2011 was what I like to call the Year of the Departure.
Oprah, Regis, Meredith Vieira and Susan Lucci all said goodbye to their daytime audiences. Katie Couric peaced out on the “CBS Evening News.” The Walker family danced into that good night on “Brothers & Sisters” (to Lady Gaga no less). Over in the film world, Harry Potter bid adieu to Hogwarts. And yours truly left a position at a company after several years of service. It seems like wherever you turned, someone was embarking on a new chapter of his or her life, whether voluntarily or not (Kim Kardashian notwithstanding), in the first year of this new decade.
Personally speaking, 2011 was the year I got in touch with my “inner artist” and attempted to live the life of a writer, which, I found out, involves getting increasingly familiar with daytime television. That said, I’d like to have lunch with Wendy Williams and Anderson Cooper – at the same time. I also learned how to maintain my dignity with an occasional ramen noodle dinner.
But on to the good stuff: Here are the 10 pieces of terrific television that titillated, tantalized and thoroughly entertained the hell out of me (and hopefully some of you too).
1) “Happy Endings” (ABC) – Sure, they’re a bunch of young urbanites navigating life and love with laughter, but whereas “Friends” now seems so quaint (and so ’90s), this sophisticated group of buds has turned rapid-fire dialogue and gut-busting non-sequiturs into an artform. Huge claps for Casey Wilson, who plays unlucky-in-love Penny with a slight adorkable desperation that doesn’t get too grating, and the hysterical Damon Wayans Jr. whose Brad is an irresistibly dashing cad with a goofball edge.
2) “The Killing” (AMC) – True, most episodes left me wanting to reach for a raincoat, but the first-rate ensemble and killer writing brought life to this dreary tale of a murdered Seattle teen and those affected by her gruesome death (Michelle Forbes, I always knew you’d get Emmy recognition.). And special kudos goes to Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman for their dynamic chemistry as Linden and Holden, the most original and watchable pair of investigators since Mulder and Scully.
3) Cinema Verite (HBO) – One of the year’s most pleasant surprises was seeing The Secret Circle’s Thomas Dekker effortlessly play Lance Loud (his best role to date), the out-and-proud son of America’s first reality-TV family in 1973. Diane Lane, Tim Robbins and James Gandolfini also shine in this fantastic fictionalized behind-the-scenes account of the groundbreaking PBS documentary series, “An American Family.”
4) “American Horror Story” (FX) - Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s enjoyably twisted take on the haunted house genre was everything I expected from the minds behind polar-opposite “Glee.” Jessica Lange couldn’t have chewed enough scenes this season as Constance, the next-door neighbor with plenty of secrets up her sleeves, and Evan Peters brought it as the tortured Tate, television’s chilliest teen.
5) “Homeland” (Showtime) – Who knew little, angsty Angela Chase would grow up and return to television in a political potboiler? Claire Danes gives new meaning to the term conspiracy theorist, and what the dynamic drama does best is balance both sides of the character coin. Who’s good? Who’s bad? The fun is in the guessing.
6) The Royal Wedding (all networks) – As inescapable and overdone as the coverage was for the regal tying of the knot of William and Kate, Americans couldn’t help but swoon over the tastefully done fairy-tale production of this historic affair.
7) “Hot in Cleveland” (TV Land) – There’s something very ’80s about this comfortably traditional sitcom. These three golden boomers (and one “Golden” girl) hit their stride during the cable-com’s second season, and the undeniable charisma of this cast of comedy veterans is what drives each episode. Get in on the fun – the third season just started.
8) “2 Broke Girls” (CBS) – Hipster-hating Max (the sharp-tongued Kat Dennings) and spoiled-rich Caroline (a bubbly Beth Behrs) are the breakout duo of the TV season. Girl power was never this funny.
9) “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (ABC) – The void Oprah left in daytime television will certainly be felt for some time to come, and we will forever be grateful for the 25 enlightening years the talk show titan gave us. In the weeks leading up to her poignant farewell, watching “Winfrey” was like experiencing a greatest hits collection. Every show, every guest, was impressive, provocative and ultimately satisfying. And as for that lecture-filled finale? We’re still soaking up those memorable life lessons.
10) “Revenge” (ABC) – For all intents and purposes, this suds-filled drama about rich people with problems shouldn’t have made this list (boring billboards, lackluster promos), but after experiencing the first 10 episodes, I became a convert. Why does it work? While “Desperate Housewives” satirized primetime soaps (and suburbia), “Revenge” refreshingly plays it straight. Icy glares. Delectable dialogue. And enough twists (Tyler’s a hustler?!) to make us shiver with anticipation for the next episode. By the way: Welcome back, Madeleine Stowe.
Here’s hoping 2012 is equally entertaining.