I’ve mentioned already how some of my pop culture/art consumption was effected by the time I’ve put into the YouTube channel, and of all the kinds of media I consume, TV was probably hurt the most. I could no longer allow myself to speed through an entire season of a show over a weekend, and certain current shows I probably should have been watching were left for later, so as to avoid adding another weekly commitment.
By that I mean that I have yet to watch the second season of Boardwalk Empire and I didn’t watch Downton Abbey. I also still haven’t watched Breaking Bad, but I’m going to start within the next few days.
Before I get into 2011′s TV, I have to mention my favorite non-2011 shows I finally watched last year.
What is there to say about The Wire that hasn’t been said so many times that everyone is sick of hearing it? It’s the show everyone says you have to watch. It’s the show everyone says is the greatest show ever. And it is. It really is. From start to finish, it’s the most satisfying piece of television I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. It never falls into clichés or tired stories. It never takes the easy way out. It devotes the same time and effort to every character, whether they’re a cop, drug dealer, mayor, or dope fiend. Usually when I’m watching a series and I arrive at the final episode I start to get nervous, since so few shows end on a truly strong note. As I began the final episode of The Wire, the routine nerves came on, but then I paused for a second and realized something. This was The Wire. Of course it was going to stick the landing. I never should have doubted it.
I don’t like David Lynch. I say that only having seen Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, but if I didn’t like those, chances are I won’t like his other work. That said, I liked parts of both those movies. I love Mulholland Drive until about two-thirds of the way through. My hope with Twin Peaks was that a long-form narrative would bring out the things I liked about his movies and not as much the things that pissed me off. And that’s what happened. Once I adjusted to the Lynchiness I fell in love with the show, this supremely weird soap opera/goofy small town comedy/murder mystery/surreal horror story. Of course, it did go off the rails in the second season, but those initial twelve or so episodes are what really matter. And I’ve gotta say, I kinda liked Fire Walk With Me.
I spent a while pondering how to approach this entry. If I didn’t watch enough shows to formulate a proper list, what would I do? Well, I thought it best to borrow the format of the previous entry on comics. My favorite show of 2011 is absolutely no mystery. It’s Community. I’ve watched every episode multiple times. I’ve obsessed over it and analyzed it, and no other television program brought me more enjoyment last year. And since it’s currently on an indefinite hiatus (#savecommunity #sixseasonsandamovie), it’s important to talk about it and show that people care about it. Because it’s the best.
UPDATE: The hiatus ends March 15! Obviously this was written before that announcement.
And so, here are my 10 favorite episodes of Community from 2011.
10. “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”
Growing up with The Simpsons I learned to love anthology Halloween episodes, so it should come as no surprise that I loved this. The best segment is a toss-up between Abed’s painfully rational slasher story (“I’m comforted by your shiny hair and facial symmetry.”) and Britta’s rushed, lazy tale of a hook-handed killer (“An escaped convict from the asylum has escaped and he’s mental and he’s on the loose and stuff.”).
9. “Regional Holiday Music”
Community takes its ongoing mocking of Glee to its ultimate conclusion with a spot-on parody (the silent goateed piano guy!) that totally outdoes it at its own game by doing all original songs. I was singing “Baby Boomer Santa” for weeks afterward.
8. “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism”
Of all the episodes on this list, this is the only “normal” one. There’s no big genre homage and no gimmick. It’s one of the show’s “sitcom” episodes, which are generally good but not as remarkable as the others. Somehow the very rare pairing of Jeff and Shirley results in one of the show’s more poignant stories, as well as one of its most truly insane scenes (the sudden switch into anime). As for the B-plot, it has Abed dressed as Batman and Annie’s futile attempts to imitate Christian Bale. Comedic gold.
7. “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking”
This episode is great for numerous reasons, particularly the exploration of Jeff’s father issues and as a commentary on the documentary style of shows like The Office. But what really matters is that there was not a single thing I saw or experienced all year that made me laugh as hard as when Troy met Levar Burton.
6. “A Fistful of Paintballs/”"For a Few Paintballs More”
The most spectacular season finale a fan could ask for, a two-part western/Star Wars homage paintball war. Every single character got a great moment, even Vicki and Magnitude. It had a Cougar Town crossover. Josh Holloway played a character called “The Dark Rider.” Abed (as Han Solo) kissed Annie under a downpour of orange paint. “Operation: Troy’s Awesome Plan is living up to its name.” If the show had never gone on past season 2, this would have been a worthy conclusion.
5. “Paradigms of Human Memory”
The sheer concept of this episode is a perfect example of why I love this show so much. It’s a clip show that, instead of being the laziest episode, ends up being one of the most ambitious. Not many shows would have a balls necessary to use up a whole season’s worth of potential plots on throwaway gags or the energy to actually shoot them all (a ghost town! a haunted mansion! Mexican drug lords! a St. Patrick’s Day rafting trip!). What really makes it great is that it uses the format to comment on the past season and call itself out on potential criticisms. It’s basically a perfect episode of Community. “A locomotive that runs on us.”
4. “Documentary Filmmaking Redux”
I love that the show does these documentary episodes mainly to save money yet they end up feeling like some of the most complex, ambitious stuff it’s done. As someone who loves stories about filmmaking, a full-episode homage to Hearts of Darkness is obviously right up my alley. Jim Rash earns an Emmy he sadly won’t get (because the Emmys are dumb) for the most gloriously bizarre Dean Pelton performance he’s yet given, taking center stage and descending spectacularly into insanity.
3. “Critical Film Studies”
Part of why I love this is that it was advertised as “Community‘s Pulp Fiction episode!” and then…wasn’t. It wasn’t the craziest episode the show has ever done, but it might have been the most unusual: a half-hour homage to My Dinner With Andre that featured Abed delivering a lengthy existential monologue about pooping his pants on the set of Cougar Town. As with Community‘s best episodes, the absurdity and pop culture references are completely character driven. For an episode that features Chevy Chase in a gimp suit, it’s a great character piece about Abed and his struggles to relate to his friends. It’s also beautifully directed by the great Richard Ayoade (director of every episode of Garth Maraneghi’s Darkplace and one of my favorite movies of 2011, Submarine), who handles a very tricky script without a single false moment.
2. “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”
As this episode was unfolding in front of me, I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this is real. Something this wonderful and insane actually got made and broadcast on network TV.” As much as I love it when Community gets crazy with paintball wars and musicals and zombie attacks, so much of its strength comes from scenes of of the cast sitting around the study room table. Two of the show’s best episodes are pretty much nothing but that (the other, “Cooperative Caligraphy,” was pretty much my favorite television episode of 2010). This time, the group, joined by ongoing background character Fat Neil, play a game of Dungeons and Dragons. For the entire episode. What could simply be a fun episode about the group hanging out becomes so much more. Thanks to some great sound design, music, and Lord of the Rings-esque narration, it becomes an epic fantasy that merely happens to be confined to one room. It somehow manages to delicately handle the topics of depression and suicide without ever losing sight of the comedic tone. It turns a minor line from earlier in the season into the basis for a brand new character. It has Annie’s erotic adventure as Hector the Well-Endowed and his/her seduction of an elf maiden so as to procure a fleet of pegasi. If you need an episode to introduce to your friends who don’t watch the show, this should be it.
1. “Remedial Chaos Theory”
Not just one of the show’s best episodes but one of the best television comedy episodes I’ve ever seen. In a script that must have driven several writers insane, multiple timelines created by the tossing of a six-sided die allow the show to analyze how all the characters relate to one another, how slightly different pairings and situations lead to very different outcomes, and how the removal of certain people can change the enter dynamic. The amount of humanity, imagination, and humor packed into these 21 minutes puts most other shows to shame. A truly inspiring, magnificent episode.
There was some more TV I watched in 2011, so here, in no specific order, are my favorite single episodes (one per show).
Doctor Who – “The Doctor’s Wife”
Season 6 was fairly divisive, and I’m one of the people who, for the most part, loved it. As much as I enjoyed Steven Moffat’s grand, ultra-complex overarching plot, the highlight was Neil Gaiman’s long-awaited episode. It was everything that is great about both Doctor Who and Gaiman’s writing: whimsical, moving, and overflowing with imagination.
Parks and Recreation – “Li’l Sebastian”
How do I pick one episode of Parks & Rec? Its third season is virtually flawless and its fourth has been almost as good. While I don’t adore it quite as much as Community and it doesn’t quite reach the same heights, it’s probably the funniest show on TV, a perfectly honed comedy machine. The third season finale, featuring the spectacular memorial ceremony for the world’s greatest miniature horse, is a demonstration of everything the show does well and how great every character can be. Also, it has Jean-Ralphio and the debut of Entertainment 720, which are probably the main reasons I picked it.
Homeland – “Marine One”
I only recently caught up with Homeland, watching the first season over about three days. The whole thing is phenomenal, brilliantly written and acted, but what impressed me most was how it ended. I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it yet, but it handles a potential terrorist attack with many heavy shades of gray, creating one of the most suspenseful episodes of television aired in 2011. What I love about the ending, beyond how good it was, is how it gave a satisfying conclusion to the season’s main story while moving things in a new direction for the future. This clearly isn’t going to fall into the Dexter problem of formulaic, repetitive season-long story lines. And seriously, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Give those guys all the awards.
Game of Thrones – “Baelor”
The one that made me and everyone else who hadn’t read the book go, “Holy shit, they really just did that.”
The Office – “Goodbye, Michael”
Let’s skip the obvious talk about the extremely inconsistent quality level of The Office‘s recent seasons and just focus on what a beautiful episode this was. As Steve Carrell’s final appearance as Michael Scott, this was something of a television event, and watching Carrell, writer Greg Daniels, and everyone else involved absolutely nail it was a joy. It’s hilarious, it’s moving, but most of all it is a perfect encapsulation of everything that makes Michael Scott a great character. His final, silent line is as good a send-off as one could ask for.
OKAY THAT’S IT.
Wow, that took a long time. I don;t even want to try to count how many weeks it took to finish that entry. As of a few days ago, we now know that Community is coming back on March 15. That doesn’t mean we can slack off and not watch it or take it for granted. We need that fourth season.
ANYWAY, LET’S MOVE ON…
NEXT UP: PART 1 OF MY MOVIES RECAP, WHICH IS BASICALLY A BIG NUMBERED LIST