“American Horror Story” (FX)—No, I couldn’t always tell you what the hell was going on. But even at its David Lynch freakiest, I couldn’t tear my eyes off “American Horror Story.” Kudos for hiring an awesome cast, not allowing the head-snapping twists and turns to let up for a second, and for having the guts to wrap it all up by season’s end (unlike certain other shows who won’t remain nameless for long). Here’s hoping the (entirely different) second season is just as uncompromising.
“Downton Abbey” (PBS)—This “best of the BBC” miniseries, cleverly conflating everything “Masterpiece Theater” from “Upstairs, Downstairs” onward, on paper sounded like more dull Anglophilia. On screen, though, it played out like a gleeful dose of upscale voyeurism. Romance, drama, humor, sex, death, backstabbing, moneygrubbing, family secrets and the sinking of the Titanic: Stateside fans can look forward to more of the same with series two in 2012.
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)—Network TV just doesn’t have a future if cable keeps pumping as many resources into its shows as HBO did with the epic “Game of Thrones.” This was bold, surprise-filled storytelling (particularly for those of us who haven’t read the books), bolstered by a magnificent cast, wonderful costumes and some truly fantastic settings (Malta and Ireland this season, Iceland and Croatia next?).
“Person of Interest” (CBS)—This real-life, post-9/11 take on the modern superhero myth is easily the best serious crime fighter series since “The Equalizer.” Jim Caviezel, who can be too bland in certain roles (sorry, “The Prisoner”), is perfect as the cool-headed, bad-assed do-gooder to Michael Emerson’s mysterious “brains behind the brawn.”
Volkswagen “The Force” (commercial)—Tell me this beautifully compact story about the tiniest Sith Lord in the universe testing his Force powers on everything from the family dog to the washing machine—before successfully “starting” the new Volkswagen—isn’t one of the greatest commercials of all time.
The Season Finale of “The Killing” (FX)—If it weren’t for this episode, “The Killing” might have been one of the best of 2011. Instead of wrapping up the show’s dark and emotional murder mystery—as everyone involved promised would happen—the show copped out, dropping a load of red herrings on the docks of Seattle and stretching out the story for a second season. Why not just have a different mystery for our detectives to solve next season? It would have made so much sense. Alas, it was not meant to be.
“The 2011 Academy Awards” (ABC)—In an attempt to look younger and hipper, Oscar producers hired Anne Hathaway and James Franco to host. They’re both fine actors, but as hosts, they were desperately enthusiastic (Hathaway) and probably stoned (Franco). The result: Billy Crystal is back next year.
“Charlie’s Angels” (ABC)—We really didn’t need another “Charlie’s Angels” reboot after the successful (yet still awful) movie series. We got one anyway. For three utterly forgettable episodes.
Casey Anthony trial coverage (everywhere)—The messy, anticlimactic trial was an inescapable fact. It was happening whether we watched it or not. But the beyond-hysterical “news” coverage (CNN’s Nancy Grace, I’m looking at you) was an embarrassment to humanity.
“Whitney” (NBC)—Who knew you could make so many jokes using the word “vagina”?