Top 15 TV Shows of 2011

15. The Walking Dead

It’s a bit slow-moving and the acting is occasionally over-the-top, but The Walking Dead proved once again, even without zombies, it’s pretty compelling television. The first half of Season 2 revolved around the increasingly hopeless search for a little girl who had gone missing, while characters battled each other, themselves, and the end of the world as we know it.

14. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Still hilarious after all these years, Sunny’s seventh season introduced us to a new brutal board game called CharDee MacDennis, gave us a scenic tour of the Jersey Shore, and brilliantly tackled Mac’s ongoing weight issue. Dennis is still creepy, Frank and Charlie are still eccentric, and Dee….well, I think the gang’s driving her to the point of insanity.

13. 30 Rock

Don’t call it a comeback – season 5 was a strong turning point for this aging series, which got a lot of flak for a hit-or-miss season 4. Even with a temporary absence from Tracy Morgan, who underwent emergency medical surgery during filming, the show remained sharp as the plot became focused on trying to find out where his character went missing.

12. Archer

Just when we thought we had the womanizing, James Bond-mocking Sterling Archer figured out, he gets cancer, falls in love, and leads us on a three-part getaway when his fiance is killed. Season 2 (and the aforementioned first three episodes of Season 3) were exciting, witty, daring, and, most importantly, pretty damn funny.

11. How I Met Your Mother

It feels like it’s been a few seasons, but things are finally getting tackled on How I Met Your Mother. The character of Barney is slowly changing into a baby-lover. Robin has discovered an important revelation about the rest of her life. Marshall and Lily are adjusting to the realization of being future parents. Ted…well, does anyone care, really? The show is still irreverent, funny, and entertaining after all these years.

10. Modern Family

Modern Family isn’t really a show trying new things, per se. We’ve all seen the family sitcom thing done over and over, lessons learned, etc. And we’ve seen the Office-esque mockumentary multi-camera style of filming. But this show’s approach to it all continues to feel fresh and revolutionary week after week, even if the topics tackled aren’t necessarily so.

9. South Park

I surmise The Book of Mormon reinvigorated Matt and Trey, because this was a surprisingly excellent season of South Park overall, especially after many consecutive hot-and-cold ones. The half-season finale gave us a potentially series-altering cliffhanger, but we should have known nothing would change. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Quite the opposite, actually.

8. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Daily Show has completely changed from when Stewart took it over in 1999. Night after night, these guys do some heavy lifting, taking the day’s political issues and giving them a hilarious, and simultaneously rational, take on them. With a barrage of idiot Republican candidates vying for the presidency this year, you can bet the writing staff had a lot of great material.

7. Louie

Louie is heartwarming, realistic, and very, very dark. Louis CK plays a straight man in his own corrupt version of New York that he created, holding his children’s hands and guiding them through his cynical hell. The Seinfeld-esque standup bits put the eccentric short films all together for a strange, but hilarious, half-hour of TV.

6. Parks and Recreation

Parks works where the Office doesn’t. The Office has tried a more ensemble cast approach with the absence of Steve Carell, and it’s not working. Parks tried an Office-like approach in the beginning, making Leslie Knope a crazy Michael Scott clone. But now this show has found its true roots, with the whole crazy, lovable cast involved, and the results have been spectacular.

5. The Colbert Report

This year, for me, marks the first year the student became the master. Night after night, Colbert trumped Stewart on most bits, the interviews, the musical guests, and the overall quality. Colbert’s ongoing mockery of the Supreme Court’s ridiculous “corporations are people” ruling is daring and hilarious, as is the creation of the pointless Colbert SuperPAC.

4. Homeland

I started this show late, a few days before the finale, worrying I wouldn’t catch up in time. Man, was I wrong. This is the best new show on TV, no contest. Thrilling, compelling, addictive. If I even begin to go on about this show, I’ll just spoil it for you, so do yourself a favor and watch it. It will only take you a few days to get through it, I promise, because once you start, it will be hard to stop.

3. Boardwalk Empire

I suppose I should have seen it coming, as the season gradually progressed toward all the major cliffhangers of the finale, but wow….what an ending. Killing off a major character always marks a dramatic change, so we have to wonder, after only two seasons, where does Boardwalk go from here? You can bet, with an amazing cast and a stellar performance from Steve Buscemi, I’ll be watching.

2. Community

It may be on the brink of cancellation, but for now, we can revel in the utter amazement of this show, which never ceases to amaze on a weekly basis. It’s absurd, it’s off-the-rails, it’s hard to pin down. It’s topical, it’s smart, but it’s also got heart. This season the character bonding of Season 1 met with the absurdity of Season 2 for the show’s best yet. And hopefully they’re not done.

1. Breaking Bad

After Season 4, any naysayers have to admit: not only is Breaking Bad the best show on television, it’s one of the best shows ever made. Just when we think we’ve got a character pegged, they shock us. And no one shocked us more than Walter White, played by the incomparable Bryan Cranston. There’s one season left, and there’s only so far down that dark abyss these characters can crawl. There’s no way this ends happily, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.

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