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Wilfred

Cast: Elijah Wood, Jason Gann, Fiona Gubelmann, Dorian Brown

(FX)

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Wilfred
FX


Wilfred walks a precarious line in its plotting. At times, the show is primarily occupied by the surrealist humor of the situation Ryan (Elijah Wood) finds himself in; he, unlike anyone else, sees his neighbor’s dog Wilfred (Jason Gann) as an Australian man in a dog costume. The results are predictably hilarious; witness Wilfred’s excitement in coming upon a pelican at a beach, only to kill it a moment later as a young family observes in horror, or his delusion that his Monopoly money is, in fact, real money. In other moments, however, the show’s comedy takes sharp, dark turns, which involves the absurdist plot in deep personal issues like depression in isolation. The show sometimes fails to balance these two elements evenly, but when it does, it’s brilliant. The little moral lessons found at the end of each episode are never trite; clichéd, perhaps, but never trite. He may be a pot-smoking dog, but Wilfred has a lot to teach Ryan with his deranged sense of humor. Wilfred, like The Office before it, is continuing proof that an American version of a Commonwealth TV show need not be hackneyed or a carbon copy. Brice Ezell


 

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Torchwood: Miracle Day

Cast: John Barrowman, Eve Myles, Mekhi Phifer, Alexa Havins, Bill Pullman, Kai Owen
Regular airtime: Fridays, 10pm ET

(Starz)

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Torchwood: Miracle Day
Starz


At its core, Torchwood has always been a series about death. During its first three seasons on BBC, immortal hero Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) led his team against extraterrestrial visitors who were often intent on destroying humanity. As a result, Torchwood amassed a staggering death toll, a fact that Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) notes early in the 10-episode new season, subtitled Miracle Day. But for all the dying going on, Torchwood also is a series about life. During the controversial, critically acclaimed 2009 season, Children of Earth, Torchwood and its team were decimated. And fans were left asking what could possibly survive when the series was “reborn” as a Starz/BBC collaboration. Part of the answer is logistical: the new season offers a primarily new, mostly American cast, U.S. locations (although Wales is featured in the first episode), and, in many ways, a chance for Torchwood to start over. With the Starz-BBC partnership in place, Torchwood has returned, mixing old and new. Captain Jack’s fans hope that he lives a long time so they can enjoy those “bigger” stories Davies so likes to tell. Lynnette Porter


 

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Up All Night

Cast: Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph, Jennifer Hall, Will Arnett

(NBC)

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Up All Night
NBC


NBC has best comedies on television because the network broadcasts shows about people, not premises. Up All Night is proof: There are no wacky reasons these characters are together (sorry, 2 Broke Girls) and no contrivances keeping them there. Instead, the show—about a couple raising a newborn, simple as that—draws humor from its characters not through their circumstances, but by being who they are. And, with the comedic chops of Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph behind them, who they are is very funny indeed. Marisa LaScala


 

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Once Upon a Time

Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parrilla, Josh Dallas, Jared S. Gilmore, Raphael Sbarge

(ABC)

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Once Upon a Time
ABC


Once Upon a Time robs classic fairy tale characters of the knowledge of their previous identities and transplants them to a small town in present-day Storybrooke, Maine. modern While the premise could have easily turned silly or came across as a rip-off of DC/Vertigo comic, Fables; the show has become its own unique animal. Once Upon a Time treats the residents of Storybrooke very seriously—flitting between their magical past and their tangled present. Aside from Ginnifer Goodwin’s multi-layered portrayal of Snow White and her modern counterpart Mary Margaret Blanchard, the show’s most compelling characters are its villains. Lana Parrilla’s Mayor Regina Mills may or may not be aware that she was the once-and-future Evil Queen—but plays a smartly veiled sociopath that astonishingly wrings a molecule of sympathy from viewers. While Regina’s knowledge of her past is one of a many mysteries yet to be unraveled, Robert Carlyle’s Mephistophelian Rumpelstiltskin/Mr. Gold is keenly aware of who—and what—he really is in all his diabolical glory. Lana Cooper


 

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Homeland

Cast: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin, David Harewood, Diego Klattenhoff, Jackson Pace

(  Showtime)

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Homeland
Showtime


Along with Game of Thrones, the finest new series of 2011 was Showtime’s Homeland. Intelligent, brilliantly written, and even more brilliantly acted, the show centers on whether or not Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian), held in captivity for eight years by a Muslim extremist cell, as flipped to become a Muslim terrorist as CIA analyst Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) suspects. Danes’s Mathison is one of the more compelling characters on TV, brilliant but also suffering from an extreme form of bipolar disorder that she has kept secret from the CIA. The characters all inhabit a world of grays, not the blacks and whites that one might have expected given the creators’ 24 pedigree. Robert Moore


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