Huddle: The biggest surprises of 2011


With 2011 drawing to a close, we asked our writers: What surprised you most this year?

Trish Bendix: My surprise favorite of 2011 is NBC’s Up All Night. I had no intention of loving a sitcom about parenting a new baby. In fact, I thought it would be lackluster because, as star Christina Applegate says, babies ruin shows. Babies can be really boring or annoying to put in plot lines, so a whole show about one just reeks of suck. But listen to this! Up All Night is not about that baby! Up All Night is about a hilarious couple (Applegate and Will Arnett) who are trying to remain hip and cool while also being good parents to their newborn, Amy. They want their young hipster neighbors to think they’re awesome, but they also want to be the best at nursery rhyme creation in toddler music class. And Applegate’s BFF/boss, Maya Rudolph, as the Oprah-esque Ava provides even more comedy gold. I was sold from the screener and find myself looking forward to new episodes every week. And Amy the baby is kind of cute. THERE I SAID IT.

Bridget McManus: My surprise favorites of 2011 are the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and Zooey Deschanel’s comedy series New Girl. Although I’m a Winfrey fan I didn’t realize how much time I’d spend devoted to Oprah’s feel good series Super Soul Sunday, Oprah’s Lifeclass and journalist Lisa Ling‘s eye-opening show Our America. I believe that OWN is making the world a better place one episode at a time. (p.s. While watching OWN make sure you have a box of tissues nearby.)

Now don’t hate me, but I must admit I’ve never been a fan of the Deschanel sisters. (Sorry Zooey and Emily.) It’s not that I don’t like them it’s just that my attitude tends to be indifferent when I see them in projects. But after watching every episode of the hilarious Fox show New Girl I am now a huge fan of Zooey and her physical comedy. When I’m wrong I admit it. Emily and Zooey, I was wrong. Please forgive me. Love, Bridget

Emily Hartl: Up All Night! I figured it would have to be at least mildly funny what with it’s all-star lineup and whatnot, but it is off the hook awesome. Leave it to Christina Applegate and Will Arnett to make a show that is seemingly centered around a baby not really about a baby at all. LOVE IT SO HARD.

Mia Jones: I’d have to say my favorite surprise was following Ellen Barkin on Twitter. I’ve known some of her work as an actress, but when Jezebel tweeted something about Ellen Barkin being a must-follow, I had to do a Google image search to make sure I was thinking of the same woman. I had no clue what a foul-mouthed, hilarious, trend-setter she would be. F-bombs are what’s for breakfast and I’m eating it up in my “P-muthaflippin-Js”

Courtney Gillette: I never properly got into The Office, so it was such an awesome surprise for Mindy Kaling to become the biggest girl crush on my radar this year. She’s hilarious, loves Beyonce (me too, girl!), is a hoot on Twitter, loves her friends and family unabashedly, and is an uber-talented writer when television seriously lacks female writers. Her book cemented me as a Mindy fan, and has charmed everyone else, too, seeing as it’s been on The NY Times Best Seller List for six weeks now. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Erika Kimpel: I couldn’t have picked a more lez-free show if I tried, but I just can’t seem to stop watching Parenthood. Who’d have thunk that child induced hetero-drama could be so gosh darn entertaining. Not since my Grey’s Anatomy obsession have I gotten so weepy when they cue the poignant, lesson-learned, fingers crossed for Brandi Carlile song at the end of an episode.

The LinsterI love that I love Homeland. Granted, a Claire Danes vehicle was going to get my attention regardless, but what a joy and relief that the show turned out to be my favorite new show of the year. Stories about terrorist threats are certainly not new, but Homeland managed to find a new twist by keeping us in suspense about whether POW Nick Brody returned home a covert to Al Qaeda, ready to carry out a terrorist plot on U.S. soil.

As Carrie, Danes showed us her acting chops, giving us an accurate portrayal of a highly intelligent CIA agent secretly living with Bipolar Disorder. Danes went to the very edge, especially when Carrie was off her meds for a few days and went into mania, but she never went beyond it. And she deserves an Emmy for the role. Damien Lewis was also terrific as the returned POW Sgt. Nick Brody, a man broken by eight years in captivity, but with sincere beliefs about what he was doing and a genuine love for his family. Just as Carrie demonstrated that a person living with mental illness could be highly intelligent and good at her job, Nick demonstrated that being a devout Muslim could be completely separate from political ideology.

After promoting The Killing so enthusiastically, only to be frustrated by the way the show refused to resolve its mystery, Homeland was a delight. The twist at the end of every episode made the week until the next seem eternal. And the finale answered enough questions to give us some resolution while presenting new cliffhangers that will drive us insane until next season. TV doesn’t get much better than this.

Karman Kregloe: When I heard comparisons of the new ABC show Happy Endings to Friends, I was done before I even started. I never got Friends, so I wasn’t even going to give Happy Endings a chance. But my wife loves it and constantly quotes really funny and strange dialogue from the show. (Plus, it stars Elisha Cuthbert, who will always be The Girl Next Door to me.) So I grudingly watched an episode and was immediately hooked. Who are these freaks? And I’m glad that Saturday Night Live couldn’t figure out what to do with Casey Wilson while they had the chance, because I’m sure they would have just wasted her talent by keeping her in the background of a barrage of unfunny sketches. In Happy Endings, I get to watch her front and center and stealing the show each week!

Heather Hogan: From the first moment I met her, my girlfriend has been trying to cajole me into watching Friday Night Lights. For almost a whole year I was like, “I’m from Georgia! I grew up in football culture! I hate football culture!” She finally talked me into watching the pilot episode and three minutes in, I was in love. Friday Night Lights may actually be my favorite television show ever. The best part? Grandma Saracen. Hands off her tapioca pudding, Matthew!

(This totally counts as a 2011 surprise because the show didn’t officially end until this year.)

What were some of your favorite surprises of 2011?