Hello cruel Monday. Fun weekend story for all you loyal followers: I happen to be a Denver Broncos fan. Kevin happens to be a New England Patriots fan. They played each other yesterday, so naturally, we set up a bet on the outcome. As some of you may have seen, Tebow and the Tebowettes lost and, by extension, so did I. Thus, abiding by the terms of the wager, I will be churning out all of the news posts until Christmas. Curse you Bill Belichick, and curse that hoodie you stole from some poor homeless guy in Dorchester.
Anyway, news dump.
- In other news you may have heard about yesterday, North Korean dictator and noted Daffy Duck fan Kim Jong-Il is dead. This creates a tremendous amount of anxiety in the Korean peninsula and beyond, as the world watches to see how the transfer of power proceeds in one of most unstable countries on the planet - but more importantly, what does this mean for Avery Jessup on 30 Rock?
- Saturday Night Live is on a bit of a hot streak, as it turns out this past weekend’s show, hosted by Jimmy Fallon with musical guest Michael Buble (and featuring an effective reunion of the cast from SNL’s Fallon era), was their highest rated of the season - good thing too, because I’d say it was their best episode of the year. And on top of that, they just announced Daniel Radcliffe will be stopping by to host in January. I am setting the over-under at 13 Harry Potter references in the opening monologue.
- And finally, a profile of some of 2011’s most wonderfully batshit TV shows.
Hey yall- just a quick dump and pump today, I’m still working on finishing up the second half of my top 2011 list. The first half can be found here, and Todd’s list can be found here: (Part One, Part Two)
- The Huffington Post has an exclusive look at the season premiere of 30 Rock. Spoiler alert: Liz is trying to find love, Jack is having power issues, and there are guest stars playing crazy versions of themselves. Oh sorry, that was actually an old spoiler alert from season four.
- Someone made a cool fan mashup of The Simpsons and Breaking Bad. It’s pretty impressive, though with 23 seasons of material, I’m pretty sure you could make a mashup of anything with The Simpsons. (h/t Emma for the link on Twitter)
- The Farrelly Brothers, most recently seen making what looks like a terrible remake of The Three Stooges, were signed to write a parenting comedy for CBS. (Editor’s Note: It appears that only Peter Farrelly is writing the pilot, leading me to believe that the other brother died in a tragic killer wasp incident. DVR Overflow regrets the error.)
While Todd launched right into his list yesterday with little introduction, I’m going to offer a few more caveats before I present my list.
- Despite being pretty underemployed right now, I have not spent all of my free time watching every episode of every show. I’ve missed a few episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Boardwalk Empire, Bored to Death, Justified, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Man Up (“a few” in this instance meaning “all of them”).
- There are a few shows sitting in my ever-growing pile of “must-watch” shows, defined as a show that someone has told me I “have to watch before you do anything else,” yet I have not seen a single episode of, including old shows like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Doctor Who, and new shows like Enlightened, Downtown Abbey, and Friday Night Lights.
That being said, I watched as much as I could and tried to evaluate as many episodes as I could. So without further ado, here is the first half of my Top 11 Episodes of 2011.
11. The Office — “Goodbye Michael”
Season seven of The Office was a mixed bag at best, and an extended goodbye party for Steve Carell’s Michael Scott at worst. But for all of the problems Carell’s final season faced — unrealistic character interactions, Dwight Schrute fatigue, and way too many overdramatic grand gestures (whose idea was it to fill an entire office with candles?) — ”Goodbye Michael” let Carell exit the show with quiet dignity. It was unexpected to see Michael Scott make an inauspicious exit given his propensity for sensational parties and unnecessary motivational speeches, but that’s what made his departure pack such an emotional impact. Sure, the episode wasn’t perfect (Pam’s tearful airport goodbye felt like a less sexually charged version of the Friends series finale), but it was the best episode of The Office in years, which — despite not being good enough for Emmy voters and their inexplicable love of Jim Parsons — was good enough for me.
10. 30 Rock — “Queen of Jordan”
30 Rock has been much-maligned as of late by critics, and although I don’t particularly agree with them, I can understand why. With five seasons under its belt, 30 Rock has to work harder than ever to come up with fresh ideas and avoid letting the characters become caricatures (though it may be too late for Kenneth and Jenna in that regard). ”Queen of Jordan” was the perfect antidote to the fatigue of a Liz and Jack-centric season, allowing bit player Angie Jordan to (literally) take over 30 Rock by replacing it with her own Bravo reality show. Aesthetically, the episode was a pitch-perfect send-up of the Real Housewives franchise, from its inexplicable dramatic in-fighting to the interview confessionals with a group of completely new characters, highlighted by gay stylist D’Fwan and ex-stripper Randi. Perhaps the best part of the episode was the main characters falling into (or vehemently avoiding) reality show tropes, with Jenna trying to get screen time by convincing Pete to throw her an intervention and Jack refusing to be pigeonholed as a “clumsy, gay flatulent.” With perhaps its most ambitious episode since “Live Show,” 30 Rock showed it still has new ideas more than 100 episodes into its run.
9. Homeland — “Semper I”
After the incredible crop of new shows that debuted in 2009 and 2010, 2011 really lacked a bonafide critical darling. With the October debut of Showtime’s Homeland, all of that changed. Tightly written, frenetically paced, and devoid of the jingoistic histrionics of its counterterrorism predecessor 24, Homeland had me hooked. The top episode this season was “Semper I,” a more contemplative episode that gave us a chance to become better acquainted with the protagonists Carrie and Brody (Claire Danes and Damian Lewis) after the action-packed first three episodes. Much like the premiere of the fourth season of Mad Men, Homeland jumped to a completely different point in time from the first three episodes, simply because the story didn’t require it. It was at that point when I realized how different Homeland really was from 24 — rather than wasting away hours of storytelling to satisfy the 24-hour plot gimmick, Homeland, like Mad Men, tells the story it wants to, when it wants to.
8. Justified — “Bloody Harlan”
I’ll admit, I gave up on Justified in season one. Just like Todd, procedurals don’t really hold my interest, so even though Justified did have story arcs that carried through multiple episodes, it didn’t have the type of tight, engaging storytelling to match a show like Mad Men, so I tuned out. For anyone who did the same, I strongly suggest getting changing your mind, because season two is miles above season one in terms of character depth, narrative arcs, and shocking twists. “Bloody Harlan” wrapped up season two while also ending Margo Martindale’s brilliant, Emmy-winning turn as conniving matriarch Mags Bennett, as she *SPOILER ALERT* took her own life via a glass of her own spiked apple pie drink. Brilliant twists like these, along with powerhouse performances from Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins, pretty much guarantee that Justified will have another must-watch season come 2012.
7. Game of Thrones — “Baelor”
While I’ve tried to avoid repeating any episodes from Todd’s list, Baelor was the absolute best episode of Game of Thrones, not only because it was chock full of the typical multiple expansive storylines, but because it showed to fans of George R. Martin’s book series that HBO was doing it right, and was not going to shy away from *SPOILER ALERT (BUT YOU MUST HAVE HEARD OF THIS BY NOW, SO I DON’T FEEL THAT BAD)* killing off their protagonist in Sean Bean’s Ned Stark. As someone who had never read the book series, the death came as an absolute shock to me. Rarely has a series dared kill off their protagonist (and the most famous actor on the show) in the ninth episode. But if the show’s breakout success is any indication, fans new and old appreciated the unflinching, no-holds-barred approach HBO took with this series, and will continue to watch in droves. I know I will, if only because I’m hoping Arya will return to the castle and get the chance to stab Joffrey in his stupid face.
That concludes part one of my year-end list. Be sure to check back later this afternoon, when I post my top six.
MORE! MORE TOP EPISODES! Think of it like a second Christmas! Only, like, on the same day as the first Christmas.
6. 30 Rock – “Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning”
One of the best Saturday Night Live skits ever (and probably my favorite of all time) features Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw, who, before going on vacation, records a series of increasingly ridiculous breaking news bulletins for hypothetical events (though the jokes about the death of Gerald Ford have become considerably less funny since he was senslessly eaten by wolves in 1994). “Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning” is effectively a full episode of that premise, with Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy staging a preemptive charity special for some eventual natural disaster. It’s really a testament to 30 Rock’s revival this past season that they were able to extend that idea over 22 minutes, and somewhere in the middle, insert Robert DeNiro saying of the mythical catastrophe, “Two days ago when people thought of a mudslide they just thought of getting drunk at an Applebee’s.” This episode was 30 Rock at its best: manic, satirical and considerably insane.
5. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon – April 1, 2011
I’ll let the video speak for itself.
4. Breaking Bad – “Salud”
I get the impression many people would go with “Crawl Space” here, though in my opinion, “Crawl Space” exemplifies some of the problems I had with Breaking Bad’s fourth season (yes, I am under the sacriligious opinion that Breaking Bad is not, in fact, perfect). “Salud,” on the other hand, is everything I love about the show and more. The whole episode builds to a climactic confrontation where Gus Fring, arguably the greatest combination fried chicken/meth kingpin ever, poisons an entire rival drug cartel. And that scene is one of the most spectacular Vince Gilligan and his support team have ever done. But there is so much more along the way: Bryan Cranston proving he deserves every Emmy he gets in an emotionally raw father-son moment, Aaron Paul doing a great job of acting like he’s acting while bluffing his way through a high pressure meth cook, and the always welcome badassery of Mike the Cleaner.
3. Boss – “Listen”
Boss is not a great show, at least not yet. While I admire that it wears its ambitions on its sleeves, it pulls the over-the-top card far too often, and its portrayal of some characters, like the sexy sex addict who serves as the mayor’s chief aide, are flat out embarrassing. But when Boss does something right, it does it in a jaw-droppingly beautiful way. Chicago has never looked better on camera than it does through the eyes of Kelsey Grammar’s Mayor Tom Kane, and Grammar himself is nothing short of spectacular in the lead role. And for the series pilot “Listen,” these are the predominant items that stand out, not the flaws. The very first scene is just three minutes of staring at Grammar’s stoic, tragic face as his doctor, off-screen, gives him the death sentence diagnosis of a debilitating neurological disorder. It’s possibly the best scene to ever open a series, and the episode carries that momentum well for an hour. Hopefully, Boss as a series can pick that same intensity back up in season two.
2. Game of Thrones – “Baelor”
Much like Breaking Bad’s “Salud,” “Baelor” is mostly notable for it’s conclusion, though there are some great scenes beforehand (Tyrion Lannister’s monologue about the first love of his life is a particular highlight). But really, the importance of the ending by far outstrips anything else. Sure, the book had been out for years and the event that ends “Baelor” could have been easily tracked down. But for anybody going through Game of Thrones for the first time on HBO (like me), that twist was without a doubt the ballsiest move to ever grace a TV screen. Everything in HBO’s marketing, in the series’ plotting, none of it gave any indication things would come to this.
Unless you were me, in which case the ending was spoiled for you by a random Internet commenter named Thiskool37. Thiskool, if you happen to be reading this, please take note: One day, I am going to find you. And when I do, I am going to rip out your kidneys with a corkscrew. You have been warned.
1. Community – “Remedial Chaos Theory”
Pretty much all the Community fans I know adored “Remedial Chaos Theory” when it aired, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. However, most of them seemed to praise it so much because it was so clever – and to be fair, it is a clever concept. Making an entire episode built out of seven distinct timelines? You get bonus points for originality. But the cleverness is just what makes “Remedial Chaos Theory” unique, it isn’t what makes it great. What makes it great is that is one of the most soundly constructed half-hours of television I’ve seen. Not a single gag, not a single set-up, not a single moment is wasted. Timelines feed off each other in unpredictable and creative ways, every single Chekhov’s gun is shot off perfectly, and ultimately, the episode provides as much depth for Community’s seven core characters in each three minute segment as it had in the two seasons proceeding the episode. And did I mention that one of the timelines is evil? And it features Troy screaming in terror at a burning troll doll? Yeah, that happened. And it was glorious. Oh, how glorious it was.
(Photos courtesy NBC Universal, AMC, Starz and Home Box Office)