1. Breaking Bad (AMC) was the best TV show of 2011. But you don't have to take my word for it. No, really, don't; you can't, actually; I have scarcely seen anything of its fourth season. My DVDs sit unspun, waiting to be binged upon when I've got a free weekend to fill, or a preteen slumber party to emotionally scar. Earlier this month, The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum spoke truth to power under the headline “I Hate Top Ten Lists:” "Part of my problem is the false authority of it," she wrote. "TV critics certainly try to keep up, but damn, there’s a lot of TV." Indeed, I sometimes moderate my viewing habits in the belief that I can sharpen my vision by resting my eyes. The key to being a TV critic without losing one's mind is to not watch too much television, or so I hope. But it’s a strategy that closes the opportunity to make definitive pronouncements. As far as I know, Charlie's Angels is an unjustly ignored masterpiece.
Further, it is my belief the nature of television—with its flow and its shifts and its context of no context—is such that moments matter more than series. What I will remember most fondly of the 2011 TV year are two epiphanies: that Jimmy Fallon's Late Night is most in its element during a small hotel-room after-party, and that the work of my local-news station's traffic girl, an angel of the bluescreen, is peerless civic cheerleading.
2. Homeland (Showtime*) was also popular. I enjoyed this terror-era paranoia thriller, partly because every episode offered a few moments when excellent acting triumphed over shaky writing, and despite the fact that every episode offered a few moments when bad acting made shaky writing shudder like an overheated engine. How is Gore Vidal's health? He could be the ideal reviewer of this show, what with his lavish lunacy about 9/11 and his experience writing for television, where the Wise Hack of the Writers' Table in the MGM commissary once told him, "Shit has its own integrity."
3. Some people seem to dig Game of Thrones (HBO), as I learned when I confessed it didn't do that much for me, earning a scolding in the nerdosphere and a few flowery death threats in the comments. Apparently, your correspondent, a "popped-collar troglodyte," ought to be “slapped,” and he deserves to "rot in hell." They called me dirty names including “Rex Read [sic],” “Armond White,” and “Pitchfork.” I'd like to respond to my critics directly:
a) About the rotting in hell part: I maintain, grandiosely, that I have trapped all the commenters in the review, where their icons will forever grapple with the flypaper, a bit like characters in a story-inside-of-a-Borges-story—a story that will continue to expand, perhaps even fractally, as time passes. The angry commenters are Satan's minions, fanning flames eternally, trapped in, as one observer put it, “a classic low-grade flame war.” For kicks, I have left some puzzles and riddles about the nature of television criticism in those sulfurous depths.
b) As a matter of principle, I only rock a popped collar on a hot tennis court.
4. Best comedy? Community.
Psyche! But the show is good—clever, extremely pleased with its cleverness, intriguingly demented in its pursuit of that self-pleasure. A bell jar of a watercooler show, it offers narratives for narratologists and moods for postmoderns, and it never met a text it didn't want to chat about. Someday someone will write a Petrarchan sonnet on the recent episode of The Soup (E!)—star Joel McHale's other gig, the self-loathing, self-abusing survey of trash TV—in which his Community co-stars dropped by and in-jokes disappeared up their own navels with a tickle.
5. Best Gender? Women.
Don’t they look like they smell pretty? It must be all the shampoo in the commercials. Also, the story of the year concerned their new prominence, and television’s role in a perpetual conversation about sex and gender and femininity and machismo, which is mostly inane and occasionally brilliant. We are entrusting our philosophies of love and family to the tube, which is a lot of weight for Whitney Cummings' pointy shoulders to bear. A special most-polarizing trophy goes to Zooey Deschanel, of New Girl (Fox), who enters her first midseason as a TV star primed to caper through the Yuletide forever as Elf enters heavy rotation and her Christmas songs get canonized. Will the people she displeases grow Grinchy?