Television began its ascent to full respectability before the dawn of the 21st century, but in the past two decades it has truly proven itself as a medium worth paying attention to. Which is great, because who doesn't hate those assholes who brag about how they don't even OWN a television set? Or maybe that's just me. Point being, 2012 was yet another year where picking the "best" television had to offer was an impossible task, which is why we've stuck with the term "favorite," as these are the shows we enjoyed the most this year. There may have been some great shows that weren't included– like Boardwalk Empire, Walking Dead and Homeland to name a few– but these were the programs our writers enjoyed above all others. Many of them desperately need more viewers, some are longstanding favorites and a few are genuine surprises. So we hope you'll enjoy this list and let us know about your favorites in the comments.
– Nick Hanover
I am seldom right. I was incorrect about my Emmy predictions back in September, Kia Shine being the next big rapper, and Mondo winning Season 8 of Project Runway. However, this summer while I was at San Diego Comic Con, I struck gold. I predicted that 666 Park Avenue would fail, Pay Resort would fail, and Revolution would be hate watched by the masses. And I am 3 for 3. But my biggest prediction and my riskiest was that The CW's Arrow would not only be a critical success, but a commercial one as well. And I was so right.
Oliver Queen returns home after being stranded on an island for five ears, only to see the city he loves in shambles and his family torn apart. Vowing to seek revenge on the the people who destroyed his life, Queen goes into the night armed with a bow and new found survival skills to take names and kick ass.
One part Nolan's take on Batman, one part District B13, a dash of gay porn (in the training montage) and a hefty pinch of CW low budget cheesiness, Arrow takes all of these aspects and turns them into a show with longevity that's not just action and fireworks factories. Hopefully it doesn't become Smallville, and hopefully there will be an episode where he's forced to fight naked.
– Dylan Garsee
Seasons 4 & 5
Nothing is going to top “A Short Story about Love.” By all rights, that should have been the series finale. Emotionally, it was. But it was also only episode 15 of season 4, making it the 80th episode overall. And that was a bit short of the 100-episode requirement for eternal syndication. And I can’t fault the producers, I want Fringe to be showing up all over the dial for years to come, providing unexpected moments of sci-fi realness as oases in the desert of procedurals too. This show had a look and a feel and point of view from the start, when it was only like 20% an X-Files homage; the rest went much more quickly in the direction of family and authority and loyalty and love, based on the quirky core characters.
And Fringe keeps playing with the stereotypes of even fringe TV, where daddies are usually bad, and authority is usually fascist, and freedom is usually in jeopardy. In Fringe, Walter keeps seeming evil, but he ultimately acts out of love. Manhatan Walter looked draconian, but he was just protecting his own. Peter and Walter are not technically related, but the love that has built between them registers in every moment of eye contact. It’s deep. It’s pure. It’s electric chemistry.
Olivia is the third part of the triangle, and she’s always been pretty good at those eye contact twinkles, too. In this episode, she says goodbye to the best ever version of her relationship with the brittle Nina Sharp, in order to say hello to the man she’s realized Peter always was. And wordlessly, romantically, soap operatically, he meets her on the street, both heading towards each other, and with one look they each realize they’ve always already been right at home.
That was, of course, back in March 2012. Since then we’ve been worrying about the future. The writers have unpacked still glimmering facets from earlier seasons, going as far back as season one when the show was still juggling its conspiracies and weekly monsters, and we’ve had Bill Bell try to ruin everything, again. Astrid getting shot, and then Olivia. Biological experiments that have been popping up since the beginning now meant to populate yet another ill-conceived Eden. Olivia and Peter building a family, with a beautiful blonde child, despite the delusions of madmen. Walter going dark, again.
So many directions have been begun and abandoned. Manhatan’s skewed reality. Olivia’s cortexifan brethren. The white tulip. The shape changers. Maybe it was best to move on from all of that and narrow in on the furtive Observers as the ultimate threat, but their move from detachment to domination has been an uneven one. The Observers are scary, but individually uninteresting since they have no individuality. We’ve had more fun this season with Walter’s pipe dreams and any exceptions to the rules, like the Observer child or Windmark’s uncharacteristic zeal in suppressing the rebellion.
More foibles, less fear would help the upcoming finale; still, for 2012, Fringe kept the oddity coming with hallucinations, dimensional side-trips, pockets of underground activity, and Jill Scott. And since it all still involves Peter and Olivia and Astrid and Walter (even if their unlikely haven is Walter’s supposedly ambered old lab, an exemplar of hiding in plain sight), it’s been a rewarding, if prolonged, denouement.
– Shawn Hill
American Horror Story: Asylum
< span style="font-size:18px;">Season Two (technically)
American Horror Story: Asylum saw the show step up in terms of ambition and storytelling, albeit at the expense of scenes where Dylan McDermott simultaneously cries and masturbates. Coming from showrunner Ryan Murphy, American Horror Story takes every different aspect of horror and chucks it liberally onto the screen, with little regard for why they should be there. Set in a 1960s asylum, this year saw devil possession, Nazis, mutants, aliens, child murders and serial killers rub up on each other on a frequent basis, sometimes literally, as the plot went batshit insane within the space of five minutes. It's been an exceptionally entertaining ride so far, with the thrilling caveat that everything Ryan Murphy does eventually implodes (catastrophically!), and American Horror Story could collapse into itself at any moment. Rather than take away from the season, this has actually added a brilliant car-crash element to proceedings, as insane twist follows insane twist with the whole thing on the verge of exploding into the most incredible narrative mess ever seen on television.
We haven't yet reached that point though, by the end of 2012. The key to the show this season has been Lily Rabe's performance as the demonically-possessed Sister Mary-Eunice, a nun turned puppet for the devil himself. She's matched by a steely acting display from the dodgily-accented Jessica Lange as the woman in charge of the asylum, and Sarah Paulson as the most traumatised women in the history of television. There's a strong element of misogyny present in American Horror Story – as there is in horror in general – but in this case that does seem to be giving the female cast a lot more to do with their roles. Whether getting brought back to life or abducted and thrown into murder basements, the female cast have had a lot to sink their teeth into. Most of it comes with the cost of wanton misogyny, thrown around more liberally than sweet neck blood ripped out by a crazed Santa. Somehow, though, smaller, character-driven moments have appeared in the show with the second season, and ones which are actually semi-affecting at times.
It's been a daring year for the show, and it's paid off magnificently. The show may not have the careful crafting of something like Boardwalk Empire – but Boardwalk Empire is LIKE THE MOST BORING THING EVER OH MY GOD. American Horror Story is an hourlong rush of incredible performances, shocking twists, and a scene in which James Cromwell literally fights the devil. Sweet Mother of Mary!
– Steve Morris
Few major network shows spoke to a rabid, vocal minority like Community. Sure, its older cousin Arrested Development lived a similar life, but it was more intellectually stimulating for its countless rewards for keeping up and paying attention. Community was a little more emotionally close to its characters and thus fostered a certain type of fanbase — one that closely identified and/or fell in love with the characters that it laughed at. No season of Community is perfect, but there's so much adventurousness and experimentation with the form that the odd not-great episode is worth it because the highs are so high.
Season 3 of Community not only featured one of the series' most daring episode yet — the alternate timeline-laden "Remedial Chaos Theory" — but we also saw the show's characters taking a look at their study group set up to wonder if maybe the dynamic has turned poisonous, that maybe they're all just a bunch of crazy people with unhealthy mental states. It's a moment that speaks to the very human, self-aware heart beating beneath all the meta-gags and parodies that wants to evaluate how different people interact and communicate. It's that sense of humanity that gives the title Community a deeper meaning than "It's about a community college."
Rather than rave about the more legendary episodes of the season, let's skip to the finale — creator Dan Harmon's final episode as showrunner before being unceremoniously fired. After a season of high-concept episodes and a season-long arc that culminated with Chang ruling over the entire school with an iron fist, "Introduction to Finality" offers a relatively subdued episode — Pierce is suing Shirley and has hired Jeff's lawyer rival as his representation while "Evil Abed" threatens to corrupt the main timeline — appropriately offering closure that focuses on the characters and the less wacky themes of the show before capping it off with a montage that suggests everyone's moving on. It was fun while it lasted, but people need to live life and move on.
If it sounds like an obituary for Community, it kind of is. A fourth season is going to air soon with new showrunners and some of the remaining writing staff (at least there's that), but Dan Harmon's vision and idiosyncracies were so integral to the show that without him Community could just prove a needless sequel, a depressing epilogue, a grasp at Bazinga!fication or a pale shade of a show that by all indications was a nightmare to produce. But no matter what happens, we can take solace in what came before.
– Danny Djeljosevic
Those who know me personally know that I love only two things in this world: The Knife’s Silent Shout and 30 Rock. Apparently, the last year I had the ability to love was in 2006, as that was the year both this album and this show were released. Ever since then, I’ve merely liked things. Nothing has pulled at my heartstrings, nothing has grabbed my attention, nothing has made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck as much as that album and that TV show. I’m not saying that there hasn’t been good art released in seven years, I just have such a mixed bag of personality disorders that nothing has stuck out to me.
Then along came ABC’s Happy Endings. I remember exactly where I was the first time I watched it; I was on the floor of my bedroom. My boyfriend at the time had just broke up with me, and I didn’t want to do anything but listen to “Red Right Ankle” by the Decemberists. But I clicked my Hulu bookmark instead of my Reddit bookmark, and saw that it was on the front page. I had skimmed across some AV Club reviews of the show, and saw that they had given a few of the episodes “A” which is incredibly rare for a sitcom. So I gave it a
I fell in love. The “six rich friends that live in a city and somehow have all this money even though they never work” sitcom has been played to death, yet somehow on Happy Endings, everything seems to click. The dialogue is lightning fast, every character is flawed in one way or the other, making them both hilarious and a little sad, and it also stars a gay character that isn’t KAAAH-WEEEEENS like Kurt or Jack or whatever the characters names are on that dreadful and borderline offensive show The New Normal. Max is fat. Max is gross. Max is poor. Max is me. And I’ve never connected to a character as much as I did with him. And he made me feel so good.
I discovered this show halfway into its second season, and it only gets better. Every episode feels like a classic, and is filled with such love and joy, and it’s a shame that it isn’t being talked about as much as Parks and Rec or Community. There needs to be a new cult. And I’ll start it.
– Dylan Garsee
2012 was a very big year for Pendleton Ward’s animated series, Adventure Time. Not only did the series air 36 episodes (from ending season 3 through the beginning of season 5), but he also launched a quality BOOM! Studios ongoing comic series and a fantastic video game from WayForward Tech! And while it is understandable to worry that overexposure could harm the animated television series, Adventure Time only got better in 2012.
2012 opened with the third season episode “Paper Pete”, where Finn discovers creatures called Pagelings — the first blank page of any book as animated, origami-like beings — who are in a heated battle with the Moldos — animated mold beings — while Jake is in the library trying to learn about rainicorns. From there, Finn finds a love interest his own age in Flame Princess (who may or may not be evil), Lady Rainicorn becomes pregnant with Jake’s children, the rise and fall of The Lich, Finn gets a weird robotic arm, Ice King’s origin is discovered, Princess Bubblegum creates an heir to the Candy Kingdom, Lemongrab gets weird again, Beemo goes noire and it ends with the fifth season episode, “All the Little People”, which acts as a weird metaphor for God. My personal favorite was “B-Mo Noire”, where Finn loses his sock and Beemo goes through the empty house, playing a pulp noir detective right out of Raymond Chandler, discovering who stole Finn’s sock and for what purpose. It ends with Beemo saying the line, “She’s hot like pizza supper” and has become my favorite episode of the series.
With new characters, new plot reveals and the promise of so much more to come, Adventure Time easily holds the seat as the best animated series currently on TV and may very well be one of the best shows on any network, period. If our world can end up turning into the Land of Ooo after a nuclear fallout, I will now learn to stop worrying and love the bomb.
Game of Thrones
If only one HBO series was going to make the cut this year, I'm glad it was Game of Thrones. This epic adaptation of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels is one of the most ambitious television productions any network has ever undertaken – not least because it is a fantasy production, but also because it has a mind-boggling scale without sacrificing the personal drama that brings the world to life.
Season Two took the groundwork laid in Season One and, like the novel it adapts, A Clash of Kings, runs in a variety of different directions, any one of which would be an epic tale of its own. We follow the rise of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) as he attempts to take the crown from the bastard, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson); we follow Jon Snow (Kit Harington) beyond the wall as the Night's Watch attempts to curb an impending invasion; we follow King of the North, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) with his prisoner, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as he lays claim to his own swath of the kingdom; we follow Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) as he betrays everyone he's ever known in the name of family; we follow Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) as she attempts to rally her adopted tribe and build an army in strange new lands; we follow Arya (Maisie Williams) as her trip to the North goes horribly wrong, and Sansa (Sophie Turner) as her world gets more and more nightmarish with every passing day; we follow Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) as his dreams become more and more prophetic, and his mother Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) as her reality becomes more and more traitorous; but best of all, we follow Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) as he makes power plays against his sister Cersei (Lena Headey) with the aide of his partner-in-crime Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and the conniving Lord Varys (Conleth Hill).
None of these narrative threads feel thin or lacking in attention. And I didn't even mention a handful of minor characters with amazing story arcs, specifically Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) who leads Stannis' fleet, and Melisandre (Carice van Houten), Stannis' Red Priestess.
Plus, who could forget Shadow Babby?
This is one of the most talented and accomplished casts on television doing some of the largest scale storytelling ever attempted in the medium. Season Two upped the ante in ways that seemed impossible, and Season Three (which hits in March) promises to keep building on everything that has come so far.
–Paul Brian McCoy
Parks & Recreation
Seasons Three & Four
Lest we forget, 2012 was an election year, which brought with it all the insanity and chaos and douchebaggery one would expect. So you'll have to excuse me if the election that had me most excited wasn't the one involving the leader of our nation but instead a small town council election involving one Leslie Knope.
That's not meant as an apathetic quip, a handy example of what's wrong with my generation with our pop culture obsessiveness and glib aloofness; I was raised to be politically astute and aware and maybe that's why American politics in my lifetime have left me mostly depressed and eager for some kind of alternate display of the potency of American democracy. And if the only way I could experience that was through a half hour sitcom that began its life as a watered down version of The Office, so be it.
NBC's Parks and Recreation spent the bulk of 2012 building up Amy Poehler's Knope as a flawed but ultimately cunning, ambitious and determined politician facing a hollow man candidate in the form of Paul Rudd's Bobby Newport, the intellectually bankrupt but pretty son of a less than loving business tycoon. There were aspects of our modern political cycle involved, from Machiavellian campaign consultants to smear campaigns and threats from big business, but unlike the real world, good ultimately triumphed, the compromises weren't exactly soul crushing and above all, the town of Pawnee got a leader with their best interests at heart.
Parks and Rec in 2012 was a show with a phenomenal balance of heart, ambition and smarts, that never sacrificed humor in its pursuit of representing small towns at their best and weirdest, a sitcom that broke the formula to prove that real human stories aren't strictly the domain of ensemble dramas and street crime epics. This was television at its best and brightest in a year that seemed so bleak for so long.
This is truly a Golden Age of television. All those Golden Ages we thought we had before are being revealed as blips on the radar – mere glimpses at the possibilities of the medium. It's no coincidence that with this Top Ten list, half of the picks could make the cut for a Best of All Time list and three of them are locks.
FX's Louie is a lock.
After two seasons that provided some of the funniest and most thought-provoking bits of comedy in the history of television, Season Three saw writer/director/editor/genius Louis CK move into more personal territory. In thirteen episodes, he explored Louis' emotional life as his daughters pushed him to start dating again, his professional life as he, in an instant classic three-parter, tries to get the job of taking over the Late Show when David Letterman retires, and his family life as he deals with his daughters growing up, his relationship with his estranged father, and ultimately the idea of family itself.
Every episode is a brilliantly-realized short film – sometimes more than one – rivaled in quality only by the best work of Woody Allen. Every episode is heartbreaking and tragic while being laugh-out-loud funny – sometimes both at the same time. Every episode is painfully honest and an amazing flight of fancy, contrasting in the most sublime of ways. It's not easy viewing, but it is oh so rewarding.
This is television that doesn't seem to know its television. It's visionary and groundbreaking. There's never been a more consistently high-quality work of comedy in the history of television.
Yeah, I said it.
–Paul Brian McCoy
By now I'm sure we all know Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller's depressing vision of the American Dream, by heart. We've seen it on dreary forever humming old high school television sets, on stages large and small, read aloud by resigned professors or over eager drama instructors. It's a story ingrained in our national consciousness in one form or another, a sorrowful tale of capitalism as dream destroyer, of pursuits that go nowhere and lives left unlived. But in the 21st century, it's been usurped itself by a dark contender with visions of blue crystals instead of briefcases, of cancer rather than senility, of brute force and fatal smarts and a rambunctious inability to go down in anything other than a blaze of glory.
When Breaking Bad began five seasons ago, maybe we didn't suspect that it would become one of the defining works of our time, maybe we thought it was just an odd but charming spectacle where the dad from Malcolm in the Middle shot at people and cooked meth but was basically a good sort. But in its penultimate year, Breaking Bad proved without question that as sad a
s Willy Loman is in his constant failure, Walter White is infinitely more depressing and disturbing, a force of nature who said fuck you to his fallen American dream and instead seized what he always wanted– power, fortune, glory– and yet still managed to fail.
White's failure is telegraphed in the constantly evolving face of Bryan Cranston, who has imbued his defining role with what first appeared to be charm and humor and grace but has either mutated or always was intense deception, a manipulative edge that makes him a constantly underestimated threat. White is Loman with a spine and a brain and a fist, the American middle class folk hero for the era of meth teeth and trash culture, a loser in a pork pie hat who wants you to view him as worthless, just so that he can crush you all that much harder. And Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman is his forever suffering Sancho Panza, a figure we at first looked down upon, only to realize too late that he was the actual good guy from the get go.
Season 5 may have lacked the explosive chaos of the prior season, which notably found White and Pinkman with seemingly no major threats by the end, but it made up for in the carnage of the soul that was unleashed this year, as White took his wife as an essential captive, forced Pinkman away with his blind refusal to give up and vanquished the last surviving local threat to his empire in a scene that may just be the most heartbreaking moment in a series that breaks more hearts than a Sweethearts factory. As showrunner Vince Gilligan has promised throughout, we know White won't survive this story, but the season premier only gave us the vaguest of glimpses at what that might mean. Regardless of how it all goes down, Breaking Bad has been the ultimate expression of the American way in our era, and that it has come in the form of television– itself a perennial underdog hellbent on proving itself– is all the more fitting.
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter at@nitroslick.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine,with artist Eric Zawadzki, updates twice a week.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.
Nick Hanover doesn't want to set the world on fire, unless he has to, which seems increasingly more likely each day. As Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, he most looks forward to making subliterate internet commenters angry and forcing his record collection on unsuspecting readers through his comic, film and television reviews and miscellaneous other pop culture pieces for the site. He promises to update Panel Panopticon more this year, but you can always find his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover or explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at http://cornekopia.net.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now forKindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-
fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.
Steve Morris writes for Comics Bulletin and The Beat. He has a webcomic called Stardark Citywhich is well lush, he's on Twitter @stevewmorris, and now he has a blog too — so you can spend every waking second thinking his thoughts and reading his words. Whew!