TV Feature: The 10 Best TV Shows of 2012

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CHICAGO – Zombies. Dragons. Gangsters. Meth dealers. David Lynch. It was a weird year for television. Was it a good year? Sorta. It was nowhere near the landmark year of 2011 but there was still a lot to like and it was easy to get to 30 shows worth mentioning.

Most of the greats of 2011 were down a tick (or in the case of “American Horror Story,” WAY more than a tick) and there was a notable dearth of new shows worth talking about, especially on the networks, after the best freshman crop in years in 2011. Overall, it felt like a transitional year as networks still seem to be trying to figure out how to compete in an increasingly unstable landscape in which more viewers that advertisers covet are watching HBO Go than NBC. Let’s get right to it with notes on the top ten as to if they’re available on Blu-ray and DVD

Runner-ups: “Archer” (FX), “Downton Abbey” (PBS), “Episodes” (Showtime), “Falling Skies” (TNT), “Last Resort” (ABC), “The Middle” (ABC), “Modern Family” (ABC), “The Newsroom” (HBO), “Raising Hope” (FOX), and “Survivor” (CBS).

20. “Go On” (NBC)
19. “Happy Endings” (ABC)
18. “New Girl” (FOX)
17. “Justified” (FX)
16. “Community” (NBC)
15. “Doctor Who” (BBC)
14. “30 Rock” (NBC)
13. “Southland” (TNT)
12. “Mad Men” (AMC)
11. “Veep/The Thick of It” (HBO/Hulu)

10. “Sons of Anarchy” (FX)
There’s an old saying, ‘That what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’ I don’t believe that. I think the things that try to kill you make you angry and sad. Strength comes from the good things - your family, your friends, the satisfaction of hard work. Those are the things that’ll keep you whole. Those are the things to hold on to when you’re broken.
—Episode 5.1, “Sovereign,” 9.11.12

Sons of Anarchy
Sons of Anarchy
Photo credit: FX

“Sons of Anarchy” started its first season as an interesting take on “Hamlet” that somehow didn’t feel grounded enough or melodramatic enough to work as either realism or grand spectacle. It improved in its second season, largely due to great work by Katey Sagal, but took such a nose dive in its awful third season that I thought it was done. I thought wrong. Season four was entertaining but season five was absolutely riveting television, thanks in no small part to guest turns by Jimmy Smits and Harold Perrineau that seemed to invigorate the entire cast. Darker than ever, more intense than ever, and more tragic ever, “Sons of Anarchy” reached new heights and stars Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman had their best seasons to date. It still sometimes plays a bit too broadly to be believable — there are more shoot-outs in this area of California than most war-torn countries — but the pacing this year kept the suspension of disbelief in line. (Seasons 1-4 are on Blu-ray and DVD.)

9. “Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
Wikipedia is mankind’s greatest invention. You can learn about anything. We all know Ray J. We all know he’s a singer. He’s Brandy’s brother. And he was in that classic sex tape with Kim Kardashian. But, did you also know he’s Snoop Dogg’s cousin AND he was in the 1996 Tim Burton movie Mars Attacks? Suddenly, you’re on the Mars Attacks page!
—Episode 5.4, “Sex Education,” 10.18.12

Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation
Photo credit: NBC

The writing was a bit rocky at the beginning of the fifth season of network TV’s best show, but the fact is that this is still the funniest show on TV when it’s clicking on all cylinders. And the final few months of 2012 were very good to the gang in Pawnee. The writers have reached that confident point where they have refined their characters so well that they don’t have to hit punchlines directly, allowing the humor to come from people we feel like we know. And I always say that a sitcom is only as good as its weakest supporting player. It’s the ultimate ensemble art form. And there’s not a weak player on this team. (Seasons 1-4 are on DVD.)

8. “Homeland” (Showtime)
This is Nicholas Brody and I’m a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. People will say I was broken, I was brainwashed. People will say I was turned into a terrorist.
—Episode 2.3, “State of Independence,” 10.14.12

Photo credit: Showtime

How do you follow an act like the first season of “Homeland”? The dip in writing was undeniable this year as it felt like the staff behind one of TV’s most-talked about shows were figuring things out as they went along. Subplots like the hit & run that gave Brody’s daughter way too much screen time and then was quickly dropped when the writers couldn’t really figure out how to tie it back in with the rest of the show hinted at a program for which the wheels could quickly come off (as they have for night-mate “Dexter,” a show that has gone so far afield from its original concept that it barely resembles its creative peak). All season, the acting on “Homeland” was so stellar, especially in that amazing interrogation scene that probably won Claire Danes and Damian Lewis second Emmys, that the writing was easy enough to forgive. And then, despite leaving a few plot holes big enough to drive through, the final two episodes really, truly worked. Once again, I can’t wait to see where they go next. (Season 1 is on Blu-ray and DVD and Season 2 is available on Showtime Anywhere for subscribers.)

7. “Sherlock” (PBS)
Your mind, it’s so placid, straight-forward, barely used. Mine’s like an engine, racing out of control. A rocket, tearing itself to pieces, trapped on the launch pad.
—Episode 2.2, “The Hounds of Baskerville,” 5.13.12

Photo credit: PBS

“Elementary” ain’t bad and the Robert Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movies are massive hits but the real Sherlock & Watson are Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman, stars of what were essentially three of the best TV movies of 2012 aired under the banner “Sherlock.” “A Scandal in Belgravia,” “The Hounds of Baskerville,” and “The Reichenbach Fall” would all merit consideration for year-end best of film lists if they had been released in theaters this year. They are perfectly executed, wonderfully performed, and highly entertaining mysteries that brilliantly offer a lesson in how to adapt well-known characters for modern times. The team on “Sherlock” use characters and ideas and even plots from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but they make them their own. And they make them incredibly entertaining. (Seasons 1 & 2 are available on Blu-ray and DVD.)

6. “The Walking Dead” (AMC)
I can’t profess to understand God’s plan, but when Christ promised a resurrection of the dead, I just thought he had something a little different in mind.
—Episode 2.13, “Beside the Dying Fire,” 3.18.12

The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead
Photo credit: AMC

It went through a rocky period in the mid-section of season two after the departure of Frank Darabont and the notable difference in season length led to some pacing issues but, man, did it come around near the end of the sophomore outing and continues to just dominate creatively halfway through season three. The endless soap opera of Lori-Rick-Shane was replaced by a true sense of horror in that everyone became expendable and plotlines became completely unpredictable. From the minute that Shane opened those barn doors, this show hasn’t looked back, maintaining a degree of highly entertaining action that most movie can’t keep up for two hours much less a dozen episodes. (Seasons 1 & 2 are on Blu-ray and DVD. Season 3 returns in February.)

Hunier's picture

Man, I agree with almost

Man, I agree with almost everything. It’s so great that you appreciated shows like Louie,they need all the publicity they can get :)
There are some shows that I still need to watch (especially from 11-20), but now I most definitely will. Seeing how I agree with you makes me think I’ll love them too ;)

If I had to change anything on the list though, I’d place SoA a little higher. IT WAS an incredible season, the very definition of “Drama”. Love

Hunier's picture

PS Even Southland is here,

PS Even Southland is here, an amazing show that everyone else forgets about!

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