2011: The Year In TV (The Rest)
Continuing my run through of the year in TV after yesterday's look at the best, here we examine the rest. I'll look at some shows that gave us solid seasons, look at my favorite TV personality of the year, work out what happened to a few shows that for me 'jumped the shark' and finally scrape the bottom of the barrel with the worst 2011 had to offer.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
Many lamented the lack of a definable arc with this most recent season of CURB but that didn't bother me. CURB has always been an episodic show and while several episodes this season were definitively middle of the road, Larry David still gave up a handful of absolute classics that reminded us this series is one of the best and bravest comedies on TV. Highlights included the Palestinian chicken shop episode which memorably contained a scene where a woman yelled “I'm gonna fuck the Jew out of you!”; Larry accusing Michael J Fox of having fake Parkinson's shakes; Larry meeting his dickish match with Ricky Gervais and the term 'cut and chat' being coined. A very solid season of a still great show.
HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA
One of the best evocations of New York on film I've seen in years continued its trend of understated pleasure with a second season that nicely improved upon a very good first. I've never been able to exactly put my finger on why I so enjoy this show. A greatly charismatic cast including Luis Guzman and some great guest stars definitely help while it's defiant shaggy nature gave it a sweetly lovable feel. Sadly HBO also cancelled this show recently but as a series finale the final episode of season two works perfectly well.
A mention must go to Joel McHale's stalwart TV commentary series THE SOUP. 2011 gave this show one of its most solid years in quite a while as McHale and his writers tore apart the world of crap TV that we in Australia have to be thankful we aren't regularly subjected to. The frequent guest appearances by his cast mates on COMMUNITY didn't hurt my personal amusement either. Now excuse me while I go drill a glory hole...
Most Valuable Contribution to TV:
BLACK MIRROR/HOW TV RUINED YOUR LIFE
Brooker gave us two very different shows in 2011, both equally insightful and brilliant. HOW TV RUINED YOUR LIFE was ostensibly in the same vein as his SCREENWIPE work although it was much more focused than anything he has previously presented us with.
With each episode focusing on how TV has molded and corrupted different aspects of our lives, the cumulative effect of this six part series was cynically devastating in a most hilariously bleak way. Brooker's interstitial sketches hit the mark more often than not and his amusing take on GRAND DESIGNS is permanently etched into my memory.
BLACK MIRROR was more of a departure for Brooker, giving us a 3 part TWILIGHT ZONE style series investigating different hypothetical pop culture infused scenarios. The first episode is probably the most amazingly sustained 45 minute bestiality joke ever made while the second is easily the best example I have seen of how mainstream culture co-opts subversive activity. It wasn't always 100% successful but it's a show with huge ambitions. Very highly recommended.
Jumped The Shark:
The following shows reached points in 2011 that made me wonder if their best episodes were in the past. FRINGE achieved a level of crazy brilliance with its third season that I had to question whether the writers had painted themselves into a corner. The first batch of episodes in the fourth season only solidified this concern. An audacious twist at the end of season 3 put the show in a position that (while intellectually fascinating) entirely killed off any audience association with the characters. As the fourth season progressed the writers seemed compelled to ignore their long form arc, settling into episodic stories that were interesting yet incredibly frustrating. FRINGE may have gone one twist too far.
BORED TO DEATH
BORED TO DEATH - a show that achieved hipster comedy perfection in season 2 - was dramatically hit and miss in season 3. A bland story arc and some oddly over-dramatic plot threads signaled a show that wasn't exactly sure of what it wanted to be. HBO recently cancelled the series so the final episode of season 3 turned into a series finale – possibly one of the weirdest points for a show so essentially sweet natured to end on. I'm not that disappointed it is gone.
Jumped The Shark:
Across the pond two shows I really enjoyed in the past offered up seasons that again made me wonder if they lost a bit of magic. MISFITS was always going to be facing a difficult season after losing its star Robert Sheehan to ego the show also faced problems of where the story could go after pushing the plot pretty far in a brilliant season 2. The solution, hitting the reset button and introducing a new character, season 3 was mildly entertaining but frequently misguided. With no significant arc the 8 episodes meandered around with some slightly bland soapy stories. The creativity and ambition of the previous season was distinctively missing from this season. Hopefully season 4 finds its mojo.
DR WHO was another UK show that lost its mojo in 2011 with a spectacularly misguided season packed to the gills with a borderline incoherent story arc. Showrunner Stephen Moffat got so caught up with a complex mythology that he frequently forgot to tell interesting stories instead concentrating on epic plot twists that only occasionally made sense. I found it to be long form mythology storytelling at its worst often moving so fast through plot that one rarely cared about the outcome. The best episode came from guest writer Neil Gaiman who penned a truly spectacular free standing story that almost made this noisy, tiring season worthwhile.
Worst TV Series of 2011:
THE WALKING DEAD
The first season of THE WALKING DEAD had the dubious honour of moving from great to horrible faster than any show I have ever seen so season 2 could've really gone anywhere and so far the writers have decided to take season 2 absolutely nowhere. 8 episodes in and the show has established itself as the most stupidly slow moving and repetitive narrative my brain has been unlucky enough to experience. When it wasn't doing the same thing over and over it was serving up toe-curlingly bad monologues about the pain of living in a world full of zombies. By then end of 8 episodes the story finally played a card it should've 5 hours prior and delivered a clunky moral dilemma that ultimately was dated and vacuous. Season two's great achievement was that it was absolutely shitty in an entirely different way to season one's shittiness. Congratulations WALKING DEAD, you could be brilliant if you had some half decent writers.
(Runner up is the AMC remake of THE KILLING which made me so angry with its blatant disrespect for the audience and its complete lack of understanding as to how a mystery show functions that I choose to forget it even exists)
Worst Australian Series:
Finally the world saw the Chris Lilley that I had been seeing for years. As the backlash towards ANGRY BOYS grew I silently sat, amused that all the criticisms leveled against this show were exactly what I felt about his previous series' also. Crude, pointless, pretentious and packed with jokes that were dated 40 years ago, the emperor is seen by all to have no clothes. Thank you Australia, now when will you agree with me that THE CHASER are crap too?
Most Unwatchable Series:
A special horrible mention must go to the consistently terrible TRUE BLOOD. After Alan Ball appeared to US viewers immediately after the 3rd season finale in 2010 to ostensibly apologise for the amount of loose ends and cliffhangers they left you would have thought the writers were aware of their mistakes but as season 4 progressed I watched with awe as a show with already too many characters and sub-plots introduced yet more new people and stories. On top of this almost all the cliffhangers from season 3 were dropped in an audaciously disrespectful opening episode. TRUE BLOOD is a lesson in how not to tell a long form story with stories constantly going down dead ends, disconnected plots stretching over multiple episodes with no identifiable conclusions and just simply junk storytelling. No one expected it to be a great season but this is a show that has no idea what it is doing. Straight up soft-core vampire porn would be an improvement.