Over the past decade, a clear shift has taken place between television and film in terms of quality.
Television used to be widely considered the lesser of the two media in crafting innovative narratives and production technique, but that no longer holds true. Thanks to premium channels such as HBO and new markets for television series via DVD and Blu-ray sales, studio executives now see the lucrative results that the television platform can offer and are dedicated in producing worthy programs.
Due to (and also helping to fuel) this trend, talented writers and actors are now making the move to the television field, as the medium provides well-paying and consistent work. 2011 did not halt this new development in the slightest, as a down year in film was met with another season of both returning successes and fresh new shows on television.
Here are the five best shows from the past year:
Game of Thrones
For those wondering what a television series of “The Lord of the Rings” may look like, it can be found in “Game of Thrones.”
“Thrones” is an engaging fantasy epic that has all of the magic of the “Rings” films, but presents a more realistic and urgent version of medieval times. Based on George R.R. Martin’s novel series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” “Game of Thrones” is filled with politics, adultery and imaginative characters and settings. “Thrones” benefits from having an outstanding ensemble cast that kept the first season’s 10 episodes fresh and interesting for its viewership. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” returns for its second season on April 1, and the cast and crew both promise a bold and epic sophomore season.
After initially suffering from a lack of continuity and dynamic characters during its initial run, FOX’s “Fringe” found its creative voice at the conclusion of its second season. 2011 showcased the second half of “Fringe’s” third season and the first half of its fourth season, and the Friday night science-fiction drama has continued to push the boundaries as a mainstream series immersed in the supernatural.
“Fringe’s” quirky and irresistible Walter Bishop (John Noble) is one of television’s strongest and most underappreciated characters. Viewers looking for a sophisticated escapist tale will find a diamond in the rough with the innovative “Fringe.”
“What’s the plan, Phil?”
Fans of ABC’s “Modern Family” may secretly have concerns over the longevity of their beloved series, as it is difficult to imagine a comedy that produces 24 episodes a season with little continuity to go on performing at the top of its game. So far, these fans have nothing to worry about. Half of “Modern Family’s” second and third seasons each aired in 2011, and audience members would have a difficult time finding any point of diminishing quality.
With carefully constructed recurring jokes, reflective social commentary and seamless transitions between all three households that the series focuses on, “Modern Family” is still the program to beat in the comedy genre.
Showtime’s “Homeland” was the clear winner for best new series of 2011.
The rookie show is a relentless thriller that is reminiscent of Fox’s “24.” This should come as no surprise, as several former writers from “24” have found a new home with “Homeland.” With the creative freedom that comes with airing on a premium channel, “Homeland” is a more adult-oriented “24.” The surveillance, torture and political themes remain, but some of the campy subplots from “24” (Kim Bauer fighting a mountain lion, anyone?) are replaced with thought-provoking issues and family relationships.
Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison is sure to emerge as one of television’s finest characters, and possibly the most compelling female role to ever grace television screens. “Homeland’s” shocking finale left fans begging for more, but they will have to wait until the series resumes next fall.
AMC’s “Breaking Bad” continues to improve after each season, a rare feat for most television programs. Even during its fourth season, the engrossing story of a good man gone bad remains unpredictable at every turn.
Bryan Cranston’s Walter White continues to dig himself deeper and deeper into the world of drug trafficking, yet he miraculously makes his way out again with the help of his young partner, Jesse (Aaron Paul) and wife Skyler (Anna Gunn). Just when the audience thinks they have the intriguing White figured out, he will shock the viewer with another reckless and dangerous action.
Yet any fan of “Bad” knows this is why they cannot take their eyes off of Cranston in his transformation into evil incarnate. “Breaking Bad” enters its fifth and final season in 2012 and will be sure to go down as one of the greatest television series of all time.
Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @KevinRomani.