Best TV Shows of the Year (2011/2012 season)

Television is the preeminent artform right now. The cinema is basically a dead art right now. Yet unlike film the organization that awards TV excellence is a joke. The Emmy’s once again got it all wrong. Or, at least, mostly all wrong. I will not be watching or putting any value in their selections (unless Peter Dinklage wins again) but, instead, participating in the great television discussion by naming my favorites. As well should all do. So here they are…

1. Game of Thrones
No surprise here. Given my preference to A Song of Ice and Fire book one I didn’t think it possible that a new season based on the second book, Clash of Kings, could surpass last year’s best of the year fantasy offerings. It did, adding new layers of complexity and insight to an already rich fantasy tapestry spun by George R.R. Martin. Aspects like a more beefed up role for Stannis and Melisandre, Cersei confessing (in a way only she can) her sadness for how Joffrey turned out, Joffrey’s sadistic treatment of prostitutes, Peter’s presence on the battlefield with Renley etc. are not earth shattering on their own but flesh out the series in a truly satisfying manner. Martin’s close involvement with the show turns what could have been some pretty awesome fan fiction asides into the stuff of timeless cannon.
Game of Thrones, easily the best show to air since Buffy the Vampire Slayer, just got better in it’s second season and, just think, we have two years worth of book 3 ahead of us! And speaking of Buffy, this is the first time since the era of the Slayer that I picked a show as #1 for two consecutive seasons and I can almost guarantee not the last time it will top the list as the best show on television.

2. Homeland
An American hero might be a brain-washed Manchurian Candidate, er, terrorist. There are so many ways this could have gone off the deep end like so many modern shows and movies tend to do. But this is the first time since the heyday of 24 (season 5 to be exact) that a show really gets into the frame of mind of our modern paranoia/fear driven culture and spin it into great entertainment. Homeland has breathed new life in the dead tired post-911/Iraq/terrorism/surveillance/blah-blah-blah genre. The key, I think, is that the show doesn’t pander and it doesn’t preach, it entertains and damn if it is not the most thrilling thing on TV. Where Homeland distinguished itself from its a show like 24 is it’s de-emphasis on action and emphasis on subtlety. The simple act of the military hero Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) taking a polygraph is as intense as 40 straight minutes of explosions and torture in 24. As good as Lewis is at selling the intrigue and simmering madness, Clara Danes as the CIA agent doggedly chasing after Brody gives the single best TV performance of the year. She is a singularly unique protagonist; empowered, sexy and bat shit crazy.

3. Justified
Building off the momentum of season 2, season 3 continued the successful formula of long form story arcs that has worked so well for this superlative action drama. To say it matches season 2 is high praise. To say it exceeds it is, well, justified in my opinion. See what I did there?! The spirit of Elmore Leonard amazing writing is captured by the show in a way only a small handful of adaptations have reached (Get Shorty and Out of Sight).

4. Breaking Bad
What to make of a show and season that consists of 10 dreary, uneventful episodes followed by one of the most powerful finishes in television history? A rousing success considering those 10 episodes were all calculated to set-up the explosive denouement. As for season 5… so far the final season has been good as well so I’m fairly certain this show will preserve it’s legacy in its final sprint to the finish line. Walter White may not survive the events of the final season but in a way he will live on forever.

5. Community
Community finally takes the reigns as the best comedy on television from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which experienced it’s most uneven season since the pre-Frank Reynolds days. Season 3 of this random as hell community college comedy was just about perfect. Sadly, though, it will go on without show runner and chief creative force Dan Harmon (fuck you NBC… and FUCKKKKK YOU Chevy Chase). Suddenly, I have a feeling this is the last time the show will rank this high. Or rank at all for that matter. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

6. Aqua Something You Know Whatever
Formerly known as Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 01 which, itself, was formerly known as Aqua Teen Hunger Force. If you haven’t watched it by now then don’t bother, you’re not worthy, enjoy your Family Guy and 1000th season of The Simpsons and leave me the hell alone with your horrible taste. Just kidding, Aqua fans still love you (even though you have horrible taste).

7. Downton Abbey
I admit to not having finished season 2 but I must place it this high because what I’ve seen is up to par with what I expect from this excellent drama. May it go on past WWI and into WWII!

8. South Park
I’ve gotten back into South Park in a big way, um’kay.

9. Fringe
I’m a HUGE Fringe fan and that makes it all the harder for me to admit that Fringe season 4 jumped the shark or, more appropriately, jumped the universe. Season 4 is dull, uneventful and full of filler episodes searching for meaning and ending up (usually) empty handed and, for that matter, empty headed. Face it, Peter found himself stick in most uninteresting universe within the entire and possibly endless multiverse chain and he dragged us along with him. Not cool, dude! Last season’s steampunk-light amber universe was an exceptional setting that never failed to challenge or surprise its viewers (and ranked #2 on my year end list) so it baffles me how the show runners thought it would be a good idea to strand fans with this season’s non-eventful alt-alt-alt universe arc where meaningless freaks of the week took president over, you know, exploring actual sci-fi ideas and characters. I fear this watering down of a once good show was to bolster ratings and make it more accessible to new viewers. The result, of course, was a show that new viewers avoided and loyal viewers lost faith in as Fringe hit all new ratings (and creative) lows.
What I hate most about this season is that the new versions of old characters (well, everyone but Peter who is an old version of an old character and the only consistent thing during season 4) are just now finally starting to become halfway interesting. I’m still a fan and, bitching aside, still enjoy this show. If anything season 4 proved that bad Fringe is still far better than EVERY OTHER SHOW on network TV. I feel that after the series ends in 2013 (noooo!) season 4 will be looked back upon (by me at least) as a giant missed opportunity. The good news is that season 5 has nowhere to go but up.

10. Dexter
The crazy bible lunatic season was a mess. A fun mess. The show is long past its prime but unlike the horrible events/storytelling/acting of season 5 this season at least manages to put the fun back into good old Dexter’s serial killing exploits. Now that the show has announced it will be wrapping up in two seasons I have high hopes that the planning of a spectacular end game is in play. Or, you know, it will just get worse.

10.1 True Blood
Season 5 marked a welcome departure from the usual TB formula. Namely, interesting characters getting sucked into the bottomless vortex of Sookie and/or whatever lame subplot the whiny Tara is involved in. But this season changed the rules and the result was a show that seemed liberated from the tyrnie of Sookie. Maybe it’s because actress Anna Paquin was pregnant in real life with Stephen Moyer’s spawn, I don’t know, but by tightening things up and having the vampires take center stage to explore the Vampire authority (an ancient governing body), vampire religion and vampire politics (as opposed to redundant Sookie/Eric/Bill love triangles) the show brought back something that had been missing since season 1: focus. For the first time since season 1 I’m actually excited about a new season of True Blood. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another three years for it to get good again.

off the list but still good…

  • It’s Always Sunny. Disappointing season but, still, some standout episodes (Rum Pug) and moments (fat Mac lugging around a trash bag full of chimichangas) made it all worthwhile. 
  • Mad Men. Ok, it’s not on the list because I haven’t gotten to this season yet. Or finished the season before for that matter. And I have no desire to but I will anyway because people keep telling me the show got better. 
  • Warehouse 13. Just discovered this quirky show. Sadly, it’s the only thing worth watching on the once great now pathetic SyFy network. 
  • Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood. Best anime currently airing. 
  • Superjail! WTF.
  • Doctor Who. The second half of season 6 was an ungodly mess. I retract ranking (the first half of) that season as my #3 show last year. I didn’t think Steven Moffat was capable of shitting the bed to such a degree that he would make Russell T. Davis’s sloppy season 4 look almost slick and composed. 
Top Television Performances
  1. Claire Danes (Carrie Mathison) in Homeland!!!
  2. Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) in Game of Thrones
  3. Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) in Game of Thrones
  4. Brian Cranston (Walter White) Breaking Bad (#1 two years ago)
  5. Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) in Game of Thrones
  6. Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon) in Game of Thrones
  7. John Noble (Walter Bishop) in Fringe (#1 last year)
  8. Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) in Game of Thrones
  9. Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) in Game of Thrones
  10. Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) in Doctor Who
  11. Giancarlo Esposito (Gus) in Breaking Bad
  12. Conleth Hill (Lord Varys) in Game of Thrones
  13. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) in Game of Thrones
  14. Steve Coogan (Steve Coogan) in The Trip
  15. Aidan Gillen (Petyr Baelish)  in Game of Thrones
  16. Damian Lewis (Nicholas Brody) in Homeland
  17. Dana Snyder (voice of Master Shake) in Aqua Something You Know Whatever
  18. Timothy Olyphant (Raylan Givens) in Justified
  19. Allison Brie in Community
  20. Mandy Patinkin (Saul Berenson) in Homeland
  21. Rob Brydon (Rob Brydon) in The Trip

Best Individual TV Episodes

  1. “End Times”/”Face Off,” season 4 Breaking Bad. Perhaps the most perfectly crafted and meticulousness plotted season ender ever.
  2. “Blackwater,” Game of Thrones. Written by George RR! Really though, every single episode of GoT could/should be here.
  3. “Letters of Transit,” Fringe.
  4. “The Granite Family, Aqua Something You Know Whatever. Master Shakes starts the apocalypse after watching The Flinstones because he want’s the world to revert to the stone age. That’s sooo Shake.
  5. “The Late Phillip J Fry,” Futurerama. And I don’t even like this show!
  6. “Pilot,” Homeland.
  7. “Wallflower,” Fringe.
  8. “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore,” It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia AKA the Rum Pig episode.
  9. Season 2 Episode 1, Downton Abbey.
  10.  Remedial Chaos Theory,” Community.
Worst

1. Walking Dead
Worst show on TV. And that’s saying something. I should preface that with the fact that I feel the comic is the BEST long running comic of its day. Even the adventure game available on PC/Xbox360/Playstation3 does justice to the Walking brand. The show, however, is a different story. I’ll just let a few of my tweets/GetGlue posts speak for me…

  • Rick talks to Shane, Shane talks to Dale, Dale talks to Carol, Carol punches grass then talks to Lori, Lori Talks to Rick, Rick talks to Glenn, Glen talks to Maggie, Maggie talks to her dad who talks to Rick who shoots somebody after a nice talk. Zombies… say nothing because there are no zombies on this show.
  • s2e12 “I don’t even know who’s baby this is.” This is the world’s worst soap opera. Melodrama at its worst.
  • I pray to the zombie gods that Lori is dead. Sarah Wayne Callies is easily the most annoying and unlikable character on TV. She exists, in my mind, to prove that there are fates far worse than becoming a zombie. One is being married to that woman. Another is having to sit and watch her for an hour a week.
  • grumbles… here we go again. Let’s get this season over with so I can start bitching about how bad s3 is going to be.
  • I fully expect the 2nd half of Walking Dead s2 to be just as bad. More farm, more barn, more baby daddy drama, more Lori more trite writing and of course some of the worst acting/characters on basic cable. I ask myself if I should stop watching and the answer is away no. I like complaining about this overrated POS way too much. One can only hope that because the comic series is so good that, one day, it’s bound to rub off on this show… but probably not this this season. I hope to be proven wrong…
  • …Update: I was indeed NOT proven wrong.

2. Girls
Vile, self absorbed narcissist. Of course those traits can be priceless comedy (Curb, Sunny) but it can also be… well, vile self absorbed narcissism. If Lena Dunham is the voice of her generation then her generations needs to be gagged, peed on (in the shower!) and water boarded.

3. Glee 
My number 1 last year (and 2, and 3 etc.). I could never have imagined anything dethroning it but that was before I knew Lena Dunham had a show on TV and that Walking Dead would regress even further. Did I watch a full episode this year. Yes, and I got PTSD (poop, turd, shit and diarrhea) as a result. Rocky Horror will never be the same.

4. All Reality Shows
Self explanatory. I hate reality–really!

5. Big Bang Theory
This always annoying show gives a bad name to nerds. And comedy. It actually manages to be worse than 2 and a Half Men. Speaking of which…

6. 2 and a Half Men
More proof that the American sitcom is a dead art form. All shows like 2 and a Half Men do is exhume it’s corpse and parade it around while millions of dumb asses still watch.

7. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
I’ve been doing this site for over ten years and not one of those years didn’t contain Jay Leno’s abominable show on my list of TV’s worst.

8. American Horror Story
I saw the pilot and gasped. Not out of fear mind you but notion that that a show could be this bad. Being that it came from the guy who made Nip/Tuck and Glee that should not have been surprising. Of course being that it’s Ryan Murphy I am now gasping at how overrated this show has become as well. Yes, I’m going to watch all of season one (and two) but I can’t say I’m looking forward to doing so.

9. Alphas
This show is like a retarded version of Fringe. It’s shallow, safe and dull. Just another SyFy show in other words.

10. Modern Family 
Seriously, I don’t get what people see in this show. It’s so corny and lame. Perfect for middle America. And is there anyone more annoying on Television (or Earth) than Sofía Vergara? Actually, yes, Sarah Wayne Callies from Walking Dead.

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