Best of 2011 – Television

Best-of lists are self-aggrandizing, obligatory, and largely disinteresting to any self-respecting reader. So here we go. (Film will have to wait, because awards season, like orgasm, places a premium on holding on till the last possible instant to deliver; unlike orgasm, this delay pleases no one.)

Also, no numerical rankings – requires less thought that way. Actually, the real reason is that the vagaries of day-to-day temperament and perception make them largely useless (anyone who tells you they’ve got a static criteria to quantify the difference between the seventh and eighth best Things of the Year is either a liar or dumb, and more than likely a dumb liar.)

Breaking Bad – Both incredibly obvious and incredibly deserving, this fourth season saw Walter White pitted against his strongest foe yet, and drove home that eternal truism with searing efficacy: if you don’t watch yourself while fighting your enemy, you just may become him.

The Chicago Code – I have an immodest pride in my tendency to pick “winners” when it comes to shows making their debut – rarely do I find myself invested in one-and-dones. This was one of those times, and it kinda really sucks. Shawn Ryan’s follow-up to The Shield never did reach the heights of its ancestor, but it was a fine specimen of an endangered species: the cop show that’s actually good. On that front, we’re now one step closer to extinction.

Friday Night LightsNot much left to say, except that a very compelling argument can be made for FNL being the best network drama ever produced, and the final season stuck the landing. As always, it was a pleasure. Clear eyes, full hearts, never lost.

Game of Thrones – I’m somewhat baffled by the mainstream’s embrace of this unabashed high fantasy, which up until now had been confined exclusively to The Lord of the Rings. Probably some amalgam of the cachet of the HBO brand and the sex, midgets, and sex with midgets. Whatever the reason, well done, Unwittingly Overlapping Alliance of Bros and Hipsters.

Homeland – I’d call this the best new show of the year (which it is), but that distinction may readily (and not unfairly) be read as damning with faint praise. It is not. This cat-and-mouse game between a mentally unstable CIA agent and a rescued POW possibly turned terrorist is taut, suspenseful and addicting. And man, Claire Danes looks good.

The United States of Tara – Shame, Showtime, for renewing the repetitive and inconsequential Nurse Jackie, the irrelevant Big C and the execrable Weeds while giving the axe to a character-centric show that reinvented itself with each new season, with its bittersweet third and last forcing its viewers to contend with the sobering truth that, hey, maybe someone having disassociative identity disorder… isn’t that funny? Maybe it’s actually… kind of horrifying? Don’t let the premature cancellation dissuade you from checking out Tara if you haven’t already – the finale provides due pathos, if not total catharsis; it does not feel abandoned.