My top 5 of 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Every year, TV writers and critics and other pundits put together their top ten lists of their favorite shows of the year, some hoping to stir and spin conversation at the end of the year, some just up against a deadline and needing to write something -- anything -- to fill column inches.

But not this guy. As a writer who strives to be different and unique, one who constantly challenges the status quo, I rejected (completely and thoroughly) the idea of doing a top ten list.

I only did a top five. Enjoy!

5. "Revenge," ABC. As I've said -- repeatedly -- if you would have told me at the beginning of the fall season that I'd be hooked on a primetime soap opera, and anxiously anticipating its January return, I'd have said you were delusional. I mean, I didn't care for those kinds of shows when they were all over the dial, why would I remotely like this one?

Here's why: It hits all the right notes. It's funny, sexy, suspenseful and -- admittedly -- just a smidgen outrageous. It's also sharply written and acted, especially by Madeline Stowe and Emily VanCamp. As the ostensible villain, Stowe still manages to fill what could have been a cartoon character with a surprising amount of humanity, while VanCamp, in the role of supposed heroine, holds an icy viciousness behind her smile. And I can't forget to mention the show's secret weapon -- Gabriel Mann as Nolan, the brittle nouveau riche computer genius whose own machinations could ultimately trump everyone else's.

4. "The Colbert Report," Comedy Central. The 10 o'clock hour (Monday through Thursday, anyway) belongs to the one-two punch of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" on my television. But as much as I enjoy Jon Stewart and the merry crew at "The Daily Show," I think this year has actually belonged to Colbert's show.

Colbert had any number of high points this year (his hilariously bizarre two-part interview with a pair of Occupy Wall Street spokespersons among them), but my favorite was also a long-running gag that became something more than a joke.

Colbert launched a very real self-titled political action committee (PAC) to raise money that he could spend on whatever cause he wanted to support. After going through a battle with lawyers from Viacom -- the owners of Comedy Central -- he and his personal attorney created the Colbert Super PAC (also known as "Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow"). The updates on the process (which came fast and furious at one point this year) not only made for spectacular -- and scathing -- political satire, but were also remarkably educational, bringing light and clarity to a part of the American political process that most of us have never seen.

3. "Beavis and Butthead," MTV. I can hear you already, and yes, really, the return of "Beavis and Butthead" made my Best of the Year list. Why? Because not only is it as gut-bustingly funny as it was when it left the air, creator Mike Judge has actually managed to hone his dumb duo into an even sharper satirical blade.

And Judge isn't afraid to use that blade to take deep swings at various parts of modern life and culture. His two perpetually giggling teenage protagonists -- so far this year -- have tried to become vampires (to meet girls), clean up oil-soaked sea birds (to meet girls) and gorge themselves on fast food (to meet girls).

So where's the satire? Tucked inside the stories. The fast food episode was a direct shot at the cult of celebrity the rises around fame-hungry documentarians, the oil clean-up story mocked TV news and the vampire vignette was a not-so-subtle goof on the "Twilight" film series.

Sure, "Beavis and Butthead" isn't a genteel comedy for everyone -- there's plenty of racy, low humor here -- but it's definitely not a simple-minded, toilet-humored jokefest. Well, not all of it, anyway.

2. ABC's Wednesday night comedies (except for "Happy Endings"). Earlier this year, when ABC had "The Middle" at 7 p.m., "Modern Family" at 8 and "Cougar Town" at 8:30, the network had the best comedy night on any of the networks. Now, even with "Cougar Town" on the bench -- and with "Suburgatory," the best new comedy of the season, in the 7:30 spot -- ABC can still claim that title.

Sure, I'm not happy that "Cougar Town," one of TV's absolute best comedies, is riding the bench this season. (And that ABC back-burnered its premiere in order to make room for the insipid dudes-in-dresses sitcom "Work It" is just rubbing salt in the wound.)

But "The Middle," "Suburgatory" and "Modern Family" have continued to be delightfully dependable entertainments. I've written a lot about these shows already this year; I'm sure I'll write more about them next year. In short, right now, this trio makes for a terrific, unbroken block of appointment-worthy television.

1. "Breaking Bad," AMC. In a word, peerless. In a few more, I don't think there's a single better program on television -- network or cable -- right now than "Breaking Bad." (Okay, yeah, it's not literally on right now -- the stunning season finale was a few weeks ago.) What a gripping, shocking ride this past season was; if it could be described in a sentence, it would be the story of a man giving a guided tour of his self-constructed hellscape, with passengers who didn't ask to join him.

The meth-and-money-fueled story of Walter White and the people he has crossed (and has yet to cross) hit a fevered high this season, whether it was the conflict between White and young partner/protege (and future enemy?) Jesse bubbling up, the duo's chess match with drug kingpin/chicken restaurant magnate Gus reaching a gruesome conflagration (and it was a very gruesome one), or watching White's brother-in-law, Hank, slowly working his way to discovering a big, dark secret.

Scary, violent and even funny -- in its own pitch black way -- "Breaking Bad" was never less than excellent in 2011.

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