2011 was the year of TV for me. I’ve had to divide up the TV lists from episodes and shows, though this list should give you a pretty clear indication of what tomorrow’s TV shows of the year will look like. I’ve leaned heavily on comedies, and on one comedy in particular, as it produced more episodes that I would willingly watch over and over than any other. So let’s roll into it, shall we?
11. How I Met Your Mother – Ducky Tie
I have a major soft spot for How I Met Your Mother, and this season kicked off well with the Ducky Tie episode early on. It’s an intricate, well acted and well played practical joke that gets carried through most of the rest of the season. As The Onion’s The AV Club notes, the beauty of HIMYM is that the actors, even after six seasons, are still willing to go for the jokes whole hog – they’re not just phoning it in. And that’s beautiful.
10. Modern Family – Dude Ranch
The season opener of Modern Family, last year’s Emmy winner for best comedy took the “take the family on vacation” trope and did it well. While the premise of the show is old hat, Modern Family has made a success out of taking familiar things and turning them on their heads. “Dude Ranch” takes the family on a vacation to Wyoming, which gives you everything you’d expect from taking Calfornians out of California, and then some.
9. Community – Remedial Chaos Theory
My coworker described Community as a TV show where every episode is like a special episode that happens only once in a blue moon on other shows. “Remedial Chaos Theory” from season 3 is the first of many of those episodes on my list today. This episode gives us seven different timelines – one for each character – based on the roll of a die. If anything, the episode is a great illustration of how Chevy Chase can tell the same joke seven different ways and have it be funny every time.
8. Community – Critical Film Studies
Another bottle episode features my favorite character, Abed, in a storyline that is at once Abed-esque and not so. He plays a straight-laced, Don Draper sort, and it’s a credit to Danny Pudi’s acting skill that even when his character is acting out of character, the audience still buys it. All the Pulp Fiction references don’t hurt, either.
7. Doctor Who – Let’s Kill Hitler
This made the list for one reason, and one reason only: Rory saying the line, “Shut up, Hitler.” Arthur Darvill is the unsung hero of the current Who iteration, and his handling of that situation demonstrated that perfectly.
6. 30 Rock – The Double-Edged Sword
Liz Lemon is, quite simply, my hero. And this show is one of my favorites on television. And while this episode was not one of my favorites of the season, it is one of my favorites that appear in 2011 (“Reaganing” is my favorite episode of the season). In the course of learning that two incredibly stubborn and similar people do not make a good romantic match, we see parallel storylines with Liz and Carol (played by guest star Matt Damon) and Jack and Avery (guest star Elizabeth Banks). Avery goes into labor in Canada and end up having a child who will be a Canadian-American citizen (“but we’ll treat her just like a human baby.”). And Liz finds herself trapped on an airplane where her boyfriend Carol is the pilot, discovering the worst of each other when the flight is delayed. It is a beautifully done, hilarious, and over the top episode.
5. Happy Endings – Spooky Endings
Happy Endings is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated shows on TV. The dialogue is so mile-a-minute that it takes multiple viewings to catch every joke, and the characters are stereotypical while also flouting stereotypes. It’s Friends redux, but better. And Max, the gay man with a frat boy mentality, makes the show for me, especially in this episode. You really just have to see it to know why.
4. Doctor Who – The Doctor’s Wife
This episode in the adventures with the Doctor is one of my favorite standalone episodes of the series, right up there with “Blink” and “The Empty Child” from season 3 and 1 respectively. Penned by sci-fi/fantasy author Neil Gaiman, one of the ever-present but silent characters on the show – The TARDIS – finally gets a voice. And oh what a voice it is. Hilarious, poignant, and frightening all at the same time, this episode reminded me of why I started watching the show in the first place.
3-1. Community – Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps / Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism / Regional Holiday Music.
Community showed why it deserves to stay on the air in a big way this past season, with episode after episode worth seeing. There’s a reason that it owns all three of the top spots on my list. “Horror Fiction” is the Halloween episode, in which the characters all tell scary stories that, in their imagination, are acted out by other members of the study group. “Foosball” features a competition between Jeff and Shirley that reveals a lot about their childhoods – the episode also contains Annie’s elaborate ruse for explaining how she broke Abed’s new The Dark Knight DVD. And “Regional Holiday Music” is one of the best episodes of television I have ever had the fortune to see – a send up of everything that makes Glee a terrible show, the episode manages to range from the ridiculous to the poignant and back, all in a 22 minute time span. That’s skill.