It's that time of year, everybody, where critics of every stripe have to break down the best things they covered over the last 12 months into a list of 10 (or thereabouts). Eventually, all the members of Team HitFix will be rolling out his or her top 10 list, but I get to be first up at bat this year. (Katie Hasty should be up next with some thoughts on the year in music.)
The set-up is the same as last year: I came up with my list of the best overall shows and narrated it along with videos of the shows in question, all edited together by our ace video editor Alex Dorn, and I also did two separate written lists covering my favorite new and return shows of the year. But where I posted all three together last year, my schedule this year hasn't made that possible, so you get the overall list right here, right now, and I'll be publishing the returning shows list tomorrow and the newbies list on Thursday.
NOTE: As a few commenters pointed, a few of the clips feature key scenes from late in a show's season, so if you haven't seen the latest seasons of "Justified" and "Breaking Bad," specifically, to their conclusion, you may want to skip over those parts.
If you've been reading me over the last year, the 11 shows I picked (I'm a wimp and can't choose, and wound up with a tie for 10th place) won't especially be a surprise, though the order of some might. I deal with that a bit in the narration, and will perhaps discuss it more in tomorrow's returning shows list, since the majority of the overall list is made up of veterans. Where the last couple of years were super-strong on new product - last year's freshman class was particularly impressive, and occupied half the spots on the overall list - this year there was a very marked split between new and old, with 9 of the 11 shows on this list being ones that existed before 2011 began.
I would also suggest you take a look at James Poniewozik's list of list caveats and explanations, not because our lists are the same, but because the same questions he thinks would be pointless ("how could you ignore...," etc.) are ones I don't have especially interesting answers about beyond "these were the ones I liked best, in this approximate order."
This was a very good year in television, and though some of the shows on this list won't continue into 2012, the new year will have "Mad Men," "Luck" and other potential candidates to be on the version of this list I do 12 months from now.
So watch the video, then yell at me in the comments for a while, and then we can do this all over again tomorrow when I do the returning shows list.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org