Last season in Parks and Recreation, the Pawnee gang set out to bury a time capsule that perfectly, well, captured the feeling of the town in 2010. But things took a turn when a local man wanted a copy of Twilight put in, and a rousing town hall debate followed about what constituted "relevant to Pawnee." Of course, I argue that pop culture is always relevant, and more often than not speaks more about people's interests and issues than any newspaper. In Parks and Rec, they ended up just including a video of that town hall meeting, where the excitable crowd yelled at each other for a few hours, and assuming they have DVDs in the future, I am playing my own game of "What TV Perfectly Captures The Times of 2011 and Therefore Would Represent In A Time Capsule?"
The Vampire Diaries. The vampire itself may be a bit passe. Twilight (finally!) came to an end, and new shows that were greenlit and aired focused more on other supernatural forces not-as-recently tapped on the small screen. But this show managed to deliver solid drama past just a gimmick and even expanded the lore to renew our interest in the genre.
CSI of Wherever/Law & Order of Whatever. Procedurals were still king in 2011. And even with major casting shake-ups at shows like the original C.S.I. and Law & Order: SVU, the series still reigned supreme in the ratings, proving that for some audiences, the easiness of the case of the week is far more interesting than character turmoil. Plus, they provide ample breeding ground for awesome guest stars. The best "new" example of this is Person of Interest, though, admittedly, there was a greater character conflict set up right off the bat than ever before, indicating that at least some showrunners are trying to think outside the box.
Breaking Bad. Talk about outside the box writing, right? For the part of the audience who increasingly wants smart, surprising, and yes, emotional story-telling, there was perhaps none bigger or better than this AMC gem.
The X Factor. Call it the Simon Cowell effect, but as American Idol is fading fast, and though The Voice swept in and showed off the "mentor" angle first, reality television was still such a hot spot that this show succeeded in broad strokes. Even those who hated it couldn't help but be drawn in to talk about how much they hated it, thus contributing to the buzz factor nonetheless. By all of my accounts, this show should have been just a third rate (and late to the game) bore in the singing competition game, but thanks to some very big voice talents who for whatever reason, wanted to try their hand with Cowell and "I will change everything about you" L.A. Reid, there were real watercooler moments delivered in every performance episode. Plus it helps that they understand the importance of an eye-candy host.
New Girl. It has been Zooey Deschanel's world in 2011. The rest of us were just visiting. Plus hipster girl sitcoms were a big trend of the TV season; this was just the most popular, and best executed, one.