Happy New Year! As a look back at 2011, I am counting down my top 20 favorite episodes from the year. One disclaimer I would like to make is that I am still going through the Friday Night Lights series and haven't gotten to the final year or else I'm sure the much heralded final episode would be on this list, quite possibly on the top. But I haven't seen it yet, so here goes from episodes I have seen!
I don't watch CSI: NY regularly but I tuned into the premiere to see the special 9/11 tribute episode. As the 10th anniversary was fresh in everyone's mind, CSI: NY delivered a poignant episode that flashes back to the day as Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) lost his wife in the attacks. It was an episode that aired at the right time and captured the country's emotion both that day and ten years later.
NBC's much hyped drama last season didn't live up to expectations by any means and rightfully earned derision from critics for its overly complicated and ridiculous plotlines. But those who stuck with the show (like me) actually saw it become a stronger and stronger series as the season wore on. And by the end, I was fully invested as "The Event" finally happened in the series finale. It set up an interesting twist with the president's wife being one of the terrestrials but the show will never get a chance to explore that further.
Parks and Recreation is one of the most consistently funniest shows on TV today. You'll see more from this series later in the list but we'll start with this one which featured a great guest star turn by the awesome Parker Posey as a childhood friend and now rival of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). Poehler and Posey were perfect foils with Posey's snottiness and Poehler's earnestness making a great contrast. She should be a recurring character!
Knowing that the episode was about Cam (Eric Stonestreet) directing a children's play was enough to know that this was going to be a great episode of Modern Family and it didn't disappoint as Cam's outlandish expectations led to disaster. A very funny subplot featuring a poorly placed ad on Phil's van featuring Claire and Haley's pictures further solidified this episode's spot on the list.
Chase was an unheralded show from last season that probably would have been a hit if it had been on CBS and not NBC. With fast paced action and great criminals, Chase was an exhilarating hour to watch each week and the best episode was easily "Roundup." What started as a nearly funny concept of the US Marshals holding a competition to get the most wanted criminals in 24 hours turned darkly serious when one of their own took revenge on a man who had molested her as a child. It was a very well put together episode and it's too bad this show didn't last longer.
The quirky new hit of the fall season did not win me over with its first couple episodes as I found it more annoying than endearing but for some reason I kept watching and I'm glad I did. The show has really found its rhythm and is emerging as my favorite new comedy of the season. Zooey Deschanel is of course who everyone is talking about but the real strength of this show is her three roommates and this particular episode has a hilarious scene with Jake Johnson's Nick getting involved in Jess' (Deschanel) relationship. The camaraderie with this cast gels more with each episode and this most recent entry ended with an awesome scene where they yell at people to turn on their Christmas lights. When a cast is having that much fun, so are we.
The lavish new fantasy drama has been uneven but its pilot was something unlike anything else on TV. With an intriguing blend between fairy tale world and modern day New England, the show set up a mythology that was quite intriguing. Who knows if this show will be able to keep up with the tangled web that it is weaving but it really wowed coming out of the gate and audiences have responded to that.
At best, most critics see Criminal Minds as just another procedural but I have never agreed with that. I think it is crafted much better than it gets credit for. And the story arc that led to Paget Brewster's temporary exit as Agent Prentiss was very captivating. It came down to a tense hour where Prentiss was supposedly killed but they wisely left the door open for a return (Brewster was in a pilot for NBC that ultimately didn't make the cut). Minds isn't really about the agents but when they do focus on them, it's actually a very well developed story which is not always common for procedurals.
Phil takes Haley to his alma mater for a college tour in a very Phil-centric episode. Ty Burrell has emerged as the true scene stealer in this excellent ensemble and this episode showed Phil's regular silliness as well as some depth in some nice scenes with his onscreen daughter. As is so often the case, Modern Family shines because of multiple strong storylines and Claire going out with Phil and Cam, who realize they are not the partiers they used to be, is a good one.
Parks and Recreation's terrific third season ended with Pawnee's local hero, the miniature horse Li'l Sebastian, biting the dust. The following memorial service was the funniest this side of Chuckles the Clown with Ron's mustache getting singed and Andy's tribute song "10,000 Candles in the Wind" were the best parts of a top-to-bottom hilarious episode.
Oh how I miss Michael Scott. The beginning of Steve Carell's final batch of episodes gave one of the greatest characters in TV history a fairy tale ending when he proposed to Holly (Amy Ryan). After some poor ideas from Michael to start out the episode, he led Holly through the office where they reminisced about their off and on relationship before he popped the question with candles and the rest of the office staff nearby. As the sprinklers were tripped from all the candles, Holly said yes and all of us who always hoped Michael Scott would find the one were satisfied.
The Middle is a great show to watch each week but it's one of those shows that doesn't seem to really have standout, big episodes. It sort of chugs along with quality episodes that fly under the radar each and every week. But it's best of the year had a great plotline - Frankie and Mike (Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn) decide to take back the house from their kids which means not catering to their every whim and desire. Frankie and Mike's pure glee at their new life and the kids' horror sets up a great dynamic in the episode pitting kids vs. adults. It's simple situations like these that make The Middle the most relatable sitcom on the air.
As I mentioned before, I think Criminal Minds is underrated in terms of quality and this episode was just a simple case-of-the-week episode that had really good twists and turns. Centered on a tenth anniversary of a high school shooting and a new killer in town, the chilling episode hearkened back to Columbine and the horrors from those days. And when the killer was revealed as well as the reason for why he started killing, it showed the dangers of high school cliques and bullying. It was an episode that touched on a lot of important topics while being very gripping and interesting.
In an era where reality shows are a dime a dozen and most aren't really doing anything new (see The X-Factor), The Voice was a breath of fresh air for the genre and was so sharply produced that it hooked me from the beginning. The idea of the blind auditions made for great TV and we saw that these coaches were going to be something special. It also doesn't hurt that The Voice really did have the best voices in any of these competitions. Can't wait for season 2!
The new soapy drama is one of the most addicting of the fall season where the filthy rich get their comeuppance thanks to crafty girl Emily Thorne (Emily Van Camp) avenging her father's death. This show is dark and twisty and no episode better showcased that than the fifth one which ended with a terrifying fall for a character (Lydia, played by Amber Valletta) who was in the middle of Emily's plot. There's so many great performances in this show but the real scene stealer, ice queen Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) was delightfully evil in this one as she displayed such hatred towards Lydia. I can't wait to see where this show is going next.
Modern Family is strong when it has three separate storylines but it is at its best in the episodes where it brings the whole ensemble together (not that they should do it every week because it makes those episodes more special). This was a great example of one of those special episodes where the hangups for all the characters came to a climax at Alex's junior high graduation with the whole family running down the hill to make it on time. It's episodes like this that make you really love this Family.
The best new drama of the season does a masterful job of blending a case-of-the-week with a very interesting overall storyline that is carrying through the season and this particular week was very intertwined as an episode that seemed like pretty standard episode delivered a stunning twist that set up future storylines for the show. Even though the premise is a bit outlandish, this show makes it work with very serious performances from Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel. And guest star (and now recurring character) Enrico Colantoni made this episode the best in a brilliant first season to date.
Oh how I miss Detroit 1-8-7. The gritty crime drama was the best new show to come out of the 2010-2011 season but it could never capture the ratings needed to survive. The show just got stronger and stronger as it went on and the series finale really left me wishing there was a season 2. Michael Imperioli delivered one of the best performances of last season and topped it off with an episode that saw him come face-to-face with an arch enemy and let his guard down to his son. If you didn't catch this the first time, buy the DVD or watch it online. At least we got 18 brilliant episodes.
Have I mentioned how much I like Parks and Recreation yet? After a rocky first season, the show has become such a sharply written show with a great ensemble. And the best episode of a great 2011 for the show was "Flu Season" where the office was hit by the flu. Rob Lowe was hilarious as his ever type A character was forced to slow down but the moment of the episode was Amy Poehler's performance as a loopy Leslie attending an important parks department function. She reminded me of Lucille Ball with such funny comedic timing and physical comedy. Too bad this show doesn't get more attention because it's more on top of its game than any other sitcom on the air right now.
This season, The Office is a mere shell of what it was so it's easy to forget that we were still enjoying Steve Carell as Michael Scott earlier in 2011. Though his goodbye seems to be the beginning of the end for the series, the episode itself was brilliant. It had so many references to previous episodes that long time fans will love right down to his very last line - "that's what she said." Then he said goodbye to Pam in the airport with nothing audible to the audience and walked off into TV history. Carell's portrayal of Michael Scott was something special and should go down as one of the best performances in TV history. Though the show has lost its way, it didn't disappoint in saying goodbye to a beloved character.