Pop Goes the Culture: Boob tube breaks through in 2011 with top dramas
Pop Goes the Culture: Boob tube breaks through in 2011 with top dramas

A new year means many things to many people. For some it is a time of quiet reflection, for others, it is a time to hopefully look forward to a new year full of opportunity and for others still, it is a time to make sure that all of your laundered drug money is secure in secret offshore accounts. (That last one is really only applicable in Central America, southern Florida, and select presidential campaigns).

For critics like me, it is a time for “Best Of” lists which gives us an opportunity to look back on the entertainment world in 2011 and impose our will upon the pop-culture landscape. How could I possibly pass up such an opportunity? I now present my personal favorites in movies, music, and television from the past year. Please hold your applause until the end.

Music — I think that it is fairly safe to say that 2011 was pretty much owned by the booming voice of English songstress Adele. While Adele’s music is impressive enough on its own, I think she is remarkable for shattering the hard and fast rule of the past 30 years that a woman has to be a size zero, blonde or occasionally shoot fireworks out of various body parts to be a pop star.

Chunky girls can be talented too and bravo to Adele for busting through the silicone ceiling and delivering pop music that is actually worth listening to.

Even though Adele gets my vote for artist of the year, I have to give the nod for song of the year to “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People. This crossover hit is the peppiest song about a killing spree you’ll ever hear.

Television — TV was so good this year my DVR is still packed with remnants of 2011. Unfortunately, you had to pay for the best of it as the networks doubled down on reality and sitcoms leaving the cream of the crop to be found on cable.

It was a great year if you love to be scared between the freaky/kinky “American Horror Story” and the lumbering ghoulishness of “The Walking Dead.” Plus fantasy nerds finally got a place at the table with the outstanding “Game of Thrones.”

If you prefer your drama with fewer swords and gimp suits, 2011 still had plenty to offer with the debut of “Homeland” which more than filled the twisty, thrilling hole left in our lives by the end of “24.”

The prohibition-era, gangster drama “Boardwalk Empire” and “Justified,” the 21st Century’s version of “Gunsmoke” (and for my money the best-written show on TV), both enjoyed strong sophomore seasons.

But in spite of all this great television, choosing the best of the best was relatively easy (especially with “Mad Men” taking the year off to go buy more smokes) as “Breaking Bad” was the best show of 2011.

The systematic transformation of mild-mannered Walter White (Bryan Cranston in the role of a lifetime) from high-school chemistry teacher to drug kingpin has been amazing to watch.

No other show in the history of television has wrestled with issues of morality in such a compelling and entertaining way. As the show gears up for its final 16 episodes, it is entirely likely it will rule over 2012 as well.

Movies — It was a strange year for movies which might be another way of saying it wasn’t a very good year. There were plenty of good movies, but there weren’t really any great ones that stood out above the rest.

There is no clear favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picture, but the most likely choice, “The Artist,” is a feel-good, love-letter to Hollywood’s past that stands out mostly because it is an honest-to-goodness silent movie. There’s not a lot of substance as the movie works to simply warm your heart and tap your toe, and considering how lousy 2011 was for the country in general, it’s not surprising that people just want something to smile about. I’m OK with that.

Still, my favorite movie of the year had a little more dirt under its fingernails as “Drive” punched and kicked its way to the top of my list.

This movie brilliantly worked to elevate low art (the heist-gone-wrong movie) into high art, which the Tarantino admirer in me always loves.

Throw in some great turns from Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks, and Carey Mulligan, along with some of the best driving sequences this side of Steve McQueen, and “Drive” offered up a nifty little slice of neo-noir. Plus, it made scorpion-adorned racing jackets cool again (as if they were ever not cool).

Ultimately 2011 may be remembered more as a year we want to forget, but pop culture was still there to offer plenty of admirable distractions. Here’s to a better and brighter 2012.

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