THE BEST TV SHOWS OF 2011

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What an amazing year of television, so I joined forces with Valerie Leung to put together a best of 2011 list for you.

BEST NEW TELEVISION SERIES OF 2011

Wilfred (FX)

Wilfred stars Elijah Wood as Ryan, the man who sees Wilfred as a bloke in a dog suit when everyone else sees him as an actual dog, and Jason Gann as Wilfred, the man/dog. The show originated in Australia but made the journey to America because honestly, why should American viewers not be privy to the brilliant world of Wilfred.  I didn’t think it was possible for me to love Australians any more than I already did, but as it turns out, slap a dog costume on a dashing man with a prominent Australian accent and my love for the series was instantaneous.

Throughout the series Wilfred challenges Ryan and encourages him to do things that he normally wouldn’t do.  They both learn very valuable lessons that are always reinforced with several bong hits.  In season one, Wilfred taught us about “particles” and “rooting,” so what does season two have in store for us?  I certainly don’t know, but I am damn sure happy that we are going to find out.  Thank you FX, for giving us a season two.

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Based on a series of medieval-fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin A Song of Fire and Ice, GAME OF THRONES is a story of incest, loyalty, love, betrayal, deceit and power.  And because this is an HBO show, you know there’s also lots of sex and blood.

Seven noble families are fighting for control of a kingdom called Westeros.  Just like the old European royal families where alliances are formed as easily as they are broken, Game of Thrones is full of unexpected twists and turns.  You find yourself falling in love with the brutish Khal Drogo and the cunning Tyrion Lannister and I know I’m not alone in this.

The cast reads like a who’s who of British acting royalty: Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Fairley, just to name a few.  Season 2 is due to air in April so there is still plenty of time for you to get hold of Season 1 and catch up on this brilliant new series.

American Horror Story (FX)

I didn’t think I would even like American Horror Story but as it turns out, I ended up loving it.  I was hooked after seeing just the pilot.  The keyword of the season was infidelity, and it ran rampant in the beautiful old house.  Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) and their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) moved into a new house to start over.  Who knew a “murder house” could possess so many secrets and actual skeletons in the closet/basement/attic, etc.?

Tate (Evan Peters) and Constance (Jessica Lange) were my two favorite characters.  Tate was a lost soul, a beautiful monster that in the end was forced to remember and pay for his sins.  He spent the entire season dancing on the edge of a sword, but he turned out to be a hard pill for anyone to swallow.  Constance was unabashedly evil, so if you are looking for one excuse to watch this show, Jessica Lange is it.

I enjoyed all of the episodes but the finale was underwhelming.  They built up such a strong season but in the end, it was a weak finale with a lot of cheese on top. It is sad because we are not going to see this cast, in their true form, ever again.  Next season will take place in a new house with a new family.  I do hope that we will see Constance and her lovely bundle of joy, (another check mark on my list of reasons not to have children) again.

Homeland (Showtime)

Since 9/11, the world has grown increasingly suspicious of everyone and everything.  Carrie Mathison is a CIA field agent who learnt from a contact in Iraq just before he was killed by the firing squad that an American had been turned.  The mystery lies in the fact that he did not have the opportunity to tell Carrie who that person was before he was dragged away by his prison guards.  So when a short while later, a US marine who was captured eight years ago is found alive in a surprise attack on an Iraqi base, Carrie immediately set out to prove that Sgt Nicholas Brody is not the hero everyone thinks he Throughout this first season, we see this mystery unfold from the perspectives of Brody and his family who had long-thought him dead; a determined and intelligent Carrie who has secrets of her own; Carrie’s boss and mentor, Saul Berenson whose own personal life has had to take a backseat to his devotion to his country; and various other players in this complex web of political intrigue.  We are taken on a journey that follows the characters as they recover and unravel.  We sympathize at the same time as we fear these people.

The cast is first rate, recently earning Golden Globe nominations for Claire Danes as Carrie and British actor Damian Lewis as Brody.  It also stars one of my all-time favorites, Mandy Patinkin as Saul.  It doesn’t matter which side of the political fence you sit on, this is first class drama that feels more like a feature film each week.

Breaking In (FOX)

Oh, our love for Breaking In was so strong that FOX decided to bring it back from cancelation. Season two will air in 2012, and I’m so happy but will have the paddles ready in case assistance is needed.  I am a huge Christian Slater fan, so I was certainly stoked to have him back on my television this year, and Breaking In was fantastic.

The show is about Contra Security, a security firm that employs interesting and unique measures to sell you their protection.  Christian Slater stars as Oz, the boss, but he will be getting a boss (Megan Mullally) in season two.  Season one starred:  Bret Harrison, Odette Annable, Michael Rosenbaum, Trevor Moore and Alphonso McAuley.

Revenge (ABC)

As the title suggests, this show is all about revenge. It is a combination of mystery, intrigue, and prime-time soap opera.  The story follows a wealthy young woman, Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), who turns up in the Hamptons and quickly inserts herself into the community where people seem to devote endless days and nights to parties, galas and other schmooze-fests.

Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe) is the Queen of the Hamptons, but she is also much more than that: not only was she the mistress of Emily’s late father, David, but she and her husband, Conrad (Henry Czerny), were also the people who framed David for treason 17 years ago.  Emily, whose real name is Amanda Clarke, was only a little girl when it happened and after her father’s arrest, was taken away by social services.  While imprisoned, David wrote detailed accounts of how he was framed and those responsible.  His intention was for Emily to forgive and move on.  But Emily had other plans and chose the path of revenge.

For the first few weeks of the ten episodes that have aired so far, we saw Emily take down her enemies one by one.  Along the way, we meet those from her past who are clueless as to her true identity, as well as an unlikely ally in a man who was her father’s business partner, Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann). This show is like an onion – you peel off one layer and you find there are many more layers underneath.  There are so many agendas, yet you never feel lost and confused, only more intrigued as the show goes on.

Franklin & Bash (TNT)

Franklin & Bash are those lawyers that you see in television ads that you really want to hire because you know they have the power to, “get you off,” or at least you will all have fun trying.  Every case they take on exposes a bit about them.  They are actually extraordinary attorneys that care about their clients and each other.  Watch just the pilot for Peter Bash’s (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) bare buttocks but watch the entire season for full-on ecstasy.

The cast is incredible and Breckin Meyer has already apologized for Garfield, so give him another chance.  Malcolm McDowell is hilarious as the boss, Stanton Infeld.  Kumail Nahjiani, Garcelle Beauvais, Dana Davis and Reed Diamond also star in this fun comedy.

Suits (USA Network)

There is a reason why the USA Network is the number one basic cable network in the US for six straight years – they know how to make a good drama that is not too heavy, not too light, with great casting and plotlines that are easy to follow.

The tagline for Suits is “Two lawyers.  One degree.”  Harvey has just been promoted to senior partner at a big-time law firm in the Big Apple.  Mike is a smart “kid” with a photographic memory who smokes pot, hangs out with his drug-dealing childhood best friend and secretly lusts after his buddy’s girlfriend.

When Mike accidentally stumbles into an interview with Harvey for a new associate and gets hired ahead of all the other Harvard graduates, the question arises as to how far Harvey will go to protect the truth about Mike, who, despite not having a law degree, has passed the bar exam.
It is a fun new bromance between Harvey (Gabriel Macht) and Mike (Patrick J. Adams, who also recently received a Golden Globe nomination for his work and will be up against Damian Lewis from Homeland in the same category).  A strong supporting cast includes Rick Hoffman, who manages to look nasty even when he’s trying to be nice, as Harvey’s colleague who keeps getting passed over for a promotion; Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson, one of the founders of the firm; Meaghan Markle as Rachel, the firm’s top paralegal who actually wants to become a lawyer; and Sarah Rafferty who steals every scene she’s in as Donna, Harvey’s loyal assistant who knows him better than he knows himself.

Grimm (NBC)

Grimm puts a new twist on some of your favorite fairytales.  Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) sees certain people as the supernatural beings that they really are.  Nick is what is known as a Grimm, and this series has a lot of potential.   I adore the look of this series. The color treatment is absolutely stunning and so vivid.  What I don’t like is the constant use of full-on CGI when makeup could be supplemented; take a page from Fringe.  I know that they want to show morphing but it could be done a lot better.  If they fixed that it would be a perfect show.

BEST RETURNING SERIES OF 2011

Sons of Anarchy (FX)

I adore Sons of Anarchy.  This is a show that I happened to click on by chance, several years ago, and I was instantly hooked.  In my opinion, Sons of Anarchy is one of the shows that really put FX on the map, along with The Shield, of course.  I haven’t had this much passion for a show since Hunter.  Season four and especially the finale brought with it a mixed bag of praise and hatred, but you all tuned in so something was obviously holding your interest.  I really enjoyed it and was surprised by the twist at the end.  I really didn’t think Clay (Ron Perlman) was going to be killed off, that was too easy, but there is always next year.  I do feel bad for the people that printed up the R.I.P. Clay 2011 shirts.

Over the years we have watched Jax (Charlie Hunnam) struggle with the club and what is right for his family, and I think in season five we are going to see the real Jax Teller.  I hope we get to see Jax really lead the club as it should have been led years ago.  I’m sure Kurt will not let us down. So if you hated season four, season five will hopefully deliver for you and if not, you can always tune into Teen Mom. R.I.P. Piney and Kozik!

Who needs awards and nominations when you can just turn on any episode of Sons of Anarchy and watch something much more valuable, impeccable performances by an all-star cast.  Sons of Anarchy stars: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Perlman, Kim Coates, Kurt Sutter, Mark Boone Junior, Maggie Siff, Theo Rossi, Emilio Rivera, David Labrava, Winter Ave Zoli, Dayton Callie, Ryan Hurst, Christopher Douglas Reed, Michael Marisi Ornstein, Ray McKinnon, Benito Martinez, Danny Trejo, Drea de Matteo and Rockmond Dunbar.

Breaking Bad (AMC)

I’m almost embarrassed to admit I never watched this brilliant series until Season 4 was already well under way.  The premise of a high school chemistry teacher who turns to “cooking” meth in order to provide for his family after he discovered he had what he thought was terminal cancer did not immediately grab my interest.  But after hearing so many people rave about it, I decided to give it a go.  By the time I finished watching the Pilot, I wondered why the heck nobody had insisted I check this out earlier.

The writing in this series is simply “wow”.  Every minute detail that seems innocuous turns out to be of some significance.  The characters are all so tightly woven you are always left wondering how our protagonists would get themselves out of trouble.  After all, we are talking about drug cartels where nobody is ever innocent and you find out quickly just how far someone is prepared to go in desperate situations.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul deliver consistently powerful performances each and every scene, which is not easy to do when you can have an entire episode where their characters are trying to catch a fly but the subtext is so much more significant than just about a fly.  Even when you know these guys are breaking the law, you can’t help but cheer for them and feel bad for them.  And in the end, you are still left with the question: “Who can you trust?”

The League (FX)

The League wins the Shiva every year in my book, but this year was an exceptional season.  The “Thanksgiving” episode with Jeff Goldblum, Sarah Silverman and Shakespeare was phenomenal. Taco’s (Jon Lajoie) sweaters also get an honorable mention this season, and in the season finale he incorporated a plaid shirt with a sweater, the man (his stylist) gets it.

The comedy is ingenious, and the cast is stupendous. It is a show about a fantasy football league, but you don’t have to even care about football to enjoy this show. The show focuses on the lives and draft picks of Taco (Jon Lajoie), Pete (Mark Duplass), Ruxin (Nick Kroll), Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), Jenny (Katie Aselton) and Andre (Paul Scheer). Taco is my favorite because he thinks outside the box and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.  Ruxin has always been my least favorite but I owe him an apology, because this year he was the star of the show.  His stroke face was awesome, and his dad is welcome back anytime.  Jeff Goldblum had all of Ruxin’s mannerisms down perfectly.  I hope we get to see Rupert Ruxin again.

How many people this New Year’s Eve do you think will, “sit in gum”?  Please get back to me on this one.  Wouldn’t the gum be a little hairy?  I know that is the point, and it is hilarious. Chuck (Will Forte) was an awesome wingman. I can’t bring up The League without mentioning Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas), he always takes things a little too far and that is why we love him.
The League has been renewed, so look for an all-new season in 2012 on FX.

White Collar (USA Network)

Burn Notice creator, Matt Nix, jokingly teased White Collar creator, Jeff Eastin, last season: “So, when you were a little girl growing up, did you always want to write about a music box?”  Well, we are now halfway through the third season of this well-scripted dramedy.  When we left off at the end of season 2, the secret inside the music box was revealed and the man who had been after it was shot dead by FBI Agent Peter Burke.  Turned out the music box held the secret to the whereabouts of a German U-boat that had been sunken in New York City at the end of WWII, and inside the submarine was a billion dollars’ worth of art and other valuables the Nazis had stolen from a Russian museum.  The treasure went missing when the warehouse holding the treasures went up in flames but without the art inside.

The theme of season 3 is “Choose A Side” – who took the art and gave it to Neal?  Now that Neal has it, what is he going to do with it?  Will he choose to break out of his electronic monitoring anklet and run off to some far-off island or will he stay and hang on to his dreams for a “normal” life?  The treasure changes everything – the relationship between FBI and con is icier than ever, yet there is still that underlying loyalty between the two who have become more than just co-workers, as noted by Peter’s mentor (special guest star Beau Bridges), and the faith that Peter continues to hold that Neal wants to be, and deep down is, good.

Every episode this season has made me increasingly nervous as to how the season will end and the mid-season finale certainly has done nothing to ease my nerves!  There is no doubt a big reason the show works is the chemistry between its stars, Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay.  The guest stars continue to roll in and I cannot wait till season 3 resumes on January 17th!

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

What a season finale.  This show goes where most shows are afraid to go, and that is why I have a love/hate relationship with it.  I love that it went there and I hate that it went there.  They killed off a lead character, Jimmy Darmody, portrayed by the one and only Michael Pitt.  Jimmy was my favorite and as all the signs were pointing to him going down, you always thought, “they wouldn’t do that”, well they did.  He’s dead and not Clay (Sons of Anarchy) dead but dead, dead. Nucky Thompson did not get (Steve Buscemi) a holiday card from me.

Jimmy had a difficult life, and his mother, Gillian (Gretchen Mol) was a piece of work.  In the episode right before the finale what we always knew but didn’t want to think about was brought to life in front of our eyes.  Poor Jimmy and now Gillian is going to be in charge of raising his son. We will miss you Jimmy, your incomparable fashion and your loneliness. I’m looking forward to watching Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) avenge your death.  Jack Huston is another actor that really needs to be celebrated.

If they are looking for a character to off next season, I would like to put in a bid for Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon). That guy freaks me out.  They took out the wrong Michael, if you ask me.

What an incredible series, and I can’t wait until next season.  I will never forgive them for what they did to Jimmy, but I respect that they had the balls to go through with it.

Criminal Minds (CBS)

Now in its seventh season, the list of gruesome crimes solved by our FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit continues to make my stomach turn.

After the casting shuffle debacle from last season when the network decided to farewell one of its original female stars and greatly “reduce the workload” of another, fans (myself included) were up in arms and protested and petitioned till the network finally agreed to bring back the entire cast for the current season.  And it seems the team is working better than ever together.
The crimes-of-the-week still make me check inside my car every time before I get in and turn on all the lights inside the house when I open the door.  I check that all my doors are locked when I leave home, even if only for a few minutes.

Dr Reid (Matthew Grey Gubler) no longer looks like a high school kid and has grown well with the team;  David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) makes you forget that he had not always been part of this team; Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) finally may be ready to move on more than 2 years after his ex-wife was murdered by a serial killer who had also tried to kill him; Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) is still flirting with Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness); and a big welcome back to JJ (AJ Cook) and Prentiss (Paget Brewster).

Justified(FX)

Season two of Justified was sensational.  I can never get enough of Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).  Those two should get together and start a talk show.  Seriously, who wouldn’t watch the Crowder & Givens Hour?

This season we lost Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), and apple pie will never be the same again.  Margo did an incredible job portraying such a creepy character.  When Mags was onscreen, you always found yourself thinking, “I would never want to meet that woman in a dark alley.”  Mags may have ended but she will live on forever in our hearts.
Season three is premiering January 17th on FX.

Big Bang Theory (CBS)

I have another confession to make. I did not watch Big Bang Theory until probably halfway through its second season, and even then, I had reluctantly watched it when a friend lent me her DVDs and insisted I check it out.  I have been hooked ever since, as has my nine year-old nephew, whose favorite phrase from the show is Sheldon’s “the keys are in the basket” and often knocks on doors Sheldon-style.  Now in its fifth season, our lovable nerds (Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Rajesh) and their neighbor/actress/Cheesecake Factory waitress (Penny), have been joined by two additional brainiacs, Bernadette and Amy Farrah Fowler (it just never feels right to refer to her as simply “Amy”).  Although both have been guest-starring on the series for a while, they are now firm regulars on the show.  Unlike the inferior shows where the addition of new characters usually spell disaster for the original main cast, these two have served to enhance the stories and make the original cast even more adorable.

The comic timing of all these acting and comedy veterans is perfect, making this one of the best comedy ensemble on television today.  Hats off to Johnny Galecki (who has also been nominated for a Golden Globe), Jim Parsons (last year’s Golden Globe winner), Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Kaley Cuoco, Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik (remember Blossom? She also played the young Bette Midler in Beaches).  It’s rare for a network to renew a show for more than one season at a time but last year, CBS renewed Big Bang for three seasons, which means we have at least two more years of this wonderful show to look forward to.  And before the current season is over, we will see the 100th episode go to air and I cannot wait!

Psych (USA Network)

I’ll be honest the last season of Psych really didn’t do it for me.  There were a few decent episodes but as a whole, not as strong as what I’ve come to expect from the series.  I am very happy to report that this season has been fantastic.  The charm of Psych has been revived.  I’m so thrilled with this season so far, but we will have to wait until February to watch the rest of the season.

In the love department Lassie (Timothy Omundson) and Gus (Dule Hill) have more in common than they would like to admit.  They both deserve to find true love, although their stories may be written like that because they are the heartthrobs of the show.

A sincerely well-rounded cast that consists of:  James Roday, Dule Hill, Timothy Omundson, Maggie Lawson, Kurt Fuller, Corbin Bernsen and Kristen Nelson.

MORE SHOWS THAT I NEVER MISS:

SouthLAnd (TNT)
Supernatural (The CW)
Fringe (FOX)
The Closer (TNT)
Dexter(Showtime)
Louie (FX)
Oddities (Science Channel)
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Burn Notice (USA Network)
Royal Pains (USA Network)
Rizzoli and Isles (TNT)
Leverage (TNT)
Nikita (The CW)
House M.D. (FOX)

R.I.P. to some of the best shows that will only live on in our hearts: Lights Out (FX), Bored to Death (HBO), Memphis Beat (TNT), Men of a Certain Age (TNT) and Terriers (FX) – yes, I know Terriers was put down in 2010 but it still stings so much.

THE BEST TV SHOWS OF 2011
December 31, 2011
By Valerie Leung and Lena Lamoray

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