The best of the 2011-12 television season

Okay, so I’m going to break from movies for this blog and delve a bit into the best that television offered to us now that the 2011-12 television season has come to an end. Television shows can be mini-movies after all, no? Here are my top 10 shows for the season and my reasons for why.

10. Awake (NBC)

Happens every season—I get into a new show and due to poor ratings and/or a lack of faith in a network, it gets ripped from underneath me within one season. Unfortunately, Awake gets that honor this season. Jason Isaacs starred as Michael Britten, an L.A. police detective who after a car accident takes the life of a family member, begins to seemingly experience living in two different parallel realities—one in which his wife survived the accident and one in which his son did. Awake was supposedly too complicated or confusing for audiences to hang on (being on fourth-place NBC doesn’t help either), but it was different, engrossing and Isaacs was great as Britten—a man desperately wanting to hold on to both realities, just so he could be with his wife in one and his son in the other.

9. Happy Endings (ABC)

Modern Family gets most of the attention on ABC as its top-tier comedy, but Happy Endings proved to be the underdog, little gem of a comedy that no one really talks about but should. Playing very much like an edgier Friends of the 2010s, Happy Endings features a great, loopy sextet ensemble stumbling through relationships, careers and, of course, friendship in Chicago. Making up the group is happy couple Jane and Brad, lost-in-love Penny, airhead-ish Alex, brash Max and wannabe cool Dave, the show works because it’s very much an ensemble and not one particular character “leads” the group but instead each one shines with comedy hilarity in their own way. Two seasons in, it’s simply one of the best comedies on television today.

8. Revenge (ABC)

The show that resuscitated the serialized primetime drama this past season, Revenge stars Emily VanCamp as a young woman who moves to the Hamptons to exact revenge on those who had destroyed her family when she was a child. Inspired by The Count of Monte Cristo, VanCamp refreshingly broke away from her squeakily clean persona that she played on Everwood a few years ago to play revenge-drived Emily Thorne. Madeleine Stowe plays the ultra bitchy role of Victoria Grayson (or “Queen Victoria”) perfectly and is a delight to watch. It’s a guilty pleasure that you shouldn’t really feel “guilty” for watching, simply because it’s perfectly paced and keeps you on edge and entertained like a good serialized drama is supposed to do.

7. The Killing (AMC)

Yep, the show that pissed off everyone at the end of its first season because it supposedly didn’t meet its “promise” of closing up the show’s featured case: the murder of a high-school student by the name of Rosie Larsen. But like a good crime/suspense novel, you have to have patience and keep going with it and I did and was engrossed every step of the way by The Killing—particularly by leads Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman as the Seattle detectives digging into the truth of what happened to Rosie.

6. Once Upon a Time (ABC)

After so many bad copycats and rip-offs, there finally came a show that can legitimately be compared to the brilliance of Lost (having a few creators from Lost probably had something to do with it too). Once Upon a Time centers on a woman with a troubled past who is drawn into a small town in Maine called Storybrooke where the magic and mystery of fairy tales just may be real. Once somewhat mirrors the format of Lost—whereas Lost went back and forth from the island to flashbacks of the characters back home, Once goes back and forth from the characters in their storybook world (Snow White, the Evil Queen, Prince Charming, etc.) to their seemingly oblivious reality in the modern world. Thanks to a great cast and wonderful storytelling, Once kept me coming back for more and I found the whole concept incredibly ingenious.

5. Homeland (Showtime)

Whereas Once Upon a Time became the new Lost, Showtime’s Homeland became the new 24. The show centers around Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, who returns to the U.S. a war hero eight years after being presumed dead in Iraq. Enter Carrie Mathison, a driven CIA officer in counter terrorism, who grows suspicious of Brody’s return and begins to obsessively believe that Brody may have returned a traitor and a threat to America. Claire Danes is amazing in this show and presents to us a very conflicted and flawed character. Damian Lewis (who shined a few years ago in a show called Life) is also great here as Brody. The show played very much like 24 with on-the-edge suspense and a running theme similar to 24—but being on cable, it was allowed to be edgier and thus more enthralling as a result. Danes should be Emmy bound for a nod for Best Actress this year for her multi-layered work here.

4. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Four seasons in, Parks and Recreation continues to be full of incredible wit and, like Happy Endings, features an outstanding comedic cast. Here, we’re led by the hilarious Amy Poehler as her character Leslie Knope runs for city council of Pawnee. The show continues to shine the spotlight on its ensemble as well consisting of Leslie’s loony friends and co-workers—including hipster Tom, goofball Andy, darkish April, BFF Ann, rigid Ron and obsessively fit Chris. With the main plot of the season involving Leslie’s campaigning, it called for a great deal of hilarious and even touching moments involving Leslie and her straight-laced boyfriend Ben, played by Adam Scott. Scott and Poehler share a nice chemistry on the show and their characters’ romance shined all the more this season. Parks was one of the most consistently funny comedies of last season.

3. Mad Men (AMC)

The Emmy champ for Best Drama finally (and I mean finally) returned for its fifth season and it didn’t lose a step at all. Jon Hamm continues to be amazing as creative director Don Draper—now newly married to former secretary and aspiring actress Megan. Although Megan did take a bit too much of the opening of the season, the show found its stride effortlessly by dealing with the core characters we grew to love or hate. There was rich drama abound this season—from Pete’s infidelity to Joan’s family drama with her military husband. And Hamm continues to be a commanding presence on the show (one speech alone he delivered screams Emmy). Speaking of Emmy, Christina Hendricks should be Emmy-bound as well after her outstanding performance in the episode titled “The Other Woman.” Mad Men continues to impress as one of television’s finest dramas.

1. TIE: Community (NBC) and Southland (TNT)

I know, I’m cheating—but I can’t help it; it’s like I’m supposed to pick my favorite child of the two. On the one hand, you have Southland—the flat-out finest character crime drama on television; and on the other you have Community—the most insanely original, inspired and laugh-out-loud funny comedy pretty much ever made in my book. Nope, picking either/or for number one is just not possible for me, sorry. What they have in common is their true underdog, underappreciated status—and yet both are worshipped by critics through and through. Regina King has been due some Emmy recognition for years now for her work on Southland and this season more so with her unexpected pregnancy storyline. As for Community—I’m just not able to dig into the beauty of this show in just one paragraph. It’s a comedy I looked forward to every Thursday night; a comedy that I could rely on to take me away from life and escape into theirs, for all the seriously out there goings on with the “Greendale Seven.” What comedy could ever, for example, take on the world of Law & Order and churn out a perfect parody and tribute to the structure of that legendary show? And then there was the Emmy worthy episode titled “Remedial Chaos Theory” that took a simple housewarming party at Troy and Abed’s place and gave us seven different hilarious realities involving the beloved Community gang. I love both of these shows for similar and very dissimilar reasons—yes, I’m a cheater, but they’re both number one for me all the way.

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