Under the Radar’s Top 50 TV Shows of 2011
Dec 22, 2011
Each of Under the Radar's writers submitted a list of their Top 20 favorite TV shows of 2011. Those lists were all combined and tallied up to form Under the Radar's master Top 50 TV shows of 2011. The list will also appear in Under the Radar's forthcoming Best of 2011 Issue.
Favorites from last year’s list, Mad Men and Eastbound & Down didn’t show new episodes in 2011—thus were ineligible in this year’s vote. However, favorites Modern Family, 30 Rock, and Community hung on—joined by such newcomers as American Horror Story, Game of Thrones, New Girl, and Suburgatory. Basically, any show that aired new episodes in America sometime in 2011 was eligible. Check out our final rankings below.
With a loveable cast and good-natured sense of humor, the ongoing misadventures of six oddly-matched outcasts at Greendale Community College has become the most weirdly meta and hilariously self-referential show since Arrested Development. For the sake of smart television comedy, let’s hope the series’ indefinite hiatus isn’t a long one.
By Austin Trunick
Modern Family is in no way a revolutionary show. Sitcoms based around the family unit have been a staple of the genre since The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett. Modern Family’s documentary-style format, complete with on-camera confessionals, mimics several comedies on NBC. And while Modern Family has been applauded for its positive portrayal of gays, it’s following in the trails blazed by Ellen and Will & Grace. So what makes Modern Family arguably television's best comedy since Arrested Development?
Most 22-minute shows offer up broadly sketched archetypes who are about as authentic as a laugh track. By contrast, Modern Family viewers are invested in the aspirations and struggles of Type A housewife Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen), her hapless Type Z husband Phil (Ty Burrell), and their three children. Then, too, audiences are captivated by the hilarious neuroses of Claire’s gay brother, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), his flamboyant partner, Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), and their adopted Asian daughter, Lily. But the show’s real non-traditional family is grouchy patriarch Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neil), his brassy (and bosomy) Columbian trophy wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara), and their precocious son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez). The various neuroses of each member of this extended clan are so human, so relatable, that their interactions are automatically hilarious and tragicomic. It’s a show, in other words, built on the strength of its characters. Perhaps Modern Family is revolutionary after all.
By Stephen Humphries
Parks and Recreation
The fourth season of Parks and Recreation saw Pawnee’s lovable cadre of government employees stretching out to new audiences and balancing their somewhat sentimental drama with guffaw-worthy farce. This show is picking up steam at a perfect time. Lampooning the ineptitude of government is easy when the Occupy Wall Street movement is beating their collective drums. It’s also extremely rare to find contrarians dismissing Parks as an Office clone when the latter is wallowing in a comedic nadir after the exit of star Steve Carell.
As in previous seasons, the focus is on Leslie Knope, played to sincere perfection by former SNL comedian Amy Poehler. Leslie is torn between her scandalous (read: hilarious) romance with Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and her City Council campaign. This deftly handled through line largely resolves itself in a mature manner before the mid-season break.
Naturally, the sitcom prides itself on sharp delivery of all manner of jokes. Parks’ excellent supporting cast is just as strong in season four. Nick Offerman continues to be a mountain of a libertarian as Ron Swanson, and Aziz Ansari perfects his indie-meets-rap shtick this year as Tom Haverford. Take Tom’s advice from earlier this year: “Treat Yo' Self!”
By Kyle Lemmon
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Curb Your Enthusiasm solidifies its place as one of the greatest comedies of all-time in an astonishingly superb eighth season, the show’s finest to date. It continues to polarize, of course, eliciting cringes of repulsion from the non-converted and fervent devotion from acolytes. Yet, somehow, Larry David, as he did while writing for Seinfeld, thrives mining the clash of life’s painfully banal minutiae and modern culture’s most forbidden taboos. It’s an unlikely dichotomy, but one that produces exceedingly hilarious returns long after most sitcoms have sucked the well bone dry and just plain suck.
By John Everhart
Over the two seasons of the Prohibition-era gangster drama, viewers have tuned in to watch young Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) grow up, old Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) settle down, sweet Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) find her family, and the terrifying Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) start a family. Except that none of these things ever work out in the right ways, particularly any time family is involved. While political alliances wrestle for control of Atlantic City in the public eye, Boardwalk Empire’s most disturbing twists and turns occur in the home. (Jimmy, we’re glaring at you the hardest.)
By Austin Trunick
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead braved staff turnover and behind-the-scenes drama in 2011 to turn out a half-season, the start of its second, that slowed down the show’s breakneck pace. The entire seven-episode run was devoted to the search for a missing child, as our survivors find relative refuge from the zombie apocalypse on a family farm. As the manhunt mounts for lost little Sophia, the group is forced to face up to the moral quandaries posed by the living dead; the final minutes of the mid-season finale are a real doozy. (And even if you weren’t a fan of this season's more casual pacing, it’s always worth showing up for Greg Nicotero’s grisly zombie makeup effects.)
By Austin Trunick
Louis C.K. was always known as a comedian’s comedian. Over the past few years, he has found a voice that meshes with a larger audience. Perhaps his comedy got a little more down-to-earth, or perhaps the audience was finally ready for him. Whatever the case, C.K. showed over the first season of his FX show that he was the next evolutionary step in a line including Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm: acerbic, acidic comedy that induced as many cringes as laughs because it uncovered some hidden, previously unspoken truth.
The second season of Louie found another gear and in doing so became not just the funniest show on television, but one of the most honest, from the “Eddie” episode in which an old friend comes to town and Louie finds out that the ways he has softened might make him not only less adventurous but—stunningly—happier, to the stunning “Oh Louie/ Tickets,” featuring a brilliantly long and uncomfortable scene where Louie and Dane Cook address the long-standing rumor that Cook stole Louie’s jokes. Somehow, C.K. mixes in Fellini-esque non-sequiturs and fantasy sequences that would make a film student sit up and take notice. All without ever losing the flavor of the show.
Very seldom is it that one man’s particular—and peculiar—vision makes it onto the screen intact, and Louis C.K. has been able to do just that, much to our delight.
By Jim Scott
Season six of the re-launched Doctor Who found The Doctor (Matt Smith) and companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) indulging in a series of twisted time travel adventures—and all the wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff that goes along with them. While Rory racked up his share of near-death experiences, The Doctor battled with The Silence and tried to answer a question hidden in plain sight. The story folded in on itself—questioning not only The Doctor’s mortality but also his morality. But only enigmatic fellow time traveler River Song (Alex Kingston)—whose identity is finally revealed—seems to know all the answers.
By Laura Studarus
When Breaking Bad finishes its run next year, Bryan Cranston’s role as Walter White may go down as one of the most complete character arcs in television history. We’ve watched Walt go from down-on-his-luck chemistry teacher to cold-blooded villain over the course of four seasons, with the most recent season detailing his life-or-death showdown against his employer, the chillingly calm drug lord, Gustavo Fring (played by Giancario Esposito). The climax of that struggle may be television’s most jaw-dropping moment of 2011; the final reveal of the depths Walt sank to in order to get there could be its most shocking. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions; for Walter White, it’s the only path that remains open.
By Austin Trunick
Game of Thrones
As fans of George R. R. Martin’s gritty fantasy series already know, the author isn’t afraid to kill off lead characters with little warning. This leaves those who haven’t read the books at the edges of their seats, waiting for the other sword to drop, while those in the know can gloat over what’s coming next. Game of Thrones is an incredibly well-executed adaptation that can satisfy each type of fan of the franchise; think of it as a grownup Harry Potter, but with less magic and way more incest and murder.
By Austin Trunick
Friday Night Lights
NBC/DirecTV’s The 101 Network
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
The Big Bang Theory
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
The Colbert Report
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
The Good Wife
American Horror Story
Being Human (U.K.)
How I Met Your Mother
Beavis and Butt-Head
Real Time with Bill Maher
Torchwood: Miracle Day
Sons of Anarchy
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson
2 Broke Girls
Bored to Death
Law & Order: UK