Founder / Editor


Associate Editor


Assistant Editor











For TV, It Was a Very Good Year: My Top 10, and 20, And More, of 2011
December 31, 2011  | By David Bianculli

I was a TV critic back in the late 1970s -- pre-cable, pre-Hill Street Blues -- when compiling an end-of-year Top 10 required massive amounts of generosity to fill out the bottom half, at least. But let it be said that, in 2011, not even two different Top 10s can contain all the worthy television that's out there to enjoy...

In fact, when you put all the lists together, it's more like -- and more than -- a Top 40...

For the record, here is my Top 10 for 2011, as I listed them earlier this month on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, in an interview you can hear, or read more about, HERE.



1. Breaking Bad (AMC).
2. Homeland (Showtime).
3. The Good Wife (CBS).
4. Modern Family (ABC).
5. Justified (FX).
6. Dexter (Showtime).
7. American Horror Story (FX).
8. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO).
9. Louie (FX).
10. True Blood (HBO).

Did you think of some TV shows that are conspicuous by their absence, and which you felt should have been included? Of course you did -- that's the nature of TV during a good year, and also a matter of personal preference.

But you're not alone. I'm angered by a lot of TV programming that didn't make the list -- and I WROTE the list.

For Fresh Air, I threw out some caveats -- just to give me some more room, while acknowledging other best-of-breed TV shows.

First, I pushed aside, into a different category, all news shows, whether real or fake. This gave me the chance to note the overall, invaluable excellence of three series, in particular, without making them take up 30 percent of my Top 10:


1. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (COM).
2. 60 Minutes (CBS)
3. The Colbert Report (COM).

I also made a separate category for unscripted shows -- documentaries and nonfiction -- so that I could salute shows that, again, would otherwise push hard, like players in a rugby scrum, to work their way into my Top 10.



1. George Harrison: Living in the Material World (HBO).
2. Prohibition (PBS).
3. America in Primetime (PBS).
4. American Masters: Woody Allen (PBS).
5. An Idiot Abroad (SCI).

I had one more subdivision ready to offer to Terry, but I felt so guilty, by that point, that I skipped right over them. Otherwise, I would have honored movies and miniseries as well, with this brief but impressive list:


1. Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey (PBS).
2. Mildred Pierce (HBO).
3. Torchwood: Miracle Day (Starz).
4. Sunset Limited (HBO).
5. Cinema Verite (HBO).

Now, after all those side bets, came my second-tier votes for the best series of 2011 -- the shows ranked, on my official Top 10 list for the year, Nos. 11-20.



11. Rescue Me (FX).
12. Walking Dead (AMC).
13. Episodes (SHO).
14. Boardwalk Empire (HBO).
15. Friday Night Lights (NBC/DirecTV).
16. 30 Rock (NBC).
17. Men of a Certain Age (TNT).
18. Treme (HBO).
19. Damages (DirecTV).
20. The Killing (AMC).

Now think about that. Counting the two tiers of Top 10s, and the exceptions on other lists, that's a total of 33 shows that are absolutely, "top-of-the-world-ma!" outstanding.

And that doesn't cover it, by any means.

In my end-of-year round-up for Multichannel News, covering only the Top 10 NEW offerings, and only the ones on cable, I managed to slip in a few more deserving titles. You can read my full story HERE, but here's the Top 10 for that publication, which adds two more to the list. Or the lists.


1. Homeland (SHO).
2. American Horror Story (FX).
3. Episodes (SHO).
4. George Harrison: Living in the Material World (HBO).
5. An Idiot Abroad (SCI).
6. Game of Thrones (HBO).
7. Lights Out (FX).
8. The Killing (AMC).
9. Torchwood: Mirace Day (Starz).
10. Mildred Pierce (HBO).

So now, that's 35 shows that I found worthy of honoring. And yet, I missed some -- even by my standards.

What about these (listed alphabetically), for starters?


Boss (Starz).
Community (NBC).
Enlightened (HBO).
Fringe (Fox).
Parks & Recreation (NBC).
South Park (COM).
The Simpsons (Fox).

And there are even more -- but that brings the individual show count to 42, and the ones I haven't listed, which you can think of (and remind me in your comments) could easily bring the 2011 Excellent TV list to 50 or more.

At the end of the year, when you want to look back and give thanks, fans of quality TV have a lot for which to be thankful. And if you count the ways, you'll be counting for a while.

Thanks, 2011.

Welcome, 2012.




Colin Mitchell said:

Good lists, with the exception of Dexter -- not sure how on earth you rank one of the worst shows I watched this year on your top ten list. The worst season of a show on a downward spiral.

[I'm fine with agreeing to disagree on this one. But Dexter might come after you, if you don't watch out... - DB]

Comment posted on December 31, 2011 12:08 PM

Eileen said:

Great lists & great shows -- that is, the ones I can actually watch.

Here in NYC we are slaves of Time Warner Cable and, frankly, I refuse to fill their coffers with one nickel more of mine. I don't get HBO, ENC, SCI, Showtime or Starz ( or a host of others such as TVLand, Investigative TV, HUB, etc.) as part of my $90 per month cable package. TWC very thoughtfully increased their cable rates just before Christmas. I guess I'll just have to start juggling between what I do get on cable (mercifully AMC & FX) with what I can get on Netflix, which with their rate increases is pushing tv over the $100 per month mark. Amazing!

And for those in the NYC viewing area, New Year's Eve can only mean one thing -- The Honeymooners' Marathon. It's beginning at 11 pm this year, and will run uninterrupted until 6 pm on Sunday. I didn't realize that WPIX has been doing this marathon since 1976! In 1996 it moved its yearly marathon viewing to New Year's Eve. Good for them & better for us. Between The Twilight Zone Marathon and The Honeymooners' Marathon all is right with the world.

Happy, healthy 2012 to everyone in TVWW Land! And thanks, David, for all your hard work which definitely makes TWVV the best site on the internet.

[And thanks for all your hard work, too, Eileen. You write more on this site than many of the writers on the contributors' list -- and don't think we're not grateful.

Very Happy New Year to you, too -- and I heartily second your local "Honeymooners" Best Bet. Baby, it's the greatest! - DB]

Comment posted on December 31, 2011 7:33 PM

tina said:

I really loved Boss, but thought both Dexter and True Blood came awfully close to jumping the shark this year.

I also thought Episodes was unbearable - I tried it once, I tried it twice, but never found a single moment funny or entertaining.

Men of a Certain Age is lost on me, too.

[As long as you don't say that Men of Certain Age ARE lost on you, then you and I are fine, Tina. Agreeing to disagree is sort of our unofficial mantra around here. -- DB]

Comment posted on December 31, 2011 7:52 PM

Julia said:

I have 2 suggested additions to offer up, without any thoughts of what to remove since I haven't watched many of the shows you listed.

* Leverage (TNT) should be somewhere in your Top 20 TV Series. It's just great fun.

* Sherlock (PBS) should be on your Top 10 Movies and Miniseries list.

[Julia, I'll accept your complaint about Leverage -- to me, it's light TV, but so are other things I really should have included, such as HBO's The Ricky Gervais Show. But check my response to an earlier comment, to explain why I didn't put Sherlock on the list. As it turns out, the reason was elementary, my dear Julia. - DB]

Comment posted on December 31, 2011 8:25 PM

Newman said:

You need to watch Shameless. Not just the first episode - the second will have you hooked. Joan Cusack wielding a giant dildo at William H. Macy....that's got to be a first of some kind.

[I've watched them all, and admire the acting to no end. The writing, though -- to this point, I still prefer the British original. - DB]

Comment posted on January 1, 2012 1:18 PM

EricG said:

DB - You swung and missed on "Southland" but every master has his blindspot. --E

[Et tu, Gouldus? - DB]

Comment posted on January 1, 2012 4:19 PM

cantinflas said:

What about It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Archer for your humor fix? Not everyone's preference, but not run of the mill either.

[Love Archer. Keep trying Philadelphia, but it never quite takes. My college students tend to really like it, though -- then again, with them, it's got home-field advantage. - DB]

Comment posted on January 25, 2012 10:25 PM
Leave a Comment: (No HTML, 1000 chars max)
 Name (required)
 Email (required) (will not be published)
Type in the verification word shown on the image.