The 2011-12 television season ends in a few weeks, so it’s time to render a few judgments on what kind of year it has been for the veteran shows that make up the backbone of all network schedules. Here are some quickie opinions on some shows that we don’t always write about here, along with my view of whether their quality was up or down this past season. Keep in mind that a great show that is “down” is still going to be better than an average show that is “up” – these series are being compared to their own pasts only.
CSI: DOWN. I don’t think there’s any fault here for Ted Danson or Elisabeth Shue – it’s just been around for a long, long time, and they’ve done all they can do.
Celebrity Apprentice: UP. The very definition of guilty pleasure. You have to give the producers credit for coming up with yet another strong cast of lunatics, because who could have foreseen someone like Aubrey O’Day happening?
Community: DOWN. This is a very relative term – its second season was one that people will be obsessing over for years to come, so it’s no sin to have not quite gotten to that level this time around. It’s the curse of consistent excellence.
Desperate Housewives: DOWN. Ironic that a show infamous for coming up with shocking ways to suddenly kill people off is limping to its own death in such a boring fashion.
Glee: UP. It’s still incoherent and disappointing much of the time, but that’s an improvement over the “most of the time” of Season Two. Reducing Matthew Morrison to a virtual supporting actor has been a wise choice indeed.
Grey’s Anatomy: DOWN. A few things have “happened” – the death of a doctor’s spouse, the possible breakup of the Christina-Owen marriage – but none of it has been truly compelling. A total rethink may be in order.
Happy Endings: UP. The first few episodes showed promise, but the surprise lease on life a year ago at this time freed everyone up to make this one of the best comedies on television. This may not have a long life, but we’ll worry about that later.
House: UP. This series has been heading downhill for years, so it has been a mild and pleasant surprise to see it rally to a slight extent in its final months. We can hope for a finale worthy of its legacy.
How I Met Your Mother: DOWN. And that’s well down – this qualifies as the first season where HIMYM really hasn’t been good at all, not that the ratings are suffering. The actors look like they’re just passing the time at this point.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: DOWN. The big question coming into the season was whether SVU could not just survive after the departure of a major cast member, but thrive – something that occurred plenty on the parent show. This season would seem to say no.
Modern Family: DOWN. Yes, it’s down from a very high peak, but I can think of a half-dozen episodes from the first season that were better than anything in Season Three.
NCIS: DOWN. Hey, it’s the ninth season. They’re allowed to coast a little bit. This show is still technically a procedural, but it’s probably the stability of its cast that keeps it on top. People like these characters.
Parks and Recreation: UP. Clearly the best show on the major networks at this point, with the TV season’s single best episode, “The Treaty.” Singling someone out in a cast where everyone is killing it is unfair, but can Adam Scott please get some Emmy love this summer?
Raising Hope: UP. There seems to be a theme here: Sitcoms that were marginal in their first season gaining strength in their second. This show deserves a bigger audience that it’s getting; now that New Girl is making people think of Fox for live action comedy, it might still happen.
Saturday Night Live: DOWN. Aside from Taran Killam’s emergence as a cast member who might be able to one day carry the show, and some surprisingly daring musical guests, this has been an uneventful year. Elections typically bring out the best in SNL, so this is a little alarming.
Survivor: One World: DOWN. This is a hard one, because even the most dull Survivor seasons usually have a dynamic that makes them unique. But this season’s primary motivating force – a men’s team comprised of a bigoted saboteur and several people who probably need help remembering their own names – made it painful to watch most of the time.
The Big Bang Theory: UP. Curiously, the show seems to have become more of an ensemble even as Jim Parsons has started winning Emmys as a lead character. There’s still lots of life here, at a phase where most comedies are getting into middle age.
The Good Wife: DOWN. Still one of the better shows on its procedural-heavy network, and the cast is amazingly deep – but this so-called “quality soap” could use more of the former and less of the latter next season.
The Middle: UP. A lot of sitcoms begin to come into their own around the third season, once writers and cast have gotten in sync. We seem to have reached that point with The Middle, which has been the most unfairly obscure show on the major networks for most of its time on the air.
The Office: DOWN. Let’s not talk about it.
The Simpsons: UP. Do they have a couple of really good new writers? No question the show repeats itself constantly, but by any stretch, this has been one of the better Simpsons seasons in this current century.