Sam's Top 10 Favorite Shows of 2011
Sam's TV Top 10 List
10. The Office
I wasn't sure if it would be The Office or Modern Family taking the last spot on my list and in the end I went with The Office because of the send-off for Steve Carrell. I don't think the season was particularly memorable for any reasons other than Michael Scott leaving and getting with Amy Ryan's Holly. I'd like to think that they are playing in their yard in Denver or wherever they sent them. In some ways, this felt like the series finale of the show since Michael often provided the heart (especially since the Jim and Pam situation was resolved seasons ago) and there doesn't seem like much of a pull to see what happens to everyone at this point. So far this current season has certainly given it the ol' college try but it just feels like an old dog amongst the cute new puppies of Community and Parks and Recreation. I hope the show ends soon and we get to check in on Michael. Also Andy and Erin are still trying to bang. Don't know how that's gonna work.

Best Episode: "Goodbye Michael" Watch the video:

9. 30 Rock

Oooohh yeaah, this WAS a show that was on. It seems like forever ago, but 30 Rock had a solid season in 2011 (though certainly not its best as the show gets up there in years). The show demonstrated that it still has some life by working around a storyline that reflects real NBC's immanent sale to Comcast. In 30 Rock world Kabletown is taking over things and that leads to plenty of storylines. Think of it as getting a female cast member pregnant. Liz is still working on her relationship with Carol, Tracy is basking in the glory of being an EGOT winner and Kenneth, well Kenneth is still exactly the same, if maybe a bit crazier. I'm curious how much the show has left in the tank, as Alec Baldwin seems to think he's done after this season. Either way, 30 Rock is no longer the major force in the NBC comedy lineup that it once was, but I'm looking forward to some more funny episodes.

Best Episode: "Queen of Jordan" proved to be a bit of a grower on me. At first I wasn't a fan but as I kind of let it sink in I was really impressed by the writers playing with the format of the show. Also honorable mention to "Live Show" just for being a gimmick that I found to be lots of fun.

8. South Park

I don't have much to say about this season of South Park other than it's been hit or miss like it's been for the last few years. Simply, it's funny when it doesn't get too caught up in its own points and ideology and when it does it makes for one-note episodes.

Best Episode: One of the more interesting episodes of South Park in a long time was "You're Getting Old," which many viewers took as Matt and Trey saying that they were growing tired of the show. In reality, it was merely a contained storyline about growing up and how when you reach a certain age you kind of hate everything and think it's all crap. Don't worry though; South Park is around for a few more years at least. The ending of the episode was strangely sobering and that made it one of the most memorable shows in a while.

7. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

OK, OK I know the season isn't finished yet, as of this writing there is still another episode left, but this it's more or less done and how can I leave fat Mac off of this list? In an inspired move Rob Mcelhenny gained fifty pounds because he thought it would be funny. Turns out it was as it served as a great running joke throughout the show's seventh season. We even get a fun backstory episode that shows the origin of his massive weight gain. This season was hit and miss, but even then this devious show still outshines most things on television. The gang, as usual, was at their best when they were at their nastiest. Running those child beauty pageants, ogling a weather lady instead of preparing for a storm or heading down to the Jersey Shore for some real debauchery brought out the best (worst) in Dee, Mac, Dennis, Charlie and Frank. DeVito's Frank is now so far off the deep end, I think it's a safe bet to call him television's most disgusting character of all time. I mean that in only the best way.

Best Episode: "Frank Reynolds' Little Beauties" commented on this disturbing trend of child beauty pageants by letting the gang loose on a bunch of kids who need to put on a show for their weird stage parents. Frank is the real star of this episode as he is so obsessed with appearing to not be a weird pedophile that he ends up looking exactly like the worst pedophile from hell. It's quite entertaining.

6. Archer

Archer is kind of my popcorn show and it brought the entertainment back in its second season, though it ran with kind of a dark streak. We found out that Archer, the playboy spy to end all spies, had cancer and the show dealt with him going through chemotherapy. More importantly it dealt with this while remaining funny and even edgy. For example, check out my favorite episode of the season, "Placebo Effect" which is basically Archer going on a revenge bender and taking people out with no mercy. It's violent while still maintaining the dry humor that just drips out of Jon Benjamin's mouth. It was like a hilarious Tarantino revenge flick. I'll take that any day.

Best Episode: Didn't you read the paragraph above?

5. Friday Night Lights

Thank Jebus for Netflix Watch Instantly since I was able to catch up with all of Friday Night Lights before I had to write this list. Thankfully, it was worth the hours of "work" to watch the show and get its spot here. FNL was a criminally under-watched show that took a high school drama to the next level. I admit that I have my problems with the show, but that often stems from season to season reboots that feel a bit like cheating. The last season of the show did an excellent job closing up shop and provided a satisfying end for the characters I cared most about-Coach, Mrs. Coach, Matt and the Riggins. We also had a heart pounding State championship game to boot. Michael B. Jordan (WIRE!) did a great job picking up after most of the other leads left. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton delivered as they did every season and their conflict about whether to follow Tami or Eric's dream was handled with care. I started watching this show after seeing Kyle Chandler's win on the Emmy's. I wasn't mad then because I had only heard great things and it was nice to see someone from a show that gets little recognition win the big prize. After actually watching the show I felt even better about Chandler's win. It's just a damn shame Britton didn't get a statue of her own. Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can't lose.

Best Episode: Another no-brainer: "Always", the series finale which was a satisfying ending that would leave any FNL fan smiling or, in my case, tearing up.

4. Community

Writing about Community is bittersweet since it's going on hiatus and its future is in doubt. But season two was UNINTERUPTED GLORY, most of the time anyway. I think of Parks and Recreation as the strongest narrative comedy while Community excels in concept episodes. Season two showed that that expands beyond just parodies. They faked out audiences with what at first looked like a Pulp Fiction episode that turned out to be a My Dinner with Andre homage, paintball returned with "A Fist Full of Paintballs" and a Christmas episode that used the classic stop motion animation. Community often gives glimpses into underlying issues (ie: relationships amongst the group members) without spending full episodes hashing those issues out. It's also a show that seems tailor made for television and film nerds, with every episode jam-packed with references and winks at the camera. For the most part these were endearing, clever and most importantly funny. When it's on its game, Community can be the top comedy on television. I think it lacked the consistency of Parks and Recreation but was easily just as funny.

Best Episode: The general consensus on this season was "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas" which was a hat tip to television Christmas specials past while still being a fun, touching episode of Community. It was also fun to see how everyone looks in Claymation form.

3. Parks and Recreation

After a second season that established Parks and Recreation as one of the best shows on television, there was no slowing it down for season three. The cast was bolstered by the presence of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe who each came into their own after being introduced in the back half of season two. Unfortunately, we had to wait until January to get the beginning of PParks and Rec but it was worth the wait. Leslie and the Parks Department work on putting on the Harvest festival that turned out to be a solid arch for the season and lead to some hilarious episodes. In fact, now that I think about it, season three was probably even better than season two. Tall order, yes but looking at an episode list it looks like a greatest hits collection. We had the hilarious "Flu Season" where everyone gets sick and gives us maybe the best single line of all time ("Stop pooping") and "Harvest Festival where we meet the legendary Lil Sebastian. Parks and Recreation is an exceptional show because its characters work seamlessly with each other and are so well drawn. While Ron Swanson gets much of the attention, Amy Poehler has grown into Leslie Knope very, very well. We even get a solid will they/won't they between Leslie and Ben that is still paying dividends in the current season. Parks and Rec makes me so consistently happy because the laughs are there, but more importantly there's a ton of heart.

Best Episode: That whole "heart" thing leads me to "Fancy Party" which was one of many great episodes, but felt like it had the strongest emotional core. April and Andy decide to get married on a whim and Leslie tries to stop it in a very sitcom-y way. When April and Andy get married anyway, it subverted my expectations while still completely making sense given how the two characters were established. If only every show could handle their couples as well as April and Andy.

2. Louie

Louie wasn't always the funniest comedy this year, but I'm confident in saying that it was the best. I probably only feel that way because it didn't feel the need to make its audience laugh all the time. What's amazing about Louie is that it is a rarely pure television show. It's written, directed, stars and often even edited by Louis CK, who is nothing short of a genius. He takes us on a journey through his mind, which includes the absurd (seeing a bum get decapitated on the way to a date), the heartfelt (the amazing "Duckling") and the downright sad (a visit from his old comic pal Eddie played surprising well by Doug Stanhope). This season was also largely about what it means to be a comic. The aforementioned episode "Eddie" is about the guys who didn't make it, "Joan" is about getting down and dirty and working clubs you may feel above playing because it's your damn job and last but certainly not least "Oh Louie/Tickets" where we see Louie meet with the anti-comic's comic, Dane Cook, as they discuss the real-life alleged joke-stealing that has been the talk of the internet (just type Dane Cook stealing jokes into YouTube). Week to week I really had no idea what I was going to get from CK and it was almost always a complete joy.

Best Episode: Again, difficult to pick one stand out since all the episodes were so different. But the one that stood out to me was "Duckling", a full hour about Louie's trip to Iraq to entertain the troops. It was an amazing peak into the USO circuit that we hear so much about.

1. Breaking Bad

I think this pick comes as no surprise to anyone who regularly watches Breaking Bad. I don't think it's just the best show of 2011, I think it's the best show currently on the air (that's right, Mad Men). Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul reminded us why they have a nice collection of Emmy statues. We're slowly seeing the descent of Walter White, who seems to sink lower and lower each season. I think we may have even seen the moment where he turned into a Batman villain (under the house cackling as his life is in tatters). But the finale showed us something we never would have expected from the man we met in season one. When the show is over (supposedly 16 more episodes over two seasons) it'll be fascinating to go back and look at how much the characters have changed. While the people we focus on may have grown and shifted in our eyes, some things remain constant with Breaking Bad: it's beautifully shot, superbly acted and one of the most riveting television programs of all time.

Best Episode: Really tough to pick and there is no wrong answer. Because I have to choose one, I'll say "Problem Dog" which gave us one of the most emotional moments in the series with Jesse returning to NA.

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