As the year comes to a close, here are my top ten shows of 2012, with an honourable mention to The Daily Show, which made my list last year and remains outstanding, as well as Wilfred and Life’s Too Short that were on the fringes of making the top 10.
10. Boardwalk Empire
While HBO’s Boardwalk Empire did not reach the heights of last season’s epic power struggle between Jimmy Darmody and Nucky Thompson, this year’s conflict between the show’s anti-hero and his new adversary, Gyp Rossetti (Bobby Cannavale) built to a crescendo with the final few episodes being amongst the best the series has done. However, the first half of the run struggled to accommodate Boardwalk’s large cast effectively and great characters such as Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams), Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) were not utilised as much as I would have hoped in the early part of the season.
I was a late comer to NBC’s Parks and Recreation and only caught up with the show around this time last year. Nevertheless, it has quickly become one of my favourite comedies, even though I did not feel that the run of episodes that were aired in 2012 matched the heights of seasons 2 and 3. Leslie Knope’s campaign for City Council had hits moments (especially her debate against Bobby Newport, played by Paul Rudd) but it did not provide the comedic heights that the show has reached before when the gang were fully involved in resolving a minor problem in the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana.
8. The Hour
BBC America’s The Hour has not yet completed its second season, but the five episodes (of six) that have been shown in 2012 have surpassed the level that the show reached in its debut last year. With the spy story element now complete, The Hour has been able to focus on immersing us in 1950s London and that has made it stronger. Peter Capaldi – known to those who have watched The Thick of It or In the Loop as the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker – has joined as the much more mild-mannered, but equally persuasive, Randall Brown, further strengthening an already excellent cast.
Like Boardwalk Empire, Justified’s third season did not reach the level’s of its second, mainly due to the absence of Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), but it still remained one of the most watchable shows on television this year. Any time that US Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) shares the screen with Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), Justified is electrifying viewing and with Ellstin Limehouse (Mykelti Williamson) now in the mix, season 4 – which premieres on FX January 8th – promises to be as compelling as the show’s first three years.
The concept is as simple as it gets – Jerry Seinfeld drives a classic car, picks up a fellow comedian and takes them to get a coffee. I came to this web series to watch the episode with Ricky Gervais, but was instantly hooked and would wait for each week’s new episode with as much anticipation as any show that was on network or cable television this year. The installments with Gervais and Larry David are where to start, but the one with Colin Quinn and Mario Joyner is perhaps the best, while the “season finale” with Michael Richards was fascinating and moving. I have never been an aficionado of web series before, but this one is a great modern-day view of Seinfeld, better even that the funny Twitter feed @Seinfeldtoday.
Another show that I originally started watching thanks to Ricky Gervais (who appeared in the third episode of the series), Louie had another season where you did not know what to expect each week. When it clicks, the show can be both one of the best comedies and dramas on TV, and the three episodes this year that focused on Louie’s attempts to take over from David Letterman as host of The Late Show were superb. Even when Louie is not at its best, as it was not in this season’s finale which involved the protagonist making a trip to China to see ducks on the Yangtze River – it can still deliver incredible scenes like his epic attempt to wrap a doll for his daughter’s Christmas present.
As I covered in my season review, Homeland started strongly this year, before taking a turn into 24 territory. However, the last episode of the year put right many of the missteps that had happened during the run, while also moving the show to a place where it has the possibility of longevity. The Emmy wins that Homeland achieved in September automatically put it into the conversation with Breaking Bad and Mad Men for the title of the best show currently on TV; while I do not believe it matches those for quality, it has been among the best written and acted dramas that has been made in recent years.
3. Mad Men
The only show that I consistently covered on a weekly basis, Mad Men was a welcome return to AMC’s lineup after an absence of 17 months. As with all of the other seasons, this year’s Mad Men built its story slowly until the dramatic events of the final couple of episodes, which involved one person taking their own life, while another moved on to another agency, perhaps out of the show for good. While Don Draper had been disconcertingly happy during season 5, by the end of the year there was a suggestion that we would soon be returning to the troubled, philandering antihero we met at the beginning of the series.
2. Sons of Anarchy
The Kurt Sutter show – which is essentially Hamlet on Motorcycles – finally stopped maintaining its status quo this year and took the gloves off for season 5, showing a willingness to dispense of almost any character if that was the direction the plot was taking, while also moving Jax Teller into being more clearly an anti-hero, rather than a regular hero for whom you can root. If the relentlessness and ruthlessness of the first half of the season had continued into the second part, then Sons of Anarchy may well have taken top spot on my list. However, there was still some element of preserving the structure of the show for the years to come, even if the finale was far from a “happily ever after” ending.
1. Breaking Bad
Despite only having eight episodes air in 2012 and even though that run did not match the brilliance of previous years, Breaking Bad remained the most compelling show on television. The season started by showing us a flash-forward to where Walter White will get to within a calendar year, then proceeded to push him to that point, ending with the ultimate “Oh shit” moment that has left viewers desperately waiting for the final eight episodes, which will air next summer. When Breaking Bad does end it will be sorely missed – particularly the performances of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul – but the fact that the show has been pushed its plot and characters along, without concern for increasing the shelf-life of the series, has resulted in it being a serious contender with The Wire for the accolade of Greatest Drama of All Time.