This is it! Our Top 10 televised happenings for the year 2011 AD. You’ve waited patiently by your computer for weeks for us to post it. You forgot to do your holiday shopping because this list preoccupied every fiber of your brain. You haven’t peed in a toilet since last Monday. But the wait is over. Our blessed Top 10 is ready. Now before you head to the comments and scream “Why didn’t [random TV moment] make the list!?!?” just remember, we love you.
If you missed any previous installments of the list, don’t worry! We’ve got your back. Head to the bottom of the page and get thee to the archives!
10. Oddball comedy laughs its way to the top
This was a breakout year for shows that embraced the weird and alternative. Television is finally catching up to the humor the stand-up comedy world has known for years with shows like Portlandia, Eagleheart, Wilfred, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and Louie. The effect can even be seen on network TV, with New Girl and Community. Two and a Half Men may still bring in the big numbers, but it’s these young upstart shows that are shaping the future.
9. The Vampire Diaries‘ teen drama transcendence
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when The Vampire Diaries transformed itself from a trendy vampire romance cash-in to the riveting, clever, massively entertaining adventure saga it is today. Was it the release and subsequent mass murder of an entire tomb full of Civil War-era vampires? Was it the surprise reappearance of the protagonist’s evil doppelganger? Or was it the arrival of a 1,000 year-old vampire and his killing of three (!) characters? Again, hard to say. All we know is The Vampire Diaries is no longer a stereotypical CW teen drama, it’s something much weirder, more complicated, and far grander than anyone had any right to expect. And with the first half of Season 3 all aces so far (including its systematic dismantling of all the core romances), 2011 has definitely been a good year for handsome monsters in fitted tees and their surprisingly grown-up tales.
8. Homeland‘s unexpected romance
Homeland was one of the most gripping, heavy dramas of the year. But no one told us that Showtime’s thriller would become a romance. And by golly, CIA agent Carrie Mathison and potential-terrorist Brody had such amazing chemistry that we found ourselves rooting for both sides of the War on Terror to relax so the pair could make googly eyes at each other. It started with a nail-biting run-in at a support group meeting, moved to the backseat of a parked car, and culminated with fireworks at a remote cabin in the woods. And somewhere along the way there was a lie-detector test, a gun, and a tell-all interrogation where one lover accused the other of being a terrorist. This is romance, Homeland-style.
7. Michael Scott’s Office farewell
Steve Carell’s last episode, “Goodbye, Michael,” was basically perfect. But it may not even have been the best part of his exit: There was a specific moment in “Michael’s Last Dundies,” right as the music started playing for the Dunder-Mifflin gang’s “Seasons of Michael” tribute, where he said, “Oh my God, something’s happening!” Not only did it get the waterworks going for both him and us, but it encapsulated everything Michael Scott was about. After all the moments over the years where we felt bad after realizing the underlying reasons for his ridiculousness were so well-meaning–he wanted to be loved and be thought of as a good boss and someday get married and have 100 kids and so on and so forth–it was like all his dreams were coming true right in front of his eyes, and it was incredibly touching to see his reaction. Plus Carell flat-out killed it in the acting department.
6. The Walking Dead finds Sophia
It took a while, but the survivors found the kid in one heck of an emotional scene. The revelation and subsequent action changed everything, especially the group’s dynamics and our sense that we could brush up on the show by reading the comics. But most importantly, it saved an until-then disappointing season of a show we love.
5. Louie supports the troops
As Louis C.K.–the man behind FX’s cerebral comedy Louie–tells it, his daughter came up with the idea for “Duckling,” one of the best hours of anything this year. “You should do an episode where you take a duckling to Afghanistan,” she told him. So he did. The result was a creative and humbling look through the eyes of a normal American at the men and women of the Armed Forces and what they aim to protect. It also became a tribute to the late Oscar-nominated Restrepo director Timothy Hetherington, who consulted on the episode.
4. Friday Night Lights brings it on home
To even say the words “Friday,” “night,” and “lights” out loud in close succession is to cause the show’s fans immediately get misty-eyed. It’s basically a Pavlovian thing at this point, second only in power to hearing the first few strums of that theme song. Leave it to a show set in the sports world to tell the most nakedly emotional, earnest, and profound stories ever told–it’s no wonder FNL never became a hit. Just who is a show like that for, exactly? Men? Women? As it turns out, everyone. Over the course of its five seasons (which amounted to four more than most people expected), Friday Night Lights portrayed small towns as they really are, human beings as they hope to be, and families as we all wish they’d be. If you’ve watched the series, you know how special it is, and if you haven’t… well, we’re jealous that you still get to see it for the first time. It’s important to recognize the miracle that a show like this not only got to survive for five seasons, but was able to end on its own heartfelt, utterly beautiful terms. Clear eyes, full hearts… you know the rest.
3. Community‘s definition of comedy
Nobody ever said comedy was easy, but Community cherishes making it seem really, really, really difficult, and proves that it can be extremely potent in the right hands. Who else could pull off something as incredible as “Remedial Chaos Theory,” in which the study group’s dynamics were highlighted by alternate timelines, evil gnomes, and The Police? Who in his right mind would take end-of-the-season clip-episode “Paradigms of Human Memory” and fill it with never-before-seen footage? What other program could make paintball, Dungeons & Dragons, foosball, and Glee so funny? Community is a comedy so far ahead–err, streets ahead–of its time that we’d all need time machines to lavish it with the praise it deserves.
2. Breaking Bad, party of three
For three seasons, AMC’s best drama focused on the simple story of two men trying to sell one of the most addictive drugs known to man. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul were the celebrated show ponies, acting their pants off every season while the rest of the cast played catch-up. But Season 4, which was as good as any television of the last 20 years, was all about Gus Fring, played by the now in-demand Giancarlo Esposito. He did the unthinkable and actually stole scenes from Emmy-hog Cranston. From the cutthroat opening episode to the face-melting finale, Gus and Esposito made Season 4 Breaking Bad‘s best one yet.
1. A one-two punch from Game of Thrones
A flood of interest in a series that was already hyped by genre fans. An amazing adaptation of a book that could never be adapted. Proof that fantasy could transcend the stereotypes of its genre. Game of Thrones was one of the year’s biggest pop-culture stars, and it hit so hard and so fast, we get the sense that this is only the beginning. But what made the series such a hit was its daring storytelling, enthralling characters, and stunning moments. Two of those moments in particular–Ned at Baelor, Dany after the pyre–shocked us and let us know that the rules of television do not apply to this sprawling epic.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of this year’s Top 100 Everything countdown. List your own top ten moments of the year in the comments!