This is not a Best Shows of the Year List. Why? I don’t watch enough television to be able to say, “Of all the shows on TV, these are the best.” I only watch what I’m interested in and there are many great shows out there that do not interest me for one reason or another (Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, Men of a Certain Age, Breaking Bad, Community), shows that are going to be included on professional critics’ best of 2011 lists. Even though my husband thinks I watch too much television, I’m not a professional critic and have neither the desire or time to watch everything.
With that said, the shows below are the ones I watch that consistently delivered quality story, characters, visuals and mood.
The Good Wife
The heart (Alicia) and soul (Kalinda) of The Good Wife.
The Good Wife made my list last year at number five but has moved up to number one this year, leapfrogging two premium cable shows that will get all the end of year accolades from the pros. Maybe I’m being a contrarian, picking a network show from the Geritol Network as my favorite show. Or, maybe The Good Wife simply delivers the best mix of “technology, modern politics, family life, sexuality, workplace politics, friendship, love, and forgiveness” on television. Every week. Consistently. Robert and Michelle King are merciless with their characters, taking them places they need to go, places that are logical and true to who the characters are and not what is convenient for the story or comfortable for the network suits. At the end of season 2, they torpedoed Alicia’s life in four episodes, destroying her friendship with Kalinda, her marriage to Peter and moving her into an ill-advised relationship with her boss. This season it has been fun watching the repercussions of all that play out. There was no quick reconciliation between Alicia and Kalinda – it has taken four episodes for Alicia to have a simple conversation with Kalinda and, even then, I don’t think Alicia looked at her. What I think is most brilliant about The Good Wife is that a casual viewer might not realize that with each episode of everyday happenings, they are setting up bombshells for the future. In that way The Good Wife is like life – rarely does one realize at the moment of decision, word, action or inaction that it will have consequences that will reverberate throughout other people’s lives.
Any show that has the courage to kill of their number two lead at the end of the second season deserves to be at the top of all end of year lists. I still can’t believe that amid driving rain and next to a unfinished war memorial, Nucky Thompson pulled out a gun and shot his surrogate son, Jimmy Darmody, in the head. Twice. It was the only logical resolution to the season long battle between the two men but it was still shocking because that just isn’t done on television. Creators and networks don’t let their main character get shot in the head by the other main character. Unless, of course, there is a contract dispute. Then all bets are off. But, the decision to kill Jimmy Darmody was driven by the story, not outside business influences. As wrenching as it was to see Nucky pull the trigger, I admire the hell out of the show and network for having the courage to do the unthinkable. That wouldn’t happen on network television. Ever.*
*Sure, Once Upon a Time killed off a “main character” Sunday night as well. But, the differences in the two deaths are vast. Sheriff Graham was nothing like a lead, he had little to no development as a character outside of Sunday night’s episode and it is yet to be seen what kind of impact his death will have on the show. Jimmy’s story was 50% of Boardwalk Empire for two seasons. His death is going to leave a huge hole. The two are hardly comparable.
Maybe Jimmy’s death will give some of the other story lines room to breathe. I would like to see much more of the colored world of 1920s Atlantic City. Michael Kenneth Williams is brilliant as Chalky White and needs much more to do. I would like to see women other than Margaret take a larger share of screen time. I’m hopeful that they explore what it is to be a professional woman in a man’s world with the character of Esther Randolph. And, I hope that if Agent Van Alden has to be a part of the show that they do a better job of giving him something to do. According to the creator, Terrence Winter, there will be a 16-18 month time jump when season three opens. I can hardly wait.
Game of Thrones
Based on George RR Martin‘s sprawling, multi-novel epic, Game of Thrones should be unfilmable. I believe I read somewhere that the actor who performs the audio books has a world record for number of voices/characters performed. Books with that kind of scope have to be pared down so much to fit on the small screen that they become a shadow of their former selves. Not so, Game of Thrones. It is faithful to Martin’s vision to its core. The characters, the visuals, the stories, even the music. The show took some flack in its first season, spawning anger on the internet with the off-screen death of a direwolf, the objectification and subjugation of women and even inspired the creation of a new word, “sexposition,” story exposition told during sex. Game of Thrones made me uncomfortable at times, even though I read the books and knew beyond a doubt that George RR Martin is far from a misogynist. In fact, as the story unfolds, his strongest characters are women. But, there is a difference in reading and seeing what happens to women in this male dominated world. Like Boardwalk Empire, GoT killed off a main character at the end of the season, a death that happened in the novels and that had to happen onscreen for the story to move faithfully forward and, like the book, season two looks to get more complicated and interesting.
Though I’ve been a bit disappointed in the first half of season three, Fringe is still the best (and only?) sci-fi show on network television with a trifecta of brilliance – acting, story and characters. Due to low ratings, this could easily be the last season of the show. I hope they work out the kinks of this season and end strong.
Oh, the soapy goodness of Revenge. I’ve been a bit lukewarm on the last couple of episodes (note the lack of reviews of them) but overall, Revenge is the best new network show of Fall 2011.
A British mini-series that didn’t know if it wanted to be a period workplace drama, political drama or spy thriller, somehow this little show still worked.
I’m glad that cable networks schedule original programming year round. If not, a show like Falling Skies would never make it to screen. There isn’t enough story there to justify a 22 episode season. In fact, a 22 episode season would doom a high concept show like Falling Skies.** Even with only 10 episodes for this show about an alien apocalypse, there were a couple of clunker episodes. The finale made up for it, bringing Noah Wyle’s character’s season long obsession with protecting his children at all costs to its logical, and disturbing, conclusion.
**Once Upon a Time is a show that would be better served on cable for these very same reasons.
Other Television Shows
Show I wish I had subscribed to Showtime for: Homeland – but I’m reading all of the critic reviews each week.
Biggest Disappointment: A Gifted Man – a colossal waste of Jennifer Ehle and Margo Martindale
Show I Used to Love But Don’t Anymore: Modern Family – the characters have become shrill and unlikable.
Show I Struggle to Write About: The Mentalist – procedurals don’t translate well to weekly reviews and The Mentalist doesn’t do enough Red John centric episodes. I write about it anyway because those posts routinely get the most hits.
Show That Frustrates Me : Castle – put the two leads in a relationship then I’ll watch regularly.
Show I Love, DVR, But Never Get Around to Watching: Parks and Recreation – I love Leslie Knope and Company. Why don’t I watch this show religiously? Why, why, why?
Show That I Want to Love But Leaves Me Cold But I Watch Anyway: Once Upon a Time – I have no explanation why I keep tuning into this snoozer. Maybe I’m waiting for it to find its groove? I wish they had killed off the Evil Queen in the last episode instead of Sheriff Graham. That would have been a shocking game changer.
What’s Come Before
Day 1 – Health and Fitness
Day 2 – Apps and Websites
Day 3 – Cooking
Day 5 – Photography
Day 6 – Live Entertainment
Day 7 -Home Improvement
Day 8 – Books – Non-Fiction
Day 9 – Books – Fiction
Day 10 – Writing
Day 11 – Movies
Day 12 – Swamp in Review