The Tops in Television for 2011, Some Thoughts

This was a tough year to winnow just 10 to list as “best,” for there were many wonderful series, some short lived and canceled (FX’s ‘Lights Out,’ TNT’s ‘Men of a Certain Age’) and some new dramas so strong out of the gate, their sophomore seasons promise to be ratings gold (‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Homeland’). 

Returning series excelled (‘Justified,’ ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ ‘Breaking Bad’, Boardwalk Empire) and comedies were blessedly adult and smartly written (Louie, Wilfred, Archer).

Now, you may say, ‘April, why so dark? Where’s the network good stuff like ‘Community,’ ‘Parks and Rec,’ ‘Modern Family’ and the like?

I never had patience for network television, and it is only getting worse with age. I need my stories uninterrupted, a flow, a mood, without commercials and not sanitized for broadcast.

I am fortunate to get FX screeners so I can watch these compelling series like an HBO or Showtime experience. Makes a huge difference. 

You will never get me to attend to an episode of ‘Chuck,’ “Two and a Half Anything” or ‘Whitney.’

My other TV prejudices include watching dramas about lawyers, politicians and psychiatrists; three groups of people I avoid in real life.  Starz ‘Boss’ – regarded as a fine top series by many of my peers – did not make my list. Chicago politicians, fake or real, are my TV Kryptonite.

Same for NBC’s ‘Harry’s Law,’ and HBO’s ‘Enlightened,’ which is just too ‘Dern’ kooky for me. Yet many respected peers of mine ate these shows up with big fat spoons.

Please note, the numbering is arbitrary; you cannot compare “Boardwalk Empire” to “Archer” yet both were superb in their respective genres. So please don’t get wadded up about the number next to the name.

It’s nearly 2012, like many of you I am hoping the Mayans were stoned out of their gourds on Peyote and made a huge error in their end of days calendar (think of all the History and Nat Geo documentaries on THAT this year!) and let’s all start geeking out for the new season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.’ Also I have seen the first four episodes of the new season of FX’s “Justified,” and it is marvelous. 

So it is that time of year, talk back, and tell me why I am wrong, and share your thoughts on what TV was worthy of being listed; let me read and enjoy your 
picks and pans.

The long weekend is almost here; enjoy the bumper crop of stellar smallscreen for 2011.

* Note: Also, Ian Cullen of contributes 
UK and Science fiction coverage to Monsters and Critics, and has 
shared his top UK 2011 talent list for you to consider 
checking out as well, posted below.

1. Homeland


Showtime’s uber smart, crafty little tale of a bipolar genius who is concealing her mental disorder as she weaves intuitive threads together, letting her feelings
lead to what she suspects:  A war veteran has been brainwashed, turned, and is now embedded in the USA meaning do us great harm. Outstanding work by Claire 
Danes, Mandy Patinkin and Damien Lewis.  This series crackled with the right amount of tension, and red herrings.  “Homeland” caught me by surprise, as just reading the press release and listening to the panel at the last Television Critics’ 
Association press junket did not prepare me for what I got to savor this first season. It was brilliant.

2. Game of Thrones


What an epic and beautiful series!  Never read the books.  The fantasy genre is not for me, as I only watched Lord of the Rings for Viggo Mortensen. But this series was gritty, human, sexual and heartbreaking, and truly edge of the seat in pacing.  I loved the female roles in this George R.R. Martin yarn, and in thoughtful analysis, I felt that his style of storytelling hearkens “Sons of Anarchy” showrunner Kurt Sutter with regards to the way they pen alpha female characters, interfamilial hierarchy and politics and revenge arcs. They’re both darn good prose slingers for sure!

This series  just blew me away in the scope and size, especially culminating in the Lord Ned execution with Arya in the crowd scene at the end. Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington were phenomenal in their roles as sons of House Lannister and House Stark, respectively.

3. Sons of Anarchy


Speaking of Sutter, the fourth season was a bloody good show of ego, resentments and lies coming home to roost, with death visiting Piney (fine work for the entire run of the series by William Lucking), Miles and Kozic.  This was the year of Tara and the shift in power between Jax and Clay.  Gemma, as always, has a few Aces hidden.  The town has growing pains and change hurts, especially on this gut punch series that taps into primal emotions between men and women, brothers and enemies, black, white, Asians and Latinos. Exceptional work from Charlie Hunnam, Ryan Hurst, Theo Rossi, Maggie Siff and even Kurt Sutter as Otto. Always leaves you wanting more.

4. Boardwalk Empire


The swan season of our Jimmy Darmody. Michael Pitt’s soulful, smart war veteran and understudy to Nucky (Steve Buscemi) is betrayed and taken out, 
and we see just what Nucky Thompson is made of. 
And Margaret, the smart Irish rose whose reading habits elevated her station, now is consumed with good old Catholic guilt; she is Nucky’s worst enemy without him even  realizing it. Fantastic performance turned in by William Forsythe as Manny, the gangster from Philly who exudes earthy charm with a lethal edge.  And Jack Huston’s haunting character Richard Harrow, the disfigured heartbroken right hand of Darmody who went to the Pine Barrens one afternoon to kill himself, and was saved by a cheeky stray dog.

5. Breaking Bad


Another season that left us fans doubled over from the sweep of this crazy paranoid arc of Walter, chemistry teacher turned thug.  The gruesome death of Gus Fring! Giancarlo Esposito is missed. Exceptional work also delivered by Jonathan Banks (Mike) and of the series’ stars Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston, RJ Mitte and Bob Odenkirk.  This series is also penned by another favorite showrunner who understands the art of storytelling, Vince Gilligan.  Bonus crafts note: Best cinematography of all TV dramas hands down.

6. American Horror Story


I loved the opening, the crafts, the story and ensemble cast. Thank you Ryan Murphy for casting over forty lionesses Frances Conroy, Connie Britton and Jessica Lange in these fantastic meaty roles. The expression, ‘the house always wins’ holds true, and in the case of the LA Murder House, no one gets out alive, either.  
Exceptional casting, story and pacing. Wickedly naughty and downright scary, this series was like nothing else on TV, and for that blessed miracle, 
gets two thumbs up in my book.

7.  Bored to Death


Good lord HBO, you canceled a brilliant ensemble comedy that had its best season ever! Olympia Dukakis and Ray’s bathtub scenes; John Hodgman’s Dick Cavett face-off with Jason Schwartzman, all penned perfectly by showrunner Jonathan Ames. 
Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis rounded out the trio in this absurdist detective hipster buddy comedy much like ‘Louie,’ had the backdrop of New York City 
as a character too. A damn shame it’s gone.

8.  Downton Abbey


Layered story, like an English Trifle.  Add an adept, seasoned British 
thespian ensemble, shake well with perfect English locales, sets replete with period perfect costuming, makeup and hair, plus crackling writing, 
and you’ve got yourself a tasty treat imported from Jolly Olde.  This was a beautiful effort and hugely appreciated by USA audiences as well as in Britain. 
Romantic, heartbreaking and insightful, it hit every mark.

9. Wilfred


Like Bored to Death and Louie, this was genius adult comedy that on paper read bizarrely, yet in execution was nothing short of a miracle.  I knew Elijah Wood 
was exceptional and could pull off deadpan humor from his work in ‘Everything is Illuminated,’ a film that makes me cry and laugh at the same time.  He was beautiful in this series, and showrunner Jason Gann (Wilfred) was a perfect raunchy feral foil wrapped in bacon, delicious. Props to Mary Steenburgen as Ryan’s mom, and the way they dealt with the “family curse.”

10. Justified


Mags Bennett, RIP. Brilliant cast serving up a Southern Gothic with guns, moonshine and a heaping helping of a favorite, Walt Goggins. Fantastic work by Joelle Carter, Timothy Olyphant, Margo Martindale as Mags, the short lived Tony Soprano of the hills, and a supporting cast that makes this series a no miss.  The interactions between Boyd (Goggins)  and Raylan (Olyphant) are perfectly written. Smartly penned slice of Americana well tucked away in them rolling hills of Kentucky.


10 Honorable Badass TV mentions

Curb Your Enthusiasm
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
The Hour

From Ian Cullen, UK TV 2011 addendum:

Ben Miller

Comedian turned actor Ben Miller has had quite a year in terms of breaking out on his own in the excellent light drama Death In Paradise where he played Detective Inspector Poole, who winds up having to run a small island police force on a 
Caribbean Island. This is the first thing in which I have seen Miller take the lead in a series and he pulls it off relatively easily and has you laughing at the stereotypical Englishman that he portrays effortlessly. I mean it’s not every day you are likely to  see a Detective wearing a suit in the oppressive heat of the Caribbean.

Added to Death In Paradise we also got to see Miller reprise his role of Government Official Sir James Lester in the 4th and 5th series of Primeval, which in a lot of ways has been a break out role for the actor who is always a lot of fun to watch.

Arthur Darvill

For the last two years a lot of credit has been given to actors Matt Smith and Karen  Gillan for the great work they have done on Doctor Who, but I feel that Arthur Darvill deserves some recognition for his role of Amy Ponds husband Rory who winds up traveling with the Doctor and Amy in the Tardis.

In the first series Rory was pretty much the proverbial tin dog, but this changed this season when the writers gave Rory much more to do and made him a bit more of a heroic figure in the shows story line and Darvill rose brilliantly to the occasion, 
but also managed to retain the sense of comedy to the character or Rory that had viewers liking him in his first year on the show.

Kenneth Branagh

I have to say that when I heard that Kenneth Branagh was directing the movie Thor, which is based on the popular Marvel comic book. I had my doubts.

I mean an actor/director whose stock and trade had been very much Shakespearian and drama doing a comic book movie. A part of you thinks yes cool comic book heroes are big and god like and have a sort of epic quality to them much like Shakespeare characters or even characters from Greek Myth, but for some strange reason I doubted that Branagh would get the comic book concept.

I was wrong and I was totally happy to be proven wrong.

Thor was one of the best movies to come out in summer. It certainly hit the mark for me where the Green Lantern movie failed. I’m not saying that Green Lantern was bad. It just seemed to be a very average comic book movie where as Thor had an 
epic feel to it and the scenes between Thor and his father Odin who was played by Anthony Hopkins are very dramatic and well choreographed and totally believable.


Andy Serkis

Perhaps one of the hardest working and most under appreciated actors when it comes to awards is Andy Serkis, who brought life and an element of humanity 
to CGI characters like Gollum in Lord Of The Rings and Kong in King Kong.

Serkis did it again in 2011 as the ape Caesar in Rise Of The Planet Of The Ape’s, which I found to be a totally enjoyable movie in which Serkis stole every 
scene with his voice and mannerisms for the CGI ape.

For my money Serkis should really be given an Oscar nod for his work on many of these movies. Especially for the work he did in Ape’s. Fantastic performance and if you doubt he can act check him out as Ian Drury in the 2010 bio pic Sex & Drugs & 
Rock & Roll.

Simply put Serkis is perhaps one of the best jobbing character actors in the business and is grossly overlooked when it comes to the various awards for actors in the biz.

Bradley James, Katie McGrath and Colin Morgan

Three young actors that have really impressed this year are Bradley James, Katie McGrath and Colin Morgan who really have come into their own on the 
hit BBC show Merlin.

McGrath in her role of Morgana has really got the menacing and driven Morgana down to an art. Pretty much every scene she has been in this year has been compelling television in that you can’t take your eyes off of her.

Bradley James could really give Camelot’s (Jamie Campbell Bower) lessons on how to play a king. 

Even when he was heir to the throne in Merlin – James commanded respect and since the death of Uther in the series James has had to rise to the challenge of playing a much different Arthur who has to live with the consequences of his decisions and 
Bradley James brings the perfect level of gravitas to his performance as King Arthur, but still manages to balance that serious side to the character with some 
light comedy, but at same time keeping that element of truth to the character.

Finally Colin Morgan who plays the title role has also come on a great deal in the series, and seeing him reprise the older Merlin only proves that despite the 
make – up that he had to wear. He really sold it with a fantastic physical acting performance.

In the earlier series of Merlin we had Anthony Head and Richard Wilson mentoring the younger actors.  For the last two seasons these veteran actors 
although wonderful to see haven’t really been needed as much because the younger actors have really started to shine through and this last season of Merlin, which concludes on BBC One this weekend has really shown us just how much these 
three young actors have come on.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.