2011 in Review: The Best Shows – Honorable Mentions

As I’ve mentioned before, I watched A LOT of television this year. So much so that I’m inclined to make a list of 10 honorable mentions. These are strictly single episodes from series that didn’t make my top 10 for whatever reason. Let’s dig in.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: “The Bisexual”
If you often thought episodes of Seinfeld were jam-packed, this episode of Larry David’s HBO series makes it look streamlined in comparison. The overarching plot finds Larry and Rosie O’Donnell in a hilarious battle of wills for a really awesome woman. Then there’s the satire on juicing in Major League Baseball and the always brilliant advice from J.B. Smoove. Sometimes I find this show a little too cynical for my taste, but this was a stellar episode in a season that many called a return to form.

Ebert Presents At the Movies: “The Movies That Made Us Critics”
The latest incarnation of Sneak Previews started off a little rough, until this episode, which allowed viewers to get to know the critics a lot better, to discover the movies that made an impression on them as teens, that led them to have the greatest job in the world. It also solidified the hosts’ images: Christy as the populist critic, Ignatiy as the intellectual art-house disciple. But Christy’s no mere cheerleader and Ignatiy no elitist. They both defend their positions quite well, even if you might find it hard to agree with them.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore”
I gave up about halfway through this season for two reasons: the show didn’t make me laugh nearly as much, going for cheap sight gags too often. But also my beloved Beavis and Butt-head had returned at the same time slot. It wasn’t much of a competition after that. But this episode is a stone-cold classic, with Mac and Frank in a Cast Away parody, Charlie drinking sunscreen, and Dennis and Sweet Dee caught up in a liquor store robbery, all set to the Go-Go’s “Vacation.”

Men of a Certain Age: “A League of Their Owen”
Another great show that won’t air ever again, TNT’s middle-age dramedy never hit a false note. This episode was a season two highlight, as all three men made the right decisions the wrong way.

NTSF: SD: SUV:: : “One Cabeza, Two Cabeza, Three Cabeza… DEAD!”
Paul Scheer’s absurdist parody of CSI: Miami got ridiculous right out of the gate. The first episode found the squad investigating an alcoholic energy drink – an obvious parody of Four Loko – that caused frat douches and sorority sluts to literally explode if they chugged too much. But it was all part of the FDA’s plan to “thin the herd” as it were. Great guest work from J.K. Simmons, who should really be in everything.

The Office: “Goodbye, Michael”
I’ve given this show a lot of crap over the years, but I have to admit I teared up at this season finale. Steve Carell was the heart and soul of this show, and the couple episodes I’ve caught this season make his absence felt. It’s just dull and lifeless without him. But this is an exquisitely written piece of television and a career-best performance from Carell. Too bad the Emmy voters were too stupid to realize this, as they gave their Best Actor in a Comedy Award to Jim Parsons… again.

Saturday Night Live: “Justin Timberlake/Lady Gaga”
About once a season, SNL hits for the cycle: a great host, clever skits and terrific musical performances. These episodes make you forget how often the show repeats itself, dragging up corpses of terrible skits and re-animating them to wander the 12:30 dead zone. This top-to-bottom classic made you forget Miley Cyrus hosted just a few months prior.

The Simpsons: “The Book Job”
Everyone likes to rag on the Simpsons for losing its mojo. But let’s see you try to keep up a show for 22-plus seasons (yes, I know South Park kills my argument, but they produce far fewer episodes each season). Still, I’ve really found the last few seasons to be markedly improved from those double-digit weak seasons. My favorite this season was this heist parody, as Homer, Flanders, Skinner, the Moe’s crew and guest star Neil Gaiman set out to create the ultimate young-adult fantasy novel. “Is R.L. Stine here? ‘Cuz you just gave me goosebumps.”

South Park: “Broadway Bro Down”
Even with creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone pre-occupied with the runaway success of the Book of Mormon, season 15 turned out to be one of South Park‘s best. I especially enjoyed this musical episode, which offered up a brutal yet eloquent take-down of Broadway’s biggest stars. It was all in service of an incredibly sick joke, but like the best South Park episodes, delivered it in typically high-brow fashion.

Talking Funny
Oh, how I wish this were a show and not a one-off special. I could seriously listen to Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Louis C.K. talk about the business of comedy, their stand-up history and what they find funny, every single week. At least we’ve got this hour.

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