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2012's TV: Top 20

The returning shows owned 2012, after either working out their respective kinks of previous seasons or moving forward with brand new storylines after closing off a few major ones. Though it didn’t touch every show on television - the two fairy tale shows of 2011 for instance, Once Upon a Time and Grimm, still struggle with their format, storytelling and characters, still spending time working out their kinks in their second season - most of 2012 was devoted to the shows of old heading down different roads with new inspirations and aspirations. True Blood left its disappointing witch-storyline behind and got into VAMPIRE POLITICS, which made for an insanely fun and gory season; much more so than the last. Dexter, having finally moved forward and revealed a key piece of information to a key character, started getting a story that was interesting and different instead of just the same old thing. The Walking Dead got off the farm and started going into the characters, with more zombie-fights, gruesome events and a story of morality during an apocalypse, while the story of two brothers trying to stop the Apocalypse (Supernatural) has evolved quite nicely and moved forward with interesting stories and mysteries, from its lackluster previous season. It’s still not anywhere close to where it used to be, but it remains alright aside from the single worst episode I saw in 2012; Bitten, episode four of its eight season, made worse by the fact that it could’ve been really good.

A lot of new, interesting, shows also premiered, among them the BBC/Cinemax co-production “Hunted”, about a female spy played by Melissa George who hunts the people who betrayed and left her for dead a year ago. An interesting series you actually had to pay attention to lost its appeal after too much back-and-forth, as well as revealing its mysteries to us, the viewers, long before any of the characters were close to solving them and spinning about a hundred seemingly unconnected plotlines, most of them terribly uninteresting, before it all started to come together. Good while it lasted, with an excellent pilot. I’m excited to see where they take the series in a second season.

None of these shows are at my Top 20 list, but they did good with what they had. It’s just that a whole lot of other shows did even better. Starting at the bottom, here is my list of the Top 20 shows of 2012. This list is, of course, not based on the quality of writing or the production design or acting; it’s ranked purely after how much I enjoyed it.

Note: I have yet to see Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Treme and a few other shows you’re likely to complain aren’t on this list. Sorry about that. I’ll get to it in 2013.

 Top 20

20. Scandal
This little gem of a show, featuring ratatat-dialogue, excellent mysteries and an interest in moving the story ahead with the pace of a freight train, premiered in the spring of 2012. Created by Shonda Rhimes, the woman behind Grey’s Anatomy (another show I haven’t seen and one I have no interest in seeing), delivers a fine political thriller about a fixer, played to perfection by a phenomenal Kerry Washington. Taking place in Washington D.C., the show is about Olivia Pope, previously working for the President - a frequent character in the show. People come to Olivia to either solve, make sense of or keep their scandal out of the press, which she does with her own team of “gladiators in suits” (a term that doesn’t come up often, thankfully) while Olivia herself is off dealing with her own problems, often relating to the President and a certain conspiracy (you knew it was coming).

While the show struggles with depicting and defining the characters helping Olivia Pope, it exceeds in sketching the President, his wife and his closest ally Cyrus, as well as moving the story forward with twists and turns, lots of fun dialogue and clever solutions to problems. The first seven-episode season was one of the best things airing this spring, and while it struggled with finding its footing during its second, fall season, it finished strong with a sense of mystery and a great way to go forward. Definitely a show to watch; in 2013 it’s quite possible that it can reach even greater heights. We can only hope.

19. Spartacus/Game of Thrones
I know, I know; this is a bit of a cheat. I'll excuse it becuase it's the only cheat on the list, along with the fact that these shows have been at pretty much the same level and I’ve enjoyed them almost equally. Game of Thrones premiered with a fantastic season, and while Spartacus’ first season was littered with troubles (don’t even get me started on that god-awful pilot), it quickly found its footing and finished very strong. The follow-up prequel, Gods of the Arena, was remarkable and the second season incredibly strong, with one of the most gut-punching and awesome season finales of 2012. Really looking forward to its last season premiering this January, especially now that they’ve killed off nearly all of the main cast.

Game of Thrones continued with more intrigue, magic, political ambitions and “Blackwater”, the Neil Marshall-directed magnificent ninth episode. Much better than season one in every way, the world of Westeros continues to appeal and intrigue. Having read the book long before the season premiered I knew a lot of what was coming, which might have made me not fully enjoy it if I hadn’t. Nevertheless, it was a great season with fantastic performances, cool world-building and tons of political intrigues. I can’t wait to see where it goes in season 3.

18. How I Met Your Mother
This was not a great year for How I Met Your Mother. It was clear that the writers were struggling with writing in a vacuum; not knowing whether to leap forward towards the end, or continue telling the story of these characters’ day-to-day life. They’re clearly doing both now, with varied degree of success, but in the season seven finale they leaped further forward than they’ve ever done before. This resulted in an excellent, funny, moving and amazing season eight premiere, before they once again switched to these characters’ day-to-day lives. That is, till the two-part mid-season finale, finally revealing what this half of the season has been all about in one of the greatest and moving twists the series have ever done. HIMYM is still funny and moving, and with the mid-season finale it proved that it still has the guts and smarts to pull off wonderful things. Here’s hoping that the last half of its penultimate season continues to prove just that.

17. Bob’s Burgers
The first of three animated shows on this list, Bob’s Burgers continues - now in its third season - to be the heartwarming story of Bob and his family as they run a burger shop and tries to control his three slightly weird kids. With a voice-cast consisting of the phenomenal H. Jon Benjamin and Kristen Schaal, as well as John Roberts as the ridiculous mother Linda, this frequently cartoony show, but never too over-the-top remains hilarious and cozy just like we’re used to.

16. The Newsroom
From cozy to... disgusting? Displeasing? I don’t know. This is sure to be the most controversial choice on this list, but Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue and the story of Will MacAvoy who, along with his crew, tries to change the face of news, was one of the most entertaining shows of 2012. I couldn’t wait to see the next episode, and as I watched them they made the following hour fly by. Funny and smart dialogue, interesting characters and very good actors - Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill, Dev Patel, Olivia Munn and Sam Waterston - make this a fantastically fun and entertaining show. It has its problems and it could be better - both Sorkin’s previous shows set behind the scenes of TV, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Sports Night are much better - but I enjoyed it a lot for what it was and I can’t wait for the next season.

15. Archer
The second of three animated shows on the list is Archer. The third season could’ve been better - I haven’t had the chance to rewatch it yet, but Archer is one of the few shows that’s always better on rewatches - but it remains raunchy and funny as hell. With co-stars like Bryan Cranston, Archer continues to be a mix of Arrested Development and 007, with a complete asshole as its main character and it does it well, earning a place on my list.

14. Girls
Lena Dunham goes HBO in one of 2012’s most pleasant surprises. Collaborating occasionally with Judd Apatow, Dunham tells the tale of four girls in New York City, struggling with jobs, boyfriends and other problems. It’s a very girly show at first, but appearances can be misleading as the show grows and evolves into a portrait of being young, going to parties, finding yourself and your place in the world. It also helps that the characters are really charming, at least when you get to know them, the show is incredibly funny - I laughed till I cried by the Elijah-scene in the third episode - well-written and -directed and carries good performances, as well as incredibly awkward and uncomfortable scenes. We all remember the end of “Hannah’s Diary”, as well as a certain sex-scene (pretty much all the sex-scenes really, but especially this one) in “The Return”.

It’ll be interesting to see where the Girls go after the events of “She Did”, especially as Donald Glover is slighted to appear in the second season.

13. Bunheads
I love good dialogue. I love fast and smart dialogue. I love dialogue with pop-culture references. I love funny dialogue. This show has all that. It’s smart, fast, interesting and flat-out-hilarious, with great characters, a few great shocks and a very interesting storyline about a Las Vegas-dancer moving to the suburbs in a chain of strange occurrences and ends up helping run a dance studio. It’s sweet, heartwarming and fantastic summer television, with characters both young and old in storylines handled well. From the maker of Gilmore Girls (a show I’m suddenly very interested to see), this was one of the best shows this summer. It returns this Monday and I can’t wait.

12. Fringe
One of the few American science fiction show on television had a lackluster and disappointing fourth season - and that’s said by a fan. Seasons 2 and 3 were some of the best and most addictive TV I’ve ever seen, and while season 4 wasn’t terrible it sure didn’t rise to the heights of previous seasons. It was still entertaining, especially the traditional “experimental” 19th episode, “Letters of Transit”, featuring a future where the Observers had taken over, a note that the fourth season also ended on. The fifth and final season didn’t waste any time getting into this plotline, a wise move as the series only had 13 episodes left. At the time of this writing, ten out of thirteen episodes has aired, and in three weeks I’ll never see a new episode of this show which saddens me immensely as the fifth season has been as fun, interesting and mad as ever. If it hadn’t been for the lackluster last half of season 4, this would have gone at least a few placements up, but alas. I only hope that the series finale is so good that I can’t not have it on next year’s list, as a final goodbye to a show I’ve loved since the very first episode of season two.

11. Misfits
Oh, Misfits. Every year, you produce eight intense, hilarious, dark and witty episodes with characters you’d never want to meet or be friends with. The fourth season sees yet another three characters - one who has, over the course of the last three seasons, evolved into one of my favorites on all of television - gone and two new introduced. Luckily, this doesn’t seem to have mattered much as the writing are as fresh, funny and inventive as ever. From the film noir/zombie-episode to the fantastic doomsday-story of a super-powered relationship and a wonderful new probation-worker, Misfits has never been better. Or, well, it has, but it’s still fantastic. If you’re not watching this, you’re seriously missing out.

10. New Girl
When this premiered in 2011, I never would’ve predicted that it would be on my top 2012 television list. I checked it out as a fan of Zooey Deschanel, eagerly discussed and was enlightened by the manic-pixie-dream-girl-character, but still enjoyed the show as an occasionally funny sitcom centered around Deschanel’s character. But then 2011 ended, 2012 began and the writers of New Girl stopped centering the show around Deschanel’s performance, turning this into an ensemble-comedy that is now one of the funniest shows on television. There, I said it. No normal sitcom has made me laugh more in 2012 than this, and it all started in the amazing twelfth episode “The Landlord”. New Girl is network television’s answer to Girls, making jokes and stories based off these characters’ idiosyncrasies and personalities and the way they collide. Sure, every once in a while it misfires, but it happens rarer and rarer and it looks like that trend will continue in 2013’s episodes.

9. Suits
Another summer-show that’s a ton of fun. Its premise is straightforward enough, but the amount of tension, excitement, humor and suspense it manages to wrench out of its premise is remarkable. The dialogue is snappy, the stories interesting and twisty, the reveals are sneaky and the way the characters play and manipulate each other is nothing short of amazing. This is one of the shows that made me laugh, cry, whoop with joy and eagerly await the next episode. I still miss it and I’ll continue to do so until it comes back; which, thankfully, isn’t that long.

8. The Vampire Diaries
Few shows on television have been as consistently good as this. And I’m not even kidding anymore; this show is surely the best acted, written and directed show on television. The way it handles its characters, plots, twists, pace - everything - is nothing short of astonishing. It’s a freight train and halfway into its fourth season it shows no sign of stopping. I can’t wait to see where it goes in 2013.

7. Community
Community is my type of humor. It’s my type of television; inventive, exciting, interesting and ridiculous. I love it all. Nothing makes me laugh more than it. The way it blends high-concept episodes with deep, character-based stories is nothing short of impressive. In 2012 it made me laugh with tears, it made me cry, it made me watch in shock as the characters built blanket forts, entered video games and fused ever-tighter into their community. With the third season finale, doubling as the goodbye from Dan Harmon, the creator, and other members of the writer’s staff, it was a strange season that ended beautifully. I’m looking forward to see how and what the show becomes in its fourth (and probably last) season, with many changes behind the scenes. I don’t think it’ll be the same, but I’m hoping it’ll still be good.

6. Gravity Falls
Yet another summer-show and the last animated show on television. Inspired by things like Twin Peaks and 80’s (Amblin) adventure films - two of my very favorite films - like The Goonies and Gremlins amongst other things, Gravity Falls is the best new show of 2012. It’s ridiculous, hilarious and amazing, with monsters, mysteries and the life of two siblings, Mabel and Dipper Pines, who’s stuck in the town of Gravity Falls with their Uncle, Grunkle Stan, over the summer. It uses high concepts such as clone-machines and ghosts to take a look at how it is to grow up with all its insecurities, but it doesn’t think it’s better than anything and frequently uses ridiculous jokes and childlike humor to balance all the pathos. As if that wasn’t enough, its voice cast is beyond amazing. This was one of the best things about 2012 and a show I can’t wait to watch over and over again. Mabel tripping out on foreign and illegal candy is perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve seen this year. I’m shocked that Disney allowed it, I’m shocked that it worked so well and I’m shocked at how much I laughed at it. Just wonderful.

5. Louie
Louie is, as always, unpredictable genius. In its third seasons we got C.K.’s take on manic-pixie-dream-girls, a trip to China, Cuba and more of his kids and ex-wife, as well as a brilliant three-part arc that worked as a mini-movie. Louie C.K. continues to knock it out of the park with amazing warmth, hilarity and nastiness. It’s too bad we have to wait a long while on season four, but at least we know that when it finally comes it’ll be worth the wait and just a little bit more.

4. Homeland
Another divisive choice; Homeland’s second season had its fair share of problems, but as a lover of spy fiction, doomed relationships (yes I’m very sentimental) and twists, I couldn’t help but love this. No, it’s not as great as the first season, but in my book it’s still solid. (from this point on beware of spoilers - BIG SPOILERS - for the second season) I love that the show basically fooled everyone to watch a (tragic) love story between an ex-terrorist and an unstable CIA-agent, both with their respective dark pasts, instead of the terrorist-thriller they signed up for. Some things haven’t really gelled well - the Finn and Dana-plotline started out good but got useless after a while, which is terribly sad since Morgan Saylor is one of the very best things about this show, and they could’ve used this story to a better extent as a parallel with Brody and Carrie’s storyline - but overall it was a great season with some terrific episodes; “The Smile” and “Q&A” immediately come to mind, as well as the season finale which gobsmacked and shocked me with the brilliant use of a certain tape. I mean holy shit. That never even occurred to me.

Not as strong as season one, and the hunt for the main terrorist (I forget his name) wasn’t terribly interesting, but the actors and terrific character-work made up for everything plot-wise. I am extremely curious towards the third season, which the showrunners have said will be smaller and more quiet, inspired by John Le Carré, which I definitely approve of and think is the right way to go from here. Good character-work, nice moment and great twists made this one of the more exciting shows for me this fall, which is why it gets so high on the list. Hopefully, season three will be even better.

3. Sherlock
Sherlock is the most frustrating show on television. I’m not even sure you can call it a television show; with its three 90-minute episodes airing about once every second year (first season fall 2010, second season January 2011, third season maybe in fall/winter 2013 if we’re lucky; if not, it’ll be January 2014), its incredibly frustrating season finales and that long, terrible wait. It makes up for that wait by delivering some of the finest television I have ever watched. I have seen season one more times than I can count and I have already watched season two four times in one year. I have all nine hours of the show in one day, twice in 2012. I love it so much. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Steve Thompson’s writing and puzzle-plots, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s beyond excellent performances, Paul McGuigan, Euros Lyn and Toby Haynes’ magnificent directing; there’s not a single bad thing about the show (apart from season 1’s lackluster second episode) and I hope it stays that way for a long time.

2. Breaking Bad
Oh come on, you knew it was coming. Breaking Bad delivered, in the eight first episodes of its final season, an exciting, twisting tale of the Walter White’s soon-to-be last days. I’m not going to bother to say why this is placed so high on this list; if you’ve seen the show you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t... Well, what are you waiting for? You’re just in time to catch up before the final eight episodes premiere this summer. Everyone’s going to be talking about it. Join the conversation. I promise you won’t regret it.

1. Doctor Who
“Well come on then. You've got me. What are you waiting for? At long last! It's Christmas! Here I am!”

With these words, Doctor Who was back. No, it weren’t the first words of the episode, but it was the moment I remember just how good this show is and how much I love it.

After revealing, wrapping up and ending the mystery of River Song in season 6, The Doctor and his friends returned for five “blockbuster” episodes.... to say goodbye. The Final Goodbye. The heartbreaking goodbye. And, as the final fate of Amy and Rory came ever so closer, we were treated to some of the best stories ever. “Asylum of the Daleks” may be the best Dalek-centered episode of the 2005 reboot, packing a huge twist that sent every Who-fan reeling from the surprise and just what it meant. “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” delivered a fun, yet occasionally dark, romp with “DINOSAURS! ON A SPACESHIP!” It was also miles better than Snakes on a Plane. “A Town Called Mercy” went ever-darker, seeing what happened to The Doctor when he travelled alone too much, while “The Power of Three” was a nice breath of fresh air, with a different perspective and a focus on the Ponds more so than ever before. And then the Angels took Manhattan, everything changed and nothing will ever be the same again...

At least not until Christmas, when the Snowmen attacked and The Doctor was thrust out of his retirement by a certain governess whose intriguing and mysterious story is yet to be revealed, in the coming season written by Steven Moffat, Neil Gaiman (Good Omens, The Sandman), Neil Cross (Luther) and Mark Gatiss, with a Haunted House-episode, as well as a “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS”. Needless to say, I’m beyond excited.

So why is this show on number 1, you may ask. And I agree that it’s a weird choice; it’s only aired five episodes - not even a full or half season - in 2012, and while those five episodes have been terrific and excellent, they’re no match for the quality of writing and the deep character-arcs of Breaking Bad. But ultimately, this isn’t a choice of quality or quantity for me; the top pick could’ve been Dallas, if I’d seen and loved that show this much. Doctor Who has been the most fun, the biggest emotional roller coaster, the show I’ve most looked forward to and the best hours in front of my television in 2012 - easily. When I made this list, I immediately put this show in the number 1 spot; there was never even a second-thought. I just love this show. And, if you get through the first season, then over to Moffat’s fifth season, you’ll love it too. It’s witty, heartwrenching, excellent television, with some of the biggest reveals, twists and longest plotlines ever. The writing is incredibly imaginative, yet it never loses its focus on the characters. It is simply a wonder to behold; almost too good to be true. It is my favorite story on television, a huge inspiration to my own writing and world-view, and it’s really, really fun. Check it out.


That's it for 2012's TV. I'll be back next week with my five most anticipated new shows in 2013. Till then, have a wonderful new year!

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