Saturday, December 31, 2011

11 for '11: Television Series


Over the last few years, my TV watching has shifted. My schedule used to be filled with dramas, usually serialized, but a lot of them have run their course, and I've really sucked at picking new ones, while I keep getting turned on to new great comedies. Because of their runtime, it's definitely easier to catch up with a sitcom from the beginning, and it's easier to keep up with them than with a drama that has a complex ongoing plot. That's not to say I'm done with dramas (I'm not) or that there aren't dramas I want to catch up with. In fact, it's possible that by this time next year, shows like "Homeland", "Revenge", "The Walking Dead" and "Alcatraz" (which hasn't actually debuted yet) will be on my 12 for '12 list.

For now, let's take a look at my top shows from 2011.

11. Chuck
I know I was a little down on the start of the final season, but the end of Season 4 was great and the last couple S5 episodes have really picked things up. Plus, I'm starting to realize just how much I'm going to miss this series when it's gone.

10. The Vampire Diaries
I always feel weird about ranking or grading this show, because while I enjoy watching it when it's on, I don't look forward to it like I do other shows. But I'd be pissed if it ever went away.

9. Happy Endings
Ok, so I watched the pilot, and dismissed this show almost immediately, which I usually don't do. But then a co-worker told me how much he was enjoying it, so I gave it a second chance, and it's really, really funny. I'm kind of falling in love with Casey Wilson.

8. Ringer
So much SMG. I really, really hope this show gets another season, at least.



7. Castle
Like I said in my midseason grades, the will they or won't they is getting a bit old, but he rest of the show's formula is still totally clicking.

6. 30 Rock
This would probably be higher if NBC had put it on the schedule for the fall, but the end of Season 4 was good enough to land it on my list. Still, I'm going to miss Avery Jessup as a character, and I wonder how the creative direction will go in Season 6.

5. Fringe
This ranking is almost entirely on the strength of the end of Season 3, which was phenomenal. I'm still unsure about the direction of this season, but the episodes themselves are enjoyable enough on a weekly basis that I keep tuning in.

4. Modern Family
Two words: Sofia Vergara.

3. Being Erica
I can't believe how much I fell in love with this quirky Canadian sci-fi soap, and I can't believe it's over. If you haven't seen the final season (which hasn't aired in the US yet) you really should check it out. And even if they make the planned US remake, you should watch the original.

2. Parks and Recreation
Three words: Ron Fucking Swanson.

1. Community
Ok, this is going to get a little long, but I feel the need to explain why you should be watching Community and why NBC would be making a huge mistake if it doesn't bring it back for a fourth season (and then a sixth season... and a movie).

I had basically ignored this show for two seasons, despite hearing nothing but good things about it. The ratings were dismal, and the promos -- when NBC ran them at all -- were, well not exactly "OMG you have to watch this" material. Which confused me, because everyone I knew who watched the show said "OMG you have to watch this."

Finally I made the effort to catch up with the show this summer, and I think it took about an episode and a half for me to declare "OMG this is the greatest TV show I've ever seen." With your typical sitcom, the show is essentially the same from week-to-week, with a different sent of jokes and hijinks. "Community" isn't your typical sitcom. It uses entire episodes to pay homage to other genres and tropes while tweaking sitcom conventions and does so in a manner that is so intricately layered that even upon third and fourth viewings of the episodes, the viewer will spot things for the first time.

And in some cases, a joke in one episode might not make total sense until weeks, or even years later. The Beetlejuice example is the obvious one, but I just recently noticed another one, from Season 2's "Basic Rocket Science". At the beginning of that epsiode, Dean Pelton is saying that the acquisition of the space simulator will allow Greendale to be known for something other than just having a foosball table. It seemed like a minor throwaway joke st the time, until Season 3's "Foosball and Nocurnal Vigilantism" had an entire episode centered around Greendale's foosball table.

For me, the show's brilliance was cemented with the February 3rd episode, "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons". To put it as simple as possible, it's an episode about a suicidal classmate of the main characters. It's very hard to make suicide funny. Exceedingly hard. Ok, it should be fucking impossible. But "Community" totally made it work. The episode managed to be both funny and teach a lesson without ever drifting anywhere near "very special episode" territory. It was dead on about both the reasons for Fat Neil's suicidal tendencies and the reason he got over it (which actually had nothing to do with Jeff's disingenuous overtures) without ever even mentioning the word "suicide." on top of all that, the show did an entire "Dungeons and Dragons" episode without any obvious fantasy sequences, a twist in its own right, given that just two months earlier, "Community" did an entire episode in stop-motion animation.

A couple weeks ago on Twitter, I asked my followers which "Community" episode could legitimately be called "the bad one". The vast majority of responses I received said "none of them". Meanwhile, ask the fans which episodes are the beat, and you'll get dozens of different answers. Ask those same fans why the ratings are so low, and you'll likely get a response along the lines of it being too smart for the general public. It's time for us to stop accepting this. We can let people continue to keep up with the Kardashians while they watch teen moms put tiaras on toddlers while ice road truckers haul American choppers to hardcore pawn stars or we can finally stand up and demand something better from our entertainment. Tell NBC you don't want anymore sing-offs or voices or fear factors or big losers or Whitney. Tell NBC to save "Community". #sixseasonsandamovie

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