Critics’ Choice: The Best of 2011

For the third year in a row, TV Tonight turns to some of the nation's top critics and TV journalists for their picks of the year.

It’s that time of year again.

For the third year in a row, TV Tonight turns to some of the nation’s top critics and TV journalists for their picks of the year.

As an independent media, I am pleased to have the opportunity to bring together scribes who might otherwise not appear in the same space together. As you will see the categories are open to interpretation, with some adding more than one choice, and some being downright cheeky with their answers.

This year the pool of critics has expanded, with the roll call of participants as follows:

RC: Richard Clune, Sunday Telegraph.
AM: Andrew Mercado, The Playlist.
GS: Geoff Shearer, Courier Mail.*
MH: Melinda Houston, Sunday Age.
DS: Debbie Schipp, Sunday Telegraph.*
GH: Greg Hassall, Sydney Morning Herald.
EM: Erin McWhirter, TV Week.
HB: Holly Byrnes, Daily Telegraph.
SY: Sue Yeap, West Australian.*
KQ: Karl Quinn, The Age.*
AMD: Amanda Meade, The Australian.
AMF: Andrew Murfett, The Age.*
JM: James Manning, MediaWeek.
* new

BEST AUSSIE DRAMA: The Slap (Runner Up: Paper Giants).
RC: The Slap was a standout in what was the year’s best drama. Melissa George well and truly buried (Home and Away’s) Angel Parish, especially for those who missed In Treatment. Even Alex Dimitriades was good in a stunning outing that should be highlighted in terms of performance, scripting and direction. The Slap proved what we can do when talent aligns on both sides of the camera.

AM: The Slap. You could put it in a time capsule because it was all about Australia right now. How many other local dramas can you say that about?

GS: The Slap: Excellent scripting matched by the great ensemble of actors, means we can proudly say we’ve reached a maturity in Aussie drama.

MH: Offspring. Worked as a comedy, worked as a drama, and an exponential improvement on S1

DS: Paper Giants and The Slap. Asher Keddie and Rob Cartlton both the brilliant in Paper Giants. The Slap, simply gob-smacking drama.

GH: The Slap. Good book, superb series. It didn’t try to squeeze everything from the book in, allowing the episodes to unfold slowly and a superb cast to shine. Honourable mentions to Cloudstreet and Paper Giants.

HB: There wasn’t a weak episode or weak actor on The Slap. Melissa George was a stand-out for me: from Angel (Home & Away) to this, wow!

SY: The Slap, Paper Giants.

KQ: The Slap. Hands down, the most thoughtful, well-constructed, well-written, -directed and -acted bit of television drama I’ve seen out of this country in a long time. Not much joy if you’re looking for role models, but a bitingly accurate portrayal of the private and public bits of our lives that some of us (well, some of you) would really rather not have exposed.

AMD: The Slap. It’s the most moving, thought provoking local drama I’ve seen in years. The acting was first class and the production flawless. What a pity there’s not a sequel in it!

AMF: The Slap.

JM: The Slap – possibly the best work some of the actors in this have ever done, with Paper Giants a close second.

BEST AUSSIE COMEDY: TIE: At Home with Julia / The Hamster Wheel
RC: In a year without Lowdown I loved ABC2’s Twentysomething – taut writing, good acting and just a whole heap of fun.

AM: Although more of a dramedy, nothing made me laugh longer or louder all year than Offspring.

GS: At Home With Julia: Spot-on satire that didn’t overstay it’s welcome. Kudos to the ABC for going ahead with it.

MH: I’d say Angry Boys but in the end it wasn’t really a comedy, was it? It somehow created its own genre…

DS: Brynne Edelsten hosting The Morning Show.

GH: At Home With Julia. The satire was a bit soft but Phil Lloyd’s portrayal of Tim was a wonderful balance of humour and pathos.

EM: When Twentysomething landed on my desk I thought “Here we go again”, but refreshingly it proved me wrong. Creators and stars Jess Harris and Josh Schmidt found a fan in me after watching the first two episodes of this outrageously hilarious six-part comedy. While the rest of the series didn’t hit the same marks as those launch episodes, Twentysomething took you back to the good old days of cob loaf dips and awkward house parties. Pure gold.

HB: The Hamster Wheel. Media Watch with a sense of humour.

SY: The Chaser – Hamster Wheel.

KQ: Wilfred, the American version. Brilliant.

AMD: The Hamster Wheel.

AMF: Angry Boys.

JM: At Home with Julia.

BEST AUSSIE LIGHT ENTERTAINMENT: Spicks and Specks (Runner Up: The Gruen Transfer)

AM: 60 Minutes because you sure couldn’t describe it as heavy-hitting anymore.

GS: Spicks And Specks: In it’s final season, nothing really changed to make it any better or worse – and that’s just how, and why, we love it.

MH: Toss up between Gruen Transfer/Planet and Spicks’n’Specks

DS: Spicks n Specks. And to top it all off they knew the value of leaving us wanting more.

GH: Gruen Transfer. OK, it’s not light but it was very entertaining. Smart, too.

HB: Spicks & Specks. Surely worthy of a knock-off next year, if we have to go without the original.

SY: Gruen Transfer/Gruen Planet.

KQ: RocKwiz.

AMD: Spicks and Specks. Adam Hills shows how to bow out gracefully and how to leave when you’re on top. A class act.

AMF: Joy of Sets.

JM: The Morning Show.

BEST AUSSIE REALITY: The Block (Runner Up: Celebrity Apprentice).
RC: The Block… Forget the failed auction night, the series proved perfect reality fodder – exemplary casting, slick editing and not too much of Scott Cam. What’s not to like? I also salute The X Factor – with Mel B on the panel and some arguably talented kids out front, the second series (on Seven) proved its worth.

AM: The Celebrity Apprentice. Never before have so many “celebrities” ruined their own careers through narcissism and delusion.

GS: In a lacklustre field, Celebrity Apprentice Australia broke through by being a surprise celebration of the train wreck that it was.

MH: Still Masterchef for me.

DS: The Block. A triumph of top casting and the stripped format.

GH: Australia’s Next Top Model. Superb production values from Shine and the strongest (and nicest) bunch of contestants yet.

EM: The Block, without a doubt was the stand out reality show of the year. Great mix of contestants and drama, thanks to producers up scaling the renovation from a unit to an entire house! Couldn’t have asked for better TV. In a clever move, the Nine Network also resurrected the 7pm timeslot as the right time for family friendly reality. Years ago it was Big Brother that helped Network Ten to victory in the early days in the exact same timeslot. Nine saw an opportunity and took it with both hands.

HB: The Block and one of my guilty pleasures, Dinner Date. So bad you couldn’t look away.

SY: MasterChef, Celebrity Apprentice Australia

KQ: Grand Designs Australia. Peter Maddison is a natural, with a real gift for the human angle as well as an infectious enthusiasm for the architectural.

AMD: The Celebrity Apprentice was fun because the celebrities were so bitchy. And Deni Hines and Max Markson just imploded in front of us! Gold!

AMF: The Amazing Race Australia.

JM: The Block.

BEST AUSSIE DOCO / FACTUAL: Go Back To Where You Came From 
RC: SBS’ Go Back To Where You Came From was acutely powerful. Exploring the adage ‘I’m not racist, but…”, this shone a bright spotlight on the oft-deplorable attitude Australians have towards refugees and ultimately prompted some solid discussion regarding acceptance. Rightly seen as a standout series both here and abroad it’s not surprising to learn the format is set to be localised in several international markets.

AM: Recipe for Murder on ABC1. Who knew that housewives in the 1950s were killing their husbands with rat poison and getting away with it?

GS: Forecast For Disaster: La Nina Strikes: This two-hour doco was a comprehensive and informative wrap of the 2011 Queensland floods. Probably not the best doco aired in Australia this year but it had the most resonance for our State.

MH: In Their Footsteps one of the most underrated local shows of the year, although I’m also loving Who’s Been Sleeping in My House. And actually, now I come to think of it, Three Boys Dreaming was sensational.

DS: SBS’s Go Back To Where You Came From. Confronting and controversial.

GH: Go Back to Where You Came From. It was everything an SBS documentary should be – timely, provocative and smart. Honourable mention to the SBS documentary Scarlet Road, which tackled a difficult subject magnificently.

HB: Outback Kids, a powerful 4-part doco on ABC1 highlighting the controversial work of Alan Brahminy. Heart-breaking at times, but tough love at its best.

SY: Go Back To Where You Came From.

KQ: Go Back To Where You Came From, for all the reasons everyone else will mention.

AMD: Go Back to Where You Came From.

AMF: Media Watch / Go Back (SBS).

JM: My Kitchen Rules (don’t think it qualifies for this category, but want to get it in somewhere!)

BEST OF PAY TV (Aussie): Cloudstreet (Runner Up: Killing Time.)
RC: Cloudstreet: Realising a novel that is affectionately held in the collective Australian psyche was never going to be easy – so all credit to director Matt Saville and his robust cast (Essie Davis, Geoff Morell, Todd Lascance, Stephen Curry, Kerry Fox and Hugo Johnstone-Burt) for bringing to life this surrealist, dusty tale that was captivating from start to finish. Brilliant.

AM: Cloudstreet directed by Matthew Saville who also helmed the best two episodes of The Slap “Harry (Alex Dimitriades) and “Connie” (Sophie Lowe).

GS: Cloudstreet: Beautifully and lyrically shot, television doesn’t get much better than this. All the cast shone, but Kerry Fox was pitch perfect.

MH: Spirited. Crushed there won’t be another season. SLiDe was also excellent.

DS: Cloudstreet. Exquisite.

GH: Cloudstreet. A stunning achievement to capture the otherwordly nature of the book.

HB: Slide, incredible nursery for our next gen of actors.

SY: Spirited.

KQ: Tangle season 2. That was this year, wasn’t it? Can’t wait for season 3.

AMD: Killing Time.

AMF: Selling Houses Australia / Killing Time.

JM: Tie: Cloudstreet and Killing Time plus Grand Designs Australia.

BEST INTERNATIONAL SHOW:  Downton Abbey (Runner Up: Game of Thrones).
RC: My colleagues, I’m sure, will highlight the obvious brilliance of Boardwalk Empire. And sure it was good, but as a weekly international destination nothing else prompted devotion like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. A world shrouded in secrecy and general distrust of ‘us’, this was so much more than a simple voyeuristic peek behind the garish clothes and blunt manner of so-called gypos.

AM: This is England ’86 on SBS. And now they’re making This is England ’88 and This is England ’90. Beyond brilliant.

GS: Game Of Thrones: Not only outstanding acting and art direction but plot twists that literally left your head spinning.

MH: Game of Thrones. Blew. My. Mind.

DS: Downton Abbey – period drama meets sexy soap. Addictive.

GH: Game of Thrones. HBO’s first foray into fantasy was a triumph – superbly written and acted and beautiful to look at.

EM: The ABC may have bonnet dramas filling their screens regularly, but when Downton Abbey made its debut Australia took notice. Powerful, well cast, well shot and with plenty of intrigue to keep you glued to the screen, there’s was never a dull moment inside the walls of the Grantham’s castle.

HB: Downton Abbey. The frocks, the Turk, the intelligent writing.

SY: Downton Abbey.

KQ: Breaking Bad. I’ve come late to this sensational drama, and have crammed the first three seasons into the past few weeks. Just started on season four and I can’t wait to see where Walter White’s self-deception and moral duplicity leads him, and poor Jesse, next.

AMF: Downton Abbey/Come Fly With Me/The Good Wife/Sons of Anarchy.

JM: Downton Abbey.

HIDDEN GEM OF THE YEAR (Aussie or international):  American Horror Story (Runner Up: Game of Thrones / Friday Night Lights).
RC: I used to loathe the idea of Sunday Best – not any more, thanks to ABC2’s brilliant series of documentaries. From some familiar titles worth watching again – Hoop Dreams, The Falling Man – to some touching films I was unaware of, this series made Sunday night bearable. Nods to ABC1’s Wide Open Rd also – I didn’t expect to enjoy this societal/car journey as much as I did.

AM: If you love Aussie TV, no show had as many hilarious in-jokes as the second series of The Jesters. Give Deborah Kennedy her own spin-off series as the droll talent manager.

GS: American Horror Story: Ten flicked this fright fest to the graveyard that is Eleven. Sure it’s campy, sure it’s over-acted and sure it’s fantastic.

MH: Probably Thrones or SLiDE. Maybe Rush. A tragedy more people wouldn’t watch it, especially as this last season was best yet. I’ll put American Horror Story in here too. A small audience, but man, what a great show. And Three Boys Dreaming.

DS: American Horror Story – utterly twisted and the only thing about it being on 11 is that it will see out the season. Friday Night Lights – wasted in Friday night timeslot on the ABC. Suits on Seven – good show, wrong timeslot. Embarrassing Bodies – you’d be surprised how many people including me have that one as their guilty pleasure.

GH: This is England ’86 (SBS), Friday Night Lights (ABC2), Spirited (W).

EM: You’d always get to the end of an episode of Pretty Little Liars and want more thanks to a mysterious carrot left dangling. Of course, the greatest mystery of all is who “A” was and that kept me sucked into the program for hours. Shameless might leave you feeling uneasy as you watch it with its hard-hitting storylines on an alcoholic father of a tribe of kids, but at its core the story is relatable and peppered with finding humour in the bad. Great piece of television.

HB: The Bachelorette. Don’t judge me (or Kathy McCabe). And from the worthy category, The Big C, absolutely buried by Nine on, coincidentally, Gem!

SY: American Horror Story.

KQ: Game of Thrones. Raucous, ribald, richly textured and frequently ridiculous. The show’s got its knockers, but…

AMD: The Block. Well, it wasn’t really hidden but it was an unexpected hit. Everyone thought The Block would come a poor second to The Renovators.

AMF: Joy of Sets – deserved better audience. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

JM: Fashion Police (E!) Anything with Joan Rivers is watchable – even arguing with daughter Melissa on their E! reality show about moving to LA.

STARS OF THE YEARAnna McGahan,  Julia Morris, Asher Keddie, Todd Lasance, Lincoln Lewis, Hamish Macdonald.
RC: Todd Lasance – Cloudstreet, one of the better aspects of Crownies, he’s one of our most promising youngsters with much more to come in 2012. Asher Keddie and Rob Carlton – they made Paper Giants the success it was and about time Carlton landed some decent recognition. Happy he’s walking Kerry Packer back over to Nine next year. Mel B – I’m glad she wasn’t deported as the former Spice Girl inhabited the snide reality TV judge with aplomb – the show would likely have suffered without her.

AM: Anna McGahan (Underbelly: Razor), Indiana Evans (Crownies).

GS: Anna McGahan: The Underbelly Razor star left us wondering, is she the new Cate Blanchett?

MH: Lincoln Younes and Blake Davis – both serious talent to watch.

DS: Chelsie Preston Crayford – Underbelly Razor; Asher Keddie (Paper Giants, Offspring) Lincoln Lewis – (Slide Underbelly Razor)

EM: It was almost like save the best for last when Julia Morris relaunched herself into the Aussie public domain with her gold one-liners on Celebrity Apprentice Australia. She may have been around for donkey’s years before her turn on the reality show, but boy has she cemented herself as one of the stars of 2011 to watch.

HB: Hamish Macdonald, reporter on 6.30 with George Negus. No other man can rock a sharp suit with the appropriate smarts on the streets of Kabul. Deserves his own vehicle.

SY: Lincoln Lewis, John Batchelor, Rachael Finch.

KQ: Jack Vidgen.

AMD: Julia Morris showed what a talent she is finally getting recognition in her 40s.

AMF: Wil Anderson.

JM: Kylie Merritt and Bridie Barry on Sky News Business. Hamish Macdonald on TEN.

TOMORROW: The Worst of 2011, Trends of 2011.

22 Responses

  1. Playing the central character in both Offspring and Paper Giants this year, I think Asher Keddie is most definitely the star of the year!

    For me, the best Aussie drama is Offspring. The Slap was different, but as a whole I don’t think it worked as well as Offspring, which really improved from its first season.

    I don’t have a favourite reality show this year… They all have faults.

    Best International show: Big Love on SBS.

    Hidden Gem: Parks and Recreation on Channel Seven.

  2. Agree with The Slap – thought provoking and lovely to watch, as was Paper Giants. Sorry to see that Sons of Anarchy didn’t get much of a mention – definitely my favourite show this year, followed closely by Suits (agree with DS on the time slot – more people should be watching it).

  3. Agree with all of those in the Stars category but where’s Danielle Cormack? She was great as ‘Scarlett’ in Rake but absolutely outstanding as ‘Kate Leigh’ in Underbelly: Razor… definitely worthy of recognition for that performance alone!

  4. how does AGT not get one mention when it was the highest rating series of the year? to say the apprentice is runner up over AGT is ridiculous in the reality genre…. it never even beat H&A head to head?

  5. If TV is some of these people’s lives to critique, I can’t believe that they forget what year a show has aired and miss shows like Breaking Bad til now??

    On a side note, no South Australian critics available?

  6. Good to see such high praise for Game of Thrones and The Hamster Wheel.

    I agree with the comment Suits is underrated. My favourite series I’ve seen this year – charming, witty and engaging.

    Teen Wolf and Homeland have both also been pleasant surprises – both thoroughly entertaining when I didn’t expect them to be that good

  7. Downton Abbey?! Yes, it’s glossy and extremely well-made. But it’s museum TV, without anything new to say or any obvious relevance. Compare it with Boardwalk Empire or Mad Men – also both period, but both attempting a deeper analysis of the American Dream, while examining various issues relevant to today. And exploring aspects of history not already raked over again and again for entertainment. I’m also surprised nobody mentioned The Good Wife – every bit as slick and glossy as Downton, but about five times smarter and infinitely more daring. It’s hard doing something new. It’s relatively easy dishing out what everyone knows the audience will lap up.

  8. How did Asher Keddie make it to the stars of the year summary? She got one vote as did Wil Anderson, Jack Vidgen,Rachel Finch, etc, who didn’t make the summary.

  9. Just reading through (and vigorously nodding in agreement at) all the shows mentioned in the Aussie categories just reminds me how good our local product is (and that I have watched waaaay to much TV this year… but loved every second of it!).

  10. Good to see American horror story get some recognish. But way to much credit to the Block, sure it was addictive and popular. But the production values, editing and casting left a lot to be desired. TARA was the best reality.

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