I’m not sure what it was this year (actually, I could wager a guess, but we don’t need to get into depressing territory here), but 2012 was not the best year for television in my eyes. There were plenty of great moments and episodes and stellar acting all around, but nothing quite floored me to the point of thinking about the show at least twice every day. Perhaps the epic scale of Breaking Bad’s fourth season forever tarnished the way I could view TV, making everything to come after it of lesser value (and I include Breaking Bad’s fifth season in that mix, but we’ll get to that in a moment, natch). In any case, there was still plenty to rave about, as well as plenty to scoff over. So, without further adieu…(and possible SPOILER ALERT, so if you see a title and haven’t caught the most recent season, tread carefully)…
10. GAME OF THRONES—maybe reading the books was a bad thing. I watched the first season of Thrones knowing absolutely nothing, making each twist and death and battle (or alluded-to battles, anyway) a complete shock. By the time Season 2 came along, I had already finished the second book and was a third through number three. (I am currently more than halfway through A Dance with Dragons.) So I knew all that was coming for Tyrion, Jon Snow, Dany and all the others. That meant I was no longer watching to see what would happen, but to see how it would be interpreted for the small screen. Thus, surprises were lost and critical analysis reigned supreme. Slightly. Season 2 still surpassed Season 1 by a fairly large margin, and even knowing what was going to occur didn’t remove all the surprise from the equation. The way they handled A Clash of Kings was pretty neat (there are two words you’ll never hear in Westeros), and save for Dany’s “where are my dragons?!” arc, there isn’t a whole lot of bad things I can say about it. It also helps when Peter Dinklage is such a bad ass.
9. LOUIE—here’s a shining example of how this year of TV just felt off to me. Louie is phenomenal. I had a bumpy relationship with it at the start, but its near-perfect second season won me over. And with Season 3, again, everything was great once more. But I just couldn’t get into it as much as I had the previous year. Something was different. Now, I only say this (as well as my overlong explanation and back story for Thrones) to properly convey why they are so low on my list when they were, in fact, fantastic seasons. And Louie did have a fantastic season, from Parker Posey’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl from hell to Louis’ mad and exaggerated dash away from his father to the three part late night talk show saga to Louis’ exasperated attempt to patch up a broken doll for his daughter’s Christmas present. The show isn’t always “funny,” but it knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else, which makes its odd, offbeat humor incredible and hilarious. It saddens me that Mr. C.K. will be taking an extended hiatus before starting up Season 4, but he’s earned it. And maybe it will be enough time to remove the stick that is so obviously stuck far up my ass.
8. AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM—there was a time when I hated horror, and for the most part, I still do. What makes me love this show implicitly, however, is its audacity. I’ve complained about how audacity is something Ryan Murphy goes for with every program of his in a transparent attempt to cause a stir and garner headlines, something I take offense to as a writer because story should always come first as opposed to wanting attention. But maybe I don’t mind that strategy here because the genre of horror is basically made for that, so it becomes easier to accept. Is the show perfect? Hell no. There are plenty of problems strewn about. But with Season 2, the kinks have been tinkered with and the plotting appears less scattered, which is saying something, considering we’ve got serial killers, devils, aliens, weird hybrid mutants, Nazis and a crazed Santa Claus roaming about. If these plots manage to all reconcile when the season finishes this year, it could potentially be something amazing. Until then, I’m fine ranking this show here because of Jessica Lange, James Cromwell (oh, how the Hoggett years have come and gone), Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto and Evan Peters, as well as my agape mouth over some of the most disturbing imagery we’ve seen so far. I don’t like horror, but this show’s allowing me to value it a little better.
7. BEN AND KATE—and the award for Best New Show goes to…this! Obviously! Because why would I give it to another show in the section meant for this one here?! Ahem, anyway, yes, I love Ben and Kate. This is how you take a low concept show and make it something extraordinary. Like New Girl last year, it combines heart and irreverence perfectly, but unlike New Girl last year, it instantly remedied all that made New Girl a tad off-putting. By playing to the supporting players’ strengths from the get-go and having a keen understanding of just who each of these characters were and how they felt about each other, Ben and Kate won my heart over from frame one. Well, frame one of the last act of the first episode; it would take a lot to win someone over from the first frame, unless that frame was just wonderful. Ahem…Lucy Punch and Echo Kellum steal the show, but the brother/sister chemistry between Dakota Johnson and Nat Faxon is fantastic. I know Maggie Elizabeth Jones is just a child, but her Maddie still seems like an outlier here, not essential to the story week after week, so here’s hoping they give her something to do in the new year. Either way, I’ll be watching.
6. JUSTIFIED—finally! After two great seasons (including an especially good second season that was going to be hard to top), Justified makes it onto my top ten list, the one thing it has been vying for since its inception (delusions of grandeur alert!). Anyway, as much as Season 2 was awesome and Margo Martindale set the bar high for big bads, Neal McDonough was certifiably incredible as the unhinged Quarles. Having read a little insight into how the writer’s room works and how the entire cast and crew collaborates on story, I grew to love the show even more, especially as each of the respective plot threads began to dovetail as the season went along. The show is not without its flaws: to say it for millionth time and probably not as eloquently as other writers have said it, Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel are criminally underused, and as much as Walton Goggins emanates cool, it does, at times, feel like the writers are spreading the show thin just to come up with excuses for having him stick around, as he was supposed to die in the series premiere. Still, Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens continues to be the man, and the show continues to be underrated. At least now it isn’t by me anymore.
5. BOARDWALK EMPIRE—I was worried. Michael Pitt’s Jimmy Darmody was the linchpin in so many plots. He was the connective tissue between Nucky and Richard and Gillian and Capone and Luciano. On top of that, Van Alden’s investigation into Nucky’s bootlegging coming to an end with Van Alden assuming a new identity in Cicero served to take him out of the main storyline, too. And so it was, the first half of the season seemed scattered, bouncing from character story to character story, and although they were related, for the most part, by theme, it still felt like a whole lot of nothing. Still, the writing and the acting all but made up for. And as the storylines began to come together, as the stakes began to rise to heights never before seen (and that’s saying something, considering each season so far has seemed to include an assassination attempt on Nucky), it all took shape as something more than worth it. The pacing may have been bouncy and trudging, but the awesomeness that I consider this show to be never faltered.
4. PARKS AND RECREATION—still the funniest show on TV, the funniest ensemble anywhere, if not of all time. From Ben’s claymation masterpiece to the woodworking puns at a woodworking awards ceremony, the odd live action cartoon world that is Pawnee, IN never ceases to be a place I’d like to visit and/or live. The election storyline was fraught with satire and just plain strange (Bobby Newport: “By the year 2013, we will have a fully functioning mall on Jupiter”), and I loved every second of it. To top it all off, the romance between Leslie and Ben became the cutest, squishiest, most adorablest…uh, I mean, no, gotta have a Ron Swanson attitude about it all. Ah, hell, it was squee-inducing and trumped any Jim-and-Pam antics from years past by leaps and bounds. Utilizing cameos and celebrity guests to their fullest potential as opposed to stunts, Parks and Rec does the sitcom right, leaving all others munching on Sweetums in a darkened corner.
3. SHERLOCK—I literally finished watching the second season a few weeks ago, and there was no doubt thereafter of its placement on my list. Having not read any of the classic Conan Doyle stories, the only thing I have to go on are the characterization of Sherlock and John and the mysteries interwoven into mysteries. And really, that’s enough. Benedict Cumberbatch is artfully surly, stubborn and suave as the modern private detective, and Martin Freeman manages to transform the definition of bumbling, which is to say he’s not quite as “with it” as, say, Jude Law’s version of the good doctor, but he certainly isn’t a lowly sidekick stumbling headfirst into trouble. What the show is truly about is not solving mysteries or Sherlock’s battle with Moriarty (the scary Andrew Scott) to see who can win their game of shadows. It’s about the friendship between Sherlock and John, something John sums up perfectly at the end of “The Reichenbach Fall”: he needed Sherlock at a time when he felt broken. And by that summation, Sherlock needs John, to balance him out, to give him purpose, as much as he tries to fight or hide it. They love each other as best friends should, which will make the reveal that Sherlock is alive either all the more astonishing or infuriating. Probably both. It’s certainly infuriating now: no new episodes possibly until 2014? Blast.
2. BREAKING BAD—is Breaking Bad the best show on TV if not the best show ever conceived ever forever and ever? Probably. And actually, no, not probably—YES. The answer is a definite yes. Why, then, is it merely in the number 2 slot and not firmly planted at number 1 like it was last year? A few reasons. First, Season 4 was godsend to me, so it was going to be hard to top. Second, there was a different feel for everything, something I’m sure will seem pointless in hindsight after multiple viewings, but having Walt be the main bad guy and not having anyone to contend with (save his partners) took a little getting used to. Lastly, and most importantly, this was only half a season. There are still eight more episodes to go in Season 5, therefore, by the end, everything felt a bit incomplete, not to mention a tad rushed. But that’s not say it was terrible. By no means whatsoever. The show was still as white-knuckling as it can get, with sequences that continued to emphasize my personal philosophy on the show: there is something never before seen in every episode. The magnets, the train heist, Vamos Pest. All unique, all finely crafted, all insanely good. Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn were as good as ever, but this was Jonathan Banks’ time to shine as his cold-hearted enforcer Mike finally came front and center. In seven months, this show will begin its final stretch, and then an empty void will be left on television. But what a legacy Breaking Bad will leave behind.
And my favorite show of 2012 is:
1. HOMELAND—was the second season perfect? No. Search the web, and there are sure to be countless arguments over the plausibility or believability of some of the things that happened of the course of episodes 13 through 24. But I’d like to point out another show that stretched the limits of reality and still managed to be a high octane thriller: 24, not coincidentally by the same people responsible for Homeland. Sure, as 24 got older, a lot became hard to swallow. But in its early years, even the out-there stuff was enough to entertain me and keep me tuning in week after week. And Homeland managed to do that easily. Before, it was a show I enjoyed and thought was well-done, but had little investment in. This year, all that changed, as its crackerjack pacing threw me for a loop and tossed plot twists that would normally have been held close to the vest until the finale into the mix in just the first handful of episodes. Did the show maybe rely too much on the love story between Carrie and Brody? Perhaps, but Claire Danes and Damien Lewis sold every bit of it; every scene they shared together oozed with promise and believability. Was the Dana plotline a little annoying? Yes, but it factored into the theme of the season as a whole: we’re all corrupt in some way, whether its from trauma or infidelity or the secrets we keep. Nobody is innocent, and as appealing as it feels to fight for such a thing, chances are it’s going to blow up in our faces (in the case of this show, quite literally). A grim notion, sure, but one that stayed consistent throughout the season. The hotel room scene. The interrogation. Walden’s office. Anything and everything Mandy Patinkin. The explosive finale and Carrie and Brody’s goodbye. It all adds up to a gripping season of television, and my personal favorite of the year.
Now, just a few mentions of some other shows I enjoyed, but unfortunately did not make the list:
The Walking Dead: it started off to a horrible start, but pretty much every episode of the third season so far is enough to redeem the awful Season 2, though not enough to fill a slot on my top ten.
Mad Men: still one of the best written, best acted, best directed shows ever conceived, but Season 5 was a little uneven, save for a few amazing episodes, “The Other Woman” and “Commissions and Fees” in particular.
Girls: an awesome debut year, even if it was polarizing. It still needs to draw me in completely before I go gaga over it, but I’m definitely tuning in next season.
Finally, some (hopefully) brief words on what I thought was the worst television of 2012, starting, as always, with the best of the worst.
-1. THE MOB DOCTOR—maybe it’s unfair of me to put this show here based solely on its pilot episode, but hey, it wasn’t a great pilot, so nah nah nah nah nah.
-2. UP ALL NIGHT—what used to be a show I enjoyed immensely has become a show without purpose. A talented cast is not enough to make up for its self-obsessed characters who mull around a show that has nothing of importance to say. The fact that it’s going to do a massive overhaul and become a traditional four-camera sitcom certainly doesn’t bode well, but I’m jumping ship before that debacle takes place.
-3. DEXTER—loads better than Season 6, but still on its last legs. It started off strong, sure, and Ray Stevenson became a worthy adversary on this or any show. But it is still a plot-driven show and not a character-driven show, which turns its characters into dummies, Dexter especially—he used to be ruthless and cunning and two steps ahead of everyone, but now he just comes off as deluded and stubborn. It’s hard to root for a hero like that, even if said hero is a serial killer.
-4. THE OFFICE—oh, how the mighty have fallen. Don’t get me wrong, the show has picked up since deciding to end after Season 9, but everything that preceded it this year was nearly unbearable. There was promise in the special projects plotline, but nothing came to fruition, especially a half-assed attempt at driving a wedge between Jim and Pam named Cathy that fizzled and vanished without a trace. Then came “Angry Andy,” probably the worst episode The Office has ever done, so bad it looked like there was no coming back from it. Thankfully, as I said, things have picked up, but even the deepest laugh the show gets out of me is full of lamentation over how good the show once was.
-5. ALCATRAZ—ummmm…this was the show with Hurley from Lost, right? Basically playing Hurley again, only this time with a Ph.D.? And the guy from Jurassic Park, only he played an infinitely less-interesting character? And the blonde cop with the boring name and even more boring personality that didn’t get more intriguing as the show went on, even with the hinted-at mythology behind her family? And the flashbacks that neither heightened the characters or the theme of each episode, thus serving no purpose except to give other series regulars excuses for getting paid? Yeah, I don’t remember this show either.
That’s that. Well, not quite. One list down, two more to go. Coming soon: my favorite music of the year and, of course, my favorite films.
Sarah Paulson had a one in three chance of going up on stage. The odds were ever in her favor.
Can I make a last minute prediction change? Game Change wins Miniseries/Movie instead of American Horror Story? No? Okay, I’ll settle with yet another wrong prediction.
The live band’s rendition of the American Horror Story theme song is…interesting?
In September, I posted the shows I was looking forward to the most this fall television season. Not to mention shows I was planning on giving a shot for the sheer hell of it. Apparently I don’t have a life and have the time to spare. Well, here we are now, two months later. How have these shows fared? (As though it’s some kind of honor to be watched by me? Have I misplaced my crown?) Let’s see, shall we?
Person of Interest: this was numero uno on my “most anticipated” list, which makes my disappointment in it all the more, uh, disappointing. Maybe I’m just sick of procedural shows, but the excess of exposition and lack of intriguing characters have shunned this show to the DVR, where the last three, maybe even four, episodes are currently piled. I’m not abandoning it, but really, Michael Emerson is the only thing keeping this afloat. But he deserves better. I wish that show he was planning to do with Terry O’Quinn got off the ground.
Ringer: the pilot sucked. ‘Nuff said. But episode two stepped it up a notch. And episode three even further. It’s not a fantastic show; it’s soapy fluff. But the mystery perks my interest. However, like Person of Interest, it’s piling up on my DVR and I can’t find the time to sit down and watch it. So we’ll see if I stick with it, or if it becomes a show I follow without actually viewing.
Suburgatory: the pilot left me underwhelmed, but since then, I’ve been howling with laughter. The ensemble is pretty tight and in tune with their characters, and it has just enough grounded irreverence (is there such a thing or am I talking out of my ass?) to tickle my funny bone. There are a few kinks that still need to be worked out, but overall, I’m more than satisfied, not to mention proud of Jane Levy, who’s pretty darn good.
New Girl: after reading an article that was very anti-Manic Pixie Girl, guilt and shame sort of seeped in and I began to find Zooey Deschenel’s Jess a little cloying. Still, the show’s a hoot. Once they develop the guys into three dimensional characters, it’ll be a keeper into next year.
Terra Nova: first, a gripe: do the Sixers need to dress like savages? Does that automatically come with living in the jungle? I mean, yes, their clothes should be ragged and such, but the war paint? The weaponry? I don’t know, it seems rather cliche. Anyway, the show: it’s not bad, although it seems more suited for syndication. And it’s certainly no Lost, despite its desperate attempts to be.
American Horror Story: I am obsessed. I was shocked and a tad put off my the first episode, but what a difference the weeks make. This show is to fucked up, so twisted, and so good. Viewing get-togethers with equally obsessed friends have become a must. Never thought I’d love horror so much. Not that I’m scared…I’m not…shut up…
Once Upon a Time: again, this looks to be piling up on my DVR. I watched the first eppy, but shows 2 and 3…I don’t feel this show in my bones. A good show needs to have you anticipating it each and every week. And yeah, it’s still in it’s infancy, but I feel like this will become the No Ordinary Family of 2011 for me: a show I want to convince myself I have more than a mild interest in, but decide later on it’s not worth my time.
Up All Night: it’s quickly become my favorite new comedy. Christina Applegate, Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph are fantastic. What else is new?
The Secret Circle: I watched the pilot, thought about continuing, but the second episode was airing at the same time as the premiere of Person of Interest, and as my DVR can only record two things at once without being able to watch a third program, Person took recording prescident while I watched The Office. So, goodbye.
2 Broke Girls: a typical sitcom that got me to laugh heartily and come back for more, but that stench of typical sitcom soon took its toll. The only thing that had me returning for the first couple months was the relationship between Max and Caroline. Every other character was one-note, stereotypical, rude and vehemently unfunny. The difference between a four camera comedy like this and one like How I Met Your Mother is that Mother has more than one thing going for it: well-rounded characters, decent storylines, etc. Not to mention, that awkward pause as the actors wait for the audience to stop laughing before they continue is so brutal and ruins the pace of everything. HIMYM doesn’t particularly have that, as it’s not filmed in front of a live audience. So, goodbye.
The Playboy Club/Pam Am: watched the first half of The Playboy Club and wanted to smash my head on a table. Goodbye (quite literally, actually). I didn’t even bother with Pam Am.
Homeland: I wasn’t going gaga over the pilot like every TV critic in the country, but it was good. Since then, though, as plots have started to come together, it’s gotten really, really good. Claire Danes is fantastic.
The X Factor: yeeeah, I’ll pop in every now and then. But I have other, better shows to spend my time with. Maybe this will be the year I finally give up on American Idol. (Fat chance.)
So…ummm…that was weird…
Okay, a little more in depth.
Full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of horror. This goes back to watching a very little known piece of crap called The Willies when I was eleven and, for some reason, becoming absolutely traumatized for about three months, probably longer. Since then, I’ve warmed to horror a little bit, but seeing as though the majority of flicks and such that come out are so contrived, cliche and dumb, relying on cheap shocks and gore to deliver half-assed scares, not a whole lot strikes my fancy. It needs to be an interesting concept with an memorable look to perk my interest, and really, if there’s a psychological element to it, or imagery that sticks with you long after it’s over, then you can count me as a fan.
So how did American Horror Story fare?
I honestly can’t say…Let’s see if I can work it out here.
It was just so…odd. The tone of the whole thing was off-putting from the get-go, like they injected the airwaves with the sound of scratching a chalkboard (hell, was that noise even in the score a few times, or am I making that up? There were a lot of random sounds and music cues; I never thought the audio guy could chew the scenery). The editing was sporadic as well, which was definitely also meant to be unsettling—shock the audience with quick and subliminal cuts and you can shock them with anything because they’re vulnerable, they don’t know what’s coming.
In terms of content, it wasn’t anything innovative. I mean, the story does lie somewhere between The Amityville Horror and The Shining and probably a lot of other classics that escape me at the moment (not to mention haven’t seen). I guess what sets it apart is that it’s a show and it inserts some soapy drama that would normally appear on, well, another Ryan Murphy show. The characters aren’t anybody to fawn over, although everyone has some kinks that I found interesting. Although, it’s like every archetype was thrown in: the daughter, Violet, is a cutter, the husband, Ben, is a self-loathing douche, and the neighbor, Constance, is fucking bat shit. It’s been done. A million times over, and not just in horror.
As for the scares, really, the scariest scenes to me didn’t involve any of the horror gimmicks. The fight between Ben and Vivien was well-written and dark, and every time Tate, Ben’s psychopathic, teenage patient, lost his temper, I got a little chill, because I’m unsure of what he’s truly capable of. Everything else, from the creepy leather man to the goblin (?) attack in the basement just made me go, “What the hell am I watching?”
But I never regretted watching. I stayed glued. Its pacing may have been a bit off, but it was well-written and thought out. I found the pilot entirely intriguing and am curious to see where this thing is headed. It’s almost enough to forgive its overabundance of strange. I understand why this thing is so polarizing, and believe me, I don’t know how much longer I’ll stick around, but for the time being, this is a bit of horror I will tolerate.