The holidays are always a great time for reflection. People like to take this time to consider the improvements they’ve made, the promotion they’ve earned, or the new relationships they’ve began. It’s a time to take stock of one’s life and consider how to continue moving forward the following year. While all of that is nice, we here at TV Equals would be remiss if we didn’t take time to reflect upon the year in television.
When studying the year in television, there appears to be a nice balance between both veteran and new shows at the top of the heap. While plenty of people have bemoaned the lack of quality new shows this fall, there were some excellent new shows that premiered in the early part of 2012. However, the established dramas once again reigned supreme. We’re all incredibly fortunate to live in a time where writers can feel free to push the limits in order to tell the best story possible. In addition, we are also lucky to watch comedies that can leave us in stitches in the tease and in tears by the closing. The golden age of television may be coming to a close, but whatever age we are headed in isn’t that bad either.
With those things in mind, I present to you my top 12 shows of 2012. We’re going to do this in two parts. Today, we’re doing numbers 12-7. 6-1 will be up later this week. As is always the case with articles like these, feel free to debate my selections in the comments below, or yell at me on Twitter because I didn’t include your favorite television show. Let’s get to it.
A long forgotten about HBO drama, Luck was one of the more difficult shows to follow, and clearly one of the more difficult shows to sustain. Once news of the cancellation (due to horse deaths during filming) broke out, it wasn’t surprising to see the already small audience head for the hills. In doing so, they missed one of the stronger dramas of the year. While the Dustin Hoffman story never quite coalesced (I’m sure they had a lot planned for season two), the action around the racetrack couldn’t have been better. Watching the degenerate gamblers and the weathered horse trainers play their trade was incredible television. When I reviewed the show all those months ago, I discussed the investment of mental capital required to watch Luck. If you put in the investment, you should feel confident that you got plenty of return.
If you think that Mad Men has the market cornered on beautifully styled period drama, you aren’t considering Boardwalk Empire. The show’s vast array of characters often made the show feel disjointed and too ambitious for its own good. At the start of the third season, it appeared as though we were on our way to another good, but not great, season where we jumped all over the map. Amazingly, the show found a way to tie all these stories together in a way that satisfies (mostly) the audience and makes logical sense. Although at first glance it seems that the show is going to have to reinvent itself to some degree next season, there’s still plenty of interesting story left in the coffers to explore for season four.
It’s pretty difficult to remember a new show generating this much heat. Especially for a show that averaged somewhere between 1-2 million viewers per episode. Still, that’s exactly what Lena Dunham and the rest of her Girls managed to do this year. Between all of the complaints about whiny characters, nepotism, and a startling lack of diversity for a show set in New York, some people may have missed a lot of the true beauty of the show. What was truly amazing about Girls was its fearlessness. Dunham didn’t try to make anything in the show seem glamorous, nor was she really interested in how likable the characters were any given point of the season. As a result, the show created a strong reaction from all of the people that chose to watch it. In 2012, it’s hard to move the zeitgeist needle. Girls managed to do it almost weekly.
Wonderfully irreverent and relentlessly hilarious, FX’s animated comedy Archer continues to find ways to make people laugh at a spoiled, selfish, alcoholic spy and his team of inept support crew. Still fresh and exciting in ways that Family Guy can’t quite achieve anymore, Archer is the rare animated comedy that pushes people (myself included) to discuss it in terms of the best comedies on television. If you haven’t given it a chance yet, this January will give you the perfect opportunity.
The second canceled show to make the top 12, Awake had 13 fantastic episodes that will likely stand the test of time. It was clear before the show even began that it had no chance of being renewed. Still, you have to admire the willingness of Kyle Killen and company to try different things on network television. In an age where the network drama has gone nearly entirely procedural, Awake truly stands out as a show that attempted to blend the procedural aspect with a fascinating narrative that was wonderfully threaded throughout the season. While Awake is a testament to what network drama could be, the show would hold its own with any of the top dramas of 2012, cable or network. Thus, it deserves its place on this list.
30 Rock was a show that seemed to be slowing down as it headed towards its sixth season that began at midseason. Never a ratings darling for NBC, the show was now being questioned by the critics that had supported it for so long. Apparently, it would appear that motherhood agrees with Tina Fey’s comedic brain. The show’s sixth season may have been its best ever, and the show has carried the momentum into its final season. As with most 30 Rock seasons, these two seasons have had the requisite numbers of jokes per minute, but they carry a lot more bite, and the stories are coming together far better than they have in previous seasons. The show may have killed Jenna Elfman and brought Jessica Tandy back from the dead (thanks, Siri!), but I’m sure neither one of them minded the shift in consciousness in the name of truly great comedy.
That does it for part one. Feel free to quibble with me about my choices in the comments. Part two will be ready later this week. Until then…