Thursday, January 17, 2013

Best Shows of 2012

Since I only consider shows that complete a season in a given year, and Breaking Bad only aired the first half of its final run, this will be the first year since it started that it won't be on my list. What show will take its three years running top slot?

Best of 2012

10. Homeland (Showtime)

People sure can turn on a show quickly. I wasn't as disappointed by the quicker pace and bigger action of Homeland's second season as some others, but I did find it to be a step down in quality. Still, the acting is great, the dramatic scenes are played with a lot of effective tension, and those guys still know how to spin an exciting yarn of terrorism and the people who counter it.

9. Luck (HBO)

Based on the fact that they were reportedly already filming the second season, I believe that Luck really was canceled because of the unfortunate death of horses they were using, and that wasn't just a cover-up of the fact that the show hadn't succeeded financially yet. It's a shame, because David Milch created a really interesting environment for a much longer series. The intricate dialogue was handled with skill by a great cast led by Dustin Hoffman, and the scenes of the actual races were absolutely breathtaking. I'll always wonder what could have been.

8. Sons of Anarchy (FX)

There are lots of dramas, and even crime dramas about bad guys specifically, that are more graceful, classier, subtler, more emotionally meaningful, and a lot of other words you can think of than Sons of Anarchy. Few of them though ever approach this show's ability to put together a plot. Characters are always hiding things, discovering secrets, getting into and out of trouble, and the shit just seems to never stop piling up against them. Yet it never totally breaks. I was highly disappointed by the finale of the last season, but not only did they manage to earn back my trust this year, they actually made those seemingly bad decisions look like good ones. I don't know how much more there'll be, but I'm on board.

7. Louie (FX)

This season was definitely less consistent than the second, with a few episodes that weren't particularly funny, which would usually be fine with this show, but in this case failed to have significant merits elsewhere at the same time. When the show's like that, it's still good enough to watch, but you know Louis C.K. can do better. Luckily , some of the season was really, really good, notably the appearances by Parker Posey and Chloƫ Sevigny as brilliant takes on the problems with a typical "manic pixie dream girl" character (I kind of hated typing that) and an arc where Louie tries to win Letterman's hosting job with the help of a strange mentor played by David Lynch. The show won't be back until next year, and I'm going to miss it.

6. Justified (FX)

It's probably a good idea that Justified didn't try to top the pure, unnerving menace of Margo Martindale's Mags Bennett from season two, instead aiming for a bit more color with its new characters who end up trading threats with Raylan Givens. It might be taking the easy way out, but the show is already more colorful than others of the same type, which is part of what makes it stand above the rest. Justified's version of Harlan county and the surrounding areas is becoming as well developed and entertaining as any fictional place I can think of, and it's one of the few shows where I don't care if what's happening ties into a larger story or not. It's fun to watch regardless.

5. Community (NBC)

Season three of Community was not without its share of problems. Some of the supporting characters continued to be used to less than their potential, larger story elements lurched at times, and it could not quite be counted on to be brilliant every single week. But I simply cannot pretend that a show that made episodes like "Remedial Chaos Theory", "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux", "Regional Holiday Music", "Pillows and Blankets", "Basic Lupine Urology", and "Introduction to Finality" is not one of my favorites.

4. Game of Thrones (HBO)

Game of Thrones' second season took a lot more risks than the first, intentionally changing the story from the books more often and attempting things like showing a large siege battle that most shows wouldn't even think doing. It mostly paid off, and continued to be a bloody, sexy cable show that managed to have a good story and good acting anyway. The third book in the series has some of the story's most infamous scenes, and I can't wait for the show to get to them.

3. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

You always wonder what will happen to a show when one of its central characters is no longer around (Game of Thrones fits this too), and it's a bit surprising how much better Boardwalk Empire seemed with Michael Pitt gone. The other characters got to have their own stories a bit more, and they ended up with the best buildup and climax to an arc yet, one that focused on the war between Nucky and a competitor for his illegal goods played by Bobby Cannavale. The 1920s setting is still pretty fascinating, and it's interesting to watch how Terence Winter weaves his gangster tale with the truths of history.

2. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Some things are growers. They can be albums, foods, people, and in this case, a TV show. Was Parks and Recreation markedly, demonstrably better in 2012 than it was before? Probably not. But the more I see it, the more I just like spending time watching it, and seeing what will happen to the characters, who I can't help but feel attached to, whether things are going fine for them or they're struggling. I hope it stays on the air for years to come.

1. Mad Men (AMC)

Like Parks and Recreation, Mad Men has been a grower for me. I can't rightly say that there's an objective reason that it was my favorite show of 2012 and not one of my top 10 in 2007, I just know that it was, and it would take a second watch of the whole series to dig deeper into the question. It does seem less focused on social commentary and reliving the 60s, and more focused on the character relationships and memorable scenes, which are things I tend to prefer. There was a period of time when the show was just absolutely on fire in season five, every episode absolutely stuffed with brilliant writing, directing, and acting, and even though there's no ticking time bombs or unexpected gun fights, it was the show I anticipated most from week to week.

Delayed Entry

This is the best show that didn't air in 2012 but I didn't watch until then.

Veronica Mars (UPN/CW)

I'm surprised I didn't notice the parallels between this and Buffy the Vampire Slayer a bit sooner. A show on UPN about a plucky and beautiful but dangerous and talented blond girl (Kristen Bell instead of Sarah Michelle Gellar) in high school, that plays with genre conventions (mystery instead of supernatural horror), and gets a bit worse when she moves on to high school? It's kind of scary, actually. The first two seasons of Veronica Mars have her solving both basic but inventive cases week to week and bigger, season-spanning conspiracies in the long term, and the way they balance humor, drama, and intrigue is remarkable. The third season is disjointed and lighter in tone, which definitely hurts it, but it's still worth seeing. It's a show that's easy to gorge on, and it's too bad that there aren't more than 64 episodes to enjoy.

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