2011-2012 season wrap: Top 10 series of the season

The 2011-2012 television season has been over for almost a couple of weeks now, which means a sufficient amount of time has passed and we are primed to reflect. Over the next handful of days, I will be producing some pieces and lists looking back on the season that was. I missed out on a lot because of my hectic schedule, but hopefully these full-season views will make up a little for the lack of episodic reviews or content throughout the early part of 2012. And lists are always fun, at least for me.

I figured the best way to kick things off was with a list. Below are the top 10 series of the 2011-2012 season. To be considered for this very prestigious honor, the series had to air most of its episodes between the time period considered the television season, which was September 19, 2011 through May 23, 2012. This means that series like Breaking Bad and Louie (aka two of the best series on all of television) are not eligible. THERE MUST BE ORDER.

10. Smash: OK, not really. Just kidding. 

10. Southland : It still confounds me how little people talk about TNT’s grimy, raw police drama. Southland’s fourth season was its best, as the influx of new blood and mixing up of the partners created a swell of new quality stories and electric partnerships. This is one of the best acted series on all of television.

9. The Good Wife: Season three of The Good Wife was not as strong or even as ambitious as the second, but it still remains the most impressive drama on broadcast television. Although this was a transitional season, the performances were still top-notch and many of the procedural cases were quite fun. The personal drama created bigger, better pay-offs in the second half of the season, where the renewed focus on Alicia, Cary and Kalinda brought the best out in the King’s writing.

8. Justified: Like The Good Wife, Justified struggled to reach the same heights in its third season that it did in the second. And just like Good Wife, Justified still turned in a season full of slightly-disconnected highlights, fantastic performances and thematic power. No one will likely be able to touch Margo Martindale and Mags, but Neal McDonough and Mykelti Williamson did their damnedest and Walton Goggins and Timothy Olyphant turned in their best work in three seasons (especially Olyphant). And that finale? Damn.

7. Girls: The controversy surrounding Girls has been loud and stupidly obnoxious, which is unfortunate because this is a great series. As a comedy, Girls is not great. But as a character-based dramedy, it is pretty darn fantastic. The series is insightful and slightly self-indulgent, but does not expect you to admire its characters and their selfish faults. Girls is moving in a weird way that I cannot exactly explain, which might stem from my proximity in age to the characters.

6. Community: So much happened with Community during the 2011-2012 season that it became too suffocating for me as a fan. I am looking forward to enjoying this season on DVD divorced from all that LOUD context. Like Good Wife and Justified (this is a weird, unintentional theme this season, apparently), Community season three struggled to live up to the greatness of its second. But it was not due to a lack of trying, as the third season was bursting at the seams with ambition, particularly on a character level. Not everything worked and the first half of the season was a bit sluggish, but few series can match Community’s innovative tendencies (well, could is more applicable now that Dan Harmon is gone).

5. Happy Endings: Community might be more ambitious and Parks and Recreation certainly has more heart, but Happy Endings is the most purely funny sitcom on television at the moment. Like so many of the greats, Happy Endings found even steadier footing in its second season, with Elisha Cuthbert and Zachary Knighton coming into their own as comedic forces. The characters were properly deepened and the world was properly expanded, supporting the snappy dialogue in substantial fashion.

4. Game of Thrones: No lead/central character, no problem. The second season of Game of Thrones was even more sprawling than the first, but felt much more cohesive thanks to a clearer focus on theme (as Todd VanDerWerff points out) and generally, more confident storytelling. The glut of new characters fit into the established world with (relative) ease, the stakes felt higher and more visible and a half-dozen actors turned in noteworthy performances. There simply isn’t anything else quite like Game of Thrones on television.

3. Homeland: It has been a long time, but let us not forget how awesome Homeland’s first season was. Deep, complex and emotionally and psychologically draining, Homeland combined the intense thrills of 24 and the thematic substance of past cable greats to create a tremendous freshman season. If this one does not walk away with at least a few Emmy awards – especially for those standout lead performances – come late fall, there is no justice in this damn world.

2. Parks and Recreation: The campaign/election arc felt slightly cumbersome at times – how many episodes did Leslie and her team screw up dramatically only to be bailed out or have it shift into a positive pretty easily? – but Michael Schur and his team of writers, actors and directors kept the core of the comedy intact. Despite the occasional problem, the season-long story actually carried an entire season’s worth of stories, as the writing staff clearly had some things to say about the state of small-town politics (without diving too deep into political science theory). Most importantly, the characters and their relationships continue to power most of the action. April and Andy had loads of great stuff this season and even if the Tom and Ann relationship does not necessarily work, I appreciate the way the series went about it. This season, Parks held tight to the “best comedy on broadcast television” throne.

1. Mad Men: Was there really any question? Though not yet complete, this season of Mad Men has been something: From that amazing run of great episodes to start the season to the depressing, wrenching depths of “The Other Woman,” it is starting to feel like the series is putting together an all-time effort in year five. We had to a year-and-a-half for new Mad Men episodes, but at this point, I feel confident in saying that it was all worth the wait.

Just outside the top 10: Cougar Town, Archer, Boardwalk Empire, Awake, 30 Rock, New Girl

Your thoughts? Sound off below. 

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