TV Feature: The 10 Best TV Shows of 2012

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5. “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
I asked him, ‘How can a man be brave if he’s afraid?’ That is the ONLY time a man can be brave, he told me.
—Episode 2.8, “The Prince of Winterfell,” 5.20.12

Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones
Photo credit: HBO

Is there any show on TV more dramatically ambitious than “GoT”? It’s one of those shows that is really hard to believe is even on TV. It’s like “LOST” in that respect, in that not only should it not really work but it’s hard to believe it was ever greenlighted. “We’re gonna make an incredibly expensive show with dozens of major characters in fantasy settings and make it more about politics and leadership than dungeons & dragons. Sound good?!?!” And yet it has become one of the smartest and most technically accomplished programs of the last decade. The second season was a little dense at times but it peaked to a point of dramatic perfection. I can’t wait for season three. (Season 1 is on Blu-ray & DVD and Season 2 is on HBO Go.)

4. “Girls” (HBO)
I’m offended by all of the supposed tos. I don’t like women telling other women what to do or how to do it or when to do it.
—Episode 1.2, “Vagina Panic,” 4.22.12

Photo credit: HBO

The best new show of 2012 by some stretch is Lena Dunham’s daring comedy about girls in their quarter-life crisis in New York City. Dunham is brilliant in how she allows her characters to be imperfect, annoying, and even spoiled. There’s a reason it’s called “Girls” and not “Women.” These characters are supposed to be immature and it’s the ways in which they are so that is so fascinating and truthful. Turn on the TV and flip to any channel and you’ll see a character, whether it’s a sitcom lead or a dramatic hero, that the writers really want you to like. Lena Dunham’s show (along with the comedy only a hair better than it just below) never feels like it’s pandering to that aesthetic. And lost in all of the controversy over the divisive nature of “Girls” was something very simple — it’s damn funny. Major laughs in every episode. And you can’t say that about many shows in 2012, a year in which most comedies were down creatively. Or maybe it just felt that way with “Girls” to compare them to. (Season 1 is on Blu-ray, DVD, & HBO Go.)

3. “Louie” (FX)
You have to do research. You have to go on Amazon and read a really long review written by an insane person… who’s been dead for months because he shot his wife and then himself after explaining to you that the remote is counterintuitive. It’s got really small buttons on the remote he said before he murder-suicided his whole family.
—Episode 3.10, “Late Show (Part 1),” 8.30.12

Photo credit: FX

Few shows in history have been less reliant on genre than “Louie.” The fact is that we’re a two-party system on TV. You’re either a comedy or a drama (with reality TV being the underappreciated independent party, I suppose). “Louie” is neither. And both. This year was more melancholy than the last and I was actually happy to hear that Louis C.K. was planning to take some time off to rekindle some creative fires. Not that this year was “bad” (I clearly don’t think that based on its ranking here) but I was starting to worry about the guy. There were so many moments of absolute brilliance this year from the funniest scene at a strip club in years to the amazing trip to Miami to the arc in which the comedian hoped to be the next late night star (and that BETTER win David Lynch a guest star Emmy). Comedy, drama, whatever you want to call it — it’s just great TV. (Seasons 1 & 2 are on Blu-ray and DVD.)

2. “Breaking Bad” (AMC)
You are trouble. I’m sorry the kid here doesn’t see it, but I sure as hell do. You are a time bomb. Tick tick ticking. And I have no intention for being around for the boom.
—Episode 5.2, “Madrigal,” 7.22.12

Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad
Photo credit: AMC

The best show of the last decade took the ever-so-slightest dip from season four in part due to the decision to divide the final season into two eight-episode installments. I felt the rush this year, as if the saga of Walter White was racing to a finish when I wanted more time to appreciate the characters. Despite that, this is still such an amazingly complex program, the kind of drama that you don’t just watch, you experience. You mull it over afterwards. What does it mean? Where is it going? We’ll know next year when Vince Gilligan officially ends the saga of one of the most fascinating characters in television history. (Seasons 1-4 are on Blu-ray and DVD.)

1. “Boardwalk Empire” (HBO)
We’ve been on the road for 18 hours. I need a bath, some chow and then you and me sit down and we talk about who dies.
—Episode 3.11, “Two Imposters,” 11.25.12

Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire
Photo credit: HBO

I wasn’t fully sold on the first two seasons of HBO’s prohibition drama but the third time was most definitely the charm as every element that felt slightly out of place before was placed into this year’s well-oiled machine. The dramatic urgency that the program lacked was there in every episode and the melancholy of Buscemi’s performance as a man who seems to have lost his interest in being a gangster but cannot live any other life allowed the actor to do the best work of his career. Jack Huston and Bobby Cannavale should fight for Best Supporting Actor consideration next year. And the entire season had the quality of great fiction. It might not have been the best show of the year episode to episode, week to week, chapter to chapter. But when you close the book and consider the fictional accomplishment as a whole, it was absolutely flawless. (Seasons 1 & 2 are on Blu-ray and DVD.) content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

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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