The Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011 — Part Two!
OK, we’ve arrived at the final installment of my look back at 2011!
Click here for my Top 15 Movies of 2011: part one, part two, and part three. Click here for my Top 15 Comic Book Series of 2011: part one and part two. Click here for my Top 10 DVDs/Blu-Rays of 2011. And, finally, click here for part one of my Top 10 Episodes of TV of 2011.
Now, let’s wrap up my list!
5. Treme: “What is New Orleans?” (season 2, episode 9, aired on 6/19/11) — As the second season built to a climax, everything started to come together in this powerhouse of an episode that encapsulated everything I love about this amazing show. So many of the story-lines that had run through the entire season come to a head in this episode: The talented young rapper in Davis’ new group begins to upstage him; Lt. Colson gets transferred (against his will) to Homicide; Janette really begins to flower under her new chef in New York City, and so much more goes down. But the episode’s two highlights come from opposite extremes of the emotional spectrum. There’s the hilarious sequence in which Antoine steals an audience from Kermit, luring them into the club where his new band is playing… at least until Kermit turns the tables on him. Then there is the shocking, horribly tragic death of a main character in the final moments. (I almost selected the Game of Thrones episode “Baelor” for this list — that’s the amazing episode that also climaxed in the death of a main character. I absolutely adored that episode — it reminded me of the way I fell in love with 24 when they boldly killed off Jack’s wife in the season one finale, a shocking display of anything-can-happen — but ultimately I selected a different episode of Game of Thrones, “You Win or You Die,” for the number ten spot on my list. “Baelor” was amazing, but it’s testament to the power of Treme that it’s this episode that left even more of a mark on me.) I am dying for season three of this marvelous show to arrive.
4. Curb Your Enthusiasm: “Mister Softee” (season 8, episode 9, aired on 9/4/11) — Curb Your Enthusiasm is pretty much always great, but every now and then an installment comes along that shoots right up into the level of genius. My friends, I would postulate that “Mister Softee” is just such an episode. There’s so much greatness on display in this episode that I hardly know where to begin: With Larry’s condescending, loose-lipped psychiatrist (played by Sy Abelman himself — A Serious Man’s Fred Melamed)? With Larry and Leon’s theory about black people in glasses? With the orgasm-inducing car? With the flashbacks to a life-changing moment in Larry’s life? With Robert Smigel (the voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog)’s crazed car mechanic Yuri? All those things are great, but of course it’s the spotlight on poor, abused Bill Buckner that is the reason this episode is such a classic. Mr. Buckner is a terrific sport in playing himself, and the episode’s climax — in which Mr. Buckner finally, at long last, gets a chance at redemption — was absolutely perfect.
3. Woody Allen: A Documentary (part one aired on 11/20/11, part two aired on 11/21/11) — Robert B. Weide, one of the key creative forces behind the early years of Curb Your Enthusiasm, directed this lengthy (almost four hours) look back at the life and career of Woody Allen. The film focuses on Mr. Allen’s films (rather than on his personal life — the hubub over his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn is addressed, but very briefly). The general structure of the documentary is a movie-by-movie history of Mr. Allen’s many decades of movie-making. That’s a lot of material to cover, but Mr. Weide has deftly assembled a wealth of interviews — including substantial commentary from Mr. Allen himself — and a judicious amount of clips from Mr. Allen’s work to keep the film jetting along at a rapid clip. I feel like I know Mr. Allen’s work fairly well, but this documentary was packed full of information and stories that were totally new to me. No surprise, Mr. Weide’s film spends a lot more time on Mr. Allen’s first ten or so films than it does on the subsequent thirty, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of attention given to so many of Mr. Allen’s works, even some of the later and less popular ones (such as Everyone Says I Love You, which I adore but I think I might be the only one). This film was three and a half hours long but I could have easily watched another three and a half hours more. A wonderfully entertaining look at the work of — love him or hate him — one of the great masters of cinema and one of the greatest comedic minds of our age.
2. Parks and Recreation: “Fancy Party” (season 3, episode 9, aired on 4/14/11) — There’s a familiar structure to the way in which sitcom romances tend to unfold: several years of will-they-or-won’t-they tension, some misunderstandings to throw conflict into their dating life and then — if the show lasts long enough — an engagement filled with high-jinks with the in-laws and the bachelor/bachelorette parties, and finally a big sweeps-week wedding. So god bless the makers of Parks and Recreation for taking crazy/sweet April and Andy from new couple to married within the span of just a few weeks. In this magnificent episode, April and Andy throw a big fancy party for their friends that culminates in their surprise wedding. Throughout the episode I was sure that their friends would talk reason into them, but I was delighted that that did not happen and they actually went through with the wedding! The writers skillfully took us along on the same journey that Leslie and all of Andy/April’s friends went on — within the span of 22 minutes, we went from thinking the marriage was a terrible idea to thinking that it was just about perfect. This episode didn’t skimp on the hilarity that has made me fall in love with this show (Jean-Ralphio’s wedding speech advice, Tom’s quest to be a dream Best Man, Ann and Donna’s single-ladies mixer, Chris’ vegetable loaf, April’s creepily-intense friend, and so much more) — but it was also surprisingly sweet. A perfect combination, and a complete winner of a half-hour.
1. The Daily Show — What can I say that I haven’t already said before? Day in and day out, the finest televised entertainment I could imagine. Fiercely intelligent and devastatingly hilarious, Jon Stewart and the Best F—in’ News Team on the Planet give me hope for planet Earth. Is that laying it on a bit thick for a twenty-two minute daily fake news show? I don’t care.