best tv of 2012

You all know I love talking about tv and trying to convince friends that some previously undiscovered show is secretly brilliant. But this year the tide turned and at least a handful of shows are on the list because someone else convinced me they were worth watching. So, I was a little late to the British party but I’m here now and apparently this is the anglophile version of the top tv list.

Before diving in, of course there are the honorable mentions. Blue Bloods is my favorite procedural; strong characters and decent stories and a show I have to watch every week (if for no other reason than cbs expires shows more quickly than hulu). But when narrowing down the top 10, procedurals have to almost work harder to stand out. They’re good at being solidly good, but not always at being great. And Nashville is too new to be fantastic quite yet. But the music in the first few episodes was incorporated so well and I like some of the complications between some of the characters. The scenes just need to be a little more fluid – right now there’s a few lines and then !scene and then a few lines and !scene. It doesn’t delve far enough into the character entanglements; everything is just a little too simple and glossy. But there’s potential there. and good music.


10. Suburgatory/Modern Family
ok, a little bit I feel compelled to include at least one comedy and these are the only two I’m watching.

Modern Family is funny but hasn’t been as hilarious this year as it has in years past.

And Suburgatory is cute and funny without being spectacular (except Dahlia cracks me up). Together I figured they were funny enough to make the list.

(plus Suburgatory gets bonus points for Alan Tudyk)

HAVEN Season 2 cropped 2012

9. Haven
I don’t know why I ever began liking Haven except now I completely do. At this point, the characters are compelling and there’s so much potential of interesting things to do. I enjoy the journey Audrey’s on and the mystery of it and I adore how Nathan and Duke are tangled up in that mystery and the ways they both care of her and despise each other. It’s a compelling dynamic with such a strong human element in each of the stand alone stories.

The Farmer had the torment of Duke and what Audrey expected of him and then there was Nathan’s shock over the hunter – they were such good performances and fantastic conflict; it was just beautiful. And there’s also something rich about the tone of the show – from the music to the colors it just draws me in and is fun and fascinating.

REVOLUTION Season 1 Banner 2012

8. Revolution
Good but not great yet. The thing is, I watched four seasons of Supernatural and I know what Eric Kripke is capable of. Everyone complains about the lead girl and I don’t disagree. Seven episodes in she’s had her moments, though, and she doesn’t bother me enough to keep me away. Billy Burke helps offset her because he’s fantastic. He’s so good with dry humor and he pulls of the sword-wielding, gruff moments as well as he does the tormented and vulnerable moments.

But really I keep watching Revolution because I know Kripke can handle a road trip show better than anyone else. And that the characters will grow and deepen until by season two I won’t be able to turn away. And I know he’s capable of a sucker punch right to the heart in his season finales. It’s what I’m hoping for and waiting for.

WHITE COLLAR Matt Bomer 2012

7. White Collar
In some ways I can’t help but include White Collar. Because Neal is charming and funny and Peter continues to be surprisingly awesome.

I liked the development with Neal’s dad and digging into his past this season more than I liked the music box storyline last season. But there have been fewer witty quips (I miss quotable White Collar) and in some ways it feels like they just keep doing the same thing they’ve been doing, even though they do it well. I’d just like something new to surprise me.

SUITS Season 2 poster cropped 2012

6. Suits
I didn’t think there was a show I could like as much as White Collar, but with Suits I almost do. It was also much less witty this season, but it made up for it by taking the characters to darker, dangerous places; which worked for me. Can we have hilariously witty and dastardly at the same time?


5. Last Resort
I am pretty disappointed that Last Resort has been cancelled already. It’s a pretty show with good production values and it’s well cast. My only hesitation is that I wasn’t sure how long you could drag out such a scenario and keep it plausible. Maybe they’d go the Burn Notice route and reinvent it a little every year. Once Upon a Time also resolved and reinvented their primary conflict with the new season. But I don’t know how you’d do that with the submarine and the island without it becoming Lost.But we’ll never find out if Shawn Ryan could have managed it or not. What I do know is that the writing was fantastic. The characters were so solid and that depth and richness I crave in other shows was present in this one from the second episode. Skeleton Crew was an excellent episode that showed the earning of respect and playfulness and tension and danger and a smart woman who people underestimated. It was so good. Blue on Blue was poetic and showcased how honorable and engaging the characters are which is so rarely seen these days but so appealing. That strength of characters and depth in the writing alone put it in the top 5.

MERLIN Season 5 Banner cropped 2012

4. Merlin
I watched both s3 and s4 of Merlin in 2012. Which was awesome because I love Merlin, and because I didn’t think I’d get to see s4 any time soon (seriously Syfy, put Merlin on hulu!). I wrote most of my s3 notes in Jan and then the s4 notes in Dec.

s3 – Is it bad that my first thought is that it’s a little overscored? But we all know how I feel about scoring. And yet, it’s Merlin so I love it. Bradley James and Angel Coulby still have no chemistry together but their characters compliment each other well enough that it works. I liked the deepening of the Arthurian legend in later episodes and Gwain is a lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to the integration of the knights of the round table next season. (don’t mock how far behind I am from actual seasons)

s4 was a beautiful thing! The mythology was fun and the characters were fantastic; it’s good to see Arthur growing as the king and Merlin becoming powerful. Morgana was relegated to the villain of the season but she was deeper and more interesting than most of them have been and she looked good doing it. I love that it’s funny and exciting and the characters are so wonderful. I even liked Arthur and Gwen, probably in part because they weren’t on screen much together and so I wasn’t bothered by their lack of chemistry and could enjoy the way that relationship progressed.

DOWNTON ABBEY Season 1 cropped 2012

3. Downton Abbey
One of the more difficult decisions this year was which would be higher on the list: Downton Abbey or Sherlock. It’s entirely possible that Downton Abbey lost simply because it’s been so long since I’ve watched it.

The characters are so satisfying that I don’t mind that it’s a slow and quiet show. Maggie Smith is hilarious and so perfect for the role. I enjoy witnessing that period in history which is so richly evoked. I like the parallel between the classes and how different they are but how they intersect. But mostly I just really like the characters.

SHERLOCK BBC Benedict Cumberbatch Martin Freeman cropped 2012

2. Sherlock
My Christmas delight this year was discovering Sherlock. Friends have been telling me for years to watch it and that I would love it and I believed them but I also sort of didn’t care. Because I hadn’t seen anything about it and so wasn’t curious or intrigued or anything. Also, not on hulu so it wasn’t easy. But I finally saw the first episode and immediately wanted more. I finished s1 and then almost enjoyed waiting for hours in an airport because I got to start s2.

The tone of the show is fantastic. Sherlock and Watson are both interesting. Watson’s practicality and dry wit and Sherlock’s manic intelligence and blunt statements are both funny and terribly amusing to watch. The dynamic created by the two of them is compelling, except that compelling doesn’t seem like a strong enough word (and also I use it a lot). Captivating. Absorbing. Thoroughly engaging.

ARROW Stephen Amell 2012

1. Arrow
I can’t help it. I liked the pilot well enough, even though I didn’t love it. I liked it well enough to be excited for it to finally air so we could move forward and I could see where the story would go. In the back of my mind I knew it could end up disappointing but I hoped for what I eventually got. A story about a handsome, tormented guy full of action and character development and pretty production.

I like the way we see Oliver Queen’s character develop through the flashbacks on the island. It’s interesting to see how he became this man – what haunts him and what honed him. Characters coming into their strength is almost always fascinating to me. And when I say Arrow is a pretty show, I don’t just mean Stephen Amell. The production values are fantastic. And I like that it isn’t cheesy; that the characters are realistic and there is depth in them and the stories don’t just gloss over moments, they allow the actors to sink into the story and into the moment so it feels vibrant and interesting.

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5 responses to “best tv of 2012

  1. JW

    AJ’s favorite TV of 2012 – a rebuttal of sorts.

    Let’s just start by acknowledging that we have different television tastes. That said, I don’t think that would ever stop us from (at the very least) trying something new that the other feels passionately about (and then voicing our opinion about it…loudly).

    So take that as you will, and also know that I’ll be bringing up other shows I watched (and you presumably did not) in an effort to make up for the fact that I did not watch a lot of the shows you did in 2012. Also, I generally keep up with seasons as they air (at least those shows on a broadcast network).

    I am not (usually) a procedural person, and most of CBS’s dramas do not appeal to me so I have nothing to say about Blue Bloods. On the other hand, I watched the Nashville pilot (and I think the episode that followed) and will agree that that show is probably one to watch. What I can say about the pilot is that Connie Britton (I can’t remember if you have watched Friday Night Lights yet or not, but if not, do it already!) is amazing (as always) and Hayden was cast really well. I also really like the way they set up Connie’s storyline as this show could have very well been centered on Hayden’s ascent to fame and that would have been the end for me. What I really, really enjoyed was the duet at the diner/bar at the end of the pilot. I assume that there was a big love triangle brewing there, but for someone who does not gravitate toward country music in anyway, I could not look away when that waitress and bartender (? It’s been off my radar for a while) were singing. It was good music and they have such great chemistry that I’m surprised my television didn’t fog up. Still, it did not make my dvr after that. Come to think of it no new broadcast shows made my dvr this season.

    I watch a lot of comedies (and we can continue to discuss my love of [good] sit-coms [done right] at another time), so I am happy that you at least acknowledged the genre on your list. I have always liked Modern Family and loved some of it. I don’t know how caught up you are, so consider this a spoiler alert…but the time cut this year really helped the show for me. Also, having Haley in college and allowing Alex’s character to grow was a nice shake up as well. That said, I don’t think Modern Family would make my top ten. Suburgatory lives on my dvr. I really like Jane Levy. Come to think of it, I really like all of the girls on the show. It’s pretty perfect for an ABC half hour as it allows itself to be glossy and irreverent but is also has heart (and snark). As soon as I saw Suburgatory on your list, I knew there was an Alan Tudyk mention coming.

    You love SyFy (and it’s overly ridiculous spelling). I haven’t watched anything even remotely Haven related at all. I have barely heard of it, and just watched a quick trailer, but really have no basis to speak of. Maybe I’m missing out.

    So here is where it gets real. Saying that Revolution is good is an overstatement. It reaches good levels from time to time but does not ascend above that. This is a show that takes a fantastic idea and has really muddled it. (I’m not sure if that is just a casualty of the network development process, the people on the show, or the alchemy of both parties.) It really is a most mediocre version of a great idea. I don’t really have a problem with the lead girl (though I also have not read anyone’s complaints). It’s more on the storytelling, and also the logic applied to the world. I wish this was great, or even just consistently good, but it just isn’t and that is a waste.

    I don’t think there is a network out there that has such security in their identity as USA . That said, I don’t watch anything they have to offer. I’m sure they do what they do really well, it just doesn’t appeal to me at all. It is interesting that you liked this season of White Collar better because of things like character development, which makes me think that the network as a whole is a little less vanilla than it has been.

    Re: Suits (see above). This show seems to go away (a bit) from its witty-ness toward a more dangerous place this season. Or at least that is what you tell me. I wonder if that will continue going forward and how that will change the USA brand (if at all).

    Ah, Last Resort. A pilot I watched and liked thanks to Andre Braugher. For a show that was billed as very macho, I thought it brought up some really interesting conflict right off the bat. I’ll agree with you that I’m not sure what would have happened if the show had any sort of longevity (without turning into Lost). That said, I had multiple people tell me that it was the best new show on this year.

    I haven’t watched Merlin and it only seems to register in my consciousness when you write about it on these lists once a year. Is it really good or is it just the best of that fantasy-ish niche?

    I know. I know. I need to get into Downton Abbey. I watched a random episode from Season 2 at some point this year and while I had no idea what was going on, I figured it was good. Also, the production design is amazing! It makes me want to go watch Gosford Park .

    Finally. I knew we were TV friends! SHERLOCK. Funny (not really) story: I remember totally disregarding an idea for an updated Sherlock series as I figured that updated version already existed in House. Boy was I wrong. This is an amazingly adept and relevant update to the iconic character. It is perfectly cast, and they do such a great job in showing the audience Sherlock’s process (unlike the WB movies, of which I think both failed). The first episode of season 2 is by far my favorite and I cannot wait for season 3…and Star Trek Into Darkness.

    And we’re back at odds with your number 1. Arrow. Really? I know you don’t generally have access, but I’ve got to mention things like Mad Men and Homeland here. While those shows have tons of hype (and are generally trendy picks), I think that as a whole Mad Men’s season 5 was extremely successful, especially dealing with a hit show that is ripe for change. Also, no matter what you think of the show (spoiler: it’s brilliant), Homeland uses some amazing conventions in storytelling right out of the gate in season 1. And the best thing about it is, those conventions are changed/complicated very soon after leaving us wondering what/how things are going to happen next.

    As for Arrow, I watched about 70% of the pilot, and while I liked the comic book-y scene transitions, that is where my like ended. Maybe it got super good (possibly helped by the flashbacks you mentioned), but I can’t believe this is something I’d be into. And I’ll just stay civil and leave it at that.

    So that’s that. Maybe we should make a deal to watch a show the other recommends that we normally wouldn’t watch, just to see if the other is speaking nonsense. Regardless, here’s hoping there is more awesome TV coming in 2013.

    • aj

      Agreed, we do have different tastes which is what makes the conversation so interesting. I have almost as much fun with your rebuttals as I do making the list each year!

      I did watch FNL (JGold got me into it and it was on the 2010 list) and Connie Britton is a big part of the reason I even gave Nashville a chance. But then that duet at the end in the bar was absolutely what brought me back for the next episode because I wanted more moments like that. I agree that Connie’s storyline is what makes it more interesting because Hayden kind of annoys me (though less so in Nashville than other things). It was good music and they have such great chemistry that I’m surprised my television didn’t fog up. totally. Unfortunately, they haven’t quite had a song that good since, but it’s enough of a good start for an honorable mention.

      I’m all up to date on comedies. I also thought Haley going to college and Alex’s character growth were both refreshing. I like shows that allow themselves to evolve and their characters and circumstances to change. And you describe Suburgatory so well, glossy and irreverent but it also has heart (and snark). I’m going to start letting your write half my summaries of shows 🙂 And I’m glad you appreciated the Alan Tudyk mention. I totally missed giving credit for Tahmoh Penikett on Arrow (well, thought it several times and never actually typed it).

      eh, you’re not entirely missing out on Haven unless you like Syfy style shows (which I do) and tolerate the overly ridiculous spelling (reluctantly).

      It is not an overstatement to say Revolution is good. It’s maybe being generous because I agree it’s not solidly good. But the moments of good here and there I enjoy enough. I am expecting it to be consistently good eventually. And maybe it’s not fair to put shows on the list in part because of my aspirations. But I did it anyway.
      what would you have wanted it to be? and you didn’t watch Supernatural, did you? I can’t remember.

      Yes, USA has the strongest brand identity for a network since the WB (I *loved* their brand identity!). I can’t see it being your style, though, so I’m not surprised you don’t watch their shows. The network is pretty vanilla, but it’s like french vanilla on a bright, hot day.

      Some of your multiple people were likely some of my people too – telling me Last Resort was the best pilot of the season. And I agree, one of the things I liked about it was the interesting conflict it introduced so quickly.

      I love that Merlin registers for you only because of my list every year! I can’t honestly say that it’s really good. I can say it’s a fun idea for the Arthurian legend and that I like the actors quite a bit (Anthony Stewart Head!) and that it is growing and developing nicely. It’s definitely at the top of the fantasy-ish niche and it’s British so it’s got that going for it. And while a lot of people like it, you kind of have to like it to think it’s good.

      You SOOO need to watch Downton Abbey! to quote you, do it already! 🙂

      I never thought the day would come when we finally become TV friends. yay! @redacted was always talking about it and telling me I needed to watch it. Then Kel was telling me I need to watch it. I think I remember you comparing House to Sherlock Holmes one time, or maybe I’m making that up. And I totally watched the second Sherlock movie this weekend. I couldn’t agree with you more that the TV show does such a better job of showing his process. I haven’t written my review yet but it’s almost unfair to watch the movie after the show because it just can’t compare. I liked the movies just fine until I saw the TV show. I loved the first episode of s2 even though it was paced so differently than a normal tv show – the character dynamics were amazing. Have you heard we might not get s3 until 2014? Star Trek Into Darkness will have to suffice…

      Totally Arrow. And, you’re right, I don’t watch any of the big name cable shows like Mad Men or Homeland or Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. So, the pool of shows I’m choosing from is limited. I don’t know if Arrow is something you’d love (though people we know do). I don’t think it’s something you’d hate though. And I think it’s a better take on the character than Smallville offered, but all of Smallville veered toward the campy. I appreciate your civility 🙂

      As for the shows not in consideration… I have a hard time with them because generally I assume they are well made and totally trust you that they are innovative and worth watching. You intrigue me a little with Homeland’s amazing storytelling conventions because I like change and I like complicated. What I generally don’t like is dark, especially emotionally. Battlestar is kind of the far end of what I enjoy as far as bad things happening or characters going to hard places in themselves or in life or being self-destructive or difficult things thematically. So it’s hard for me to think I’d enjoy some of the places cable allows those shows to go or how graphically they are able to tell the story. It makes it easy not to seek them out because, as you said, I don’t readily have access and so I don’t look for it.

      But I’d trade a show with you. Because I do trust you and know you have good taste in TV, even where we differ. Maybe whatever we trade would even end up on the 2013 list 🙂

  2. Lori

    just discovered Lost Girl. Terrible pilot, but you know I ‘always’ give a show three Eps to impress me. New hot guy for the list too. I did NOT like Kris Holden-Ried in The Tudors but holy crow he is smoking in this show. And apparently quite tall. Lmk if you’re familiar.

    • aj

      had totally not heard of Lost Girl which is weird because it’s had 3 seasons. where have I been? except only watching Haven on Syfy…

      Anyway, I’m not familiar with Kris Holden-Ried but sounds like he’s one of those guys where the character makes all the difference.

  3. Suits is definitely in my top 10 of 2012 TV shows. That show is just so slick. The dialog is as sharp as the suits in the show. The characters are all so well created. Even the supporting cast like Donna. My god, I love Donna! Such a great character.

    Revenge is another fab show. Probably the best soapy drama on TV at the moment. It’s beyond ridiculous at times, but so good.

    Couldn’t not include Breaking Bad either. That show just keeps pushing it and I can’t wait for the final season this July.

    Community, Justified, The Borgias and American Horror Story all get mentioned too for being brilliant.

    2013 list will probably look very similar. Just started watching The Americans, which looks very interesting. May be on my list for this year.