With the year coming to a close, I’m going to take a look back at the five TV shows that I enjoyed the most in 2011. It’s not the list that I would have envisioned myself putting together when the year began, but there were a few new shows that ended up entertaining me so much that I couldn’t leave them off the list. The list – and a few caveats – follow after the jump.

First off, a few caveats:

  • I don’t watch everything. I watch quite a bit of TV, but there’s no way I could make time to watch every show that I want to watch. It’s impossible. That means that there are some critically-acclaimed shows that I don’t watch, e.g. Breaking Bad or Justified. The fact that those shows aren’t on this list isn’t a reflection of their quality; it’s a reflection of the fact that I’ve never watched them.
  • It’s only a top 5, not a top 10. That’s because I didn’t have such a hard time pinning down 5 shows I really, really enjoyed, but figuring out shows ranked 6 through 10 would have been problematic. I toyed with the idea of making a top 6 just so that I could include Parks and Recreation, but then I might as well have made it a top 7 to include Happy Endings, and then I might as well have made it a top 8 to include Up All Night or Awkward. or Alphas, and…well, you get the picture.
  • There are a few critically-acclaimed shows that I just don’t like. That’s why you’re not going to see Community or Wilfred on this list. Sorry.

 

So, without further ado, here’s the list:

5. Homeland
Yeah, yeah, I know. I put Homeland on my list of shows that I liked but didn’t love as much as everyone else. But that was before I’d seen the last few episodes of the season, which made me go from liking the show to truly loving it. Part of the reason that I couldn’t embrace Homeland previously was because there was no way of telling if the show was just screwing with our heads. But once the audience was made aware of most of the characters’ secrets, Homeland began relying less on misdirection and more on dramatic irony. By the season finale, I could see that the CIA had all the pieces in place to stop Brody’s plan; it was just a matter of putting them all together. But as they are wont to do, bureaucracy and politics got in the way, leaving Carrie to resort to desperate measures to prevent Brody from blowing himself up in the presidential bunker. The irony? She now believes that she was wrong about Brody and doesn’t realize that her gambit paid off.

Homeland wasn’t just a tense, competently-plotted thriller, though. It was also a fascinating character study, exploring the lives and psyches of both CIA agents and American soldiers. Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, and David Harewood all delivered terrific performances, but the real standout was Damien Lewis, whose performance as prisoner-of-war-turned-terrorist Nicholas Brody should garner him an Emmy nomination, if not the statuette itself. All in all, Homeland was a tightly-scripted, brilliantly-acted drama, and I can’t wait to see where it picks up next year.


4. The Soup
I don’t know how they do it, but Joel McHale and co. make upwards of 50 episodes of The Soup each year, and it still manages to feel fresh. After a rough patch in the latter half of 2010, The Soup bounced back stronger than ever this year, delivering some of its sharpest humour yet. While the show didn’t stay away from easy targets such as Charlie Sheen, the Real Housewives franchise, or the Kardashians, it also took aim at shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, Swamp People, and Beverly Hills Fabulous, demonstrating that ridiculous behaviour isn’t just the privilege of the rich and famous, but also something in which “ordinary” people engage.

Plus, it was really friggin’ funny this year. I’m sure Greg Kelly would agree.


3. The Chicago Code
It’s always tragic when a great show goes underappreciated. For some reason, despite being a slick, competently-executed cop show – you know, the kind of show America seems to love – The Chicago Code never caught on. (Working theory: California really hates Chicago…or something like that.) What a shame that we only got to spend thirteen episodes with the wily Alderman Ronin Gibbons, the hardworking Superintendent of Police Teresa Colvin, and the headstrong Detective Jarek Wysocki. But not a single one of those thirteen episodes was wasted. Each one was a gem in its own right, with the second-to-last episode, the suspenseful “Greylord & Gambat,” being one of my favourite hours of television of the past few years.

What set The Chicago Code apart from other cop shows was that it resisted the temptation to degenerate into a mess of moral relativism. It had heroes, like Teresa and Jarek, and it had villains, like Gibbons. The heroes occasionally screwed up, and the villains occasionally revealed themselves to be capable of doing good, but at the end of the day, we were rooting for Teresa to take down Gibbons, no matter how untouchable he seemed. The Chicago Code also resisted the temptation to become preachy. It would have been so easy for the show to use its Chicago backdrop as a way of teaching lessons about race and class, but instead, the backdrop was just that – a backdrop. The Chicago Code wasn’t a doctoral thesis on the American city in televisual form; it was a classic tale of good vs. evil, wrapped up in the guise of a modern-day cop show. (Come on, America: why didn’t you watch this? I thought you loved tales of good vs. evil!)

I’m sad that I’ll never see Alderman Gibbons plotting another corrupt deal or Jarek Wysocki roughing up another suspect, but at least I got to see Delroy Lindo and Jason Clarke deliver some stellar performances. I’m going to treasure the sole season of this cancelled-too-soon show as one the best quasi-procedurals of the past few years.


2. NTSF:SD:SUV::
Some comedies want to make you interested in a long-term mystery (e.g. How I Met Your Mother, Arrested Development). Some comedies want to make you think about important issues (e.g. Parks and Recreation). And some comedies just want to make you laugh your ass off for fifteen minutes straight. In 2011, no show made me laugh harder than NTSF:SD:SUV::. There were more jokes packed into a single quarter-hour episode than in an entire season of your average sitcom. Plus, it featured some of the sharpest, wittiest, and most accurate mockery of procedural television that I’ve ever seen; the alternate universe episode even put scars on the characters’ faces as a reference to Alt-Charlie from Fringe! Now, that’s attention to detail, my friends. On top of that, any show that has the balls to refer to God as “the original terrorist” gets a gold star in my books.

Because the TV Gods have decided that they love me – or maybe they’re trying to make up for cancelling The Chicago Code – the show has been renewed for a second season. See ya next summer, NTSF. I’ll make sure to bring my SUV this time. (I definitely won’t be bringing my old Miata, though. That thing’s a piece of junk.)


1. Cougar Town
My love for Cougar Town is no secret, seeing as I’m pretty vocal about the fact that the show has evolved from its questionable beginnings to become one of my favourite comedies of all time. But why do I love it so much? For starters, it’s really, really hilarious. In fact, I’d say it’s the second funniest show on television (the funniest being NTSF:SD:SUV::). But there’s also a real, beating heart at the centre of the show, something that binds the Cul-de-sac Crew together: the sense of authenticity in the characters’ friendships. Sure, they riff on each other, just like real friends. But they also always have each other’s backs – just like real friends. So even if the Cul-de-sac Crew can seem a little alienating at times, they also seem remarkably familiar. That’s why I want to hang out with these winos all day long. That’s why I can laugh my ass off at the ridiculousness of “Walls” while being brought to the brink of tears by the gutpunch of “Lonesome Sundown.” And that’s why Cougar Town is my number one show of 2011.

 

So, there’s the list of my five favourite shows of 2011. Love it? Hate it? Feel free to leave a comment.

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