As 2011 comes to a close, I like to take a look back at the television shows that entertained me the most. There were many sci-fi/fantasy/horror shows to choose from, and because I do not have consistent access to British television, I limited my list to shows that aired on American channels. (Sorry fans of ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘The Misfits.’) These shows made me laugh, brought tears to my eyes, and scared me. The following shows are the ones that I couldn’t wait to see the following week because of their fascinating characters, engaging stories and surprising moments.
[Warning: I do discuss plot points!]
10. Haven (Syfy)
I confess I was disappointed that the double Audrey storyline was not carried or developed throughout the whole season, but after the second Audrey’s memory was mysteriously wiped, the show picked up speed by deepening the puzzling nature of Haven and the Troubles. The defining moment of the season was when Reverend Driscoll’s pure hatred of the Troubled caused Audrey to shoot him. By killing the Reverend herself, Audrey set herself apart from her previous version, Lucy. We learned Duke Crocker has a role in the Troubles, but his wife and the Reverend died before he (and us) could find out details. And just when we thought Nate and Audrey could finally begin a romantic relationship, the season ended not with them consummating their feelings, but with Audrey’s disappearance. Who took Audrey? And did Nate shoot Duke?
Standout episodes: “Audrey Parker’s Day Off,” “Who What Where Wendigo,” and “Sins of the Father”
9. Fringe (FOX)
The fourth season has gotten mixed reviews because of the experiment with the new timeline. While I applaud the writers for taking a risk, the beginning of the fourth season has been uneven and has moved slowly. Then why is this show on the list? Because of the stellar second half of season three. The emotional turmoil Olivia went through when she came home to learn that she was replaced and no one noticed for weeks was heartbreaking to watch. Anna Torv’s performance has consistently been moving, nuanced and powerful, and she did not disappoint during season three when she played Olivia, Fauxlivia, and Future Olivia. The rest of the cast is strong as well, especially John Noble as Walter Bishop. To play two very distinct versions of the same person takes skill, and Noble’s Walternate showed us what our Walter would have been like if he continued to only desire power. The writing and acting on ‘Fringe’ has been some of the best on television, and the second half of the third season shows us why.
Standout episodes: “The Firefly,” “Subject 13,” and “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide”
8. Being Human (Syfy)
A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost share a house. Sounds like the start of a joke, right? Instead of a farce, ‘Being Human’ centers on those trying to be more than their baser desires. Aidan’s struggle to be more than a simple bloodsucker was the main storyline of the first season, and his confrontations with Bishop were some of the show’s best moments. The yearning of the werewolf Josh to be normal had major consequences for Nora. And Sally. Poor Sally. Just when she thought she had reached her goal, one quick decision, a choice made in a nanosecond, took that prize away from her. Being a beast is easy; with good writing and acting, ‘Being Human’ shows us how difficult it can be to tame the beast within all of us. Season two is coming up soon, and I can’t wait to find out who “She” is.
Standout episodes: “The End of the World as We Knew It,” “Going Dutch,” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Me Killing You”
7. Smallville (CW)
The second half of the tenth and last season aired in 2011, and the beloved show got the send-off it deserved. Lex clones, a Lionel from a dark parallel universe, and Darkseid helped Clark Kent accept his destiny. He suffered loss and pain on his journey. His friends and Lois showed him that he can have balance, and when he confronted Jor-El for the last time, he finally acknowledged that he is also Kal-El and embraced his Kryptonian heritage. Star Tom Welling anchored Clark Kent in reality, and he gave Clark an emotional depth that I hadn’t seen since Christopher Reeves’s cinematic Superman. Many wanted him in “The Suit” more, but ‘Smallville’ was always about Clark’s path to Superman, reminding us that heroes are not made overnight.
Standout episodes: “Fortune,” “Prophecy,” and “Finale”
6. The Walking Dead (AMC)
Yes, Rick and his people spent too much time on the farm, but the time on the farm provided the writers the opportunity to develop characters. Determined to prove his worth to Lori, Shane was motivated to sacrifice another in order to save Carl. Shane’s act unleashes his ruthless nature, which he justifies by saying that the world is different now. Shane’s new rough attitude attracts Andrea. Tired of sitting on the sidelines and being constantly afraid, Andrea has Shane teach her how to shoot. When Andrea starts killing zombies because the two are surrounded by zombies during their search for Sophia is the moment she comes into her own. Although Andrea’s a decent shot and Shane has a lot of bravado, none of Andrea’s bullets or any of Shane’s loud declarations could handle what came out of the barn. Only Rick could step up, make the necessary difficult decision, and deal with the little thing that left the barn last.
Standout episodes: “Save the Last One,” “Chupacabra,” and “Pretty Much Dead Already”
5. American Horror Story (FX)
I didn’t have plans to watch this show. I thought it was going to be ‘The Amityville Horror TV Show,’ but it’s not. The house is a collector, and if it likes you, it wants you to die inside so you can stick around for all eternity. What darkness lurks in the house? Will the house ever let the spirits move on? These questions drive the show, but finding the answers was not why I kept coming back. What did? Two things. First, the ghosts: the amorous Moira, Hayden, and Tate. I don’t know what to say about Tate except he is the definition of serious Mommy issues. The second aspect of the show that kept me hooked was Constance, the bigoted, domineering, and scheming next door neighbor who is obsessed with getting the house back. Only Jessica Lange could bring Constance to life with such presence; Lange steals every scene she is in and deserves all the praise she is getting for her performance. Creepy, sexy, crazy and scary, ‘American Horror Story’ has me guessing about where the show could possibly go. And I like that.
Standout episodes: “Pilot,” “Smoldering Children,” and “Birth”
4. Eureka (Syfy)
Sending Carter, Allison, Fargo, Henry and Jo to an alternate timeline and sticking with the new timeline, revitalized this show. The new timeline gave the writers the opportunity to end certain relationships, change old ones, and introduce new dynamics by bringing in new characters like Dr. Holly Marten (Felicia Day) and Dr. Isaac Parrish (Wil Wheaton). The Fargo/Holly/Parrish love triangle gave us some very funny moments (great example: role playing in bed). The Astraeus Mission took some very interesting twists and turns. The season finale did not end how I expected. The writers took an incident that happened to Allison that seemed to be over, and, in one moment, revealed the consequences no one saw coming. Unfortunately, Syfy has cancelled ‘Eureka,’ so the episodes airing in 2012 will be the last. I will miss this fun, quirky, sci-fi show populated with great characters who are smart and use scientific thinking to solve problems.
Standout episodes: “Omega Girls,” “One Small Step,” and “One Giant Leap”
3. Warehouse 13 (Syfy)
To me, the season could have started stronger. We all knew Myka was coming back, so one Myka-less episode would have been fine, and it would have given us more time to have gotten to know Jinks better. Season three really heated up when the villain, Sykes, was revealed. Influenced by an artifact as a child, Sykes was determined to destroy the Warehouse. Also helping this season was the introduction of Pete’s mom and Regent, Jane Lattimer (Kate Mulgrew). The cast of ‘Warehouse 13’ has great chemistry, and Mulgrew fit right in. Mulgrew’s scenes with McClintock’s Pete revealed a different side to Pete, the side still hurt from being repeatedly abandoned by those he loves. All of the threads came together during the two-part season finale. The finale was two of the best hours of television I’ve ever watched. The finale was tense, suspenseful, exciting, heart wrenching, and shocking. I laughed, and I cried—not just cried—I bawled. If you saw the finale, then you know why; if you haven’t, well, I’m not going to ruin it for you.
Standout episodes: “The 40th Floor,” “Emily Lake,” and “Stand”
2. Game of Thrones (HBO)
High fantasy stories are difficult to bring to the screen. Just look at how much effort was needed to bring ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to film. On television, ‘Merlin’ is decent, but I never expected any show to bring a rich fantasy world to life. Leave it to HBO to achieve this feat. The sets, the costumes, and the effects blend seamlessly to transport us to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The show is grand, epic and sweeping. At times there was a lot of exposition, but the writers wove it well into the action and character development that I never really ever felt too bogged down. The cast is perfect; I can’t imagine anyone else in any of the roles. Peter Dinklage and Sean Bean are outstanding and deserving of accolades, but I was impressed by Emilia Clarke’s performance. Clarke took Daenerys Targaryen from a meek unwilling bride and transformed her into the Khaleesi of the Dothraki. Every moment of Daenerys’s journey was believable, and I thought what she did during the finale was glorious. Many are Team Stark, but I’m Team Daenerys all the way.
Standout episodes: “Winter is Coming,” “A Golden Crown,” “Fire and Blood”
1. The Vampire Diaries (CW)
Perhaps it is vampire fatigue. Perhaps it is the stigma of being on the CW. For some reason, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ does not get the recognition it deserves. This show is more than a teen drama, more than fangs, and more than a simple love triangle. The characters have depth and are complex. The mythology is rich and enhances the plot. The show has excellent pacing; when a question is answered, three more are asked. I’m constantly intrigued and fascinated by each episode and filled with anticipation for the next. The show is sexy, scary, witty, charming, and touching. The entire cast is strong, but I don’t have room to praise them all. Instead I will focus on Nina Dobrev. This talented actor plays two roles, high school student Elena Gilbert and 500-year-old vampire Katherine Pierce (aka Katerina Petrova). Elena is Katherine’s doppelgänger. Dobrev has given each woman a distinct and multifaceted personality; you can tell the characters apart. Dobrev’s performance carried the second season to a thrilling and poignant conclusion. The anguish Elena went through at the end of the second season would not have been believed if not for Dobrev’s strong performance throughout the season. Season three has continued the action. Klaus is an amazing villain. Just when you think they have finally outwitted the original vampire who is also a werewolf, Klaus finds a way to escape. I could go on about this show, and because I could go on and on about ‘The Vampire Diaries’ is why this is my pick as the best sci-fi/fantasy/horror show of 2011.
Standout episodes: “The Dinner Party,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “As I Lay Dying,” and “Homecoming”
Agree? Disagree? Let me know! This year had some great shows, and next year we will see more of our favorites and some new shows (I’m looking forward to ‘Alcatraz’ and ‘Lost Girl’). Here’s to 2012 being just as good (or better) than 2011!