Monday, December 5, 2011

Best TV Shows of 2011

One thing I love about the end of the year is end of the year lists. Once December starts, everyone begins compiling their lists of best movies, books, TV shows, games, tricks, etc. These lists are fun because they really mean very little, but can spark interesting discussions and arguments.

Each December on this blog, I've made my own lists. Often my lists have different rules. For example, I don't always write about stuff that was released in the current year, but rather stuff I experienced for the first time during that year.

This year, I'm kicking things off with a list that plays by the rules. Here are my picks for the seven best TV shows currently airing on television. I only selected shows that had new episodes in 2011 (which is why one of my favorite shows, Mad Men, is missing from the list).

In some ways, current television has hit rock bottom and in others it's soaring to new and exciting places. We are all witnessing the collapse of major network television and the rise and complete take over of cable shows. The major networks, for the most part, have been producing the same crap year after year after year and most of it isn't worth watching. I hardly watch any shows on the major networks. They just don't interest me. This is why the majority of my picks are from cable networks.

Here are my picks (in alphabetical order):

1. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Boardwalk Empire is a show that takes a little time to get invested in, but once you do, you can't stop watching. The show has lots of characters and some complicated storylines that blend history with fiction. It's a violent show, but also a subtle show. It's not as fast-paced as some might expect and honestly the most interesting parts of the show often have little to do with the overall 1920s mob theme. The female characters shine in the rather male-dominated world of Atlantic City during prohibition. They did recently kill a favorite character of mine, but I'm dealing (in fairness, the scene was well done and realistic). The series completes its second season next week and I can't wait to see where this show goes from here.

2. Dexter (Showtime)

Who doesn't love Michael C. Hall? He's a great actor and so fully embodies his character. Dexter is currently airing its sixth season. For a series, getting up there in age, it continues to entertain and surprise. I won't say it is always the best written show, but it rises above so many police/crime based series and sometimes the writing is spot on and sharp. Dexter and Deb are really well-written characters. This season has dealt greatly with religion and spiritually, but has managed to not become cliche or completely predictable. The big reveal of the season did leave me with mixed feelings (from a writing perspective), but overall it's been an interesting and enjoyable season and I look forward to the final episodes.

3. Downton Abbey (BBC)

This is British television at its very best. The show follows both the servants and the family who live in Downton Abbey in the early 20th century. The second season, which recently aired, focused on World War I and dealt with it in surprising and interesting ways. The show is the perfect blend of drama, humor, and romance. Plus, Maggie Smith has about four or five amazing one-liners in each episode. I so want to be her when I grow up.

4. Game of Thrones (HBO)

I don't watch much fantasy based shows or movies, but when I heard about HBO doing Game of Thrones, I was intrigued. After watching the first two episodes I was hooked. It's not a show for everyone. You really have to pay close attention (especially if you've never read the books, which I haven't). There are many, many characters and lots going on in each and every episode. You also never know who is going to die, which I like. The show doesn't play by the same rules as most TV shows. No one is safe. I'm excited for season two coming in the spring of 2012.

5. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

This is one of the most consistently funny shows on TV right now. It's a show that NBC actually supported and gave time to grow. In season three, the show really found its footing and season four has been great so far. I might have a slight soft spot for the show because I'm from Indiana and there is some good Indiana humor in it. If you haven't been watching, you should. It's smart, quirky, and always funny.

6. True Blood (HBO)

What I love about True Blood is that it's so self-aware. It's playing with the vampire genre and having so much fun doing it. The show can be silly, over the top, scary, sexy, and even make some great political and social commentary. The show is smart. The fourth season, which aired in the summer, was a great season in the end. It started off a little slow, but the second half really did some great stuff. Plus, this show has the sexiest men and they are naked a lot. What more could you want?

7. The Walking Dead (AMC)

There's a lot of reasons why I might not like this show. The writing can be a bit cheesy and many of the characters are really flat, but somehow I want to keep watching. The Walking Dead has a good concept and some good zombies, but it's really a show about how people react in mass chaos. The second season, which began in October, has proven to be much stronger than the first season. A few of the characters have broken out of their flatness and have become the most interesting parts of the show (I'm talking about Daryl and Shane). The first seven episodes of the season slowly built up to an explosive mid-season finale. The last ten minutes of the last episode proved the show could write and direct a pretty amazing scene, which makes me really look forward to the rest of season two, which returns to AMC in February. Even with my doubts, this show is something different and interesting to watch.

-Stephen (Watching)

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