Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top Fifty TV Shows of 2012: #50 - 31

Television in 2012 was a tumultuous yet just as often joyous medium, with – no, I'm totally kidding! You guys are smart. You don't need a bloated, self-important preamble taking up space. The one note I'll make is that there are a handful of shows I'm a fan of but aren't on this list because I haven't gotten a chance to see any of their 2012 runs yet (probably most notably The Borgias and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). But other than that, my list is my list, love it or hate it. On to the fun:

50. The Newsroom (HBO)

Hands down the iconic hate-watching experience of 2012, The Newsroom continued the quest Aaron Sorkin began in Studio 60 to try to make me question all the love I ever had for Sports Night and The West Wing. Watching and jeering at his unceasing-for-over-a-decade-now hate campaign against the internet's very existence ("I have a blog?!") was, without fail, great fun every week, and I can't wait for the show to come back to shrilly preach and lecture at us again next summer.

49. Once Upon a Time (ABC)

Honestly, Once Upon a Time isn't very good, and I quit watching it halfway through the first season, started back up at the season finale, then quit again four episodes into season 2. But, that said, I do respect it for keeping serialized fantasy alive on network television, and to pretty damn good ratings at that. Better fantasy shows may exist down the line because this harmless but ultimately disposable fairy tale saga paved the road for them to travel.

48. Go On (NBC)

From the very first time I saw Friends until "The Last One" aired in May 2004, Chandler was always my favorite Friend and about 60-70% of the reason I watched the show, period. So it's a bit of a shame Matthew Perry has spent his post-Friends career bouncing around various shows unworthy of his talents. Nevertheless, this grief counseling semi-ensemble comedy gives him a chance to flex his sarcasm and averages about one or two laughs per episode, which ain't superb, but does – spoiler alert – make it the only new fall 2012 sitcom on this list.

47. Adventure Time (CN)

I only saw two or three episodes of Cartoon Network's signature surreal comedy in 2012, those two or three were mostly on in the background, and I have no real intention of catching up. But, for what it's worth, I did mostly enjoy their committed, high-energy absurdity, and I laughed several times.

46. Longmire (A&E)

This Wyoming sheriff procedural is mostly just a way for olds to stave off death for an hour once a week, but I did enjoy the dusty, lived-in feel of the four episodes I watched, as well as Robert Taylor's tired-yet-macho performance as the titular Sheriff Longmire and seeing Katee Sackoff and Friday Night Lights' Louanne Stephens. It's not great TV by any means, but it's better than CBS's similar Western-ish sheriff procedural Vegas, with a much lower budget and without the movie star lead. CBS, kill yourself.

45. Sword Art Online (Hulu)

The only new anime I watched in 2012 that didn't make me want to projectile vomit all the way back to Japan, Sword Art Online tells the story of a group of gamers who become permanently trapped in a full-immersion virtual reality fantasy MMORPG where if they die in the game they die in real life (The Matrix meets Middle-earth, basically), and their quest for escape. I've actually only just started the series, but I found what I've seen clever, engaging, and well-animated enough that I plan to keep going, which pretty much by default makes it the best anime I've seen since Death Note.

44. Revolution (NBC)

The internet hates Revolution. I feel that fact hangs heavy enough over any discussion of the show that it must be acknowledged. And honestly, between Tracy Spiridakos' performance, the Lost-knockoff flashback structure, and its subtle right-wing undercurrents, I sometimes hate it too. But there's an unquenchable thirst for sci-fi/fantasy adventure serials deep in my gut, and, god help me, Revolution kinda sorta scratches that itch. Certainly more than Terra Nova did (talk about damning with faint fucking praise). I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm excited for its return in March, but I am planning on watching.

43. Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23 (ABC)

For better or worse, longtime American Dad! scribe Nahnatchka Khan brought a lot of her old job with her when she set out to create Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23. It contains all the glib heartlessness of a Seth MacFarlane show, but also the same madcap cartoonishness and cheerful, unapologetic misanthropy to rival It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Krysten Ritter is basically playing a female rendition of American Dad!'s Roger the Alien, and she tears into it with playful, bitchy zeal. It's not a great show, but in the battle of the "friends living in apartments in the big city" Friends descendants, I'd put it in the 90th percentile.

42. Bent (NBC)

I'm not entirely sure why NBC buried and burned off this perfectly likable little romantic comedy, only to debut the likes of Guys with Kids and Animal Practice in sexy, heavily promoted fall slots a few months later, but there was a lot to like in its mayfly-esque six-episode run. Nice chemistry between leads David Walton and Amanda Peet, nice supporting turns from Curb Your Enthusiasm's J.B. Smoove, Friday Night Lights' Jesse Plemons, Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor, and Joey King (who may go down in history as the only actress to play both Ramona Quimby and Talia al Ghul), and just a flat-out goodhearted, amiable vibe that made it pleasant to watch. Bent deserved better.

41. Hell on Wheels (AMC)

It's no great mystery why AMC's railroad construction Western is considered the redheaded stepchild of their network when compared to Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead, but, while humorless and often charmless, it has nevertheless continued to deliver just enough in nice cinematography/production design, macho performances, and occasional moments of impressive violence to keep me watching. The show's unquestionable MVP is Christopher Heyerdahl as the mysterious railway enforcer called the Swede, whose sheer, unadulterated craziness might just sneak him onto a list of my favorite TV villains right now.

40. Last Resort (ABC)

Shawn Ryan's Lost-meets-Crimson Tide island/submarine thriller isn't nearly as good as his last show, The Chicago Code (which in turn wasn't nearly as good as his show before that, Terriers, which verges on "masterpiece of television" territory), but it isn't without a smattering of badass and/or well-acted moments to enjoy, and did almost certainly have the best network pilot this fall. What followed that pilot wasn't quite as impressive, but, like Terriers and The Chicago Code before it, Last Resort has been canceled and will rest at thirteen episodes – thirteen-episode one-season wonders being Shawn Ryan's specialty, apparently – and with advance warning to plan an ending I have hope Ryan can deliver something that will have made this journey worthwhile.

39. Glee (Fox)

Yes, I know, you hate Glee. I very frequently hate it too. It's full of mediocre song sequences, poorly-sketched characters, and its unwillingness to let go of Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester as a villain has been a cancer at the heart of the show since, like, season 2 (it's now halfway through season 4). But the counterpoint to that is that there are two, maybe three dramas on network television that take ballsier, more out-there, potentially audience-alienating risks on a regular basis. I might write a full essay on this in a few months and don't want to blow my wad early, but suffice to say showrunner Ryan Murphy fucking enrages his fanbase on a pretty regular basis – go read angry Glee blogs on Tumblr sometime if you doubt me – and I genuinely respect that.

38. Veep (HBO)

Armando Iannucci's heartless, endlessly cynical political comedy could be a draining experience even at half an hour a week – I can hardly imagine how dead inside I'd have felt afterward if I'd shotgunned the entire season in one sitting – but it was sharp, incisive, consistently well-acted, and knew exactly when to deploy profanity for maximum comedic impact to liven things up. White House liaison Jonah, played by Timothy Simons, was a masterful comic creation, ranging from a spectacular asshole to put-upon to just kind of crazy ("This is fucking primordial!") from scene to scene and being hilarious at 'em all.

37. Teen Wolf (MTV)

Seemingly drawing its inspiration about 45% from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 45% from The Vampire Diaries, and only about 10% (if that) from the 1985 comedy it shares a title with, MTV's supernatural high school serial Teen Wolf is probably one of TV's more noteworthy guilty pleasures right now. It's more lighthearted than The Vampire Diaries – more humor, far fewer major character deaths – but like that show it mixes forbidden romance, namely the silly yet likable love story of a teenaged werewolf and his werewolf slayer girlfriend, with plenty of action and chases and fighting. Polish things off with a one-major-bad-guy-a-season structure reminiscent of Buffy, and you have a goofy yet undeniably fun show.

36. The Office (NBC)

I often vigorously disliked The Office this year, just as I did in 2011. The well of stories and jokes has run very dry, and it feels as centerless without Steve Carell as we all feared it would. But when it comes down to it, I've formed a relationship with these characters, and I still care about them. I'm sure that's a weak sauce reason to keep watching a TV show, but there it is. I also enjoyed at least part of the Tallahassee arc this spring and this fall's "Work Bus" episode. The unquestionable MVP of season 9 thus far? Erin. Please, please, gods of television, don't let Ellie Kemper wind up on some laugh track piece of shit come fall 2013.

35. Nashville (ABC)

I freely admit that like 90% of the reason Nashville is this high is because of residual love for Connie Britton carried over from Friday Night Lights. Conversely, 90% of the reason it's this low is because of the godawful, endless mayoral race subplot involving Connie Britton's boring-as-fuck onscreen husband (and what a sorry downgrade from Coach Taylor). But when Nashville sheds the politics and focuses in on country music, the behind the scenes of country music, and the characters played by Britton, Hayden Panettiere, Clare Bowen, and Charles Esten? Then it's a damn fine little soap with a lot of Tennessee flavor to it. If only I could surgically excise the bad show from the good one, then it could be top 25 material.

34. Chuck (NBC)

NBC's lighthearted action/comedy/romance spy saga, which back in 2009 might have been a top ten contender for me, came to an amusing but somewhat problematic end with its final five-episode arc in January. As with The Office, I have tremendous residual love for these characters that papers over certain flaws, and these five episodes did contain a few events years in the making and that enjoyable pulpy spy comedy vibe we Chuck fans love so much. But all the same, the final arc did center around a boring weak-ass new villain named Quinn who I just didn't give a shit about, and the series finale did something with Sarah Walker that I really, really wasn't a fan of. A pleasant but unremarkable coda for a series I'll always have fond memories of.

33. Archer (FX)

I wrote about this a couple weeks back, but Archer – which, mind you, I top ten'd last year – did partially collapse for me this year. I'm careful to add the "for me" qualification, because I know lots of people love FX's animated spy comedy just as much as ever, and it wasn't really doing anything different this year. In fact, it did a nice job continuing several stories from season 2, including Archer's rivalry with KGB archnemesis Barry Dylan, and H. Jon Benjamin's vocal performance as Archer continues to be brilliant. I just kind of... burned out on it. But, that said, I have every intention of continuing to watch, and I loved the episode "Lo Scandalo."

32. Switched at Birth (ABC Family)

This ABC Family teen soap can be spectacularly dumb at points, and it had a very creepy arc this fall wherein one of our sixteen-year-old leads dated a guy in his thirties and the show didn't treat him like a gross fucking pedophile. But its exploration of the dynamics of a very unusual family is often warm and insightful, and the depiction of deaf culture is fascinating. Several major characters, including one of the two leads (the same one who dated the thirty-year-old, in fact), are deaf, and the show is unafraid to play out lengthy scenes in silence with sign language and subtitles. Finding employment while deaf, dating between deaf and hearing people, deaf athletics, and learning sign language are just a few of the many pretty damn interesting and unique-for-television concepts that Switched at Birth explores on a regular basis.

31. Happy Endings (ABC)

Happy Endings is a very shallow, very funny Friends knockoff (six friends living in apartments in the city in pairs of roommates, three male and three female, two of them siblings, with a few romantic entanglements in the ensemble) that has virtually no interest in anything except raining a constant stream of jokes down on you at a rate of about one punchline every five to ten seconds. It has no depth whatsoever – there's shows much lower on this list and not on this list at all with more interest in character development – but is it funny? Yep. It's just 22 minutes a week of rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, and boom, boom, boom, punchline, punchline, punchline, rarely letting up for a second. And there's far worse things than that.

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