Meth shenanigans, Austenian redux, zombies, and dawning enlightenment.
1. Breaking Bad Like a modern day Heart of Darkness, Breaking Bad continues to masterfully chart chem-teacher-turned-meth-kingpin Walter White’s descent into immorality. Bad is addictive, and this season delivered perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment of the series.
2. Downton Abbey Julian Fellowes’ ode to Austen may not have been on your radar because it aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theater, but if romantic period dramas brimming with meaningful lingering looks, sentences that trail off uncompleted yet potent, witticisms, and Dame Maggie Smith are your thing (let’s be honest, everyone loves Maggie Smith), you need to watch this show.
3. Community One part TV show and one part grand experiment – can we make a critical observation about My Dinner with Andre and Pulp Fiction that ends in a poop joke? Or how about an anime sequence about Foosball just to test the waters for an entire anime episode? – Community is perhaps the smartest show on TV. Unfortunately, like other smart shows that came before it (#SaveOurBluths), Community currently faces the ratings ax. Instead, we get Whitney.
4. Homeland The return of Claire Danes and the complex political TV thriller, Homeland is 24 meets The West Wing with a savvy post 9/11 perspective and a captivating story arc that makes it the most talked about new show of 2011.
5. The Good Wife A study of the modern id couched in a smart procedural format that riffs on current events, The Good Wife showcases human nature, which carefully orchestrates and twists societal and legal rules to its advantage. At the center of this Hobbesian universe is a strong woman who confronts and redefines the titular characteristics at every turn.
6. Enlightened The best show on TV that you’re not watching, Enlightened is sometimes a maelstrom and sometimes a gentle breeze, but it is constantly, urgently, gently, pushing and at the heart of it all is Laura Dern who has immersed herself so deeply in the painfully genuine Amy Jellicoe that you don’t realize how brilliant the show is until you let Amy in.
7. The Walking Dead Last season saw Rick Grimes and gang moving often and quickly, but this season has so far been about immobility. Each week felt like the characters were on the edge of a cliff, and any number of things could push them into the abyss, not the least of them being Shane’s alpha male huffing and puffing (and blowing out Otis’ kneecap). In reality, not much happened from week to week, but to the show’s great credit, The Walking Dead managed to maintain its heart-stopping tension.
8. Parks and Recreation Eternally optimistic and dedicated Leslie Knope would seem a rarity amongst government employees, but not in Pawnee, Indiana where effervescent optimism seems to fortify the drinking water and even curmudgeons Ron Swanson and April Ludgate have good intentions hidden behind their misanthropic refrain. Parks and Rec’s bubbly do-gooder mission remains refreshing amidst the often depressing media landscape.
9. Game of Thrones They said it was un-filmable, but like the Lannisters, HBO laughs in the face of danger and high price tags. A brooding and intricate epic of the caliber rarely seen outside of miniseries territory, Game of Thrones demands your loyalty and pays you back by subverting expectations and not coddling you with simplification. Also, what would you say about the weather if you couldn’t say, “Winter Is Coming?”
10. New Girl Quirky, and though I hate to say it, “adorkable,” New Girl is a love/hate half-hour of TV, and I think that’s good. Shows that polarize their audiences usually have a strong voice (like the aforementioned Enlightened), and New Girl is nothing if not it’s own brand of comedy. Deschanel’s Jess is this generation’s Seinfeld, the actor inextricable from the character and seemingly unaware of absurdity. New Girl won’t likely find itself on many TV top ten lists, but I think its interpretation of the sitcom will have an impact and therefore merits a place (albeit, barely) on this list.
Cross posted at The Faster Times