Best & Worst Of 2012: TV

Top ten lists. You see them everywhere in December and they cover virtually every subject you could think of. Best/worst dressed. Top songs. Video games. Celebrity hook ups/break ups/crazy actions. Movies that should have been nominated. Best/worst TV programs.

I watch a lot of TV but unlike most people I probably watch the weirdest variety of programs (ranging from reality and heavy dramas to children’s cartoons) so it’s always interesting to see what the majority of people watch. With the increase in instant gratification for many forms of media (the ability to stream and download songs, movies or programs, the rise in e-readers) and video games looking/feeling so real, I felt like this year TV had to go big, bold and be extra creative to capture the viewer’s attention. In some cases, we were super lucky and rewarded with smart comedies and gripping dramas. Other times we were subjected to the lowest of low, outrageous programs with horrible “plots” and acting that made me question peoples’ tastes.

I realize my list way past 10, but here are my top programs of the year that have stuck with me–both good, bad and iffy:

Sons of Anarchy (FX): Wow. No idea where to start….Just when I think creator Kurt Sutter can’t shock or surprise me more than he already has, he does. And not by a little, he goes allllll out. It is one of the few programs where I can honestly say I have no idea what will happen next, and despite the characters acting horrible and very violent (they are a biker gang, dealing drugs and guns after all), Sutter is still able to make me cry for/with them and their losses (one in particular still stings a bit). Season five ended a few weeks ago and I am still haunted by the finale episode–especially the whole “incident” with Otto (I won’t say more for those who haven’t seen it yet).

Downton Abbey (ITV/PBS): I am fully aware the third series of Downton Abbey hasn’t aired in the U.S. yet, but thanks to some wonderful overseas connections, I was able to see it with the rest of Britain. I was late to the Downton party, and was hesitant if the period drama would be my thing, but the mix of humor, historical events and drama between the high society upstairs (the Crawleys) and the servants downstairs paired with the acting hooked me. Who am I kidding, it was totally Dame Maggie Smith that sealed the deal. Her portrayal of the Dowager Countess is flawless (her quips and one liners are not to be missed). I love that she always remains very ladylike and proper, but still manages to say what needs to be said. Downton went through some MAJOR changes for series three, two that viewers will expect and one that will come out of nowhere. I’m excited to see this year’s Christmas special, but it will definitely make the wait for series four that much more long and annoying. I wonder if they will casually work in Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley) possible departure/less frequent appearances from the program or wait until series four starts filming to address it.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook (Sky Arts 1): yet another UK program on the list! Based on playwright Mikhail Bulgakov’s short stories, I really hope it gets picked up and shown over here because American audiences are definitely missing out. It is only four episodes long, and each episode is about half an hour. There is a lot packed into such a short amount of time, but it never feels rushed. It’s quite a surreal experience seeing Daniel Radcliffe as a bumbling young Russian doctor (Jon Hamm plays the older version of the doctor) instead of Harry Potter, but he does it very well, making the program’s dark comedy and gory moments even funnier and more awkward.

Gravity Falls (Disney Channel): Finally, another well-written gem for Disney Channel! The series follows twins Dipper and Mabel, who are sent to live with their Great Uncle Stan in Gravity Falls, Oregon. It is quite quirky, clever and very colorful. It actually reminds me of an elevated version of Scooby Doo, mixed with a hefty dose of Phineas & Ferb and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. An added bonus for loyal viewers: each episode is filled with hidden clues and puzzles to decipher.

Misfits (E4): If it’s not fairly obvious by now, I have a fondness for British programs. I stumbled upon Misfits while sifting through tweets, and I’m so glad I took the chance. The series (I like to think of it as a sci-fi dramedy) follows a group of teenagers sentenced to community service, where they get various supernatural powers from a freak storm and all the insane trouble they manage to find along the way. I really fell in love with the cast for series one to three, and was pretty worried when series four started, and became more worried as it went on. Fans are fickle and don’t like changes in casts, so when the whole cast is reworked, it can be a nightmare. Thankfully, the writers did a nice job of finding new characters instead of trying to recreate old ones, kept the writing sharp and took the insane trouble aspect up a few notches. I’m hoping it gets renewed and now that audiences are familiar with the current casts, series five will get back to the program’s roots.

Sherlock (BBC One): Let’s be clear here: I am talking about the British version, not the weird CBS, Watson is a girl version. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss lend their amazing creative skills to the program and help Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman portray Sherlock and Watson brilliantly. I love the mix of the modern world (GPS and texting) with elements from the books and really helps make the characters that much stronger and more believable. Another highlight for me: how Moriarty is portrayed. I haven’t read more than one Sherlock Homes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but for such a criminal mastermind, it seems like he’s usually kind of dull and rather…classy. Moffat and Gatniss made him a full on psychopath-someone you could actually see and want to see challenging Sherlock. Each episode is longer than most other programs, but I think all Sherlock fans will agree “The Reichenbach Falls” was not nearly long enough. I have never, EVER been so upset over a season finale until that episode. I’ve watched it at least seven times and I still don’t see this “clue” Moffat and Gatniss say is in the episode. Major kudos to them for still keeping fans confused and guessing what the clue is and how on earth the words “rat,” “wedding” and “bow” tie into series three.

The Closer (TNT): I’ve been a fan of the program since its premiere in 2005, and appreciated it was still a cop drama that focused on solving homicides, but how the main character Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) used interrogations to solve cases. The cast as a whole helped make each episode seem new, if not unique to the genre. I mean, how often do cop dramas show detectives casually ignore a murder to go to a baseball game, only to come back to the scene of the crime to find the body missing? It was a bummer when the series came to an end, but I appreciated how the writers wrapped it up. Despite a huge scandal that affected the whole squad, it ended appropriately (and I felt fairly happily considering); all the loose ends were dealt with and we knew what each character would do next.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Nickelodeon): Reboots always make me nervous, especially when it’s something you watched as a kid. No matter how bad it was at the time, you LOVED it and the thought of it being ruined breaks your childhood heart. Thankfully, my childhood heart is in tact and pretty pleased. The writing is good and has so far done a nice job to keep the basics of the heroes (they still love pizza, still act like typical teenagers, Raph still has a temper, Mikey is still a total goofball) and villains while still making it “acceptable” for today’s children. I like the voice cast they chose, too. I was worried using Rob Paulsen, who voiced Raphael in the old school version, to voice Donatello now would spoil it for me, but it hasn’t. The new theme song isn’t nearly as awesome or catchy as the one I grew up with, but I am pleased they kept the most iconic line: “turtles in a half shell-turtle power!”

Homeland (Showtime): Homeland is another program I discovered via Twitter. I kept seeing tweets from various writers of some of my favorite programs and decided I had to check it out. Tackling the idea of a prisoner of war who returns home; the world sees him as a hero, but one CIA agent sees him as a major threat and frantically tries to prove this to her colleagues. It is unlike any drama I’ve seen before, and I give the program’s writers and producers lots of credit for adapting it so well from the original Israeli version, as well as the actors for portraying some very realistic battle and torture scenes, as well as other aspects of “the war on terror” viewers have heard so much about over the years. Like “Sons of Anarchy,” there were lots of twists, especially in season two. As a viewer, I really felt the panic and urgency actual CIA agents must feel trying to keep on top of terrorism. Just when it seemed like things were clear or on the right track, something else came out of nowhere and sent everything in the opposite direction–the most off the beaten path opposite direction.

Law & Order: SVU (NBC): I am a diehard Law & Order fan and very familiar with all the spinoffs. SVU, which focuses on sexually based offenses, is my second favorite of the bunch. Despite the subject matter making each episode feel heavy and grim, creator Dick Wolf incorporated many positive factors: people are convicted, victims seek treatment and many real life issues are addressed (sex trafficking, the shame male victims feel, the difficulty many victims face sharing their stories). Mariska Hargitay who plays Olivia Benson, started receiving letters from fans who felt a connection with Benson, was so moved by the stories she started a charity, The Joyful Heart Foundation, to help survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. While I miss seeing Benson and Elliot Stabler (played by Christopher Meloni, who left at the end of season 12) taking down bad guys, I’ve grown to love the current cast. I’m also amazed after so many seasons, the cases used for each episode still feel new and the guest star roster keeps getting better and better. During season 14, a few old cases were revisited and some old cast members reappeared–a nice treat for loyal fans.

Top Chef Seattle (Bravo): With its wide range of amazing ingredients and unique locations (I’m still ooohing and ahhhing over the Chihuly Garden & Glass), Seattle is known as a popular “foodie” city. In my opinion, holding the cooking competition in Seattle is the reason season 10 has been so awesome. The season started with 21 hopeful cheftestants competing for a trip to Seattle, but instead of having to cook with crazy ingredients or using only things found in a soda fountain, they were given basic cooking tests picked by four of the judges (Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Hugh Acheson). It was even possible that all 21 could get a chef’s coat–a first for the program. Last Chance Kitchen returned as well,only this time fans are allowed to vote for their favorite eliminated Last Chance Kitchen chef. The chef with the most votes is automatically in the finals. This didn’t please the 15 who made the cut, but the unhappiness multiplied when they learned three past chefs were joining them. Don’t get me wrong, I love the crazy challenges, but seeing the chefs simply cook in the first episode was refreshing. I think this season’s quickfire challenges are much harder than past seasons. I mean, wrapping every ingredient in tinfoil (and once they were opened had to be used in the dish) then making all cooking vessels off limits, forcing them to create pots, pans, strainers, etc. is brutal, but it’s really forcing each cheftestant to push their skills and imaginations to the limit.

The Middle (ABC): I don’t usually like TV comedies (I do have a soft spot for British comedies though). I think the last comedy I truly enjoyed was Friends, and well, we know how long ago that was on! I was channel surfing when I found The Middle. I live in the Midwest so a program based on a hard working middle class family who struggles to pay all their bills help each other no matter what resonated with me. I’ve been to corn mazes, seen a lawnmower race and countless potlucks and know that football season is everything (I didn’t learn that until I moved to Nebraska). I’ve felt that panic the first day school is back in session and begged for an item of clothing ” had to have” that was insanely expensive.

Arrow (The CW): Based on the DC Comic superhero Green Arrow, I was excited to watch it and figured I’d love it. I mean, who doesn’t love a superhero? However, after watching the first seven episodes, I just can’t get into it. Ironically, Mike, who rarely watches TV really likes it. The basic plot of following Oliver Queen around in both is normal life and hero life is great, but I feel like they’ve chosen to focus too much on a ton of characters (many who they could leave out) and his family drama. It makes each episode feel two hours long. I end up spending most of the time messing around on my phone; I’ll glance up, Oliver will be chatting with his family. I’ll browse Pinterest for about 10 minutes and look up in time to catch the end of the conversation and take down the bad guys (which I swear only lasts three minutes max) before being able to go back to browsing. I will confess the major reason I am still watching is due to John Barrowman having a crucial role, but unless the writing improves a ton, I doubt I’ll watch season two (if it even gets renewed).

Made in Jersey (CBS): I had high hopes for this program, too. Janet Montgomery plays a lovely, street smart lawyer who lands a job in the state prosecutor’s office and has to prove herself to her “classier” colleagues and put up with her very large Italian family, but instead of focusing mostly on helping her clients, it centers on her overly sweet, perky personality. She is a loyal friend. A wonderful, caring daughter. The perfect sister and aunt, always around to listen and help.  A team player who tries extra hard to be nice to everyone, no matter how mean they are to her. All this made her character feel horribly fake and shallow versus an underdog you want to root for. The writers also overplayed her streetwise skills. In the first episode, she helps solve a case when she notes the lady couldn’t be the killer because her nails weren’t smudged so there was no way she could have held the murder weapon. Really? I’m all for out of the box thinking helping to solve a case, but when it happens every episode it wears thin. The other characters were just as poorly written. Stephanie March was so phenomenal as ADA Cabot in Law & Order: SVU, it was actually painful to watch her talents be wasted. I think if the writers had made a better effort to make the characters deeper and more realistic, it might not have been pulled after only two episodes.

The Mob Doctor (FOX): I really liked The Mob Doctor when it first started. The premise of a doctor who saves lives in a hospital, but is also in debt to a major Chicago mob boss was quite intriguing. After a few episodes though, everything went stale. It was a weak medical drama that spent a lot of time watching Grace (Jordana Spiro) frantically try to do her job without getting in trouble while doing what the mob boss, Constantine (William Forsythe) wants her to do. Sometimes she had a conscience, and went against Constantine’s orders. Other times, she blindly followed his wishes. I started to dislike her trying so hard to “be good,” but had no problem taking supplies from the hospital or asking her nurse best friend to constantly lie and cover for her. I think if Grace had chosen the mob, the show would have been a much more successful.

Leverage (TNT): With the series finale airing on Christmas, I thought seeing Leverage come to an end would have upset me, but I think it’s time. The first few seasons were great. The writing was excellent and filled with the perfect blend of humor, action and drama. I looked forward to seeing how the mismatched team of a grifter, hacker, hitter, thief and a leader would use their skills to help someone in need, but by season four, the characters were still strong, but the writing went downhill. The plots seemed less interesting and more ridiculous as a whole and a lot of the subtle charm I had grown to appreciate had vanished. I do appreciate the creators and producers realizing cancellation was possible and decided to end season five with an episode that could serve as a series finale. There’s nothing I hate more than feeling cheated out of an ending for a program you love, so I hope it’ll wrap up any loose ends and the series can go out on a high note.

What have your favorite/least favorite programs of 2012 been? Any programs that left you thinking, “I can’t believe I didn’t watch this sooner?” Anything you’re looking forward to seeing?

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. GED
    Dec 25, 2012 @ 08:13:51

    I am completely in love with Law and Order SVU. Great series, great stories. And Mariska Hargitay is like wine. The more time passes it gets better. I love those beautiful dark eyes. Mariska is a stunning beauty.


  2. Jon Ott (@theotter26)
    Dec 28, 2012 @ 06:59:30

    I need to borrow Homeland from you if you still have it. i’ve heard great things about it.

    on the subject of TV…….i miss LOST. I’ve been rewatching Season 5 at home and it makes me miss it even more!

    I also really love Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin can be take it or leave it for some people, but i love the depth of behind the scenes action he’ll taking in a show.


    • conversebear
      Dec 28, 2012 @ 11:58:57

      I will pass the request for Homeland along. It is intense, but really worth watching.

      I started LOST and made it through the first two seasons, then something else was on at the same time, but I really should finish it. Especially since it’s all out now–no waiting for next week’s episode!

      I have The Newsroom downloaded and I only made it through the first episode, which was really great. After I watch all the season finales I’ve missed being in MN it is the first on the “spend a whole day watching” list! I’ve liked the majority of Sorkin’s work for the same reason as you: he is amazing at telling a story on many levels.


  3. Len Eisenman
    Dec 28, 2012 @ 17:38:02

    My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was entirely right. This post truly made my day. You can not imagine just how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!


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