The Best TV Shows of 2011: Summer Edition

You can see my best of 2010 list here

I was planning on writing posts for TV and music singles at the end of June to celebrate six months done and six months to go, but I'm writing my TV post a few weeks early because the spring line ups are all done and the summer line ups are just getting under way, so instead of writing a post where some shows will only be an episode or two into their season versus other shows that are completely done, I'm going to do my half way post now. Plus, I'm really bored and I already saw one movie today in lieu of my goal to see every movie on AFI's top 100 list by the end of the summer (I have 59 more movies to go).

A disclaimer before I begin: While I do watch an unnecessary amount of television, I obviously do not watch every single show like many, actual TV critics. You will notice that many of my shows come mainly from two channels: FX and NBC- for several reasons. First, I watch a lot of On Demand and those two stations along with USA are probably the three best channels to watch all of their shows On Demand. ABC finally got their act together and posted some of their shows On Demand, but not a whole lot and you can not fast forward through commercials through ABC (or FOX) like you can with NBC, USA, and FX. CBS is pretty good at their On Demand stuff but I don't watch a whole lot of CBS because I don't like a whole lot of shows they offer. Which leads me to my second point, there's a lot of crap out there and this has been an extremely weak spring line up. The most watched new show (which is purposefully omitted from this list) is Hawaii 5-0 (CBS). While a lot of people are watching the show, it has far inferior numbers compared to its new show counterparts even three, five years ago- which just goes to show you the poor quality of new programs so far. (Want more further proof, just listen to how "excited" Bill Simmons is about recent new shows when he has the great TV critic from Alan Sepinwall on The B.S. Report). Next, many of the shows I like and just great shows in general like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Entourage, and The League, just to name a few, did not have a season in 2011. Lastly, I do not get HBO, Showtime, or any premium network so shows like Dexter (which I have heard bad things about for its fifth season) and Game Of Thrones (which I have heard great things about but it's hard for me to get interested in medieval pieces) I can not easily watch.

So after my long-winded nothingness, let's get on with the list.
***Warning, posts may contain spoilers***

10) Law and Order: LA (NBC)

Admittedly the main reason I started watching this show was because it was On Demand, but being in law school (which actually helped me understand more about the investigation of the murder than the trial itself- which as a lawyer-in-training the trials just frustrate me more than anything. But I digress.) helped me enjoy this version of Law and Order. The season started off very slow and annoying and the show didn't really get a good feel for what it wanted to do. It had both Terrence Howard and Alfred Molina as the D.A. and the show seemed to try and coast on the allure of crimes in Los Angeles. Then, halfway through the series, one of the lead detectives, Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) was murdered and the show changed for the better. Alfred Molina became a detective, Terrence Howard played the main attorney and the show added Alena De La Garza who played D.A. Rubirosa at the end of the original Law and Order run to become Howard's assistant and the voice of reason and morality. (SIDENOTE: As an actual attorney, you can't just practice in one state then up and leave to practice in another- you have to take a new bar for every state you want to practice in. But hey, that's the magic of television). Anyways, since the change the show reverted back to its glory days of aggressive prosection and a giant twist at the end of every episode. Just one of the many shows I like (and on this list) that gets cancelled after one season. Although I'm sure creator Dick Wolf isn't all that broken up about it while he is counting his millions of dollars that he's made from this franchise.

9) How I Met Your Mother (CBS)

How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) took the biggest dive being the best comedy of last year in the number two slot dropping all the way down to nine. I thought HIMYM had a really bad year in Season 6. Don't get me wrong, the season had some great, fantastic moments, mainly centered around the fathers of the shows two best characters Marshall (Jason Segel) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris).

HIMYM suffers from two fatal flaws as it keeps getting renewed (CBS renewed it for at least another two seasons). The first is that the show centers around Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) who is in my opinion the worst character out of the five main ones. The vast majority of people think the best are either Marshall or Barney so despite where you think Ted ranks, the fact that he's probably your third favorite character at best yet also the lead says a lot of things about the show. To me, Ted is like J.D. from Scrubs, he kind of sucks but he's the glue that holds the awesome supporting cast cast members in place. The second (and I think biggest) flaw going six seasons deep is that the show has dug itself into a hole calling it "How I Met Your Mother". If this show had a different title yet told the same exact jokes except older Ted (voiced by Bob Saget) was telling his kids about his youth instead how how he met his wife, then I think the show would have been better by this point. Seriously, if you were one of those kids how pissed would you be if your dad told a three week story? The show now has to center around Ted and his relationships which hurt the show this season.

This season centered around the relationship between Ted and his girlfriend Zoey (Jennifer Morrison a.k.a Cameron on "House"). The relationship did nothing to advance the character development of Ted (in fact it seemed to hurt it) nor did it in any way explain why you would tell your kids this story in how you met your wife.

If I could I would have left HIMYM off of my list but by default it's in and I'm confident that when my end of the year list comes out How I Met Your Mother will not be on it. But because it is so ingrained in our culture, I still laugh at it, and the stuff that worked was really good, HIMYM earned the 9th spot on this list.

8) The Office (NBC)

The Office moves up from barely cracking the top 10 in 2010 (at #10) to now being solidly in there at number eight.

This year was Michael Scott's last season on the show so Steve Carrel can go out and make more shitty movies that aren't funny but I'm sure pay him a helluva lot more than what he made doing television. At this point in The Office I've stopped comparing the show to Seasons 2-4 because you're always going to get let down if you do that, but the Michael Scott farewell tour was poignant, beautiful and funny. You have truly seen how Michael Scott (Carrel) has involved into the asshole he once was in the beginning of the season into one of the best bosses a guy could have at the time of his departure. Now the only question that remains is: who will become the new boss of Dunder Mifflin in Scranton? My vote is for Darryl (Craig Robinson) but based upon how awesome James Spader was in his interview in the season finale, I think I might like to see him be the new boss. (Same as the old boss? Not a The Who fan? Oh well, moving on).

7) 30 Rock (NBC)

30 Rock is back! There was a huge stretch there where I was only watching the show because it was just second nature to me and not because it was funny. The season stumbled a bit when Tracy Morgan had kidney surgery thus forcing Tracy Jordan (Morgan) to take a hiatus from TGS but as a whole, 30 Rock had a great season. The show reverted back to what made it good in the first place- Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) being high and mighty, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) having problems in her social life, developing the relationship between Jack and Liz, and having only bit parts for the writers of TGS and Kenneth (Jack McBrayer). The show took a huge step in the right direction as it moved from #15 in 2010 to cracking the top 10 in 2011. The show is still not as funny as it was in Seasons 1-3 which was somewhat disappointing to me because I have such high expectations for this show based on when it first came out, but overall Season 5 of 30 Rock was funny and a success and earned the number seven spot on this list.

6) Community (NBC)

I write these posts from 1 to 10 instead of from 10 to 1 so by this point I have already written five pieces and the length is starting to get long. I will say this about Community though. While this show is probably the smartest comedy on television right now, the biggest problem I had with them in Season 2 is that they had a lot of unfunny episodes this season, especially during the middle of the season. The show was and always has been extremely well-written but a lot of episodes used that smart writing for character development instead of humor. Unlike shows in which you'll read about later, I think Community took a slight step back this season. I know there are a lot of people who really enjoyed Community this season much more than I did and really appreciated the intelligence of the show, even when it wasn't funny, but silly me to ask for humor when I watch a comedy television program. But despite my little negative rant, the show still had some fantastic moments (most notably the two part paintball episodes to end the season) and just for being so cutting edge and original, Community earns the number six spot on this list, up from number nine last year.

5) White Collar (USA)

What, that many NBC shows in a row is just too jarring for you? OK, let's take a break.

White Collar moved up from the 8th best show of 2010 to my 5th best of 2011. The show follows along white collar expert in the FBI Special Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) and smooth talking Ocean's-11-George-Clooney-esque con man Neil Caffrey (Matt Bomer) as a tag team duo catching a different white collar criminal week to week.

Like all original USA shows (and unlike FX shows) they are not *that* well written and are very formulaic and always have a happy ending but what I especially enjoyed about Season 2 of White Collar (especially the parts shown in 2011) was that it finally wrapped up the series long conflict of what happened to Kate / why everyone was searching for the music box.

Sometimes you need mindless TV which will always put a smile on your face which is why White Collar earned the fifth best spot on this list.

4) Lights Out (FX)

FX is probably the best network out there in terms of original programming but it's sadly a station that nobody watches. AMC is the big up and coming station with two great and established shows such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad and even still AMC is having trouble attracting viewers. Needless to say FX is in trouble. Whether it is a sports team or a TV station, the best way to attract people to watch you is by putting out quality products. But as the Tampa Bay Rays as well as FX has learned, that philosophy has not always paid off. The best show of 2010 was an FX show called Terriers which got cancelled due to poor ratings and Lights Out unfortunately fell to the same fate.

Lights Out follows boxer and former heavyweight champion Patrick "Lights" Leary (Holt McCallany) from him scrapping the bottom of the barrel (and lower) to try and regain his glory days back at the top. Even with boxing movies such as Rocky, Raging Bull, Cinderella Man, and most recently The Fighter, Lights Out felt original- mainly because nothing could go right for this underdog whereas the underdog always wins in the movies. Even when good things happened to Lights Leary and his family, even worse things would just pile on top and ruin everything again.

I encourage all of you to check out this show so I won't completely ruin the ending for you (which was jaw-dropping and amazing and heart breaking all at the same time) but even though the season ended like it was expecting a second season, it was a perfect series finale and the show was great enough to be the 4th best show of 2011 so far.

3) Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Parks and Rec has done a lot of things to make sure people don't watch it. First, they had an awful first season which almost made me stop watching the show forever if it wasn't for DME showing me how awesome Season 2 was. Then, it took them 16 months between the start of Season 2 to the start of Season 3 which made me not rank the show in my final end of the year column for 2010 (although it was 7th in my mid-year column) but it is back now and Season 4 is expected to start back up in the fall. (I will say though in Parks and Recs defense that I'm pretty sure the huge gap between Season 2 and Season 3 was because Amy Poehler got preggers. Oh well.)

Parks and Rec follows around Leslie Knope (Poehler) in a governmental parks department in the small town of Pawnee, Indiana. The concept of the show is nothing exciting or special but the casting and characters around Leslie Knope are great. They range from one of my favorite stand up comedians right now Aziz Ansari to Reshida Jones (who played Karen on The Office) to Aubrey Plaza (the stand up comedian chick in Funny People). Season 3 also starred the fantastic Rob Lowe with Adam Scott (the brother of Will Ferrell in Stepbrothers) which added great conflict for the second half of the show. But the best character is the head of the Parks Department Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) who is Leslie's boss and is a true libertarian who doesn't believe in big government (or that any government should ever have a parks department for that matter).

Season 3 centers around the Parks department and the town of Pawnee getting out of financial debt but really, the show and cast are just hilarious no matter what situation they are in and the show has been consistently great and funny all season long which is why it earns the #3 spot on this list.

2) Modern Family (ABC)

For my past two posts (the two for 2010) the best comedy has landed in the number two hole. I think it is just hard to rank the best comedy number one ahead of the best drama, as is true here. But make no mistake, the best comedy, here being Modern Family, is just as good in its own right.

Modern Family moved up nine spots from the eleventh best show of 2010 to my second best show of 2011.

Modern Family is not On Demand so the fact that I go out of my way to watch this show should give you an indication of just how good and hilarious the show is. Modern Family is one of a few examples on this list to make a great leap from Season One to Season Two. The show has always been funny but now that everybody has a firm grip on their characters (although Modern Family really wasn't one of the many shows to suffer from a lack of voice in its first season) this show is not only more hilarious but has deep heart and you're able to connect with its decently big cast (six adults and four kids spread across three families and generally at least three story lines an episode) along with building relationships between all the characters within the show.

The weird thing about Modern Family is that I can't really quote major lines from the show. Those who personally know me know I love to quote (or at least attempt to quote because I generally get the quote wrong) my favorite things and yet I can't do it with Modern Family. Just trust me though, the show is fucking hilarious and brilliant and deserves to be the best comedy of 2011 and the second best show of the year so far.

1) Justified (FX)

Jumping up four spots from my fifth best show last year to the best show so far this year, Justified's sophomore season has far surpassed its rookie one to rightfully earn the top honor.

Out of my millions of facebook friends (and by millions I mean 172. Don't feel bad, I purposefully delete those who I will never talk to again) only two of them watch Justified- and only one of them I actually continually converse with. So you need to watch Justified for the sole reason so that I have somebody to talk about this show with.

But in all seriousness Justified is amazing and you need to watch it.

The show follows around Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) as a bad-ass U.S. Marshall stuck back in his hometown of Harlan County, Kentucky. The season started off slow (although it had a great premiere giving closure to the end of Season 1 while setting up the characters and story lines for Season 2) it picked up about five episodes into the season stepped on the pedal, hit a few babies and old ladies along the way, and never looked back with its last four episodes of the season being some of the best television in awhile. Three out of the last four episodes could have been the season finale for me (although one actually WAS the season finale) and each episode was just better than the last.

Season 2 mainly centered around Olyphany versus Mags Bennett (Margo Martingale) who is a rotund (to put it lightly) 60-ish year old lady who runs the weed business in Harlan County versus Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), the bad guy from Season 1, and the Crowder clan. Mags and Boyd Crowder play some of the best and charismatic bad guys on television, but my favorite was one in Season 2 was one of Mags' son- Dickie Bennett (Jeremy Davies). They all just pull you into every scene they're in while being some of the ruthless, ill-hearted people around. You still want them to win yet also want Raylan to kick their ass.

I loved Season 2 and the leap Justified took and, as mentioned earlier in the post, along with some great shows not even airing in 2011, I think it's going to be hard to knock Justified out of the top spot by year's end.

Here is a recap of my list:

10) Law and Order: Los Angeles (NBC)
9) How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
8) The Office (NBC)
7) 30 Rock (NBC)
6) Community (NBC)
5) White Collar (USA)
4) Lights Out (FX)
3) Parks and Recreation (NBC)
2) Modern Family (ABC)
1) Justified (FX)


David "MVP" Eckstein said...

You're missing Dexter, Big Bang Theory, The Walking Dead, The Killing (AMC is awesome), South Park (it's the best season in 3/4 years), and Archer

cbsplaysdirty said...

Law and Order Los Angeles was better before they retooled it and made Molina a cop. I liked the chemistry between TJ and Winters much better, though the writing on the show was banal to say the least. It did get grittier after the reboot, but Morales did not fit as a cop and Howard was too melodramatic for my taste. They should have improved the writing and kept the original cast.

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