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The TV List 11.17.12: 10 Most Improved TV Shows of 2012
Posted by Michael Ornelas on 11.17.2012

This week, I am back to doing TV shows – I just did my Bond list last week because I spent so much time watching all the movies in the span of a few weeks and it's all that was on my mind. We're approaching the end of the year, so I guess I'll start doing some "of 2012" columns that highlight the best, the worst, and random categories in between! I know I put a list out of all the columns on the horizon, but card is ALWAYS subject to change and I'm going to take advantage of that. I'll still get to all those columns eventually.

Today's column focuses on the most improved shows of 2012. Now this does not imply that the previous season was bad (although in many cases it does). Some shows had weak seasons last year but have managed to get back on track this season, others had a bad season years ago but continue their road to redemption. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but let's jump on in.

Please note: I'm almost done with season 2 of Sons of Anarchy, and I've heard nothing but negative things about the third season. By that logic, it would make this list if the good things I've heard about seasons 4 and 5 are true. I haven't gotten there yet though, so I'm not informed enough to put it on this list.

How I Met Your Mother

I'm starting with a show that has improved, but still isn't where it should be. Most of the main cast members in this show are more than capable of delivering performances on par with some of the best sitcoms of all time. Then why isn't How I Met Your Mother among the best? I'd argue it's got a lot to do with Ted Mosby, the lead on the show. He's the weakest of the five main characters by a substantial margin. The other problem is the premise. How do you go eight seasons of just telling your kids how you met their mother? It's a good concept, but not for longevity. The problem is that, despite subtle hints here and there (the whole yellow umbrella thing), the show lacks concise direction because it's entirely based on prolonging that meeting for the sake of making more seasons. It's one of the worst pitfalls I've seen. However…the supporting characters have gone from being characters to charicatures, BACK to being well-rounded characters and that's why it made this list. Barney's relationship with the stripper helped a lot of things because it finally humanized him. Robin wasn't the solution in season 4 or 5 (I forget when they first paired them together), but now it's working for me. Marshall's character is also proving dynamic as we're seeing how parenthood is changing him and Lily. I never really liked Lily, but over the course of the past two or three seasons, I'm even growing on her because they're focusing a lot more on what makes her likable. This show has definitely improved over the past year (seasons 5-7 were pretty disappointing), but it's not because there's any more direction than before, but because the actors are trying their hardest to make the show watchable. And it is…for CBS.

The Middle

This family sitcom on ABC has had my viewership since day one ONLY because I'm a diehard [Scrubs] fan and Neil Flynn is the patriarch of the family. The show, however, has been nothing but mediocre since its debut that I'm shocked and saddened that it's surpassed Arrested Development, Firefly, Freaks & Geeks, Twin Peaks, Better Off Ted, and even the original Star Trek in episode count. But there is something about this show that keeps it on the air – heart. This show is truly a relatable sitcom that celebrates Midwestern family values and gives us a hectic family (appropriately named the Hecks) that makes up for what they lack in possessions with heart. They all bicker and fight and most of the conflicts are between each other, but they've found their groove. It's not one of the best shows on TV, but the writers finally have a clear-cut identity of who each family member is and the actors all know how to play them. More importantly, there is growth for all the characters that comes at just the right times. So in the past year or so, The Middle has gone from "completely average" to "good" which may not sound like much, but the Hecks would be proud of it.


Let me take a second and say that this show was never bad or even mediocre. Justified has been a great cable drama since day one. Raylan Givens is one of my favorite protagonists on TV, but for every great protagonist, there needs to be a great foil. Sure, Boyd Crowder is probably the most compelling character on the show, but he spent a large part of season 2 "reformed" and not making very much trouble for our lead man. And Raylan was forced to battle the Bennett family, which gave us some great stories, but something was lacking. Everything came together for the show's third season which aired this past spring and Justified knocked it out of the park. Boyd reverted back to crime, but more importantly, Robert Quarles was introduced. Quarles is my favorite pure villain on TV since Dexter Morgan battled the Trinity Killer. The introduction of Mykelti Williamson as Limehouse also injected a wildcard character into the equation, as I had no clue what kind of role he'd end up playing, even well into the season. It's because of the third season of Justified that it's one of my most anticipated shows of next year and that I consider it one of the top five dramas on TV right now.


Portlandia's first season had a few really good sketches, but overall it was just a slightly above-average sketch show helmed by my favorite actor on Saturday Night Live, Fred Armisen. Season 2 rolled around and knocked almost every episode out of the park. There were a lot more guest appearances, (most notably those by Tim Robbins, Ed Begley, Jr., Kyle MacLachlin, Edward James Olmos, Jeff Goldblum, and Kristen Wiig) and they ragged on hipster culture so much more accurately than in the first season (and being from Austin, Texas, I know the phenomenon all too well, unfortunately). The first season was by no means skippable, but season 2 is must-see sketch comedy.

American Horror Story

American Horror Story is an interesting case to me, because I really enjoyed season 1 as I was watching it. But then afterwards, I realize how melodramatic it was and while all the elements of horror were there, they went a little overboard with the volume of characters and stories they were trying to have converge by the finale and ultimately it fell flat. Evan Peters' character stood out the most, but other than him, I didn't really get into the main cast of the first season. Season 2 (dubbed "Asylum") is so much stronger because in my opinion the horror elements are scarier, and they hit the ground running. We're only six weeks in, so there's still plenty of room for error, but it's one of my favorite shows to watch every week right now. Jessica Lange is delivering another grand slam performance this year, but I'm much more interested in her character this time, and they brought back Peters, who's playing a man who swears that aliens killed his wife and other women he was with before that, but has spent so long in the asylum now that he doesn't know what really happened anymore. The corruption goes hand in hand with the evil and supernatural to make the second season of American Horror Story truly a must-see spectacle.

The 10 Episodes of TV I Enjoyed Most This Week
10. Modern Family – "Mistery Date"
9. Happy Endings – "Boys II Menorah"
8. The Walking Dead – "Say the Word"
7. American Horror Story – Asylum – "I Am Anne Frank Part 2"
6. Homeland – "The Clearing"
5. Childrens Hospital – "Eulogy"
4. Dexter – "Chemistry"
3. Parks & Recreation – "Leslie vs. April"
2. The League – "The Tailgate"
1. Family Guy – "Yug Ylimaf"

The Office

This is why the comments section I'm sure will criticize me this week. Not that The Office makes the list, or even its ranking, but why: I don't find Steve Carell funny and I thought Michael Scott was unbearable 90% of the time. The early seasons of this show were maintained by Jim and Pam's romance and once they got together, it lost its momentum. They did a good job with Scott and Holly's relationship to send him off, but either way, I like that he's gone from the show. Now that that's out of the way, I don't necessarily think the show's better off without him – I just enjoy it more. I liked season 8's Robert California character, but I will say that the season was largely absent of a concrete direction for each character and instead just had one big arc for Dunder Mifflin as a whole. That's why I'm putting this on the list – season 9 is starting to follow the characters we know and love again. I'm not really liking what Ed Helms' character Andy has become, but other than that, I'm really liking all the directions towards which the producers and writers are steering the final season.

The Walking Dead

I actually don't have this on here just because of how much time they spent on the farm in season 2. I think The Walking Dead had one of the best pilot episodes I've ever seen, and then went downhill somewhere around its third episode. The first season was only six episodes long, but it still managed to disappoint me as it progressed. It ended strongly, and since zombie horror is one of my favorite things to watch, I was going to stick with it regardless. Once the show got to the second half of the second season, it really picked up. Not because the action was better (though it was), but because I cared more about the characters. That was the benefit of the time spent on the farm – character development. Once I started seeing who these people really were in a settled environment, I was able to latch on to them and that carried me into the third season. There's a lot more character depth, and while it's not Emmy caliber yet, it's taking strides towards being a drama to be reckoned with. This is one of my favorite shows to watch this fall and I just hope it keeps its momentum, because from what I've heard, this part of the graphic novels is absolutely spectacular.

South Park

Season 12 in my opinion was the lowest point for this show. Or at least that's when they started making episodes that were either great or terrible with no middle ground. That hasn't necessarily stopped, but I think they're back to making more great episodes. From what I've heard, South Park has signed on to go another four seasons, taking it through season 20. I personally think that they shouldn't be going that long, but they've still managed to rebound and put out some great episodes lately. The second half of season 16, which just ended a couple weeks ago, was largely a hit, so maybe they can maintain that momentum. The show has some of the funniest characters on TV (Butters Stotch comes to mind), and a lot of history to play with on its side. It also never runs the risk of being completely irrelevant on account of the routine they have (producing each episode in only one week's time). They just need to be careful with filtering their bad ideas, and I think they can continue their upward momentum.

Family Guy

The 200th episode of Family Guy aired this past week and I'd say it was quite easily the best episode of the series since season 8's premiere "Road to the Multiverse" – it had a clever plot and had a justifiable reason for going back and visiting many of the show's more iconic moments from episodes passed. When MacFarlane and various writers went to write the motion picture Ted, there was a VERY noticeable decline in the show's quality (somewhere around season 7, which I hated), but in the past couple years, the show has really gotten back on track, and I don't think too many people have given it a fair chance (or they're just sick of MacFarlane's animated comedies taking up ninety minutes of airtime on Sunday nights, which I don't think is a bad thing, but everyone has different tastes). Family Guy has proved a few times in the past couple years that, when it wants to, it can provide some of the biggest laughs and smartest writing in the animated comedy realm. Sure, it's no Archer, but it has arguably the second or third-largest cultural impact made by an animated comedy not aimed at kids (with The Simpsons and South Park being the other two). I'm not saying that you should watch this show regularly if you're not a fan of MacFarlane's style of comedy (although you SHOULD be watching American Dad! weekly), but do your favor and at least check out the most recent episode, or even the full season so far.


I'm not one of the people that hated seasons 5 and 6 of everyone's favorite vigilante serial killer thriller show Dexter, but I'll easily admit that they didn't stand out like the first, second, and fourth seasons. But none of that matters, because Dexter is back to form in its seventh season, which was something I honestly didn't expect given how they ended the sixth season. SPOILERS AHEAD: I thought "welp, now his sister knows his secret. That will be too much of an obstacle for the show to keep momentum." But I was absolutely wrong. They managed to get all that out of the way in three or four episodes, and while she's still coming to terms with it, the show has other great stories going on for Dexter that he can still do his thing. SPOILER OVER. My only complaint with this season is that the main villain is just a bystander thus far. There was only one episode that included him in an integral role so far, so I'm hoping his story takes off so we can spice that aspect of the series up. Either way, it almost seems like there's finally enough going on around Dexter himself that the show didn't NEED a super crazy antagonist this season. Other than that, it seems like there's a very clear direction in the writers' minds (although I don't know what it is) that is carrying them to the series finale (December 2013). To any fans of the show who stopped following the show because they didn't like the last two years, I'm highly encouraging you to get back on board because Dexter is back.

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to leave your comments below! I'll be taking next week off on account of the holidays and travel, but I'll be back with more TV talk in a fortnight.

Shows of which I have seen every episode (including shows still on the air):
Da Ali G Show; American Dad!; American Horror Story; Andy Barker, P.I.; Andy Richter Controls the Universe; Angry Boys; Aqua Teen Hunger Force (including name changes); Archer; Arrested Development; The Batman; Batman Beyond; Batman: The Animated Series; Beast Wars; Better Off Ted; The Big Bang Theory; Big Bite; Black Mirror; Bob's Burgers; The Boondocks; Bored to Death; Boss; Breaking Bad; Brickleberry; Bunk; Childrens Hospital; China, IL; Clerks: The Animated Series; The Cleveland Show; Clone High; Comedy Bang! Bang!; Community; Conan (on TBS); The Critic; Curb Your Enthusiasm; Delocated; Dexter; The Drunk & On Drugs Happy Funtime Hour; Eagleheart; Eastbound & Down; Ed; Entourage; Episodes; Family Guy; Firefly; Flight of the Conchords; Franklin & Bash; Freaks & Geeks; Friends; Frisky Dingo; Futurama; Game of Thrones; Go On; Happy Endings; Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law; Homeland; House of Lies; How I Met Your Mother; Human Giant; Hung; The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret; The IT Crowd; It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; Jackass; Jon Benjamin Has a Van; Justified; Key & Peele; Kid Notorious; The King of Queens; The League; Louie; Lucky Louie; Luther; The Middle; The Mitchell & Webb Situation; Modern Family; Monk; Mr. D; Mr. Show with Bob & David; My Name Is Earl; NTSF:SD:SUV::; The Office (UK); The Office (US); Parks & Recreation; Party Down, Portlandia; Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings; Scrubs; Sealab 2021; Seinfeld; Sherlock; The Simpsons; Sons of Tucson; South Park; Spiderman: The Animated Series; Sports Show with Norm MacDonald; Star Wars: Clone Wars; Summer Heights High; Superjail!; Tenacious D; That ‘80s Show; Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!; Titus; Tosh.0; Trailer Park Boys; Twin Peaks; Ugly Americans; Undeclared; Up All Night; The Venture Bros.; Viva La Bam; The Walking Dead; We Can Be Heroes; The Whitest Kids U' Know; Wildboyz; Wilfred; Workaholics; 30 Rock

Shows I'm currently watching:
Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes; Burning Love; Cheers; Dinosaurs; Mad Men; Malcolm in the Middle; Manimal; The Mighty Boosh; Monty Python's Flying Circus; Most Extreme Elimination Challenge; The Powerpuff Girls; Psych; Robot Chicken; Samurai Jack; Shameless (US); Sons of Anarchy; The State; That ‘70s Show; Tiny Toon Adventures; Trigger Happy TV; Upright Citizens Brigade; The Wire

Shows on my radar, but haven't yet started
All in the Family; American Gothic; Animaniacs; Battlestar Galactica; Becker; Boardwalk Empire; Boston Legal; Boston Public; Boy Meets World; Californication; Castle; Chappelle's Show; Chuck; Covert Affairs; Criminal Minds; Dallas; Death Note; Doogie Howser, M.D.; Downton Abbey; Dr. Who; The Drew Carey Show; Everybody Loves Raymond; Farscape; Frasier; The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; Fringe; Gargoyles; Girls; The Good Wife; Greg the Bunny; Happy Days; Haven; Home Improvement; Home Movies; Homicide: Life on the Streets; House; In Living Color; The Jeffersons; Just Shoot Me!; The Kids in the Hall; King of the Hill; Lie to Me; The Life & Times of Tim; Lost; M*A*S*H; Metalocalypse; NewsRadio; Northern Exposure; Oz; Peep Show; Person of Interest; Pinky & The Brain; The PJs; Reaper; Reno 911!; Rescue Me; Roots; The Shield; Six Feet Under; The Sopranos; Spin City; Sports Night; Stella; Suits; Taxi; That Mitchell & Webb Look; The Tick; The Twilight Zone; Upright Citizens Brigade; Weeds; The West Wing; White Collar; Will & Grace; The X-Files; 24; 3rd Rock from the Sun; 8 Simple Rules

Thanks again for reading – feel free to voice your agreements or disagreements below!

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