traditional parody.
More of my review can be found here

  1. Hell on Wheels, AMC, Most of Season 1-The show is beautifully shot but doesn’t do the glamor of the West any favors. The railroad camps and the life of backbreaking labor is so hellish that only marked men would go there. The show interestingly contrasts that with two Irish brothers who think they can get a slice of the American dream with their picture show, a preacher who wants to open up a church, a whore with scars from her time as an Indian princess and a newly widowed fair-haired maiden who was told by another character that, not being a whore or Indian, she doesn’t beloing out there. It’s the traditional Western told through a lot of unique and diverse perspectives.  Note: In retrospect, I've learned that not a lot of other people liked this show because its inferior to Deadwood. I never saw Deadwood and proudly stand by it.
5.      Jimmy Kimmel Show-ABC-With his brilliant ambush of Jay Leno last year during the Late Night wars or his faux romance with Matt Damon among other things, Kimmel’s antics have made for viral sensations on quite a few occasions. Too bad only a few people know him as a consistent entity night in and night out. It’s ironic that he was previously known as the co-host of the unforgivably crude The Man Show, because I could argue that he's the classiest and most genuine host out there. Like Conan, he relies on a stable of cast and crew members as go-to sources of humor, but the difference is there’s a clear sense of affection that drives their interaction. This was most apparent in Kimmel’s teary-eyed TV eulogy to his Uncle Frank which marked a high-water mark of his series, if not Late Night Television. On top of that, he’s a pro at interviewing and a gifted comic. In short, a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant format.

6. Wilfred-FX-Season 1-It took me a couple episodes to get into this, but I loved it once I started seeing it as a drama rather than a gimmicky comedy. It has one of the most depressed characters on television, it doesn't treat his illness with kid gloves and it's a feel good story with no false moments which is a lot to say for a show with a talking dog in it. Read my review here.

7.      The Office-NBC-Back half of Season 7, front half of Season 8-In the post-Michael-Scott Era, The Office has provided easy fodder for Critics to show off their sophistication with analysis of just how and where the show fell from grace. I’ll happily take the opposite position and declare announcements of the show's demise to be premature. True, the show’s suffered at the top with Will Ferrell’s lacking in any identifiable characteristic and James Spader offering little to the mix other than creepy blankness, but come on, this is still The Office and the work of a writing staff that knows what it’s doing. As the Michael Scott storyline came to an end, the staff did an admirable job of steering the show through uncharted territory and twisted the storyline to revolve around Andy rather than Jim. Andy’s no force of nature like Michael Scott, but he’s a fully realized character and the writers haven’t betrayed his arc. The staff has also kept the momentum going with storylines and grown Daryl, Gabe, and Erin.

 8. Portlandia-IFC-Season 1-This sketch show’s backstory is almost as endearing as the show itself. It evolved around a platonic friendship between SNL star Fred Armisen and alt-rocker Carrie Bowenstein wanting to spend more time together and work on a project. Not only does the pair expertly skewer hipster culture, they help us articulate and define what it entails better than we would have ourselves had we never watched the show. A tangible chemistry between the two stars and a sketch show with a unique perspective are two good reasons for this show’s existence, which is two more than nearly every other sketch comedy on TV.

9. Once Upon a Time-ABC-First half of Season 1-Last year, I'm embarrassed to say, I somehow winded up with No Ordinary Family on my year-end list. I was a little bit too stubborn to get off that train and admit the horse I backed in the proverbial Fall Season derby was a dud. This year, I'm going to go with ABC's most ambitious production and again, I have a small fear that the show's reliance on a 10-year old to dictate the rules of its universe might wear a little thin. But at the end of the day, even if the show crashes and burns, it had a great opening run that set up the possibility of a great series. As hour-long entertainment, it's been solid and the show has gradually built up its world enough to arouse curiosity over what its future may bring. A full review can be found here.

10. American Dad-Fox-Front half of Season 7, Back half of Season 8-An under discussed animated entity, American Dad deserves mention for being consistently funny and inventive. Roger, that lovable extraterrestrial duex-es-machina, continues to lead the show in interesting directions signifying just how well the writer’s room has resisted the temptations to overextend his limitless personality. Unlike sister show, Family Guy, American Dad has distinctive characters which exist as more than just an excuse to get from point A to point B in the plot.

Honorable Mentions:
-It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia-FX-A couple duds, but one of the most consistently hillarious shows on television over the last few years, deserves praise
-Mr. Sunshine, ABC-I thought Matt Perry had a fairly impressive hit on his hands and some of the side characters (particularly Nate Torrence, Allison Janney, and whomever played Heather the psycho seceretary) added a lot of color. Deserves more praise than it got. I think the score and some of its other tonal elements gave it a bad taste and I think Matt Perry's downer character wasn't necessarily appealing. I'm a fan of his type of comedy and would not have watched Friends for as long as it did.
-Terra Nova, FOX-I-Unlike Rowan Kaiser over at AV Club or James Ponziewichii P. (however you spell that guy's last name) at Time, I never thought this show took that big of a drop after its initial run. I can't deny it was exciting to see a universe with such wide open rules and I didn't see the cast.
-Sing-Off, NBC-A reality show with three great judges, a lot of great groups and an overall take-home message of synergy and harmony. Who know that you didn't need a British asshole and a dog-eat-dog environment to make a successful reality show? It might have made the top ten is I feel the show strained its format by running a couple episodes too long and I also felt the judging up to the final four was erratic.
-New Girl, Fox-Zooey Deschanel is ridiculous and implausibly weird. Even more surprisingly, I've slowly come to love her. She's so over the top and hammy, it's more of a send-up than a performance to be taken at face value. Schmidt started getting good storylines after the New Year which might have affected my rankings because it's now more of an ensemble comedy. 
-The Looney Tunes Show-Cartoon Network-Every time, I watch Looney Tunes reruns on TV, I've not only seen the skit before but I almost know the lines. In other words, I've been hungry for new Looney Tunes material for a while, so it's really good to see Bugs and Daffy back on the screen again. Then again, I wasn't expecting to see Bugs and Daffy cohabitating together in a household tackling mundane tasks like double dates, holding down a job, earning membership into a country club, being the star of a bowling league. Even worse, Yosemite Sam doesn't see Bugs and Daffy as hunting trophies, but roommates to mooch off of. Still, Kristen Wiig kills it as Lola and it does kind of make me happy to see Bugs and Daffy openly admit to being friends
-Revenge, ABC-A good twist on the high society soap opera: Having an infiltrator out to secretly destory everyone
-Web Therapy, Internet/Showtime-I did not expect to like this show because I'm not a Lisa Kudrow fan at all. This show was highly inventive in premise and execution and I was taken by surprise as its characters grew into an intertangled web with each other. Guest stars like Alan Cumming, Rashida Jones, Michael McDonald, Selma Blair and Molly Shannon all deserve great praise.

Just to let you all know what I saw this year:
2 Broke Girls, CBS, 2 and a Half Men, CBS, 30 Rock, NBC, Big Bang Theory, CBS, Bob's Burgers, Fox. Bored to Death, HBO, Burn Notice, USA, Community, NBC, Conan, TBS, Cougartown, ABC, Daily Show & Colbert Report, Comedy Central, Eastbound & Down, HBO (just one ep. but I hated it), Family Guy, FOX, Free Agents, NBC, Funny or Die Show, HBO, Futurama, NBC, Glee, Fox, Grimm, NBC, H8R, CW, Happy Endings, ABC, Ice Road Truckers, History Channel, In Plain Sight, USA, Last Man Standing, ABC, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, NBC, Life and Times of Tim, HBO (or that might be 2010, not sure), Mad, Cartoon Network, Misfits, Hulu (Although the 3 episodes I saw were originally produced in 2009), Modern Family, ABC, Off the Map, ABC, Onion Sports Dome, Comedy Central, Outsourced, NBC, Pan Am, ABC, Playboy Club, NBC, Raising Hope, Fox, Retired at 35, TV Land, Ricky Gervais Show, HBO, Royal Pains, USA, Running Wilde, Fox, Saturday Night Live, NBC, S*$# my Dad Says, CBS, Sports Show with Norm McDonald, Comedy Central, Suburgatory, ABC; United States of Tara, Showtime, Waking Dead, AMC, Wipeout, ABC

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