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2011 has been a great year for television, with too many memorable moments worth mentioning. We managed to chip away at the long list of our favorite bits from this year’s TV, bringing it down to the ten best of the best. From a very dark timeline, to a big reveal and a couple of major deaths, TV had a lot to offer us this year.
(This list obviously contains some major "spoilers" from TV over the past year, so read carefully if you're not caught up on certain shows...)
Here are our ten favorite moments (with videos!) from 2011 in television.
The Darkest Timeline - Community
Although the entirety of "Remedial Chaos Theory" could (and should) make the cut on many people's top ten episodes of 2011, it also features one of the most memorable sequences of the year - well, technically two sequences but they both exist within - the darkest timeline. The dice rolls one. Troy must retrieve the pizza, and fast cause he doesn't want to miss anything like Annie slipping on the Raider's boulder, Pierce getting shot in the leg or Britta setting the place on fire. Troy rushes back to the commotion only to find the Norweigan Troll staring at him.
Cut to the tag - one of my favorite ever, which is no easy feat - and we return to the darkest timeline. Shirley's found a new savior in alcohol, Jeff lost an arm, Pierce is dead, Annie's institutionalized, Troy burned his throat and now needs a voice-box ("clearly you don't understand anything about defeating trolls") and Britta has a pretty awful blue streak in her hair. Abed commits to being evil, cuts out some pretty sweet felt goatees and lays out the evil goal, return to the prime timeline and reclaim their proper lives. Unfortunately, with the show on hiatus, we're still stuck in the darkest timeline. ? "Evil Troy and Evil Abed." ?
Sophia Exits the Barn - The Walking Dead
I know I’m not alone in feeling frustrated that so much attention and effort was being put into finding the missing Sophia. A missing child in a normal world certainly warrants such efforts, but in a reality that has dead people walking around trying to eat people, caution and a practical approach to dealing with such dilemmas seems vital to survival. It could be argued that the child’s story, how it was dealt with and its sad conclusion, is representative of the future for the youth of mankind in this series. Maybe Lori’s pessimistic attitude about her own son’s fate and that of her unborn child isn’t all that off base. It’s something to consider anyway, especially when we see walker-Sophia leave the barn.
The reveal that Sophia was in the barn, “living” as a walker all along was more than just a “there she is!” moment for the series. It was a sad and harsh look at the reality of their situation and we see it on the faces of everyone standing outside as they watch her come out. The optimistic approach to Sophia’s arc would have been for her to turn up having been cared for by other survivors, but the show took an alternate approach, delivering walker-Sophia and having Rick be the one to shoot her in the head when no one else could. The moment may serve as an indication of what’s ahead and what’s to be expected from this series.
River Song’s Identity Revealed - Doctor Who
Ever since the brilliant “Silence in the Library” episode of the series, where an obviously travelled River Song met the Doctor not for the first time, we’ve wondered who this traveler could be. This amazing woman who was not a companion, but appeared now and then at differing parts of their individual timelines, would go on to be vitally important to the Doctor.
This mystery transferred into the new Doctor, and the new creative team on the show. It intensified as we glimpsed the woman now and then, found out that she’d killed the greatest man she knew, was imprisoned for that act, and was in some way attached to the Doctor. It wasn’t so much a shock as an obvious revelation that River Song was Melody Pond, the daughter of Amy and Rory. Being conceived on the TARDIS Melody had a bit of Timelord in her, and was a time traveler in her own right. The best moment is the Doctor getting ready to leave in the TARDIS as he pokes his head out to look at River, points and smiles. It’s the most Tennant like thing Matt Smith has done on the show, and I could just envision the words “Oh, that’s brilliant!” behind those eyes.
Coconut - Bones
For a crime-based procedural, Fox’s Bones is usually a lighthearted, entertaining affair. Last spring, storylines became more intricate and somber via a spectacular sniper plotline that played out through a multiple episode story arch. “The Hole in the Heart,” represents the culmination of this sniper plotline, a high-stakes episode that simultaneously manages to neatly tie up the excitement surrounding Hodgins’ and Angela’s baby.
This probably proves we can’t have Bones without a little fluff; however, the more striking moment in “The Hole in the Heart” hits a totally different chord, one that follows the demise of everyone’s favorite British intern, Vincent Nigel-Murray. When the team members say their goodbyes outside the Jeffersonian, it’s a touching moment, one that claws at some little discussed feelings and leaves the several emotionally closeted members of the forensic sciences department completely vulnerable. As the team remembers Nigel-Murray, they close with a rendition of his favorite song, Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut,” a tribute to the intern that reminds us why we watch Bones over other procedurals in the first place. Maybe it’s the cool-down from a gripping episode and maybe it’s the tenderness elucidated, but the “Coconut” scene is as vivid a moment as has ever been seen on Bones and one of the best moments of 2011.
Michael leaves - The Office
In its first few seasons, the Scranton Branch crew at Dunder Mifflin made us laugh riotously and made us think about how comedy can work without laugh tracks and with nothing but the focus of a single camera. Over the years, Jim and Pam’s relationship, Michael Scott’s immature movements as a boss, and even Creed’s creepy side comments sort of seeped into our minds like old friends. And suddenly, in Season 7, one of our friends was being ripped away from us.
When Michael Scott left The Office with a shrewd, covert quietness and a determination to not get sappy in front of his workers, it was a culmination of his emotional growth and a way for us to spend a moment with the boss and the characters he’s touched over the years. Well, except for Pam, who decides to sneak out of work, not knowing Michael Scott is leaving. Because of Jim’s cognizance, she makes it to the airport in the nick of time. The boss has already removed his microphone, but luckily Pam is there to relate his goodbye in true documentary style. Michael talks about hope for his family and his new life in Colorado. And because of the way Pam adeptly weaves the story, it’s actually a perfect moment.
Eric Tells Tami It’s Her Turn - Friday Night Lights
The Taylors fought, taught their daughter about life, and lived a normal life. But never a boring one, and the magic of Friday Night Lights was in how much we loved right along with the Taylor family. Longer than we knew them the Taylors lived a life that revolved around football, and the job that drove their world forward. Coach Taylor was often focused on the goodness that should be strived for by everyone, and many times was conflicted on what the right thing to do actually was.
It was the years in Dillon that changed the Taylor family forever. While there were better overall seasons, nothing in the series showcased what a strong and loving couple the Taylors were better than Eric going to his wife in the mall and saying that heartfelt “please” as he asked her to take him to Philadelphia. It was the act of a man who knew in his soul that his selfishness, unintentional or not, was flying in the face of all he’d stood for. A football team is not a single person, and neither is a family. Friday Night Lights was about life, everyday life, and sometimes life asks you to sacrifice for the betterment of your world.
A Golden Crown - Game of Thrones
HBO's Game of Thrones, based on the best-selling "Song of Ice and Fire" series by George R.R. Martin, provided more than its fair share of memorable characters, sequences and moments this television season. "A Golden Crown," the sixth episode of the series contains a Dothraki celebration with two particular moments that stand out as not only memorable but also mark the first time the audience learned that not everyone is as they seem and, when you play the 'game of thrones,' you win or you die.
The emerging strength of our newly crowned Khaleesi (Daenerys, played by Emilia Clarke) first appears during the ceremonial eating of the horse heart and is solidified only moments later when she allows her brother Viserys to finally receive his promised golden crown from Khal Drogo. It is one of the most memorable death scenes ever committed to television and not just in its visceral and visual power but also because it serves as an incredibly important character moment, one that exhibits the growing strength and on-going self-realization of our heroine, "he was no dragon, fire cannot kill the dragon." Lastly, it was memorable just because Viserys really, really had it coming.
Li’l Sebastian’s Memorial - Parks and Recreations
Throughout its third season Parks & Recreation was perfecting its blend of sharp, sometimes ridiculous humor and sentimentality, setting it distinctly apart from The Office and introducing a kind of open-hearted sweetness that's almost impossible to find in modern sitcoms. That all paid off handsomely in the season finale "Li'l Sebastian," in which the entire town of Pawnee came together to mourn the death of their most beloved miniature horse.
We met Li'l Sebastian earlier in the season through the eyes of Ben, who couldn't understand what the big deal over a horse was, but by the time of Li'l Sebastian's death we were fully on Pawnee's side, head-banging along with Andy's tribute song and gasping when Ron Swanson lit the ceremonial torch and burned off his own eyebrows. With Ben and Leslie's brand-new relationship woven through the memorial service plot, and the whole thing ending with the arrival of the fearsome Tammy One, Li'l Sebastian's funeral was the perfect microcosm of how far Parks & Recreation had come in its three seasons, and it managed to set into motion plot threads we're still seeing today. It's a perfect moment from a TV show finally at the top of its game.
RIP Jimmy - Boardwalk Empire
I've had a love/hate relationship with Boardwalk Empire for a while now. As much as I love the characters, the pacing is often glacial. That's part of why the recent season finale, "To the Lost," blew me away. After having betrayed Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) arranged a meeting to make amends. Given that this show has been as much Jimmy's story as it has Nucky's, there's no question that the two will work things out. And then Nucky shoots Jimmy in the head.
It was a stunning, ballsy development, but one which makes perfect sense given the characters involved and Nucky's slow, inevitable descent from corrupt politician to full-on gangster. It brings the tragic life of Jimmy Darmody to an appropriately Shakespearean end, it demonstrates that no character can be considered "safe," and it single-handedly got me excited about the show again. Because I have no clue what Boardwalk Empire will look like without Jimmy around, and that uncertainty is more exciting than just about anything else the show has served up so far. Whatever is to come, Nucky has crossed a line from which there is no return.
Gus’ Face Comes Off - Breaking Bad Walter White has come a long way in four seasons of Breaking Bad. Never was that better demonstrated than in “Face Off,” which not only revealed that Walter poisoned a child in an effort to manipulate Jesse, but also when he finally got the best of Gus after a season of lethal tension. Gus was a smart man with good instincts and that kept him alive until “Face Off”. He seemed to suspect that there was something waiting for him in Hector’s room at the nursing home, as he sent his guard in ahead to check the situation out. But he didn’t count on Walter turning the car bomb into a bell-detonated wheelchair bomb.
Hector was prepared for death and apparently willing to go out in a blaze of glory if it meant taking Gus with him. His final words came in the form of repeated clipped dings to his bell. One for yes, two for no... many for boom? Gus had just enough time to figure out what was about to happen and react before the explosion blasted half of his face off. His exit from the room, which included straightening his suit as the camera panned around to reveal the gruesome aftermath, which left his head a semi-skeletal mess, was one of the most horrifying scenes in television this year, and one of the best.
We had a lot of favorite moments from television this year. These are some of the moments that didn’t make cut for Top 10 but are worth mentioning regardless:
Shane kills Otis - The Walking Dead
Jiminy Cricket becomes a cricket - Once Upon a Time
Bill and Eric kill Nan - True Blood
The ring of fire battle - Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
Ted consoles Robin - How I Met Your Mother
Anya makes it through to the finale - Project Runway
“Would you like me to repeat that?” - Doctor Who
Porch confessions - Homeland
Reading Rainbow - Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
The kids walk in on mom and dad - Modern Family
Peter is removed from everything - Fringe
George’s Don Quixote performance - Bored to Death
Jack becomes a “clumsy gay flatulent” - 30 Rock