I know, I know, 2011 was SO last week, so I feel a little late to the game with this post, but what can you do?
Thinking about it, I believe that this is a really good era for watching tv. Not just because I think there is more quality programming being made, but also because the advent of DVRs and streaming media has allowed viewers watch pretty much what they want, went they want it. Bored channel surfing is a thing of the past.
So, in an overall good year, what were my favorites? Well, as it turns out, all my favorites were freshman shows.
Homeland (Showtime) There was no better show broadcast this year that Showtime’s taut terrorist conspiracy drama, Homeland. Claire Danes did a remarkable turn as Carrie Mathison – a brilliant (but bi-polar) CIA investigator, who suspects a long-thought dead rescued Marine (Damien Lewis) as an al-Qaeda mole. Whereas 24 fought terror with speed and action, Homeland approached the subject as a cat-and-mouse game between the good guys and the bad ones. And sometimes it wasn’t easy to tell which was which. Good production values, excellent writing, top-notch acting and good storytelling built up to a riveting last couple of episodes. I hope the show-runners of The Killing were watching because Homeland demonstrated how you can have a show that is tense, thoughtful, emotional and satisfying without having a constant stream of red herrings.
American Horror Story (FX) Who knew what to expect when Glee and Nip/Tuck creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk debuted their haunted house story this past fall? I sure didn’t. I got a lot more of Dylan McDermott than I wanted and no horror-movie staple was excluded. Creepy house? Check. Evil twins? Check. Crazy neighbors? Check. Vengeful spirits? Check. Demon baby? You got it. At first, I thought the show was going to spiral out of control, but they managed to hang it all together and build a (more or less) coherent thread that provided a high creep factor and a few great shocks. Again, kudos for having a single-season arc that came to a satisfying (if somewhat unconventional) conclusion.
Game of Thrones (HBO) In a world where fantasy is always measured against Tolkien, I was both excited and anxious about the tv adaptation of George RR Martin’s masterpiece, Game of Thrones (yes, by any standard the first book is a masterpiece, deal with it). Beautifully realized, the show did not shy away from the epic nature of the story, nor the gritty, violent, and uncompromising world it exists in. Stellar acting throughout propelled the story of the power struggle for the Seven Kingdoms, anchored by the wonderful performance of Sean Bean as the conflicted, honorable Ned Stark. The adaptation was largely true to the original material (shaving off some tangents but staying the course overall), and did not shy away from some of the toughest scenes – even if they made a number of people upset.
Each of these shows has a tall order to match the success of their initial seasons for sure.