My TV Favourites of 2011

Normally I wouldn’t do these lists but I have collaborated with Lena Lamoray to work on one (the full list, including Lena’s favourites has been posted here).

Favourite New Series

Game of Thrones

Based on a series of medieval-fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin A Song of Fire and Ice, GAME OF THRONES is a story of incest, loyalty, love, betrayal, deceit and power.  And because this is an HBO show, you know there’s also lots of sex and blood.

Seven noble families are fighting for control of a kingdom called Westeros.  Just like the old European royal families where alliances are formed as easily as they are broken, Game of Thrones is full of unexpected twists and turns.  You find yourself falling in love with the brutish Khal Drogo and the cunning Tyrion Lannister and I know I’m not alone in this.

The cast reads like a who’s who of British acting royalty: Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Fairley, just to name a few.  Season 2 is due to air in April so there is still plenty of time for you to get hold of Season 1 and catch up on this brilliant new series.

Homeland

Since 9/11, the world has grown increasingly suspicious of everyone and everything.  Carrie Mathison is a CIA field agent who learnt from a contact in Iraq just before he was killed by the firing squad that an American had been turned.  The mystery lies in the fact that he did not have the opportunity to tell Carrie who that person was before he was dragged away by his prison guards.  So when a short while later, a US marine who was captured eight years ago is found alive in a surprise attack on an Iraqi base, Carrie immediately set out to prove that Sgt Nicholas Brody is not the hero everyone thinks he is.

Throughout this first season, we see this mystery unfold from the perspectives of Brody and his family who had long-thought him dead; a determined and intelligent Carrie who has secrets of her own; Carrie’s boss and mentor, Saul Berenson whose own personal life has had to take a backseat to his devotion to his country; and various other players in this complex web of political intrigue.  We are taken on a journey that follows the characters as they recover and unravel.  We sympathize at the same time as we fear these people.

The cast is first-rate, recently earning Golden Globe nominations for Claire Danes as Carrie and British actor Damian Lewis as Brody.  It also stars one of my all-time favorites, Mandy Patinkin as Saul.  It doesn’t matter which side of the political fence you sit on, this is first class drama that feels more like a feature film each week.

Revenge

As the title suggests, this show is all about revenge. It is a combination of mystery, intrigue, and prime-time soap opera.  The story follows a wealthy young woman, Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), who turns up in the Hamptons and quickly inserts herself into the community where people seem to devote endless days and nights to parties, galas and other schmooze-fests.

Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe) is the Queen of the Hamptons, but she is also much more than that: not only was she the mistress of Emily’s late father, David, but she and her husband, Conrad (Henry Czerny), were also the people who framed David for treason 17 years ago.  Emily, whose real name is Amanda Clarke, was only a little girl when it happened and after her father’s arrest, was taken away by social services.  While imprisoned, David wrote detailed accounts of how he was framed and those responsible.  His intention was for Emily to forgive and move on.  But Emily had other plans and chose the path of revenge.

For the first few weeks of the ten episodes that have aired so far, we saw Emily take down her enemies one by one.  Along the way, we meet those from her past who are clueless as to her true identity, as well as an unlikely ally in a man who was her father’s business partner, Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann). This show is like an onion – you peel off one layer and you find there are many more layers underneath.  There are so many agendas, yet you never feel lost and confused, only more intrigued as the show goes on.

 

Suits

There is a reason why the USA Network is the number one basic cable network in the US for six straight years – they know how to make a good drama that is not too heavy, not too light, with great casting and plotlines that are easy to follow.

The tagline for Suits is “Two lawyers.  One degree.”  Harvey has just been promoted to senior partner at a big-time law firm in the Big Apple.  Mike is a smart “kid” with a photographic memory who smokes pot, hangs out with his drug-dealing childhood best friend and secretly lusts after his buddy’s girlfriend.

When Mike accidentally stumbles into an interview with Harvey for a new associate and gets hired ahead of all the other Harvard graduates, the question arises as to how far Harvey will go to protect the truth about Mike, who, despite not having a law degree, has passed the bar exam.

It is a fun new bromance between Harvey (Gabriel Macht) and Mike (Patrick J. Adams, who also recently received a Golden Globe nomination for his work and will be up against Damian Lewis from Homeland in the same category).  A strong supporting cast includes Rick Hoffman, who manages to look nasty even when he’s trying to be nice, as Harvey’s colleague who keeps getting passed over for a promotion; Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson, one of the founders of the firm; Meaghan Markle as Rachel, the firm’s top paralegal who actually wants to become a lawyer; and Sarah Rafferty who steals every scene she’s in as Donna, Harvey’s loyal assistant who knows him better than he knows himself.

 

Favorite Returning Series

Breaking Bad

I’m almost embarrassed to admit I never watched this brilliant series until Season 4 was already well under way.  The premise of a high school chemistry teacher who turns to “cooking” meth in order to provide for his family after he discovered he had what he thought was terminal cancer did not immediately grab my interest.  But after hearing so many people rave about it, I decided to give it a go.  By the time I finished watching the Pilot, I wondered why the heck nobody had insisted I check this out earlier.

The writing in this series is simply “wow”.  Every minute detail that seems innocuous turns out to be of some significance.  The characters are all so tightly woven you are always left wondering how our protagonists would get themselves out of trouble.  After all, we are talking about drug cartels where nobody is ever innocent and you find out quickly just how far someone is prepared to go in desperate situations.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul deliver consistently powerful performances each and every scene, which is not easy to do when you can have an entire episode where their characters are trying to catch a fly but the subtext is so much more significant than just about a fly.  Even when you know these guys are breaking the law, you can’t help but cheer for them and feel bad for them.  And in the end, you are still left with the question: “Who can you trust?”

White Collar

Burn Notice creator, Matt Nix, jokingly teased White Collar creator, Jeff Eastin, last season: “So, when you were a little girl growing up, did you always want to write about a music box?”  Well, we are now halfway through the third season of this well-scripted dramedy.  When we left off at the end of season 2, the secret inside the music box was revealed and the man who had been after it was shot dead by FBI Agent Peter Burke.  Turned out the music box held the secret to the whereabouts of a German U-boat that had been sunken in New York City at the end of WWII, and inside the submarine was a billion dollars’ worth of art and other valuables the Nazis had stolen from a Russian museum.  The treasure went missing when the warehouse holding the treasures went up in flames but without the art inside.

The theme of season 3 is “Choose A Side” – who took the art and gave it to Neal?  Now that Neal has it, what is he going to do with it?  Will he choose to break out of his electronic monitoring anklet and run off to some far-off island or will he stay and hang on to his dreams for a “normal” life?  The treasure changes everything – the relationship between FBI and con is icier than ever, yet there is still that underlying loyalty between the two who have become more than just co-workers, as noted by Peter’s mentor (special guest star Beau Bridges), and the faith that Peter continues to hold that Neal wants to be, and deep down is, good.

Every episode this season has made me increasingly nervous as to how the season will end and the mid-season finale certainly has done nothing to ease my nerves!  There is no doubt a big reason the show works is the chemistry between its stars, Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay.  The guest stars continue to roll in and I cannot wait till season 3 resumes on January 17th!

Criminal Minds

Now in its seventh season, the list of gruesome crimes solved by our FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit continues to make my stomach turn.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Gibson (via Twitter)

After the casting shuffle debacle from last season when the network decided to farewell one of its original female stars and greatly “reduce the workload” of another, fans (myself included) were up in arms and protested and petitioned till the network finally agreed to bring back the entire cast for the current season.  And it seems the team is working better than ever together.

The crimes-of-the-week still make me check inside my car every time before I get in and turn on all the lights inside the house when I open the door.  I check that all my doors are locked when I leave home, even if only for a few minutes.

Dr Reid (Matthew Grey Gubler) no longer looks like a high school kid and has grown well with the team;  David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) makes you forget that he had not always been part of this team; Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) finally may be ready to move on more than 2 years after his ex-wife was murdered by a serial killer who had also tried to kill him; Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore) is still flirting with Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness); and a big welcome back to JJ (AJ Cook) and Prentiss (Paget Brewster).

Big Bang Theory

I have another confession to make. I did not watch Big Bang Theory until probably halfway through its second season, and even then, I had reluctantly watched it when a friend lent me her DVDs and insisted I check it out.  I have been hooked ever since, as has my nine year-old nephew, whose favorite phrase from the show is Sheldon’s “the keys are in the basket” and often knocks on doors Sheldon-style.

Now in its fifth season, our lovable nerds (Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Rajesh) and their neighbor/actress/Cheesecake Factory waitress (Penny), have been joined by two additional brainiacs, Bernadette and Amy Farrah Fowler (it just never feels right to refer to her as simply “Amy”).  Although both have been guest-starring on the series for a while, they are now firm regulars on the show.  Unlike the inferior shows where the addition of new characters usually spell disaster for the original main cast, these two have served to enhance the stories and make the original cast even more adorable.

The comic timing of all these acting and comedy veterans is perfect, making this one of the best comedy ensemble on television today.  Hats off to Johnny Galecki (who has also been nominated for a Golden Globe), Jim Parsons (last year’s Golden Globe winner), Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Kaley Cuoco, Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik (remember Blossom? She also played the young Bette Midler in Beaches).  It’s rare for a network to renew a show for more than one season at a time but last year, CBS renewed Big Bang for three seasons, which means we have at least two more years of this wonderful show to look forward to.  And before the current season is over, we will see the 100th episode go to air and I cannot wait!

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3 thoughts on “My TV Favourites of 2011

  1. Damietta

    I am going to have to look into Homeland for sure. And, of course I totally agree with you about “White Collar’ making you nervous!!

    Happy New Year (and great TV watching in the future).

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    1. Valerie Leung Post author

      I can’t believe there are only 6 more eps of White Collar for this season and then goodness knows how long we have to wait for S4 again! I keeping telling Jeff and the writers they need to issue health warnings with the show and give us pacemakers or at least paper bags to breathe into for when we hyperventilate! 😉

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  2. Christine Antonios (@christinelive)

    We watch about half of the same shows! hahahaha. Nice restraint on the White Collar fangirling ;D.

    I did like Suits, but not quit as much as I had wanted too. I have high hopes for Common Law, though.

    Game of Thrones got way better once they (relatively) toned down the unnecessary blood and sex. I hope to read the book before I see S2.

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