The Best in Black Television 2011

Television
by Curtis Caesar John
December 23, 2011 3:21 PM
12 Comments
  • |

This hasn’t exactly been a banner year for Black television or Black folks in television yet there are some standouts that should be recognized and applauded as the Best of Black Television 2011!

Best New Attempt – Reed Between The Lines

Insert successful and subjectively attractive Black man and wife. Add three cute and precocious kids. Drop a splash of a classic Black sitcom star as a supporting character along with standard sitcom couple and family situations, and oh…Have one of those parents be a Cosby kid.  Stir, don’t shake because it’s not that kind of party, and you have Kellie R. Griffin’s sitcom Reed Between The Lines.  As a standard sitcom, it’s pretty good though a bit dry at times. It is better than BET’s Let’s Stay Together and not as ignorant as a decent amount of their other programming.  And the chemistry with tv couple Malcolm Jamal Warner and Traci Ellis Ross is picking up as the series moves along, so there is hope for this show, especially if they move beyond stale situations.  And of course you have to love Anna Maria Horsford.  

The funny thing is that all three actors helped change character dynamics in the roles they’re most known for.  As a Black boy in the 80’s, Warner’s Theo Huxtable, while somewhat a troublemaker and sometimes lazy, was a well-round young man who compared to his peers on television in non-Cosby related material was, well, existent, since Black boys only repeated as gang members in cop shows or little people adopted by White men.  Ross as Joan Clayton on Girlfriends showed how a successful Black woman can also be neurotic and sensitive and damn funny; while Horsford as Thelma on Amen could be a whiny daddy’s girl and a woman struggling to define herself, though often failing, but never giving up on herself or her potential man.   You three helped change dynamics in television… I’m rooting for y’all to make it better again. 

Best Actor – Giancarlo Esposito on Breaking Bad

Wow.  Well, I said more than that after watching the ‘Hermanos’ episode (season 8, ep. 4) in which we finally see drug kingpin and chicken restaurant franchise owner Gustvao ‘Gus’ Fring’s origin (no spoilers within). That, alongside both the season opener and finale of Breaking Bad is what makes it one of the best shows on television.   In this past season, Giancarlo Esposito as cemented himself as one of acting’s greatest and most underappreciated talents.  His steely gaze, his calmness and assuredness when either talking about manufacturing crystal meth or cooking a great dinner, his vengeance on those who did him wrong, all those things and more comprise one of the best TV characters in recent years, strong enough to play off of series star Bryan Cranston.  I never would have thought after watching Do The Right Thing twenty-plus years ago that this guy would develop into a master thespian. But he did, and he’s dope – has been for some time now – and I want to let him know that we want more.  

Best Actress – Maya Rudolph on Up All Night

I wasn’t a fan of Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live. Not that she was bad, but, eh (she did a great Condeleeza Rice though!), I wasn’t a fan of Away We Go, her pretty successful movie from a few years back either.  And I’ve yet to see her in Bridesmaids (though it’s coming in the mail tomorrow – thanks Netflix!).  But, I don’t need all of that because all I need is to see more of Rudolph in Up All Night. As an Oprah-esque, um, okay Sally Jesse Raphael-esque talk show host, Rudolph as the aloof, self-absorbed, emotionally vulnerable and non-filtered Ava Alexander constantly steals the spotlight from series lead Christina Applegate, whose character Reagan Brinkley serves as executive producer of Ava’s show while struggling to raise her first child.  While it may be argued that Rudolph has the easier job of the two, being funny ain’t easy and whether she’s doing a memorial service for a show crew member whose name she can never remember (not she can remember any of their names) or spying on a loser ex-rapper boyfriend, the often goofy yet charming Rudolph as Ava pulls it off consistently, week after week.  Up All Night is renewed through the end of the season, so check Rudolph out.  Now! (well, after reading the rest of this list).

And Nick Cannon as Ava’s show announcer, while appearing only once in awhile, is charmingly amusing  as well.

We Want To See More of You Award – Christine Adams on Terra Nova

As one of the renegade leaders (see: bad guys) on Fox’s Terra Nova series, Adams gets to play a heavy baddy that wants to rule over the colony of people from Earth’s distant future who escaped to the prehistoric dinosaur filled past to rebuild civilization. But Adams and her group the Sixers, a splintered group from the colony who oppose the present rule, don’t seem to civilized - or are they the ones in the right?  The show is filled with a lot of questions and weak mystery, but with that Adams’ character Mira is drastically underused and we should see her do more than snarl at colony leader Taylor (Avatar’s Stephen Lang). Still, you can tell she’s having fun in the role and she does look sexy in her frayed rebel wear and big guns and…um, hopefully you can check her out for yourself.  The season finale just aired, but it appears that the show may indeed be picked up for a second season, though who knows with what changes. 

Wasted Talent Award – Ashley Madekwe on Revenge

Revenge is a decent nighttime soap opera about a young woman who seeks revenge on the wealthy elite that caused the ruin and death of her stand-up father.  Starring Emily VanCamp (Brothers & Sisters) it’s a fun vengeful romp from what I’ve seen.  I say that last part because despite the good cheesiness of the show, it’s difficult for me to watch it because Ashley Madekwe, who we last saw as the vivacious and unpredictable yet green call girl Bambi on Secret Diary of A Call Girl is so good on her old show but so underused on Revenge.  Good for her for landing a network show, a feat many actors would kill for, but as the lead’s BBF, she’s not left with much to do.  Which is sad because Madekwe is a wonderful, growing actress who needs something more to catapult both her acting chops and career into greatness.

Best Black Show That’s Not A Black Show Award – The Good Wife (CBS)

As the title states, the show isn’t a black one – production or star wise as there are no people of African descent in the main cast. Still, with this legal drama taking place in Chicago (and filming in NYC!) theproducers and writers haven’t attempted to whitewash the show which from day one has included Black folks in most every episode in key character rolls.  A short list of talent from 2011 that appeared regularly on the show, during this present season and last, include:  Anika Noni Rose, Michael Ealy, Michael Boatman (appearing since season 1), Romany Malco, Renee Elise Goldberry (also appearing since season 1), Monica Raymund, Gbenga Akinngabe, Sonequa Martin, Chris Butler and even Nicole Beharie, though hers seemed to be a throwaway role.  All that said, this list doesn’t include actors who have played defendants, witnesses, etc. 

The We Miss You Award – Detroit 1-8-7 and Men of A Certain Age

It may not have changed the game for cop shows like NYPD Blue or Homicide: Life On The Street did, but Detroit 1-8-7 was a thrilling and often funny cop drama that had a great allure. Cancelled way too early, it starred Micheal Imperioli (Christopher from The Sopranos) as oddball Det. Fitch, but introduced audiences at large to his rookie partner Det. Damon Washington as played by the wonderful Jon Michael Hill, who also recently appeared in director Conrad Jackson’s Falling Overnight.  But that’s not it – the show also co-starred veteran actor James McDaniel, who acted with the most joy and freedom I’ve ever seen from him in, and Aisha Hinds as the squad’s strong-willed and hands on lieutenant.  Rochelle Aytes and Tessa Thompson also appeared in recurring roles. This was an enjoyable show that was cancelled too early but you can now catch on Netflix.

Men of A Certain Age just ended after two seasons and shame on you if you missed it. Just one name is  needed to watch it though: Andre Braugher.  I’ve long declared Braugher as one of the best actors in the world (though his throwaway appearances in movies like Fantastic Four 2 doesn’t really count) and the best actor on TV period.  But if that’s not enough, Lisa Gay Hamilton as his wife and Richard Gant as his controlling father make Braugher’s character Owen Thoreau Jr. shine even brighter as they both force him to deal with insecurities about being a more self-assured man and father.  Brian White as Braugher’s workplace nemesis was also a bright spot and recurring roles by Albert Hall, Little JJ and Emily Rios also added to the brilliant drama. 

Best Television Documentary – America in Primetime

If you’re a television history lover, nay, if you enjoy seeing how writers and actors have developed their television shows and characters then you have to watch this four-part show.  It aired on PBS this past autumn and focused on, in order: The Independent Woman, Man of the House, The Misfit, and The Crusader. 

When discussing Blacks on television, most documentaries only focus on The Cosby Show, the Jeffersons as they appeared on All In The Family, I, Spy and maybe even Julia; and of course on Dr. King when it involves the 1960’s. But America in Primetime included Black actors, producers, etc throughout every episode. In The Independent Woman episode, the best of the series, race isn’t even brought up but super-executive producer Shonda Rhimes speaks about her show Grey’s Anatomy. Also present to talk about their various characters or shows are Andre Braugher, Michael K. Williams and Larry Wilmore.  Catch this when it comes back on, or buy it where you can. It’s worth it.

The Looking Forward to It Award – Scandal

Speaking of Shonda Rhimes, her much hyped and much awaited but still unscheduled new show Scandal stars Kerry Washington as professional ‘fixer’ Olivia Price, a woman that makes the problems for high-stakes clients go away well before anyone even knows they exist.  Along with her crackpot crew, they are the masters of damage control – even for the President of the United States.  Price is based real-life fixer Judy Smith (she did spin for the Monica Lewinsky scandal, among others) and the show also stars Columbus Short.  C’mon ABC, schedule this show already…we’ve been waiting months for the premiere!

Television
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12 Comments

  • V.A.Smith | January 2, 2012 9:08 PMReply

    Wow - Giancarlo Esposito - Wow

  • Tamara | December 28, 2011 9:33 PMReply

    Great info I agree. I tried "Detroit 1-8-7" but I ultimately quit it, quick. Love what you say about Giancarlo. He was pure excellence on "Breaking Bad". "Men of A Certain Age" was a different kind of show and I was a bit broken-hearted by its cancellation. The "Terra Nova" with Christine Adams, I should check out. She leaves an impression. I've seen her in two episodes of two different shows ("Doctor Who" and "Pushing Daisies") and each time I thought, who IS this woman? She's amazing! She's beautiful! Her accent is killer. There should be more of her. MORE! Lol. So yeah, I will definitely look to that show. "The Good Wife" is on my to-watch list. "Reed Between the Lines", I have little interest in. "Revenge" looks terrible. "Up All Night" I'll give a whirl, maybe. Going to add "America in Primetime" to my queue and yes, I look forward to "Scandal", too. Again, great stuff here.

  • Lavetta Cannon | December 27, 2011 7:25 PMReply

    Love the post and LOVE this blog! Whenever I come here, I feel so inspired as a Black actor/writer. Thank you:-)

  • gabriel | December 24, 2011 4:47 PMReply

    All excellent choices! Especially Giancarlo Esposito in "Breaking Bad". Just a minor note..."Hermanos" is episode 8 -season 4.

  • naysue | December 24, 2011 1:58 PMReply

    Reed Between the Lines is trying and I'm watching. I'm not a fan yet, but I watch. I was hoping that you all might create a category for "Best Actor in a Tyler Perry Movie" and "Best Black Character on an HBO show." Maybe next year.

  • Curtis Caesar John | December 28, 2011 12:28 PM

    Good point about the HBO category. Next time!

  • AccidentalVisitor | December 24, 2011 9:45 AMReply

    Good grief, this still isn't working. Sorry for cluttering this thread with my erroneous attempts at posts, folks. I'm giving it one more try.



    "The Good Wife" does indeed employ a high number of black actors and actresses for recurring roles, something I've been pleasantly surprised by. Still if I was to pick a show for the year that was NOT officially a black show but included a high number of black characters it has to be HBO's "Treme", hands down. Black characters not only play a large role in this ensemble drama, but with the backdrop being New Orleans, there is a large black presence even beyond the main cast members. And it shows black people as three dimensional human beings who are the main players in their own storylines/narratives, unlike "The Good Wife" in which black characters are more prone to serve as plot devices for an episode or as supporting characters in the storylines of the white leads.


    And sticking with the "Treme" theme as long as it remains on the air I will have a hard time imagining anyone other than Khandi Alexander as the best working black actress on TV. She has been overlooked by the Emmys.



    Giancarlo Esposito is likely the best choice for nod of top black actor of the year (it is criminal that he didn't get a Golden Globe nod). Bu I want to give special mention to Michael B. Jordan. He was splendid in the last season of "Friday Night Lights" (which aired on NBC in 2011). He was just as amazing though during his 2011 run on NBC's "Parenthood." Sure his character was a bit of a cliche but he delivered powerfully when he was on screen and as a result became a standout of the show to critics and fans. If there is any justice this guy should have a big career ahead of him.



    I have a guilty pleasure shout-out to Jamil Walker Smith. His work came on a sci fi series that I'm sure hardly anyone on this site saw ("Stargate: Universe"). I don't hand this kind of praise around lightly when I claim that Smith (who wrote, directed, produced and starred in "Make a Movie Like Spike"), is a gifted performer who manages to make every line interesting, regardless of the quality of the material. Below I've posted links to two YouTube clips of his work on SGU for anyone that is interested. The first is very short, the second is much more lengthy. I'm not sure the clips do Smith justice as much as it gives a glimpse at the skills that I think he possesses.

    Sgt. Greer
    [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz3TYOcQOXc ]

    "Drop the Sirs"
    [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtuPkznEgAI&feature=fvsr ]


    When it comes to documentaries and specials my choice would be Henry Louis Gates' "Blacks In Latin America". This four part special focused obviously on the life and history of black people in a region of the world that many people didn't think have much of a black presence in the first place. I've been interested in this subject for years so I was glad to see it addressed in such a high profile platform.


    Finally my vote to personality of the year would go to Oprah Winfrey. The ending of her show was one of the major storylines of 2011 so she has to be included in this discussion.

  • Curtis Caesar John | December 28, 2011 12:28 PM

    Good points all around. I tried to get into Treme, but couldn't stick with it though what you say about Khandi Alexander is very on point. The difference for me is that Maya Rudolph was pretty corny before and she's elevated herself, in my humble opinion, into a great place now. I admittedly didn't see those last few seasons of Friday Night Lights but will now as you're yet another person who has told me about how good Michael B Jordan was in it. I did see him on Parenthood though and he was really good. I wanted to create a guest appearance category but ran out of time - he would've made that list. Funny, I saw "Make A Movie..." and didn't connect J. Walker Smith to SGU. You're right again, he is underrated in that. My next post will probably be the most underrated Black actors in TV period. You should really check out America in Primetime though - it is addictively fantastic.

  • AccidentalVisitor | December 24, 2011 9:15 AMReply

    Ugh. Sorry about the mess below. That's what happens when one tries to write a response off-line and then copy and paste. Let me try this again.

    "The Good Wife" does indeed employ a high number of black actors and actresses for recurring roles, something I’ve always noticed and been pleasantly surprised by. Still if I was to pick a show for the year that was NOT officially a black show but employs a lot of black characters it has to be, hands down, HBO's "Treme". Black characters not only play a large role in this heavily ensemble drama, but with the backdrop being New Orleans, there is a large black presence even beyond the main cast members. And it shows black people as three dimensional human beings who are the main players in their own storylines/narratives, unlike the "Good Wife" in which black characters serve as plot devices for an ep or supporting characters in the storylines of the white leads.


    And sticking with the "Treme" theme as long as it remains on the air I find it hard to imagine anyone else filling In the slot as best black actress than her.


    Giancarlo Esposito is probably the best choice for the nod of top black actor of the year (criminal that he didn't get a Golden Globe nod). But I want to give special mention to Michael B. Jordan. He was amazing in the last season of "Friday Night Lights" (yes, it originally aired on Direct TV during the end of 2010 but it aired on NBC in 2011). He was just as amazing though during his 2011 run of NBC’s "Parenthood". Sure his character on that show was a bit of a cliche, but he delivered powerfully whenever he got rich material and became a standout of the show to critics and fans. If there is justice in the world this guy should have a big career ahead of him.


    Special shoutout to Jamil Walker Smith. This is a guilty pleasure pick considering his work came on a sci fi TV series that I'm sure people on this site didn't watch ("Stargate Universe"). But what an incredible performer this guy is. I don't hand this kind of praise around lightly but Smith, who also wrote, directed, produced and starred in "Make A Movie Like Spike", is a special talent who is able to make every line interesting, no matter how throw-away it is. He has no bigger fan than his former castmate, the great Robert Carlyle who mentioned him as a standout amongst a cast of terrifically talented performers.



    Below are two YouTube links to Smith's work on SGU for anyone that is interested. The first is very short, the second is much more lengthy. The clips may not do Smith complete justice but to me they do provide a glimpse, in my estimation, of the skills he possesses.


    Sgt. Ronald Greer

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz3TYOcQOXc

    "Drop the Sirs"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtuPkznEgAI&feature=fvsr


    When it comes to documentaries and PBS programming my choice would be Henry Louis Gates' "Black In Latin America", because it was four parts dedicated exclusively to black people and their history and role in various Latin American countries. Plus it was a fascinating subject that most people in North America had very little knowledge of.


    And of course personality of the year has to go to Oprah Winfrey. The ending of her show was one of the major stories of 2011, making 2011 an unforgettable year for her.

  • AccidentalVisitor | December 24, 2011 9:02 AMReply

    “The Good Wife” does indeed employ a high number of black actors and actresses for recurring roles, something I’ve always noticed and been pleasantly surprised by. Still if I was to pick a show for the year that was NOT officially a black show but employs a lot of black characters it has to be, hands down, HBO’s “Treme”. Black characters not only play a large role in this heavily ensemble drama, but with the backdrop being New Orleans, there is a large black presence even beyond the main cast members. And it shows black people as three dimensional human beings who are the main players in their own storylines/narratives, unlike the “Good Wife” in which black characters serve as plot devices for an ep or supporting characters in the storylines of the white leads.

    And sticking with “Treme” as long as it remains on the air I find it hard to imagine anyone else filling In the slot as best black actress than her.

    Giancarlo Esposito is probably the best choice for the nod of top black actor of the year (criminal that he didn’t get a Golden Globe nod). But I want to give special mention to Michael B. Jordan. He was amazing in the last season of “Friday Night Lights” (yes, it originally aired on Direct TV during the end of 2010 but it aired on NBC in 2011). He was just amazing though during his 2011 run of NBC’s “Parenthood”. Sure his character on that show was a bit of a cliché but he delivered powerfully whenever he got rich material and became a standout of the show to critics and fans. If there is justice in the world that guy should have a big career ahead of him.

    Special shoutout to Jamil Walker Smith. This is a guilty pleasure pick considering his work came on a sci fi TV series that I’m sure people on this site didn’t watch (“Stargate Universe”). But what an amazing performer this guy is. I don’t hand this kind of praise around lightly but Smith, who also wrote, directed, produced and starred in “Make A Movie Like Spike”, is a special performer who is able to make every line interesting, no matter how throw-away it is. He has no bigger fan than his former castmate, the great Robert Carlyle who mentioned him as a standout amongst a cast of terrifically talented performers.

    Below are two YouTube links to Smith’s work on SGU for anyone that is interested. The first is very short, the second is much more lengthy. The clips may not do Smith complete justice but to me they do provide a glimpse, in my estimation. Of the skills he possesses.

    Sgt. Ronald Greer
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz3TYOcQOXc
    “Drop the Sirs”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtuPkznEgAI&feature=fvsr


    When it comes to documentaries and PBS programming my choice would be Henry Louis Gates’ “Black In Latin America”, because it was four parts dedicated exclusively to black people and their history and role in various Latin American countries. Plus it was a fascinating subject that most people in North America had very little knowledge of.

    And of course personality of the year has to go to Oprah. The ending of her show was one of the major stories of 2011.

  • Darla | December 23, 2011 9:16 PMReply

    Good post!

  • Cynthia | December 23, 2011 9:14 PMReply

    Great info Curtis.

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