10. The Vampire Diaries (CW)
I used to be ashamed to admit my fangirly love for The Vampire Diaries, but it’s just so darn delicious that I now wave my TVD freak flag high. As pretty much the only quality CW show left, it’s often written off rather quickly once someone utters the title and network in the same sentence. But showrunner Julie Plec and her team of fiercely dedicated actors turn this teen-supernatural-drama into something much more compelling. It goes dark, moody, and sexy and was daring enough to kill off its main character, Elena, and turn her into a vampire at the end of last spring’s season 3. Season 4’s 2012 run has featured copious amounts of blood-vomit, the long awaited Damon and Elena romance, and a Christmas massacre set to “O Holy Night”. The plot? Convoluted at best. The characters and relationships? Addictive. The thrills? Endless.
9. Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 (ABC)
Like most people, I came for the van der Beek playing van der Beek and stayed for the so-wrong-it’s-right humor. Don’t Trust the B– goes extreme with its politically incorrect comedy and feels almost screwball in nature as midwesterner June tries to navigate the self absorbed, nearly depraved NYC lives of her new roommate, Chloe, and celebrity best friend, James van der Beek. The supporting cast is a bit weak, but the well-meaning yet entirely neurotic June, the manic party girl slash maybe ruler of the universe, Chloe, and the washed up, shallow, completely into himself celebrity, James van der Beek make for an epic threesome of hilarity. The wrongest plot so far this season? Chloe goes on a blackout binge and begins dating a mentally challenged man whom she thinks is a stud and June tries to keep her inebriated because he’s the son of the CEO who agrees to hire June if his son stays happy with Chloe. Yeah, it’s that kind of show. Best moment this season? Chloe takes over People Magazine in order to get James named Sexiest Man Alive. “I’ve taken over a bunch of companies before. You just gotta walk in like you own the place, fire the first person to ask you a question, fire the second person to ask you a question, then gaze out the window and draw a peen on the board.”
8. Happy Endings (ABC)
Six friends. Three guys. Three girls. They have no idea how to interact with other people and they all hang out at each others’ apartments or at their local bar. Sound familiar? It’s not! Happy Endings is one of quirkiest, silliest, funniest and more original sitcoms airing right now. Featuring the straightest gay guy on television, a shamelessly dumb yet endearing blonde, the do-anything-crazy-for-a-guy’s-attention busty brunette, the single most awesome married couple on TV – “Dream Team, Baby!” – and, well, the Dave. Happy Endings is so funny because the characters and their interactive dynamics are so well executed. You watch for them and them alone, season-long plot arcs aren’t really their thing. The tone is zany, they are all complete weirdos, and its close-to-cancellation viewership deserves a loving boost.
7. Community (NBC)
It feels like years ago since Community was last on the air that I almost forgot to add it to the list. And I only have the faintest memories and flashes of season three moments that I remember with extreme extreme fondness and love. Season 3 had its share of excellently meta themed episodes, but also subtly introduced season long character arcs that befitted the show very well. Second half (2012 only bitches) season highlights? The pillow fort battle between Troy and Abed that played out like a History Channel show, an entire Law and Order style episode to solve a destroyed science project mystery, a group therapy episode in which the study group is briefly conned into believing they’re all really in an insane asylum, and an Ocean’s Eleven style plan to infiltrate the school which has been taken over by dictator Chang. It was an excellently crafted season, but since its finish, showrunner Dan Harmon was fired and the season 4 air date pushed to February. Community’s future is on shaky ground, and it sure as hell shouldn’t be.
6. Homeland (Showtime)
Homeland’s sophomore season began with a fervent, faced paced and unpredictable edge. By episode 4, more twists and reveals and changes had occurred when any other show would have milked the suspense for at least an entire season longer. It defied the expectations of seasoned television viewers and broke all of the conventional rules. But by mid-season its enigmatic pace was bogged down by a bit too over the top Brody and Carrie romance. Nevertheless, its insistence that you always question if everything is as it seems carried on, and the finale made up for any slump in the middle. Best moment of the entire season? Carrie’s “I was right” hands down. Followed by Peter Quinn’s “I kill bad guys.”
5. Breaking Bad (AMC)
Part 1 of Breaking Bad’s final opus was a taut, well crafted season of great change and transformation. This past season finally broke into a sprint with what it’d been building for seasons now; that its once protagonist and anti-hero, Walter White, is now the unapologetic villain of this show. It’s bold storytelling, and daring, and hard as hell to pull off. Walter is truly transformed into a shell of his former self (or maybe he had it in him all along?) with only his own conscious choices to blame. It was terrifying to watch him hold almost every other character hostage in his power, from his long suffering wife, Skyler, to long-time partner and confidant, Jesse, and strong willed veteran, Mike. This season pushed the limits of the show’s existential philosophy as everyone began to ask, what is it all for? There’s no more cancer, no more threats, no more loving family, no more except Walt’s blind and hungry need for power near the status of a God. And finally, just when he’s ready to quit, Hank pieces it all together. Cue final season. Perfection.
4. The Hour (BBC America)
Trust me, The Hour is the BBC show you wish you were watching. A BBC drama about the BBC in the 1950’s, it’s one part political news show, one part espionage/investigative thriller, and one part period drama. It’s basically The Newsroom + Mad Men + John Le Carre, and it blends its themes expertly, interweaves a noir-ish criminal and political plot with the backdrop of historical context all while maintaining beautifully well rounded characters. The second season’s mystery is less espionage based, more organized crime centered, but it’s managed to maintain its allure. Mainly due to the winning combination of its three leads; ambitious female show producer, Bel Rowley, relentless investigative journalist, Freddie, and charismatic anchor and society chap, Hector. The show wouldn’t work without the three of them as a team, often wrought with tension among them, but put them all together and they deliver the story. Expertly written and acted, smart and sophisticated, this show is a must for anyone after compelling television that dares to write so subversively about the changing world order of the times.
3. New Girl (Fox)
New Girl is the joy of my entire week. It never fails to reduce me to fits of laughter, nay, giggles even. The show and the cast have grown into themselves, and it’s nothing short of watching a television family rife with dysfunction week after week. In other words, comedy gold. Each character has distinct personality quirks that differ so extremely from every other’s, and the interaction of such extreme personalities makes for one hilarious sitcom. All four of them are so weird, so problematic, that the roommates spend their time half fighting, half loving, but mostly it’s one in the same. While Winston has a secret soft spot for all things luxurious and feminine, Nick faces the harsh reality of his own personality road blocks and failures. Schmidt is as offensive as he is caring of others, while Jess’ quirky awkwardness somehow transformed from irritating to utterly, endearingly goofy. The show has found the perfect mix of absurdity, genuine character development and just trying to figure life the fuck out. And it just clicks. It clicks so hard.
2. Shameless (Showtime)
2012 was the year of excellent sophomore seasons, wasn’t it? Six out of my top ten had all or part of their second seasons air this past year. The sophomore slump must be a myth, eh? Anyway, rounding out at the top of the second season pile up is my dear beloved Shameless. Why it gets no attention from the awards shows, I’ll never know. Emmy Rossum plays one of the top three ladies on television and helms an incredible cast, young and old. Hilariously depraved and sometimes painfully brutal, Shameless knows the Gallagher family inside and out and somehow manages to juggle a huge cast and get every character and every dynamic pitch perfect. Season 2 went full on dark, from Lip’s baby mama drama to an attempted suicide on Thanksgiving and somehow managed to feel completely honest amidst all of the insanity.
1. Mad Men (AMC)
Despite all of the great second seasons out there, the best show on television this year was still Mad Men. As a veteran it’s being ushered out and somewhat swept under the carpet in favor of shiny new toys, but the long awaited season 5 was one of the show’s very best to date. For a series that takes methodical, almost painful time buildings its characters arcs, season 5 felt almost explosive. From Don’s new and volatile marriage to fiery Megan (I love her, step off), to Roger’s self discovery on LSD and the best arc Pete has arguably ever gotten, the theme of these men becoming aging dinosaurs, relics of an age old past as time surges towards the 1970s and it’s leaving them behind, saturated the screen week by week. We saw Don struggle with a more progressive idea of marriage, Peggy move on and out from under his wing, Lane meet an untimely end, and Joan shrewdly use a terrible, misogynistic situation to her advantage. Mad Men is the next great American novel being written on a screen instead of on a page. It’s art, week in and week out and while other shows may be more fun, more shiny, more exciting, no other can come close to the level of craft this show turns out each year.