The Top 10 Shows of 2012
It’s always difficult for me to do these year end TV lists because I spend so much time falling in love with shows throughout the year that it is sometimes difficult to choose the best shows from shows I just realllllly enjoy watching.
Is ‘The Vampire Diaries” worthy of being placed next to ‘Breaking Bad?’ No. It isn’t. ‘The Vampire Diaries’ is a fantastically fun show that keeps viewers on their toes sweet after week, but Ian Somerhalder isn’t Bryan Cranston as much as I love him and want him to be. Paul Wesley’s quivering lip and sad eyes slay me, but he’s not going to be placed in the same category as Peter Krause for a number of reasons, the most obvious being he stars on the CW.
But it’s not to say casts of lesser networks aren’t talented and worthy of recognition. They’re just up against actors from shows that have morphed and changed the TV atmosphere. We hold TV to a higher standard now than ever before. Shows like ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Homeland’ are just so good that even the next best thing seems far less worthy in comparison.
Which is why I’ve created two lists this year: The Top
10 Shows of 2012 and the Top 10 Shows I Enjoyed the Most in 2012. There will no doubt be crossovers between the two, but neither of these will be like the lists that my favorite TV critics have compiled over the past month. They’ve seen shows that I still haven’t caught up on (‘Louie’ and ‘The Walking Dead’) and they like shows that I don’t (‘Modern Family’), but at least we can all agree that this was a great year for television.
NOTE: The following contains massive spoilers for each of the ten shows on the list. You’ve been warned.
1. Breaking Bad
Some people criticized this season of ‘Breaking Bad’ for being unbalanced, but I chalk that up to AMC splitting the final season in half so it could air over two years (and thus two Emmy voting periods). The pacing may have ultimately suffered from this design, but the show is still more exciting, frightening and packed with high octane edge-of-your-seat drama than nearly everything else on TV.
This season saw Walt’s ascent to the head of the drug empire after blowing Gus Fring’s brains to smithereens (not an exaggeration) at the end of season four. But his rise to the head of the table did not come without a price. As his greed, arrogance and pride engulfed him, he alienated the people in his life who have stuck by him throughout (most) everything, most notably his surrogate son and partner Jesse Pinkman who finally found the strength to tell Walt he wanted out, and his long-suffering wife, Skylar, who struggled with the thought of her husband being a murderer (but making and selling meth is OK?). The half-season ended with Walt’s DEA agent brother-in-law Hank seemingly discovering Walt’s been Heisenberg this entire time.
Best episode: “Dead Freight”
2. Mad Men
After a 17-month hiatus from our television screens, “Mad Men’ returned this past March to the highest of expectations. And while I thought this season was the show’s weakest to date (I blame Megan because obviously), some people thought it was the best the show has ever done. But saying ‘Mad Men’ is weak doesn’t mean much, considering how much higher it starts in the ranking than most everything else. Let me put it another way in case you’re still mourning the loss of the Olympics like me: ‘Mad Men’ is the McKayla Maroney of TV; it’s level of difficulty starts out at 16.5, a whole 0.7 points ahead of the more common TV shows.
The return of our favorite characters and to the world of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce was like welcoming an old friend home who just spent the last 18 months photographing gorillas in the Congo. Or something like that. Don and Megan were married and sometimes happy, Peggy grew up and branched out by leaving the agency in one of the saddest breakup scenes the world has ever seen in which the couple involved wasn’t actually a romantic couple, Roger took LSD and showed the world his glorious ass, and well, Lane and Pete took a tumble or two. The season ended with the notion that the gleam might have finally worn off Don’s marriage to Megan as he walked away from her into the darkness.
Best episode: “The Other Woman”
It’s difficult for me to write about ‘Homeland’, which is why you’ll probably never see me write a review or recap of the show on this site. I accept that its one of the best shows the world of television has seen, but it is also the most infuriating show to watch. I’ve never been so frustrated with a lead character as I am by Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison. She runs back into buildings in foreign countries despite every other sane person telling her it’s a bad idea. She sleeps with people she shouldn’t (a staple of the television landscape, I suppose). She does everything wrong and yet somehow everything always ends up right (well, as much as it can on a show about terrorism). And that’s why I’ve latched on to this line from Saul from the season two finale: “You are the smartest and the dumbest fucking person I’ve ever known.” I think Showtime should consider using it in their promotional material for season three.
This season saw Brody seemingly reform and atone for his sins by working with the CIA to help bring down Abu Nazir. But with this development his already crumbling marriage crumbled completely and his daughter indirectly killed a woman and discovered the truth about who her father really was. As a result she had the sharpest approval rating decline since Todd Akin, and his son became the second best Breakfast Champion after Walt Jr. Carrie, meanwhile, fell back into bed with Brody as she attempted to keep him safe (from Nazir and from the government), and Saul nearly lost his job after ticking off Estes a few too many times. But the season ended with yet another bang as someone blew up an entire room full of CIA agents and analysts along with the wife and son of the dearly departed VP whom Brody helped kill in an earlier episode. SAY WHAT?
Best episode: “Q&A”
4. Parks and Recreation
Somewhere in the middle of season four, ‘Parks and Recreation’ became the heir apparent to the beautiful and emotional community and family drama ‘Friday Night Lights.’ And if you stopped watching ‘Parks and Rec’ during its atrocious first season, you’re probably scratching your head in some big time confusion right now. After the show found its footing in season three, everything that came after was pure gold. And somehow the show found the way to perfectly blend its trademark comedy with heart-felt moments between some of TV’s most hilarious and outlandish characters. The moment I realized I was crying during an episode of ‘Parks and Rec’ actually came at the end of 2011 in the form of “Citizen Knope,” and so I am cheating a little, but there have been plenty of episodes in 2012, such as the episode this fall in which Leslie and Ben got engaged, that carry the same weight and have the same ability to make me cry tears of happiness as if I’m watching Coach tell Vince Howard, “You may never know how proud I am of you.”
It’s difficult for me to summarize ‘Parks and Rec’ in the realm of 2012 simply because it’s not like my first three choices. It airs on network television and thus had two seasons split over the 2012 calendar year. But from Leslie’s run for City Council in season four to her ultimately winning the race and everything that has come after, ‘Parks and Rec’ continues to fire on all cylinders week after week. The show even found a way to give Ron Swanson a heart this year, a heart that wasn’t just for camping, fishing, bacon and eggs and weaponry. And they finally found a way to make Rob Lowe’s Chris a real person and not just the one-note caricature of a person that he was relegated to in season four.
Best episode: “The Debate”
‘Parenthood’ may have started off a little wobbly, but as the actors grew into their roles as the members of the Braverman family, so too did the quality of the show and my love for it. There is not an episode that goes by that I don’t find myself tearing up. More often than not it isn’t even clear why I’m crying because the show so often blends the happy with the sad that it’s difficult to discern what I’m actually reacting to. And the actors themselves are so in tune with each other and with the story that it’s actually possible to let the real world fall away and to just believe that the story they’re telling is true. The show doesn’t sugarcoat drama, nor does it concoct it for ratings. The stories the show tells are real and they’re told in such an earnest way that the emotions attached to them are real. But this should surprise no one familiar with Jason Katims and his other show, ‘Friday Night Lights.’ ‘FNL’ was a story about a family – not just the Taylors, but the entire community of Dillon, Texas as one big family – and the every day decisions and obstacles that come along in the road of life, and so too is ‘Parenthood.’ And much like ‘FNL’, ‘Parenthood’ focuses on the intricacies of life that so many other shows ignore because they’re not important enough or dramatic enough.
This season the juxtaposition of Kristina’s breast cancer storyline with the slow and sweet love blossoming between Amber and Ryan had me crying from start to finish. When Monica Potter was cast on the show I hesitated because she often plays uptight characters I simply cannot stand. But she’s so often the best part of ‘Parenthood’ that I’m actually ashamed to admit how much I disagreed with her casting. She’s been the best thing about this season, and every other character, most notably Peter Krause’s Adam, has had to react to her. And it’s made for one hell of an emotional journey that I never want to end.
Best episode: “The Talk”/”There’s Something I Need to Tell You”
There’s not much left to say that hasn’t already been said before about this show. If you understand the humor of ‘Community,’ you love the show. If you don’t understand the humor, you probably hate it. That sounds like a universal truth for any TV show, but it’s not. The comedy and humor in ‘Community’ is off-kilter, it’s subjective, it’s intelligent and it’s sometimes even offensive. The show is the funniest on TV after ‘Parks and Recreation,’ but so many people don’t understand the humor that they don’t watch it.
While comedies like ‘The Middle’ and ‘Modern Family’ are more traditional sitcoms revolving around family dynamics, ‘Community’ has spent the last three years shaking up that traditional sitcom dynamic and taking the idea of a family and re-imagining it with another band of misfits. It’s s a comedy for people who are anything but traditional. It’s for the people who want more out of their comedies, it’s for the people who know the actual definition of meta and who understand the brilliance of the 2011 episode ‘Remedial Chaos Theory.’ But because NBC pushed back the season four premiere date, the episodes that aired in 2012 are all strictly from the third season. Those episodes include things like blankets and pillow forts, a ‘Law & Order’ style episode and an episode in which the characters turned into 8-bit video game versions of themselves. Like I said, this show (sadly) isn’t for everybody, but for those of us who love The Greendale Seven, we can’t wait for the fourth season to premiere on Feb. 7, 2013.
Best episode: “Pillows and Blankets”/”Virtual Systems Analysis”
Season two of ‘Justified’ was the kind of season shows always dream of having but almost never achieve. Understanding that they’d already struck gold, the writers of ‘Justified’ took a different approach to the third season. They didn’t try to top Mags Bennett, probably realizing it couldn’t be done. Instead, they upped the number of villains via some colorful characters in Robert Quarles and Ellstin Limehouse and brought back some beloved (probably just by me) former foes like Wynn Duffy to bring the fun. And though the third season didn’t appear to have an overarching theme for most of the season, the show pulled the hardest punches at the end and proved that season two’s brilliance wasn’t a fluke, this show really is that good all the time.
Though Raylan faced more problems than ever with the (re)appearance of Duffy, Quarles and Limehouse, the show was still able to pull the emotional punches as well, much as it did in the second season finale. A pregnant Winona left Raylan after realizing he’d never leave the life of a marshal behind and his father shot “a man in a hat” to protect Boyd, all the while thinking the man under the hat was Raylan. Knowing that Raylan never particularly liked his father, the reveal in the finale that Arlo thinks of Boyd as a son instead of his own flesh and blood offspring, still packed one hell of a tragic punch.
Best episode: “Guy Walks Into a Bar”
When ‘Girls’ premiered in April of this year, I reviewed it and wrote, “This show is a humorous and cleverly subtle commentary on maturity, on being a girl, and on growing up in a privileged world only to find out life actually kind of sucks sometimes. ” And I stick by that. Sure, sometimes the commentary wasn’t subtle, sometimes it was spelled out in neon letters, but that’s what makes this show so much fun.
I accept that ‘Girls’ isn’t a traditional show and I love it all the more for it. Its humor – much like ‘Community’ – is not for everyone. Not a single one of my friends liked the show. They called it weird and gross and plain not funny. I chalked that up to the fact I hang out with a lot of dudes who wouldn’t understand Hannah’s plight, but then the few females I discussed it with also didn’t like it. Perhaps I’m hanging out with the wrong kind of people, but I think the problem stems from the fact that so many people didn’t understand the humor or the commentary on today’s girls, that they only watched the pilot episode and didn’t allow the stories to mature and develop, which it did beautifully throughout the season. Or maybe their lives are so perfect that they can’t relate to the awkwardness, the selfishness, the foolishness and the just plain stupid actions of the four girls. Either way, they’re wrong, I’m right, just like always, and season two can’t come soon enough.
Best episode: “Welcome To Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident”
The only thing wrong with Steven Moffat’s ‘Sherlock’ is that it’s only three episodes in length. The short season makes sense considering each episode is a 90 minute movie taking on a single Sherlock Holmes story, but it’s still maddening fans have to wait so long between the end of season two, which saw Sherlock fake his own death (HOW DID HE DO IT?) after a face off with arch-nemesis Moriarty, and season three.
But when you consider the fact series star Benedict Cumberbatch is literally in every movie that has been released in the last three months, you have to start wondering how he does it. Does he have a Time-Turner? Does he have a Police Box? Inquiring minds need to know how he’s taken over the world and still found time to put on the Sherlock costume at all. And of course, there’s Martin Freeman as Watson who is currently traversing Middle Earth with bare feet and a bunch of unruly and smelly dwarves. But that’s neither here nor there, because ‘Sherlock’ is one of the best things to happen to the world in a long time and fans are willing to wait for the next installment (so long as Moffat explains how Sherlock faked his death). It should also be noted that for a series with only three episodes per season, it is saying something when you can’t decide which episode was the best of the season.
Best episode: The Reichenbach Fall
10. New Girl
It’s been a long time since I’ve had this many comedies on any Best of List, but I’m not complaining. I’m happy we’ve finally managed to rise from the ashes of the traditional sitcom and that so many current comedies are, well, funny. After ‘Friends’ ended, so many shows came and went as they tried to recapture the glory of the show but were unable to. And then ‘New Girl’ premiered in the fall of 2011 and the time was right for a new set of loveable idiots. The show struggled when it premiered, and it continues to struggle whenever it forgets that Jess is a real human being, but thankfully those instances are becoming fewer and fewer as the show continues to grow in its sophomore season.
By making Schmidt a douche with a heart of gold and Nick a grumpy old man at the age of almost 30, the show has given life to two of my favorite characters currently on TV. I could spend an entire day watching Nick’s cookie speech or Schmidt describe his sexual practices. I could (and have) watched the scene between Nick and the scary clown from this season’s Halloween episode over and over and over. Sometimes I think I could just watch the two of them interact with the world around them and I’d be perfectly happy. But then you add in Winston and his love for fruity girly drinks and his sympathy PMS and you’ve got a complete band of misfit roommates for Jess to play off. The show is a great comedy about the transition from your carefree twenties to the obstacles of real adulthood, such as the recent episode in which Jess worried about the possibility of not being able to have children, and as long as the show is able to maintain this level of quality and humor, I foresee it lasting for quite a while.
Best episode: “Fancyman” (Part 1)
Note: Photos courtesy of AMC, HBO, Showtime, NBC, BBC, Fox and FX.