I really am a fan of television, but you’ll notice that I don’t write about it here as much as film and music. That’s because Mama here couldn’t do her homework while watching TV (Although Mama somehow got distracted anyway with the Internet). But since school’s out and Netflix, despite all their unjustifiable increased charges this year, actually had an excellent selection of items to occupy my free time, there was no better time for me than 2011 to explore my new favorite old shows, as well as tune in to a couple of the year’s freshest programs. From participating in the completely unnecessary yet entertaining mischief at Dunder Mifflin to delving into the dangerous underworld of crime and meth-making and dealing in New Mexico, I made friends in all sorts of new places just in my living room. Take a look at my favorite misadventures, listed in order from awesome to absolutely phenomenal, of the small screen—I look forward to what’s next for them in 2012.
(Note: I have a ridiculous and incomprehensible amount of shows in my queue so if you don’t see a show that you think I should be watching, I most likely do plan on watching it but haven’t had a chance to start on it. Also, I will be noting my progress on each show and talking about the points I’ve reached in each series so I don’t sound like a completely uneducated dumbass when I’m talking about them. TL;DR: I’m slow at starting on and finishing shows. My write-ups are based only on what I’ve seen of it so far, and each program varies.)
8. The Walking Dead
KAREN’S PROGRESS (Next episode to watch): S2: E1
I normally stray away from horror violence and gore, but I’m willing to stomach it for the brilliance and jaw-dropping action and drama of this zombie apocalypse thriller. Based on the graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead kicks off with Officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) waking up from a coma to find that his patrol area in Georgia is no longer full of life, but instead destructed and haunted by bloodthirsty wanderers. Throughout the series, he helps round up survivors, including a group isolated in the wilderness where his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), son Carl (Chandler Riggs), and friend and partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) have managed to escape to. Rick and his family, Shane, and the others struggle to live day-to-day in the camp and sometimes having to venture back into the fallen city, though clashing with the multiple personalities and struggling in their personal relationships. The group dynamics have a bit of a social relevance, and the chaos and the panic as everyone faces frightening new challenges to continue living in their upside-down world is unsettling but felt. If a zombie apocalypse does happen, The Walking Dead may have already written that story quite accurately.
7. Mad Men
KAREN’S PROGRESS: S2: E4
I always like to joke about this show in my head that if I took a shot for any time a character was shown smoking or committing adultery, I would die three deaths at the very least. But you gotta hand it to Mad Men for building intrigue and capturing the lives of the elite of New York City in the 1960s. The internal and external affairs—both business and personal—at the ad agency Sterling Cooper are scandalous, and smartly-crafted by those who work on the critically-acclaimed show. The series’ iconic lead is Don Draper (Jon Hamm), an intelligent but mysterious ad executive who excels at concealing everything from his personal identity to his many affairs from his unstable suburban housewife Betty (January Jones). The office bubbles with creativity—and bubbly—with the presences and voices of powerful senior partner Roger Sterling (John Slattery), ambitious junior executive Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), acid-tongued office manager Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), and mousy secretary turned quick-witted and outspoken copywriter Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss). The authenticity of the landscape and era is remarkable, extended by the attractive narratives and character profiles, for a truly terrific period drama. After negotiation issues pushed season 5 to 2012 instead of 2011, it will be quite a TV event for the year ahead.
6. Breaking In
KAREN’S PROGRESS: COMPLETED
I accidentally discovered this show—which joined FOX’s spring lineup this year—at WonderCon and found my first favorite TV show of 2011. This delightfully nerdtastic heist comedy is a smart freshman series that you probably haven’t seen, and it deserves a chance from anyone who can’t get enough office hijinks, or even if you’ve had enough. It also miraculously survived cancellation after six episodes, only for FOX to later announce a second 13-episode season to premiere next year. So watch it—I need it to not be canceled unfairly again. Breaking In documents the day-to-day culture and activities of Contra Security, helmed by the great Oz (Christian Slater), who has a strange and deluded Michael Scott-like leadership style. New hire Cameron (Bret Harrison) comes to terms with his role at the unique company and learns to deal with the awkward interactions with his eccentric new boss, along with other colorful colleagues: the energetic Cash (Alphonso McAuley), the subdued Josh (Trevor Moore), the crushworthy Melanie (Odette Annable), and her ultimate—and I mean ultimate—douche boyfriend Dutch (Michael Rosenbaum). From going undercover at comic conventions to high schools, the group makes their living by sneaking around to install their firm’s security systems everywhere. Ring all the alarms because I’m getting fired up for this show’s return!
5. New Girl
KAREN’S PROGRESS: COMPLETED
Another new FOX series kept me home on weeknights: New Girl uses the term “adorkable” in all its marketing and the show itself really is, as well as the lead played by the—you guessed it—adorkable Zooey Deschanel (Can’t help it!). The quirky series has Deschanel playing a newly single teacher named Jess, who moves in with three single guys and changes their home environment with her glowing personality and oddball lifestyle. The men are also as different as can be with how they are and how they live: Nick (Jake Johnson) is a relaxed bartender and also bouncing back from a breakup. Schmidt (Max Greenfield) is a fashion-forward and slightly vapid office professional who loves the LA nightlife scene. Winston (Lamorne Morris) is a passionate basketball player who struggles to be productive and get a real job after a stint in Latvia. Despite their differences and conflicts, the roommates manage to come together and support each other through their difficult situations and in celebrating the good times. I’m really looking forward to seeing if Jess and Nick resolve their sexual tension, or if Cece (Hannah Simone) accepts Schmidt’s romantic advances. Though personally, I do hope Jess and her equally cute male counterpart Paul (Justin Long) have an opportunity to reconcile.
4. The Office
KAREN’S PROGRESS: S5: E1
The Office is one of those shows that you know everything about even if you don’t watch it, because everyone in your Twitter feed, Tumblr dashboard, and constantly redesigned Facebook news feed does. I finally had the opportunity to know first-hand what those folks were talking about. I still haven’t seen the episode where Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) get married, but considering everything they went through in the episodes before that (Roy! Karen! Art school!), they’re already one of my favorite couples in television ever. I know it’ll take a while for me to see the departure of Michael Scott (Steve Carell), but I know my heart will shatter on the ground when I finally do. But in the meantime, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the kooky cast of suited-up characters from Michael’s cling-on Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) and his eventual rival for leadership and Angela (Angela Kinsey), Andy Bernard (Ed Helms), to Kevin Malone (Brian Baumgartner) and his penchance for the over pronunciation of words, and Meredith Palmer (Kate Flannery) and her tendency of being an unlucky target for hilariously inappropriate injuries. Being a part of everything from their regular themed office parties and Dundies to roasts and marathons—somehow, it makes working for a paper company in Scranton, PA look like fun.
3. 30 Rock
KAREN’S PROGRESS: S3: E7
30 Rock is an enlightening show for folks who are highly interested in the writing/production side of television, such as myself. It’s a TV show-within-a-TV-show [Insert Inception-related joke here]! It’s fast-paced, fun, witty, and genuinely hilarious. I also love how US and world politics is a huge presence, but isn’t taken too seriously. The genius of Tina Fey is reflected immensely as creator, executive producer, writer, and sitcom star as Liz Lemon, a character that’s essentially her Superwoman self. Liz is unlucky-in-love but dedicated to her work on The Tracy Jordan Show (Originally The Girlie Show), dealing with the demands of the stars: the erratic Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) and the fame-hungry Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), plus her writing and the production team. Her boss is the conservative and self-assured NBC executive Jack Donaghy, played effortlessly by Alec Baldwin, although Jack has his moments where he has Liz act like his therapist or arm candy at events. It’s a different and quite outstanding kind of workplace comedy, but hey, who even knows anyone who works at a major TV studio? 30 Rock allows viewers a hypothetical look into the fascinating landscape of television production and in a thoroughly sophisticated, engaging, and endearing way.
2. Arrested Development
KAREN’S PROGRESS: COMPLETED
I can’t believe this show aired while I was still in high school, but like the cliche goes, better late than never. This short-running comedy is truly one of the modern classics of contemporary American television and if you never watched it before (And if you’re not, START NOW), you’ll understand right away why there was/is outrage about its cancellation. Arrested Development has Ron Howard‘s voice, a vivid array of characters, continuity, memorable dialogue, amazing running gags, storylines to make its viewers stay along for the ride…it sets a standard of golden excellence for comedy and is everything a quality television show should be. The series follows the super rich, bratty, and dysfunctional Bluth family, held together by level-headed son Michael (Jason Bateman) after the patriarch George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is arrested for shady accounting practices at the family’s company. The clan is truly a wacky one, consisting of Michael’s materially-minded twin sister Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), her flamboyant aspiring actor husband Tobias (David Cross), their rebellious teen daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat), ultra-competitive magician older brother Gob (Will Arnett), sheltered “Mama’s boy” younger brother Buster (Tony Hale), Michael’s good-hearted son George Michael (Michael Cera), and the snobby alcoholic Bluth matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter). Things are thrown into a further frenzy with the appearance of George Sr’s twin brother Oscar. Many of the stars rose to prominence with this show, and everyone from Jane Lynch and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to Ben Stiller and Charlize Theron have made guest appearances. If you forgot what happened in an episode, Ron Howard will remind you with his commentary, but it’s difficult to forget when the humor delivers. How can you forget memorable one-liners like “I just blue myself” or the family’s chicken dances that are anything but representative of actual chickens? Also for a comedy, Arrested Development doesn’t shy away from twists and turns in storylines that can genuinely shock viewers, while still making them laugh. Though the series ended in 2006, news of a long-awaited movie was recently confirmed, along with new episodes coming to Netflix in 2013 as a lead-in. Development: no longer arrested! In the meantime, do check out this must-see show.
1. Breaking Bad
KAREN’S PROGRESS: S3: E6
I questioned putting this show at number one but when I realized last night as I was watching that I was getting disgustingly emotionally attached to the characters, I just knew that this was my show—and I haven’t even reached the best season, which was apparently this year’s! This visually stunning, gritty, and unflinching crime drama is full of incredible complexity and weaves jaw-dropping narratives and surprising relationships to present an edge-of-your-seat tale of deceit and degradation. Series protagonist Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a textbook example of an unlikely kind of hero, one that takes an ambiguously reverse course in life and applies his smarts and dedication in an immoral way. In the pilot, Walter is introduced as a well-liked chemistry teacher at a New Mexico high school, but with his pregnant wife Skylar (Anna Gunn) not working and a teenage son, Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte), having cerebral palsy, his income isn’t enough to make ends meet. But when it’s discovered that Walt has lung cancer, the shit hits the fan. So to ensure his family’s financial security in the event he succumbs, he finds himself manufacturing an exclusive, superior quality formula of crystal meth and teaming up with his former student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to deal. What a way to leave a legacy, right? I mean, if death inevitable, do the unthinkable with the days, months, or years you have now while you can. But as the series progresses, Walt is actually given more time to live and goes the distance with his complicated double life. Even more, Walt’s brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent and obsessed with catching the person responsible for the spike in meth possession, not knowing Walt is behind it all. Lives and relationships get completely shaken up—Skylar figures her husband out, and in season 2 onwards, there’s a well-layered narrative branched off from the tragic relationship of Jesse and his girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter). The characters at the center find themselves at life-or-death odds with fearsome players in the underbelly of New Mexico’s increasingly troublesome meth scene. All the while, there’s even quite a bit of dark, sometimes campy humor to somehow lighten the mood. On the surface, when you think about how Walt may be hurting his family more than helping them by engaging in these extremely risky activities or how Jesse comes off as this kid-like but hard-talking young man who makes horrible choices, it’s too simple to dismiss. But it’s hard not to feel heightened emotions for them as their stories unfold, even when you know what they’re doing is wrong. Likewise, with a supporting character like Skylar, who’s fed up with her husband sneaking around, you can’t put all the blame on her for doing and saying some of the things she does and says later in the series. This is a show where characters inexplicably demand understanding and in turn, audiences need an open hearts and mind. But truly, each episode will have you dumbfounded and wanting to move on to the next one without a beat. Between the hardcore violent action, toughened emotions, and unexpected humor, Breaking Bad fearlessly crosses all lines for an odyssey of subversion. It’s a show that will completely draw you in, completely scramble you up, and you’ll let it do it to you over and over again. Now that’s the absolute best kind of addiction to have.