2012 TV Top Ten: Part Two
If you haven’t seen the first half of the list, probably better to start there for the sake of the dramatic effect of a countdown if nothing else. The return of one of best shows in television history that didn’t air in 2011 (here’s a hint, it rhymes with ad men), made the final order incredibly hard to figure out. I was halfway tempted to cheat and label them 1a, 1b and 1c which also would have let me sneak a couple more shows onto the back end of this list. But at the end of the day, I stuck to 10, and tried my darnedest to figure out how to sort out the best of the best.
[The following contains spoilers for recent seasons and episodes of the included series.]
5. The Vampire Diaries
2011 Ranking: 8 – I’d stop cramming this crazy vampire/werewolf/hybrid/doppleganger teenage soap onto my top ten lists if it would stop being so awesomely plotted. The reason for the jump into the top half of the list was the decision to finally make the leap and turn Elena Gilbert into a supernatural creature. Her transition to a vampire, and the changes its made in her life, has given Nina Dobrev some of her best material in the last couple of years.
The continued evolution of sad, but utterly evil, Klaus let the series move away from the early years when the writers would move from one big, unstoppable threat to the next. Remember when Damon was the big bad guy? The other benefit to keeping Klaus around and in conflict with (if not actually killing the heroes) is seeing more of actor Joseph Morgan, who somehow makes an immortal, unkillable monster seem so terribly fragile and alone. His work in the beautiful last episode of the year would stand alongside that of any actor in any drama (even if they weren’t committing mass slaughter at the time).
2011 Ranking: 5 – If teaching an acting class anytime in 2013, you could to do well by simply queuing up “New Car Smell,” “Q &A,” or most episodes of the current Emmy champ, and watching Damian Lewis, Claire Danes, and Mandy Patinkin go to town. I readily admit this show has more flaws and plotting issues than many other shows on this list, but one area the writers almost never fail is grounding this fantastical story in the faces and emotions of the three main characters. Patinkin might not be sharing in the love award shows have for this series, but he’s given a Pantheon-level performance as the quiet, devoted and tragically moral Saul Berenson.
Even a few stumbles can’t knock down a show I honestly believed back in late October was the eventual winner of this list. A wonderfully acted and directed finale went a long way to making sure this series only slipped to fourth place.
3. Parks and Recreation
2011 Ranking: 2 – If Michael Schur and company finished off season four and Leslie’s campaign strongly, so far season five has been even better. This series is in a run of sustained excellence similar to what we saw spanning from late in the second season into the third. The best comedy on television (by a large margin), the relationship between Leslie and Ben has been a terrific and surprisingly moving spine for this season; a season where so many characters are redefining themselves and what they want out of life.
Led by Amy Poehler and Adam Scott, Parks and Rec boasts the most talented and deepest pool of actors anywhere this side of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Nick Offerman continues to rule the universe as Ron Swanson, and finally meets a woman that can hold her own with this personification of awesomeness. Of course, that woman was Xena Warrior Princess. Every week Ron, Tom, April and Andy, Ann, Chris, Donna, and even Jerry are exploring new sides to themselves, bucking the trend that sitcom characters need to avoid change. This group has embraced the concept of change, and excelled at it.
2. Mad Men
2011 Ranking: N/A – Was this Mad Men’s best season? No, but even after being of the air for well over a year, Mad Men was still only the slightest hair behind the top series. Just when we thought we had Don Draper all figured out, Matthew Weiner and Jon Hamm spent a year exploring an uncharacteristically happy Don — complete with a beautiful wife that we quickly learned knew his deep, dark secret. From Zou Bisou Bisou to the Codfish ball, and the many attempts to win over Heinz to Lane’s terrible desperation, this season made for a strong return for one of the great shows in the history of television.
Peggy was a bit pushed to the side this year, but Elisabeth Moss brought out the big guns when she finally left her mentor and reached a new level of professional and personal fulfillment. It was a firm reminder that this girl probably deserves a couple of Emmys on her shelf by this point. My MVP for the year though was Christina Hendricks. Whether dealing with her new baby and overbearing mother, or finally pushing that bastard Greg to the curb, it was an impressive year for Joan Harris. The two female leads of the series stole the show in “The Other Woman” even as Hamm, John Slattery, Jared Harris, and Vincent Kartheiser all had moments to shine this year.
1. Breaking Bad
2011 Ranking: 1 – All hail the king, indeed. Since AMC needed to drag the final fifth season out across two summers, I was worried that this year’s block of episodes would feel underdeveloped or incomplete. I should have known better. Year by year, and even episode by episode, Breaking Bad has defied my belief that it couldn’t possibly get any better. If the series seemed brief this year, it certainly wasn’t insubstantial, and it only fed my hunger for the conclusion of the best show on television.
It’s the most beautifully shot series on television; in fact, 95% of the people shooting feature film would learn a few things from watching the most intense story being told today — in any medium. And, while Dean Norris, Anna Gunn, Jonathan Banks, and the rest of the cast continued to get better and better (heck Norris’ crowning moment as Hank was seeing the light bulb finally go off at the end of the year), the show boils down Breaking Bad. They have for years now perfected their performances as Walt and Jessie. We’ll never forget the chemistry teacher turned reluctant meth cook turned full-on super-villain, or the blustery, self-destructive and secretly innocent low life criminal. Bring on 2013. I can’t wait.