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Don’t let Honey Boo Boo and Real Housewives of Reno (or whatever else city) fool you… 2012 was a great year for television. We’re here to look back and give our retrospective of the year, and luckily, we have two staff members with fairly different taste giving their opinion.
Winner: Go On (NBC)
Runner-up: New Girl (Fox)
Comedies are a tricky bunch, which might explain in part why compared to dramas, fewer get made. We want them to be funny, but not too offensive. And as if that wasn’t difficult enough to achieve, we want them to somehow undermine their primary goal (which is to make us laugh) by having some easily discernible depth. Most successful sitcoms manage to pull off the first two requirements, but very few succeed in nailing all three like NBC’s Go On has done so far. The show is gathered around Matthew Perry’s Ryan and an assorted group of characters that are interesting in their own right, but also have their own tragedies always expertly used to help Ryan move one step further in his recovery. All those things combined allow us to laugh and reflect deeply (but briefly) in each episode.
New Girl is a much frothier show, but what it does, it does it well. The ensemble cast has grown on me and the sitcom depicts the trials and tribulations of young people in their twenties with wit and an appealing surrealism.
Honorable Mentions: Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 (ABC)
Winner: Eastbound & Down (HBO)
Runner-up: Louie (FX)
Defining where Louie should and shouldn’t be placed is a bit tough. If we’re looking at it purely as a comedy and how well it is made, then it beats everything else currently on television. However, it has progressively become less of a comedy and more of a window into his mind, so I thought it was best the winner should go to a show whose main goal is to actually make us laugh, which Eastbound & Down is winning in a very tough category.
The way Eastbound & Down combines being crude, artful, crass, and emotional almost seems impossible to do, but they can go from a racist joke, to a sex one, and then have an emotional introspective scene going into the character flaws of Kenny Powers all within two minutes of each other. If past seasons were better or not is definitely up for debate, but I can’t think of another comedy that made me laugh so much and is so expertly crafted. Going back to Louie, the idea that such a personal, surreal, touching, and even just “weird” show can exist is quite the accomplishment.
Honorable Mentions: Community (NBC), Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX), and Parks & Recreation (NBC)
Most Underappreciated Show
Winner: Emily Owens, M.D. (the CW)
Runner-up: Last Resort (ABC)
Over the years, ABC has developed an arguably well-deserved reputation for glossing over its series to cater to a specific audience, and there are some people that cannot stand being caught in front of a TV with the CW logo showing in a corner. I am pretty much convinced those two reasons could largely explain the tragedy of Emily Owens, M.D., and to some extent the failure of Last Resort. Emily Owens, M.D., is much wittier than the average show on the CW, and to make matters worse, the network’s attempt to turn a hospital into a high school seems to have backfired, alienating the two audience groups it was trying to attract. There is also the possibility that Mamie Gummer’s shy and engaging character failed to make an impression, but whatever the reason, the show feels like a series that should have garnered more viewers than the measly 1.4-1.7 million it drew in. It should have because the producers delivered a show lighter than the usual medical procedural but smarter than the typical teenage show, so in a way, the best of both worlds.
Last Resort had a distinctive ABC touch that turned the series into something it shouldn’t have been, but I think that even with that transformation, the series would have been more successful on a network with a more gender-neutral reputation. Last Resort is by no means an excellent show, but my point here is that even considering all its faults, it should have fared better if its quality was the only thing that mattered.
Honorable Mentions: Perception (TNT)
Most Underappreciated Show
Winner: Boss (Starz)
Runner-up: Strike Back (Cinemax)
So what happens when you have an extremely well-crafted series about the ruthlessness of politics led by easily one of the best performances on television? Well, apparently it gets you cancelled. Right out of the gate Boss was a powerful show with the perfectly cast Kelsey Grammar leading the charge. In an almost Shakespearean story about the mayor (basically king) of Chicago who’s fighting to remain in control as he goes against political adversaries, internal threats, and even himself to a degree due to a recently discovered illness. This was a top-tier show, right up there with the top shows on FX, AMC, Showtime, and HBO. The only reason it was more or less ignored is because it aired on Starz. If this show was the exact same but on HBO, then I believe it would have caught on fire, or at least found a large and dedicated fan base.
In a similar situation, there’s Strike Back, which would probably be getting way more attention if it were on a more popular channel. However, there is a big difference between it and Boss, this isn’t a particularly well written or acted show, it’s simply about the action, which is probably the best that’s ever been on television. How many people were watching 24 for its “awesome” storylines and characters? I’m sure some people did, but it was really about the scope and action of the show, which was groundbreaking at the time. If two dudes getting into very well choreographed/filmed fights and shootouts each episode sounds interesting, then I suggest checking out the show.
Honorable Mentions: Nikita (The CW), Fringe (Fox), and Eastbound & Down (HBO)
Winner: Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones)
Runner-up: Olivia Dunham (Fringe)
Game of Thrones is filled with appealing characters on both continents, but to me, Daenerys Targaryen has so far managed to edge out most of them, including the very engaging Jon Snow. In the show’s second season, the Khaleesi has continued to learn the ways of her world while shedding more of her innocence and becoming more hardened. Emilia Clarke superbly portrayed a character that is shouldering responsibilities well above her years, showing traces of ignorance, weakness and hope in the goodness of people. What was more remarkable about the Khaleesi during the season is that whenever she was cornered, she brought out her fiery temper, exposing an often unrealistic faith in herself that never failed to impress.
Olivia Dunham started 2012 in a timeline where she was lonely, where she seemed to carry the weight of the world with her even more than usual, and had Nina Sharp as mother figure! After the arrival of a handsome young man not from her world, she literally became someone else! She later got shot in the head and almost died. The 2012 fall season finds her in a future where she is reunited with her lost daughter only to lose her for the second time. I always root for the underdog or the character that seems to fight against forces that dominate him or her, and here, Olivia has had her share of tribulations. She has kept in 2012 that combination of strength and weakness that makes her hard to resist.
Honorable Mentions: Jon Snow (Game of Thrones) and Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold (Once Upon a Time)
Winner: Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones)
Runner-up: Gyp Rosetti (Boardwalk Empire)
I would hate to see these two characters in the same room, since that would probably not end well for flippant Tyrion. Seeing the journey that this Lannister took, which was basically being the outcast of the most powerful family, to running/saving the capital as his father and older brother were away, then right back to where he began but worse for the wear, was a wonderful and intriguing thing to see. Also, how Tyrion handled and even excelled in the mind games and being surrounded by serpents, where lovable Ned failed showed a stark (no pun intended) difference between the two. Game of Thrones has no single main character, but if there had to be one it would’ve been Ned last season and Tyrion this one. The duality in the struggle against his enemies is also what makes Tyrion a favorite of mine. He knows his family is evil but still wants to protect the city due to the civilians, his niece/nephew, and other reasons than Lannister pride; even though he is a brave little lion.
If I look up the definition of “manic” or “unpredictable”, I almost expect to see a picture of Gyp looking back at me. Any character that can dramatically give a speech about how god has screwed them over personally and thinks he’s so much better than him… and then beat up a priest that walks by, is truly special. It’s not just the over the top moments that made him so great, even in the moments where he’s being silly or even quiet, he irradiates a vibe that he might do just anything and feel justified in doing so.
Honorable Mentions: Don Draper (Mad Men), Walter Bishop (Fringe), and Nidge (Love/Hate)
Winner: John Noble (Fringe)
Runner-up: Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones)
Fox’s Fringe cast is probably one of the reasons why the series has kept its fan base over the years, and John Noble is a primary example of why that is. 2012 has seen Walter Bishop play yet another subtle variation of his original character, one arguably more damaged than the previous ones because there was no Peter around to soothe him. John Noble brought those subtle differences to life almost effortlessly, and was as usual one of the emotional poles of the series with his portrayal of Walter Bishop. I particularly appreciate the fact that after five years, he still manages to make us laugh at the “Walterisms.”
Emilia Clarke hasn’t had as much screen time on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but each frame with the classically trained actress has been memorable, even when her character seemed to the roaming around aimlessly. Ms. Clarke gave us a Daenerys Targaryen moving from uncertainty to boldness and even almost fanatical faith with just the right hint of innocence before fully embracing her path.
Honorable Mentions: Anna Torv (Fringe) and Claire Danes (Homeland)
Winner: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Runner-up: Kelsey Grammar (Boss)
This was a tough pick since so many shows have such strong performances, even picking one person from an ensemble show like Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones is tough. However, when thinking about the strongest performances of the year, these two actors were the most prevalent when looking back at 2012. Both performances consistent of perfectly cast actors playing characters who are likable and also despicable. In most of the storylines in their show they’re the protagonist, but they can be the antagonists in other storylines too, which makes both the characters and their performances all the more complex and interesting.
Honorable Mentions: John Noble (Fringe), Claire Danes (Homeland), and Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire)
Biggest Decline in Quality
Winner: Last Resort (ABC)
Runner-up: Revenge (ABC)
The pilot episode of Last Resort passed the critics’ test (including mine) with flying colors. Unfortunately, the same enthusiasm never reached the viewers who stubbornly stayed away, but what was ultimately damning for the show was the producers’ decision to make Last Resort into a military soap opera, something that wasn’t so obvious from the pilot. The show failed to find the right balance between the lofty Washington conspiracies and the too often underwhelming storylines on Sainte Marina. It still deserved better than the ratings it got, but the drop in quality from the premiere was not helpful.
On the same channel, Revenge started in fall 2011 as one of the most interesting shows. Despite being a primetime soap opera, it was definitely attractive to more than its intended female audience. Somewhere along the road, the show and its heroine lost their way and embraced their soap roots a bit more, leading to much more annoying plot twists.
Biggest Decline in Quality
Winner: Dexter (Showtime)
Runner-up: Spartacus Vengeance (Starz)
Watching Dexter is a pretty wild rollercoaster. Going by the relative high standards that the show has set for itself, season 6 was bad… like really bad. So the first episodes of this season being very good looked like the show was back on track, but then it somewhat derails in the middle and limps to a season finale. The best part of this season was Isaak, but he was criminally underused then quickly off the show. Other than being a threat to Dexter for a few episodes, he served no real purpose, which is a shame since the two had such chemistry to be friends. Hannah was an interesting character and romantic match, but her exit felt forced just like Lumen’s two seasons ago. It seems like the show has to dump each new character and storyline then reset each season, which is lazy and predictable writing. We also had a few storylines that obviously did nothing but waste time, such as Quinn and his stripper girlfriend.
I hardly blame Spartacus for somewhat slipping in quality. They had to tragically replace lead actors and the story made them leave the ludus and arena where they spent the first two seasons, so both of those are huge hurdles to overcome. The show back in the very beginning started off a bit rough and subpar, but quickly elevated itself to fascinating writing and great performances after about 3 or 4 episodes. This last season did the same thing. It felt like we went back to square one after riding high and then the show basically clawed its way out of the hole again. It’s still not where it once was, but it is very close, and depending on how Liam McIntyre handles his performance next season and how the writers close out the show, it could regain and possibly go past its current peak.
Most Overrated Shows
Winner: Girls (HBO)
Runner-up: Louie (FX)
HBO’s Girls was already a sensation even before anyone saw a single frame of the show. With so many expectations from every corner of the TV world, no wonder it disappointed some who thought it would be all things to all people. Instead of affecting the show, I believe the controversy helped it as some people who would never have watched it took a peek. Girls is a fine show, and Lena Dunham is an even better writer, but the show is just not as excellent as you would think from reading the reviews. To me, the quality of a comedy hinges on how it balances depth (when it has some), with its offensive and comic elements. Too much of the first two drags a comedy out of its natural category and keeps it in a niche market (read cable TV).
The same could be said of FX’s Louie which is another fine show that has also arguably abandoned some elements of the escapism that is so central to fiction. I understand that in a world where reality TV, talent shows, and realistic video games are here to stay, scripted TV shows should undergo some sort of transformation, but I wish they would remain more subtle in the way they mirror our own failings.
Dishonorable Mentions: Homeland (Showtime)
Most Overrated Shows
Winner: Homeland (Showtime)
Runner-up: Modern Family (ABC)
Is Homeland a very good show? Sure it is, without question. Is it in the top-tier of television with the likes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, etc? Not really. I’d put it closer to Dexter, which is the “better than most shows but still obviously flawed” level of television. If the show stuck to what it was good at, which is the story revolving around Carrie and Brody, then I would probably love this show, but no, of course there has to be obvious and badly made filler. There’s a little bit of that from Jessica and Mike, but Dana is the main culprit, who’s probably the most annoying character of 2012… she literally cried over spilled milk. The car hit-and-run storyline was nothing but a waste of time. If Homeland actually wants to be a top-tier show, then they need to move away from the bratty daughter, since her wasting time and having far more screen-time than interesting characters like Saul, Estes, and Quinn is unacceptable.
Modern Family isn’t a bad show either, but a “dumb fun” show that’s not smartly written nor acted sweeping award shows is ridiculous. The show is mildly entertaining, but it’s really just different sitcom clichés put together: the straight laced housewife, goofy husband, sarcastic/smart kid with glasses, dumb popular daughter, flamboyant gay guy, and so on. Gloria this season has been nothing but “I’m funny because I have a Spanish accent” jokes. Yeah, let’s definitely give her an acting award for that.
Dishonorable Mentions: Girls (HBO) and Newsroom (HBO)
Worst New Trend
Shallow High-concept Shows
I understand the appeal of a succinct pitch that introduces a big mystery, but networks have to stop picking high-concept shows without seemingly looking under the hood. They should go beyond the attractive premises and the generally attractive pilots and ask what is going to happen on a weekly basis on the show. After the previous years’ FlashForward, The Event, and Alcatraz, we got Last Resort and Revolution in 2012. Last Resort has already been cancelled and Revolution renewed for a second season, an event that is not a reflection of the quality of the show. Just like their forerunners, these latest high-concept shows can’t seem to know how to sustain our interest week after week while the “big” mystery is unraveled. As a side note, it should be said that most of the recent high-concept shows also seem to have a problem with their less than impressive ensemble casts.
Worst New Trend
Goodbye sci-fi, Hello fantasy!
In a post Battlestar Galactica world, Fringe is really the only great sci-fi show and once its gone there won’t be anymore currently on television. Usually the different TV channels will have a couple niche/genre shows to go along with their mainstream ones, but due to Twilight, the vampire craze in general, and even Game of Thrones, it seems like fantasy shows are taking up all those few niche/genre spots. It’s great that fantasy is getting its time to shine; several fantasy shows are personal favorites of mine, but it would be nice if TV could find a medium, rather than swinging completely away from sci-fi and towards fantasy.
Winner: Game of Thrones (HBO)
Runner-up: Fringe (Fox)
With its myriad of characters and storylines in all corners of Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones has matured into a much better show this year. This season was one of transformation, a sort of coming of age season for most of its younger characters while the older ones generally walked a darker path. With its superb ensemble cast, the show gave us sweet and innocent love stories in the North and beyond the Wall, introduced compelling female characters, hardened the Khaleesi, and led us to a battle during which residents of King’s Landing learned a bit more about themselves. I found the stories and the general pace to be much better than the previous season’s and the overall storytelling to be much better than anything else on TV.
Fringe’s fourth season wasn’t as good as the previous one, but the way the story repeated itself with subtle differences was so brilliant that it should inspire future generations of showrunners. Although the ending had it problems, the show found a way to segue to the current fifth and final season in another outstanding feat. In spite of its issues, the series remains, in sheer storytelling and with the performance of its impressive cast, the best sci-fi on TV.
Honorable Mentions: Once Upon a Time (ABC)
Winner: Breaking Bad (AMC)
Runner-up: Game of Thrones (HBO)
Choosing between these two shows was very tough. They’re both the best TV has to offer right now and easily some of the best shows ever made. Breaking Bad had a little help because of its shortened season. Due to them having such few episodes left, they had no time to waste. Each episode, storyline, and even subplot meant something and contributed to the overall story. The last couple of seasons have a tiny bit of a boring middle point, but that was completely avoided this time around. Game of Thrones seems like a hard show to make, perhaps more so than any other show, because of its huge cast and global setting, so the very idea that it can pull that off and still beat shows where it’s usually just a few characters talking in a house, is very impressive.
Due to that grand nature, Game of Thrones did have a couple of low points to me. Daenerys felt entitled and a bit bratty this season… how many times did she shout at someone to give her something? Jon Snow didn’t really do anything other than slide down a hill, cuddle with a redhead, and then stab a legendary old guy. Luckily, I’m not huge fans of these characters or else I’d be even more disappointed. Everything else concerning the major players was beautifully handled, but due to those few flaws, Breaking Bad takes the crown this year for me.
Honorable Mentions: Mad Men (AMC), Justified (FX), Boardwalk Empire (HBO), and The Walking Dead (AMC)
Let us know your opinions on 2012 TV below in the comments!
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