Two Tivos To Paradise 12.21.12: The Best Shows of 2012
Posted by Al Norton on 12.21.2012
From Breaking Bad in drama and Community in comedy to The Daily Show in reality programming, the sheer entertainment value of Arrow and more, 411's Al Norton looks at the top 40 TV shows of 2012!
Hello friends…And down the holiday stretch we come! Hope most of you are done with your shopping and can avoid the craziness that is shopping the weekend before Christmas. I am in pretty good shape but think I will still have to slip out once we arrive at the in-laws on Sunday.
Along with good tidings, cheer, food, and general holiday merriment, I'll be watching a LOT of TV between now and 2013; in the last week I've received the series premieres of Deception (NBC), Do No Harm (NBC), The Following (Fox), and Monday Mornings (TNT), the season premieres of Smash and Archer, and the mid-season premieres of Suits, White Collar, and Necessary Roughness.
This is a very text-heavy column (what else is new, right?) but I did want to include the opening of last Saturday's SNL, one of the more unexpected and moving moments of the year…
This is the start of our two week look back at the best that TV had to offer in 2012, with today being the Best Shows of the Year and next week being our 2012 TV Entertainers of the Year. As always I welcome your comments below about what shows you think should have made it but please keep in mind that just because we disagree doesn't make either of our opinions less valid. I love and respect everyone's passion for TV but my goal is for the level of discourse to rise about "epic fail" and "you lost all credibility when…" types of posts. One of the reasons I am so happy and proud of the TTTP Facebook page is that I think it's one of the best places on the web for folks to come and chat about TV in an intelligent and constructive manner. So feel free to tear me a new one if you think it's deserved but at least be creative about it!
Let it news, let it news, let it news.
TOP 10 SHEER ENTERTAINMENT VALUE PROGRAMS OF 2012
(This category highlights shows that aren't necessarily at a quality level to be considered the Best-of-the-Best but still bring the entertainment week in, week out.)
Honorable Mention: PSYCH, Royal Pains, House of Lies, Warehouse 13, Revenge, Leverage
10) Bunheads (ABC Family)
I was never a huge Gilmore Girls fan – just didn't get into it – so I went into Bunheads with really no expectations only to be won over more and more each week by the charm of this odd little show. Great cast, fun dialogue, and just plain different than most of what's out there right now.
9) Baby Daddy (ABC Family)
Comedies don't have to be sophisticated or ground breaking to win me over, they just have to put me in a good mood when I watch, and Baby Daddy does that every week. One of my favorite surprises of 2012.
8) Men at Work (TBS)
Again, comedy isn't about reinventing the wheel, it's about making people laugh, and Men at Work really gets the way guys think in ways most shows could only dream of. The cast is strong and the chemistry among them is genuine. If I made a list of the comedy highpoints of the year, their deconstruction of early 80's ski movies would rank VERY close to the top.
7) Nashville (ABC)
I was on board this show when I heard about the plot – the inner workings of Music City - then again each time another TTTP fave joined the cast, and once more when I started actually watching the show. It's not truly great yet but it's not far off and it's a damn fine way to spend an hour.
6) Arrow (The CW)
The fact that Arrow may be the single most violent show on broadcast TV doesn't also mean that it's not incredibly entertaining. It takes itself just seriously enough to suck you into the good versus evil battle and has smartly put together a cast that knows when to underplay to avoid any appearance of tongue-in-cheek. Arrow is a helluva lot of fun.
5) The Mindy Project (FOX)
Of all the new shows of the 2012-2013 season, I really feel like The Mindy Project has the highest ceiling; it's been consistently funny throughout the first season even though it is still clearly trying to find its footing. I've said several times this fall that it reminds me a lot of season one of Parks and Recreation in that you knew something potentially great was there and the only question was would they be able to fully realize it. I hope I am half as right about Mindy as I was about Parks.
4) White Collar (USA)
It's been a very strong year for White Collar, one where we've finally started to learn more about Neil's family while seeing our two heroes struggle to trust each other again. And any show is made better by Treat Williams. The cast carries the show week in, week out, even when the "scam of the week" is only mediocre.
3) Revolution (NBC)
While I sometimes find myself dwelling on all the things keeping Revolution from being a truly great show instead of celebrating its strengths, the truth is the first half of season one was, for the most part, a blast. Putting science aside – hey people, relax; it's called science FICTION, not science, for a reason – the story has moved quickly, balancing the action with character development, and Billy Burke has been a revelation. Let's hope NBC hasn't royally show itself in the foot with its decision to pull the show until the end of March.
2) Glee (FOX)
Easily the show's strongest season since its first, Glee has pulled off the introduction of new characters incredibly well while putting two of the old favorites in another city without it being ridiculously distracting. And the music throughout has been great. Can't remember the last time a show pulled off this sort of change on the fly with anywhere near this level of success.
1) Eureka (SYFY)
I am not sure I have ever watched a show where their best season was their last season but that was the case with Eureka, which really almost cracked the overall Top 10 thanks to a remarkable final run that emphasized drama over comedy for the first time in a while. Not that it still wasn't funny but there was some genuinely freaky moments in that last run, and watching some characters trying to forget what didn't happen while others struggled to remember what did had a strong emotional pull.
TOP 10 NON-FICTION PROGRAMS OF 2012
Honorable Mentions: The Franchise, 3 Days to Open, Food Network Star
10) Inside Comedy with David Steinberg (SHOWTIME)
The best talking-about-comedy show I've ever seen, with comedy stars and legends opening up to a comedy legend. Brad Garret's Frank Sinatra story alone puts the show on this list, as does Billy Crystal's tale of opening for Sammy Davis, Jr. Funny people think differently and it's a joy to get the chance to watch the wheels turn.
9) Comic Book Men (AMC)
Easily my favorite "reality" show on TV right now, each half hour of Comic Book Men leave me with a huge smile on my face and the desire to watch another episode right away. Like most reality shows I know there is some manipulation of events that goes on, like who comes into the store when, but I don't doubt for a minute that these guys are exactly who they appear on screen, and I love that.
8) Outside the Lines (ESPN)
The reason I love sports is because emotions run so high it brings out people's true nature, and nobody chronicles those great and awful moments quite the way Outside the Lines does. I would say the show makes me angry once a month, makes me cry at least once a month, and gives me water cooler conversation topics on a weekly basis.
7) Shark Tank (ABC)
The reason Shark Tank works is that the premise is simple; pitch me. That's it – you've got an idea, I've got some money, sell me. For everybody who's ever prepared their elevator pitch, this is a dream come true, and it's an always entertaining hour of TV. At this point we've seen enough where we can play along at home in terms of guessing who will be in on which bidding wars, and I am sure there must be a Shark Tank drinking game out there (some says "valuation" – do a shot), and that's the highest of kudos. Shark Tank really hit its stride the last two seasons and now ratings are following suit.
6) The Voice (NBC)
While TV has many singing competition show, The Voice is the only one that's more about the competitors than it is about the coaches/judges, and that's how it should be. I LOVE that when someone on another coach's team does a great job, the other coaches can't wait to heap the praise on; they are there because they love music, and we tune in because we do, too. The show took a huge jump in cycle three when Carson Daly finally relaxed on stage; his comfort level helped make the singers more comfortable, and we got to know them that much better. Also, all you can ask for from a show like this is that the folks get sent home in generally the right order and the cycle that just wrapped up may have been the best I've ever seen on that score from a reality competition show, singing or otherwise.
5) The Glee Project (OXYGEN)
One only need to watch this season of Glee to know why The Glee Project is so good, with the most recent winner blending in seamlessly with the cast and two alums from season one still a part of the Fox hit as well. The process works – they've found some potential stars – and it's a lot of fun to watch, which is just about the perfect combination for reality TV.
4) The Soup (E!)
Ahh, my beloved Soup. I am truly not sure what I would do if I couldn't count on having 30 minutes every week to catch me up on everything I didn't have the time and/or desire to actually watch myself. That that 30 minutes is also laugh out loud funny is an added bonus, and the celebrity cameos hit an all time high this year for both volume and quality. Not sure how long Joel will keep doing this for but I am on board as long as he is!
3) Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC)
Somewhere during 2012 Late Night with Jimmy Fallon became my favorite late night talk show; he's still not fantastic with the guests but he's learned how to get out of their way when they've got a funny story to tell, and he is without peer when at the desk interacting with Steve Higgins and The Roots. Easily the funniest show on late night, it's clear to me why Fallon will take over The Tonight Show in the near future.
2) 30 for 30 (ESPN)
I am not fully ready to call 30 for 30 the best documentary series in the history of TV – Frontline and American Masters have track records that are tough to beat – but I'm not that far off, either. Proving that the first 30 films were no fluke, this season has given us some tremendous in-depth looks at subjects from the world of sports both familiar and unknown, with You Don't Know Bo as the high point. 30 for 30 is why I love television.
1) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
At this point I am passionate in my beliefs that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is one of the best shows in the history of television in terms of pure entertainment AND quality, with an unsurpassed run of almost unfathomably high levels of both. Yes, I am saying I can't think of a show that has been as good and as funny as consistently over such a sustained period of time as The Daily Show. It's that great.
TOP 10 COMEDIES OF 2012
Honorable Mentions: The New Normal, Suburgatory, Girls, The League
10) Bent (NBC)
It may have only run for six episodes but Bent was the best romantic comedy TV had seen in some time, one that gave charming a good name and made me laugh out loud each and every week. It's a testament to how good this cast was that none of them were unemployed for too long.
9) The Middle (ABC)
You'd think ABC would want to turn one of its funniest shows into a huge hit – give it a big ad campaign, maybe air a big episode after Modern Family to broaden the audience – but for some reason the network seems more than ok letting it continue to be the kind of show that folks take to social media about to lament the lack of big ratings. The Middle may be the only show on broadcast TV that actually depicts lower (lower) middle class, an economic state millions of Americans are familiar with, and it proves there's plenty of laughs to found where money is not. Patricia Heaton has built a strong little Hall of Fame resume for herself, playing one of the leads of two of the top family based comedies of the last 20 years.
8) Happy Endings (ABC)
In the time it's taken me to write this sentence I've missed three jokes and a pop culture reference on Happy Endings, and if that's all the show was it would still be worthy of a season pass, but because they've given us six pretty eccentric characters and then defined them incredibly well, the comedy comes from a place of familiarity, which is the fastest way for a show to endear itself to an audience; makes us feel like we truly know these people and we'll follow them anywhere. The boys here are quite good but this is the funniest – and hottest – group of women collected on one series since…hell, I don't know when.
7) Archer (FX)
Aside from being the James Bond parody that Hollywood could never make, Archer may contain the best voice performances of my lifetime, with the cast providing as comedically rich performances as any where you can see the
actors' faces. Insert Danger Zone punch line here.
6) Raising Hope (FOX)
There's a recurring theme among many of the shows on this list, with a strong cast playing out-there characters but given enough room to flesh out how they got to be who they are and therefore have the audience be able to think along with them in any given situation, and Raising Hope is no different. That the show is enjoying its third season is a wonderful little victory; in a world where TV is increasingly darker, here we've got a show where all the characters really and truly care about each other. Sure, they may not be smart enough to always do the right thing but they always want to, and that's kind of neat.
5) Modern Family (ABC)
I hate the Modern Family backlash; it seemed like everyone wanted to be first to love it and then they couldn't wait to tell everyone that the show wasn't as funny as it used to be, when the truth is if you just sit back and watch the show, you laugh your ass off. Are some episodes better than others? Of course, that's true of any show, but the cast is incredible, the laughs bountiful, and the emotions at times quite genuine. Ed O'Neill is a national treasure and is perhaps the actor on a comedy most overdue for a standing ovation and a statue.
4) Louie (FX)
Big shoes to fill for season three of Louie, what with season two being one of the most original and creative from an American comedy of the last 20 years. Did it top season two? No, but it was still damn good and I still never had any idea where the hell it was going. The scene where Louie is going to see his Dad and gets in a confrontation with a Boston driver qualified it for this list all on its own, let alone all the other comedic side streets and cobbled paths it took over the course of the season.
3) Community (NBC)
If it seems like forever since Community has actually been on, that's because it has - no new episodes have aired since May – but the show's brilliance still shines brightly enough as a memory to earn it a spot close to the top. First off, their Law & Order homage/parody Basic Lupine Urology is a thing of beauty, an almost flawless half hour of comedy that works even if you've never heard the name Dick Wolf. Pillows & Blankets also approached near genius levels of comedic execution. Troy and Abed got huge spotlights in the second half of the season, both separately and together, and Joel McHale continued to demonstrate that there was still fresh material to be found in the "egocentric cynic with a heart" character. And I haven't even mentioned how the show got better when they gave Dean Pelton more screen time.
2) Parks and Recreation (NBC)
The P & R cast is an embarrassment of riches and somehow the writers still find a way to give everyone quality screen time. Also impressive is the way the writers keep the show grounded despite some outrageous behavior and head-scratching decision making by the characters. The proposal scene was as powerful as any on TV this past season, and I think I am more upset about the retirement of Bert Macklin than I am that Brenda Leigh Johnson left the Major Crimes division. Watching Parks and Rec not only makes me laugh, it makes me happy.
1) New Girl (FOX) New Girl getting the top spot on this list came as a bit of shock to me – and I'm the one making the damn list – but it was going to be in the top 5 anyway and then the last six episodes were a run as good as anything in recent memory on broadcast TV and in the end that stretch of unbelievable quality catapulted the show to the top. The show has done an impressive job of making sure all the quirks that made the characters so fresh and loveable in season one haven't gone over the top the second time around; if anything Schmidt and Nick are even funnier in the sophomore episodes, and they toned Jess down a bit at the start of the fall so that moments like her trying to get out of the glassed-in porch would be that much funnier. There is no comedy on TV I look more forward to than New Girl and that's why it's got the top spot on this list.
TOP 10 DRAMAS OF 2012
Honorable Mentions: Major Crimes, The Good Wife, Dexter
10) Longmire (A&E)
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the summer, especially since the pilot was solid but not in any spectacular, but starting with episode three and taking off from there, Longmire proved itself to be the best procedural on TV, solving interesting cases on a weekly basis while taking a slow and steady pace at introducing us to exactly who the people inhabiting this universe were, and I mean the pacing comment in the best of all possible ways. As an example, on another show the election would have been held in the season finale, not carried over into season two. Also the show gets points for picking a setting – a small town bordering an Indian reservation – and then using the location as another character on the show.
9) Awake (NBC)
My poor, sweet Awake. Such an amazing pilot, such a performance for the ages from Jason Isaacs, such a hot mess at times in the middle, and such a head scratchingly wonderful finale. The last time I thought about a show as much as I did Awake was Lost, and even that show didn't take on the concept of grief and loss the way Awake did. If I made a list of my 10 Favorite Viewing Experiences of the TTTP Era, the first time I watched the pilot of Awake would rank near or at the top of the list, so I should have known it was too good to last.
8) Suits (USA)
What's the most fun I had watching TV on a regular basis in 2012? Suits, hands down; not the best show on TV but they made a big enough jump in season two so they weren't that far off the list, either. A great cast, strong snappy writing that makes you laugh without sacrificing an iota of the dramatic tension, and a fantastic set (that law firm lives and breathes just like a character). Harvey Spector is one of the best additions to the TV landscape in some time. Rick Hoffman getting an increased work load played a large role in this show going from the Sheer Entertainment list last year to the Best Drama list for 2012.
7) Justified (FX)
I can't tell you why Justified is so overlooked, only that it's a huge mistake to do so. It's not just a cop show - although it has those elements if you like that kind of thing – it's a about how no matter how far away you try to get from who you were and how you were raised, the issues and people of your past are just around the corner and always playing a role in who you are today. Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and Joelle Carter have all found the roles of their respective lifetimes and all have proved up to the challenge. A special shout out to Nick Search and Raymond J Barry, who play the father figure and actual father of lead character Raylan Givens.
6) The Walking Dead (AMC)
Talk about intense viewing; is there a show that has kept up such literal life-or-death stakes so well for so long? Killer Within belongs on any list of the best episodes of 2012, one I am not fully recovered from yet (and am not sure I will ever be). The question of what lengths we will go to to protect our loved ones is one asked by several shows on this list and despite the fantastical situation used as the diving in point, the issues facing the characters couldn't feel more real world.
5) Parenthood (NBC)
What's a broadcast network show doing on the Top 10 Dramas list?!?! Another wonderful year with the Braverman clan gives me hope that sometimes executives will give a quality series time to grow, although the truth is Parenthood would have never gotten a second season if the network was in good programming health. Kristina's cancer diagnosis this year didn't feel like emotional manipulation, it felt like the kind of thing millions of people deal with in real life, and Monica Potter has been amazing. Also worth noting is Ray Romano proving his Men of a Certain Age run was no fluke and that he is a talented dramatic actor. When I say I cry just about every episode it's not meant to imply the show is always sad, just that it always provokes undeniably familiar emotions.
4) Mad Men (AMC)
A victim of its own incredible track record, Mad Men seemed to disappoint some folks this past season when it went from "far and away the best show on TV" to simply "one of the best shows on TV." Its slip is a quality level most shows only dream of, and this batch of episodes still provided many sublime moments as well as some visual images that will likely not be forgotten. Mad Men is the definition of a show that is about the journey, not the destination, and boy, do I love the ride.
3) Homeland (Showtime)
Perhaps the most genre busting show on this list; what other show has mixed terrorism and romance, and done so with a pacing where episodes that feel like season finales air early on, and then episodes at the end of the seasons slow the action to a stand still for the character to bear their souls? Claire Danes is giving a Hall of Fame worthy performance as Carrie, someone who truly never felt she would make someone who could make her happy, which is why when she does she is so desperate to keep that dream alive that she ignores whatever common sense she has. Danes is so good that it leads to folks not paying as much attention to the strong work Damian Lewis is doing as well, and let's not forget the always engrossing Mandy Patinkin and Rupert Friend, easily one of the best additions to any cast this year.
2) Breaking Bad (AMC)
It may have only had 8 episodes in 2012 but what an amazing set of episodes they were, taking us on even more of an emotional roller coaster than previous seasons, in part because we know the end is near and in part because we now fully understand there is nothing Walter White is not capable of. Jonathan Bank got some great time to show the world what a great character actor can do with a meaty role, and the rest of what is easily one of the best casts on TV continued their exemplary work. I love that we've only got eight episodes left and I still can't figure out what the hell that flash forward to open the season premiere was all about.
1) Sons of Anarchy (FX)
In the end, Sons of Anarchy just wanted this top spot more, taking the time to get the audience emotionally invested in the characters, planting long term storytelling seeds, and then gloriously kicking the viewers in the gut every time they thought they knew what was going to happen next. Jimmy Smits was a brilliant addition to the cast, and Walton Goggins one episode (so far) guest spot was the embodiment of the phrase "words cannot do justice." How can you not love a show that gets its audience to hate a character for all the bad things he has done to others and also watch in fear that the character might get his comeuppance and disappear from the landscape? It's been building for a few years so I have no reservations about calling Sons of Anarchy the best drama on TV.
And there you have it, 40 shows on 16 networks; you might not agree with all of my choices but no one can question the breadth of programming we sampled to come up with this list! Hop on down to the comments section below and share your picks for the best of 2012!
Two Tivos To Paradise 3 Days to Open with Bobby Flay, 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, 30 Rock, After the Catch, American Idol, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Antiques Roadshow, Archer, Arrow, Around the World in 80 Plates, Auction Hunters, Baby Daddy, Ben and Kate, The Big C, Boardwalk Empire, Being Human, Betty White's Off Their Rockers, Bones, Breaking Bad, Bunheads, Burn Notice, Cake Boss, Cake Boss: Next Great Baker, Chicago Fire, Chopped, Comic Book Men, Community, Cougar Town, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Deadliest Catch, Destination Truth, Don't Trust the B- in Apt 23, Fact or Faked, Falling Skies, Family Guy, Fast Food Mania, Flipping Out, Food Network Challenge, Food Network Star, The Franchise, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters Academy, Ghost Hunters International, Ghost Lab, Glee, Gossip Girl, Great Food Truck Race, Grey's Anatomy, Happy Endings, Haunted Highways, Haunted Treasure, Hawaii 5-0, Hollywood Treasure, House of Lies, How I Met Your Mother, Inside Comedy with David Steinberg, Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis, Iron Chef America, Justified, Key & Peele, Last Resort, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Law And Order: Special Victims Unit, Longmire, Lost Girl, Louie, Mad Men, Major Crimes, Men at Work, The Middle, Mike and Molly, The Mindy Project, Modern Family, Monster Man, Nashville, Necessary Roughness, New Girl, The New Normal, Next Iron Chef, The Office, Outside the Lines, Parks & Recreation, Private Practice, Project Accessory, Project Runway, PSYCH, Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook Off, Raising Hope, Real Time With Bill Maher, Restaurant Impossible, Revenge, Revolution, Royal Pains, Rules Of Engagement, Saturday Night Live, Shark Wranglers, Shear Genius, So You Think You Can Dance?, Sons of Anarchy, The Soup, Suits, Suburgatory, Supernatural, Texas Multi Mammas, Top Chef, Top Chef Just Desserts, Top Chef: Masters, Top Design, Tosh.0, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, The Voice, The Walking Dead, Warehouse 13, Wilfred, Worst Cooks In America,
People Love You When They Know You're Leaving Soon
Here ends another Two Tivos To Paradise.
We'll be back next week with our 2012 TTTP TV Entertainers of the Year!
Sources for this week's column include Daily Variety, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, and Hollywood Reporter (plus the web sites for those publications) as well as Aintit.cool.com, TVline.com & Deadline.com.