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Dec 29

TV’s best shows of 2011

Meet the cast of NBC's brilliant community college sitcom, "Community."

“Breaking Bad,” “Community” among this year’s small-screen delights

I don’t have a ton of time to watch television.

I work full-time, and I have a fairly active social life. So when I actually take time out of my schedule to click on the boob tube, it better be worth my while.

With that in mind, here are some of the best TV shows that I watched in 2011.

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“Adventure Time” (Cartoon Network)

Much like fellow Cartoon Network creations “Chowder” and “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack,” this insanely entertaining show is destined to become an animated classic. “Adventure Time” follows the epic adventures of boy warrior Finn the Human and his magical pal, Jake the Dog, brother, in the mystical land of Ooo.

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

Something awesome happened between the fourth season finale of “Mad Men” and the second season premiere of “The Walking Dead.” I finally discovered “Breaking Bad.” Part high-stakes crime drama, part pitch-black comedy, this extraordinary show follows the evolution of meth-cooking cancer survivor Walter White (Bryan Cranston) from struggling high school science teacher to criminal mastermind. (AMC is currently re-airing the series; it’s also streaming on Netflix.)

“Community” (NBC)

Like most “Community” fans, I’ll be heartbroken if NBC decides to cancel this engagingly strange sitcom about a group of community college misfits. However, there’s no denying that the third season of “Community” has delivered more genuine laughs than many an industry stalwart. (I’m looking at you, “Two and a Half Men.”) You have only to watch episodes dealing with alternate realities, monkey gas and Model United Nations to understand why.

“The League” (FX)

You don’t have to know much about sports to enjoy this hilarious sitcom about the constantly bickering members of a fantasy football league. Just like its lead-in, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “The League” is stuffed with ridiculous scenarios and memorable characters such as manipulative lawyer Ruxin (Nick Kroll), pathetic plastic surgeon Andre (Paul Scheer) and sweet-natured stoner Taco (Jonathan Lajoie).

“Louie” (FX)

Stand-up comedian Louis CK plays a (hopefully) fictionalized version of himself in this brilliant sitcom, which combines footage of his act with vignettes about life as a divorced father raising two young daughters in New York City.  A pitch-black comedy with an indie sensibility, “Louie” features razor-sharp writing, emotional depth and guest appearances by some of comedy’s best and brightest, including Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock and Joan Rivers.  Guaranteed, you’ll laugh so hard it hurts.

“Party Down” (STARZ)

This superb sitcom about a group of struggling actors (Adam Scott, Ken Marino, etc.) who work for a Hollywood catering company went off the air in 2010 after just two seasons. Fortunately for comedy fans everywhere, it’s now streaming on Netflix. If you haven’t seen “Party Down” yet, do yourself a favor and check it out immediately.

“Portlandia” (IFC)

As a former resident of the City of Roses, I find watching “Portlandia” an exercise in squeamish schadenfreude. Although I appreciate the show’s ability to showcase all the places, personalities and quirks that make Portland, Ore., such a weird, wonderful place, I can’t help but squirm a little when those sketches strike uncomfortably close to home.

“New Girl” (Fox)

Of all the television shows that premiered this fall, “New Girl” is the one that’s stuck with me.  No matter how silly the show can be at times, I simply cannot resist the charms of doe-eyed star Zoey Deschanel, whose sparkling wit and sweetness put many a leading lady to shame. She’s like a younger, sexier Liz Lemon.

“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)

After a slow start, ”Parks and Recreation” has emerged as one of the smartest, funniest sitcoms to hit the airwaves. Most of the credit goes to stars Amy Poehler as spunky bureaucrat Leslie Knope and Nick Offerman as her manly, meat-loving co-worker, Ron Swanson.

“The Walking Dead” (AMC)

The zombie apocalypse drama returned for an even stronger second season, to the delight of horror fans everywhere. (Frank Darabont, who was dropped as showrunner in July, was probably less thrilled.) This season moved the action from Atlanta to the Georgia countryside, creating even more problems for Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his friends.

“Wilfred” (FX)

For sheer weirdness, you can’t beat “Wilfred,” a bizarre, bitterly funny comedy about a depressed young man and his canine best friend. Yes, while the rest of the world sees a playful pooch, Ryan (Elijah Wood) sees Wilfred (Jason Gann), a potty-mouthed, pot-smoking malcontent in a dog suit. This is raw, absurdist humor at its best.

“Up All Night” (NBC)

Sitcom stars Will Arnett and Christina Applegate have great chemistry as two high-powered professionals who find their lives turned upside down when they become first-time parents. Still, it’s co-star Maya Rudolph consistently steals the show as a self-centered Oprah wannabe. She’s simply fabulous.

OTHER DELIGHTS

  • “Castle” (ABC): With the possible exception of “Psych” star James Roday, mystery writer Rick Castle — aka Nathan Fillion — is television’s sexiest sleuth.
  • “Modern Family” (ABC): Now in its third season, this comedy juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down. Thank goodness.
  • Michael Palin travel documentaries: My husband and I simply love these funny, insightful mini-series hosted by the former “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” funnyman. Whether he’s exploring Eastern Europe, hiking the Himalayas or circumnavigating the globe, Palin makes for the perfect travel companion.
  • “Once Upon a Time” (ABC): This enchanting fairytale drama has charm to spare.
  • “Revenge” (ABC): If you like high-stakes drama, you’ll love this sumptuous soap opera about one young woman’s quest for vengeance in the heart of the Hamptons.
  • Rugby World Cup: During our trip to New Zealand this fall, we tuned in every night to watch the world’s best rugby players slug it out on the pitch. Consider me a convert.
  • “Sherlock” (BBC America): Set in modern times, this miniseries does a great job of updating super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his sidekick, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman).
  • “Top Gear” (BBC America): Here’s another British export that just keeps getting better and better. Whether you’re a car buff or a bicyclist, you’ll enjoy watching co-hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May explore their need for speed.

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“Community” photo by Mitchell Haaseth, courtesy of NBC Universal.

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