The Top 10 TV Shows of 2012
By Rachel Bennett
Television Editor & Columnist
As it’s the end of the year, it’s time to reflect on our successes, regrets and, of course, favorite TV shows.
Below are my choices for the top 10 TV shows of 2012. This list wasn’t an easy one to make, as no list really is, but these are the series I simultaneously enjoyed the most and thought were the most noteworthy of the year.
Sadly, some programs didn’t make the cut, including HBO’s Game of Thrones, FX’s Justified and ABC’s Happy Endings, but they were certainly close.
Take a look at my picks, and let me know what you think.
10. NBC’s Community
The third season of NBC’s most eccentric comedy isn’t my favorite of the three, but it makes the list because it’s the last we’ll see from the mind of creator Dan Harmon. As many TV viewers know, Harmon was let go from the series this summer in a highly public firing. Although new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port, who have worked on such series as NBC’s Mad About You and ABC’s Happy Endings, may be able to keep intact the series’s hyperactive, pop culture-enriched tone, they are certainly facing high expectations. With hope for the future, we at least can look back on an incredible season that gave us a Law & Order spoof episode as well as a Ken Burns-like documentary spoof episode. It was a pretty cool (cool cool cool) year for Community.
9. CBS’s The Good Wife
The fourth season of CBS’s best legal drama suffered from the introduction of Kalinda’s (Archie Panjabi) mysterious husband (Marc Warren), prompting creators Robert King and Michelle King to end the storyline sooner than planned, but the series is quickly bouncing back. It’s due, in part, to another husband the series has done a better job of examining: Peter Florrick (Chris Noth). This season more than any other has shown viewers a different side of Alicia’s (Julianna Margulies) estranged spouse, showcasing just why she fell in love with him in the first place and why he may be more worthy of her than Will Gardner (Josh Charles). More than anything, though, I love this season for its use of guest stars Nathan Lane and Maura Tierney — I’ve never seen them like this, yet they’ve never been better.
8. Fox’s New Girl
One of the strongest new series last year, New Girl is managing to avoid the sophomore slump this year with a hilarious second season. The show is taking its time showcasing the two main would-be couples, Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) and Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Cece (Hannah Simone), which may be frustrating but is all for the best. It’s giving viewers time to really get to know these characters and build a strong foundation, as last year focused largely on Jess and Schmidt and this season is shifting more toward Nick and Winston (Lamorne Morris). The guest stars, which included David Walton, Carla Gugino and Rob Riggle, have also been a delight. I can’t wait to see where the new year takes New Girl.
7. HBO’s Girls
Although it took time for me to warm up to Girls, by the end of its first season, I was looking forward to revisiting these characters once more. Although Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) and friends are selfish, immature and at times incredibly vapid, which turned some viewers off from the comedy, but a lot of people seem to forget that Girls is partly a social commentary. This is how a lot of 20-somethings act as they try to get their lives together following college — it may not be pretty, but it’s realistic. You also have to commend Dunham, who is only 26 but writes, directs, produces and stars in the series, for creating such a confident and well-structured first season. All one has to do is look at the fall’s disappointing new series to see it’s not as easy as it looks.
6. FX’s Louie
Louie won’t be returning with new episodes until 2014, so we’d better appreciate what we got this year. The comedy’s third season may not have been as strong as its second, but it continued to push the boundaries of just how many laughs can come from awkward situations (Melissa Leo and Parker Posey, anyone?). Creator, writer, producer, editor, director and star Louis C.K. also filmed a three-part episode this season — expanding on the success of season two’s hour-long episode “Duckling” — that saw Louie auditioning to replace David Letterman on CBS’s the Late Show. The chapter was at times hilarious, devastating and uplifting, just like the character himself. In short, I’m really going to miss Louie.
5. NBC’s Parenthood
Talk about an underrated series — Parenthood is usually overlooked by award shows but consistently one of the best dramas on TV. This season is an especially stunning achievement for the show, as it’s largely dealt with Kristina Braverman’s (Monica Potter) cancer in a scarily realistic but touching way. Aside from this, Parenthood has addressed such topics as racism, PTSD, sibling rivalry and more with the same amount of grace and sensitivity. There’s no other family drama like it on TV, so it’s a shame there are only four more episodes left this season. However, I’m sure those will be just as rewarding as the first 11 and will set up a great fifth season. Now all NBC has to do is renew it (please, NBC!).
4. Showtime’s Homeland
Homeland is possibly the year’s most frustrating show, yet it’s also one I couldn’t wait to watch and talk about the next day. The worst part is, my annoyance with it didn’t begin until the final four episodes or so of the season. The five hours leading up to season highlight “Q&A”, are arguably the best dramatic episodes of 2012. They left me on the edge of my seat with their incredible pacing, changing the way stories are told on TV and what viewers should expect from them. But then terrorist Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) somehow got into the U.S., kidnapped Carrie (Claire Danes) and schemed Brody (Damian Lewis) to kill Vice President Walden (Jamey Sheridan) — leading to numerous eye rolls and questions of plot plausibility. The finale helped correct course, but the season’s saving graces are its excellent cast and stunning character moments.
3. AMC’s Mad Men
Unlike most critics, I thought season five of Mad Men was a slight disappointment. The circumstances leading up to the suicide of Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) felt rushed, and the focus on Megan Draper (Jessica Paré) was too much. The drama is still one of the best on TV, though. Despite being called Mad Men, moreover, the series has always excelled when telling the story of its women employees — particularly Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss). This year, we got the pleasure of seeing Peggy rise in the ranks, albeit at another firm, and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) become a partner at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The season may not have turned out exactly how I wanted it to be, but it was still consistent and a strong entry in a series of stupendous chapters.
2. NBC’s Parks and Recreation
It’s hard to know where to begin when discussing Parks and Recreation — it’s just that good. Let’s begin with the cast, which is the best comedy cast on TV (Yes, I said it). Everyone, from the smaller roles (Perd Hapley, portrayed by Jay Jackson) to the bigger characters (Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler), is pretty much perfect and beautifully exhibits the quirky, wholesome optimism of small-town Americana. Most comedies, and some of my favorites, get their laughs from cynicism, but Parks and Recreation is an exception. Instead, it makes me howl with laughter every week while wearing its heart on its sleeve. If it doesn’t survive another year, it’ll be like the death of Li’l Sebastian all over again — but at least we’ll have five seasons of amazing comedy, and it will go out on top.
1. AMC’s Breaking Bad
No other series was more exciting to watch this year than Breaking Bad, which aired the first half of its fifth and final season this summer. Under incredible pressure, especially following the jaw-dropping death of antagonist Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), creator Vince Gilligan managed to craft another season of beautiful character moments juxtaposed with thrilling action and twists. There was a point when I thought Walter White (Bryan Cranston) became too much of a villain (he practically needed a mustache to twirl), but the finale spectacularly brought him down to a human level once more — setting up the face-off that’s been bubbling throughout the series and that we’ll hopefully see in the final eight episodes. Summer 2013 cannot come soon enough, but at the same time, I’ll be sad when it does.
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