This is part of my 2011 wrap-up series, A Few of My Favorite Things.
Before I jump into my top fifteen for 2011 — read the overview here — I wanted to discuss a few items that I chose not to include on the list for one reason or another.
Parks and Recreation
This is a brilliant sitcom that made “The Leap” in 2011 — from great to one of the greatest.
It’s a show that seems to fire on all cylinders week in, week out. It doesn’t have the varietyof Community or Louie (though its incredible polish and tonal consistency mask quite a bit of experimentation). Instead, it thrives on television’s best comic writing and acting, a fleshed-out setting full of vivid minor characters, and a deep love for public service and everyday people.
This banner year included highlights such as the Harvest Festival, an unforgettable flu season (“Stop— POOPING!”), April and Andy’s surprise wedding, and heart-rending reunion between Leslie and Ben at Indiana’s smallest park. And those are only a few of the highlights.
Suffice it to say that Parks and Recreation would be near the top of my 2011 list if I deemed it eligible.
Growing ever more ambitious, Community scored a high batting average in 2011, which coincided with the second half of its second season and the first half of its third season.
Unlike the uniform Parks and Recreation, Community thrives on the fact that it can be a completely different show from one week to the next. A consistency of character and humanity run underneath even the most bizarre episodes, but the structural design of this show can radically alter every seven days.
While Parks and Rec has leapt it as my favorite comedy on television, that show can’t claim such out-of-left-field classics as Paradigms of Human Memory — a clip show where all the clips were new — or Remedial Chaos Theory — a multi-timeline comic masterpiece.
Technically, NBA 2K12 is eligible for this list. And I did enjoy it enough that it should be included on this list. But I chose to exclude it for a couple of reasons.
First, this is basically a makeover, tweak, and roster update to NBA 2K11. (I don’t mean this as an insult; it’s exactly what I wanted. This series is one of my favorites ever.) Thus, it’s mostly an extension of a game that was on last year’s list.
Second, there’s only so much to talk about. I play Dynasty mode for hours on end, managing an NBA roster. There’s a lot of strategy involved; you can’t just accumulate the most talent, you have to balance playing time and budgets to keep everyone happy.
But it’s basically a sports nerd’s pastime, and there’s not much more to it than what I explained in the previous paragraph.
So: Sorry, NBA 2K12. You didn’t make the cut.
The Office (BBC)
I watched The Office UK during the last week of December 2010, so it only narrowly missed the 2011 window I set for this series. But if I had held off a week to watch this series, it’d be near the top of this list.
While the US version of The Office remains one of my favorite series ever, I totally understand everyone who says the original is superior. Per episode, it definitely is: It cuts deeper into the themes of the series at a more rapid pace, making it a lot more effective.
Even more impressive is just how unexpected and original it was. This pair of comedians, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, starterd with what could have been a one-note sitcom premise — a wretched boss makes his employees miserable. They turned it into a three-dimensional character study (of not just the boss, but of his employees who are just as lost as he is) and a formal innovation.
After The Office, not only were mockumentaries acceptable formats for television comedy, but the whole assumption that sitcoms had to be simple and structurally uninventive (setup-setup-punchilne) was blown up. I’d rank it behind only The Sopranos as the most obviously influential TV series of the aughts.
“Materpiece Collection” and “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”
I went through two seriously music taste-broadening experiments in 2011.
The first was to find an overview of the greatest orchestral music of all time. I found this collection online, listened all the way through multiple times, and have found other classical music I enjoy since then.
Later in the year, I went song-for-song through Rolling Stone’s imperfect but compelling list of the 500 “greatest” rock and roll songs of all time. It gave me an overview of many of the greatest tracks of the past 50 years. Don’t take the rankings or inclusions/exclusions too seriously; this type of list is prone to trendiness and groupthink.
Still, it was utterly compelling to delve deep into the canon of many of rock’s most influential and well-regarded songs.
I decided not to include either of these mixes, because “classical music” and “classic rock” are entries that would be a bit too broad even for my list.