In my previous job, covering TV for the Globe, I took it upon myself to write an annual top-10 list. Not all critics like doing this; my friend Wesley Morris is always trying to bend the rules, coming up with 11 or 21 entries, or expanding the definition of a “list.” But I like reading lists, and I miss writing them, though my TV viewing isn’t as complete as it used to be. So I wrote one, rules-free, Wesley-style: my top ten favorite TV shows/moments/experiences of 2011, in no particular order.
1. Game of Thrones, HBO. When I first got the press kit from HBO, with its medieval facial hair and vast family trees, I thought, “No way in hell would I enjoy this.” I was wrong. From the mesmerizing credits sequence on, I was fully geeked out and blissfully happy. My favorite thing about the show is the depth of female characters. No pretty and pointless “Lord of the Rings” elves here. I’d match Daenerys Targaryen up to Lisbeth Salander anyday.
2) Louie, FX. Louis C.K. is one of the funniest comedians alive, and “Louie” is funny, too, but it’s also the saddest show on television, and the melancholy is beautiful to watch.
3) The “Remedial Chaos Theory” episode of Community, NBC. “Community” often runs the risk of being clever at the expense of funny, but this episode – about alternate timelines created by the roll of a dice — was genuinely clever, surprisingly sweet, and possibly one of my all-time favorite half-hours of TV. It understood its characters perfectly, and rewarded them for being themselves.
4) Homeland, Showtime. Speaking of characters: My mind is still spinning over Carrie Matheson, Saul Berenson, and Nick Brody, America’s most lovable TV terrorist. Yes, you had to suspend some disbelief to think a domestic terror plot would play out this way. And yes, I shared many people’s fears that this would show would fall into one of many “24” traps; I think I might have literally prayed that there wouldn’t be a mole in the CIA. But the writing was surprising, the directing was suspenseful, and the acting was impeccable.
5) All-American Muslim, TLC. No, it’s not the most interesting show on TV. It might be the most boring show on TV. But TLC’s under-attack docu-reality show deserves credit for being respectful and informative, and for sparking a healthy backlash against both paranoid haters and cowardly businesspeople.
6) Parks and Recreation, NBC. After Charlie Sheen’s implosion, I binged on “Two and a Half Men” episodes and grew profoundly depressed about the human condition. “Parks and Recreation” was the antidote, proof that you can be really funny and really nice at the same time.
7) The Republican presidential debates — all of them. Or at least, all of the ones I’ve managed to watch. Just as we’ve hit reality TV overload, here comes a docu-study of middle-aged politicians in suits: an insane cast of characters, steeled for conflict, experiencing the occasional brain freeze (“Oops”). They should just rename them “Real World: Des Moines.”
8.) Les Jeunes de Paris sketch, Saturday Night Live, NBC. There was nothing kookier and more enchanting on “SNL” this season than this choreographed dance to French pop music, the brainchild of most-valuable-featured-player Taran Killam. There were a few this year, but the best one featured Miley Cyrus, who is actually quite lovable when she’s dancing like a dork.
9) The Daily Show, Comedy Central. Still makes me laugh out loud on a nightly basis. And as political commentary, it always stings.
10) The Brady Bunch, my DVD player. No, it’s not televised right now, and the reruns haven’t aired for years. But once I rediscovered “The Brady Bunch” — while researching a column about the death of Sherwood Schwartz — the DVDs became a staple in my household. If “Parks and Rec” is the antidote to “Two and a Half Men,” then “The Brady Bunch” is the antidote to every obnoxious tween show on TV. It’s real kids, in real situations, and they fight, but with no sass. Also, the clothes are remarkable. “That’s quite a nightgown,” I told my seven-year-old the other night, as we watched Florence Henderson sashay across the screen while encased in pink gauze. “She has a lot of ‘quite’ nightgowns,” my daughter replied. So true. So true.