Breaking Bad (AMC).
Egregious snubs from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association aside, this was the year everyone else finally discovered the best show on television. I can’t claim to have been on the bandwagon from the beginning, but after nine months of proselytizing for it, I can now mention Breaking Bad in casual conversation without having to add, “it’s about a high school chemistry teacher who becomes a meth cook.” Going into season four, I felt some trepidation: How in the world could they keep up the nerve-obliterating pace without flying off the rails completely? It only took about 30 minutes into the first episode — around the time Giancarlo Esposito’s Gustavo Fring established himself as TV’s most frightening character, in a scene where he spoke only five words — for me to realize I should just trust in series creator Vince Gilligan, and that held true through the, um, “explosive” finale.
As with Breaking Bad, 2011 was the year Louis C.K. broke big. Not that he was an unknown before — his standup gigs have packed theaters for a while now — but with Louie, the rest of the world caught on to his genius. Eschewing nearly every sitcom convention — from serialized narrative structure to consistent tone, even daring to be unfunny for long stretches — each episode is more like a short film that oscillates from the absurd to the crushingly poignant. Two seasons in, the show has proven C.K. is more than just America’s best comic: He’s the new Woody Allen, only with a greater affinity for fart jokes.
Happy Endings (ABC).
It doesn’t have a particularly distinctive premise — it’s basically Friends for the single-camera era — but Happy Endings sprays one-liners like machine-gun fire, and over the last few weeks, the remarkably compatible cast’s joke-to-LOL ratio has been higher than Parks and Rec, Community and its overly celebrated lead-in, Modern Family. Start watching.
For four seasons, Dexter was in the conversation about the best dramas on television. Now it’s just trying not to jump the shark completely. And frankly, once Colin Hanks’ murderous religious fanatic painted Michael C. Hall’s face over a demon’s body toward the climax of season six, it probably did just that. After last year’s flatline, the show needed to rebound, and for the first few episodes this season, it appeared to be on its way back. Then the writers killed off their most interesting character in years (Brother Sam, given subtle heft by Mos Def, er, Yasiin Bey), resurrected Dexter’s dead brother, and telegraphed a plot twist so blatant, that a naked mole rat could’ve seen it coming. To be fair, it ended with the only logical cliffhanger left; but to be honest, that development should’ve happened two seasons ago.
Best Sign of the Apocalypse:
Y’know what’s missing from most reality shows? Fucking. Sure, on The Real World and Jersey Shore, everyone’s sleeping with everyone, but where’s the penetration, damn it? It’s on Gigolos, possibly the most gloriously heinous series ever devised. Think Snooki and the Situation are detestable human beings? They’re Nobel laureates next to the cast of this show, which follows a group of totally self-unaware male prostitutes living, loving and humping in Las Vegas. Bring it on, Mayans! Nothing more to see here!
I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community to Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just filling the void until Breaking Bad starts again. Follow him on Twitter at @mpsinger.