Fantasy and Period Drama Ruled on Television in 2011

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Sean Bean at the Empire Film Awards in March 2009.
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Sean Bean at the Empire Film Awards in March 2009.

There is no denying that reality television programming still claims a large chunk of the viewing audience, but the most interesting trend in television in 2011 was undoubtedly fantasy-themed shows. From the bloodthirsty power-hungry world of Westeros in HBO's "Game of Thrones" to the dueling but very different fairytale worlds depicted in ABC's "Once Upon A Time" and NBC's "Grimm," television screens were full of monsters, special effects, and rich storytelling - and the audience loved it. But period drama was also popular, with PBS's British import "Downton Abbey" wowing audiences and HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" having a successful second season.

"Game of Thrones" - Based on George R.R. Martin's first book in his "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, this sweeping epic had everything - politics, sex, intrigue, supernatural snow creatures, and dragons. Sean Bean gave a doomed and wonderful performance as central character Ned Stark, but it was Emmy-winning Peter Dinklage who wowed audiences as Tyrion Lannister.

"Once Upon A Time" - At first appearance just a more grown-up riff on Disney, "Once Upon A Time" has proved to be much more. The alternate fairytale world and Storybrooke each have interesting storylines, and seem destined to converge and explode as the series continues. All of the actors are good, but not surprsingly the villains, Lana Parilla as the Evil Queen/Mayor of Storybrooke, and Robert Carlyle as Rumpelstiltsikin/Mr. Gold, steal every scene in which they appear.

"Grimm" - Another populated by fairytale creatures, "Grimm" has a different twist. It mixes cop show with monster-of-the-week mayhem, with surprisingly entertaining results. As each new episode airs, the show's mythology deepens, and viewers are introduced to modern Big Bad Wolves (a hilarious Silas Weir Mitchell), an alternate Goldilocks tale, and many more strange creatures that hero Nick Burckhardt (David Giuntoli) must try to identify and hunt down.

"Downton Abbey" - On the surface, Lord Grantham's (Hugh Bonneville) family seems reserved and genteel, with everything at their disposal and not a care in the world. But the family's future is not quite so certain, as the country advances towards the first World War and his three daughters try to discover their place in the world. As his mother, the Dowager Countess, Maggie Smith is both infuriating and delightful.

"Boardwalk Empire" - The second season of the period crime drama set in 1920s Atlantic City was more introspective, giving viewers a closer look at Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson and Michael Pitt's Jimmy Darmody. Their conflict took on Shakespearean qualities as Jimmy faced a past ruled by his Lady Macbeth-ian mother, and Nucky was willing to do whatever it took, including murder, to regain control of his empire.

There were quite a few other good shows this season, comedies as well as dramas, that were introduced or continued to entertain audiences: "Homeland," "Breaking Bad," "Modern Family," "The Good Wife," "Community," "Revenge," "Cougar Town," "The Walking Dead," "Doctor Who," "New Girl," "Sons of Anarchy," "Dexter," and "Burn Notice."

Proof that 2011 was actually quite a good year for television, and as some of these shows return in the spring, 2012 promises to be even more entertaining.

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