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Rubbernecking's Year in Television 2011

As you may know I have a fondness for the ticky-tacky known as reality television, I so love the term because it's so not anyone's reality I've ever known. So this recap will examine first the ridiculous... then the sublime.
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As 2011 swings around to its inevitable conclusion, the Rubbernecker feels the need (okay, you can call it an addiction) to fete this year's TV glories and gories. And there were quite a few of each. As you may know I have a fondness for the ticky-tacky known as Reality Television, I so love the term because it's so not anyone's reality I've ever known. So this recap will examine first the ridiculous... then the sublime.

BEST REALITY SHOW OF 2011 (and it is, actually, a Reality Show)
Hands down, this would be the GOP debates we've had occasion to scope in the latter part of the annum. I mean, what can one say? This has been such a delicious treat! And it's only getting more interesting as the wheat separates from the chaff. Only there really is no wheat amongst this motley crew... just chaff. I'll see you in Iowa next week (via television), and I'll raise you the notion that we're in for even more fun times ahead. May I also say that not one of these clowns could beat Obama. Superman either has to swoop in and join the race, or we can just stick a fork in them all -- they're done.

The Kardashians in all their many Konglomerates: Kourtney and Kim Take New York (debuted January), Khloe & Lamar (debuted April), Keeping Up With the Kardashians (debuted 2007). Not to mention, of course, The Wedding (for some reason, The Divorce, which followed 72 days later, was not televised).

Only apparently we won't... La Hilton's latest reality show enterprise, The World According to Paris, debuted in June on the Oxygen Channel and was canceled after the last episode aired in July. This show was so bad even I couldn't watch it. And I have a high tolerance for reality shows starring Paris Hilton (Yes, it's true). Come back, Onch! All is forgiven!

It would have been difficult to top Season 8 (remember that one? Where Mondo didn't win but should have?) but Season 9 was just, well, drab. I mean, really, Anya? I loved her... who didn't, she was more gorgeous than all the runway models on the show combined, but the winning designer? Au contraire. Non, non, non! Viktor should have walked away with that title. And Josh C's meanness and threats will not be forgotten. Remember when he told Laura Bennett she had better hope she doesn't run into him in New York City? Well, Josh, you better hope you don't run into me. Let me give you a bit of advice (from my mom, who's really smart): You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Trust me on this. In any case, so many people I know, and so many people who have commented on my recaps this year, admit that the show has truly lost its mojo. But, good news: we can sublimate in just a week's time with the premiere of Project Runway: All Stars on January 5. (Yes, we will have some BIG favorites from years gone by: Austin Scarlett from S1; Sweet P, Elisa, and Rami from S4; Kenley and Jerell from S5; Mila and Anthony from S7; Kara from S2; Gordana from S6; and April, Mondo, and Michael C from S8). I'm already waiting in front of my television for this one, even though there will be nary a La Klum or La Gunn in sight -- not even a Korsism or two. (You can watch a preview here.)

I dipped in and out of ANTM: All Stars during its episodic arc, mostly because I was so fascinated with the incredible look of Allison and secretly rooting for her to win even though I knew there was a snowball's chance in hell of that actually happening. But the final episode earlier this month was even more dramatic for the drama we were not privy to. The final three were Lisa (the wild one), Allison (the incredible face one), and Angelea (716 area code, as she frequently reminded us). They spared no expense with the final runway show in Greece. The models were required to swim underwater in a fairly large swimming pool, change clothes, fly with the assistance of a harness above the stage, and then strut down the runway accompanied by the song they recorded earlier in the season for their music video. Yes, for realz. We are then told that Angelea was disqualified from the final judging for a reason so incredibly heinous that they can't even tell us what it is. The final judging session was apparently re-shot back in the U.S. sans Angelea, and Lisa wins, because Allison is just too, too weird (by which I mean, fabulous).

In an amazing twist of fate, that is to say well-deserved, former waitress and extraordinarily gifted artist Kymia Nawabi wins Season Two of Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. The final three were Kymia, Sara J, and Young. I really felt Sara J's and Kymia's finale shows to be the strongest, but had been rooting for Kymia for most of the season, as soon as I had a handle on what was what and who was who. I love this show and I'll tell you why; it has the most crying of any "reality" competition show I've seen. Not only do the contestants break down in tears constantly (the best being Kathryn who was crazy obsessed with human guts) but host China Chow also wept at least one week when sending folks home. And I seem to recall Executive Producer Sarah Jessica Parker shedding a tear or two as well on another episode. Plus this season was rife with great characters who were really fun to watch: The Sucklord (I mean, really!) and Lola (whose claim to fame seemed to be that her mother -- Australian film director Lyndall Hobbs -- dated Al Pacino, which we were told more than one time during the series, with photographic evidence which has mysteriously disappeared from their website). Lola fancied herself to be a witch and even tried to cast spells on the show (none of which worked) but the fact is she came off as a spoiled Hollywood brat with merely a soupçon of artistic talent. Simon de Pury is the program's Tim Gunn, who brims over with homilies in his accented staccato way of speaking. His main catch line is "Be bold, be brave, be amazing!" Ah! I loved it. Bravo, Bravo!

Host Joel McHale continues to bring the funny every week (though the series moved to Wednesdays from its traditional Friday night slot recently... and I keep forgetting and therefore watch reruns of it). There are so many, many shows I can only take in bite-sized chunks via Reality Show Clip Time and Let's Take Some E!. Then there are the segments which run every so often, but slay me each time. Clippos Magnificos, Miley Cyrus News, Tales from Home Shopping, to name a few. And my all-time favorite (sadly, she's totally out of the current news cycle) -- Stephanie Pratt: Unlikely Voice of Reason, which dazzled the eye with its 70's font and music theme. Please, TV programmers, don't ever cancel this show!

Sarah Palin said that Sarah Palin's Alaska was designed to bring "the wonder and majesty of Alaska to all Americans" when it debuted in November 2010 with the first episode entitled (what else) "Mama Grizzly." The show attracted five million viewers its first week on the air, which dropped by 40% the second week. To no one's surprise, except possibly the Mama Grizzly herself, the show was canceled after its final episode aired in January of this year. And oh yeah, it was awful.

Bill Hader is, well, beyond beyond. He's been on SNL since 2005, but I only came to this conclusion this year. In a show with copious ups and downs, I still have to watch every week because he is in the cast (also, of course, the magnificent Kristen Wiig). Hader's impressions are always side-splitting, but the real crème de la crème has been his recurring character Stefon, who sometimes appears to do a segment on Weekend Update. He is constantly being asked by Seth Meyers for advice to give tourists visiting Manhattan. During a recent appearance, his advice for Xmas season visitors went like this: "If you're looking to get festive with your family, I've got the perfect place for you. New York's hottest club is "Hey!" Built from the bucket list of a dying pervert, this Battery Park bitch parade is now managed by overweight game show host, Fat Sayjak. And this place has everything: tweakers, skeevies, Spud Webb, a child -- and a Russian guy who runs on a treadmill in a Cosby sweater... The bouncer is a bulldog who looks like Wilford Brimley and the password is dia-beetus!" The best part is that sometimes his sketch is tweaked right up to air time, so when Hader reads the cue cards he can't help but crack up at them himself, along with the rest of us.

I mean what can one say. They make life worth living. I'm talking of course about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who continue to thrill and amaze every night on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and deservedly grab every award TV has to offer. We have a big year coming up -- the kind of year these two eat with a spoon like it's an ice cream sundae -- and I'll be watching for sure.

Well the fact is this show took a nosedive into Not-So-Great-Land when the kids got out of high school. There was a brief time period when the producers tried to swing it back on course with college life, but now the characters are out in the world being grownups and frankly it just isn't the same. Oh, but I still watch it. How can you not? I mean, Chuck Bass for starters. You just have to watch his every move. Serena's gotten so, so boring but Blair can still fascinate. Even though the tedious almost-marrying-a-prince and being preggers plotline put me to sleep. And Charlie Rhodes, Serena's fake cousin? Snore. She's no Jenny or Vanessa, or Georgina for that matter, is all I'm saying. I was mildly interested in the Nate-sleeping-with-cougar-boss plotline just because he continues to be major eye candy. Dan's tell all book? Well, it did make him more interesting for a time. But otherwise? Ho-hum.

Ben Whishaw is absolutely electrifying as dogged reporter Freddy Lyon in this BBC America series set in 1956 about a weekly TV news program. Romola Garai excels as his producer/boss and best friend Bel Rowley. Anna Chancelor as war correspondent Lix Storm is magnificent, with her ever present whiskey and cigarettes. And of course Dominic West as Hector Madden, the program's host, is great as well. The series was created and written by Abi Morgan, who also wrote the films Shame and The Iron Lady. I raved about the show earlier this year on this very site. Everything about it is, well, perfection: from the jazzy open to the set design and 50's style paranoia. And it returns to the airwaves next spring.

Showtime has done it again, they've created yet another amazingly great, gripping series. It stars Claire Danes as the driven (and certifiably bi-polar) CIA agent Carrie Mathison, which at first I wasn't too thrilled with (thinking this would be more of a Katee Sackhoff type role) but Danes has since impressed the bejesus out of me. She first came to the television screen in a big way as the star of the quirky, beloved, though short-lived series My So-Called Life in 1994. Homeland is a heart in the throat episodic series about an American marine who returns home after eight years in captivity by Al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq. The characters are beautifully real, from Mandy Patinkin as CIA Middle East Division Chief Saul Berenson to angst-ridden teenager Dana Brody, played by Morgan Saylor. To say nothing of Damian Lewis who's portrayal of Nicholas Brody, the marine who has returned to an almost unrecognizable America, is breathtaking. The show is actually based on an Israeli series called Hatufim. And it will be back in the spring.

The Rachel Maddow Show - Oh how I love me some Rachel when she's in the groove. Which she usually always is. And her show has been spot-on during the GOP follies, which augurs well for 2012 election coverage.
30 Rock - I don't know why I lost interest in this show during 2011 but I will defend to the death that Tina Fey is God. If God was a woman. Which She is.
Nurse Jackie - Edie Falco owns this character and, in fact, each of the cast are splendid on this terrific show about the people who work in a New York City hospital emergency room. I can't wait for next season. And by the way - I have always eschewed TV shows set in hospitals until this one. I tuned in for Edie Falco, and I stayed for her fabulous acting and that of her colleagues, and the sharp, pungent dialogue.
Caprica - I might possibly be the only person who was sucked into this prequel of Battlestar Galactica without having ever seen the brilliant BSG. After Caprica was canceled (its final episode aired the first week of January), and I mourned its stylish demise, I tumbled down the rabbit hole (AKA Netflix Streaming) into BSG Land. All four seasons, child. Hours and hours of watching, completely absorbed. Now that was a show. When men were men, women were women, and sometimes they both were cylons. LOVED.
True Blood - Talk about jumping sharks. Ahem. Just about everyone I know has lost interest in this one, now that every supernatural strata (werewolves, fairies, maenads, shape shifters) has entered the picture. It's getting confusing, y'all. About the only thing that still has my attention is Mark Blankenship's recaps.

And what about you? What dismayed you this year on television? What delighted you? I would love to hear your thoughts and Happy 2012!

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