Slam Adams’ Top 10 TV Shows of 2011

Well, it is that time again. The end of the year is always marked with a number of lists ranking the pop culture additions we were fortunate (and sometimes unfortunate) to experience. Here is my personal favorite television series of this year. Seeing as this is the world wide web, I feel like I should make a disclaimer that I am American so this is pretty much limited to what I had available.

10. The Walking Dead

This year we got to see the pre-holiday half of the second season to the critically acclaimed AMC show based on the graphic novel of the same name. It was widely criticized this year for focusing more on the survivors and the trauma and feelings they were experiencing during this end of the world scenario rather than the zombie kill-a-thon they hoped it would be. Regardless, it is still a gripping drama subverting what we have come to expect from the zombie sub-genre, and I for one am definitely interested is where it is going.

9. Fringe

After how last season ended, I wasn’t really sure how Fringe would continue. I mean, they were short one character, and he played a huge role in how awesome the tv show turned out. Instead, the showrunners have deftly kept him involved and reintroduced him without feeling contrived. In fact, it did the exact opposite as it added more mystery and scope to how science is effecting the fabric of reality itself. I feel safe saying that while it may remain completely on the bubble, it delivers in ways that much of science fiction television doesn’t.

8.  Lights Out

Lights Out was a short lived show (very short as it was cancelled the same year it debuted). It centered on a former professional boxer who is trying to get back into the game after his brother used up his money on a bad investment. It was nice seeing a show that didn’t rely on following a cop or a doctor. Sure, he was still a pseudo-celebrity with a cool job, but it definitely made an attempt to break away from the pack. The cast was led by Holt McCallany, a successful character actor, who did an impressive job taking the lead.

7. Hung

Thomas Jane is one of those actors that has undying fanboy support. Luckily, he is found success on television. As part of HBO’s sex dramedy Hung, Jane puts all of his best features to good use: older man good looks, undeniable charm, blue collar pride, and deadpan wit. After a disappointing second season, the show gave rise to this year’s very awesome third. Jane’s character, Ray, is in a really good place. He has fixed his house, his relationships are stronger than ever, and he has gone into business with his partner/pimp. The whole series has been about Ray fixing his woes, but this year has decided to focus on everyone else’s and how Ray can help them. This really drives home the idea behind his prostitution. It isn’t just about sexually satisfying people, but helping people get straightened out in real life. This is a better love letter and metaphor for the current nature of its city setting, Detroit.

6. Homeland

Homeland is definitely the best new series of 2011. It follows an emotionally unstable CIA agent who is investigating the possibility that an American POW has been turned by Middle Eastern terrorists. It brings all the espionage action and thrills that a show like 24 could offer, but it also brings a sense of character and drama that you do not find in most mainstream action thrillers. The cast is made up of a number of strong contenders. Claire Danes shines as the emotionally unstable CIA agent. Sometimes she plays her mania with a slow burn, sometimes it is with an emotional outburst, but it is all emotionally engaging. Her suspect is played by Damian Lewis who brings a surprising charm to his possible terrorist, while her mentor is the linchpin of the entire show played with a humor and intensity of underrated actor, Mandy Patinkin.

5.  Community

Constantly on the bubble and never given the respect it deserves by the audience, Community offers one of the greatest ensembles in comedy today. The characters could not be more different, yet their chemistry is palpable. The movie takes a lot of pride in subverting what everyone else is doing. This variety show aspect of the show may very well be why it can not find a mainstream audience, but it is also its greatest strength. It knows how to be funny and meaningful at the same time, taking advantage of everyone else’s strengths but none of their weaknesses. This year even added John Goodman. How could anyone hate John Goodman?

4. Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy follows the titular motorcycle club that runs guns on the side. Created by a writing veteran of one of my favorite shows, The Shield, it is jam packed with plenty of violent behavior and gritty realities. This year saw much of the “Hamlet on motorcycles” that it was marketed as come true. The history of the club runs deep with betrayals and murder forcing all the character to face hard decisions and brutal truths. This year Sons of Anarchy has its greatest season yet, not even its disappointing two-part finale could kill the shows integrity as the momentum has taken on a life of its own.

3. Louie

Louie C. K. has become one of the most prolific comedians working today. One of the things that is most impressive is his work-ethic. He has earned a reputation to not repeat jokes. Once he has immortalized them on either an album or tv special, he never says it again. He has redefined stand up comedian mixing wholesome family humor with a filthy vocabulary. This is his show in a nutshell. There is a chaotic nature to it. Sometimes the plot is a full half hour and sometimes it is two little shorts. There is also very little continuity, but that is ok, because the plot literally only serves as a vehicle for Louie to make a funny and sometimes poignant point. As pretty much the only writer/director the show has, it is a singular vision with plenty of nuance and surprising arthouse cinema influence.

2. Justified

Justified follows the exploits of US Marshall Rayland Givens, played to perfection by Timothy Olyphant, who finds himself relocated to his hometown butting heads with all his old neighborhood crooks, the worst of all being his old mining buddy, Boyd Crowder, again played to perfection by the underrated Walton Goggins. The sophomore season is made even more amazing by its villain. Margo Martindale plays a motherly criminal mastermind who pulls all the strings from her lunkhead sons. Her bad side is made all the more bad by how trusting and honest she comes off. If she doesn’t sweep the yearly Supporting Actress accolades than a great injustice has been done.

1. Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is simply one of the greatest television experiences of all time. It puts some of this year’s best storytelling events to absolute shame.  This season saw Bryan Cranston’s mild-mannered teacher to badass drug dealer turned into a sniveling weakling. By anyone else’s standards this would sound terrible, but Cranston and showrunner Vince Gilligan make it work. It leaves room for villain Gus and sidekick Jesse to take the limelight. Both of them outperform Cranston here, yet in its final few episodes it shows Cranston’s true colors. He is still the badass we know and love. This is Breaking Bad’s second to last season, and it set up Walt, Jesse, and everyone else up for what should be the greatest series finale of all time. Sorry to hype it up, buts its true!