2011 was a spectacularly interesting year for television. So much promised by so many, and so few delivered. As we reflect on what the year has offered, there are some suprising candidates to fill the categories I’ve decided best represent the year of TV we watched. (N.B. I’ve not included any from subscription TV as I didn’t really have access to it so can’t comment. Which reminds me, I really need to see Game Of Thrones – it seems to have been the one show that everyone was talking about on Twitter that I completely missed.)

Best: Go Back To Where You Came From [SBS one]
(Notable mentions: Paper Giants [ABC1]; Gruen franchise [ABC1]; Breaking Bad [ABC2]; The (7PM) Project [Ch10]; Underbelly Razor [Ch9]; The Slap [ABC1]; Hungry Beast [ABC1]; Modern Family [Ch10])
It wasn’t the highest rating show of the year but it absolutely was the most compelling. Spectacular casting and a stellar premise meant we had to watch to see how the participants would react to the next twist and turn. Most importantly it opened serious debate on the motivations of asylum seekers and what they face once they commit to trying to get into Australia when seeking refuge.

Worst: Ben Elton’s Life From Planet Earth [Ch9]
(Notable mention: Night With The Stars [Ch7]; Australia’s Got Talent [Ch7]; Between The Lines [Ch9]; Top Gear Australia [Ch9])
In the end, it was Elton’s ego that killed it. The man responsible for Blackadder & The Young Ones couldn’t repeat his success when he insisted on writing everything himself. Then, in the face of bad reviews after episode one and the chorus of disappointment from social media channels, he decided a good idea would be to have a swing back in his opening monologue in episode two. Yeah, like that was going to calm everything down. It’s such a shame as an extremely talented cast were given so little to work with and were dragged down with Admiral Elton as the ship went down beneath him.

Biggest disappointment: 6PM/6:30 With George Negus
(Notable mentions: Angry Boys [ABC1]; Wild Boys [Ch7]; Top Design [Ch9]; Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year [Ch9]; twentysomething [ABC2]; Glee [Ch10]; MasterChef [Ch10], Q&A [ABC1])
This was a tough one to call as so many shows could have taken this one out, but in the it was the Negus-led current affairs experiment that was the biggest disappointment (in it’s various timeslots). Not because the show wasn’t very good, rather the market wasn’t ready for what was on offer so early in the night. When shows like Today Tonight regularly rate in the Top 5 programs for the night how was an actual current affairs show going to survive? 6PM/6:30 had Walkley Award-winning stories, and a schedule of reporters that other shows envied… it just needed a later timeslot.

Biggest surprise: Downton Abbey [Ch7]
(Notable mentions: Adam Hills In Gordon Street Tonight [ABC1]; At Home With Julia [ABC1]; Celebrity Apprentice Australia [Ch9]; My Kitchen Rules [Ch7])
The promos should have warned us. A period drama with contemporary music could never be that that good, could it? It was, and the goings on of the Crawley family within the confines of the Grantham estate could not have been more delicious. Costumes and characters straight from the turn of the 20th Century, and the tension of the class system just starting to lose its grip. I certainly swooned when Anna professed her love for Mr Bates. Can. Not. Wait. for season two in 2012.

Snuck under the radar: Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey [ABC1]
(Notable mentions: Can Of Worms [Ch10]; The Joy Of Sets [Ch9]; Laid [ABC1]; Good News World [Ch10])
A strikingly honest, hilarious, self-deprecating and insightful look by comedian Judith Lucy at a journey of faith and where she might have left it (and could she find it again). The ABC keep offering up gems like this and more people should be paying attention.

Where The Bloody Hell Were You?: Mad Men [SBS one]
(Notable mentions: Downton Abbey Season 2 [Ch7]; Episodes [Ch9]; Mr Sunshine [Ch9])
I understand the deals that the free-to-air networks have with first run and repeat airings of shows, and the swapsies they regularly play. We’ve only seen two seasons of Mad Men on FTA so far, placing us well behind the eight ball compared with what’s been shown in the US and on subscription TV in Australia. Even though Season 3 is finally coming to our screens in 2012, we’re all better off purchasing the DVD box sets from Amazon (if you’ve not seen it already).

Biggest move: Chrissie Swan’s Logie for Best New Talent AND Gold Logie nomination AND quitting The Circle
(Notable mentions: Karl Stefanovic wins the Gold Logie; Ch9’s handling of Kerri-Anne Kennerly; Sarah Murdoch quits Australia’s Next Top Model for ???)
What a ride Chrissie Swan has had in 2011 – A Logie, a Gold Logie nomination, a new radio afternoon hour with Yumi Stynes on ARN and then the shock she’s quitting TV for a breakfast radio spot in Melbourne. There’s no question she’ll kill it and likely lift the station to some of it’s highest ratings in some time, but it’s a curious move for one who seemed to have a network TV career laid out before her. Hurry back to our screens, Chrissie… please.

Stupidest move: Jordan Paris’s joke plagiarism
(Notable mention: Choppergate)
In these days of YouTube and everything being on the internet, how did Jordan Paris think he’d get away with copying VERBATIM large chunks of another comedian’s work? TWICE?! Once exposed, he fessed up and had a go at delivering a spot of his own “comedy”, but he really had no chance. He’s now an alleged magician and working on his own reality show (of course). He’s probably copied all that from someone too.

Best Repeat: Sherlock [Ch9]
(Notable mention: Go Back To Where You Came From [SBS one])
Only three episodes, but Channel 9’s decision to replay what was a spectacular end to 2010 at the end of 2011 reminded us all just how intriguing and compelling this series was. The good news is that three more episodes air in the UK from New Year’s Day, though we’ll have to wait for them until March to see them on Ch9.

If only the audience knew better : Australia’s Got Talent [Ch7]
There was no way – NO. WAY. – Jack Vidgen was going to lose Australia’s Got Talent this year. The kid could sing and had a great look, but Channel 7 producers and executives fell over themselves to make sure as many people knew he was on their show as possible, including promos for the “competition” featuring solely Jack, or Jack as the feature in them. The audience lapped it up, but like a frog in a pot of water that gets increasingly hotter they didn’t seem to notice that what they were being fed was appallingly one-eyed. For a competition.

2011 was the year of: Disaster Porn.
Floods. Cyclone. Tsunami & resulting nuclear disaster. Eathquakes. A Royal Wedding. It offered an amazing insight into the lengths TV networks will go to so that they are first with the pictures, or first with the best pictures, or best with the first pictures or something. They had a lot of practice in delivering the latest disaster to our TV screens promptly and at times seemed to revel in it. It brought forth new faces delivering some great stories, some old heads going above and beyond, and some network stars proving they’re overpaid and over-exposed. We can be certain that whatever the next disaster is, wherever it is, we’ll be able to see it and learn all about it from the comfort of our couch be it on TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

My blog; my opinion. Besides, these things are all so fluid – as soon as you start thinking about the year you realise there’s all these other shows you forgot! I do look forward to hearing your thoughts on all of these matters and all the shows I missed…