With the holiday season upon us, television takes a break to allow viewers to spend time with their loved ones. But when you’re a television junkie like I am, you find yourself also looking back over the past year on the small screen. What worked and what didn’t (manly men shows certainly didn’t!). And while it’s incredibly hard to sift through such a wide array of programming to find the best, I’m going to do it anyway. I’m a giver like that. To give it a little focus, and considering this is 8 Days a GEEK, I went with the top eight shows that fit that weird little niche of entertainment called geek culture. Good thing I’m a geek myself. This might have been hard if my favorite shows were the CSIs and Two and a Half Men!
8 ) Thundercats (Cartoon Network)
Animation has been coming on strong in recent years, but no revival was so well put together than the rebooted Thundercats. While the original was a toy-based weekly smash-’em-up, this reboot has taken a lot of inspiration from the long-form storytelling popularized in Japanese anime. While there are still several done-in-one stories, these Thundercats are a small band of survivors. Their home was destroyed by Mumm-Ra and the Lizards, and now they wander this planet filled with varied creatures and dangers.
7) Stargate Universe (Syfy)
If you’re a fan of dense and complex multi-layered science fiction, then Syfy isn’t really the place for you. Caprica and SGU were the last two attempts we’ve seen, and neither fared very well. It’s a shame, because in it second and final season, SGU started turning in some of the best science fiction stories I’ve ever seen. It lived up to the potential of Star Trek: Voyager’s premise, while creatively keeping those continuity ties to the long-running Stargate franchise. It’s just a shame that it’s death seems to have killed the entire Stargate line, not to mention leaving the fate of the Destiny and her crew in permanent limbo.
6) A Game of Thrones (HBO)
I didn’t think high fantasy could work on television, as much as I’ve wanted to see it tried. When I first read George R.R. Martin’s epic saga, I thought this might be the first series that could survive a television budget, as its use of magic is far more subtle than many other popular series. I just worried about its more mature subject matter. It couldn’t have found a better home than HBO, who treated the source material with a reverence Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth didn’t get, and resulted in a critically acclaimed drama — one of the most compelling on television — that just also happens to have elements of fantasy in it. It’s success may have paved the way for the more mainstream successes of Once Upon a Time and Grimm (I’m still waiting for those to live up to their potential).
5) Doctor Who (BBC America)
In his second season, Matt Smith firmly settled into the role of The Doctor, while Amy and Rory have quickly established themselves as two of the best Companions we’ve seen in a long time. It’s nice to see The Doctor just being friends with his companions. This season also saw the culmination of the River Song story that’s been brewing since David Tennant’s era, and it’s fully satisfying and as mind-bendingly weird as you might have imagined (Can we get a chronological collection of her adventures now?).
4) The Walking Dead (AMC)
While The Walking Dead let up on the terror and horror in this first half of its second season, it did a great job of giving us more of what AMC has become famous for in its other series. We started focusing on these characters and their relationships. Running from zombies is all fine and good, but it means a lot more when we come to care about this band of survivors. And while it may have taken a bit to get there, the reveal at the end about Sophia and the barn massacre were worth the wait, and certainly left me chomping at the bits for the continuation in 2012.
3) American Horror Story (FX)
What The Walking Dead did for zombie movies in the long form television format, American Horror Story did for ghost stories. Now that we know this is a done-in-one season, we can look at it as a singular story, and those closing moments were all we may ever see of the Harmon family and Murder House. There are many questions, but we got our happy endings, and the writers did a great job of spacing out the reveals throughout the season to keep us jumping on the edges of our seats. Plus, Jessica Lange’s Constance was absolutely the most terrifying and most dangerous presence in the whole series, and she wasn’t even a spirit!
2) Beavis & Butt-Head (MTV)
Maybe I’m dating myself here, but the original run of Mike Judge’s titular idiots was one of the highlights of my teen years. Beavis & Butt-Head and Ren & Stimpy were the funniest things I’d ever seen at the time. And as much as I loved their adventures, I loved even more their MST3K takes on music videos. Now they’re back and poking fun at videos AND MTV’s horrible slate of reality shows like Jersey Shore and Teen Mom? Yes, please! Now with sharper satire than ever before, and plenty of laughs (both from the characters and from us watching at home), this is easily the most welcome return to television since Futurama and Family Guy before it (sorry, Ren & Stimpy, but your short-lived return in 2003 was kind of terrible!)
1) Community (NBC)
For “Remedial Chaos Theory” alone, this show deserves to be on a geek-centric list. That episode followed seven different timelines based on the roll of a die — parallel universes, people! Anyone who is a fan of geek culture and television who isn’t watching this show is missing out on one of the smartest shows on television. They took three seasons to make a Beetlejuice joke, and Abed sports a Batman costume. While it doesn’t wear it’s geek badge on the outside like The Big Bang Theory, Community is so much more clever and brilliant in its writing. I’d wager that more geeks are flipping away from Big Bang and finding Community (of course they air opposite one another) a better flavor for their viewing palette. I know I certainly do. Now all we have to do is cross our fingers that NBC will return it to the schedule — and maybe in a less brutal time slot.
What shows topped your viewing lists for 2011? What shows disappointed you tremendously (Terra Nova — though you did get it together a bit by the end of your season (too bad nobody was watching by then))?