If TV can make room for an "adorkable" gal, a dwarf Lothario and a Joan Crawford impersonator, why can't it be more open to minorities?
In compiling my favorite performances of 2011, I struggled to find actors of color -- only one made the list -- at a time when executives keep patting themselves on the back for embracing diversity. If there's one bright spot, it's that the year's best sitcom, "Community," is also one of TV's most progressive when it comes to casting.
With that shortcoming in mind, let's celebrate what did work this past year and wish for a more diverse 2012. This year's standouts, in alphabetical order:
Zooey Deschanel, "New Girl": The sitcom hasn't lived up to its promising pilot episode, mostly because the male characters are unremarkable, but Deschanel's quirky charms are irresistible.
Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones": His Shakespearean-trained skills are put to towering use, playing a dwarf warrior who makes up for his lack of size with wit and romance. Bradley Cooper has nice hair, but for my money, Dinklage is the sexiest man alive.
Giancarlo Esposito, "Breaking Bad": Esposito gave to TV's best drama what John Lithgow provided to "Dexter" two years ago: a formidable, unpredictable villain who gives you goosebumps every time he saunters into a scene. His final moments gave me more nightmares than the Kardashian wedding.
Kelsey Grammer, "Boss": Thank goodness Grammer's last couple of sitcom attempts went belly-up. If they hadn't, the former "Frasier" star might not have rolled the dice on this hard-hitting political drama and earned our comeback of the year award.
Jimmy Kimmel's not-ready-for-prime-time players, "Jimmy Kimmel Live": When Kimmel told me years ago that he'd be using his Uncle Frank on his upcoming talk show, I responded with pessimism. I just didn't buy that a sweet, ordinary soul could provide laughs. Kimmel has proved me wrong time and time again with a supporting cast that includes belligerent Aunt Chippie, inept celebrity photographer Yaya, jittery filmmaker Kyle Mooney and the Hollywood Chewbacca. Uncle Frank may have passed away this year, but his spirit lives on.
Jessica Lange, "American Horror Story": It's easy to forget that Lange is one of our finest actors -- until she creeps into a scene on this fright factory and nails the kind of chilling, over-the-top character that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford did in their later years. Whatever happened to Baby Lange? She got better, that's what.
Nick Offerman, "Parks & Recreation": His wife, Megan Mullally, was the not-so-secret weapon on "Will & Grace." Now it's hubby's turn. In a rich cast, Offerman's Ron Swanson has turned out to be the series' most bizarre, complicated and strangely lovable standout.
Oliver Platt, "The Big C": Last year, I called Laura Linney's work in this underrated series a signature performance from one of our generation's greatest actresses. This year, it's time to praise her acting partner for the kind of hilarious, heartbreaking turn we've taken for granted from Platt. Time to finally give the big guy an Emmy.
Emily Van Camp, "Revenge": The fact that the former "Everwood" star has a good-girl smile makes her all the more delicious and deadly, a conniving force who could destroy an entire town with an innocent giggle and a flip of her hair.
The women of "Boardwalk Empire": If last year was all about men behaving badly, this one was for the females, most notably Kelly Macdonald, Gretchen Mol and Julianne Nicholson, all delivering mesmerizing, double-barreled performances. No wonder the second season exceeded the first.
NEAL JUSTIN'S FAVORITE PROGRAMS OF 2011
1. "Breaking Bad" (AMC)
2. "Community" (NBC)
3. "The Big C" (Showtime)
4. "Modern Family" (ABC)
5. "Prohibition" (PBS)
6. "Downton Abbey" (PBS)
7. "Game of Thrones" (HBO)
8. "Louie" (FX)
9. "Marathon Boy" (HBO)
10. "Boardwalk Empire" (HBO)
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