The last twelve months have been great for TV, with some decidedly memorable moments. We’re still firmly entrenched in this Second Golden Age of Television … if you discount 90% of what’s out there (looking at you, reality television!). There were some great hits, some surprising flops and a few heartening comebacks. After the jump you’ll find some of my picks for the best, worst, most confusing and also the most underrated of the year (spoiler-free!). It’s not meant to be exhaustive or definitive, but contains a few memories and considerations from 2012. And though I do watch an ungodly amount of TV, there’s plenty I’m not caught up on, so let me know what I’ve missed. Hit the jump to check it out.
Honorable Mention: Mad Men (AMC)
After a year when so many other hyped series dropped the ball, Breaking Bad continued to shine as one of the most consistently excellent shows on TV. I don’t believe anyone has ever said of it “yeah, last season was better,” which is telling. The show escalates every year to new heights of drama, style and acting. As for Mad Men, it had a strange year but a bold one — it took risks, and they mostly paid off (except for Matthew Weiner‘s obsession with Jessica Paré).
Best New Comedy: Veep (HBO)
Honorable Mention: Don’t Trust the B– in Apt 23 (ABC)
I’m going to go ahead and assume the Cheese Stands Alone on this one, but Veep‘s subtly-portrayed truths and perception wrapped up in fantastic acting and terribly cringe-worthy moments made it one of the best of the year. And if you’re rolling your eyes at The B–, then it’s because you’re not watching it. It is home to some of the best comedy writing out there, elevated by a surprisingly hilarious James Van Der Beek (who knew Crying Dawson had it in him?)
Biggest Returning Disappointment: True Blood (HBO)
Honorable Mention: Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
One word for True Blood: Billith. To be fair, this season of True Blood wasn’t as bad as the one prior, but that bar wasn’t set particularly high. This year looked at first like it was headed back to campy fun instead of just dirge, but life is full of disappointment. Boardwalk Empire though was a major head-shaker. Though the finale (and existence of Richard Harrow) made up for most of its obvious narrative wandering, here’s hoping it sorts itself out a clearer, more engaging path for its next season, because it’s one of the most stylish and best acted dramas on TV.
Biggest New Drama Dud: Revolution (NBC)
Honorable Mention: 666 Park Ave (ABC)
There were plenty of duds this year, and most of them are now cancelled (except for The Neighbors, though that should have its own category of “Dear God what have we done to deserve this?”). But Revolution seemed particularly promising, and then almost immediately showed why it wasn’t worth watching. Shame. And 666 Park Ave? Again: potential, but poorly executed. The less said the better.
Honorable Mention: 30 Rock (NBC), It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FX)
After an exceedingly questionable second season, The Walking Dead returned this year with a bang, restoring viewer faith in it and AMC in general (which was soon wiped away with the departure of showrunner Glen Mazzara). More quietly, long-running comedies 30 Rock and It’s Always Sunny returned after a few slow seasons with renewed vigor, better jokes, and a fresh sense of self.
Biggest Question Mark: Homeland (Showtime)
Honorable Mention: Game of Thrones (HBO), Sons of Anarchy (FX)
What happened to you, Homeland? The series’ confusing choices in its second season made some jump ship, but it did set up decent things to come. … Right? (fingers crossed). Same with Sons of Anarchy, which seems to like the sound of its own voice even though it no longer has much to say. That’s not to say there weren’t fantastic moments in both, but both also deserve a strong side-eye. Game of Thrones is one of the best series on TV without question, but it didn’t quite get the balance of book-to-screen adaptation as right as it did in its inaugural season. Proceed with cautious optimism for all three in 2013.
Honorable Mention: Newsroom (HBO)
I don’t believe I heard more discourse over any two shows than these in 2012; everyone had an opinion one way or another. Personally, I felt both series tried too hard, and would have also benefitted from HBO calming down on the hype machine (taking the meant-to-be ridiculous line in Girls “I am the voice of my generation,” and making it serious was the first giant misstep that set people against it. If Hannah is the voice of my generation, I don’t want to live on this planet anymore). Second seasons will be worth checking out for both, if only to keep up with water-cooler arguments.
Best British Series: Sherlock (BBC/PBS)
Honorable Mention: The Thick of It (ITV/Hulu)
CBS’ Elementary is no match for the BBC’s smart and gorgeously filmed Sherlock, though both have built up rabid fan bases that enjoy fighting with one another over the merits of Cumberbatch versus Miller. Meanwhile, on a lofty perch of perfection looking down on it all with its acid-tongued snark is The Thick Of It, the forerunner of Veep by the same creative team, and a series with the most stunningly creative cursing since Deadwood.
Most Under-appreciated: Happy Endings (ABC)
Honorable Mention: The Good Wife (CBS), Treme (HBO), Damages (DirecTV)
Give ’em a chance! Happy Endings is one of the most consistently funny comedies ever penned, with great performances from its ensemble cast. The Good Wife is an adroit political drama that is sometimes weighed down by its procedural aspect, but even that part of it is better than most other TV. Since Damages moved from FX to DirecTV everyone has forgotten about it, but it’s still a surprisingly deep and twisted show. As for Treme : yes it’s dense and slow and difficult at times, but the payoff is never short of spectacular.
There’s plenty of TV out there I missed in this rundown because there are only so many hours in the day — Justified, Archer, Dexter (which I gave up on 2 seasons ago), Go On, Magic City, Boss, Louie, Wilfred, Ben and Kate and House of Lies are just a few that I’m sure deserve mention and consideration. Let me know in the comments what I need to move up to queue for 2013, and what you loved or hated on TV this year.