2011 Favorites: Television

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

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

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

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.

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27 thoughts on “2011 Favorites: Television

  1. Game of Thrones would’ve for sure made my list but since I didn’t start watching it until January 1st…. (Thank God for HBO On Demand.)

    • Trailblazer — yes, Person of Interest has been one of our favorites too. They’ve walked a tough line between interesting week-to-week stories and moving a plotline along.

  2. I thought they did a good job with Game of Thrones. The kids who played Arya and Bran were brilliant, although all the kids were great. Catelyn was not as I imagined her, I always pictured her as blonde but I guess she had to be dark as Cersei was blonde. I found it hard to take Viserys seriously though with his blonde fairy floss hair, he was almost a caricature of the character.

    • Yes — I thought the casting in GoT was great, almost across the board and I agree that they didn’t give Viserys any metal at all (well, except for the gold at the end) — but I get that they were trying to condense that part of the story.

  3. For new shows we like Prime Suspect – It feels more real than other cop shows, is a bit gritty, but has a few laughs now and then too. Also a continuing favourite is Boardwalk Empire.

  4. This post reminds me of how little time I spent watching TV last year, alas: the only series here that I have any familiarity with is American Horror Story, and unfortunately, I missed quite a bit of it. I dropped cable in the fall as Comcast kept raising its rates with no discernible improvement in our service. (There were a couple of days where we had no reception at all.) When my brother decided to subscribe, we’d already missed enough of the season that I no longer could make sense of the story lines for many of the shows I’d been watching. I still enjoy “The Walking Dead,” though with its creator gone I wonder how well the show will maintain its edgy quality. I’m also looking forward to the second season of the North American “Being Human” series starting next week. My kids pushed me into watching “Breaking Bad,” which was very well written, though I’m not sure about the chemistry teacher-with-cancer-turned-meth-lab-operator, or the many addicts and “business associates” in the series. But with a hectic schedule, I can never track a series regularly, and I’m noticing more shows require tuning in every week to understand the long-running plots and subplots. Now that I’ve dropped Netflix, I guess watching TV will become hopeless for me. But thank you for reviewing these shows. I may someday watch Game of Thrones on DVD or one of the pay-per-view services. Someday.

    • HG — we tried to watch Breaking Bad, which I know has earned so many accolades. We watched about the first half season — ti was very well done, but it was so dark that we didn’t enjoy it — and for me TV still has to be escapist and “fun” at some level.

      My guess is that within 5 years, we’ll have an all-streaming-all-available system of entertainment so you’ll have the opportunity to watch these shows whenever.

  5. Thank you for this; I haven’t followed anything since “LOST” left me … fun ..

    Totally addicted and spoilt by the DVR; now hubbs is addicted too! Pause sports? Re-beer? Potty break? Happy guy!!

    Cheers,
    MJ

  6. On Homeland….I don’t have Showtime but I was able to watch first 3 eps via Graboid. I aw so intrigued! So much that I told my parents about it and they got hooked immediately and watched the whole season. Whereas we quit Graboid so I was left out in the cold! Boo! I really wish it wasn’t on cable! But obviously content wise that is where it is best suited. I did follow along with episode synopsis (pathetic, I know) and it really was a fantastic season.

    I tried one op of AHS with Kelly when I was in Baltimore. I am a big huge scaredy cat so it didn’t stick for me!

    As far as new shows, I think we only picked a few. Jim and I love Person of Interest. Also I got in to Grimm, police procedural with a paranormal twist. It’s done way better than I expected. Revenge has been fun. I am reluctantly watching Ringer but not sure that will continue. It had potential but I am not as impressed as I thought I would be.

    • Yes, the Beloved gave up on AHS after a couple of episodes, so you’re in good company there. :)

      We also like Person of Interest — they’ve done a good job of balancing the week-to-week stories with the over-arching ones, which is tough to do.

  7. I’m a big puss, so I doubt I’ll try the horror story but Homeland sounds interesting. I looked at 24 for a few seconds and it’s not my bag, either. I thought I’d like it but didn’t ::shrug:: I love all Star Trek but DS9, see what I mean? Can’t quite predict!

    My big thing last year was GoT.

  8. Are any of these available on Netflix? I feel a rebuttal coming on. :-) We had someone lend us 24 on DVD but when we went to watch there was just the last season in the box. We watched and enjoyed. Now we’re in Florida with access to Netflix and watching the first season…aargh! How many times are Teri and Kim going to be kidnapped, escape, get kidnapped again, escape…and Nina gets on my last nerves. But maybe that’s me. :-)

    • Since these shows just finished their runs, they’ll probably be on Netflix within a couple of months I guess. I was never a big “24” fan — i had to suspend a little to much belieft for it and Keifer sort of bugs me.

  9. Ugh. I am so waiting for American Horror Story to come through Netflix. I hope it happens soon. Homeland, too. I just finished season 3 of Eureka – and I haven’t a clue when seasons 4 and 5 will be released. Also waiting for BBC’s Being Human. I agree – there is a great deal of good TV out there to view… provided Netflix updates their streaming library.

    • LD — it will be really interesting to see how the streaming vs broadcast models evolve. I think we’re really going to get to a place soon, where you’re going to pay to have access to content and it will almost all be there.

  10. I so want to read and watch Game of Thrones. I feel behind because I have been so immersed in school this last semester. Thus watching good involved TV was tough. I have homeland and AHS queued up to go now. I’ll be interested to see how my assessments match with yours.

  11. Well! Of course you know how much I heart American Horror Story. I hope the second season is as ‘must-see’ as the first. Even with all new characters, settings, etc., it could be an excellent show.
    I don’t have Showtime so I couldn’t watch Homeland. I heart Damian Lewis (& Clare Danes) so I know at some point (when? who knows), I ‘ll catch up with it on DVD.
    I am sooooooo tempted to watch Game of Thrones OnDemand! I bought the first book, but haven’t read it yet. If I can catch up on Mad Men, I may give this a whirl before season 2 starts.

    • Val — I think it’s a courageous (and smart) step to tell one story on AHS each season. That way characters and plotlines don’t get bogged down.

      I’d be curious to see how you like GoT if you don’t read the book first. Most of the folks (i.e. nerds) I know have already read the books, so we were doing a lot of compare and contrast to the source material — a lot what like people did with the Lord of the Rings movies. I’d like to hear what a fresh viewer thinks.

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