For a decade now AFI has been releasing their esteemed view of what the year’s 10 best television shows were. On the one hand AFI is famously pompous and pretentious, but on the other hand they’ve done a good job or giving love to shows that are critically acclaimed if not popular (unlike the Emmys, AFI happily showered praise on The Wire). So let’s look at the list and then I’ll rattle off some things that I find rather striking.

Breaking Bad

Boardwalk Empire

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Game of Thrones

The Good Wife




Modern Family

Parks and Recreation

The most notably absent show is Mad Men. Even if Mad Men hadn’t taken 2011 off I’d agree with leaving it off the list because the theme of Mad Men is ‘lost virility’ or ‘lost vitality’ and unfortunately that theme has in fact gotten old and tiresome and past its prime. For award show fans this is an interesting omission because Mad Men’s chances for a Best Show Emmy have to be decidedly weak since they failed to make the cut while Breaking Bad was probably a unanimous choice for this list.

Speaking of shows judged not up to snuff, Glee and The Walking Dead are absent. The Walking Dead made the list last year, but given that season two was painfully slow and boring and, let’s be real, pointless, I have no qualms with it being ignored. Glee made the list two years in a row. I’ve never seen Glee, but I know I hate it so I’d argue that this is the first time in three years that the list has been entirely reasonable.

I have also never seen The Good Wife, but all reports are positive. What’s interesting is that it’s the only network drama that made the list and I can’t think of any other network drama that you could make a reasonable argument for. I suppose this is proof that networks are still capable of producing quality scripted dramas, but for whatever reason they don’t even try because it’s easier to do half-assed reality shows.

Boardwalk Empire is like marmite. I gave it a try and then spit out. To me it seemed to be formulaic, as if they were following a recipe that called for certain amounts of violence and certain amounts of sex and every episode had to have each of these ingredients in the right proportions and that mixology took precedence over the plot. But fans of the show tell me it progressed nicely, so maybe the plot didn’t get lost in the blood lust and lust lust after all.

Curb Your Enthusiasm. As with Breaking Bad I don’t know anyone who would argue against this pick. Because AFI only started making this list in 2001, they didn’t get a chance to critically view Seinfeld against everything else on TV, but one has to wonder if the brilliance of Curb is equal to or greater than the brilliance of Seinfeld in its heyday.

Louie is little bit like Curb, but more artsy. I love watching it but I fear that it will end up either being cancelled or Louis CK will pull a Dave Chappelle and just stop doing the show because he doesn’t want to deal with the fame it brings. Either way, it’s destined to be a critical success even though most people won’t watch it because it’s more of a comedy that examines the art of comedy itself.

Modern Family and Parks and Rec are two deserving shows in my opinion since I watch them with great joy each and every week. But the biggest thing to take away from these network comedies is that neither of them have a laugh track. I know networks like to appeal to the lowest common denominator on the presumption that people are dumb as rocks, but when it comes to television comedy perhaps people have seen enough of it to know when they are meant to laugh without the aid of canned studio laughter. Here’s hoping for a world without laugh tracks (I’m looking at you Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother).

Justified seems like it was the last one to eek into the list. It’s a fine show and all but in my mind it’s nothing to get hot and bothered about.

For my money, Game of Thrones and Homeland are the most interesting picks. AFI doesn’t have a problem throwing their weight behind shows that have only recently completed their first season but it’s nevertheless a dangerous proposition. Given that Game of Thrones is based on a series of books it’s a safe bet that the storyline will have enough meat to build on the strength of the first season. Homeland, however, worries me. I love Homeland, but I’m the guy who loved The Killing only to have all that great writing come unraveled at the end. I get the sense that Homeland is also falling into the trap of forgoing a satisfying resolution to season one so as to leave some plotlines to be used in season two. If that’s the case then don’t expect Homeland to make this list next year.