The Best Television Shows of 2011

by PopMatters Staff

10 January 2012


30 - 26

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Men of a Certain Age

Cast: Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, Scott Bakula, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Penelope Ann Miller, Melinda McCraw, Jon Manfrellotti
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET



Men of a Certain Age

The illusion of a bountiful US economy and the promise of upward mobility dissipate for good in Series Two of Men of a Certain Age. That such a topical, serious premise also produce in Men of a Certain Age a witty, tender, and thought-provoking drama attests to its subtle writing and exceptional performances, exposing both the intimacy and broad themes in any given moment. As the scripts counterpoint light with dark, threat with the elusive promise of contentment, Men of a Certain Age peers ever deeper into the men’s psyches. And just as they’re unsure of their roles, their feelings, and the futures ahead of them, so, too, are viewers who join them on the journey. While the show clearly targets boomers and near-boomers as its audience, younger viewers might also want to tune in, and find out just how hard they will need to work to live in a world without certainty and short on optimism. Lesley Smith


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The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Cast: Jon Stewart

(Comedy Central)

Review [1.Jan.1995]


The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Comedy Central

The persistent debate about what exactly The Daily Show is continues on. Is it, as its detractors insist, a political, partisan outlet using comedy as a guise for its liberal bias? Or is it, as Stewart maintains, first and foremost a comedy show, but one with important satirical criticisms to make about American culture and politics? While the former’s criticism is facile and disingenuous, Stewart misses an element of truth in that criticism. The Daily Show is not just a comedy show, nor is it “comedy first, criticism second”. Over the course of the show’s evolution, from its beginnings with Craig Kilborn to the direction Stewart has taken it over his tenure, it has stopped being a “fake news show”. The Daily Show is a bona fide, hypocrisy-exposing machine. Yes, it’s comedic, but that doesn’t detract from the serious quality of the show. Stewart wants his audience to laugh, but he wants them to think simultaneously. Though the country may be getting worse politically, Stewart and his team of correspondents only keep getting better; and, with the ridiculous reality show that is the Republican race, things are only looking up from here. The Daily Show is unlike any other news or comedy show ever to exist in the history of television, and for that reason it remains one of television’s most shining programs. Brice Ezell


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Cast: Joseph Gilgun, Iwan Rheon, Robert Sheehan, Lauren Socha, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Antonia Thomas




The third series of the UK’s Misfits might remind viewers of the old Carry On! Films. In its latest incarnation, the series delivers a steady barrage of zaniness, a punk-like anarchy, a good sampling of cockney low farce, as well as mayhem and blood. This zaniness began two years ago, when five 20somethings doing community service in the Docklands area of East London were caught up in a sudden storm that left them with superpowers. This bit of sci-fi serves as it does in Phillip K. Dick or Rod Serling, compressing and accelerating classic themes, like individuals finding their destinies or communities being forged, while allowing for some Monty Python-esque hilarity. Misfits adds another ingredient to this amalgam, recalling Big Brother, but with more intelligence. I mean that the show creates a world riddled by chance, mystery, inexplicable good and evil, and an ongoing irrationality, interrupted by the bonds of face-to-face friendship. Joseph Natoli


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Downton Abbey

Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt



Downton Abbey

Julian Fellowes’s series about a grand English estate and its upstairs/downstairs worlds is set during the period of the decline of the English aristocracy and is the most successful British costume drama since Brideshead Revisited. Season One—shown in the U.S. in January 2011—is set in the two years prior to World War I, while Season Two, shown in Britain this fall, shows Downton during the war. A brilliant ensemble cast and exquisitely written characters make Downton Abbey obsessive viewing. Originally intended to end after Season Two, the show’s unexpected success has led to Fellowes to agree to do a third season, which will chronicle events at Downton during the ‘20s. Robert Moore


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Cast: Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Luke Wilson, Sarah Burns, Amy Hill




To those who have avoided Enlightened on the grounds that the show wants to convert you into a patchouli-smelling new age hippie, you can rest easy. Enlightened’s rehabilitated/ self-bettered lead character, Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern in the performance of her career), is not even that likable. She’s stubborn, obtuse, and quite often single-minded (and she also sucks at her job). But throughout the course of the show, you come to realize that she kind of has to be this way in order to come up a demeaning, alienating corporate existence, not to mention a series of cold and distant relationships with her mother, her ex-husband, and her ex-best friend, and still retain any warmth or optimism. Amy’s path to enlightenment is not a straight line, but she’s also smart enough to realize that it’s not only about self-fulfillment. Her attempts to quell her ex-husband’s self-destruction and, in particular, her final decision to channel her anger into taking down Abadonn, her tyrannical employer, show that the path is just as much outward-facing as inward-guided. Timh Gabriele

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