Year in Review The Best Television Series of 2012

With each passing year in this golden age of brilliant television, these Best-Of lists become more and more a reflection on our own viewing habits than the actual content broadcast during the calendar year. In the same way that pre-2008 list would now seem complete without the The Wire (a show that many people caught up to on DVD long after its air date), a 2012 list without Homeland or Ben & Kate may look impossibly dated or just plain wrong in just a few months’ time.

But that approach can also work in a series’ favor, as it did this year with Breaking Bad, which seemingly everyone in America who had not been watching it for the past four seasons caught up to in time for the excellent fifth season to dominate the national conversation. A handful of series may lay claim to better individual seasons than the one Breaking Bad had this past year, but there’s no denying that 2012 was Breaking Bad’s moment to shine.

The following list is a tally of votes from staff, contributors, and fans. I think you can guess what ends up at the number one spot.

10.) Parks & Recreation

9.) Game of Thrones

8.) The Simpsons

7.) The Daily Show

6.) The Walking Dead

5.) Community

If we set aside all of the ugliness that developed after the season had barely ended (the unceremonious firing of creator Dan Harmon and the in-solidarity resignations of key writers and producers like Chris McKenna and Dino Stamatopoulos), then this past year of Community would seem to build naturally on  the past of the series and offer a tantalizing promise of more twisted adventures for the study group. But the firing of Harmon means that Community, whenever it finally does return, will return a dramatically different series, and that we have, in the past three seasons, as close to the complete Harmon story as we will ever have. In that light, the series reveals itself to have been just as frustrating, hilarious, and brilliant as the man himself.

-Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief

4.) Bob’s Burgers

With all due respect to The Simpsons, Fox’s newest animated series is its most delicious.  A departure from the bourgeois babies of Seth Macfarlane, Bob’s Burgers portrays the struggles of Bob and Linda Belcher and their precocious children (Tina, Gene and Louise) who serve as beacons of sanity in the midst of a feeble economy. The Belchers live and work in their hamburger shop but are ultimately sustained by imagination.  Linda’s insistence on turning all things into a storybook romance and Bob’s occasional friendship with a frozen turkey help ensure that both the restaurant and the family are out of harm’s way for another night, just in time for bed

-Aaron D. Wiegert, staff writer

3.) Boardwalk Empire

Originally advertised as a gangster show, Boardwalk Empire started off too slow for many viewers and to this day is still called boring and uneventful. It’s a damn shame as the show has grown season by season and is now in the top tier of current television shows. Created by Terence Winter, formerly a writer of The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire is smartly written with gorgeous dialogue that is unique but still natural. The lead character of Nucky Thompson is perhaps the show’s most controversial aspect as Nucky is far from a normal protagonist. Nucky is a thinking man, not prone to emotional outbursts, almost as if he’s a character belonging in a novel. Steve Busemi’s performance allows the audience to understand and empathize with Nucky even when he’s in his most withdrawn state, making the character deeper and more interesting than most of the Sopranosesque antiheroes (Jax Teller in Sons of Anarachy, Kelsey Grammer in Boss, Nancy in Weeds, and I could go on) that have been on television these past years.

-Donald McCarthy, staff writer

2.) Mad Men

Each moody, intricate episode of the fifth season of Mad Men felt like a short story unto itself, allowing Matthew Weiner and his brilliant writing staff a chance to explore more fully the themes of emptiness and despair that have always informed the series. Instead of feeling disjointed, this storytelling gambit brought these now familiar characters to life in a way that we’d never seen before, and exposed the thin wires of humanity that link each member of the cast to the next. Helped along by stand-out episodes like “The Other Woman”, where Joan makes a very literal decision to sell herself for her own advancement, Mad Men made a declarative statement that it still deserves to be considered the best television has to offer.

-Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief

1.) Breaking Bad

Essentially a shoot’em up, that has somehow managed to elevate itself beyond the baser elements of the genre through spectacular acting and writing. A scene with a certain three characters at the dinner table is just as tense and riveting as two gangsters in a shootout with Hank. Usually a show has one (The Walking Dead) or the other (Mad Men). Only a lucky few have both. I still don’t fully know if there is really any there there, but if not, they’re sure doing a damn good job hiding it.

-Ryan Roach, Film Editor

With Breaking Bad, I was late arriving at the rodeo. As I described in my article “I’m with Team Walt,”it took an embarrassing bout of clumsiness and three days couch-bound with Netflix and Vicodon until I discovered the show last August. But after watching the first episode in Season 1, I knew I would blow through the first four seasons like Lindsay Lohan blows through an eight-ball (yup, I made a Lindsay Lohan/pop-culture reference; let the penalties ensue). Not only are the characters in Breaking Bad some of the most exquisitely drawn and developed—there are no clear good and bad guys on the show, only the morally and ethically ambivalent, who prove endlessly interesting and surprising—but the writing is pure genius as well. The show could be taught as a graduate course in how to use narrative hooks. When the show cut Season 5 halfway in September with Hank discovering that Walt is Heisenberg, making fans wait until August for the series conclusion, they succeeded in creating the biggest television cock-tease since Baywatch.

-Nathan Graziano, staff writer

LISTS OF NOTE

Noel Schornhorst, artist

1.) Adventure Time
2.) Young Justice
3.) My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
4.) The Colbert Report
5.) The Daily Show
6.) Mythbusters
7.) The Simpsons
8.) Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness
9.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
10.) The Dead Files

Ryan Roach, Film Editor

1.) Breaking Bad
2.) The Walking Dead
3.) Mad Men
4.) Community
5.) The Middle
6.) True Blood
7.) Doctor Who
8.) Happy Endings
9.) Louie
10.) Survivor

Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief

1.) Mad Men
2.) Breaking Bad
3.) Community
4.) Ben and Kate
5.) Bob’s Burgers
6.) Happy Endings
7.) Parks & Recreation
8.) Key & Peele
9.) Glee
10.) Children’s Hospital