We are a short time away from bidding adieu to 2011 and welcoming 2012. If you're into movies, music and television, you are inundated with best of lists taking a look back at the past twelve months. Am I any different? Surely not.
However I realize my television viewing habits this year were a bit lacking. I'm only just getting around to finishing off the first season of Homeland while I have yet to take a peak at programs like Game of Thrones, The Killing or Boardwalk Empire. And then I haven't caught up completely on other favorites, including Breaking Bad, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb Your Enthusiasm. So while I don't feel qualified to name the best shows of 2011, I will take a look at a few of my favorite shows and moments from the past year, as it pertains to television.
Best New Show of the Season: New Girl
-Very rarely does a calendar come along with as many strong sitcoms as this past year. 2 Broke Girls, Suburgatory and Happy Endings all premiered this year and have been among the best of the last few years. As it stands, my favorite pilot of the last season (cable excluded) was Zooey Deschanel`s New Girl. The 22 minute pilot perfectly exemplified Deschanel`s comedy talents, giving a sexy nerd-like quality to the character of Jess. She's a sweet, charming, funny, klutzy, always-ready-to-do-the-wrong-thing-even-when-she-thinks-it's-right kind of girl, and like many others, I fell in love with both Jess and Deschanel. Thankfully, she's supported by three strong supporting male actors (Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris), rounding out the solid, small cast. After just nine episodes, of course there are a few tweaks to be made, but hopefully it's nothing a little age won't help.
Worst New Show of the Season: The Playboy Club
-Readers of my column will recall I gave a hard F rating to the NBC sitcom Free Agents. But honestly, what kind of work was put into Free Agents to make it work? When you hire Hank Azaria in the lead role of anything, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. On the other hand, The Playboy Club was signed, sealed and delivered to be TV's edgy, sexy answer to AMC's Mad Men. The producers cast Jon Hamm-wannabe Eddie Cibrian in the lead role. Cibrian had all of the qualities of Hamm down to a science, speaking in the same deep tone, flashing the same smile, looking about the same in every way. Except, he's missing Hamm's soul and talent that brings Don Draper to life. Jon Hamm is Don Draper on Mad Men. Eddie Cibrian was an actor portraying a character on The Playboy Club. Let`s not forget the minor matter of nudity on network television: it`s not allowed! How can a show about Playboy in the 1960s not feature nudity? It's absurd. In the years to come, many of the failed pilots of the season will be forgotten. I myself have great difficulty remembering anything about Free Agents. But I believe The Playboy Club will continue to serve as a punchline, to remind NBC that they actually aired this show for a few weeks in 2011.
Best Show You`re Not Watching: Happy Endings
-Billed as the next Friends, Happy Endings is, to be exact, Friends evolved. The laugh track has been dropped, there's a black guy, there's a gay guy and the writing keeps getting better and better. Honestly, I can't find a single weak link in the cast. Even Zachary Knighton and Elisha Cuthbert can hold their own next to the excellent foursome of Eliza Coupe, Damon Wayans Jr., Casey Wilson and Adam Pally. Ratings have been far from favorable, thanks to airing after new episodes of mega-hit Modern Family, but if word of mouth truly works, it should be a hit soon enough. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that the good shows stick around. It was lucky to be renewed for a full second season, but now it sits in the same purgatory as Cougar Town: it's on, it's doing okay, the network wants it around, but can mediocre ratings justify its existence? Especially when ABC has some wiggle room in the comedy department, thanks to hits in Modern Family, The Middle, Last Man Standing and Suburgatory. If I can make one plea, it's this: give Happy Endings a shot. It's not cut from the same cloth as Free Agents, Man Up or How to Be a Gentleman, so don't let it suffer the same fate as those shows in this current television season.
Worst Show You Are Watching: The Big Bang Theory
-Not since Friends have I heard so much praise for one sitcom. Of course many people love Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, Cougar Town, etc., but it seems that it's unanimous among the average TV viewers that The Big Bang Theory is hilarious. I just don't get it. However, I do find some charm in characters portrayed by Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco and Simon Helberg. Cuoco especially has a solid understanding of comedic timing. She belongs on a sitcom from the 80s. Even Kunal Nayyar is a decent performer. But I don't get the love for star Jim Parsons. As Sheldon Cooper, Parsons channels the pompous nerd qualities of Niles Crane in a way that I find neither funny nor endearing. I'm not above enjoying a show for characters that aren't meant to be liked for their actions (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). But something about The Big Bang Theory simply doesn't agree with me. Maybe I don't find humor in a bunch of nerds and one hot chick making funnies with a bunch of science-fiction references. If I wanted to laugh at Star Wars jokes, I'd watch the new trilogy.
Breakout Star of the Season: Beth Behrs, 2 Broke Girls
-As the true star of 2 Broke Girls, Kat Dennings shines as Max, the perpetually cranky waitress who recently took in a former heiress as a roommate. But once the show debuted, it was evident that Dennings was going to be matched every step of the way by her bubbly co-star, Beth Behrs, portraying the aforementioned heiress-turned-waitress. I said in my pilot review that Behrs was channeling an early incarnation of Rachel Greene. And like Jennifer Aniston before her, she has evolved from the pilot into a true sitcom veteran, able to squeeze laughs out of every line delivery, every pratfall and every facial expression. It was expected that Dennings would shine in her role, but the real find of this season was Beth Behrs.We
Best Way to Breathe Life In An Old Favorite: Steven Tyler, American Idol
-Just when you thought it was safe to count American Idol out and declare it dead following the departure of Simon Cowell, in comes Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez to join mainstays Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest on the decade-old American Idol. While Lopez is a pushover, to say the least, she has had an endearing quality to her that makes her enjoyable to watch. For all the fame and fortune she has, she comes off as personable in her judging seat. But the real treasure of the last season was Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. When first announced as a judge, many expected he may step into Simon's seat as the outspoken judge. Instead, he made the job his own, firing off inane comments and his trademark screeches, all the while eyeballing 18-year-old girls in tight, form-fitting clothes. He may look like your gramma, and even your great-gramma, but he's a treat to behold on the show, putting the kibosh to any thoughts that American Idol was on its deathbed.
Worst Way to Breathe Life In An Old Favorite: Ashton Kutcher, Two and a Half Men
-Speaking of deathbed, Two and a Half Men went through a ton of trouble behind the scenes this year. First, its season was cut short due to its star's erratic and self-destructive behavior. Then it hired Ashton Kutcher as the new lead to star alongside man-and-a-half team Jon Cryer and Angus Jones. Then Kutcher found himself in a whole mess of tabloid trouble. What's next for the nine-year-old sitcom? Probably a tenth season renewal. But will they convince Kutcher to continue? If he's smart, he'll stay. It's the easiest money on television and what's the best he can offer on the big screen? What Happens in Vegas 2? Still, the most-watched sitcom on television is a mess, and much of the problems can be attributed to its new star. It just doesn't mesh. If Jump the Shark was as relevant as it was five years ago, one would say the series jumped big time by killing off Charlie Harper and introducing Kutcher's Walden Schmidt to the series, forever upsetting the flow of the series. I can't enjoy my sex jokes when they're told by Kelso.
Best Revival News: Arrested Development
-Cue the obligatory "I just blue myself." comment. Five and a half years after its demise, Arrested Development will finally return... for a 9-10 episode season and a feature film. Not too shabby! Of course, most will agree nothing is etched in stone. We'll wait until these episodes and film are finished production, but we're closer than ever to seeing The Bluths again.
Worst Revival News: Fear Factor
Cue the obligatory "I just threw up on myself" comment. Five years after its demise, NBC announced a revival of gross-out series Fear Factor. Once a steady mainstay on Monday nights, Fear Factor quickly degenerated into a themed mess, trading in normal, everyday thrill-seekers for celebrity editions, sports star editions and all-star rounds. But now the show is back... why? I'm not sure why. It's not like the world was clamoring for a Fear Factor return. People will surely watch, but people watch the Kardashians too. I started a bit of a trend this week by having one "Best" thing followed by one "Worst" thing, so it's a bit unfair to Fear Factor. But compared to Arrested Development, Fear Factor is easily the Worst Revival of 2011. Somewhere out there, Zachary Levi is crying that Chuck has to go on NBC while Fear Factor gets a second chance.
Best Last-Minute Renewal: Happy Endings
-Once in a while, a network gets it right and gives a slow-starting show a chance to grow in the ratings. It hasn't exactly happpened yet, but hopefully audiences will catch on soon that the show that follows Modern Family is actually starting to beat its lead-in show in quality.
Worst Long-Past-The-Last-Minute Renewal: Breaking In
-What does FOX possibly gain by allowing Breaking In to run for another season? I'm not commenting on quality. Just sheer common sense dictates that this is one of the worst ideas in recent memory. And it took them long enough to do it. Three months after canceling the series, FOX decided to pick the Christian Slater-led comedy back up for a second run, feeling it deserved another shot. Why? What do they accomplish by renewing it? Appeasing a small group of fans? It will not grow, it will not strike the right chord with viewers. It will return, it will disappoint and it will be one of the few shows to hold the dubious distinction of being canceled twice. And honestly, I'm all for movie actors giving it a shot on television. Next month alone will feature the television debuts of Dustin Hoffman and Don Cheadle over at HBO and Showtime, respectively. But after suffering through NBC's My Own Worst Enemy and ABC's The Forgotten, maybe we just don't want to see Christian Slater on weekly TV. Maybe we prefer our fix of Christian Slater the good old fashioned way: via straight-to-video releases.
Best Breakdown: Charlie is WINNING
-Say what you will, but at the height of his breakdown, Charlie Sheen was one of the most interesting SOBs in Hollywood, delivering a balls-to-the-wall, go-for-broke performance of a lifetime, crashing and burning all over La-La Land and enjoying every last blessed minute of it. Much like his stage show name, failure was not an option: it was the only outcome possible. How could you possibly recover from something like that? You can't, and he didn't. It was a product of its time in 2011 and will never be duplicated. Celebrites self-destruct all the time, it's nothing new. But most don't smile at you and spout catchphrases while they do it. Charlie had it all, and he pissed it all away for a few weeks of genuine stardom that he's never enjoyed in his career, and never will again.
Worst Breakdown Recovery: Charlie Wishes The Best of Luck
-Like I said, failure was the only outcome possible. After months of quiet on the Sheen front, Charlie appeared on the Emmy Awards, fresh off of the announcement of a new sitcom on FX, he seemed poised to unleash on Two and a Half Men and its in-attendance creator, Chuck Lorre. Instead, he wished the series the best of luck in the future, forever putting an end to warlocks and tiger blood. When you reach the top, even when it's the top is being the most talked-about celebrity in the world, there's only one way to go: down. And down he went in one polite gesture of gratitude for his years with the sitcom and its network, CBS. Charlie's show will probably do well enough to stay on FX and he will probably enjoy a new life on television. In other words, he's back to being the same as everyone else in Hollywood.
Worst Singing Competition Gimmick: The chairs on The Voice
-The idea: keep the four judges' back turned to the contestants as they audition. If they're impressed by "the voice", they press a button, turn around and meet their potential proteges. The whole gimmick was based around the fact that, many times on American Idol, the contestants are judged by their looks and not their talent. I know a few gems probably slipped through the cracks on Idol, but more often than not, they get it right in their selections. Besides, ask Susan Boyle if the judges on Britain's Got Talent based their decisions on looks or talent. Not a bad show, just a rather silly gimmick. On the plus side, there's nothing football fans will love more after The Super Bowl than a singing competiton show hosted by Carson Daly.
Best Singing Competition Gimmick Executed Poorly: The groups on X Factor
-When it was announced, The X Factor was poised to replace American Idol on FOX. Then they revealed that all four judges would mentor their own group of singers (Boys, Girls, Over 30s, Groups). It all seemed to be a great idea. Unfortunately, it just turned into in-fighting between the judges, allowing Nicole Scherzinger and LA Reid a chance to knock out Simon Cowell's girls and positioning one of their contestants in the finale. In reality, all three of Simon's girls should've made the finale, but what fun is it if two of the three remaining judges (sorry Paula) can't compete on the last show? It was a pointless carry-over from the UK edition and it should either be retooled or scrapped entirely in the fall of 2012. Speaking of, I promise this is the last time I will speak of The X Factor until its 2012 return.
Best Retirement: Oprah Winfrey
-In her mid-50s, Oprah Winfrey could have kept going for at least fifteen more years on her daytime program. Instead, she bowed out at the top of her talk show game, paving the way for Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Kelly Ripa to fight it out over the talk show ratings crown (for the record, Dr. Phil is winning so far, but not by a lot). She continues to host Oprah's Lifeclass on her OWN Network, but the schedule is less strenuous and allows her a chance to develop a new kind of talk show. She's been the subject of much criticism in the past (namely of the husbands who've had to listen to their wives talk about that day's Oprah show), but you can't deny the effect she has had on daytime television.
Worst Retirement: Regis Philbin
-Just as you can't deny the effect Regis Philbin had on television. If you're a reader of my column, you'll know I devoted a November edition to the life and times of Regis Philbin. Sadly, my sendoff to "The Reege" was better than the sendoff he received. Nothing against those in charge at LIVE!, especially Kelly Ripa, but Regis clearly isn't comfortable leaving behind his legendary daytime career. Rumors have swirled that Regis was angling for a pay raise, which makes the ending bittersweet. Philbin has a new primetime series in the works, which means retirement wasn't exactly on his mind these past few months. Still, now that the dust has settled, Kelly Ripa is proving she deserves her run as lead host on LIVE! Unfortunately, I shudder to think who will become her permanent co-host.
And finally, let's take a look at a few of my favorite shows of 2011.
-New Girl (FOX)
Continuing to prove weekly that Zooey Deschanel deserves a weekly spot on television. Shockingly proving that the rest of the cast can hold their own opposite Zooey.
-2 Broke Girls (CBS)
On the surface, two hot girls surrounded by sexual innuendos, situational comedy mishaps and more sexual innuendos is 2 Broke Girls in a nutshell. Thankfully, Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs give an added dimension to the rookie comedy. $623 and counting.
-Modern Family (ABC)
The gold standard in comedy right now. Sure, it doesn't have the same charm as its first season, but that was when this type of comedy was fresh and exciting. No matter if the writing is suffering any kind of slump, the exceptional cast continues to pick up the slack, starting with the superb and deserved Emmy winners Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet.
It started as one woman (Claire Danes) against one thought-to-be-dead soldier (Damien Lewis). It evolved into so much more. Exec producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa might have actually created a show worthy of, not only comparing to 24, but surpassing it. Not to mention we've finally found a hit show for Morena Baccarin.
-The kings of late night: The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Conan, Real Time (Comedy Central, TBS, HBO)
It makes me feel good that knowing most weeks, I can watch Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Conan O'Brien Mondays through Thursdays, then top off the week with Bill Maher on Friday night. Forget The Tonight Show, the best late night comedy is provided by cable.
There you have it, 2011 in a nutshell. It was a crazy year for television, and I didn't even touch on the ongoing Kardashian saga, or the global situations of The Situation and Jersey Shore. But let's assume that falls under "Worst" of 2011. Be sure you sound off below in the comments section about your best and worst of 2011 in television.
Have a safe and happy New Year folks, and I will see you all in 2012.
Until then, stay tuned.