Friday, January 4, 2013

Favorites of 2012: Top 20 TV Shows

It's 2013, I saw stuff in 2012, here were my favorites. 

(Brevity is the soul of wit... and also laziness)

A few notes before we get into it:

- There will be no honorable mentions. If it doesn't make the cut, to mention it would hold no honor.

- I have expanded my TV list to 20 and my movie list remains 41. This is out of about 50 TV shows I watched and 160 movies this year, meaning roughly about the top 40 percent of the TV I watched and the top 25 percent of the movies I saw are included. Math, yay!

- This is for newly viewed items in the calendar year 2012.  This means the final half of last season, and first half of this season for many TV shows, and also means there will be movies that came out last year that I am just getting around to seeing.  But for me these things were new this year.

- This is a "favorites" list, not a "best of" list.  I embrace the subjectivity of art.  This is my list and it is influenced by many factors that might be unique to my perspective.  Having said that, I'm pretty sure its also completely infallible.

Here's the plan for the month:


Here's my favorite TV of the year:



20. The Glee Project - It's everything I love about Glee with none of the parts I hate! Plus the fact that unlike other reality shows (I'm looking at you, singing shows) the winner doesn't disappear off the face of the planet. Season Two brought us Blake Jenner who may actually be the best actor on Glee now. Whether that's his talent or the lack of talent around him, we can argue later.


19. Once Upon A Time - The show took a huge risk in season two, completely discarding the "fairy-tale characters unaware of their true selves" shtick that was the first season's foundation.  The writer's knew that even though they might be able to stretch that idea for another season or two it would draw thin, so they shifted.  The result was new life in a show that already had life to spare.  The addition of a new villain  Captain Hook, was also inspired and another fun performance in this ultimate fairy-tale fan fiction.


18. Go On - Matthew Perry is back where he belongs, being neurotic and using sarcasm like he invented it (which he basically did).  As an MP fan it's not a surprise I would find him endearing in this environment, but how much I've enjoyed getting to know many of the surrounding characters has been a pleasant discovery as well.


17. Elementary - It took a lot for me to give this one a chance.  My love for BBC's Sherlock is unmitigated and to think that another Sherlock Holmes story could find purchase in my soul was unimaginable. Yet somehow about the fifth episode in it clicked, and the wonderful Johnny Lee Miller is the likely culprit.  He plays Sherlock very well, with equal parts distant logic and inner demons. His performance echos a certain MD named Gregory, and that's not a surprise considering House himself was patterned on Holmes. Even more important though is that the cases seem intricate enough and clever enough to honor the source material in a TV landscape dotted with more run of the mill detective stories.


16. 30 Rock - While it's true 30 Rock may not be the funniest comedy on TV, I'm pretty sure it's the most clever.  I'm a sucker for a joke that takes a bit of chewing to release its flavor and 30 Rock throws them at us buffet style. Tina Fey continues to be wonderful as Liz Lemon and I will miss her and the entire crew once they are gone.


15. The Middle - If "It's funny because it's true" is your mantra, then this is your show.  "The Middle" feels so much like real life parenting and life in middle America that my wife can't watch it (she'd prefer to escape into the TV, not be reminded about the stress of parenting, even if it is hilarious) Also. am I the only one who would buy a Reverend Tim Tom album on release day?


14. The Simpsons - At some point a TV show ceases to be a good show and just becomes part of the cultural consciousness.  The Simpsons passed that mark about 10 seasons ago and it's still going strong. The writing may never be quite as strong and tight as it was in the heydays of seasons 4-8, but it's still a really funny satire that pokes fun in all the right places.


13. So You Think You Can Dance - Though the latest season of SYTYCD didn't feel as full of life for me as  previous seasons, it was still a powerful look at how dance can convey emotion in a way no other art form can. It's one of the only shows on TV where each time it airs there is a chance I will be moved deeply while concurrently being in awe of the immense talent on display. For that alone it deserves placement on my list.


12. American Ninja Warrior - It's as if Wipeout became a professional sport.  I love not only the human challenge aspect of this show, but that it is the best of the best taking on these almost unbeatable courses. The competition is in its 28th season in Japan and only 3 men have ever conquered the final obstacles.  It all adds up to a feeling of both entertainment and importance that is easy to get sucked into.


11. The Newsroom - Wow. Sorkin sure knows how to get people talking (as well as write people talking). While I can understand many of the complaints about this unrealistic look at the world of cable news, I get so quickly sucked in to the dialogue and banter that I get lost in Sorkinphoria and it doesn't even bother me.  Plus Jeff Daniels (and a quick nod to Olivia Munn) is astounding as our lead anchor.  I want to spend time with these people and hear them speak these words.  I know it's not really the way the world is, but I want it to be.


10. Phineas and Ferb - Yes its for kids, yes its on Disney, but it may just be one of the funniest and most well written shows on television. There is a real understanding of character, plotting, and humor here that most shows on network TV could learn from.  Plus, I love the fact that our heroes don't fall into the trap of playing down to the audience with cheap humor. They maintain a real sense of intelligence and maturity that is missing in children's entertainment and much appreciated.


9. Fringe - For those who gave up Fringe early; wow, you've missed quite a ride.  I have absolutely loved Fringe's jump into a near future inhabited by bald overlords and underground heroes leading a resistance.  I'm so glad FOX stuck with this at least long enough to explore this world and am excited to see the series finale and how it ties (or doesn't tie) things up.


8. Parks and Recreation - Amy Pohler is certainly a pleasure to watch on screen, but the surrounding cast around her has developed into the best comedy team on TV.  I also am thrilled that the show refuses to lose the wonderful heart that shines through the humor.


7. Avatar: Legend of Korra - Who would have thought that the coolest show on TV would be a kids show on Nickelodeon? What's amazing about "Korra" is that it is the sequel to "Avatar: The Last Airbender", a near perfect show in its own right, yet it makes the brave choice to set the show two generations in the future with entirely new characters.  Characters that somehow end up being even cooler and more engaging than the original. Add to that, the fact that the "Airbender" universe has some incredibly cool concepts and history and it's one I won't miss.


6. Downton Abbey - "A soap opera about British high society? Are you sure?" These are the thoughts I had every time a friend would tell me I had to start watching Downton Abbey. What I failed to realize is that this show so well puts you in that environment, and the plot is so beautifully woven. and the characters so deep and nuanced, and the themes so contemplative and meaningful, and... and... and...  Yes, a soap opera about British high society and yes, I'm sure.


5. Survivor - The first reality show to hit it big is still the best. The most recent season, "Survivor: Philippines", featured perhaps my favorite final four of all time, as well as so many of the wonderful twists and turns that make the show hum. One of the reasons this show keeps getting better is that when it tweaks its format its very adept at keeping the things that work (hidden idols) and ditching the things that don't (Redemption Island). You can tell the minds behind Survivor are invested in the show and work hard to keep it at the top of it's game. and the final product is some of the most compelling content on television.


4. Doctor Who - Matt Smith has turned out to be a very capable Doctor and Stephan Moffat continues to insert his genius and detail into this mind bending fun.  After wrapping up a diminishing Amy and Rory story line, I had it ranked a little lower, but then they threw in a pretty spectacular Christmas episode just under the wire and it catapulted quickly back into my Top 5.


3. New Girl - Season one I watched for Zooey. But this season has been all about Nick for me.  I know a lot of people love Schmidt, but man I think Nick is perfect in this show.  The thing is, they are all funny, like really funny, like "pause the show please I can't hear them over my laughing, and there is snot shooting from my nose" funny.  The way this show delivers humor and chemistry reminds me a lot of "Friends" at its best and that's pretty high praise for a cast that is just in their second go around.


2. Modern Family - As funny as New Girl is there is one show that still delivers the laughs a bit more.  "Modern Family" continues to get better each year.  The writing on this show has always been its bread and butter, being clever and intricate, well plotted and surprising, and even finding a way to have really meaningful moments week after week. Now that the actors are growing even more into their roles its scary to think how much better this show can get.


1. Breaking Bad - In my mind, this show is operating on a whole different level of detail and purpose.  You just get the sense that show runner Vince Gilligan is telling us the exact story he wants to tell and is using the right amount of time to tell it well.  Thanks to Gilligan, and of course the incredible Bryan Cranston, Walter White will go down as one of the most memorable characters in television history and its hard to imagine the series finale will be anything less than an epic resolution.  Summer 2013 can't come soon enough.