Year in Review: Top 10 TV Shows of 2011

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From the December 22, 2011 edition

These were the best of the year, with one caveat — I haven’t finished the last season of “Friday Night Lights.” I know I’m a bad person. Anyway, here’s the rundown with a couple of major spoilers.

10. “Game of Thrones” (HBO)

I never read George R. R. Martin’s books, but I was still enthralled by this well-acted and powerful fantasy series that’s not just for dorks.

9. “Archer” (FX)

I could’ve put every FX comedy other than “Louie” here — they were all fantastic — but “Archer” deserves special recognition, especially for fall’s “Heart of Archness” miniseries. Tackling serious topics (Archer’s breast cancer, his fiancee’s death) with the series’ brand of no-holds-barred humor was very impressive … and hilarious.

8. “United States of Tara” (Showtime)

Even though “Tara” moved into seriously dark territory toward the end, it also had many funny and heartfelt moments. John Corbett, Eddie Izzard and the rest of the cast nearly matched Toni Collette’s amazing performance, and Patton Oswalt was impeccable. Sadly canceled; it will be missed.

7. “Beavis and Butt-Head” (MTV)

Thank you, Mike Judge. Thank you.

6. “Boardwalk Empire” (HBO)

I can’t say I’m happy to see Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) go, but it made for an epic conclusion. Although his demise has me somewhat skeptical for the future, this season was exceptional.

5. “Parks and Recreation” (NBC)

The best ensemble cast on television produced some of the most hilarious stuff I’ve ever seen in 2011. Which was funnier: Chris Traeger’s “Stop pooping” or Ben Wyatt crying and/or fixing the internet in a Batman costume? Discuss.

4. “Homeland” (Showtime)

The thriller built on gripping characters — played exquisitely by Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin — was a shining example of masterful storytelling that culminated in an edge-of-your-seat and (figuratively) explosive finale.

3. “Justified” (FX)

The first season of “Justified” was really good, but I don’t know if there’s ever been a bigger jump in quality from a show’s first to second season. Emmy-winner Margo Martindale was superb, and Timothy Olyphant’s underrated performance carried this season.

2. “Louie” (FX)

Season 2 proved Louis C.K. is the most brilliant and unpredictable auteur working in television. From Louie’s confrontation with Dane Cook to his immaculately sincere confession of love to Pamela and the poignant “Duckling” episode, everything was perfect.

1. “Breaking Bad” (AMC)

Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and especially Giancarlo Esposito were fantastic, but the people behind the camera — creator Vince Gilligan, director of photography Michael Slovis, directors Michelle MacLaren and Adam Bernstein — truly outdid themselves in creating something special. It was the perfect follow-up to “the best season of television ever.”