TV Surveillance’s Best of 2011: Best Performances, Comedy

It is that time again folks! The end of the year is upon us and that means it is time to look back on the highs, lows and WTFs in television from the past 12 months. There is a lot to reflect on in regard to television 2011. Charlie Sheen went crazy. Well, crazier. Comedy supposedly made a big comeback. We found out what The Event was, I think. Steve Carell and Michael Scott said goodbye and we were sad. The guys from Entourage also said goodbye, and we were less sad. AMC tried to break a Guinness Book World Record for number of stupid PR disasters by a cable network.

This year brought us a number of great new series such as HomelandHappy Endings and Game of Thronesand a slew of horribly awful ones such as The Paul Reiser ShowHow to Be a Gentleman and Charlie’s Angels.True Blood and Glee kept getting worse while Community and Justified kept getting better. 2011 was the year of Louis C.K., the year of sexposition and the year of The Killing. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting all sorts of lists, podcasts and pieces reflecting back on the year that was. So join me in saying farewell to what was a very compelling year in television. There will be so many lists.

2011 featured a slew of great individual performances. Today, I’m going to discuss 20 performances that I really, really loved this year. I have chosen 10 performances in comedy and 10 in drama. To avoid any dominance by one series or another, I decided to keep it to one great performance-per series. Of course, just because I picked one person from Community, that doesn’t mean I didn’t love everyone else in the cast as well. I am going to split these 20 performances into two posts today and so let us begin with the comedy side. The burgeoning life in television comedy gave us dozens of consistently LOL-worthy characters, but also some very complicated and deep ones as well. You won’t be surprised to know that my initial list had over 20 actors and it wasn’t easy to cut things down. But I did it. Just for you. Here we go. These aren’t in any particular order.

Steve Carell, The Office: Steve Carell’s goodbye run on The Office was as enjoyable as I expected it to be. The series’ writing might have slipped a few levels, but Carell brought his perfect mix of inappropriate behavior and pathos to Michael Scott’s farewell tour. The final few episodes asked Carell to do more of the latter than the former, ultimately leading to work that wasn’t as outwardly “funny” as some of the actor/character’s greatest moments and yet, it didn’t really matter. Carell is one of the most appealing television stars of the last 25 years and I already miss him quite a bit.

Gillian Jacobs, Community: Picking just one cast member from Community’s study group was the toughest choice I made in regards to this list. Donald Glover had a boatload of YouTube-worthy moments, Jim Rash got a lot of great material in the fall run and Danny Pudi is a consistently engaging, compelling presence. But Gillian Jacobs has been fantastic in 2011, especially in the third season that began this fall. Jacobs is game to do absolutely anything, from shockingly uncomfortable dances to donning nasty-looking spandex leotards. Britta’s wannabe-do-gooder shtick could have gotten tired and staid, but Jacobs (and the writing staff, of course) find new wrinkles and progressions that continuously add complexity to the character.

Ashley Rickards, Awkward.: MTV’s Awkward. took everyone by surprise this summer/fall and I think the series works so well because of Ashley Rickards’ stabilizing, but complicated performance at the center. The series’ writing is quite strong, there’s no question about that. However, Awkward. probably doesn’t work without Rickards. She handles the embarrassing comedic bits and the hormone-racing love triangle stuff with the same kind of vigor, making her Jenna Hamilton a fully-formed and relatable character.

Ty Burrell, Modern Family: The series he stars on has only gotten worse in 2011, Ty Burrell remains one of the strongest comedic performers on television. As Phil Dunphy, Burrell is often asked to act like a complete idiot who lacks self-awareness, and he almost always overcomes the mediocrity on the page by bringing a youthful, warm disposition to the character. He’s very adept at physical comedy as well, which helps makes the unfortunate amount of pratfalls he’s asked to do work much better.

Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation: I’ve said this multiple times before, but before Parks and Recreation, I didn’t particularly care for Amy Poehler. I think she wasn’t well-served by many of the recurring characters on Saturday Night Live and the first season of the series didn’t really convince me to change my mind. Of course, that’s all changed now. Leslie Knope is such a lovely, inspiring, intelligent and funny character that my “meh” opinion on Poehler has transitioned into full-blown crush mode. In an era of populist sitcom characters who are either hateful, stupid or some mediocre combination of both, Leslie Knope is a much-needed outlier. Poehler brings the perfect kind of kinetic, but controlled energy that helps make Leslie one of the most admirable human beings on television. If you don’t love Leslie Knope, you might not be alive.

Adam Pally, Happy Endings: Max Blum is one of television’s great new characters of the year and much of the credit for that revelation goes to Adam Pally. Much has been made about Max as a new representation of contemporary gay men (and rightfully so, of course) and I love how Pally and the series’ writers allow the character to be defined by more than his sexuality or his non-typical representation of it. As Max, Pally delivers one-liners with the best of them and commits to some of the most ridiculously funny bits seen on television in 2011. From the Nerf Gun sniper action to his inability to make a quality steak sandwich, Pally makes Max the most lovable slacker since Friends’ Joey.

Garrett Dillahunt, Raising Hope: FOX’s Raising Hope gradually improved in 2011 and that gave other members of the ensemble more material and more of an opportunity to grow comfortable in their roles. Nevertheless, the series’ best performer of 2010 remained so this year. Garrett Dillahunt plays Burt Chance with a great combination of ignorance and heart, helping him move into the pantheon of great television dads (and grandpas). Like Ty Burrell, Dillahunt helps a character who could be someone we laugh at stay someone we can keep laughing with.

Max Greenfield, New Girl: Schmidt is a really weird character (like all the people on New Girl, really) and we need more weird characters on broadcast television. He has this super-annoying machismo façade that definitely covers up for some really messed up psychological issues. His widely-swinging self-esteem leads Max Greenfield to turn in one manic performance after another and almost all of them have been great. Greenfield uses his voice to create distinctly odd line deliveries. He’s just a force that is always up to stuff and keeps New Girl immensely watchable even in the middling episodes.

Busy Phillips, Cougar Town: Unfortunately, Cougar Town has been away for a while now so it’s easy to forget just how damn funny it was in season two. The series has a very strong ensemble that has a very comfortable chemistry with one another, but it’s hard to not hone in on Busy Phillips’ goofball Laurie. The character displayed some needed depth in season two, but not so much that it took away from her proclivity to be a bit dense. From her surprising “success” at trivia to her charming use of Twitter, Busy Phillips’ Laurie’s enthusiasm for fun is really infectious.

Louis C.K., Louie: I strongly considered putting C.K. on the drama side, but then realized his wonderful work on Louie doesn’t really fit in any better there and it’s probably for the best to not confuse/inflame anyone with semantics. As I’ve said a handful of times this year, C.K.’s biggest strength is that he’s a tremendous storyteller. Those stories might lead him to deliver a hilarious, embarrassing performance in one Louie segment and a stirring, uncomfortable performance in the next one. There’s really no telling what will come next, with both Louie the series and Louie the performer. He’s not necessarily a traditionally talented performer like everyone else on this list, but he knows his strengths and highlights them often on Louie.

Your favorite comedic performances of the year?

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