The 11 Best TV Shows of 2011

Because it’s Saturday, we’re talking television. That’s when Amber Humphrey publishes her weekly entry of Channel Guide, our twice-weekly column on all things television. But there’s something else at work this week. It might be Saturday, but it’s also the final day of the year. And what better way to send off our coverage of television in the year 2011 than with a list of the shows that we loved most dearly. In order to do so, Channel Guiders Amber Humphrey and Mikela Floyd each contributed their picks for the five best shows of the year, in no particular order. In keeping with our ’11 Best’ theme for the Year in Review, FSR Publisher and closet television fanatic (don’t tell movies, we don’t want them to be jealous) Neil Miller throws in one final pick with his own best show of the year. All powers combined, they have unleashed our list of the 11 Best TV Shows of 2011.

Friday Night Lights

Best TV of 2011: Friday Night Lights

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t stop crying. Listen, you guys. I was initially reluctant to open my heart to the citizens of Dillon, TX – fearful that their high school goings-on would be all-too-similar to my own adolescent experience in the South. Once I finally got around to watching this on Netflix in early 2011, it took me only a few months to power through 4 seasons of what I can only describe as the most humanly real television show in decades. And while the rough-and-tumble kids of East Dillon (spoiler alert for you FNL newbs, sorry) were hard to embrace at first, by the fifth and final season, I wept along with the best of them as we said goodbye to Tami, Eric, Matty, and the whole gang. Texas forever. - Mikela Floyd

Raising Hope

Best TV of 2011: Raising Hope

You know how they say that you only find true love when you aren’t looking for it? Well, if I’d had the energy to reach for the remote control and change the channel after Glee that fateful Tuesday night in 2010, I may have never met and subsequently fallen in love with the Chance family. The show’s second season has been as consistently funny as its first—not since Shakespeare have malapropisms been used so brilliantly. Raising Hope may pull you in with its quirk but this underrated gem has heart, and that’s what keeps you watching every week. There’s also a really cute baby, which doesn’t hurt.  - Amber Humphrey

Game of Thrones

Best TV of 2011: Game of Thrones

Yep, I’m gonna go ahead and beat a dead horse with this one, but in the words of Parks and Rec’s own Ben Wyatt – “It’s a crossover hit!” This seemed to be 2011′s “water cooler” show, and I drank the George R. R. Martin Kool-Aid in a big way. I read the book before diving into the show, which often results in the inevitable argument of authenticity. However, this human/fantasy hybrid is as true to the source material as they come. - Mikela Floyd

Fringe

Best TV of 2011: Fringe

The fourth season of Fringe has been suspenseful and episodes like “One Night in October” prove that this high concept science-fiction series is as poignant and emotionally affecting as any drama currently on the air. John Noble is a wonder—his Walter Bishop is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious. (How many alternate versions of a character does a man have to portray before he gets a little Emmy recognition?) Each new season of Fringe is better than the one that came before it; this year has been no exception.  - Amber Humphrey

Downton Abbey

Best TV of 2011: Downton Abbey

Good God, is this show wonderful. This British drama came stateside in January, and I never looked back. It combines incest, class struggles, period costumes, and sex-related deaths – all required characteristics of winning TV in this viewer’s mind. OK, not really – but this tale of a British Abbey and its inhabitants of all classes is as intoxicating as the wine the servants get accused of stealing. - Mikela Floyd

Enlightened

Best TV of 2011: Enlightened

Amy Jellicoe is probably the most annoying character on TV today (she’s far more annoying than that skeevy cook on2 Broke Girls or that kid who’s always whining about his girlfriend on Terra Nova). She’s relentless, says things that are ripped straight from New Age self-help books, she’s the kind of person you’d dread being in the same room with. But Amy is also one of the most complex and expertly rendered characters on TV. In an instant she can shift from hippie dippy spiritualism to cursing someone out. She’s human and, just like an actual human, isn’t always (or even usually) likable. Enlightened is one of this year’s best series because it’s well-written and the actors are all excellent (Luke Wilson in particular deserves some credit), but mainly because it’s unique and unsettling in that way that avant-garde art is. Enlightened isn’t easily digested and I kind of love that.  - Amber Humphrey

Happy Endings

Best TV of 2011: Happy Endings

I’m not shy about my love for this tale of late twenty somethings who in their own ways are as uniquely neurotic as I often realize myself to be. It’s a-mah-zing. There’s fearful spinster Penny, filter-less and abrasive Max (who will get a tattoo on his body to save money on a 99 cent food item, and also has some of the best one-liners on TV today), neurotic and aloof Jane, her husband Brad, sister alex, and Dave – Alex’s former fiancé. These people go through everyday situations with what will never be constituted as grace, but they do it together. One minute, they’re eating free seafood in plush bathrobes; the next screaming, vomiting, crying, and generally reacting poorly to a potentially life-threatening situation. But don’t worry, they’ll still browse pay per view after. These are my people. - Mikela Floyd

Torchwood: Miracle Day

Best TV of 2011: Torchwood: Miracle Day

You many not see this one on many (or any other) year-end lists but there wasn’t anything that I was more addicted to in 2011. Torchwood: Miracle Day was engrossing, smart, and managed to maintain the integrity of the series despite the introduction of several new American characters. Though some people were critical of its lack of an alien menace, I actually applaud the decision. In the past, Captain Jack has stood toe-to-to with the biggest, baddest extraterrestrial villains, so if the show was ever going to progress, it was essential that he and the rest of the crew be challenged in a completely different way. Miracle Day also highlighted how badass Gwen Cooper is. She’s one of the greatest sci-fi heroines of our time and it’s always going to be exciting to watch her do just about anything—I wouldn’t hesitate to tune in for Torchwood: Gwen Eats Some French Fries or Torchwood: Gwen Buys Paper Towels.  - Amber Humphrey

Parks and Recreation

Best TV of 2011: Parks and Recreation

Remember Season 1 of this “Office Spinoff”? The one where we all cringed and worried that the mockumentary-style of TV had “jumped the shark”? Well, with the roll that this show has been on this season, it’s time to give Pawnee the benefit of the doubt. To quote from innumerable television-centric voices, this show has really “come into its own,” and how. If the addition of a surprisingly hilarious Rob Lowe weren’t enough, they threw in the (until-recently) television-doomed Adam Scott, a personal favorite. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the number of ways this show has become appointment viewing. Parks and Rec is like a weekly meme factory, adding yet another layer with which to connect to the characters – Treat yo self! Tom Haverfoods! Anything Ron Swanson! The internet has given us many gifts this year, many Pawnee-related. More than that, it warms my heart on a weekly basis, and I hope that never stops. Now, if you need me, I’ll be treatin’ myself into the new year. - Mikela Floyd

Boardwalk Empire

Best TV of 2011: Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire has been solid since day one. The storytelling is beautifully textured, riveting, bold, and it’s the only series to have ever moved me with its technical virtuosity—the editing is amazing. The first season set us firmly and satisfyingly in the era—familiarizing us with the people, the politics, the bootlegging, and teetotalism of 1920s Atlantic City. But this year was filled with so many “what the eff” moments that the wait from week to week was totally unbearable. Incest, infidelity, polio—there was no telling what was going to happen next. The jaw-dropping dénouement just showed that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the Nucky Thompson saga. - Amber Humphrey

Sons of Anarchy

Best TV of 2011: Sons of Anarcy

As the editor and final contributor of this piece, I had the luxury of looking over the entire list assembled by the ever-wonderful Mikela and Amber and think, “what one show can I add to this list?” Several shows instantly sprung to mind. The likes of Breaking Bad, with its fantastic fourth season cutting through the middle of 2011 like a knife. And Doctor Who, which continues to be sensational. Or how about BBC’s Sherlock, one of the great miniseries events we’ve seen in a long, long time. That said, none of those won like Kurt Sutter’s constant climax of a show in Sons of Anarchy. It’s fourth season was a roller-coaster of violence, grease and deception. It was perhaps the best written, best acted, most deviously fun and outright entertaining show that aired in all of 2011. And even though we chose not to put any particular order to this list, it feels right to end with the gentlemen of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Originals. - Neil Miller

For more of the best and worst of the year, check out the rest of our 2011 Year in Review.


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