Best TV Shows of 2011

by     Posted 2 years, 244 days ago

“Top 10” lists are a dime a dozen this time of year, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I add one more. While many are busy debating the merits of Drive vs. The Artist, I thought it appropriate to take a look at the year in television. There’s no denying that the TV landscape has changed enormously over the past decade. Once a wasteland of disposable entertainment, the rise of original programming outside the network system has resulted in some of the best storytelling across any medium. This past year we were given more than a couple fantastic new shows to add to our weekly DVR list, and we saw a fair number of inventive and genuinely funny veteran comedy series get even better. Hit the jump to check out my picks for the best in television of 2011.

A quick note: this list only includes series that have run through an entire season from start to finish in 2011, and those that are at the halfway point of their current season (ie. premiered this past fall). I did not take into account the back half of previous seasons that aired in the beginning of 2011. Without further ado, here’s what I found to be the best shows on television this year followed by a couple of extra categories at the bottom:


I’ll admit up front that I still have yet to read any of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series off of which Game of Thrones is based, but I fell for this HBO fantasy series hard. The pilot didn’t knock my socks off, but the character work intrigued me so I tuned in the next week. And the next week, and the next week, and the next week. I was not only enraptured by the wide-ranging cast of characters—from the infuriating Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to the immensely entertaining Tyrion (Peter Dinklage)—but I was positively taken by the world of Game of Thrones. Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss crafted a brilliantly enchanting and gorgeous universe that was almost addictive in nature. The pitch-perfect casting and the twists and turns of the plot made for an excellent first season, and I’m excited to see how things evolve in season two.

Standout Episode: “Baelor”



Comedian Louis C.K. turned the sitcom on its head last year with the debut of his half-hour comedy series Louie on FX. The comedian famously produces, writes, and directs every episode, giving him incredible creative control. The show is often painfully hilarious, but also incredibly dark. This season Louis took the show’s “weird” one step further, and many times I genuinely found myself not knowing whether to laugh or cry. For a show so subversive and dark, Louis is able to find poignancy in the strangest of circumstances, oftentimes leaving the audience consciously oblivious to the tonal shift. The highlight of the series thus far was this season’s hourlong Iraq-set episode “Duckling”. The entry was the most ambitious Louis has attempted thus far and was not only extraordinarily funny, but also pretty damn sweet. Also of note was the hilariously depressing happy/sad final scene of the season finale.

Standout Episode: “Duckling”



Currently on an indefinite hiatus from its third season, the ratings-challenged comedy Community is a peculiar series. The show began as a fairly generic sitcom with a charismatic cast, but quickly morphed into one of the best—and strangest—comedies to come our way in a very, very long time. Creator Dan Harmon showed no signs of making the show “less weird” this year, opening the season with a super odd musical number that outright acknowledged said weirdness. The third season also saw the introduction of alternate realities (Evil Troy and Evil Aaaaabed), a “Cabin in the Woods” episode, and a progressively dark homage to the Apocalypse Now making-of documentary Hearts of Darkness. The show continues to showcase some of the most creative storytelling on TV, and if NBC has any remnants of a soul (or an eye for good television), they’ll renew the series for at least one more season.

Standout Episode: “Remedial Chaos Theory”



One of the best shows of the year came from quite an unlikely source: a little freshman Showtime series called Homeland. The heart-stopping psychological thriller featured a brilliant turn by Claire Danes as a CIA operative who believes that an American POW (who was just rescued and returned to the United States) has been turned. The supporting cast, featuring Mandy Patinkin and Damian Lewis, is equally outstanding, but Danes turned in one of the best performances of the year (in TV or film). The multiple plot twists and turns resulted in some of the most entertaining—and nerve-wracking—television of the year, but the show put just as much emphasis on character development. Each main character would be worthy of his or her own series, but the interaction within this ensemble results in some extraordinary drama. A couple shaky moments toward the end of the season kept Homeland from topping my list, but overall the good was enough to outweigh the bad and I’m anxiously awaiting season two.

Standout Episode: “The Weekend”



As with Community, NBC’s Parks and Recreation got off to a not-so-great start. Season one was a little predictable and too close in tone to The Office, but during the show’s second season the Amy Poehler vehicle began to find its voice and set out on a creative upswing that it has yet to come down from. There’s not one weak link in the show’s ensemble, as every single character brings it 110% (Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari; this show is stacked). The addition of Rob Lowe and Adam Scott only improved the already fantastic chemistry, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more consistently funny and sweet show on television. This season’s most pleasant surprise was the evolution of Poehler and Scott’s relationship; what I thought was destined to be a short-lived story arc became a full-on coupling. Scenes between the two uber-nerds have become almost as fun as scenes between Nick Offerman’s Ron and Aubrey Plaza’s April. Almost…

Standout Episode: “The Trial of Leslie Knope”



Breaking Bad is hands down the best show on television. Period. It seems an impossible feat, but each season of the AMC series is better than the last (with not a weak link among them) and season four was no exception. Immediately following “that Gus scene” in the aptly titled season opener, I knew we were in for a treat. Giancarlo Esposito brought such nastiness and humanity to the villainous role of Gus that I found myself rooting for him rather than Walt more often than not. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul turned in another couple of Emmy-worthy performances, and creator Vince Gilligan took the series places I never dreamed it would go—at least not this far out from the series end. The storytelling here is just at a whole other level and I seriously doubt we’ll ever see a show this consistently good or ballsy ever again. Oh, and that other “Gus scene”? Genius.

Standout Episode: “Crawl Space”, though special recognition is warranted for Esposito’s work in “Hermanos”.

Most Addictingly Bad New Show – American Horror Story: I don’t necessarily see AHS as a “good” show, but with all the twists, turns, and over-the-top drama I could not stop watching.

Most Excruciatingly Bad New Show – Once Upon a Time: The concept is actually intriguing, but the incredibly heavy amount of cheesy dialogue and “Movie of the Week”-style life lessons learned in each episode make Once Upon a Time extremely hard to sit through.

Most Pleasantly Surprising New Show – New Girl: While I was initially fearful that this new Fox sitcom would rely too heavily on Zooey Deschanel‘s awkward/adorable factor, the series quickly revealed itself as an ensemble piece filled out with a talented and genuinely funny supporting cast who have come into their own.


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  • jymmmymack

    This whole list is skewed by the inclusion of New Girl as a “pleasant surprise”. That show is horrible.

    • Krazy Joe

      New Girl is fantastic!

  • Liam_H

    Surprised to see the standout episode of Homeland to be “The Weekend” since I find the whole relationship of those two in the episode to be kind of false. So an entire episode of that was just uninteresting to me. I might have to give it another watch.

    Claire Danes is awesome in this series, so glad to see her getting recognized by many places.

  • Franklin

    I would humbly propose that Awkward and Enlightened deserve to be listed as Best of 2011, particularly if the category were to be limited to new series.

  • Chris

    Not a bad list but should have included 2 great FX series, Justified and the League!!

    • brandon

      Justified should be on the worst list, if they make one. And The League barely hits its marks.

  • hank rosnon

    Someone also forgot sons of anarchy

    • Jazzyjace

      I’m a huge fan of SOA, but season 4 was just as bad as 3. I know Kurt Sutter had to chop episode 14 of S4, but again, he relied on macguffins to tie-up plot threads (Lincoln Potter’s hard work superseded by Romeo as a CIA op? Yawn!) And Jax sitting at the table like Michael Corleone, nah…didn’t work for me (plus, 5 minutes of a classic Animals song with lyrics changed, really?? It’s just lazy). Breaking Bad is the better show IMHO and glad it’s no.1 here.

      • Joseph

        You can call the production team lazy on SoA, but you could also call that laziness Homage…The idea of having a change in the balance of power, especially in this MC, is epic. The twist of having Romeo as a MEXICAN federal Agent working with the CIA to control is both lame and brilliant at the same time.

        The Sons can finally start operating as they were in season one, since they are now under the leadership of Jax, and covered by some rediculously powerful organizations…imagine the Shenanigans that will ensue…

        I will agree however, that Jax threatening to leave in Season 2 and Season 4 is getting old…the “I want out” game is getting old. we all know he’s in for life.

  • Dalton

    It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?!

    • Kyle

      Seriously, that show was amazing this year.

  • poooobear

    Are you kidding me? Boardwalk empire didn’t even make it to the list? The last season was amazing….

    • ddd

      Didn’t watch Season 2 but the critics consensus was that this season was a step back from last season. It isn’t on many top 10 lists this year. Go to Metacritic which has a tally of all the top ten lists from critics.

      • Traffick

        “Go to Metacritic which has a tally of all the top ten lists from critics.”

        This made me lol.
        The only reason I go to metacritic is to laugh at how inexplicably stupid television critics are. Boardwalk Empire is phenomenal–exceptionally better than 99 percent of the shlock offered by network television (rare exceptions being B Bad, Madmen, etc.).
        TV critics are too stupid to recognize things like cinematography; every shot of B Empire is meticulously composed, and frequently genius. There is also a consistent style to the direction throughout that few shows (other than B Bad) on cable can recreate.
        They also ignore other production values, like sound editing/set direction. B Empire was unparalleled in these categories, except by other premium channel shows like Game of Thrones.
        And they can’t recognize a good script to save their lives. The writing of B Empire is Godfather-tier at times–exponentially better than any drama you’ll ever see on any of the networks.

    • wildcat

      BWE was pretty slick. Some deleriously creepy characters too. Best dialogue of any show. Great production design. It’s not loveable (nor is Buscemi) but very admirable. I think it was the best series by far. I liked season 2 better than the first.

  • davidsimple

    I’m happy you included ‘Community’, ‘Parks and recreation’ and ‘Homeland’ but, seriously, where is ‘The killing’???????!!!!!

  • Jay McKells

    Wait, are you fricking kidding me, no Terra Nova??!! The first season was totally badass and rad.

  • excpired

    Sad not to see Grimm on this list, or at least a pleasant surprise new show. Loving it so far, and it seems to be getting better and better, though the last few episodes have been a bit annoying as they aren’t going into serialization as much as the first 3, some of the last episodes have had better plot-lines though, especially the rat boy ep.

    Decent list, New Girl has a good supporting cast but Zooey’s character is just a bit over-the-top and hard to watch for long (most of the time), really am enjoying the rest of the cast though.

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  • patl

    Mad love for Community, so smart and funny. Same with Parks and Recreation, this show is hilarious how.

  • Tarek

    Quote: “Breaking Bad is hands down the best show on television. ”

    +100.000. I’ll give it an Oscar if possible.

    Thanks for the heads up on Homeland. I’ll give it a try.
    I think that Claire Danes is a terrific actress. I really don’t get it why she isn’t yet playing in blockbusters or besides stars like DiCaprio.

    • Sometimes my arms bend back

      Well to be fair she did star in Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ opposite Decaprio.

  • tony

    The list is complete crap if Sons of Anarchy is not included.


    The most disappointing tv show of 2011 is TERRANOVA boring to death.

    • Tarek

      No. The most boring one is Falling Skies.

      thanks Spielberg for these dungs.

    • Jay McKells

      Terra Nova is full of subtle nuances you’ll never understand… Next you’ll be saying the acting is wooden and the FX are rubbish! Some people…

      • George Otwori

        Cable shows have subtle nuances. Terra Nova is a big misfire by Fox. It could of been a decent action B movie likes show. Instead it was a very contrived family drama with mild dinosaur action.

        Fox is actually seriously considering renewing this Terra Nova. Especially when has already shed a third of it’s audience. After a season 1 spent so much time doing little that was relevant. I hardly doubt those people will give the show a chance with a second season.

        Fox should of just kept The Chicago Code now that was show that was better executed and cost 2-3 times less to produce.

      • jymmmymack

        Pretty sure he was being sarcastic.

  • countfosco

    No love for Happy Endings.

  • JLC

    I disagree slightly that Community started as a standard-issue sitcom. It became apparent fairly early on that Abed was aware that they were characters in a television show. Granted, it wasn’t as obviously self-aware and awesome as it later became, but the groundwork was there.

    But I agree 100% with your putting Parks and Rec slightly above Community. Community took a slight step back this year (Chaos Theory excluded), but Parks and Rec has just continued to get better.

  • ILN

    Fringe had an awesome and nearly flawless 3rd season, I’m surprised it wasn’t considered.

  • matt

    The Walking Dead?!

    • orkret

      I have to agree it not being included. The talents were fired after season 1.

  • Daniel

    And Shameless US is not in this list because…?

    • Sandip

      I agree; Shameless definitely deserves to be on this list. I say edit this list, expand it to 10, and add Shameless and Boss!

  • Nick

    Ok, I’ve read all these comments and I can’t believe no one has mentioned Dexter, this season was easily one of it’s best, and my personal favourite thing on television this year.
    P.S. Glad to see the other Community lovers out there :D

    • ILN

      Honestly, I thought about Dexter, but this isn’t 2010 with Trinity anymore, I’m sorry to say…I love Dexter but most critiques agree that this season was probably the worst, although the premise was very promising (and Brother Sam was awesome). Anyway, I’m glad someone enjoyed it :)

    • Krazy Joe

      Agreed! Dexter is still one of TV’s best. It’s easily the 2nd best show on TV, after Walking Dead.

      I didn’t think they’d ever top season 4, but DAMN — season 6 has been the best season so far. The “Gellar twist” was one of the best shockers the series ever pulled.

      Great stuff! Season 7 can’t get here fast enough.

    • Krazy Joe

      Agreed! Season 6 was the best season of Dexter yet, and I didn’t think they’d ever top season 4!

      The ‘Gellar twist’ was one of the best shock/”HOLY $–T!” TV moments in years!

  • Sugreev2001

    I’m surprised Mad Men,It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Curb Your Enthusiasm aren’t mentioned here,but anyway I totally agree that Breaking Bad is the best show on TV.

  • Melacanth

    Completely agree with #1, Breaking Bad is the best series in television hands down.

    I would also add honorable mentions to
    Boardwalk Empire (amazing ending)
    Sons of Anarchy (best season so far)
    Justified (hillbilly+columbo=amazing)
    The Walking Dead (only this show could make zombies the supporting theme, not the main focus)
    The League (funniest show on tv, period.)
    American Horror Story (not amazing, but it did keep me in suspense the whole season)

  • Sandip

    I’m very surprised that “Boss” of Starz wasn’t on this list.

    Boss has some of the best writing, dialogue and directing i’ve seen from a show in a LONG time; parallels The Wire. Kelsey Grammer just KILLS it as Mayor of Chicago. It is very addicting; feels like weeks when i have to wait to see what happens next. Thoughts?

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  • CeejayNightwing

    BOSS should be on the list, its writing and performances have been the best on TV since THE WIRE!

    Anyone still watching Terra Nova has to be some level of sad fanboy. The level of contrived concepts in the show is a joke, ready made families going into the past instead of just couples? Convenient non too deadly dinosaurs instead of a mass variety of killer creatures and huge deadly insects? Seriously, who watches this level of play-nicely fantasy tv?

  • Migz13

    Where the heck is ‘The Walking Dead’??
    And Game of Thrones seriously deserves more than just a 6.

    • Krazy Joe

      Yeah, season two of Walking Dead has been amazing. Seriously, that’s the best show currently on TV!!

  • bullington

    Nothing about Bored to Death? One of the funniest most offbeat shows on TV and this season was even more addictive that season 2, unbelievable that it was cancelled.

  • rojagegeo

    What about person of interest?? so far its just awesome !!!

  • Evan

    Meh, Parks and Rec was funnier last year, I think its downhill from here. Breaking Bad is on my Netflix list, can’t wait. Also, what about South Park. Its been a little uneven – but The Last of The Meheecans is one of their best ever and it also includedgreat episodes involving multiple personality disorder and crack-babies. Stan’s 2-part character arc was also pretty different too.

  • L.

    What about Justified???

  • MarciaLucasHater

    Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office, Office.

  • Thomas

    Thanks to those who recommended:
    Boss and The Killing.

    Won’t consider any network shows anymore, just too lame.

  • Thomas

    Best shows presently airing:

    4. The Walking Dead
    3. Boardwalk Empire
    2. Game of Thrones
    1. Breaking Bad

    Jumped the shark: Dexter (super lame now, writing and acting is unbearable).

  • Electricmba

    One new show i really enjoyed in 2011 that doesn’t get a lot of press is “Episodes” starring Matt LeBlanc. Also found “Wilfred” to be pretty good.

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