The best TV series of 2011: The ballots

The best TV series of 2011: The ballots

For the first time this year, The A.V. Club’s TV writers followed the lead of their music-critic colleagues and determined the top 30 TV series of the year using an elaborate point system. Each writer was granted 150 points to distribute to 15 series; the maximum points a series could receive was 15, with the minimum being one. Read on below to find out how many points a writer gave to each series, along with some thoughts and commentary on a handful of the nearly 70 shows that didn’t make the top 30.

THE BALLOTS

Erik Adams Joshua Alston Meredith Blake
Donna Bowman Margaret Eby Zack Handlen
Will Harris Steve Heisler Kenny Herzog
Rowan Kaiser Genevieve Koski Ryan Mcgee
Myles McNutt Noel Murray Brandon Nowalk
Phil Nugent Keith Phipps Carrie Raisler
Kyle Ryan David Sims Scott Tobias
Todd VanDerWerff Scott Von Doviak Emily Yoshida
Claire Zulkey

ERIK ADAMS
1. Parks And Recreation (15)
2. Community (15)
3. Homeland (15)
4. Enlightened (15)
5. Raising Hope (15)
6. Louie (10)
7. Happy Endings (10)
8. Friday Night Lights (10)
9. 30 Rock (10)
10. Pan Am (10)
11. Up All Night (10)
12. Archer (5)
13. Awkward. (5)
14. Storage Wars (3)
15. American Horror Story (2)

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JOSHUA ALSTON
1. Breaking Bad (10)
2. Homeland (10)
3. Parks And Recreation (10)
4. Friday Night Lights (10)
5. Fringe (10)
6. Louie (10)
7. Happy Endings (10)
8. Justified (10)
9. Game Of Thrones (10)
10. Damages (10)
The buzz about Damages died after its dull, byzantine second season, preventing it from building a larger audience. It’s a shame, because those who stuck around for the fourth season (following the move to DirecTV) were treated to an impressive season that bobbled a bit in its middle but rallied at the end with some of the show’s best episodes ever. Damages has always excelled at drawing impressive talent, and season-four regulars John Goodman and Dylan Baker were phenomenal.
11. United States Of Tara (10)
12. Revenge (10)
Revenge was the 2011 show that I was hoping Lone Star would live long enough to be in 2010: a smart, well-crafted, well-acted nighttime soap, something pulpy but respectable. Like most, I questioned the show’s ability to deepen its world beyond Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) and her quest to destroy the Grayson family, but I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and assuredly the show doubled and tripled its narrative knots.
13. South Park (10)
When South Park loses its way, I’m always really hard on it, but that’s only because I know what Trey Parker and Matt Stone are capable of. I adored season 15, and as much I cracked up at “HumancentiPad” and stood in awe of the wistful “You’re Getting Old,” I think I laughed most at “Crack Baby Athletic Association.” Cartman asking the president of the University Of Colorado at Boulder for his advice on the care and feeding of slaves brought genuine tears to my eyes.
14. Hung (10)
I always really wanted to like Hung, but found its solemn tone off-putting and mismatched to the show’s premise. Season three finally ratcheted up the tension and hastened the plot, as if someone finally realized it’s supposed to be a show about a guy with a big dick, not an elegy for Detroit. Rebecca Creskoff is woefully under-appreciated, and her character, Lenore, is television’s most unsung narcissist.
15. Enlightened (10)

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MEREDITH BLAKE
1. Downton Abbey (15)
2. Parks And Recreation (15)
3. The Good Wife (15)
4. Outnumbered (15)
5. Beavis And Butt-Head (10)
6. Enlightened (10)
7. Portlandia (10)
8. Breaking Bad (10)
9. The Colbert Report (10)
10. Louie (10)
11. 30 Rock (5)
12. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (5)
13. The Hour (5)
14. Curb Your Enthusiasm (5)
15. Jimmy Fallon (5)
16. Homeland (5)

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DONNA BOWMAN
1. Breaking Bad (15)
2. The Good Wife (15)
3. How I Met Your Mother (5)
4. Mildred Pierce (15)
5. Downton Abbey (5)
6. Game Of Thrones (5)
7. Cougar Town (3)
8. Bob’s Burgers (10)
9. Happy Endings (10)
10. Louie (10)
11. Justified (10)
12. Men Of A Certain Age (7)
13. Parks And Recreation (5)
14. Community (5)
15. Bored To Death (5)
16. Royal Pains (5)
17. Fringe (5)
18. Friday Night Lights (5)
19. How To Make It In America (5)
20. Switched At Birth (5)

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MARGARET EBY
1. Louie (15)
2. Parks And Recreation (15)
3. Breaking Bad (12)
4. How I Met Your Mother (12)
5. Game Of Thrones (10)
6. Enlightened (10)
7. Justified (10)
8. Downton Abbey (10)
9. Up All Night (8)
10. Parenthood (8)
11. 30 Rock (7)
12. Happy Endings (6)
13. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (6)
14. Eastbound And Down (5)
15. 2 Broke Girls (5)
16. Community (5)
17. Awkward. (4)
18. Swamp People (2)

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ZACK HANDLEN
1. Breaking Bad (15)
2. Louie (15)
3. Justified (13)
4. Parks And Recreation (12)
5. Community (12)
6. Game Of Thrones (10)
7. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (10)
8. Men Of A Certain Age (8)
9. Archer (7)
10. Homeland (7)
11. Fringe (7)
12. The Good Wife (7)
13. Bob’s Burgers (6)
14. Raising Hope (6)
15. The Vampire Diaries (6)
16. Sons Of Anarchy (5)
17. Childrens Hospital (4)

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WILL HARRIS
1. Breaking Bad (15)
2. The Middle (13)
3. Hung (11)
4. Modern Family (10)
5. How I Met Your Mother (10)
6. The Big Bang Theory (10)
7. Community (10)
8. Futurama (9)
9. The Soup (8)
10. The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson (8)
11. American Horror Story (7)
12. Once Upon A Time (7)
13. New Girl (6)
14. The Walking Dead (6)
15. 2 Broke Girls (5)
16. Traffic Light (5)
17. Fringe (5)
18. Justified (5)

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STEVE HEISLER
1. Breaking Bad (15)
2. Louie (15)
3. Parks And Recreation (14)
4. Game Of Thrones (13)
5. Community (12)
6. Downton Abbey (10)
7. Childrens Hospital (10)
8. Friday Night Lights (10)
9. Homeland (9)
10. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (8)
11. 30 Rock (8)
12. Curb Your Enthusiasm (7)
13. NTSF:SD:SUV:: (7)
14. Sports Show With Norm Macdonald (6)
15. Portlandia (6)

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KENNY HERZOG
1. Homeland (15)
2. Luther (15)
The best suspenseful, violent drama on TV not named Homeland. It’s an iconic Idris Elba role, and Luther is both awesome and ridiculous. But ridiculously awesome. It’s Roku-able, and will suck you in and leave you floored.
3. Beavis And Butt-Head (15)
Responsible for the best, biggest, and purest laughs on TV all year. 
4. Boardwalk Empire (15)
5. American Horror Story (15)
Creepy, silly, scary, unseemly… It’s like Ryan Murphy spun the hysterical luridness of The Amityville Horror II: The Possession into an episodic series. TV rarely scratches that itch for a very specific kind of midnight-movie kitsch, but AHS just went for it, and I love that.
6. Breaking Bad (10)
7. Bored To Death (10)
8. Wilfred (10)
9. Svetlana (5)
Iris Bahr’s labor of love is low-budget and relegated to Mark Cuban’s HDNet, but also the funniest new live-action half-hour comedy I can think of. Unless semi-improvised vignettes about a transplanted, foul-mouthed, maternal Russian brothel owner in L.A. aren’t your thing. 
10. Parks And Recreation (5)
11. Today: Kathie Lee And Hoda (5)
The most surreal show on television. Worth DVRing in the morning or staying up for in reruns late at night. Nocturnal TV at its finest, and downright weird over coffee at 10 a.m.
12. Metal Evolution (5)
13. Hung (5)
14. How To Make It In America (5)
15. Louie (5)
16. Modern Family (5)
17. Gigolos (5)

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ROWAN KAISER
1. Parks And Recreation (15)
2. Community (15)
3. Misfits (14)
4. Justified (13)
5. Game Of Thrones (12)
6. Louie (12)
7. Archer (11)
8. The Vampire Diaries (10)
9. Mildred Pierce (9)
10. Treme (8)
11. The Ricky Gervais Show (8) 
Tighter editing transformed the first season’s occasional so-funny-you-choke-on-your-drink moment into a regular occurrence.
12. Bob’s Burgers (7)
13. Childrens Hospital (6) 
14. The Middle (5)
The Middle deserves recognition for being consistently good and sneaky-smart about class issues. It may never be one of the best series on the air, but it’s a great show to have around.
15. American Dad (5) 
Like The Middle, American Dad deserves some recognition for consistency, though it does it from an almost totally opposite direction.

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GENEVIEVE KOSKI
1. Breaking Bad (15)
2. Friday Night Lights (15)
3. Game Of Thrones (15)
4. Louie (15)
5. Parks And Recreation (15)
6. Community (10)
7. Curb Your Enthusiasm (10)
8. Downton Abbey (10)
9. Mildred Pierce (10)
10. Treme (7)
11. Parenthood (5)
12. Portlandia (5)
13. The Vampire Diaries (5)
14. Archer (4)
15. Happy Endings (4)
16. The League (3)
17. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (2)

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RYAN MCGEE
1. Justified (15)
2. Louie (14)
3. Parks And Recreation (13)
4. Breaking Bad (12)
5. Sons Of Anarchy (12)
6. Archer (11)
7. Friday Night Lights (10)
8. Cougar Town (10)
9. Fringe (9)
10. Homeland (8)
11. Awkward. (8)
12. Doctor Who (6) 
13. Community (6)
14. Game Of Thrones (5)
15. Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena (5)
Yes, there is full-frontal nudity. But there’s also some of the best pulpy, character-based drama on television.
16. The Good Wife (3)
17. The Chicago Code (3)

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MYLES MCNUTT
1. Breaking Bad (15)
2. Justified (12)
3. Louie (12)
4. Game Of Thrones (11)
5. Parks And Recreation (11)
6. Homeland (10)
7. Community (10)
8. Misfits (10)
9. The Good Wife (8)
10. Cougar Town (8)
11. Awkward. (7)
When discerning television viewers approach genres not normally associated with “quality,” we look to find a point of entry, something that we can latch on to in order to justify our continued viewership. While MTV’s Awkward. might seem generic given its high school setting, the show struck a tremendous balance between indulgence and sophistication, embracing its sitcom zaniness while rendering compelling character relationships. It elevates its genre not through a single bright spot (although star Ashley Rickards is a great find), but by simply refusing to apologize for it, a strong first step toward what could be a long and successful run.
12. Treme (7)
13. United States Of Tara (5)
Initially labeled as a comedy and sold on its protagonist’s dissociative identity disorder, the show’s third and final season explicitly positioned the Showtime series as a family drama, exploring how both the fucked-up past and the fucked-up present work together to create a future that it’s hard to imagine as anything other than, well, fucked up. The result, though not always consistent, was more resonant than any other Showtime “comedy,” and a fine ending note for the series.
14. Archer (5)
15. Men Of A Certain Age (4)
16. Happy Endings (4)
17. Enlightened (4)
18. Downton Abbey (3)
19. Mildred Pierce (2)
20. Revenge (2)

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NOEL MURRAY
1. Louie (15)
2. Breaking Bad (15)
3. Men Of A Certain Age (12)
4. The Good Wife (12)
5. Game Of Thrones (10)
6. Friday Night Lights (9)
7. Mildred Pierce (8)
8. Boardwalk Empire (8)
9. Community (7)
10. Justified (7)
11. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (6)
12. Downton Abbey (6)
13. Fringe (6)
14. Enlightened (5)
15. Homeland (5)
16. Parks And Recreation (4)
17. The Ricky Gervais Show (4)
18. Cougar Town (4)
19. Bob’s Burgers (4)
20. Happy Endings (3)

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BRANDON NOWALK
1. Mildred Pierce (15)
2. Parks And Recreation (15)
3. Archer (10)
4. Treme (10)
5. Childrens Hospital (10)
6. 30 Rock (10)
7. Web Therapy (10)
8. Enlightened (10)
9. Louie (10)
10. Bored To Death (10)
11. Friday Night Lights (7)
12. The Middle (7)
13. Bob’s Burgers (7)
14. Happy Endings (7)
15. Revenge (7)
16. Homeland (1)
17. Community (1)
18. The Heart, She Holler (1)
19. Cougar Town (1)
20. Glee (1) 
I can’t say it’s the 20th best show on television—though “Silly Love Songs” inaugurated a refreshingly low-key period that I consider the series’ peak—but good luck finding a more interesting show on the broadcast networks. I’ll take Ryan Murphy’s maximalism over empty prestige any day.

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PHIL NUGENT
1. Breaking Bad (12)
2. Community (10)
3. Enlightened (10)
4. Free Agents (U.K.) (10)
5. Game Of Thrones (10)
6. Justified (10)
7. Louie (10)
8. The Good Wife (8)
9. Homeland (8)
10. The Hour (8)
11. South Park (8)
12. Hot Coffee (7)
13. Koran By Heart (7)
14. Misfits (7)
15. Boardwalk Empire (5)
16. Fringe (5)
17. Happy Endings (5)
18. Pan Am (5)
19. Parenthood (5)

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KEITH PHIPPS
1. Justified (15)
2. Friday Night Lights (15)
3. Louie (15)
4. Game Of Thrones (10)
5. Community (10)
6. Treme (10)
7. Parks And Recreation (10)
8. Cougar Town (10)
9. Doctor Who (10)
10. Bob’s Burgers (8)
11. The Good Wife (8)
12. Archer (8)
13. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (8)
14. The Colbert Report (8)
15. Childrens Hospital (5)

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CARRIE RAISLER
1. Breaking Bad (12)
2. Justified (12)
3. Parks And Recreation (12)
4. Louie (12)
5. The Vampire Diaries (10)
6. Misfits (10)
7. Homeland (9)
8. Archer (7)
9. Friday Night Lights (7)
10. The Good Wife (7)
11. Game Of Thrones (6)
12. Cougar Town (6)
13. Fringe (6)
14. Parenthood (6)
15. Community (5)
16. Enlightened (5)
17. Switched At Birth (5)
18. Downton Abbey (5)
19. Treme (5)
20. Bob’s Burgers (3)

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KYLE RYAN
1. Community (15)
2. Parks And Recreation (15)
3. Louie (15)
4. Friday Night Lights (15)
5. Boardwalk Empire (15)
6. Curb Your Enthusiasm (12)
7. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (11)
8. Game Of Thrones (10)
9. Bob’s Burgers (10)
10. The Walking Dead (9)
11. Bored To Death (8)
12. The Soup (5)
Joel McHale’s name-making gig remains reliably entertaining, and never has there been more of a bounty of bad, stupid, ignorant, or otherwise mockable television to provide material. Although the sketches frequently misfire, and the guest cameos can be painfully awkward, The Soup is always sharp, with McHale’s eye-rolling mockery adding the perfect touch.
13. Conan (5)
I went from watching no late-night shows to recording Conan every night a couple of months ago. Maybe my interest was piqued after reading The War For Late Night, maybe it’s writing about The Larry Sanders Show, and maybe it’s the tremendous goodwill I have for Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter, but more than anything, it’s that O’Brien is hilarious, and the show is enjoyable—if only he’d ditch the monologue.
14. Enlightened (4)
15. The League (1)
A point for potential. Why isn’t this show as good as the talent involved? While it can be funny, it tends to favor obvious jokes and some cartoonish shenanigans that recall some of the clunker episodes of late-period Seinfeld. (The exploding paint and blowjob silhouette? Blech.) Also: More Jason Mantzoukas, please. 

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DAVID SIMS
1. Louie (15)
2. Community (15)
3. Breaking Bad (15)
4. Justified (15)
5. Parks And Recreation (10)
6. Game Of Thrones (10)
7. Homeland (10)
8. Doctor Who (10)
Doctor Who had a fantastic sixth season, its second with Steven Moffat writing and Matt Smith as the Doctor. The show became over-obsessed with the mystery of River Song, but it didn’t overwhelm a season that had some dazzlingly epic, complex standout episodes like “A Good Man Goes To War” and “The Doctor’s Wife.”)
9. Childrens Hospital (10)
10. Archer (10)
11. The Good Wife (10)
12. Happy Endings (10)
13. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (4)
14. Cougar Town (4)
15. Parenthood (2)

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SCOTT TOBIAS
1. Louie (15)
2. Breaking Bad (15)
3. Mildred Pierce (15)
4. Parks And Recreation (15)
5. Justified (15)
6. Community (10)
7. The Good Wife (10)
8. Friday Night Lights (10)
9. Homeland (8)
10. Game Of Thrones (8)
11. The Colbert Report (7)
12. Downton Abbey (6)
13. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (6)
14. Bob’s Burgers (5)
15. Top Chef (5)

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TODD VANDERWERFF
1. Louie (10)
2. Justified (10)
3. Community (10)
4. Parks And Recreation (5)
5. Breaking Bad (5)
6. Treme (5)
7. Game Of Thrones (5)
8. Homeland (10)
9. Archer (5)
10. United States Of Tara (10)
11. The Good Wife (5)
12. Friday Night Lights (5)
13. Men Of A Certain Age (5)
14. Bob’s Burgers (5)
15. Cougar Town (5)
16. Enlightened (5)
17. Parenthood (15)
18. Raising Hope (15)
19. The Vampire Diaries (10)
20. Sons Of Anarchy (5)

The next five: Alphas was pure sci-fi fun, and it managed the trick of going from mostly stand-alone to mostly serialized with very little fuss. American Dad is one of the funniest shows on TV, even if it had more of an up-and-down year in 2011. Boardwalk Empire made me sad I didn’t vote for it when it turned out a terrific season finale. Fringe had its problems at the start of season four, but it’s still one of the best network hour-longs out there. Happy Endings just makes me laugh. A lot.

And one more: I never know how to classify The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson for these sorts of things, but I love it. So I’ll mention it at least.

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SCOTT VON DOVIAK
1. Louie (15)
2. Breaking Bad (15)
3. Justified (15)
4. Homeland (15)
5. Sons Of Anarchy (12)
6. Parks And Recreation (12)
7. Community (10)
8. Boardwalk Empire (10)
9. Game Of Thrones (10)
10. Friday Night Lights (10)
11. American Horror Story (8)
12. Curb Your Enthusiasm (6)
13. Treme (5)
14. Fringe (4)
15. Misfits (3)

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EMILY YOSHIDA
1. Breaking Bad (15)
2. Game Of Thrones (13)
3. Misfits (12)
4. Friday Night Lights (10)
5. Vampire Diaries (10)
6. Revenge (10)
7. Archer (10)
8. Beavis And Butt-Head (8)
9. Downton Abbey (7)
10. Mildred Pierce (7)
11. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (7)
12. Enlightened (7)
13. The Hour (6)
14. The Colbert Report (6)
15. Homeland (5)
16. Parks And Recreation (5)
17. Community (5)
18. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (4)
19. Top Chef (2)
20. The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills (1)

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CLAIRE ZULKEY
1. So You Think You Can Dance (15)
2. Curb Your Enthusiasm (15)
3. The Big C (15)
4. Saturday Night Live (15)
5. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (10)
6. Modern Family (10)
7. 30 Rock (10)
8. Parks And Recreation (10)
9. Louie (10)
10. Dexter (10)11. Mildred Pierce (10)
12. United States Of Tara (5)
13. RuPaul’s Drag Race (5)
14. Season 25: Oprah Behind The Scenes (5)
15. The Office (5)

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