OK, so I’ve done the music round-up for the year, so let’s take a look at TV. Below is my list of Top 10 new shows for 2011. After that, you’ll find lists of shows that almost made the list, shows that tried and failed, shows I’m bidding farewell to, a few dubious “awards”, a list of notable miniseries, and my best and worst TV moments of 2011. Remember that the Top 10 list is for new shows which debuted this year. Old faves like Mad Men and Breaking Bad aren’t new, so they don’t count.
My Top 10 New Shows of 2011
#10: The Hour (BBC) – Hailed as “Britain’s answer to Mad Men“, The Hour… wasn’t. Not exactly, anyway. Set in a fictitious BBC current events show of the same name in the 1950s, The Hour features Ben Whishaw as Freddy Lyon, a young and hungry reporter who has been stuck in smoky back rooms making newsreels for the BBC. His close friend and mentor Bel Rowley (the yummy Romola Garai) lands a job producing the new TV show, and hires him. To Freddy’s immense disappointment, Bel’s boss names Hector Madden (Dominic West from The Wire) as the show’s handsome and socially-connected (but mentally lightweight) anchor. There’s plenty of real-life intrigue as the Suez Canal Crisis begins just as the failing show needs something to draw in viewers. And there are plenty behind-the-scenes machinations as love affairs start, people plot against one another for promotions, and the BBC butts heads with the government over The Hour’s coverage of the Suez Crisis. But where the show stumbles is in a spy subplot which Freddy uncovers after pasting news clippings all over his wall a la Rubicon. It’s a quality show, but hopefully they’ll lose the “secret spy stuff” next season. After all, if Mad Men can get by using an ad agency as the backdrop, why can’t The Hour do the same on the set of a TV show?
#9: Shameless (Showtime) – I’ve never seen the original British original, mostly because it was already well into its run by the time I discovered it, and I don’t like jumping in to shows in progress. And, as if it weren’t obvious enough in my TV and movie posts, I’m growing really tired of premium cable shows reveling in people behaving badly. I don’t think we should go back to the days of Father Knows Best by any means, but I’m getting sick of Hollywood putting dysfunction on a pedestal. But I just can’t help myself: I like this show. That’s mainly due to the performances of William H. Macy, Joan Cusack and Emmy Rossum. Yes, the weekly storylines can get old after a while – the whole “dysfunctional family pulls together to solve the problem of the week” thing can grate – but still… I think the show has remarkable depth and heart, even given how screwed up everyone is. Oh, and it’s really funny, too!
#8: Monroe (ITV) – Did you like the first seasons of House? Then you’ll like this series, in which Cold Feet alum James Nesbitt stars as Gabriel Monroe, a brilliant neurosurgeon who is haunted by his young daughter’s death from a brain tumor. His depression and obsession over her death causes his marriage to fall apart, and his bitterly sarcastic style makes him unpopular with his colleagues. But his brilliance always manages to save the day. Mostly. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Writer Peter Bowker has never claimed otherwise. But where House seems to focus on a brilliant man succeeding in spite of himself, we’re sure that Monroe will succeed professionally.. but just might fall apart personally. It’s a haunting and well-made series.
#7: Silk (BBC) – For a British lawyer, there are few honors higher than becoming Queen’s Council. Having the initials “QC” after your name means you can get a job in any firm in the realm, and you’ll probably even be able to pick and choose your clients or causes as it suits you. “Taking silk” is British legal slang for becoming a QC, from the distinctive silk robes QCs wear in court. This show features two attorneys – Martha Costello (Maxine Peake) and Clive Reader (Rupert Penry-Jones) – fighting to become QCs. There’s also a “case of the week”, as well as lots of game playing and backstabbing from other members of the firm, including their respective interns, Nick Slade (Tom Hughes) and Niamh Cranitch (Natalie Dormer, with her natural blonde hair!). The show was created by Peter Moffat, a former barrister and creator of other classic Brit legal dramas like Kavanagh QC, North Square and Criminal Justice. It’s a serious drama that’s also great fun and, according to experts, is quite realistic.
#6: Wild Boys (Seven Network) – If there’s one genre of TV and films I really can’t stand it’s Westerns. I was born in 1971, long after the Old West craze abated. And I saw enough bad westerns on WTBS in its “pre-Super Station” days, when their old crappy Westerns were the only thing on Sunday morning TV that wasn’t church. But I’ve gotta admit: Wild Boys hooked me. It’s the story of Jack Keenan (Daniel MacPherson) and Dan Sinclair (Michael Dorman), two “bush rangers” in 1860s Australia. Sure, many of the obvious Western tropes are there. For example, although Jack is an outlaw, he’s a good person at heart, while his newly arrived nemesis, police superintendent Francis Fuller, is ostensibly “good” but is evil to the core of his being. Fuller will stop at nothing to get Jack and Dan, no matter if a few rapes and murders get in his way. Having said that, the show is a lot of just plain fun, and I got the same sort of kick out of it that I got from The A-Team as a kid. Oh, and Jack’s love interest and “damsel in distress” Mary (Zoe Ventoura) is very easy on the eyes. If you want your TV to remind you of the adventure novels you read as a kid, Wild Boys is the way to go!
#5: Wilfred (FX) – A remake of the Australian show of the same name, Elijah Wood stars as Ryan Newman, a burnt-out former lawyer who is on the verge of suicide until he meets his new next door neighbor, an attractive blonde named Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann). Jenna owns a dog named Wilfred, who appears to everyone else as a normal dog, but is seen by Ryan as an Australian man in a dog costume. Most days, Ryan and Wilfred hang out on Ryan’s sofa smoking weed, drinking beer and eating junk food, but the show is really about a series of adventures in which the extremely manipulative Wilfred instigates a serious problem for Ryan which ultimately helps him solve some kind of other, deeper problem. Although Wilfred has gotten Ryan thrown in jail, involved him in a very expensive car wreck, and almost got him killed by a bully neighbor, there’s this zen quality to what he does, as if it’s for Ryan’s own good. Well, usually. What makes this remake work is that Jason Gann, co-creator of the original Aussie series, plays Wilfred. It’s a really funny show, and at times it’s also bittersweet and moving. The show is also helped by a strong rotation of guest stars, including Ed Helms, Mary Steenburgen, Rashida Jones, Jane Kaczmarek, Chris Klein, Dwight Yoakam and Rhea Perlman.
#4: The Shadow Line (BBC) – A drug kingpin is mysteriously granted a pardon and released from prison… only to end up shot in the head on the way home. Much of this series is about how both sides – the police and the underworld – investigate the murder, and how neither side can claim the moral high ground. This series has been compared to The Wire, and for good reason: it has a gigantic cast of morally realistic characters in which the police aren’t necessarily “good” and the gangsters not necessarily “bad”. And the cast is full of heavy hitters like Christopher Eccleston (who plays a reluctant successor to the murdered crime boss), Stephen Rea (as “Gatehouse”, a mysterious man behind the scenes) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (as DI Jonah Gabriel, a cop who developed amnesia thanks to a gun shot to the head, and who may not be the “good” cop he thinks he is). And, in working the case, Gabriel unravels a gigantic conspiracy. This show also wins my “Best Title Sequence Award” for 2011 (catch it on YouTube here). Highly recommended.
#3: American Horror Story (FX) – What I expected: a run-of-the-mill horror series aimed at 14 year-old boys. What I got: a massive, engaging, sexually-charged thriller that’s more psychologically scary than superficially scary. Yes, there are ghosts, and perhaps even demons. But this isn’t the kind of scary story that makes you jump out of your seat. Instead, it makes you take a deep breath and say “man… that’s messed up!” when an episode ends. And if you thought Matt Ross was creepy as Alby in Big Love, brother, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Hell, this show even turned the normally loveable Eric Stonestreet (Cam on Modern Family) into someone so creepy it’ll make your skin crawl! For that matter, the show even made me feel sympathy for Connie Britton, an actress I normally cannot stand. Jessica Lange also gives an Emmy-worthy performance as bizarre neighbor Constance Langdon. But my favorite aspect of the show is (surprise, surprise) Alexandra Breckenridge as sexy maid Moira O’Hara (she’s only perceived as a beautiful young woman by men; women perceive her as an old woman, superbly portrayed by Frances Conroy). All in all, super scary stuff, and I can’t wait to see how his season ends!
#2: Mad Dogs (Sky) – Four high school friends – John Simm and Philip Glenister from Life on Mars, Marc Warren (Band of Brothers) and Max Beesley (Hotel Babylon, Survivors) – take a trip to Spain to celebrate the early retirement of a fifth friend, Alvo (Ben Chaplin). But all is not what it seems. Alvo’s new Spanish home seems way too posh to be real, and Alvo’s coy about the line of work he’s retiring from. Shortly after his friends arrive he takes takes a few heated phone calls from his “business associates”. When Alvo winds up dead, it’s up to the other four to figure out what’s happened. As the series goes on, the friends become ever more paranoid about Alvo’s “associates” and the corrupt local cops.. and you can feel the tension coming through your TV set. No joke – I almost wanted to hide behind something while watching the last two episodes! And wearing a blood pressure monitor might not have been a bad idea, either. And the scene where Alvo is murdered is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen on TV! The series ends abruptly on a cliffhanger… but fear not: not only is season 2 is coming in 2012, Philip Glenister recently said that season 3 is in the works as well!
And the best new show of the year is…. [drumroll, please!]
#1: Homeland (Showtime) – The finale hasn’t aired yet, and for all I know it could totally suck. But so far I’ve been totally sucked in to this awesome series! Claire Danes stars as Carrie Mathison, a CIA operations officer working for the anti-terrorism department. At the start of the series, she is working on an unauthorized operation in Iraq when one of her assets tells her that Al-Qaeda has “turned” an American prisoner. Carrie is then busted by her superiors and forced to return to to CIA headquarters in Virginia. Shortly thereafter, American POW Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis from Band of Brothers) is rescued by Delta Force operators from a compound run by notorious terrorist Abu Nazir. Carrie immediately suspects that Brody is the American turned by Al-Qaeda, but everyone at the CIA and the executive branch considers him a hero. Nearly alone, Carrie turns to her mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin). The two of them find evidence that suggests… ha! I’m not going to spoil it for you. Filmed here in Charlotte (and even lil’ Belmont!), the series is based on an Israeli show called Hatufim. And it kicks all kinds of ass! It’s complex without being too much, and not every one is as they seem (for good or bad). Of all the shows on this list, this one is by far the one I anticipate most every week. Claire Danes should be a shoe-in for at least an Emmy nomination, if not the actual award itself. Check it out to find out why!
The following shows didn’t make it to the top ten list, but are worth a look:
Zen (BBC) – Zen is a series of three 90-minute shows based on a series of novels by British crime author Michael Dibdin. Aurelio Zen is an elite police detective in his native Italy who seems to take cases as it pleases him. He’s constantly juggling his career, his girlfriend and his aging mother, and he sometimes takes cases just to escape his domestic struggles. He’s often put in difficult positions by his superiors, and sometimes has to resort to barely legal methods to get results. So even though he might appear crooked at times, it’s only because his boss has forced him to act that way. The series is sometimes difficult to watch, because the mixed cast of British and Italian actors are all supposed to be Italian, and having an Italian lead actress who barely speaks English next to the great Rufus Sewell is just confusing. This show was cancelled back in February because BBC boss Danny Cohen said that “there were already enough male crime-fighters on TV”, but hell, it’s like three movies as it is!
Laid (Australian Broadcasting Company) – Roo McVie is a cute and quirky girl in her late 20s who has a dead-end job at a market research firm. Kind of a mix of Janeane Garofalo and Zooey Dechanel, poor Roo just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. And then, out of nowhere, all the men she’s slept with start dying under mysterious circumstances. It doesn’t sound like a comedy, but it is. And it’s quite funny, actually. Alison Bell is as cute as a button as Roo. Celia Pacquola, who plays Roo’s best friend and roomate EJ, cracks me up when the two turn in to American TV -style detectives, complete with a corkboard full of “suspects” and their connections. Season 2 should be airing in Australia sometime early next year.
Endgame (Showcase Canada) – Arkady Balagan (Shawn Doyle) is a Russian chess champion who came to Vancouver to play in a tournament. But his fiancee, Rosemary, was killed by a car bomb right outside the hotel. Convinced that the ESB (the new KGB) intended the bomb for him, Arkady develops agoraphobia and refuses to leave the hotel. Hotel management, considerate at first due to his loss, eventually demand that he pay his bill. With no other way to come up with the money, Arkady begins solving crimes from within the hotel. He’s assisted by Sam Besht (Torrance Coombs), a college student and chess fanatic who does most of Arkady’s legwork. Hotel maid Alcina (Carmen Aguirre), hotel bartender Danni (the uberhot Katharine Isabelle), and Rosemary’s younger sister Pippa (Melanie Papalia) also help him out. Sometimes Arkady’s “logic visions” are a stretch, but the show’s pretty entertaining, especially when the bumbling house detective Hugo (Patrick Gallagher) gets involved. Sadly, the show has been cancelled. It’s not great, but it certainly entertains.
The Borgias (Showtime) – Showtime’s big follow-up to The Tudors nearly missed the mark. I often felt tempted to call it The Bore-gias, as the show seemed to really drag on and on in the middle episodes. But it picked up towards the end, and ended on a mostly satisfying note. I can’t wait to see if next season moves a little faster than this one. I think this is one of those shows that (nudity and violence excepted) might actually be better on broadcast TV with 10-12 minutes cut from most episodes.
THE JURY’S STILL OUT ON…
Hell on Wheels (AMC) – I’ve seen the first two episodes, and they were pretty slow. But I’ve heard that it picks up, so I need to hit the DVR for the remaining episodes pretty soon. Anyone care to comment about this show?
2 Broke Girls (CBS) – Kat Dennings is stunning, and if you follow her on Twitter you know that she’s pretty funny in real life. And I actually think she’s got pretty good chemistry with co-star Beth Behrs. But the rest of the show? Wow. It’s pretty bad. I’m the least PC person I know – I sometimes call women “broads” and I laugh at racist jokes. But even I cringe whenever stereotypical Asian guy Han comes on the screen. It’s just so… “sit-commy”, ya know? I wonder what this show would be like if it moved to something like FX, and the laugh track was dropped and the writer were told to “go nuts”. That might actually be something worth watching. And at least the writers are smart enough to keep Garrett Morris’ bits to a minimum – that guy is only funny in small doses!
Whitney (NBC) – Look, I think Whitney Cummings is really hot, and I know she can be funny. But this show uses every last bit of effort just to get to mediocre. Like 2 Broke Girls (which Cummings co-created), Whitney and her co-star Chris D’Elia seem to have decent chemistry but are dragged down by predictable plots and a subpar supporting cast. With both shows it just seems like… almost like they’re an 80s sitcom that was magically found in the vaults somewhere. Again, if they’d drop the laugh track, dump the rest of the cast and give the writers some freedom, this might be something. But as it is now… wow.
A SWING AND A MISS
These shows tried, but just didn’t make it.
The Playboy Club (NBC) – This actually could have been a great show – a story about hot chicks and gangsters? Cool! – if not for several idiotic decisions by NBC. First of all, what genius in the scheduling department decided to air such a guy-centric show against Monday Night Football? As beautiful as Amber Heard is, it’s hard for her to compete against Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers. Secondly, who decided to cast Eddie Cibrian as the lead? His wooden Don Draper impression was just… awful. Thirdly, why did the writers insist on such paint-by-numbers storylines? Racism, sexism and being gay in the 1960s require a deft touch… and instead we were treated to “subtle” moral lessons straight out of an ABC After-School Special. It’s obvious that certain adult things (like nudity) would have worked much better on premium cable, but in my opinion the writing in general would have worked much better on HBO or Showtime than NBC.
Pam Am (ABC) – This show seemed to have much more promise than The Playboy Club. After all, pilots and flight attendants get to travel all over the world, right? It seemed to be a much more fertile ground for interesting stories than the “other” Mad Men knockoff. But somewhat predictable plotlines and the odd refusal to make use of Christina Ricci seemed to doom the series from the start. ABC says that it’s not gone, but don’t you believe ’em.
Terra Nova (Fox) – People expecting intelligent sci-fi were extremely disappointed in this series, which is little more than a soap opera set 85 million years back in time. There are plot holes and stupid decisions by the characters and writers all around, to say nothing of the whiny teen angst from the younger cast members. This show needs to go the way of the dinosaur itself.
Episodes (Showtime) – Sean and Beverly Lincoln are a couple who write a successful British TV show called Lyman’s Boys. They’re called to Los Angeles to direct an American version of the show, which is a disaster, not only professionally, but for their marriage as well (surprise, surprise). I like all the actors involved in the show, but I just didn’t find it all that funny. If you like the premise of the show, check out the similar (and much funnier) 2006 film The TV Set, in which David Duchovny plays a writer trying to get his show on the air (in the same form that he imagined it).
Charlie’s Angels (ABC) – How could a show about such hot women be so boring? And, with all the beautiful actresses out there, why couldn’t they find three that could actually, you know, act?
Allen Gregory (Fox) – Did anyone watch this piece of crap? When a show makes you miss Bob’s Burgers you know you’re doing something very wrong.
Camelot (Starz) – It’s about King Arthur! And the Knights of the Round Table! It has witches and warlocks! It has battle scenes! It even has Eva Green, Claire Forlani and Tamsin Egerton getting naked… frequently! But even that wasn’t enough to save this series. Joseph Fiennes really is an awful actor, and his portrayal of Merlin was perhaps the worst ever. And while I get that Arthur wasn’t supposed to be wise and imposing from the start, I just don’t see how Jamie Campbell Bower, cute though he might be, could ever develop the gravitas needed for the role. Come on – he looks like an Urban Outfitters model, not King Arthur! Worse yet, this show felt really cheap, a knockoff of something from HBO or Showtime, or one of those direct-to-DVD crapfests like Snakes on a Train.
Outcasts (BBC) – The writers suffered from a disease I like to call “Galacticaitis”. Outcasts was supposed to be a sci-fi series about a group of humans colonizing a new planet because Earth was dying. But, like Battlestar Galactica, the series became more of a “soap opera in space” than serious sci-fi. Even worse, the writers couldn’t make up their minds about which direction they wanted the show to go. Just when it seemed like they’d had enough of out of the blue love affairs and women crying over lost babies, they’d fall back in to it with some other (rambling) plotline that never went anywhere. Sadly, the stellar cast (which included Liam Cunningham, Hermione Norris, Amy Manson, Daniel Mays and Jamie Bamber) deserved better.
Here are a few shows on their way out… either towards cancellation or at least off my personal viewing schedule.
Hawaii Five-O (CBS) – I loved the original series, and enjoyed the first season of the remake as mindless entertainment. But it’s really starting to grate on my nerves. I love how the show seems to ignore the most basic tenets of police procedure (“Probable cause? Search warrants? What the hell are those?”). And this show relies far too much on the “Magic Computer” back at HQ. Look, I get that TV shows abuse technology, especially computer technology. In fact, the “Enhance that image!” trope is so old that it’s not even funny any more. But no show seems to abuse this more than Five-O. What would take an actual, real-life IT guy six weeks to do can be done by Kono in 30 seconds or less. But even if they “fixed” that, this show is formulaic to the extreme. Fewer shows do PROBLEM > CONFLICT > RESOLUTION in a more mechanical manner than this. Although I will say that the show looks beautiful. Whoever does their camerawork deserves an award.
Dexter (Showtime) – Yes, Dexter. I thought the first couple of seasons of this show were just brilliant, but it’s been coasting for the past couple of seasons, and the current season’s “big twist” was downright insulting to the loyal viewers. Of course, if you’ve read the original books, you’ll know they’re no great shakes, either (“The Dark Passenger is supernatural? WTF?!?”). The paucity of decent source material is coming home to roost now, and it ain’t pretty. Don’t think about half the stuff Dexter does these days, because the plot holes or bad decisions will give you a headache!
Burn Notice (USA) – I mentioned this show on last year’s list. Yeah, I watched two episodes of the current season, and decided I just didn’t care about Michael, Sam and Fi any more. I hope they blow themselves up in a fakey McFake Miami nightclub. Loved the first two seasons, but this show’s gotten bad.
Leverage (TNT) – In last year’s “Going, Going” list, my entry for Leverage simply said “See: Burn Notice“. Well, it seems like the writers have listened, as the show has perked up some. It’s still not great, and given how busy my Sunday nights are, it doesn’t seem like Leverage will stick around on my schedule much longer. But still, it at least appears that the writers are trying.
These shows are either gone, or will be gone in a couple of months.
Desperate Housewives (ABC) – I stopped caring about the goings-on on Wisteria Lane last year. But still… Housewives was one hot show in its prime. So long, ladies, it was fun.
Spooks (BBC) – I loved the first seasons of this show, and who wouldn’t? It was like 24, only hipper and smarter. But then the main actors started leaving the show, and that set off a constant merry-go-round of new agents arriving and leaving. The writers tried their best to keep it relevant (difficult after 10 seasons) and tried a few tricks that weren’t so gimmicky (season 6, for instance, had a single plotline instead of the individual episodes as in the past). Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. But you know what? In the end, I’ll still miss Harry and Ruth. So long, and God Bless, Spooks! Keep defending the Realm!
Being Erica (CBC) – This Canadian “chick show” just ended a few days ago. And given the nature of the series – a single girl time traveling to her past to fix problems thanks to her mystical therapist – you’d think the final episode would be a tear-jerker. But it was surprisingly upbeat (and we got to see Paula Brancati’s amazing rack in the final two episodes!). Having said all that, the product placement in the last season was egregious and got waaaaaaayy out of hand.
Rush (Ten Australia) – The adventures of Melbourne’s Tactical Response Team are no more, but the memories remain. While the show was always good, it started to teeter towards mediocre there for a while. The final season, with its one story arc, was pretty damn good! Let’s hope Nicole Da Silva gets a new show soon, because I’m gonna miss her!
Chuck (NBC) – God bless you, Chuck Bartowski. Your show was silly, but I loved it. Not just for Yvonne Strahovski in all the skimpy outfits (although Lord knows that certainly helped). I’ll miss you for the nerdy references to 1980’s\Comic book\gaming\computer culture, the cool songs you guys always played in the background (seriously – I found like… 6 new bands thanks to the Chuck soundtrack), the ridiculous but still cool action scenes, and even the antics of Jeff and Lester. Adam Baldwin, you are a treasure as well – keep kicking ass, brother!
THE “HOW THE HELL DID I MISS THIS?” AWARD
One drawback of doing this list at the end of the year is that great TV shows sometimes slip past my ever-more-faulty memory. And last year’s list completely overlooked one of my favorite new shows, Justified (FX). Based on the Elmore Leonard short story “Fire in the Hole”, it’s about deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). In the pilot episode, Givens is stationed is Miami, where he gives a drug dealer 24 hours to leave town or he’ll shoot him. When the dealer fails to leave, Givens lives up to his promise and shoots him. This causes him to be re-assigned to Lexington, Kentucky, whose district includes his hardscrabble hometown of Harlan. There he has to deal with a high school flame, his ex-wife, and an old friend, Boyd Crowder, who is a white supremacist terrorist (and played amazingly well by Walton Goggins). Season 2 is even better, as Givens has to deal with Mags Bennet, an old school Southern crime boss (Margo Martindale won an Emmy for the role). If you haven’t seen the show, watch it now. And sorry for forgetting you guys last year!
THE MOST IMPROVED SHOW AWARD
Parks and Recreation (NBC) – So I watched the first few episodes of this show, and thought it was terrible. In fact, I was one of those people who was pissed that NBC axed My Name is Earl in order to keep Parks and Rec (although I understood why they did what they did). However, when one of the blogs I read (A Hamburger Today) mentioned the episode “Soulmates” (in which Chris Traeger and Ron Swanson have a turkey burger vs. beef burger cook-off), I checked it out… and it was some seriously funny stuff! In fact, this might be the funniest show on broadcast television these days. And Ron Swanson is my hero!
Although the mini-series is all but dead in the US, it lives on in the UK. In fact, most of my favorite mini-series came from the UK this year!
Martina Cole’s The Runaway (Sky) – British author Martina Cole has made a career out of writing crime novels set in East London. I didn’t care for the last adaptation of her work – Martina Cole’s The Take – just because I felt skeevy after watching it, as if I needed to take a bleach bath. This one is much better. It’s about the fatal attraction of Cathy Connor (Joanna Vanderham) and Eamonn Docherty (Jack O’Connell). Although they are not blood-related, they are brought up and brother and sister, but have been in love with each other for years. One shocking event tears them apart, and the rest of the series is about them trying to get back together again. Alan Cumming shines as transvestite Desrae, who takes Cathy in and introduces her to the sleazy world of 1960s Soho.
Exile (BBC) – Life on Mars’ John Simm stars as Tom Ronstadt, a journalist who has let women, drink and cocaine go to his head. Fired from his job, he goes back to his family home where sister Nancy (Olivia Colman) cares for their aging, Alzheimer’s-afflicted father Samuel (Jim Broadbent). Samuel and Tom have a complicated relationship. Samuel was once an award-winning journalist, and that’s what inspired Tom to get in the business. But Samuel was also a tyrant around the house, and Tom can’t forget one day when his father beat him senseless as he was snooping through some of his dad’s papers. Determined to find out why his father beat him so badly that day, Tom begins digging… not just through papers and files, but through his dad’s confused brain as well. It seems Samuel’s mind holds evidence of a dark (dark!) conspiracy. Broadbent is simply amazing as an often confused Alzheimer’s sufferer. It’s worth watching just for his performance alone.
Marchlands (ITV) – This psychological thriller tells the story of a little girl who died in 1967. Her story is told by way of three different families who lived in the same house over the years. There are the Bowens, who lived in the house in the 60s (and who include Ruth, grieving mother of the dead girl). Then there are the Maynards, who lived in the house in 1987. Lastly we have Mark Ashburn and Nisha Parekh, an unmarried but pregnant couple in the present day who have returned to Mark’s hometown to raise their baby away from the city. We find out the truth throughout the five episodes as the story weaves back and forth between the three generations. I especially loved the tension between Eddie and Helen Maynard (Dean Andrews and Alex Kingston). When their daughter seems to communicate with the dead, Helen assumes that their daughter has a psychological problem and sends her to a doctor. Eddie wants to believe his daughter, and is eventually proven correct in doing so. This is an adult horror series – although it’s a ghost story at heart, there’s not a lot of cheap CGI. It’s much deeper than that.
Case Histories (BBC) – Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, Brotherhood) stars as Jackson Brodie, a former police detective who has gone private. Based on three novels by Kate Atkinson, the series is definitely worth a viewing!
Mildred Pierce (HBO) – Is there a better actress anywhere in the world than Kate Winslet? I think not. Although some critics were lukewarm about this series, I was thoroughly entertained by it. I knew I was hooked when I wanted to strangle Evan Rachel Wood, the spoiled brat! I do wonder, however, what the whole point of it was, though. The series follows the entire novel, scene-for-scene. A giant chunk of the dialog is even taken directly from the book. But I’m not sure why it was made. Winslet is certainly a sympathetic feminist character, but this series breaks no new ground in the gender debate or anything like that. And it’s not like the original novel itself was really “important”, soo… I guess I’m confused.
Underbelly: Razor (Nine Network) – If I had to pick a winner for this category, Underbelly: Razor would win it by a landslide. Underbelly is a “series of mini-series” based on real-life crime stories. The first series (Underbelly) was about gangland wars in Melbourne in the late 90s. The second series (Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities) was about the start of the wholesale heroin trade in Australia in the 70s and 80s. The third series (Underbelly: The Golden Mile) was about organized crime and police corruption in Sydney’s nightclub district. The latest of the series, Underbelly: Razor, deals with 1920s and 1930s gang wars between two of Sydney’s most legendary criminals: Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine. The two women really didn’t like each other, but because they were involved in similar businesses (Leigh ran illegal saloons and sold cocaine, while Devine ran a chain of brothels), the two had a “professional relationship”. But then the strangest thing happened: Tilly wanted puppies, but didn’t think her scrawny male dog would make a good father. So she borrowed Kate’s pedigreed male to stud her bitch. But then Tilly decided that Kate’s dog was much nicer than hers, so she swapped them, using hair dye and makeup to make her dog look like Kate’s. This one odd act would set off a series of skirmishes between the two camps that would last for years, make headlines throughout the country, and take the lives of dozens of people. Underbelly: Razor documents it all very well, with great production values and a solid, if necessarily large, cast. I hate to say that watching these two women go after each other was “entertaining”, but Good Lord it most certainly was! This is one of the best things I’ve ever seen, ever!
Also, props to New Zealand’s TV3 for Underbelly NZ: Land Of The Long Green Cloud, which tells the tale of heroin importers Marty Johnstone and Terry Clark (Clark started his criminal career in his native New Zealand and later expanded to Australia, where he becomes a central character in Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities). The “In-Zed” version of the show focused mainly on Johnstone and events in New Zealand, thus nicely complimenting the Aussie series.
THE BEST OVERALL DRAMA (OLD OR NEW) OF 2011
With Mad Men off the air this year, it’s no big surprise that Breaking Bad (AMC) wins this one. Sure, there’s a lot of nitpicking one could do about this or that plot point. And yes, by all accounts Walt should be dead or in jail by now. But he isn’t. Walt’s journey from hero to villain continues, and few actors could pull off the anti-hero quite like Bryan Cranston can. Kudos to Aaron Paul, too; we’ve literally watched this kid grown up as an actor right there on the screen. I think he’s an early favorite for another Emmy. And as over the top as the season finale was, just admit it: you liked it, too.
THE BEST OVERALL COMEDY (OLD OR NEW) OF 2011
I don’t care what anyone says: the hands-down funniest damn show on TV right now is The League (FX). If you’re not watching this you’re seriously missing out on some major laughs. The show is about a group of high school friends who only really stick together because of their fantasy football league. Sure, it’s sarcastic, guy-centric humor with a huge dose of football thrown in, but damn that show’s funny! It’s so funny that there’s a Twitter feed dedicated to the show’s best one-liners (some faves: “Ruxin, if we lined up every girl you had sex with in high school, we could run for 1,000 yards behind them in the NFL”, “Thanks for not making me wear a condom. Classy.” and “Cinnamon only exists in spice racks and strip clubs, that’s it!”). Watch this show, and you too will be saying “What the tits?” and working on your own Shiva Bowl! Each episode only runs around 22 minutes, but it often takes me 30 minutes or more to actually watch it, as I have to pause the recording to regain my composure before continuing. For real.
WORST TV MOMENT OF 2011
Easy – any time a Kardashian appeared on my TV. I generally don’t wish ill will upon anyone, but for the love of God, it’s time someone pulled the plug on these vapid gold diggers. The world would be a much better place for it!
BEST TV MOMENT OF 2011
I hate to pick Breaking Bad again this year, but come on… how can anything on television top this?
“Who are you talking to right now? Who is it you think you see? Do you know how much I make a year? I mean, even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it. Do you know what would happen if I suddenly decided to stop going in to work? A business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ goes belly-up. Disappears! It ceases to exist without me. No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks.”