First things first: I kind of hate year-end lists.
Criticism is a subjective medium on the best of days, where the skill comes not from having a God’s eye view of what’s actually “good” or “bad” so much as the ability to identify and articulate points of views derived from a understanding and appreciation of a certain medium. That means that all opinions aren’t equal, but they are all more or less opinions all the same. This gets readers into fits all the time. After all, one need only write one positive review in order to be accepted into a certain fold, but no amount of exposure that yields a negative response is never enough to justify that opposing viewpoint.
But we all do these sorts of lists, and then we all argue about them, and then January comes, and we forget all about them anyways. If you want my 2011 list, feel free to check it out. I stand by that list, but I also stand by it as a snapshot in time. No more, no less. I believed everything I wrote at the time, and I believe now that I’m not remotely beholden to those opinions at this present time and date. What’s paralyzing to some about TV criticism is liberating to me: we critics are constantly evaluating an ever-changing landscape, and the freedom to totally and utterly contradict earlier opinions is a feature, not a bug, of the endeavor.
So with that all said, here are my twenty favorite shows of 2012. I say “favorite” instead of “best” intentionally to emphasize the subjective nature of these lists and to establish up front that expected every critic to watch every show is ridiculous at this point in history. Rather than being angry about the exclusion of certain shows, I hope we can celebrate the vast array of shows that end up on the multitude of lists such as this. It’s been a great year for TV, and things are only getting better.
A&E’s reality show is the most addictive program on TV, and the show I watched more episodes of than any other this calendar year. It helps that A&E is probably running a marathon of this show as you read this. It’s either this or “Duck Dynasty” at this point.
As many problems as I’ve had with the show, I still love its ambition dearly, and love its open heart even more. It went off the rails in its fourth season, but still has enough positive qualities to keep me coming back each week.
18) The Walking Dead
I’m not even sure I LIKE this show. But what it does well (creepy atmosphere and horror thrills), it does better than any show in history, especially in its Fall run.
The most frustrating show on TV right now. When it’s on, it’s so ON that it eclipses almost everything else on TV. But its insistence on making characters like Noah ever more two-dimensional makes the work done with Tessa all the more difficult to appreciate. I keep waiting for this show to figure things out, and will keep watching until it does.
16) Bob’s Burgers
Everything Gene does is the best thing ever. Period. Full stop. If the show around that character matched that level of genius, this might be my number one show.
The reaction that Jamie Foxx’s hosting duties on “Saturday Night Live” elicited proves that we need this show more than ever. I love sketch comedy, but I love it even more when it presents a slice of life with which I am both intimately related yet wholly unfamiliar. “Key & Peele” brings a nerd sensibility to life through a perspective I’ve never been able to view it. And for that, I’m grateful.
14) Ben and Kate
There’s a lot in the current critical dialogue concerning how heavy and/or violent most critically lauded shows have become. Here’s a low-concept, low-key show that bucks that trends and found its voice earlier than other shows I love such as “Parks and Recreation”. I doubt we’ll get a second season of this show, given its ratings, so I’m making sure to give this overlooked gem its due now while I can.
13) Game Of Thrones
For its ambition alone, I applaud it. I just wish I felt as remotely engaged with its storylines as fans of the novels. Arya Stark alone vaulted the show to this position, and her scenes with Tywin Lannister were some of the finest TV work of 2012. If only the rest of the show lived up to those interactions, it would be a show for the ages.
My top show of last year. That’s how good TV was in 2012. Where the show slipped in its third year lay in replacing one all-time classic villain with two strong-yet-lesser ones, plus a reduction in the importance of the women in its overall storytelling. But this was still a gem of a show with some of the most effortlessly entertaining hours seen anywhere this year.
11) 30 Rock
My “Comeback Show Of The Year”. Tina Fey and company finally found a way to incorporate slivers or real emotion into its live-action cartoon world. Fey’s presence in the TV landscape will be sorely missed when this show ends. And even if there are a host of strong female presences both in front of and behind the camera in small-screen comedy, there’s only one Fey. Watching her navigate Liz Lemon through the trials and tribulations of modern-life while maintaining her feminist sensibilities has been a pleasure in 2012.
Coming soon: My Top Ten of 2012.