Superlatives of the year, Day 9: The top 10 TV shows of 2012

January 7, 2013


It’s time to wrap up 2012 by looking back at the best TV shows of the year.


I feel like my TV diet in 2012 was defined more by the shows that I didn’t have a chance to watch than the ones that I did. Some of these were shows that I had been keeping up with previously and had been in previous top 10 lists like Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, The Hour, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Louie as well as others that were new this year that sounded very interesting, but didn’t have a chance or opportunity to watch like Luck, Girls, Veep, Political Animals, and Homeland. Most of those shows weren’t available to me because I didn’t have cable from January to May of 2012. Since I now have HBO Go, I hope that I’ll be able to catch up with most of those shows and that I can watch the new seasons in 2013. But for now, here are the top shows of 2012:


10. Burn Notice

Season 6 of Burn Notice, all of which aired in 2012, was a gigantic step up from season 5. Many of the episodes during season 6 allowed the case of the week portion of the episode to spring from the overall plot, which was needed after all of the unnecessary, weepy tales that led to the cases of the week during season 5. I give the writers of the show credit for changing the formula and upping the stakes in season 6 and it gives me hope that this show won’t coast to the end of its time. The one thing that the writers have seemed to run out of are interesting spycraft tips, which was the part that I most looked forward to during the first four seasons or so. It is a good thing though that the characters now carry the show and not just the gimmicks.


9. Alphas

I don’t know that I would call season 2 of Alphas better than the first season, which aired last summer, mainly because it was such an unexpected treat last summer whereas this year I placed a few expectations on the show. Thankfully, the show did most everything right this season by giving David Strathairn more to do, allowing Ryan Cartwright to continue to display his brilliant acting chops, and giving back story and stakes to a few of the characters that didn’t have them during the previous season (Rachel and Nina specifically). I’m not sure if I bought everything with Stanton Parish and his endgame, but I think the end of season 2 made things very intriguing for next season.


8. 30 Rock

After several years off of this list, 30 Rock returned with its strongest set of episodes in a while. 30 Rock has long had the highest ratio of number of jokes per minute of any show on TV, but for a while those jokes weren’t sticking nearly as well (season 4) and the plight of Liz Lemon became stagnant and frustrating. Season 6 and 7 revitalized the show in the comedy department and the definitive end date (Season 7 will be the last…only 5 episodes left) smoothed out the narrative with Liz and her relationships and future. I’m glad that this show won’t go the way of The Office by fade out on a low note, but I will miss it when it is gone in February!


7. Awake

This weird little show from NBC about a man who (after a deadly car crash) experiences two realities, one in which his wife lived but son died and visa versa, never sure of which was truly reality, was a great exploration of grief and paranoia. It worked best when it would focus on the emotional and mental impact that the crash had on Jason Isaac’s main character (Michael Britton) and generally floundered when it tried to add to the big conspiracy theory about the Britton family car crash. Still, the wonderful small moments outweighed the conspiracy and created a great little show that few people watched and which unfortunately received the axe after one season.


6. Community

Only the back half of season 3 (12 episodes) aired this year and it has been a good 7 months since new episodes of Community have been exposed to my eyeballs, which is a shame. That distance also played a factor in Community’s placement on this list since the more I think back on those 12 episodes, the further Community moves up on this list. There were some great episodes in there including Abed and Annie in the Dreamatorium, a Law and Order spoof, a second faux-flashback episode, and an episode set in a video game…so in other words, classic Community brilliance. We’ll see what the show is like without creator Dan Harmon when it comes back on October 19 (February 7).


5. Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation was perhaps the most consistent comedy on television, consistently delivering laughs and warm emotions without feeling stale or stagnant. That was absolutely commendable, and if the highs of the show peaked in season 3, the fact that it hasn’t crashed down since then, but rather drifted into a wonderful path, has been remarkable. The end of season 4 saw the conclusion of Leslie’s campaign for city council with a fun little guest arc by Paul Rudd and season 5 started off a bit weak with Ben and April in DC for a few episodes, but really picked up after those two returned to Pawnee. Now we’ll see if Leslie and April can team up to finally build a park in the infamous empty lot which kicked off the drama of the show back in season 1!


4. Sherlock

The second series of this BBC show starring the (now) mega-famous Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, was similar to the first series in structure, but managed to kick both the stakes and the comedy up a notch. The first episode with Irene Adler was perhaps the funniest that the show has done, the second installment was the weakest of the three (similar to the middle episode in the last series), but was able to do some interesting things with Sherlock experiencing fear, and the final episode brought a wonderful confrontation between Sherlock and Moriarty. We are going to have to wait a long time (2014) for new episodes of this show, but I would be happy watching these three episodes another few times between now and then.


3. Bob’s Burgers

Dish network (my cable company) and my  local northwest FOX affiliate are having a contract dispute right now which means that I haven’t been able to watch any shows on FOX since December. I couldn’t care less about the football games that I can’t watch as a result and it’s a bummer to not be able to DVR new episodes of New Girl and The Mindy Project, but the real reason I call my local FOX affiliate daily in order to encourage them to make a deal is so that I can watch Bob’s Burgers! With Community off of the air since May, my source of outlandish comedy with heart was Bob’s Burgers. The voice acting was hilarious (the writers realized that anytime Linda attempted to sing, it was comedy gold), the situations were zany (a mechanical shark from a Jaws like film escaped a theme park and terrorized the town), and the comedy was sharp (“I am literally grasping at straws here!”). There was some very stiff competition, but Bob’s Burgers was my favorite comedy on TV in 2012


2. Justified

The best show of last year slipped one spot this year after the death of Mags Bennett at the end of season 2. Many players filled the hole left by Mags’ death including a crazy carpetbagger from Memphis played by Neal McDonough and a calm and cunning information broker played by Mykelti Williamson. The usual players were also up to their usual tricks including Dewey Crowe, Dickie Bennett, Arlo Givens, and Wynn Duffy. But the brilliance of this show came down, as it always has, to the performances by Timothy Olyphant as the main character Raylan Givens, and Walton Goggins as his friend/enemy/antithesis Boyd Crowder. Those men were great during season 3 as life, and especially the women in their lives, created plenty of emotional havoc. I can’t wait for season 4 to begin in only a few days.


1.  Mad Men

This was the first season of Mad Men that I had the ability to watch as it aired instead of after the fact and it was great to be a part of the conversation for the first time.  I appreciated this show for what it did starting with frame one of the pilot, but the tale of Don Draper and the many people in his life didn’t really grab me until Don took a trip to California towards the end of season 2. Since that trip, the narrative has been absolutely gripping and combined with the incredible acting, attention to period detail, and themes woven into every episode, there were very few shows that come close to matching Mad Men for the best show on television. And now, for the first time, I can actually denote so on my list of the best TV shows of 2012.


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