Like every TV critic on both sides of the pond, the holidays for me are all about best-of and worst-of lists.But instead of just talking about the many, many shows I loved (and hated) watching this year, I thought I’d put together a list of the dozen things I loved most about television this year, be it characters, people, or specific moments in shows. It’s hard to deny we’re in a golden age of television (simultaneously while airing some of the worst dreck we’ve ever watched… but hey, it’s Christmas, let’s be positive, right?), so it took quite a bit of virtual whittling to get down to this delightful dozen. So, without further ado, here is my favorite stuff on TV over the last year (in no particular order):
Processed Media’s Top 12 in 2012
Some might say Schmidt is the most entertaining character on New Girl, but for my money, it’s the thrilla Nick Miller (Jake Johnson). Whether it’s trying to invent cell phone cases, trying fix various things in the house, or having a conversation with himself through a video tape, he never ceases to be the most consistently amusing character on the show. But he’s not all bumbling idiot – he’s a vulnerable guy with a heart, even though he’s as emotionally sophisticated as a small gorilla (his fits of depression throughout season one are hilarious). A breakout performance for Johnson, and one of my favorite sitcom characters on television.
‘Digital Estate Planning’
When Community is firing on all cylinders, it underlines its pitch-perfect pop culture parodies and constant meta-ness with touching emotional pathos for its characters. ’Digital Estate Planning’ might be a massive set of video game references and inside jokes about the Greendale 7, but the story about Pierce, Gilbert Lawson, and their deceased father Cornelius was a very meaningful one for the older, slightly more racist faction of the study group. Unfortunately, this episode would eventually play some role in the departure of Dan Harmon from the show (something I wrote about recently), and in that context, ’Digital Estate Planning’ takes on an entirely new meaning. The last of Harmon’s wonderful high-concept episodes, ‘Digital Estate Planning’ (written by Matt Warburton) is Community’s swan song to its former show runner.
The Battle of Blackwater
There are a lot of characters on Game of Thrones, and a shitload of story lines to go along with them – something many episodes in Game of Thrones‘s second season suffered from, bouncing from setting to setting to try and cover all its bases in 10 episodes. But in ‘Blackwater’, all the stolen dragons and women with ghosts coming out of their vaginas were put aside to focus on the Battle for Blackwater, the epic battle on the shore of King’s Landing. Stannis’s offensive on Joffrey’s throne was an intimate portrayal of medieval warfare, but still made time for the normal deceptions and dramatic moments GoT does so well. Easily the best episode of the season, and arguably the best of the series.
Archer in Space
It wasn’t quite on the level of the memorable second season, but season three contained gems like ‘El Contador’, ‘The Limited’, and the two-part season finale ‘Space Race.’ Packed to the brim with one-liners, ‘Space Race’ was simultaneously an epic space tale with tons of sci-fi references, but more importantly, concludes thee emotional journey Archer began at the end of season 2′s penultimate episode, ‘White Nights.’ Highlighted by a Barry cameo and guest star Bryan Cranston, ‘Space Race’ culminates in an amusing, touching scene where Archer takes a small step forward for himself as a man (giving the famous quote from space an introspective edge), a worthy finale for a consistently awesome third season.
After taking a bit of a dip in its fourth season, Breaking Bad came back in a big way in the first half of its final season, split into eight episode chunks (the second of which to air sometime next summer). Always a cinematic experience, Bad moved away from the big, showy operations and plans of last season (somewhat) and dug back into the minutiae of Walter White’s life, which is a little bit different than in earlier seasons, being a drug king and all. Opening with a flash forward to Walt’s 51st birthday, the first half of Breaking Bad‘s final season is Walter White’s depressing victory lap, and closes with a telling image for what’s to follow in the final batch of episodes.
Parks and Recreation
Who doesn’t love this damn show? The Amy Poehler-starring workplace comedy is not only one of the funniest shows on TV, but the most heart-warming, a comedy about a close knit group of people with constantly changing personal and professional lives (except for maybe Jerry, save for his recent fart attack). But any show can be funny: it’s Parks and Rec‘s ability to find grounded character moments in its laid-back, joke a minute humor (for example, look at the personal journey Chris (Rob Lowe) is going through this season). I originally planned to give this spot to Ron Swanson, but between the April/Andy marriage, Leslie’s city council campaign, and all the other great story lines on the show, I had to give it to everyone.
Frank Ocean’s SNL Performance
In 2012, there’s a lot of shitty music released into the mainstream on a regular basis – some of which the creators don’t even want credit for anymore. Frank Ocean’s channelOrange made it to the top of the charts and critical year-end best-of lists for a simple reason: it’s an amazing record, arguably the best R&B release in the last decade – if not one of the best albums, period. It’s really a transcendent piece of art, and his performance on Saturday Night Live was the epitome of his musicianship, one of the best performances ever to grace the SNL stage – especially in recent years.
The Prison and Woodbury settings on The Walking Dead
The first two season of The Walking Dead were disappointing as shit: badly paced and emotionally hollow, the early episodes of the show were popular, but not very well done. Season three’s new settings have made all the difference, juxtaposing Rick and the survivors with The Governor and the residents of Woodbury, a disturbing little settlement not far from the prison. These setting have not only provided parallels to draw from, but have placed every character in constant states of peril – except in earlier seasons where the only threats were mindless, speechless flesh-eaters, these are real people, most of which are fucked in the head in the post-apocalyptic world (Rick included). It’s made all the difference emotionally in a season where the unsettling material demands it, raising the stakes exponentially for The Walking Dead‘s various characters – and making it the most improved drama of 2012.
On this list for a simple reason: he’s a fucking genius. Louie‘s third season is a little more wandering and experimental than its first two seasons (which is saying something), but it remains a massively entertaining and poignant look into the middle-aged comedian’s thoughts. This included unhinged female presences like Parkey Posey and Melissa Leo’s characters, but it also had introspective thoughts about Louie’s heritage and professional path. More so, the man is revolutionizing television with his do-it-all approach (although he did add an editor this season to help lighten his workload a little), opening pathways for Lena Dunham and others to secure their own shows, where they can express their own unique voices without the normal pressures of network executives masturbating themselves with focus group spreadsheets. With Louie going on hiatus until sometime in 2014, Louie C.K. can take a minute to breathe, and admire the influence he’s had on ushering in a new generation of television and comedic brilliance.
Ben and Kate
Rarely does a freshman comedy find its voice as early and often as Ben and Kate does, Fox’s overlooked comedy that debuted back in September. I was genuinely surprised how intelligent and heart-warming this low-key comedy about a single mother and her sometimes-wreckless brother could be in just its second episode. Too many comedies are either trying too hard or trying to make all the pieces fit through their first season (network sibling The Mindy Project is a great example of the mess that can create), but Ben and Kate’s grounded characters and great cast chemistry, although it unfortunately looks to be destined for one-and-done status. It may be short-lived, but while it lasts, Ben and Kate is one of the most charming shows on TV.
Easily the best new comedy of 2012 was HBO’s Veep, the viciously amusing satire of American politics helmed by Armando Ianucci. A slew of hilarious characters are highlighted by Selina, the laughingstock of a VP whose main concerns are her current nicknames, and that hurricanes are not named after her. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is amazing in the role of Selina, managing to straddle the line between hilarious and depressing in her depiction of the self-serving, materialistic VP whose bitterness and short-sighted thinking that frequently brings her to the edge of personal and professional disaster. I can’t wait for this show to return for its 10-episode second season next spring, and I’m so happy to have Julia in a role deserving of her comedic talents.
Arrested Development lives!
The news of Arrested Development‘s return in spring of 2013 was one of my favorite moments of 2013: like many fans of Fox’s oft-forgotten comedy classic, I was so joyous I wanted to go blue every single executive in Netflix’s main office. The Bluths will be returning in a few short months, after eight years of sitting in television purgatory. While many of Netflix’s professional and original programming decisions still draw a lot of criticism, I haven’t found one person complaining that we’re going to get more AD. Will it live up to the hype? Thankfully, details about the season are shrouded in its mystery, but if it works out, it may give us an all-time great moment for TV junkies like myself: an Arrested Development movie.
What did you love about TV in 2012? feel free to share your thoughts on my list, or share your own list of best shows, moments and characters!