The holiday season is upon us once again, which can only mean one thing: it's time to get mad at another best-of list! Year-end lists are a holiday tradition along the lines of mistletoe and eggnog. Some people love it and some people hate it, but like clockwork, every year critics and viewers alike start listing the shows that were naughty and the ones that were nice.
"There's nothing good on television anymore!" is a common complaint. After the harrowing process of winnowing down a list of the best shows to a measly 12, I can say with some authority that this complaint is now invalid.
In fact, there are just too many good shows to watch on television and too little time to watch them all. Which is why if your favorite show didn't make the list, there's a good chance I just haven't gotten around to it yet. Last year FX's sitcom Louie didn't make my top 11 of 2011, not because it wasn't fantastic, but because I just hadn't had the time to check out CK's brilliance in action. This year that mistake has certainly been remedied.
So here, in a vaguely unscientific order, is my list of the top 12 TV shows of 2012 that made us laugh, cry, and believe in dragons:
1. Homeland Critics and viewers have been split on some of the creative choices Homeland has chosen this season. But regardless of how the show sometimes strains plausibility it's still one of the best on television. That's thanks in no small part to the masterful acting of leads Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. In lesser hands the relationship between marine-turned-terrorist Brody and fractured CIA agent Carrie could have been hokey. But these two always brought pathos to the complicated layers of their romantic cat-and-mouse game. Danes especially has turned Carrie into one of the best heroic antiheroes on television, rivaling the Don Drapers and Walter Whites who usually dominate the genre. Whether or not the show always stuck the execution, it reached for big things in it's second season and impressed with it's willingness to move the story forward.
2. Breaking Bad Could Walter White break any more badly than he did when he decided to poison a child for his own nefarious gains? Season five proved it was possible to go even further down the villainous rabbit hole, as Walt terrorized Skyler and Jesse and even killed fan favorite Mike. The first part of the final season moved Walt into a position of unparalleled power for the first time, and allowed the viewer to see just how thoroughly Walt would abuse such privilege. With only eight episodes, Breaking Bad took Walt even closer to the end of his journey and it's a good bet that path is going nowhere good. For viewers, however, it's television at it's dark and morally compromised best.
3. Mad Men The reason everyone loves Mad Men is because it's really just that good. Like a clever marketing campaign Don himself would dream up, the fifth season of Mad Men included many indelible images that will live on in pop culture long after 2012. Zou Bisou Bisou anyone? While some decried the fifth season's lack of subtlety in it's symbolism, the show continued taking the characters (particularly Joan and Lane) to some dark and complicated places.
4. Louie One of the best comedies on TV is actually dark enough to sometimes be considered a drama. This season of Louie felt more cohesive than ever before and even at times dreamlike. In an overall strong season, it could have merited a spot on the list for the Parker Posey two-parter alone.
5. Girls The show that sparked a storm of internet criticism (some more valid than others) was still one of the best and funniest new shows on television this year. Lena Dunham's comedy, like Louis CK's, carries the undeniable stamp of her unique voice. The voice of Girls is very specific, very recognizable, and sometimes uncomfortably honest, which is what makes it so great.
6. Justified Coming off one of the best seasons of television ever (I love you hyperbole!) it would have been easy for Justified to fall down in it's third season without the spectacular presence of Margo Martindale's moonshine-loving Mags. But instead the show continued to do what it does best, delving further into the backwoods dealings of Harlan County. Expanding the world gave our opposite sides of the law heroes Raylan and Boyd an even bigger, more interesting playground on which to do battle.
7. Parks and Recreation One the sweetest comedies on television was also one of the best at skewering the political system as Leslie Knope took a run at city council. Plus who didn't get teary (or fake sudden allergies) when Ben popped the question to Leslie?
8. Game of Thrones A show as complicated as Game of Thrones seems like it shouldn't work on paper. Yet despite the fact that it sometimes feels like you need a flow chart to keep all the allegiances straight, the show managed to develop a mythology that was only overshadowed by it's complex and interesting characters in season two. Plus, the Battle of Blackwater was a visual masterpiece.
9. Community Things might currently be looking grim for Community, having had it's fourth season pushed back multiple times and all the Chevy Chase drama. But Dan Harmon's last year on the show also brought with it new creative heights and great character moments. Who could forget the Ken Burns documentary spoof centered around building the perfect blanket (or pillow) fort?
10. Happy Endings Happy Endings started as a mid-season show based on a hokey premise but rapidly morphed into one of the most consistently funny comedies on TV. That's due entirely to the great chemistry between the Happy Endings gang and the well defined characters. As Penny would say, Happy Endings has become pretty ah-ma-zing.
11. The Borgias If the first season of the historical drama was about establishing the characters, the second season raised the stakes considerably for our favorite corrupt papal family. History buffs might shake their heads, but The Borgias is more interested in looking at the corrupting influence of power and how one dysfunctional family sticks together.
12. Teen Wolf Ok first off, I know this is an insane choice. Or is it? Teen Wolf, one of MTV's forays into original scripted programming, started off as just another supernatural teen clone riding the obvious wave of movies like Twilight and shows like The Vampires Diaries. But what surprised many who tuned in for the initial guilty pleasure was what a strong show it quickly became. In the second season the mythology was deepened, the characters were explored, and veteran actors like Battlestar Galactica's Michael Hogan lent some dramatic heft to the show. All of which came together to make -- if not high-brow art -- than at least a very solidly fun and enjoyable hour of television.
The 2012 TV Honor Roll (a.k.a. the section where I cheat): 30 Rock, American Horror Story: Asylum, New Girl, Nashville, Pretty Little Liars, Fringe
What are your favorites from 2012? What did I miss? What should I be watching? Share in the comments!