There are so many shows not on this list that really deserve a spot. There’s a simple reason for that. It has been an especially good year for drama shows with returning favorites coming back stronger than ever and many newcomers really making an impression. I had considered including my short list shows but as I was coming up with it, I realized I could’ve gone on for days. It was a great year for drama on television. Here are my picks for the ten best television shows of 2011 in the drama category. Make share your picks in the comment section at the end of the article and come back tomorrow for my picks for the best comedies. Enjoy!
10: Once Upon a Time
I was certain there were only two options for Once Upon a Time when I first heard about the show. Either it could be a roaring success or a screaming disaster. The truth is somewhere in between. It’s a great show but it can be a bit weighted down by it’s own good intentions. I understand wanting to go beyond the fairy tales, and that’s even one of the things I like most about the series, but occasionally those flashbacks can drag on a bit too long without adding much to the story. Even so, this show likely would’ve been ranked higher had it not been for the decision to kill off Jamie Dornan’s Sheriff/Huntsman. I’m sure his death will play a larger role in the second half of the season but it sort of felt like a waste of a complex and intriguing character when some of the other main characters can sometimes feel a little one dimensional.
Biggest Advantage: Interesting story telling using both present time storylines and flashbacks to other storylines makes the show both engrossing and addictive. You want to continue watching to not only happens to the present day characters but to their fairy tale counterparts as well.
Biggest disadvantage: Although you like the characters you’re supposed to like and hate the characters you’re supposed to hate, there can be a lack of complexity in those characters. There really aren’t any surprises despite the fact that all of the actors turn in terrific performances, especially Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison.
Overall Rating Out of 10:7
09: Boardwalk Empire
Last year, Boardwalk Empire gave Sons of Anarchy a run for its money atop the list of my favorite shows but this season wasn’t quite there. The first few episodes really moved at a snail’s pace with nothing really interesting happening. By the middle of the season, things had definitely picked up and the last three episodes of the season earned the show’s spot on this list. Phenomenal performances, well played plot twists and the deaths of three major characters – one of which I’m sincerely pissed off about, by the way – brought the season to an exciting and dramatic close and ensure I’ll be excitedly tuning in next season to see where things go.
Biggest Advantage: This one has to go to the cast. Steve Buscemi is absolutely flawless in everything he does and Boardwalk Empire is no exception. Michael Pitt is incredible, definitely one of the most underrated actors of his generation.
Biggest Disadvantage: Working with a cast this large can prove to be difficult and while the writers behind Boardwalk Empire produce some of the best storylines television has to offer, some of the characters occasionally feel more like filler material than a necessary part of the story. Also, I’m having a bit of a hard time swallowing Eli’s impromptu garage murder and the fact that, really, it was never brought up again.
Overall Rating Out of 10: 8
08: Pan Am
Oh how I wanted to rank Pan Am higher on this list just because it’s so tragically overlooked but I wanted to be fair. With that said, it absolutely kills me that Pan Am has basically been cancelled due to low ratings because it was without question, in my mind anyway, one of the best new shows of the fall season. I’m just about as angry about this one as I was about United States of Tara. The writing is smart and engaging. The characters are complex. The storylines are engrossing. The cast is phenomenal. It’s a shame more people didn’t recognize how great this show was. I’m really going to miss it if the plug is actually pulled.
Biggest Advantage: Action, adventure, sex, love, drama, humor – Pan Am has everything.
Biggest Disadvantage: People aren’t watching it. Seriously. That’s about all I can come up with for this one.
Overall Rating Out of 10:9
I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of Revenge when I first began watching. To be honest, I more or less turned in because I planned to write this article and wanted to give all of the new dramas a chance to earn a spot. It didn’t really seem like my sort of deal but I started to think there might be more to it when the pilot began with a quote from Confucius: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” I’ve always felt this quote was a great way to sum up the act of taking revenge. By the end of the first episode, I wasn’t really sure how I felt but I was intrigued enough to tune in again. The slow start was deceptive. As the show aired its final episode before winter hiatus I realized that not only was I enjoying the show, I was completely hooked. This one snuck up on me and I can’t wait for it’s return on January 4th.
Biggest Advantage: Emily Van Camp, plan and simple. Her performance is absolutely perfect.
Biggest Disadvantage: A somewhat lackluster beginning but this is more than made up for as the story unfolds.
Overall Rating Out of 10: 9
06: Person of Interest
There are few shows on television that tell you pretty much nothing about the main characters yet can keep viewers turning in week after week. Newcomer Person of Interest is one such show. Ten episodes in and we still know very little about John Reese and Mr. Finch but we want to. That’s where the show draws its greatest strength. It avoids feeling like just another crime procedural because it is a lot more than another crime procedural. It’s smart. It’s full of action but it offers a deep and intriguing mystery. What did John do for the government and why do they think he’s dead? Why do they want him back so badly? What happened to his ex-girlfriend? Who is Finch? How did he make his money? How did he get the back injury that left him with that nasty limp? So many questions with more to be added to the list as the series continues, I’m sure. That mystery sets the show apart and keeps us coming back for more.
Biggest Advantage: The acting here is flawless. Jim Caviezel plays John Reese to pure perfection. He’s witty, charming and just tense enough to let you know his walls are built high. Michael Emerson. I don’t know what to say. Michael Emerson has long been one of my favorite actors and his portrayal of Finch is flawless. Kudos to whoever cast these men in these roles.
Biggest Disadvantage: Although Person of Interest is an incredible show, the actors are amazing and the writing is often whip smart, there are, what I like to call “Sunglasses Moments”, named for Det. Horatio Cane from CSI: Miami. You know the moments I mean. They’re few and far between but may inspire an eye roll or two. All in all, a fairly worthwhile tradeoff when the show is this good.
Overall Rating Out of 10: 9
04: The Vampire Diaries
I know, I know. It’s a television show for squealing teenagers. It also happens to be one of the most wickedly addictive shows on television. The Vampire Diaries is often overlooked for lists such as these because of its target demographic and that’s a shame because the show is terrific. Sure it doesn’t really explore and deep issues plaguing society but it is good, dirty fun. Full of sexy drama and all sorts of creatures that go bump in the night including vampires (obviously), werewolves, ghosts, witches and even the odd real live human being for good measure, it’s the perfect show to get lost in on Thursday nights. The show threw a couple great twists into the plot this year with the addition of bad ass hybrid Klaus, good brother Stefan turning bad, bad brother Damon turning good and a whole lot of truly surprising deaths. There were moments I wasn’t really crazy over but overall, it’s been a very good year for this season.
Biggest Advantage: Joseph Morgan. I love me some Ian Somerhalder and some Paul Wesley but Joseph Morgan was the star of the year for me. Absolutely ruthless yet deeply complex, Klaus couldn’t have been an easy role to play. Look what he did to poor Stefan but somehow I still want him to live. Why? Because somehow Joseph Morgan managed to make his sympathetic qualities – his isolation, his loneliness – entirely believable. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that he also made him incredible charismatic and charming. Joseph’s portrayal of Klaus was easily my favorite part of TVD this season.
Biggest Disadvantage: Honestly, there were a few things I didn’t like about The Vampire Diaries this season. I feel that, as with past seasons, Steven R. McQueen has been underutilized and too much attention was paid to miscellaneous storylines that don’t really play into the main story. With a show like this though, it’s important to remember that even storylines that seem to go nowhere can come back in a pretty big way. I’m not ruling that out. Still, without the dramatic turn in Stefan’s character (and I must mention how incredible Paul Wesley was as Evil Stefan) and the emergence of Klaus as the biggest bad ass the show has seen thus far, I’m not convinced the show would’ve made the list at all and it certainly wouldn’t have landed this high on the list.
Overall Rating Out of 10: 9
05: Breaking Bad
Next year, Breaking Bad will be airing its final season and as sad as I am to see it go, I’m thrilled those involved have decided to buck the trend of keeping a show going as long as it remains popular and are not over extending the storyline. Nothing destroys the legacy of a show better than pushing it beyond the boundaries of its story. When Breaking Bad began, it already had an expiration date. That’s what happens when your lead character has a terminal disease. This season was brilliantly executed and perfectly set up the final season. I can’t wait to see where this one goes.
Biggest Advantage: The premise. The storylines. The cast. The writing. Everything.
Biggest Disadvantage: Really none to be spoken of.
Overall Rating Out of 10: 10
Until this year, I’ve never really heard of the Starz Network. Then Boss happened. I have been a serious Kelsey Grammar fan since his days on Cheers so when I heard he had a new show, I knew I had to tune in. I wasn’t at all prepared for eight of the most incredible episodes on television this year. To be honest, this isn’t always an easy show to watch. Considering the subject matter – a man diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder tries to cope pretty much sums it up – the show takes some pretty rough paths. It is dark and it is dramatic but it also surprises with a few touches of comedy here and there. It’s no surprise to see this show getting so much love this awards season. It’s well deserved.
Biggest Advantage: Kelsey Grammar’s performance. While the show itself has been recognized with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Television Series, Kelsey has also picked up a nod in the Best Lead Actor – Drama category. I’d love to see him take home the win. As much as love the other nominees (particularly Buscemi), Kelsey deserves it for this complex performance.
Biggest Disadvantage: Kelsey Grammar’s performance. I know this seems like a contradiction but honesty, Kelsey’s powerful performance is a bit of a double edged sword. Don’t go into this show thinking you’ll be able to escape unshaken. Grammar moves you to the core with this one. It can be an absolutely brutal experience and that’s bound to chase away a few viewers. It’s still very much worth it if you want something that goes above and beyond the typical television drama.
Overall Rating Out of 10: 10
02: American Horror Story
I wasn’t really sure where to put American Horror Story on this list because I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. This show stuck with me from the conclusion of one episode to the beginning of the next. I honestly never found it frightening in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, I found the show deeply disturbing and unsettling. It was an incredibly well crafted tale that offered viewers a beginning, middle and end all in one season. I chose to rank this one at number two because more than any of the other shows ranked lower, I’m excited for season two. A whole new cast, a whole new location and a whole new story to tell. That’s something I don’t believe has ever been attempted before and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
Biggest Advantage: An excellent cast and expertly revealed plot twists combine to make this show a force to be reckoned with when it comes time to tally up the best of the best. Sure some of us may have predicted Violet’s fate but the way it was revealed was a stroke of genius. And I can’t let Jessica Lange and Evan Peters be ignored. Their performances were absolutely award worthy. Every member of the cast was fantastic (additional nod to the incredible Denis O’Hare) but Evan and Jessica played their roles perfectly.
Biggest Disadvantage: The things I disliked the most about American Horror Story were also the things that stuck with me. The show was shocking and disturbing often times just to be shocking and disturbing but with something like this, that should be expected. Many viewers will have a hard time dealing with the more extreme things on the show (kidnapping, rape, school shootings etc) but it was part of what made the show what it is.
Overall Rating Out of 10: 10
01: Sons of Anarchy
It always bugs me when people rag on Sons of Anarchy for being too slow. I heard that complaint a few times this season but I couldn’t disagree with that assessment more. This is a show that understands the importance of set up. It’s a show that understands the importance of character development. It’s a show that excels in both areas. Sure there’s a lot of action and violence but there’s always a bigger reason for all of it. There is no such thing as a small event in SOA. Everything leads into something else and that’s what makes this such an exceptional show. Also, it’s quite possible that Chucky’s chili offered my favorite scene from any television series this year.
Biggest Advantage: Strong, well developed characters, smart writing, lots of action, lots of drama, a little bit of comedy and some sincerely unexpected plot twists combine to make Sons of Anarchy the best show on television. Probably the best thing about this season was the fact that show runner Kurt Sutter didn’t take the easy way out and kill of Clay Morrow. He also didn’t just have Jax choose to spare his life, perfectly setting up what is sure to be an incredible fifth season.
Biggest Disadvantage: Sons of Anarchy doesn’t return until next September.
Overall Rating Out of 10: 10