The 20 Best TV Moments of 2011 - Rolling Stone
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The 20 Best TV Moments of 2011

From warlock’s blood and meth chefs to Kardashian nuptials, why we watched this year

Chris Haston/NBC; Nick Briggs; Gregory Peters/AMC ; Chris Haston/NBC

If anyone had the line that summed up this year, it would have to be Snooki. When the Jersey Shore gang traveled to Italy, she had these poignant words: "Como se dice  'This sucks balls'?" Good question, Snook. And more than ever, TV is where we went for the answers. As American culture found whole new ways to suck balls, TV got right to the heart of it all, from sublime drama to reality sleaze.

By Rob Sheffield

charlie sheen

Tom Briglia/WireImages

8. Charlie Sheen’s Bender

You knew it was too good to last, and it was. But his televised meltdown, interview by interview, was a thing of beauty, as this sitcom drone who seemed so tame and familiar suddenly exploded into – as he put it – a "total frickin' bitchin' rock star from Mars."

adam levine the voice

Chris Haston/NBC

7. Adam Levine Finds His Groove on ‘The Voice’

The breakout star of the surprise summer hit sat in that giant red chair like a pop-star version of a Bond villain – a "wheeler dealer schmealer," as Christina Aguilera called him. Who knew this guy was so smart or so funny?

childrens hospital

Darren Michaels

6. The ‘Childrens Hospital’ 70th Episode

These pervy Adult Swim doctors prove that more comedies should last 10 jam-packed minutes. No plots, no set-ups, no dead weight, just a barrage of morally reprehensible gags, from the hospital urine drive to the Party Down reunion. This stupendously pointless rapid-fire mastermix of 1970s sitcom cliches ("Ford, you turkey!" "Read between the lines, Iran!") was the year's kinkiest comedy highlight. My wife and I have watched this so many times, we recite the dialogue while waiting in line at the supermarket: "Cool out, woman! You want a lude?" "I want respect! I want my due! And I want a lude! Yes! I want one of those!" Which usually means we get the whole aisle to ourselves.

curb your enthusiasm

John P. Johnson

5. Larry David Tastes the ‘Palestinian Chicken’

This has all the elements of a cringe-core Curb Your Enthusiasm classic – when Larry's Palestinian sex goddess screams, "I'm going to fuck the Jew out of you," you worry your neighbors will overhear it through the walls and realize you're a horrible person. That's the essence of Curb: you realize that you really are a horrible person, and only a social assassin like Larry can force you to laugh at it.

parks and recreation

Chris Haston/NBC

4. The ‘Parks and Recreation’ Drink-Off

Parks and Rec jumped from one high to another all year, with Ron Swanson earning his turkeyburgers as the funniest character on TV. I love this guy. The rulebook for his scout troop just has three words ("Be a man") and he declares, "I only read nautical novels and my own personal manifestos." He even brags he made his wedding last two hours: "After the priest said, 'Repeat after me,' I fell silent." But he meets his match with the arrival of Tammy One – the ex-wife whose evil powers make Ron shave off his mustache. Leslie has to gather all the ferocious women in Ron's life – his gun-toting mama Tammy, the sex goddess Tammy Two, even April – to battle for his soul in an "old-fashioned prairie drink-off." The ladies heroically reunite the man and his facial hair, even after he warns them about Swanson family homebrew: "We used that stuff to burn the warts off mules!" For conservatives, Ron must be their fantasy of a godless American who turns out okay without Jesus; for the rest of us, he's our fantasy of a conversative with actual principles. But either way, nobody wants to see him stripped of his 'stache.

game of thrones

Nick Briggs

3. Ned Stark’s Execution on ‘Game of Thrones’

The good guy gets the axe? Right down to the final minutes, it seemed unthinkable they would go ahead and chop off the head of the one noble warrior in this corrupt kingdom. Sean Bean's last human gesture – spotting his daughter Arya in the crowd, and speaking one word of code ("Baelor!") to ensure her safety – made an already audacious scene devastating.

community

Lewis Jacobs/NBC

2. The ‘Critical Film Studies’ Episode of ‘Community’

The most brilliant half-hour of TV that aired in 2011, no question. All the absurdist satire – a parody of My Dinner With Andre, for fuck's sake – lurches into an intense moment of human interaction, as two twits struggle to have a "real conversation." ("You know who has real conversations? Ants! They talk by vomiting chemicals into each other's mouths!… Humans are more evolved. We lie.") You couldn't ask for a more succinct statement of what TV is, how TV works, and how TV brings people together, mostly by telling blatant lies to our faces that somehow mutate into real emotions. (Even if the moral of the story is, "Sometimes emotional breakthoughs are overrated.") Pure genius – no wonder NBC has it on the chopping block.

breaking bad

Gregory Peters/AMC

1. The ‘Breaking Bad’ Finale

The hands-down best drama on TV is a terrible commercial for meth, because most of us need a muscle relaxant or a stiff drink to get through the tension in each episode of Walter White's American journey into his own twisted soul. The killing of crime boss Gus Fring was Walter's ultimate triumph – a wheelchair suicide bomb that goes off in a nursing home, removing most of Gus's face, although he manages to straighten his tie one last time before he falls down dead. But it's also his ultimate defeat, because he's escaped nothing. More than ever, Walter is at the mercy of his most ruthless enemy – himself. That's the painful twist – Walter White likes himself this way, and after killing Gus, he's never been so proud of himself in his life. Which means he's still on the hook – and so are we.

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