The year is officially winding down, so that automatically means it's time for a 2012 Year in Review compilation. Rather than just compile a straight list of what I consider the best quality programming of the calendar year, though, I went ahead and created fun "Best of" categories-- some I guarantee you won't see listed on any other sites!-- in order to spotlight some shows I personally love but otherwise may not get too much critical acclaim.
- Best TV Surprise - Arrow (The CW) - I am still a relatively new convert to genre programming in general, but the suspension of disbelief with Arrow hasn't had to be as great as initially expected because the writers and producers have taken great care to keep the story-- and our hero-- grounded in (a dark) reality. It has been great to watch the story unfold both externally with villains to physically take on every week, as well as internally, as Oliver (Stephen Amell) has to grapple with new discoveries about those he thought he knew so well. Arrow also wins "Best Abs"-- but that's more for Amell, not the show itself.
- Best TV Comeback - Dexter (SHO) - The final few minutes of season six promised so much, but only season seven truly redeemed the show after a lackluster turn to religion the previous year. Having Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) learn Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) true nature was only the tip of the iceberg, as this season Dexter had to come to terms with his Dark Passenger as a part of himself, finding a true love and equal match only to have to choose between her and his sister, and the deaths of two characters we had been waiting for, for varying lengths. This is one show that found its passion again and went out with a bang every week.
- Best TV Thriller - Homeland (SHO) - Say what you will about the implausibility of some of the occurrences in the later episodes-- I certainly have some complaints with new "good guy" Brody (Damian Lewis)-- but the one thing this show consistently does amazingly that no other show on television even comes close to matching is create a level of tension and sense of paranoia that really earns it the title of "Best Reason We All Need Free Healthcare." My heart pounds every week, and I'm so invested in what's currently happening on-screen at the moment, I don't have time to nitpick or second guess or try to think ahead until after each hour is over. That kind of commanding of attention in today's ADD world is extremely rare and therefore worthy of celebration all on its own.
- Best Show We're Probably Too Old To Watch - Awkward (MTV) - I usually bemoan high school stories and their petty problems, but this one is such a fun ride with some truly unique characters that I am able to forget my deep hatred of teenagers for a half an hour each week. There's not one whiner in the group, but furthermore, Lauren Iungerich has created her own language that makes it actually seem cool to be a kid again. Jenna (Ashley Rickards) is dry yet relatable, a modern-day, live-action, less-morose Daria, and the dichotomy of personality between her and her mother only makes the similarities in their decisions and situations that much more poignant.
- Best Guilty Pleasure TV - Ru Paul's Drag Race (LOGO) - I can't even really put into words why I love this show, it just genuinely makes me happy. I'm not going to get all deep with you and say that it's one of the most forward-thinking programming on television because it's giving a voice to those who are usually cast aside (though it is), and I'm not going to make a case that it's weekly challenges and guest judges are the most inspired in the reality genre (though, they are). I just like sitting back for an hour each week and genuinely smiling and enjoying myself and seeing that even when people are catty with each other, it's a little tongue-in-cheek, and at the end of the day, we're all sisters. It's a nice message. Maybe this one actually should have one "Best Feel Good TV"...
- Best Feel Good TV - Suburgatory (ABC) - This one actually takes the title because of how much more than "just" a comedy it has turned out to be. Emily Kapnek handles serious and hardly explored in the media issues like abandonment issues and adoption sensitively, realistically, and most importantly, interestingly, all while mingling in quirky characters and relationships. She doesn't drag things out, but she doesn't wrap things up in one-episode wonders ala traditional sitcoms, either. There is great care taken to arc out every individual story and character, and the warm fuzzies each episode gives me are enhanced by the behind-the-scenes.
- Best TV Eye-Candy - Supernatural (The CW) - For a show with only two main characters, they sure know how to pack a big impact into a small amount! Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki would have been enough to win this category, but then add in Misha Collins and this season's guest star Ty Olsson, and wow, do they know what we want! Well done!
- Best Outside of the Box TV - Community (NBC) - Season three delivered a musical episode, a return to documentary style, a look at alternate timelines, a trip into Abed's imagination, another partial fake clip show, an homage to Law & Order, and my personal favorite, a trip inside a 1980s video game. This show is the epitome of creative writing, and what's even better is that with all its genre-bending, it always manages to stay true to the characters we know and love, and make us laugh along the way.
- Best TV as Therapy - Parenthood (NBC) - Why pay a stranger to help you recognize and come to terms with your own flaws and family troubles when you can just watch this every week and see them reflected in fictional characters?
- Best TV as Surrogate Family - Tie: Raising Hope (FOX) and Switched at Birth (ABC Family) - The Chances and the Kennishes/Vasquezes could not be more different, but I love them both in many of the same ways. There is a sense of warmth and comfort that I get from watching both that proves they will do anything for their family-- no matter how silly (Raising Hope) or how quickly moving and dramatic (Switched at Birth) things get.
- Best New Friends - Happy Endings (ABC) - I only say it with love that I can find countless similarities and unintentional homages to Friends in Happy Endings. At first the comparison was simply because of the three guys/three girls "friends are the new family" dynamic of the show, but as the seasons have went on, the show has embraced the inevitable comparison and given us more to feed our sense of nostalgia and comfort. But they have also made the humor and heart of a single-camera comedy their own, as Friends before them did with the sitcom. Revitalizing the genre is one thing, but creating a lexicon is quite another, and Happy Endings has more quotable terms and phrases than almost any other show on air right now.
- Best Mindf*ck TV - American Horror Story: Asylum (FX) - Stepping up the pace from the first season, answers have been delivered quicker than perhaps expected, but that only makes thoughts about each episode linger longer, as you have time to think about the impact and what it all means, rather than trying to guess who's dead or evil or crazy. There are much more psychological elements at play here, and that is a personal favorite, as well.
- Best Not Really A Remake - Dallas (TNT) - It started out that John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) had nothing on J.R. (Larry Hagman) and Bobby (Patrick Duffy), and in truth, they still have a long way to go to fill their fathers' Stetsons. But the show acknowledged that and showed their path to earning the right to be the new generation of Ewings, all while delivering deliciously soapy dramatic twists and additional threats to the family from those who are still apart of the family. This is how you stay true to the classics but still update enough for a new generation.
- Best TV Musical - Smash (NBC) - Smash delivered one of my favorite pilots ever, and while the episodes that came between it and its season one finale were not without flaws, I still hold onto my opinion that it was successful in accomplishing what few other TV musicals have tried to. Camp included (because what musical doesn't come without at least one or two moments of camp!?), Smash managed to make compelling stories that kept you talking mixed with musical moments that always served the story. And the fact that it actually delivered a significant chunk of original music certainly only helped the case for its ambition.
- Best Pilot Whose Series Is Still Too Far Away From Airing - The Following (FOX) - This was hands down one of my favorite pilots ever, and while intellectually I'm glad Kevin Williamson was given the time to flesh out the season long arc and shoot in a bubble without getting influenced by critics or fans or just general buzz, personally, it's been Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) level torture waiting to watch the rest of the story unfold on-air!
Best of the Rest (aka shows I also love but for which I couldn't come up with creative categories): Shameless (SHO), The New Normal (NBC), Wilfred (FX), Girls (HBO), Cougar Town (ABC/TBS), Nashville (ABC), Parks and Recreation (NBC), Nurse Jackie (SHO), Scandal (ABC), Southland (TNT), Fringe (FOX), and Archer (FX).
What were YOUR highlights of 2012's television year? Let me know in the comments below!