10. Archer (FX)
Having lost most of its edge years ago, it’s good to know that South Park’s title as the smartest, funniest, and filthiest cartoon on TV was just waiting for a show like Archer to take up the mantle, and remake the case for an animated smut-fest that’s as clever as it is crass. Creator Adam Reed keeps the spy missions, and lewd sexcapades of professional spy/inebriate, Sterling Archer, couched in obsessive wordplay, while maintaining a keen eye for era, and genre detail.
Part spoof, part genuine love letter to old school Bond spycraft, Archer’s plotting can get as twisty as some cable dramas, but the unpredictability just ends up fuelling Sterling, and the rest of his disgruntled co-workers. A fancy dinner party covering up the assassination of the Italian Prime Minister, and a mad Bryan Cranston taking hostages to start a colony on Mars, rank among the more unique, yet expertly constructed scenarios played out on TV this year. With so many great running gags already established, and plenty of material left to lampoon in the world of espionage, Archer’s prospects going forward look as good in 2012, as they did in 2011.
- Best Episodes: “The Limited,” “Lo Scandalo”
9. Game of Thrones (HBO)
Game of Thrones pulled off a nigh impossible trick in its first season: it made TV-budget medieval fantasy cool. More accurately, it showed that with HBO’s funding, committed actors, and strong direction, a twenty year-old, 800+ page epic could be turned into cross-media commercial gold. With season two, Game of Thrones faced the new challenge of adapting a book in George R. R. Martin’s gargantuan series that was less self-contained than the first, one tasked with setting up a multitude of conflicts in and around the battle-scarred continent of Westeros, many of which won’t be paying off until well down the franchise line.
While that left season two’s narrative feeling more disjointed than that of the first, Game of Thrones was still a technical marvel. The much-buzzed about ninth episode, “Blackwater,” proved that a full-scale battle on the small screen could be just as jaw-dropping, and astounding as anything you’d see in theatres. Buoyed by the uniformly fine cast (Peter Dinklage’s work as one of the few likeable men in a land of liars and thieves being particularly exceptional), the show was still ferociously engrossing for both neophytes and experts alike.
- Best Episodes: “What is Dead May Never Die,” “Blackwater”
Continue reading on the next page…