CHARLESTON, W.Va. --I'd intended to get this Best of 2011 list in last week when it was, you know, still 2011. That didn't work out, though, so here now, I give you my picks for the best shows, characters and actors of the past year.
Overall best comedy: "Parks and Recreation"
8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC
"Parks" is a workplace mockumentary/comedy about small town politics that's populated with colorful characters. It started out pretty bad but made a huge turnaround after character and format tweaks were made for season two, and it has continued to improve with each season, including this one, which had a fantastically funny first half this fall. The main reason for the show's success is the cast. Simply put, it's fantastic. There's not room here to praise everyone, but they all deserve it. The characters are fully realized, each with their own quirks and oddball charm.
Runner up:"Modern Family" (9 p.m. Wednesday, ABC)
Best new comedy: "Up All Night"
9:30 p.m. Thursday (beginning Jan. 12), NBC
This was my most anticipated new show of the year, and it didn't disappoint. Christina Applegate and Will Arnett have great chemistry as first-time parents adjusting to their new lives. Maya Rudolph is the talk show host who employs Applegate's character; she started out a little too cartoonish, but the writers have toned her down while still keeping her funny. Even if you don't have children, you'll still find laughs here.
Runner up: "Happy Endings" (9:30 p.m. Wednesday, ABC)
Overall best drama: "Breaking Bad"
Sundays, AMC. Returns summer 2012
I have been hooked on "Breaking Bad" since I saw the first episode, and this season did nothing to dissuade that. I know some fans felt there wasn't enough action, but I had no such qualms. Gus' riveting storyline, Jesse's entanglement between his two bosses, Hank's recovery and all the events in Mexico were intriguing even if they weren't action-packed. And, of course, there was that mind-blowing final shot of the season. I'm excited for next season, but sad because it is the last.
Runner up: "The Walking Dead" (9 p.m. Sunday, AMC. Returns Feb. 12.)
Best new drama: "Lights Out"
This was the most difficult category as no new drama really wowed me this year. This now-canceled FX boxing drama came the closest. It was very well done, with an interesting story, good actors (particularly Holt McCallany and Pablo Schreiber) and nicely choreographed fight scenes. Also, the final minutes of the finale were heartbreaking and the end of what is perhaps the best unintentional series finale I've seen. I teared up watching them and still remember them now, nearly nine months later.
Runner up: Once Upon a Time" (8 p.m. Sunday, ABC)
Best male character: Daryl Dixon, "The Walking Dead"
If you'd told me when he first appeared that the volatile redneck Daryl (Norman Reedus) would become my favorite character on "The Walking Dead," I'd have said you were crazy. But here we are. Daryl is appealing for several reasons: he's a badass; he's protective of the group, even though he pretends not to care; he has an interesting past and he has some great one-liners. Plus, this season, he's really shown his heart, taking the most involved role in Sophia's search and doing his best to comfort her grieving mother.
Best character, female: Sue Heck, "The Middle" and Penny Hartz, "Happy Endings" (tie)
"The Middle": 8 p.m. and "Happy Endings," 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, ABC
I tried really hard to narrow this down to a single winner, but I couldn't. I love both of these girls. Sue (Eden Sher), bless her heart, just takes whatever life -- and her family -- throws at her and never lets it get her down; she's as optimistic as she is socially awkward, and she's also just a sweet, kind-hearted kid. And Penny (Casey Wilson) is the kind of gal I could see myself hanging out with; she's goofy and kind of awkward, a dreamer plagued by insecurity and fiercely loyal to her best friends.
Best sidekick: Jesse Pinkman, "Breaking Bad"
Jesse (Aaron Paul) is one of my favorite characters on TV; his development over the seasons is a big part of my love for "Breaking Bad." This season, he was torn between his loyalty to Walt and his duty to Gus and was played against each of them by the other. He struggled with the fallout from his actions in last season's finale and the way his involvement in the meth business dangerously affected his girlfriend and her son. Jesse may be a sidekick, but that doesn't make him any less interesting or more marginalized.
Best villain: Gus Fring, "Breaking Bad"
Giancarlo Esposito was absolutely electric as the calculating drug kingpin this season, from his chilling warning to Walt and Jesse in the first episode to his explosive role in the season finale. He was a vital part of this season, and infinitely more interesting than Walt. Despite the mild-mannered face he presents to the public, Gus is definitely not a guy you want to mess with.
Best actor: Giancarlo Esposito, "Breaking Bad"
It will be an absolute crime if Esposito is not nominated for an Emmy this year. Villainy is often discounted in acting because you rarely root for the bad guy, but it takes talent to create a character fans both love and hate. Esposito's ice-cold demeanor and steely menace as Gus are all the more impressive when you see how warm and jovial he is in real life.
Best actress: Amy Poehler, "Parks and Recreation"
"Parks" has a wonderful ensemble cast (second to "Modern Family"), but Poehler is still the star. As such, her Leslie, a small town, mid-level bureaucrat, is the key to the show. Leslie is an enthusiastic, go-getter and can be quite naïve. There's a fine line between overplaying her to the point of caricature (which was a problem in season one) and balancing her idealistic nature with reality. Poehler has found that line, creating a loveable and sweetly charming character.
Best ensemble cast: "Modern Family"
I've always felt bad for the cast members who don't get recognized come awards season. "Modern Family" is one of the truest ensembles I can think of; no one is more important than anyone else. The cast is like a well-oiled machine, with the actors fitting together perfectly as pieces of a larger, very funny mechanism.
Best new actor: Adam Pally, "Happy Endings"
Pally was primarily known as a stand-up comedian before becoming Max in this ensemble comedy. Though it is an ensemble, Pally has a tendency to outshine his co-stars with his antics as the incredibly sarcastic, competitive and sloppy slacker of the group, who just happens to be gay. He's a gifted comedian with great timing, facial reactions and physical comedy skills.
Best new actress: Katie Leclerc, "Switched at Birth"
8 p.m. Tuesday, ABC Family
As Daphne, one of the girls who were switched, Leclerc is perhaps the main reason her show is more than a forgettable teen melodrama. This is her first starring role, and she is wonderfully charismatic in it. Also, Leclerc isn't completely deaf like her character, but she is partially deaf due to Meniere's Disease, which I'm sure has helped inform her performance and given it such truth.
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Scripted series premieres: "The Firm," 9 p.m. Sunday, NBC (set 10 years after John Grisham's novel); "Are You There, Chelsea?" 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, NBC (sitcom based on Chelsea Handler memoir).
Series premieres: "American Stuffers," 10 p.m. today, Animal Planet (taxidermist specializing in pet preservation); "24 Hour Catwalk," 10 p.m. today, Lifetime (designers create a collection and stage a runway show in a day); "Cajun Pawn Stars," 10 p.m. Sunday, History; "First Week In," 9 p.m. Monday, Discovery (first-time felons' first week in jail); "America's Money Class with Suze Orman," 9 p.m. Monday, OWN (six-week financial education series); "Caged," 10 p.m. Monday, MTV (small-town MMA fighters); "Mobster Confessions," 10 p.m. Monday, Discovery (mobsters who turned on crime families); "Shipping Wars," 9 p.m. Tuesday, A&E (truckers bid to haul oversized loads).
Scripted series season premieres: "Merlin," 10 p.m. Friday, Syfy; "Downtown Abbey" ("Masterpiece Classic"), 9 p.m. Sunday, PBS; "The Game," 10 p.m. Tuesday, BET (one hour); "One Tree Hill," 8 p.m. Wednesday, CW.
Season premieres: "Wipeout" (winter version), 8 p.m. today, ABC; "Project Runway: All-Stars," 9 p.m. today, Lifetime; "Jersey Shore," 10 p.m. today, MTV; "Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta," 9 p.m. Friday, TLC; "My Cat from Hell," 8 p.m. Saturday, Animal Planet; "Vegas Strip," 10 p.m. Sunday, TruTV; "Oprah Presents Master Class," 10 p.m. Sunday, OWN; "Ax Men," 9 p.m. Monday, History; "Dance Moms," 9 p.m. Tuesday, Lifetime; "Tabatha Takes Over," 10 p.m. Tuesday, Bravo; "Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy," 9 p.m. Wednesday, History; "Ghost Hunters," 9 p.m. (featuring King's Island) and "Face Off," 10 p.m. Wednesday, Syfy; "The Challenge: Battle of the Exes," 10 p.m. Wednesday, MTV.
Returning, Thursday and Friday: "The Vampire Diaries," 8 p.m. and "The Secret Circle," 9 p.m. today, CW; "Grey's Anatomy," 9 p.m. and "Private Practice," 10 p.m. today, ABC; "A Gifted Man," 8 p.m., "CSI: NY," 9 p.m. and "Blue Bloods," 10 p.m. Friday, CBS; "Nikita," 8 p.m. and "Supernatural," 9 p.m. Friday, CW.
Returning, Sunday through Wednesday: "Once Upon a Time," 8 p.m., "Desperate Housewives," 9 p.m. and "Pan Am," 10 p.m. Sunday, ABC; "The Simpsons," 8 p.m., "The Cleveland Show," 8:30 p.m., "Family Guy," 9 p.m. and "American Dad," 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox; "The Good Wife," 9 p.m. and "CSI: Miami," 10 p.m. Sunday, CBS; "Castle," 10 p.m. Monday, ABC; "Law & Order: SVU," 10 p.m. Wednesday, NBC.
New timeslot: "Whitney," 8 p.m. Wednesday, NBC.
Series finales: "Wizards of Waverly Place," 8 p.m. Friday, Disney; "State of Play," 10 p.m. Wednesday, BBC America.
Season finale: "Big Shrimpin,'" 10 p.m. today, History.
Specials: "Great Performances" celebrates Gershwin, 9 p.m. Friday, PBS; "Tom Papa: Live in New York City," 10 p.m. Sunday, Comedy Central; "People's Choice Awards," 9 p.m. Wednesday, CBS; "Mobbed," 9 p.m. Wednesday, Fox (flash mob reveals a woman's secrets to her family); "Out of Character with Krista Smith," 11 p.m. Wednesday, USA (interviews with Gwyneth Paltrow, Seth MacFarlane and Jason Wu).
Of note: "Absolutely Fabulous" premieres the first of three new episodes after an eight-year hiatus, 10 p.m. Sunday, BBC America; BET gears up for Tuesday's "The Game" season premiere with marathons, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. to midnight Monday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Reach Amy Robinson at flips...@wvgazette.com.