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Jess's 2011 Favorites


For 2011, I once again bring you the list of shows least likely to stack up on my DVR. (Except for the show pictured at right, which I often couldn’t bear to delete after watching!)

Breaking Bad. Hands down, my number one show of the year. I'm sure that sounds like bandwagon jumping, given how many critics sing this show's praises, but throughout the year Breaking Bad has honestly been the show I most eagerly anticipated each week. I caught up with Seasons 2 and 3 when AMC was rerunning the series in winter/spring, and would often stay up insanely late on Wednesday nights to watch the episodes “live” because I lived in fear of a DVR malfunction. (Plus, I just couldn’t stand to wait until Thursday evening to watch.) Once Season 4 premiered this summer, I would wake up gleefully each Sunday morning thinking about getting to "break bad" come 10:00 p.m. that night. (And then I’d again stay up insanely late because I was so amped from the intensity of the episodes that I couldn’t get to sleep!)

Breaking Bad is one of the most gripping, viscerally thrilling, visually stunning, and utterly heartbreaking shows I’ve ever seen. And it’s frequently darkly comedic, to boot. It seems somehow insane to be so completely enamored of a dark, grisly show that’s centered around the transformation of a sympathetic man in a devastating situation into a horrendous monster making shockingly evil choices. And yet, it’s been undeniably compelling to watch Walter White destroy himself and everyone around him, all while convincing himself that he's doing these horrible, unforgivable things for noble reasons. At times, I actually find myself sympathizing with this awful man and rooting for him to outsmart his numerous enemies, even as I fervently wish for him to suffer horribly for the damage he’s done to those around him.

I cannot praise Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and the stellar supporting cast highly enough for their amazing work on this series. No matter how extreme or ghastly things become, the writers and actors have created compelling, complex characters, who make believable (if often unspeakable) choices, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more, week after week. I cannot wait to see what the final 16 episodes have in store for us!

Game of Thrones. I don’t have much more to say on this one beyond what I already said in my Season 1 “reviewer melee” comments, so I will merely note that this highly anticipated series managed to satisfy both myself (a fan of the book series) and my husband (a newbie to the story), and during its run quickly became the new show we discussed most each week.

Eureka. The back half of Season 4 wasn’t as strong as the previous half-season arc, but the character work remained strong, and all summer long I looked forward to settling in for my weekly hour with my favorite Eurekans. I particularly enjoyed the continued focus on Fargo, Jo, and Zane, and liked the addition of Felicia Day and the return of Wil Wheaton. Fun times!

Parks and Recreation. Much like Eureka, for me, Parks and Recreation is a near-perfect blend of quirk, sweetness, and genuine heart. It was a tremendous pleasure to spend the top half of the year catching up with the remainder of Season 2 and then diving into the simply stellar third season. The fourth season was a bit of a slow starter, but these last few weeks it has really returned to form, and I’m hopeful for more of that going forward.

The characters --- and the town of Pawnee, for that matter --- are often outlandish, but they nearly always have their hearts in the right place and they genuinely care for and support one another. Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are real standouts, and any time an episode highlights the tremendous respect and fondness these two have for one another, it takes the series to another level. I’ve also rather enjoyed the April and Andy pairing, and think Ben has been a terrific addition to the series. His straight-man nerd is the perfect partner for Leslie, and the slow build and evolution of their relationship, as well as Ben’s relationship with Pawnee, has been a highlight throughout the third and fourth seasons.

Friday Night Lights. Was there any doubt that this show would make the list? As soon as it was released on DVD in April, I grabbed a box of tissues and mainlined the fifth and final season of my beloved FNL. Once again, the show strained credulity (or patience) a bit with several developments, but they never failed to make the fallout from those developments emotionally compelling and resonant. When I got to the final hours, and it came time to say goodbye to Coach, Tami, Matt, Julie, Landry, Riggs, Tyra, Billy, Mindy, Buddy, Vince, Jess, Becky, and Luke, I bawled my eyes out and loved every minute of it. I even rewatched the finale when it aired on NBC in July and sobbed uncontrollably all over again! Thanks for five wonderful seasons, Friday Night Lights. You led with your heart, you touched mine, and you will be deeply missed. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!

Stargate Universe. I had to include SGU, because not only was it a show I genuinely looked forward to each week, it was surprisingly hard to say goodbye. I didn’t cry through the whole finale, the way I did with FNL, but as SGU came to its closing moments and gave us a chance to say a proper goodbye to the Destiny and her crew, I found myself unexpectedly sobbing and strangely unable to stop. I partially blame the beautiful and gently hopeful music over the closing moments. But I also credit the slow, steady evolution of the characters from largely bland archetypes into more fully realized individuals, whom I came to truly care about, just as they learned to live with and care for one another. Part of me still misses this show, but I’m glad it came to a decent resting place before signing off.

Sons of Anarchy. Season 4 started out a little rough for me, and I started to wonder if I really wanted to keep watching the show. But as the season progressed and began to focus more on the internal conflicts in the club, and the fallout from numerous bad decisions, it really became engrossing, must-see-TV for me. I’m not quite sure how I feel about the way things resolved (or didn’t) in the finale, but the journey to that point was gripping, and I’m still curious to see where the story goes next.

In the “New to Me” Favorites for this year: The Pacific (harrowing, heartbreaking, and tremendously well done); Fringe (gross and engrossing --- I ended up devouring multiple seasons in a massive three-week Fringe Binge); and Terriers (I’ve only recently started streaming this one on Netflix, but the characters and the balance of comedy and true pathos have already completely sucked me in).

Up next: Justified (after an aborted attempt to catch up with this one last year, all the raves for Season 2 have convinced me to give it another go); and Louie (I watched three or four episodes of the most recent season, including ‘Duckling’ --- which still pops into my mind from time to time --- and I’d like to get caught up with the rest).

See you in 2012, folks. Happy holidays!

6 comments:

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I feel like a dope... I have been considering reading The Game Of Thrones books... had no idea it was a tv show too...

Billie Doux said...

Terrific rundown, Jess. I know what you mean about Breaking Bad. Every season just blew me away, and this one ended with such a jawdropper. I finally couldn't resist reviewing it another moment.

Loved the ending of Stargate Universe. I cried, too.

Mark Greig said...

Great selection, Jess.

I've only just got into Parks and Recreation and you've summed up everything I've come to love about it perfectly.

Patryk said...

On another note: anyone notice that major network shows tend to not make the cut for such lists. :)

Jess Lynde said...

Thanks all!

Well, Patryk, at least two of mine are/were major network shows. And Fringe has quickly become a must-watch favorite, so there's another one. Of course, they all get poor to awful ratings, so while I love them, I wouldn't consider them "popular" network shows.

Probably the one I enjoy most that gets decent ratings is Hawaii Five-0. But that show doesn't really compel me to watch it, so I left it off the list.

I guess here at Billie Doux, we just aren't in to mass appeal programming for the most part. Except for the zombie and vampire stuff. That seems to attract a decent-sized audience these days. Just not, you know, me. :)

tricksterson said...

Thunbs up to your praise for Sons of Anarchy