Thoughts on the 2011-2012 television season, no categories:
After a great, weird fourth season, Mad Men’s fifth season was my favorite yet. There’s so much at stake for Don and it’s not until the finale that he truly understands it. Every character’s struggle is completely compelling and individualistic. And from a direction/editing/writing position, the show’s nearly flawless. Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, Kiernan Shipka — all incredible.
Parks and Recreation remains one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, powered by a diverse, brilliant cast — each actor could launch a spin-off that might actually work. No other show on television is so warm and sympathetic toward its characters’ flaws; the humor’s never mean, outside of the case of Jerry — which is in itself a meta-joke on fat, white sitcom husbands. And he never takes it badly. The “Pawnee Rangers” episode is straight-up the best half-hour of TV comedy since Seinfeld.
Girls: Still really love this, still really think it addresses my generation in a way no other show even tries to. That doesn’t mean every character or plot point on the show has to ring true to a viewer’s life experience — that’s not how storytelling works, people! Dunham gets a lot of credit for making a hip, inviting show that isn’t quite a hipster show — and for knowing she’s not infallible.
Louie: Season 2 is brutally dark — strip out the stand-up scenes and this is not a comedy, though it’s never less than magnetic. It’s brave television, a show without a net: Louis CK doesn’t have a 3-season story arc for us, though he drops a wonderful cliffhanger in the finale. It’s not always easy, but I’ll follow wherever he leads.
Downton Abbey: Everybody agrees Season 2 was sort of bad but we loved it anyway, right? Right. Peerless production values and consistently gripping performances. Why watch television that isn’t a soap opera? There’s always real life for that.
Pretty Little Liars: Season 2 gets off to a rough start but finishes stronger than S1, weaving an increasingly dense web of mystery that manages the near-impossible feat of not turning Gossip Girl-implausible every third episode. This show is more tightly plotted than LOST, which maybe isn’t a great compliment, but the threads almost always pull together in the best possible way. The characters are predictable and paper-thin, but it’s charming paper.
Gossip Girl: In some ways, this was the show’s best season — Blair Waldorf gets married, loses her baby and goes through the strongest character arc in GG history, plus the big reveal of Chuck’s dad’s return. All squandered by the dad arc turning unbearably stupid and Blair and Dan splitting up over a few drinks and a Serena seduction after months of pursuit and slow embrace. Unbelievable, even for GG. Also: let’s be real, does anyone still care about gossip blogs, especially ones still sending text blasts? The show’s titular conceit is its biggest flaw, a upper limit on storytelling that might soar without it. Still, Leighton Meester deserves much more credit than she’ll ever get on The CW.
(This is every show I watch, by the way.)