Narrowing down the best of the best in 2011 is a tough decision. Most every TV show (without broke girls or half men) had some merit to it this year, proving that the television world is getting continuously better at entertaining us. So a few of our team got together and discussed what the best brand new 2011 shows were. We weren’t able to sit down and breeze through every single new offering, but we did our due diligence on a wide variety of tastes and genres. Enjoy the list, and tell us your favorites in the comments!
1. Game of Thrones
No show in 2011 had people talking as much as Game of Thrones did. Period. No matter how many of us swooned over Walter White’s antics in Breaking Bad or who rooted for Leslie and Ben in Parks & Rec, when Game of Thrones aired we all gathered together in anticipation and awe. This show is a perfect example of how premium stations like HBO and Showtime have enough freedom to create entire believable worlds. Game of Thrones may be the first TV show ever that’s tempted so many viewers to go out and read the entire series before the next installment. A must-see for fans of true epic television, and even those who enjoyed previous HBO shows like The Sopranos, for a surprising amount of character and detail is jam packed into each hour. Oh, and three words. Winter. Is. Coming.
If Game of Thrones is the epitome of grandeur, Homeland is its slightly-neurotic little brother. From writers who gave us 24 comes a look at fighting terrorism on American home soil that hits the humanity aspect hard and the drama even harder. It’s difficult to watch and not have immense respect for the amount of time and energy that went into this depiction of real men and women engaged in life-consuming espionage. Claire Danes and Damian Lewis act their hearts out from scene to scene, making each twist understandable from a storyline and character perspective. Fans have no idea what to expect from a second season, but surely it will try our very minds and the edge of our couch cushions.
3. Once Upon a Time
Once Upon a Time does what Grimm merely tries to do, except much, much grander. It truly is the closest thing we have to a fairy tale come to life. The acting and writing have been solid through most of the season and the concept of the show is intriguing enough to keep viewers coming back excited. Each episode delivers on some of its twists while developing worthwhile characters to care about. And, speaking as a team of LOST fan boys, we seriously enjoy some of the easter eggs that reference back to what essentially is Once Upon a Time’s parent show. Because sometimes, in order to grow up, you need to find your inner child and just believe in something incredible.
4. Happy Endings
The Friends equation of three guys plus three girls is too tried and true not to work, but that’s not what makes Happy Endings so watchable. What we have here are six friends who simply cannot take life seriously for more than moments at a time, instead they entertain one another, insult playfully, and use enough random pop culture references to make Community fans do a double-take. Wit is rapid-fire and unapologetic. Yet at the same time there’s a lot of heart to the relationships between these characters, less maybe in the writing but instead evident in the starring cast themselves. It’s clear from the start that they all believe entirely in the show and their budding friendships with one another. One of this year’s best comedies, hands down.
5. Terra Nova
No show gave us more of a roller coaster ride than Terra Nova did. The first few episodes fluctuated between giving us dinosaurs and weak character development, resulting in a show that early on lost its draw. But in a strange way, Terra Nova became another Fringe for the Fox network, because mid-way through the season things started to get more interesting. Characters were revealed for their true nature, plots became more intriguing and varied, and things progressed much faster than the drudging pace of LOST or other shows. And when you wrap the entire season up with such an epic finale as they did, there’s no doubt that Terra Nova plans to be in for the long run. Let’s just hope we’re not already at the tip-top of the coaster.
6. New Girl
The advertising for New Girl was both nauseating and absolutely perfect, the words “Simply Adorkable” imposed on a portrait of Zooey Deschanel doing her best impression of an awkward person. The sitcom which followed could be summed up the same way, at times insufferable for its character embellishments but more frequently brilliant in its dynamics. New Girl’s humor relies entirely on the cast and their emulation of certain character flaws, interacting with each other on various levels of miscommunication and intent. Deschanel shines as expected, although Max Greenfield may be the breakout actor as the over-the-top though charismatic Schmidt. One of the year’s best new comedies by far, New Girl is going to last quite a while, so get in early.
7. American Horror Story
You couldn’t be blamed for calling American Horror Story a bit of a mess at first glance. But what played out for the Harmon family in the all-too-aptly titled Murder House became a fascinating study in continued existence for a variety of characters. Rarely if ever resorting to cheap tricks, and saving some juicy twists for down the line, AHS was engaging to the last. It had some flaws, especially considering its tendency to lag towards the end, but its success signified the beginning of a new generation of one-off seasons that hopefully will become more popular over time. Certainly the biggest risk of the year, American Horror Story may yet be a part of TV history.
8. Person of Interest
A lot of crime dramas shoot out of the gates every fall, with success rates resulting at random in terms of viewership and criticism. But Person of Interest seemed to run the best race of this year’s new contenders, its concept a bit vague and constrictive but its execution unique and compelling. It’s always a treat to see Michael Emerson acting his way through any project, and teamed up with Jim Caviezel there’s enough of a give-and-take dynamic to keep twists and turns from getting dull. But most of all, Person of Interest gets on this list because of its potential. For similar to Fringe, there’s a hint of grander storylines just down the stretch. Let’s hope the show lives up to this promise.
It seemed like Wilfred was the most controversial show of 2011; people either thoroughly loved or hated it. The main point of contention centered around whether or not it was simply funny enough to last, for it undeniably played the same style of jokes out for the length of its first season. It also had the pressure of surpassing the poor reputation of its Aussie counterpart, a daunting task for most comedies that make their ways to the states. But no matter which camp you fell into, it was hard to ignore the absolute charm of Jason Gann’s man-inside-a-dog-suit portrayal of Wilfred paired with Elijah Wood’s parade of character flaws. The humor and psychological exploration went a level deeper than for most comedies, well-balanced with the silly dog humor that allowed for a respite from the darker moments. Truly a comedy to watch out for in 2012.
10. Up All Night
Since NBC is such a terrible judge of which comedies will work, their strategy can at times be likened to throwing too many darts with one eye closed. Which is why Up All Night comes as a welcome change of pace, capitalizing on their station’s wealth of associated talent in a mostly non-office environment. In many ways a first world Raising Hope with a height-of-her-game Maya Rudolph spin, Up All Night strips away a lot of the excess and just tries to present a comedy about two parents raising a kid. And like in Wilfred, this straight-forward subject matter is juxtaposed with Rudolph’s character Ava and her TV show, which renders some plots a bit chaotic but leaves the laughs intact.