10
Dec
2011
Random Pop Culture Question of the Week
Best of the Rest 2011-TV
the Staff
Random Pop Culture Question of the Week is a bi-weekly journey into the headspace of the Review to Be Named gang, in which a pop-culture question is posed, answers are sought, and discussions are generated about issues and hypotheticals from throughout the realm of pop culture.

This week, after presenting five great lists on the year in television, we've asked the Review to Be Named Staff to offer any last thoughts on 2011 in television.

Gaila

Two of my favorite shows, Happy Endings and Cougar Town, both had stellar years in 2011, in terms of awesomeness, if not in terms of viewership. Though Cougar Town did not air in the fall (which is so, so sad), it had a great spring, moving even further away from its premise while continuing to be funny, sweet, and occasionally completely insane. The season finale, shot in Hawaii and based around the main character, Jules, attempting to convince her wayward son to return to college, was hilarious and sentimental, as we got to watch this group of people we've come to really enjoy and love interact in an entirely different environment, while Jules and her friends also dealt with some really interesting and compelling stuff. I really love this show, and wish the rest of the world agreed with me.



Happy Endings really hit its stride this year, as the showrunners have figured out which pairings work really well (Max+Penny, Brad+Jane), and what each character's strength is. Happy Endings has a cast of characters I'd most like to hang out with, especially Penny, and I'm just really glad the show exists.


Jordan

There was a lot of great television this year, most of which has been mentioned somewhere or other throughout this week. But it never hurts to give good love twice, right? For me, Breaking Bad was the best thing television had to offer this year, giving us great drama week in and week out, and adding to a legacy that places it in the highest echelons of television. It is truly one of the greatest shows ever made, and I can't wait to watch it stick the landing next year. A show I didn't get to give enough love to (and hadn't even had the chance to watch, until I was forced to catch up to settle a dispute over on our episodes list) was Game of Thrones, which had a stellar first season, transcending a genre I would already have been pleased to see done so well and giving us great performances (I cannot give enough praise to Peter Dinklage, who really gave one of the year's finest performances in any medium as the brilliant, crafty, and often bawdy Tyrion Lannister).



On the comedy side, Archer and Louie turned in pitch-perfect second seasons, each doubling down on the promise they had shown before and taking us to smarter, darker, weirder, and funnier places than ever before. Each show captured its tone perfectly, and each gave us some of the best television of the year. Louie especially nailed it, figuring out how to balance its unique tone perfectly, and creating a television show unlike anything I have ever seen before. And then there's Parks and Recreation and Community which each continued their stellar runs and reached new heights. While the latter stumbled a bit in the middle of its second season, it has recovered nicely in the beginning of its third. And as for the former, well, it is on such an unbroken streak of wins, I'm starting to wonder if the show can do no wrong. Just watch this and tell me that isn't one of the best ensembles on television right now:



Yes, it was a good year to be a TV geek. And if I could go on for another few paragraphs, I could give you many more shows worth praising. Instead, however, I'll let my esteemed colleagues do some of the talking about what they liked best this year.


Michael

I hate to admit it, but all of my tastes are strictly part of the mainstream among TV lovers. I love Breaking Bad, Community and Louie, and I hate Whitney. I also disliked pretty much every show that premiered this year (I've heard mixed things about American Horror Story, but they have a gimp as an integral part of the show and I definitely couldn't take that shit seriously). But the show I was most surprised about, and the one I'd be most embarrassed about admitting to watching, is definitely The New Girl. I have long disliked Zooey Deschanel and am resistant to twee anything, but the show has showed admirable restraint in those two particular fields. Plus, it has a pretty excellent supporting cast to cover up its flaws (Max Greenfield in particular hogs all of the best lines). It even manages to make Justin Long tolerable. And isn't that really all we could ask for? Seriously, check out a couple of episodes and confirm that I'm not crazy. Because I'm not crazy. Would a crazy person ask the Internet if he was crazy?! No, he would watch The New Girl.



Enough digital ink will be spilled about Game of Thrones this holiday season, but I will go on the record to say that it was easily the biggest surprise of the season, a sprawling fantasy series that manages to have some of the most interesting characters and plot lines on TV. To quote another beloved character on a different show, "It's a crossover hit... They're telling real stories in a fantasy setting!" I agree with Jordan about Dinklage, but that show has such a deep roster of great actors that I could stretch myself thin praising each performance. The show even convinced me to read 4500 pages of dense fantasy literature. I now know the names of all the minor houses and vassal lords, the inner structure of the maester's Citadel, the beliefs of several made up religions and the symptoms of mythical diseases. And it all makes me more excited for next season.


Rachel

Richardson, I can't believe you think New Girl has shown restraint in regards to Zooey Deschanel. It so gratuitously revels in Deschanel's obnoxious MPDG status that it sort of makes me want to hurl. I mean, I still watch it every week (I also still watch Whitney), but mostly just to fuel my snarky barbs.

My TV list gave me the chance to shill for Pan Am, which I consider the most criminally underrated show of the season, so I'm going to use my "Best of the Rest-TV" space to talk about a show I adore but haven't really talked about here at RTBN all that often: Alphas. I've briefly discussed my love of Ryan Cartwright, but Alphas, on the whole, is a fantastic ensemble show, starring David Strathairn as Dr. Rosen, the leader of a group of highly evolved real-life superheros he calls "Alphas." Alphas are basically more realistic X-Men, each with some kind of highly developed sense or skill that manifests as a real-world superpower.



The aforementioned Cartwright plays Gary Bell, who can see and manipulate communication signals and wavelengths, which makes him pretty handy at tracking people based on their technological footprint. Then there's Warren Christie as Hicks, who is hyper-kinesthetic, meaning he can process movements of people and objects significantly faster than your average person, giving him time to react quicker and more precisely, which is pretty useful in a fight. Next is Rachel (Azita Ghanizada), who has a highly developed synesthesia, allowing her to visualize and heighten her five senses. Then there's Nina (Laura Mennell), who can "push" people to do what she wants through a subtle form of hypnosis, and Bill (Malik Yoba), who can manipulate his endocrine system at will to create bursts of adrenaline that give him super strength and durability for small segments of time. I love that all of the powers are based in senses rather than the supernatural, and how the show does a great job at presenting the powers as a tactile experience. I also love the complicated parts of the plot, where Rosen and the Alphas struggle with the fact that they work for a government that fears them, and has the ability to take them out, rounding up other Alphas like themselves to basically be recruited or restrained. Rosen, of course, started the Alpha team purely out of scientific curiosity, but the government's manipulation of his mission has resulted in some major issues for everyone on the team. But despite the heavy stuff, at its core, Alphas is a show about people just trying to connect; for these people in particular, their constant sense of other-ness makes it hard, but in the end, it's all about finding the people who get you. In a way, Alphas uses the characters' powers in the same way The Vampire Diaries uses supernatural identities: as a means of representing the struggle to grow and come to terms with who you are and where you belong. And the connections between the characters are so well done, even with all the crime-fighting and government conspiracy story lines, that the people are what make me keep coming back to the show.

Very quickly, because my list was all about what I hated, I want to spend some time on the things I loved, because I don't want all our dear readers thinking I'm just a harpy: Bones finally giving viewers just what we wanted (even if they did kill off my favorite squintern in the process); the shockingly great USA Network shows Suits and White Collar; amnesiac Eric on True Blood; Klaus on The Vampire Diaries; the strangely compelling historical drama of The Borgias; Stephen Colbert's Super PAC; the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, Pretty Little Liars, Ezra Fitz in particular; the growing potential of Treme getting really good, particularly the development of Sonny and Annie; the surprisingly amazing performance of Barry Pepper in the otherwise awful miniseries The Kennedys; and episode 4 of this season of Grey's Anatomy, "What Is It About Men?".


Alex

2011 was the year I caught up (mostly) with television. I watched the entire run of The Wire and caught up with Breaking Bad before the amazing fourth season began. That's probably why I have so many shows I feel I need to let you, dear reader, know about. I'll break it up into three categories, mostly to make it easier for me. First we'll look at a couple cartoons that I think are worth watching, but I haven't been able to keep up with. Then I'll talk about a handful of cartoons that I did keep up with and thoroughly enjoyed. And finally, we'll look at a live action show that, if you are a geek, you have to be watching and if you aren't you better have a damned good reason because so help me god I'll"¦.any who, let's get it started!

The number of shows coming back after being canceled has been growing in the past couple years. Two of them are on this list. Let's start by talking about a duo that had a 14-year hiatus before returning to tempered expectations but amazing results. Beavis and Butt-head might as well have never really left the air. When many heard they were returning no one was really sure if they would still work today like they did in the mid-90s. Their return proved that not only do they still work, but amongst the Jersey Shores and True Lives, they were sorely needed. Mike Judge explained that the characters were never hip. In 93, when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were popular, they were wearing Metallica and AC/DC shirts. The big difference now, and the reason I like the show as much as I do, is instead of making fun of specifically music videos, they mock a bevy of MTV shows from Jersey Shore to True Life as well as UFC fights and YouTube videos. Beavis and Butt-head feels almost as though it were made with this stuff in mind. And it feels good to see all the terrible shows on MTV getting blasted by a show on MTV.



Just half a decade ago I was desperately worried about the state of our children. The next generation had no good kid's TV shows to watch and inspire them. Luckily the next two shows I'm going to talk about easily changed my mind. Adventure Time is a brilliant show that is just starting to show its hand. Based in the strange post apocalyptic land of Ooo populated by candy people and magic dogs and Korean unicorns, it tells a story of unbeatable friendship. I can't really describe what makes it work so well, you kind of just need to watch it. There is an underlying history in the show that I find fascinating. My understanding is that Adventure Time takes place in our far future. They will make references to our present, but haven't explained why most of the inhabitants of the land of Ooo are food people. It's an extremely delightful show and if you want to feel like a kid on Saturday morning again I recommend you check it out.

Another kid's show that I always make sure I watch when a new episode is on is the only thing worth your time on the Disney Channel. No, wait! Don't go! Let me explain. Phineas and Ferb comes from the mind of a pair of creators who worked on one of my favorite shows from my childhood, Rocko's Modern Life. The show is one of the most cleverly written shows on television right now. Notice I didn't use the qualifier of "for a children's show." From past experiences trying to get people to watch the show, I recommend you start around the middle to late first season (it's on Netflix Instant.) After you watch a few episodes and understand the formula that they have for the show, you can see how they start playing with it so that it doesn't become dull. There are no antagonists in the show really, it is on Disney Channel after all. The most antagonistic force is an evil scientist whose plans for domination of the tri-state area include becoming rich off of band-aid sales by inventing a machine that gives everyone paper cuts so they have to buy his band-aids. Their most recent holiday episode had singer Kelly Clarkson as a guest star. She never sang once throughout the whole episode, although not for lack of trying. They just kept telling her to sit down and relax. It's a joke that reminds me of South Park's gag of having George Clooney do the voice of the dog. What makes it so good is that like Pixar, they don't dumb things down for kids. They know kids are smarter than anyone gives them credit for and because of that Phineas and Ferb is a great show for all ages. Also, it has more references to Stanley Kubrick than pretty much anything else being made today.

Speaking of that little town in Colorado, South Park had a great season this year. One episode that stuck out to me is their great skewering of the History Channel (where the truth is history). They combined a tale of Thanksgiving aliens with Thor in a way that only makes sense coming from them. A feat that is all the more impressive if you caught the making-of documentary 6 Days to Air, which offered a fascinating look behind the scenes of how South Park is made. Did you know that the first episode of this season, "HumancentiPad", was finished the morning of the season premiere? You always hear they make each episode of South Park in a week, but to actually see it done was amazing.

Lastly, the show you should be watching if you call yourself a geek: Doctor Who. I enjoy some shows because they make me feel good, others because they make me think, and still others because of the great serialized nature of them. I enjoy Doctor Who for all of those reasons. The premise of the show makes literally anything possible and they use it to it's fullest potential and, occasionally, to heart breaking effect. This season though stands out as really something special as it includes some of my favorite twists on television ever. The fourth episode of the season, "The Doctor's Wife" written by the legendary Neil Gaiman, ranks among my favorite TV episodes of all time. It has some fantastic lines and exchanges and every time I watch it I get misty at the end. It puts a spin on the entire series of Doctor Who, dating back to the early 60s. If you aren't watching Doctor Who, start right now and at the first season of the reboot with Christopher Eccleston so that you get a feel for the show, then you can fall in love with David Tennant and finally you can warm up to Matt Smith and then realize he's a fantastic Doctor with a style all his own. And if you like Jack Harkness you can watch Torchwood, which had an all right miniseries this year as well.


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