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Television

So Long, 2011

Well, that’s basically it for 2011.  But before I say goodbye,  what would the end of December be without a “Best of” List?

First up the best comedies and dramas of the year.

Comedies:

  1. Parks and Recreation
  2. Community
  3. Cougar Town

Dramas:

  1. Treme
  2. The Good Wife
  3. Parenthood

And now, for the superlatives:

Best Villain – Mags Bennett, Justified, FX

Margo Martindale’s performance as the villain of FX’s sophomore series was downright Shakespearean in its tragic complexity.  Mags was domineering, sharp and unpredictable.  Always a few steps ahead.  But she wasn’t just a power-hungry crime family boss.  She was a mother first and that was her downfall.  She tries to redeem herself for the poor job she did with her sons by trying to be a mother to Loretta McCready, after she poisoned her father.  Her death by her own hand (and her own “Apple Pie” moonshine, which also was the weapon of choice with Mr. McCready) was a powerful way to end the second season.  I am a little sorry that Martindale won’t be around when the show returns, but I am looking forward to watching Tim Olyphant and Walton Goggins continue their game of cat and mouse.

Best Import – Downton Abbey, PBS

I think that the amount of awards “Downton” has racked up stateside speaks for itself.  The second series begins on PBS on January 8th, and I’m pretty psyched.  It isn’t hard to figure out why it was such a hit over here.  The acting is splendid, the sets and clothes are gorgeous, and it feels like you’re reading between the lines of a classic comedy (and more than occasional drama) of manners.  But it’s entirely new, with a wink at the modern viewer.  Did anyone else expect the Turkish diplomat to die after he slept with Mary?  I certainly didn’t.  Actually, Fellowes and company had me from the moment Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess Violet Grantham asked Dan Stevens’ working class Mathew Crawley “What is a week-end?”

Best Pleasant Surprise – Awkward, MTV

High quality scripted series and MTV aren’t two ideas that are generally mentioned in the same sentence, but delightful is the best way to describe MTV’s hit summer comedy series “Awkward.”  Ashley Rickards plays Jenna Hamilton.  She’s you’re average sarcastic high school wallflower, until a series of unexpected events turn all eyes on her.  She receives a “care-frontation” letter from an anonymous source that tells her all the reasons why she could disappear and no one would notice.  Then to make matters worse, Jenna subsequently has an accident (and very noticeable cast) that looks to everyone at school like she tried to kill herself. But at the end of the pilot, Jenna just decides, to hell with it, it wasn’t quite the way she wanted to be noticed, but she’s going to own it.  It’s a surprisingly great message from a network that brought the scourge that is “Jersey Shore,” upon the world.  The writing is intelligent and the characters are endearing.  “Awkward,” also features one of the best love triangles on TV right now, between Jenna, Beau Mirchoff’s jock-with-depth Matty and Brett Davern’s outgoing yet secretly nerdy class president Jake.

Best Romance – Snow White (Mary Margaret) and Prince Charming (David Nolan), Once Upon a Time, ABC

It’s the highest rated show of the new season.  But let’s not forget that there’s a pretty major reason why “Once” has been working so well.  It has had a built-in audience and emotional buy-in from day one.  These characters and stories have resonated with generations of people, especially those Disney nerds who grew up in the eighties and nineties with the films made by ABC’s parent company Disney, and who are now a part of the ever-coveted 18-49 viewing demographic.  It’s true, the premise guaranteed viewers the first time out, at least of out of morbid curiosity, but what made viewers stick around, or at least what made me keep watching was the construction and the ever-expanding nature of this world and the connections between the characters that we know and love, especially the romance between Snow White and Prince Charming. These characters originally were kind of blank slates, but the chemistry between Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas, makes you root for them, for them, not just because it’s the happy ending that’s expected.

Best Guilty Pleasure – Vampire Diaries, The CW

Kevin Williams and Julie Plec are the masters of the shocking twist and they go through plot like the world’s going to end.  And I mean that in the best way possible.  It’s true that the high school set supernatural drama is heavy on the vampires, werewolves, gratuitious shirtlessness and love triangles, but three seasons in, the biggest surprise of all is that the most significant relationship on the show isn’t the one between the leading man and lady.  Family, both blood related and those that that are created by circumstance is what is the most important in Mystic Falls.  I’m consistently impressed by the level of the acting, especially from Nina Dobrev, who plays Elena and her morally ambiguous, centuries old vampire doppelganger Katherine.  And it’s just fun to watch a show where the female characters get to kick some ass.

Best Crime Series That Could – Southland, TNT

Naturalistic and intense, with a blue streak and a darker sense of humor, the LAPD set drama Southland, after being axed by NBC after an abbreviated first season, was given a second chance when “We Know Drama,” cable network TNT picked it up.  The third season ended with a betrayal and a heartbreaking death of a series regular.  The anticipated fourth season is coming up later on this winter, and Lucy Liu is joining the already strong cast of Regina King, Shawn Hatosy, Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz.

Best Mercy Killing – The Playboy Club, NBC

NBC cancelled it after just three episodes with good reason.  The writing was turgid at best and laughable at worst.  The show relied heavily on a devoid-of-charisma Eddie Cibrian (indeed, trying to do his best Don Draper) and Amber Heard as the club’s newest and most naïve employee.  But here’s the thing.  The show also starred Broadway star Laura Benanti (who gave a searing performance as Gypsy Rose Lee in the revival of “Gypsy” a few years ago).  Unfortunately, Benanti was given little to do except scowl and perform in the club as the over-the-hill den mother to the Bunnies.  Joss Whedon alum Sean Maher (the adorable Dr. Simon Tam on “Firefly”) played a closeted campaign manager.  He was in a marriage of convenience to a lesbian Bunny and they were working to develop a Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society.  Clearly, there could have at least have been a compelling, if not mediocre, show in there had the focus had been shifted earlier on in the development stage.

Best Missed Opportunity: 17th Precinct

“17th Precinct” was the newest pilot from Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore.  It was recently leaked online, and viewers got a sense of what they would be missing now that NBC passed on the show this past May.   It starred Stockard Channing, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer, and Matt Long as members of the Excelsior (an alternate universe San Francisco) Police Department.  They live in a world that is exactly like ours except for the fact that magic, intuition and natural power is a part of their everyday life.  It’s definitely a high concept premise.  But I couldn’t help but be intrigued at the end of the episode when it was revealed that the “big bad” of the series was going to be a terrorist group called “The Stoics,” who were dedicated to wiping out magic and replacing it with science and rationality by any means necessary.  While I have never seen Battlestar (it’s on my to-do list), and I wasn’t completely enamored with “Caprica,” but if anyone can pull off something that’s all about big ideas, it’s Moore.  And as long as we’re talking about “high concept,” it seems a little unjust that this wasn’t given a shot, even on Friday nights, when ABC is going to start airing the cross-dressing “comedy” “Work It,” after the new year.

Best Goodbye – Friday Night Lights, Direct TV/NBC

Perfection.

Here’s to a fantastic 2012.

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