The Best TV of 2011 (That No One’s Watching)

Those of you who read The Underground will know that I’m all about spreading the word of undiscovered quality. However, as I adorned my hipster-cape to write this “Best TV No One’s Watching” list, something really quite sad hit me, really hard. I think if I were simply writing a “Best of TV” list, it would be pretty much exactly the same as this one, except for the additions of Mad Men, Homeland and Boardwalk Empire (Boy did the latter of really step its game up this year!).

A common theme among the shows I’ve chosen (and something you’ll hear me talk a lot about in this article) is “cast” and “characters”. I think this may just be down to what makes a show memorable for me, but at the same time, I think it’s hard not to be magnetized to a show with a great ensemble. Each of the following shows comes with my absolute praise and highest recommendation:


Black Mirror

Okay, if you’d like, consider this one an “Honourable Mention”, if you’re picky. After all, it was only three episodes long, and it only aired in the UK, so it’s not really fair. But fuck off it’s my list.

Black Mirror is a British anthology series written by Television glutton Charlie Brooker, known for his work on Screenwipe and How TV Ruined Your Life. So, to say that Black Mirror is a “self-aware” or “a social critique” would be a vast, vast understatement. Each episode of Black Mirror focuses on a different aspect of technological anxiety or paranoia, with the titular “Black Mirror” most likely referring to the ever-present TV, handheld and PC screens that occupy its worlds.

In his previous series, Dead Set, Brooker took the ridiculous notion of zombies attacking the Big Bother House and played it deadly serious. With the opening episode of Black Mirror, “The National Anthem”, he does the same (though far better – Dead Set ended up wandering into the mundane and familiar in its second episode), writing a deeply troubling, dark parable in which a popular princess is kidnapped, and the ransomers only demand is that the Prime Minister have sex with a pig on public television. At first, it seemed like “The National Anthem” was going to be a comedy. As the episode progressed, it was clear it was not. It was a wonderfully honest, depressing look at an insane situation, and was captivating throughout.

If the first episode was great, the second was flawless. To describe it at all would really give away its brilliance. A piece of social criticism which manages to be engaging throughout with an absolutely perfect ending, delivering one of the most passionate, over-the-top and beautiful speeches to grace British television. “15 Million Merits”, is quite honestly the best single piece of British programming to be aired this year. It’s hard to believe that something this clever, well-acted and perfectly constructed was really broadcast here. I’m saying British TV is shit, is what I’m saying.

I’m not sure if Black Mirror is meant to be coming to the US any time soon, but if HBO is smart and keeps up its current trend, it will snatch it up quickly.

Bored to Death

Bored to Death follows the misadventures of semi-fictional (it’s weird) Jonathan Ames, an out-of-work writer who inexplicably decides to become a detective. It’s a series which has always been entertaining, with the annoying politeness of its characters, homages to detective serials and expansive roster of characters, but this season, the show really figured out what it is. In season three, it becomes obvious that during their hiatus, the writing team must have come to some sort of epiphany, because before where the show was knowing, it’s now become perfect. They stretch the homage and referencing just far enough for it to work, and more than that, they realized that they could actually, you know, use some of that detective serial stuff for more than just show. In season three, they gave each of the three main characters purpose. This does two helpful things, structure-wise; firstly, it means like we’re not just treading water when we’re spending time with any particular character, and secondly, it means that Ray and George don’t have to constantly be tagging along with Jonathan. It makes for a much richer, and far more entertaining world.

Which was a brilliant move, considering the draw of the show has always been its three leads. Seriously, we should all just be quiet a minute and thank God that somehow, somehow there exists a show starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson. I cannot stress what a joy it is to see these three on screen together. Here’s to the future of my favorite team of detectives.


Oh Archer. Who knew just how special you would become?

Archer is an odd show, it really is. It’s often billed as James Bond meets The Office, but the truth is I’ve enjoyed this season of Archer more than anything I’ve seen of either of those properties (Sacrilege!). The humor is often esoteric in nature – it’s only really funny if you’ve been following the show long enough to be familiar with the characters, but that’s what makes it so special. We love Archer’s diatribes, jokes at Pam’s expense, Mallory’s callousness. It’s a show that has, in my mind, never suffered a single out of character moment or out of place joke. The world-building in Archer is one of its strongest qualities, and it becomes a pleasure to revisit it every week.

Season two really stepped the game up, though, delivering not just more jokes per minute than the last series, but better a better quality of jokes, more action, more character development and story-focused episodes. Archer series two was an improvement over the first series in every way, and it was a joy to marvel in that consistency. The three-part miniseries was also fantastic, and gifted us with yet more wonderful cameo appearances. Plus, season three is going to have Burt Reynolds, people. Burt Reynolds. As HIMSELF.


In a perfect world, I would say “from the creator of The Wire” and no further explanation would be needed. You’d run out, buy the first season on Bluray (ownership of Bluray player unimportant), download the soundtrack and then just move to New Orleans (Some day. Some God damn day). But, if you’re unfamiliar, allow me to elaborate:

Treme is a show set in New Orleans shortly after the Hurricane Katrina embarrassment. The series follows a large (and I mean, large) cast of characters as they try to rebuild themselves and their city. It’s a show that can seem alienating at first (especially if you just started watching during season two, what with all the characters), but it’s well worth devoting the time to it. Treme is a show that is about the ceaseless life, love and joy that exists in the city of New Orleans. The music is, without saying, phenomenal (who knew Bunk could sing?), and the performances magical, whether their being performed by guest musicians or the main cast (It’s always a treat when Galactic do anything). The cast of characters is so large and city-encompassing that the world of the show feels indistinguishable from reality, with no poor performances from a single actor, no matter how small the role. It feels unfair to name names, but Khandi Alexander was absolutely stunning this season. She’s an outstanding physical presence and is impossible to take your eyes off when she’s on screen.

However, season two Treme was not all magic and jazz-infused lullabies. Not at all. Season two of Treme is appropriately summed up by the title of the episode “What is New Orleans?”, as the season deals with the harsh juxtaposition of crime returning to the city. We saw some characters reach what we can only assume will be the darkest moments in their stories, and we followed the opportunistic exploits of a man taking advantage of a city in decay. Treme was, however, always totally and completely intelligent. In the subtle background details, the messages of the show and the general mechanics. It’s a show that effortlessly creates tone, character and heart. At the end of the season, I had to agree with Davis. Yeah, that one got to me, too.


Boss claims to be a show about an amoral mayor of Chicago, and the shady actions and dealings that keep him afloat; but it’s not. During the brilliant montage in the final season finale, it becomes apparent what the show really is: Boss is a show about God attempting to punish an evil. I won’t spoil anything that happens in the series, but suffice to say nothing is ever easy for Mayor Tom Cain. During the course of the eight episodes that make up series one, the man and his regime are visited upon by various plagues (the most prominent of which being the Lewy Body Cain is diagnosed with in the first episode), each of which is incredibly captivating and exceptionally well-written. Every scene and every second of air time feels important – no actions don’t have consequences, no characters serve no purpose. The show also makes for a great character study – Kelsey Grammer is also bringing his all to the role, playing one of his most intense and wonderfully watchable characters to date. This isn’t to undersell his co-stars; Boss is a series with a terrific cast playing unforgettable characters. Literally every actor in the series is on top-form, making for one of the most memorable ensembles of 2011.

It also helps that Boss is perhaps the most beautiful show on television. Gus Van Sant directed the pilot, and he clearly left a huge imprint on the series; the camera is almost always wandering, if only slightly, the show is filled with extreme close-ups of eyes and mouths and the series seems to be very carefully office-tinted. The cinematography and editing, when the style of the show allows it to be, are also absolutely top-notch, with many single frames from the series leaving a huge impression. The show also has a rather over dramatic soundtrack – which I love! From the guitar working of Moonlight Sonata, to the ominous tones that haunt so many of Toms scenes alone to the rather bizarre (but perfect) post-rock that shows up on rare occasion. Boss is an intelligent gift adorned with a beautiful bow, and quite simply the best new show of 2011. Starz airing (and renewing! For a 10-episode second season!) Boss more than makes up for the loss of Party Down (and I really liked Party Down).


All right jerks.

Listen up: Community is the best show on television. Mad Men is a beautiful, intelligent and insightful look into not only a bygone era, but power and psychology in general. Every shot is beautifully composed, and the dialogue is so layered and rich it’s probably the closest to Shakespeare on TV right now. Boss brings an artistic edge to violence in a world where TV just isn’t doing that. The final episodes of any season of Breaking Bad are always a sheer unrivaled adrenaline rush. Boardwalk Empire is a shining example of how a show can find itself between seasons and become something complex and terrific. I love so much TV, on both a personal level and a more universal, semi-generic “viewer” level. Serialized story-telling is a wondrous thing, where we get to see characters change over the course of years. Where else do we get that kind of investment? I adore television for both what it is and what it has the potential to be, so when I say I love the shows I’ve talked about, know I really, really mean that.

Community is the best show on television.

In May. Community finished its second season. I really don’t know where to begin. There’s the fact that every episode is layered with so many different forms of humor that it’s astounding that it works as a whole. There’s the brutal (but effective) creative process series creator Dan Harmon goes though for each episode. There’s the fact that it dares, not to parody or to homage certain genres or film tropes, but to embrace and become them. There’s the fact that it manages to turn a group of people sitting around a table into something that is literally magical. There’s the fact that it has some of the most lovable, enjoyable characters on TV, that are just so pleasant to be around your day is brightened simply by virtue of their presence (and you know, they’re funny on top of that). There’s the fact that these wonderful characters are played by wonderful people. Joel, Donald, Gillian, Jim, Alison, Yvette, Chevy, Ken, Danny, Dino and the rest of the cast are the most wonderful, charismatic, grateful, funny and friendly people working on TV. Simply put, every single aspect of the show is a delight of the highest order. What can I say? Season three has been more of the same.

The show was recently put on hiatus. By my estimate, the show has around a 60/40 chance of returning for a fourth season. Sony really, really wants to get this thing into syndication. They’ve kept shows that were low on ratings alive for this very reason before (Anyone remember Till Death? No? Good), not to mention Community has an insanely dedicated fanbase, and Amazon sales will no doubt reflect that over time. At the same time, though, just buy the fucking DVDs you jerks. Everything we can do can help, and to be honest? We owe these people.

Happy watching everyone. Let’s hope next year is as great as this one was.

(Oh hey, Awake is starting soon. That looked pretty cool!)

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