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Best of 2011: TV shows


Published January 4, 2012

For the moment, the formerly benign Walt, as he says, “is the danger.” Whether he maintains this status as the show continues is a different story.


5. “Downton Abbey,”

“Downton Abbey” is the runaway hit of the year. The lavish series proves that a period piece can still kick ass. Produced by the BBC, each episode is soap-y, yet totally refined.

The series has managed to mix delectably dishy drama with an in-depth look at the English class system. It provokes real intellectual effort while sparking up deadly arcs and delicious intrigue. It follows the twists of the well-off Crawley family and their considerably less well-off servants. The first season starts off after the sinking of the Titanic, exploring the ins-and-outs of the caste system and rules of society.

The drama is a resounding achievement as the most successful British costume drama in almost 30 years. Collecting a bundle of awards for its first season, including several primetime Emmys, the series doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. Bring on the fancy hats!


6. “Louie”

“You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen ever in your life,” Louie explains to his daughter, who questions why her sister got the better dessert. “Louie” features moments when we’re not sure whether to laugh, cry or stand up and shout at the television while watching Louie C.K.’s signature brand of dark humor.

His activities are often banal — blind dates, rearranging furniture, riding the subway — but the second season of FX’s Emmy-nominated series continues to give viewers a “Seinfeld”-like show with the soul of a gothic teenager.

Season two was even more self-aware, more mocking of the tradition from which it stems in a wonderful, sardonic manner. Take the seventh episode. It presents “Louie” in an old-school sitcom format, complete with a laugh track. It’s funny, only because we know “Louie” is anything but standard.


7. “Homeland”

There were plenty of enjoyable new shows that premiered this fall, but none were quite as impressive as Showtime’s “Homeland.” Despite the writers they share in common, “Homeland” is not the new “24” — it’s the antithesis of “24.” “24” preached that torture was necessary and that terrorism and Islam frequently overlapped, but “Homeland” critiques these ideas, presenting a much more candid picture of post-9/11 counterterrorism efforts.

Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes, “Stardust”) isn’t a superhuman Jack Bauer type. She’s depressed one second and manic the next, but all the while one of the best intelligence operatives in the business.

Sex and gore aren’t used in “Homeland” to simply excite the audience, but to provide a provocative scope into these characters’ lives. Damian Lewis and Claire Danes consistently deliver astounding performances, Lewis constantly making us unsure of Brody’s alliances and Danes playing both extreme sides of Carrie’s personality with precision. This show became the smartest, best-written action drama currently on television with ease, and it’s only the beginning.


8. “Justified”

In its first season, “Justified” laid the groundwork for a thrilling Western-esque procedural centered on the bold and charismatic U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens’ (Timothy Olyphant, “I Am Number Four”) return to his small, crime-ridden Kentucky hometown.