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Summer School Report Card: What's Been the Show of the Season?

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It’s probably going to be a slow couple of weeks for coverage of current TV here because (1) it’s fall-screener season, which means I’m spending much of my time watching shows that won’t air for weeks or longer; and (2) it’s late August, so whaddyagonnado?

So this is as good a morning as any, before Labor Day, to look back at what was best on TV in summer 2011.

As far as returning shows are concerned, it’s no surprise to regular readers that I’ve been loving Breaking Bad and Louie. In its fourth season so far, I don’t think that Breaking Bad has quite equaled the colossal run it had in its third season last year, especially in the second half of the season, when it almost seemed unfair, following each stunning episode with an even more stunning one. Season 4 has started on a slow burn, but it has unflinchingly built on the end of the last season and turned up the pressure on its characters—and, of course, it’s only halfway through the season, so we may be at the point where the Aztek shifts into overdrive.

Meanwhile, season 2 of Louie really has been on the kind of tear that Breaking Bad experienced last year, in which an already very good show established itself as one of the best shows on TV, or perhaps the best, period. I’ve blogged enough about Louie lately that I won’t rehash the details, but come year-end, I can see myself in the same situation as last year with Breaking Bad, where I could defensibly put five or six of its episodes on my ten-best-episodes-of-the-year list. (Among them, so far: “Eddie,” “Country Drive,” “Moving,” Come On, God” and “Duckling,” to start.)

As for new shows, while I can’t point to any absolute creative blockbusters, there have been some pleasant surprises. I’ve already mentioned that The Hour was my favorite debut of the season. FX’s Wilfred, actually, was my favorite pilot of the summer; the series itself has been uneven—terrifically, darkly funny some weeks, sitcommy other weeks—but I’m a couple episodes behind (and have the final episodes to watch on screeners), so I may adjust my opinion there.

Another show on which I’ve happily adjusted my opinion is MTV’s Awkward., which I am inclined to try to put only at the end of sentences so as to avoid the period at the end of its title. This high-school comedy (about a girl, Jenna, who goes through a run of mocking, then popularity, after a bizarre accident that’s mistaken for a suicide attempt) put me off at first in the pilot, especially the Juno-esque voiceover (taken, naturally, from Jenna’s blog). But the show has struck a good balance between high-school snark, raunchy comedy and dry humor, as Jenna wrestles with the changes in her life and social status and we learn that neither the popular nor unpopular characters are as stereotypical as we might have assumed. It’s populated with people, not types, and that’s what makes a show like this worth sticking with. I won’t say that Awkward. is yet MTV’s new Daria—that being my all-time paragon of high-school satire, MTV or otherwise—but it’s at least taking up the cause, and I’d put it up with last year’s Huge as a summer teen show that’s broken out of its box.

This is an incomplete list, of course, and that’s where you come in: how do you rate the shows of summer 2011? Let us know before the days get too short.

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