The waiting is still the hardest part: 48 of our most anticipated entertainments of 2011

The waiting is still the hardest part: 48 of our most anticipated entertainments of 2011

1. Lights Out (premières January 11)
FX went on a terrific run of new shows in 2010, debuting Archer, Louie, Justified, and the late, lamented Terriers, all of which landed on our top 25 shows of 2010 list. The final series from that string of impressive development, Lights Out, debuts in January, and while FX is selling it almost entirely as a long string of boxing clichés (perhaps overlearning the lesson of the Terriers marketing campaign), the series has much more to it than just the tale of a washed-up boxer taking one last shot at greatness. Namely, it has Holt McCallany, Catherine McCormack, and Stacy Keach in the three pivotal roles, all actors who deserve some TV greatness. And in addition to creator Justin Zackham, it has Warren Leight, responsible for the remarkable second season of In Treatment, working as the showrunner behind the scenes. Toss in some memorable New York City location work, and this is one to look forward to.

2. Big Love, season 5 (premières January 16)
Big Love, America’s pluckiest soap about fundamentalist religions and the polygamists who practice them, really went off the rails last winter, trying to cram 25 episodes worth of storylines into just nine hours of television. Considering how clumsily that went down, TV fans will be forgiven for being skeptical about whether the series can regain its footing in time for its final season. But given that the series will be resolving its biggest question (what happens when the world finds out about the Henrickson family?), and given that it’s returning to the core of the original series, there’s every reason to hope all involved will bring this grand comedy of manners to the bittersweet conclusion it’s always deserved.

3. The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (January 18)
As The Decemberists chased the dream of that ultimate middle ground between prog-rock and an 18th-century literature course into increasingly insular rock operas, a vocal contingent of the group’s cult-like fan base has wished that the band would just get back to its earlier, simpler stuff. A series of jaunty singles released in late 2008 didn’t do the trick, so here comes The King Is Dead, filled with short songs, a lack of overarching stories, and heavy country influences. If the first single, “Down By The Water,” is any indication, the group has applied everything it learned about wildly ambitious song cycles on The Crane Wife and The Hazards Of Love to the poppier stuff that made its name in the first place. It could be a culmination, or a horrific mishmash.

4. Parks And Recreation, season 3 (premières January 20)
The most improved show of 2010, Parks And Recreation was poised for a breakout at the end of its second season. Amy Poehler dialed back the more overzealous aspects of civil servant Leslie Knope, while the show’s writing staff considerably fleshed out her coworkers and friends—most notably Chris Pratt’s Andy, who grew from an insolent man-child to a noble buffoon in the space of 23 episodes. Meanwhile, an already-strong ensemble was fortified in the season’s final two episodes with the addition of Rob Lowe and Adam Scott. But just as the show’s future couldn’t look more promising, the season-three première was indefinitely delayed. The show was positioned as a midseason replacement, but high ratings for its replacement—the far inferior workplace comedy Outsourced—turned Pawnee's outlook grim. Thankfully, NBC brass realized they had an unoccupied hour of programming on Thursday nights, so they expanded the “Comedy Night Done Right” lineup and granted Parks And Rec a return date. Now all that remains to be seen is what happens between Knope and Scott’s Ben Wyatt, former boy mayor.

5. The Dismemberment Plan reunion tour (kicks off January 20)
With the pending reissue of the classic Emergency & I on double LP (with liner notes written by The A.V. Club’s own Josh Modell), it seems only right that The Dismemberment Plan would tour again. The DC post-punk quartet broke up in 2003, and apart from a couple of benefit shows a few years back, it’s been keeping things relatively quiet. It would be foolish, though, to expect anything about its sold-out reunion dates (including a January 20 appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon) to be understated. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, the D Plan was one of the most energetic, fan-freakout-inspiring bands in the underground game. This time around, fans should hope for nothing less than a fully cathartic experience. Now if only Blur would commit to some U.S. dates.

6-7. Onion News Network (premières January 21 on IFC) and Onion SportsDome (premières January 11 on Comedy Central)
Our sister publication The Onion has finally decided to jump on the television bandwagon, just as the medium is getting ready to draw its last breath. Good for you, Onion! But it’s like that thing old people say: Anything worth doing is worth taking lots of time to do correctly. And these two original half-hour shows, one tackling the hard-hitting world of journalism, the other tackling the hard-hitting world of sports journalism, look great, judging from the episodes we’ve seen. And that isn’t just blatant corporate pandering—remember what we said about The Onion Movie? That’s right, nothing at all. It’s like that other thing old people say.

8. Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean (January 25)
Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam has found success gradually expanding his sound from album to album without ever abandoning the soul of his music, keeping the quality of output high even as he tinkers sonically. From the hushed lo-fi whispers of debut album The Creek Drank The Cradle to the full-band sound of The Shepherd’s Dog, Beam has pushed the boundaries of his music while never straying too far from lyrical intimacy. The new, fuller sound carries over to Kiss Each Other Clean; Beam has already put out two singles from the album, the cinematic “Walking Far From Home“ and the soulful “Tree By The River,” which pave the way for what’s building up to be another beautiful epic. 

9. James Blake, James Blake (February)
The peripheries surrounding dubstep are voluminous and porous, and they make room for acts as different as the glowering menace of Shackleton and the headphones-friendly 21-year-old James Blake. In 2010, Blake recorded a bunch of 12-inches, particularly the CMYK EP for R&S, which established him as indie-crossover bait. The attention becomes him: “CMYK,” for example, features a bouncing series of R&B female vocals (including Aaliyah) over a swooning, rumbling track. More recently, he’s been covering Feist—which reportedly signals the direction of Blake’s debut album. Whatever the case, his 2010 was strong enough to make the prospect of his 2011 all the more enticing.

10. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Belong (February)
It’s been almost two years since New York’s The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart released its self-titled debut. A lot has changed since then: The band’s fuzzy lo-fi hooks helped launch a full-blown resurgence of kindred outfits in lust with carbonated distortion, longing harmonies, and lip-puckering bittersweetness. To its credit, Pains has also had a growth spurt. The recently released “Heart In Your Heartbreak” is the first single off Belong, the group’s upcoming sophomore album, and it’s a simultaneously cleaner and more atmospheric breath of fresh pop air. Produced and mixed by Flood and Alan Moulder—the British studio vets who, together or separately, are behind classic albums by everyone from U2, My Bloody Valentine, and The Jesus And Mary Chain to The Smashing Pumpkins, Interpol, and The Killers—Belong promises to be a radical sculpting of Pains’ post-adolescent messiness. 

11. Adrian Tomine, Scenes From An Impending Marriage (March 1)
Although he now graces the covers and interiors of The New Yorker, cartoonist Adrian Tomine got his start making a Xeroxed, self-published mini-comic called Optic Nerve that told stories of his own life as well as poignant, understated vignettes about hip young urbanites. He returned to his roots in 2007 with the similarly DIY mini-comic Scenes From An Impending Marriage. A funny, sometimes moving, always immaculately drawn recounting of his prenuptial preparations with his then-fiancée Sarah, Scenes was issued in limited quantities, after which it quickly disappeared. Finally, though, a hardcover collection of the series is on the way from Drawn & Quarterly, in a half-sized package that perfectly suits Tomine’s humble, quirky look at love and tradition.

12. Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear (March 1)
Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel, The Name Of The Wind, is built from a lot of familiar elements, including fairies, dragons, and a gifted orphan who winds up attending a school for wizardry. From there, though, Rothfuss infuses the book with a fresh, edgy voice and engaging trope-tweaks and characters, including one of the best depictions of music and musicians in fantasy. The Wise Man’s Fear, the second volume of The Kingkiller Chronicle, has been delayed for two years, but will finally see the light of day in 2011. The Name Of The Wind is the kind of book that brings lapsed fantasy fans back into the fold, and The Wise Man’s Fear promises to continue reaching beyond Rothfuss’ devoted fan base as it delivers the next chapter (and more of the history) of mysterious, not-so-simple innkeeper Kvothe.

13. Mike Sacks, Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason (March 1)
Mike Sacks is something of a hero to those lonely writers who spent many years publishing humor pieces for free online. But the Vanity Fair writer patiently applied his trade, eventually publishing humor in Esquire and The New Yorker, putting out a book of interviews with comedy writers (And Here’s The Kicker), and contributing to the humor book Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk. In 2011, he’s finally publishing a book of his own humor pieces called Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason, and the writer who used to publish for free on beloved-but-now-defunct sites like Sweet Fancy Moses is earning blurbs from people like David Sedaris, Jack Handey, and Paul Feig. 

14. R.E.M., Collapse Into Now (March 8)
Alt-rock godfathers R.E.M. have had an uneven output over the last 10 years. In 2001, the group put out the lukewarm Reveal, which had its moments, but was followed by the bland AOR mess Around The Sun in 2004. R.E.M. rebounded in 2008 with the lean, rocking Accelerate, a brisk 11-song, 30-minute guitar-heavy album that breathed fresh life into the band’s career, or at least put it back on even ground. Now R.E.M. is preparing to release its 15th LP, Collapse Into Now, and so far, things sound pretty good. The muscular new single “Discoverer” sounds like something that could fit on Accelerate or New Adventures In Hi-Fi. While it’s doubtful that R.E.M. will return to its ’90s popularity, there’s still hope that, with guests including Patti Smith and Eddie Vedder, the new album will at least continue the artistic rebound.

15. Sarah Vowell, Unfamiliar Fishes (March 22)
Sarah Vowell has shifted her focus from essays to longer forms of writing over her past two books, 2006’s Assassination Vacation and 2008’s The Wordy Shipmates. Both still had Vowell’s signature droll wit, but applied it to history rather than personal essays. While her delving into the Puritans in Shipmates proved sometimes too dry, it still made for a compelling read on a topic that doesn't immediately lend itself to one. Unfamiliar Fishes reportedly focuses on several imperialist movements made by America in 1898, including the annexation of Puerto Rico and Hawaii. If anyone can make this history interesting, it’s Vowell, whose modern pop-culture references never feel forced when put into historical contexts.

16. The Book Of Mormon (March 24)
Mormonism has long been a favorite target of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, from their 1997 film Orgazmo to the 2003 South Park episode “All About Mormons”—and it’s obvious from anyone who’s seen Cannibal! The Musical; South Park: Bigger, Longer, And Uncut; Team America: World Police; or just about any South Park episode that the dudes can write a catchy tune. Their Broadway debut combines their musical skills with their knack for needling Joseph Smith’s acolytes, and teams them with another master of the perverted pop song, Avenue Q’s Tony-winning Robert Lopez, for a big, splashy show about two Mormon boys discovering that their religion hasn’t prepared them to face the genuine, can’t-be-solved-with-niceties horrors of Africa. If there’s anything even approaching the sing-along sacrilege of Team America’s “Everyone Has AIDS,” The Book Of Mormon is destined to be the most talked-about ticket in New York.

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17. The Killing (March)
AMC has been on an impressive streak to rival FX’s. Every script it’s ordered to pilot has been sent to series, and even the one show out of that batch that flopped, Rubicon, was still a creative success. Yet The Killing isn’t just impressive because of the network it’s on, or because of its pedigree. (Based on a runaway hit Danish show, it’s about a twisty, turny investigation into the mysterious death of a young girl.) What’s most interesting is that The Killing boasts the first solo female lead in the network’s history, with Mireille Enos (so good on Big Love) playing the detective at the center of the mystery. The cable-drama revolution of the last 10 years has been a little light on female protagonists; here’s hoping The Killing and Enos have what it takes to make a few more steps in the other direction.

18. Wye Oak, Civilian (March)
Baltimore’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack made one of 2008’s most haunting albums, The Knot, a rich, adult meditation on love and commitment. “I Want For Nothing” piled strings, guitars, ticking drums, and Wasner’s velvety voice into something difficult to play once without playing twice. Calling them “slowcore” gets at it, but misses a lot. Judging from the leaked title track from their forthcoming third album, Civilian, that late-night vibe remains, but the song has an urgency (not to mention a startling guitar solo) that makes a whole album’s worth seem very enticing indeed.

19. Tina Fey, Bossypants (April 5)
Apart from its unsettling cover art, we don’t know much about Tina Fey’s hardcover debut. One source called it “a book of humorous essays in the mode of Nora Ephron,” which can’t be right. But name us a Tina Fey project that hasn’t panned out. (Okay, Date Night. But it was kind of funny.) To paraphrase Barton Fink: It’s a book. By Tina Fey. Whaddya need, a road map?

20. Scream 4 (April 15)
Though Wes Craven’s last movie—My Soul To Take, his first film since 2005’s Red Eye—came and went faster than anyone could have expected, don’t give up on him yet. Scream 4 may well turn out to be utter crap, but the original films have aged surprisingly well. In the 11 years since the last installment, both cast and the teenagers who grew up watching the trilogy have aged. What’s unusual about the franchise reboot is that the decade-plus hiatus has rendered the films themselves into time capsules: Craven and his smartass cohorts have 11 years of shifting horror movie trends to respond to, from J-horror to torture porn. If nothing else, it’s sure to be automatically nostalgic, and hopefully a smart index of horror trends to boot.

21. Portal 2 (April 20)
The first Portal was based on that rarest of rarities in the videogame world: an original idea, involving a teleportation device used to escape a series of increasingly dangerous rooms. It’s a simple concept, but Portal made the most of it, throwing out puzzles that exploited physics, spatial relations, and reflexes in consistently inventive, exciting ways. The sequel promises to refine the innovation, provide new challenges, and expand the game’s world considerably. With the same creative team returning, and hopefully bringing along the same sense of humor, plus the potential of a significantly longer play-time, 2011 may bring back duplicitous desserts in a big way.

22. Haywire (April 22)
As of press time, Steven Soderbergh only has two films coming out in 2011, though he may, in characteristic fashion, come up with another one or two at a moment’s notice. Of what’s on tap, Haywire promises the reunion of Soderbergh and contentious Limey collaborator Lem Dobbs, and it’s also Soderbergh’s first true action film. With MMA champ Gina Carano as his probably vacant center, Soderbergh has added Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, and Michael Fassbender to balance out the cast. Rumors are that early test screenings have left audiences wincing, but surely Soderbergh can make the straight action film his own, and his support team is impressive.

23. Game Of Thrones (premières in April)
Epic fantasy can often be silly and clichéd. Not so in the hands of author George R.R. Martin. His seven-volume work-in-progress, A Song Of Ice And Fire, is among the most mature, complex story-cycles the genre has ever seen—which bears great promise for Game Of Thrones, HBO’s upcoming adaptation of the series. The teasers for the show so far are breathtaking—and diehard followers of the book are rightly rejoicing about the sumptuous sets and note-perfect casting, including The Lord Of The Rings’ Sean Bean as the hard-bitten patriarch Eddard Stark and Peter Dinklage as the treacherous yet sympathetic Tyrion Lannister. With the potential to become the Wire of the sword-and-sorcery set, Game Of Thrones has already whipped up a deafening buzz, even among those who’ve never read a fantasy novel. Of course, most diehard Ice And Fire fans would gladly forego the show (or even see it flop altogether) if that somehow enabled Martin to finish the freakin’ last three books already—including the next installment, A Dance With Dragons, which is now more than four years behind schedule.

24. L.A. Noire (TBD, spring)
Rockstar Games has become a sort of Pixar of the videogaming world: Each new release is preceded by months to years of hype, setting expectations to seemingly unreachable heights, but somehow meeting them in the end. But expectations have never been higher than they are for L.A. Noire, which has been in development for six years and delayed several times. Players investigate murders in 1947 Los Angeles, painstakingly recreated using archival photographs. In mid-December, developer Team Bondi announced it’s been using the 3-D facial-animation system MotionScan to capture hyper-realistic details and supposedly avoid the Uncanny Valley. The footage of the system capturing Aaron Staton (Mad Men’s Ken Cosgrove) was really impressive, and the game couldn’t sound cooler. 

25. Low, C’Mon (TBD, spring)
By the time Low’s ninth album hits shelves, it will have been four years since its last, the gorgeous, bruising Drums And Guns. But the band hasn’t been quiet: Singer-guitarist Alan Sparhawk and bassist Steve Garrington have been rocking harder than Low in Retribution Gospel Choir, which tours like crazy, and Low played quite a few shows in 2010. (And Robert Plant covered two Low songs on his 2010 album Band Of Joy—how weird is that?) Spring will bring C’Mon, a new album “recorded in an old church in Duluth, mixed in an apartment in Hollywood,” according to the band’s Facebook page. If it’s anything like everything Low has ever done, it will be excellent.

26. Rush, Clockwork Angels (TBD, spring)
Kicking off with an ominous clank of machinery, “Caravan”—the first single from Rush’s upcoming full-length, Clockwork Angels—telegraphs its intent: As drummer and chief lyricist Neil Peart explained, Clockwork will be a concept album with a strong steampunk motif. Rush couldn’t have picked a more ideal subgenre of science fiction to appropriate. The band has always spliced old-fashioned ideas like infectious melody and rock bombast with progressive arrangements, intellectual heft, and a highly advanced sense of futurism. Not to mention that, like steampunk, a potentially great new Rush album circa 2011 is a welcome, thrilling anachronism.

27. Tree Of Life (May 27)
Terrence Malick’s fifth directorial feature in almost 40 years felt, as usual, more like a rumor than a film for a long time. No release date appeared, and plot details seemed fuzzy at best. Shouldn’t matter. Malick makes strange, lyrical films like no one else, and Tree Of Life’s trailer—which features Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, some striking images of Earth, and Malick’s signature narration—makes it look all the more promising, and offers more reason to be excited about his next untitled project, coming soon one of these years or another.

28. Bob Mould, See A Little Light: The Trail Of Rage And Melody (June 15)
When news broke in early 2009 that Bob Mould was writing an autobiography (with assistance from Our Band Could Be Your Life’s Michael Azerrad), it was tantalizing. Mould has remained intensely private, even though he’s one of the most important figures in rock history of the past 30 years. He clearly has enough stories to fill a couple of books. The tumultuous history of his most celebrated band, Hüsker Dü, could be a book by itself. (And it is, thanks to Andrew Earles’ recent biography, though Mould didn’t participate in it.) That doesn’t cover Mould’s work in Sugar in the ’90s, his many solo albums, or his numerous accomplishments outside of music. There’s a lot to talk about—getting the story from Mould himself should be fascinating.

29. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 (July 15)
The seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, was released in 2007, marking the official end of the worldwide literary phenomenon—but with four entries left at that point in the ongoing film adaptation of the books, Potter mania was far from over. Hell, it wasn’t even over when this year’s Deathly Hallows movie hit theaters; that was just the first part of the drawn-out, two-part conclusion. But come July 2011, we can officially close the book on Harry Potter with Deathly Hallows Part 2. Compared to the slow-burn, dread-setting atmosphere of Part 1, the really-final-for-real-this-time conclusion promises to be a blow-out: Covering the book’s breathless final 300 pages, Part 2 kicks off with a dangerous caper and harrowing escape, then barrels on through to the epic battle the series has been building toward since its beginning. Even taking into account the Potter films’ generally uneven execution, if Part 2 remains as faithful to the book as Part 1, audiences are in for an exciting, emotional climax. 

30. Breaking Bad, season 4 (TBD, July)
It isn’t just that Breaking Bad’s third season ended on a vicious cliffhanger; it isn’t just that it’s the best show on television. The simple fact is, there’s nothing else quite like it. Its white-knuckle plotting, claustrophobic intensity, brilliant ensemble, and bleak humor have raised the bar for anti-hero drama so high that its absence leaves viewers desperate for their next hit. The quality jump the series has displayed with each successive season will make the months leading into the next première almost unbearable.

31. Jon Benjamin Has A Van (TBD, summer)
2011 is destined to be The Year Of Jon Benjamin, what with the return of Archer, the debut of Bob’s Burgers, and the Comedy Central show Jon Benjamin Has A Van, which will finally have everyone saying “Oh, that’s what he looks like.” As a cartoon, Benjamin has a deadpan, unapologetic, oblivious jerkiness; as a real person, he’ll employ those same qualities doing man-on-the-street interviews that he’s described as “Borat without the funny accent.” Not that he even needs to invoke Borat, given that just about everything that comes out of Jon Benjamin’s mouth is inherently hilarious.

32. Pulp reunion tour (TBD, summer)
With typical self-deprecation, brilliant Britpop band Pulp has described the motivation behind its forthcoming reunion as “a collective midlife crisis,” among many other reasons. Frankly, Pulp could openly admit that it was all just a crass cash-in on fan goodwill meant to sell a few extra T-shirts and help buy frontman Jarvis Cocker a Humvee—which he would then use to mow down starving African children—and Pulp would still sell out every show. That’s the sort of slavish devotion afforded to the band’s bitingly clever, artfully arranged songs full of slumming posh kids, legendary girlfriends, and enough dryly observed melodrama to plug up the kitchen sink, the likes of which haven’t been heard since the band called it quits in 2003. Next summer will be the first time all of the original members of the group have shared a stage since 1996, and so far, shows are limited to headlining slots at London’s Wireless Festival and Barcelona’s Primavera Sound—though hopefully that’s just the warm-up for a larger outing. Midlife crises tend to drag on, after all.

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33. George Pelecanos, The Cut (August 29)
Pelecanos toiled in crime fiction for years before his career suddenly gained heat from an unexpected source: his work on the seminal TV series The Wire. The renewed focus on his novels convinced many of what aficionados of the genre had known for years: Pelecanos writes a damn good book. His new one for 2011 sounds fascinating: It’s centered on an Iraq War veteran who returns to America and settles on the seedy side of the street, running an operation that will get back anything that’s been stolen, no questions asked. Pelecanos traffics in memorable characters, and this sounds like one of his most memorable yet.

34. Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (TBD, September)
A new Murakami novel is always cause for excitement, but this English translation of the first two books in Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy could be cause for even more than that. Hotly debated in the Japanese press (where some have hailed it as among the author’s best, while others have called it ultimately empty), the novel blends many of Murakami’s favorite themes, symbols, and ideas with a deeply romantic story that carries just a whiff of influence from George Orwell. Or so the press from Murakami’s native land would have us believe. Honestly, though, this could be getting awful reviews, and we’d still want to read it. Any new book from one of the world’s greatest living authors is worth the wait for the English translation.

35. Ron Moore’s untitled magicians series (TBD, fall)
It’s always risky to bet on a pilot that hasn’t even been shot yet making it to series, but if any pilot is almost guaranteed to, it’s Ron Moore’s latest opus, a series about a world where the rules of science don’t apply, but rules of magic do. It’s been described as “Harry Potter for adults,” and between this and Game Of Thrones on HBO, there’s every chance this is the year hardcore fantasy breaks through on TV. Of course, Moore, the man behind the Battlestar Galactica reboot, still has to shoot the damn thing, and NBC still has to decide whether to air it, but given Moore’s record with new shows and how much money NBC has already shelled out to get the rights to the project after a fierce bidding war, it seems all but certain we’ll see this one come fall.

36. Lev Grossman, The Magician King (TBD, fall)
Also described as “Harry Potter for adults” (an increasingly funny label, given how many adults loved the Harry Potter books): Lev Grossman’s instant 2009 bestseller The Magicians, which examined a more “adult” side of fantasy classics from the Potter books to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. (“Adult” meaning “featuring copious sex, drugs, booze, rage, and death.”) While The Magicians was a gripping read for anyone who grew up with the fantasy genre and was ready for something meatier, it was also patchy and episodic, at times more a series of vignettes than a story. Then it came together at the end in a way that suggested a writer maturing as he progressed. Which promises good things for The Magician King, Grossman’s sequel, which will hopefully incorporate all the lessons he learned along the way, and follow up on Magicians’ strong, sequel-baiting ending.  

37. Luck (TBD, but likely fall)
David Milch is single-handedly responsible for some of the greatest television ever made, including Deadwood, the revisionist Western that’s one of the medium’s finest achievements. But he’s been unfortunately quiet since his weird “Jesus among the surfers” series, John From Cincinnati, crapped out in 2007. His pilot about cops in the ’70s failed, and it seemed like his career was on the ropes. Instead, he regrouped, created a series based on a little-televised subject (gambling on horse racing), and brought a bevy of famous friends along to work on it, including director Michael Mann (who helmed the pilot) and Dustin Hoffman (who takes his first regular starring role in a TV series with this one). HBO is fully behind the project for once in Milch’s career, and with the huge number of familiar names involved, this might be the show that finally brings Milch’s mad genius to a mass audience for the first time since the ’90s. Here’s hoping.

38. Batman: Arkham City (TBD, fall)
Superhero videogames tend to be lousy, relying on the strength of their license and the completist nature of comic-book nerds as selling points, rather than anything approaching engaging design. A few exceptions buck the trend, and of those, Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best. A moody action-adventure featuring an engaging mixture of stealth mechanics, puzzle-solving, and face-punching, Asylum finally did justice to the Dark Knight, even bringing back voice actors from the classic animated series to help set the proper tone. The sequel picks up the plot of the original game and leaves the confines of the world’s worst mental hospital to torment the citizens of Gotham at large. With a bigger world and the same commitment to capturing the feel of the character without sacrificing gameplay, Arkham City could maybe make consoles everywhere safe for costumed vigilantes. 

39. Daniel Clowes, The Death-Ray (TBD, fall)
Expanding on a story first told in the pages of Eightball, Clowes’ darkly comic narrative puts a unique spin on the revisionist-superhero subgenre. When nerdy, perpetually bullied Andy takes his first drag on a cigarette, he gains inexplicable powers, but rather than using them for good, his thoughts turn to vengeance, then simple tyranny. Given Clowes’ acid intelligence and his longstanding disdain for Dan Pussey-esque fanboys, The Death-Ray could be the most potent attack on the warped morality of superhero comics since the heady days of Alan Moore’s Miracleman.

40. Avatar: The Legend Of Korra (TBD, fall)
Regular A.V. Club readers are probably sick of hearing us stump for the original three-season animated Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the one M. Night Shyamalan munged into the nigh-unwatchable live-action 3-D movie that topped our worst movies of 2010 list. So we’ll keep this short: The brains behind the animated series, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, are returning in 2011 with a miniseries sequel to their Airbender, one set two generations into the future of the first series’ world, and based around a plot that seemingly makes no effort to copycat or recapitulate the first series. It has a new protagonist, a new setting, a new goal, and a new conflict, all of which sound promising, especially given the attention to detail and sterling conceptualization DiMartino and Konietzko put into their earlier project. It’s hard to beat the combination of coming home to a familiar, beloved world and finding something entirely new waiting there.

41. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (November 1)
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull’s box-office success proved two things: Nostalgia trumps quality, and audiences are still hungry for the globetrotting adventures of grave-robbing heroes. Thankfully, the Uncharted series by Naughty Dog exists to fill that gap, with nary a magical refrigerator nor Shia LaBeouf to be seen. An action-adventure title with platforming elements, the first Uncharted was solid, although mostly notable for showing off the technical prowess of the newly released PS3. The sequel kept the concept and leads, but tightened the combat and amped up the drama, with action, a script, and setpieces worthy of the big screen. It’s been more than a year since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was released. Little is known about Drake’s Deception, apart from basic plot details and a short trailer, but the simple fact that it’s coming is a good enough reason to start saving pennies.

42. The Immortals (November 11)
Seemingly everything Tarsem Singh directs is a heady personal labor of love, whether it’s R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” video, a lavish perfume commercial, or his insanely ambitious globe-hopping 2006 feature The Fall. His latest, The Immortals, seems like more bandwagoning on the odd recent resurgence of Greek-myth stories that brought us the Percy Jackson book series and film adaptation, the Clash Of The Titans remake, and countless informational or fictional comics about Greek myth: It’s a retelling of the Theseus story, with John Hurt as Zeus and The Tudors’ Henry Cavill as Theseus. The content and cast alone don’t seem like much reason for anticipation, but Tarsem’s take on the material does—he’s described it in various places as “Caravaggio meets Fight Club” and “Oldboy meets Caravaggio.” (Presumably the commutative power of film means it’s also Fight Club meets Oldboy?) Point is, Tarsem doesn’t do anything small, conceptually simple, or ugly, and the way he enlivened even the Jennifer Lopez-meets-serial-killer vehicle The Cell shows what his off-kilter conceptualizations can do with stock material. Even if The Immortals is a disaster, it should be lovely to look at, and not lacking in ideas or commitment.

43. The Adventures Of Tintin: Secret Of The Unicorn (December 23)
For decades, Belgian cartoonist Hergé has been an international household name, thanks to his most famous creation: the eternally plucky investigator of the fantastic, Tintin. Hergé’s graphic novels (mostly made in the ’30s through the ’60s, long before the term graphic novel was widely used) remain ageless masterpieces of humor and adventure. But besides a handful of French-language adaptations, ending in 1972, Tintin has been absent from the big screen. Steven Spielberg will change that—and test American audiences’ cultural literacy—with The Adventures Of Tintin: Secret Of The Unicorn. The film will feature motion-capture animation courtesy of co-producer Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital, and it’ll star Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell as Tintin, plus Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the inept detectives Thomson and Thompson. Tintin devotees should rest easy in the knowledge that Tintin is a true labor of love for Spielberg, and advance images of the film look stunning and wholly in the spirit of Hergé’s beloved creation.

44. Sherlock, season 2 (TBD)
The specter of Arthur Conan Doyle loomed over the final minutes of Sherlock’s first season, when the producers forced Sherlock into a watery, point-of-no-return showdown with Moriarty. Conan Doyle brought his Holmes back from a similarly hopeless cliffhanger by declaring that the detective’s death was all an elaborate trick; Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis will need something craftier than that to get Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Martin Freeman) out of their guns-and-explosive-laden checkmate. Assuming they succeed, it will be a delight to watch the show flourish now that the dirty work of establishing the world is done. Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the title character has a terrifically focused energy, but the most exciting thing about his performance is that he seems to have layers left to reveal.

45. Hugo Cabret (TBD)
Based on The Invention Of Hugo Carbet, a sweet, slight graphic novel about the early days of motion pictures, the Martin Scorsese-directed Hugo Cabret will mark the legendary director’s first children’s movie and his first movie shot in 3-D. Scorsese has reportedly been enjoying learning how 3-D works, and given that he’s responsible for some of the most vivid images in the history of American cinema, there’s a good chance that he’ll do more with the technology than just throw junk at the audience. Also, given that this is a story about movies, with a young protagonist on his own in Paris, Hugo Cabret should give Scorsese ample opportunity to pay homage to cinema itself, and to do his version of the European New Wave.

46. Kanye West & Jay-Z, Watch The Throne (TBD)
After topping all sorts of year-end lists (including ours) with his latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, what can Kanye West do for a follow-up? Allegedly, join forces with fellow top MC Jay-Z for a joint album. Initially conceived as an EP, Watch The Throne is due now as a full-length. It will be intriguing to see how Kanye follows the success of MBDTF. Though that album has many guests, Kanye’s singular, cohesive vision ties it together to make it the modern hip-hop masterpiece it is. Can he get the same results out of a collaboration with Jay-Z, whose game has lagged just a bit since he came out of “retirement” a few years ago? On paper, this could be one of rap’s greatest collaborations. It could also be a huge train wreck and letdown following Kanye’s 2010 success. Either way, it should prove entertaining.

47. The Last Guardian (TBD, late 2011)
Where a lot of pop culture defines itself with an excess of bluster and noise, game designer Fumito Ueda distinguishes himself by being quiet. Ueda is the reclusive creator of Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus, two of the most nuanced, heartwarming games of all time. (Ask gamers how they felt at the end of Ico and see if their eyes get a little misty.) Ueda is now at work on The Last Guardian, a spiritual successor to the two earlier games. About the only thing we can discern from the game so far is that it’s about a boy and his phoenix/cat/eagle-looking friend, and it hews to the same innocent, sun-dappled aesthetic that Ueda paints so well. Sony will try to stoke anticipation for Guardian by releasing 3-D, high-definition revisions of Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus in mid-2011, but Ueda doesn’t need the help. The less he talks, the more people listen.

48. Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (TBD, late 2011)
Their Adult Swim show is (probably) over and Chrimbus is just a trim, wet memory, so what will comedic button-pushers Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim do next? They’ll do a movie, that’s what. Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie will shoot in early spring of 2011 with a tentative release late in the year. Will it be a seemingly random collection of commercial parodies and non-sequitur skits about man-children? Probably not. Wareheim told us it’s “a real movie, with a plot.” Also out next year: a soft-rock album Heidecker recorded with Awesome Show composer (and voice of “Rolo Tony Brown Town”) Davin Wood.

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