Man, TV was awesome this year. That’s such a strange thing to type when we had a pretty lousy fall premiere season for the networks. Reality shows continue to plague existence and they only seem to be getting lazier. Did you know the CW aired a game show that is a mix between musical chairs and Wipeout hosted by Jamie Kennedy? That’s the world we’re living in.
Yet we’re also living in a world where there is an excellent show on every week of the year. By the time Breaking Bad concludes, Homeland is about to start and then Justified is on and then Game of Thrones begins and then Mad Men starts up and as that concludes it’s time for Breaking Bad again. That’s perfect if you only watch those five shows, but the truth is the calendar is jam packed with amazing programming. I juggle a lot of shows and there are still plenty that I am missing. (See at the bottom).
All of the dramas and comedies that I watch only seem to be getting better. As a show enters its fifth or sixth year it’s time to worry, but those are the shows that seem the freshest. This makes each upcoming season more exciting.
Next year marks the conclusion of Breaking Bad, Fringe, Spartacus, Treme and almost definitely Community. We have the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, an adaptation of the most popular book of A Song of Ice and Fire, the revival of Arrested Development, a new Bryan Fuller show, a new Christopher Guest show, a new Joss Whedon show, a David Fincher show and maybe even more Sherlock. (Filming doesn’t start until March and they have to break again for more Hobbit shoots…Maybe late 2013!)
As I look back at all of the excellent seasons of TV from this year, it only makes me more excited that there are many more hours of these programs to come. This year was especially tough to narrow down to a Top 10 and plenty of my honorable mentions almost entered the elite. TV is insanely good right now.
10) Louie Season Three
Louie makes me think about its scenes longer than any show on the air. They are ideas that he has and I don’t think he knows what to do with them either. They are curious ponderings that may not make a coherent episode, but always make something special. Louie staying up all night preparing his daughter’s Christmas is now one of my favorite holiday episodes despite it just being five minutes. Louie going to a funeral, but only really learning how much the man meant when he goes to a strip club with Robin Williams. Louie learning a horrifying lesson in the fairness in oral sex from Melissa Leo. Louie refusing to go to the edge of the roof on a date. Then there was the incredible arc where he tries to replace David Letterman culminating in one of the most uplifting moments of television this year. I’m not sure if the overall episodes were as strong as Season Two, but this was still a special unique season.
9) Parks and Recreation Seasons Four/Five
Near the end of Season Four as the election of Leslie Knope was coming to an end, I was further reminded how much I care about these characters. I genuinely didn’t want her to lose. Obviously I would prefer her to win because that would move the story forward, but I didn’t want this fictional character’s dreams to be crushed. Leslie Knope really is one of TV’s best characters because she’s who we wish to be. She’s never cynical, caring to all of her friends and determined to do the best thing for her city without wanting personal gain. Despite her not being real, I would vote for her for President.
8) Misfits Season Four
In the pilot there was a mysterious and unexplained storm that gave majority of the world superpowers. Misfits followed a group of twentysomethings stuck in community service who don’t become superheroes. They are the same mess-ups who now have powers. It was a show that dared to be weird and was happy breaking the rules of narrative structure.
In Season Four, only one original cast member remains. No one was sure that it could be the same with so many new characters. It took that challenge and created eight really fun and emotional episodes. Every week moved its insane plot forward just enough because the show was always better at episode stories instead of longer arcs. The show has never been this tight or funny as our anti-heroes face off against an obsessive heist, the apocalypse on bicycles and ZOMBIE NOIR. I’ve been waiting for the show to be this good.
7) Community Season Three
When a show knows it’s doomed, that’s when it usually goes crazy. Community has always been crazy so this season it amped up its craziness in two ways. In the easy fashion, it just went nuts. Abed created a Dreamatorium where he feels more comfortable in than reality. Chang hired child soldiers to start his uprising at the college. In an alternate reality, Evil Abed wants to kill his way out of the darkest timeline. A psychiatrist tries to convince the group that Greendale doesn’t exist. The restaurant Subway becomes a student.
Yet this season also revealed what the show really wants to do. The madness of the school always surrounds its characters who remain the soul of the show. It tested the friendship between Abed and Troy. They let characters start to succeed in their goals like Shirley and her sandwich shop and Pierce coming to terms with his father. The montage at the end of Jeff truly coming to terms how much he loves his makeshift family and chooses them over his career is especially poignant knowing this was the final scene of creator Dan Harmon’s legacy on the weirdest and most personal show on network TV.
6) Doctor Who Season Seven
This season is only partly over and the more I reflect upon it…I’m not sure that it has started. Five episodes aired in 2012. The next episode shall air on Christmas and that will introduce a new companion, a new TARDIS interior, a new title sequence, new musical theme, and a new wardrobe for The Doctor. Really it feels that the next episode is the season premiere and the previous five were a transitional miniseries.
Companions are as important to the show as The Doctor. During the Classic series they came and went with little fanfare. Sometimes a sweet final scene and sometimes they left off screen unceremoniously. In the new series, there was one really impressive companion departure that brought the tears to many. Then it was undercut by having her return with little to do.
For the first time, a companion’s departure wasn’t just about their final scene. These five episodes were all about the final days of the Ponds. The adventures dealt with their marriage troubles and reconnection, bravery and independence inspired by The Doctor, the warnings of why The Doctor can’t be alone, the quiet moments of love, and then…the end. They were a collection of tales designed to say goodbye to two of the best companions the show has ever had and it was effective.
5) The Hour Season Two
Last year people complained that the spy storyline was too separate from the formation of a new BBC news program in the 1950s. I liked it because we needed to see how these characters were able to find and report a story. This year the story they are covering is more personal and directly affects them more than having a friend of a friend who is involved. Yet the story isn’t why I watch. It’s because these are some of the best characters on TV with the best writing to back them up. The premiere made me gasp, every single news scene made my eyes widen and the finale almost made me tear up several times. I know it concluded last week, but is this on Blu-Ray yet?
4) Game of Thrones Season Two
I hate origin stories. They always overstay their welcome and rely on the repetitive structure to introduce its heroes. The first season of Game of Thrones didn’t have that problem, but it did have to bring us into a complicated world with a long conflicting history. Now we’re into it. With more houses willing to fight for the Iron Throne, there is no time to bring in new viewers. Every episode brings a strong amount of respect to its viewers, trusting they are smart enough to understand all of the character nuances in the ever-shifting landscape where the stakes only appear to get worse.
3) Sherlock Season Two
Like Season One, Season Two had three episodes. Two of them are masterpieces and one is still pretty darn good. While last season had plenty of nods to the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, this one took on the three biggest stories in his canon: Irene Adler, the Hound of the Baskerville and The Reichenbach Fall. As if that wasn’t bold enough, they stopped hinting at the infamous Moriartiy and put him right up front. They dared to create stories where the smartest detective ever created had intellectual equals and they never once dumbed anything down. Their ambition paid off with masterful and rewatchable stories that pains us that we have to wait almost two years…especially since they left us with, arguably, the greatest cliffhanger in television history.
2) Mad Men Season Five
I don’t watch TV for what I’ve already seen. I can’t watch most episodic shows because even though the characters are fun I don’t want to see the same format every week. Mad Men ventured into new territory. Last time we saw the breakdown of Don Draper as he Norman Rockwell home life collapsed. At the end, he made the steps to start a new. In a film, this would be the end where the music will play, credits will roll and we hope things work out. Here we learn what it means for his life and his job if the cold Don Draper gets to be happy in a world that is even quickly evolving past what he knows. This was the show’s most inventive and effective season to date.
1) Breaking Bad Season Five
Every season had a clear antagonist. Some powerful force stopping Walt from achieving all he wanted in the meth market. In Season Five, there’s no one left. Nobody could be higher up than Gus except for the man who bested Gus. In the first half of its final season, Breaking Bad examines exactly what Walt wants without any more excuses in his way. His morality, loyalties, and commitments are all tested to the point where he is no longer the danger…but the villain. If this show lands the ending with its last eight episodes, this will be forever seen as one of the greatest televisions shows of all time.
Honorable Mentions (in Alphabetical Order)
30 Rock Season Eight
Archer Season Three
The Booth at the End Season Two
Burning Love Season One
Childrens Hospital Season Four
Cougar Town Season Four
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Downton Abbey Season Three
Fringe Seasons Four/Five
Girls Season One
Happy Endings Seasons Two/Three
Homeland Season Two
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret Season Two
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season Eight
Justified Season Three
Peep Show Season Eight
Treme Season Three
Veep Season One
Wilfred Season Two
Shows That I Haven’t Caught Up On Yet But Really Ought To But Let’s See If It’ll Ever Happen. (Short British Shows Have the Best Chance.)
Awkward. Season Two
Being Human Season Four
Damages Season Five (Three episodes left to watch)
The Good Wife (Only seen the first season)
The Legend of Korra
Luck Season One (Insanely good pilot; need to see the rest of the set)
The Thick of It