Friday, December 28, 2012

YEAR IN REVIEW: Best television shows

There is a lot of quality television out there.

Last year, I could only find one network show with enough merit to make a “best of” list.

This year, I managed to find a few more.

Cable and premium channels are still the place to go for the best television on the tube – but the networks are making something of a comeback.

This year’s top television shows are:

10. Nashville: I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this show. I liked the cast a great deal, but I’ve never been a huge fan of country music. Sure, I like old school Kenny Rogers and some of the new groups that are more pop than country, but I have a definite aversion to “twangy” country. ‘Nashville’ is such soapy fun, though, that you can’t help but like it. Connie Britton mesmerizes as the Faith Hill to Hayden Panettiere’s snarky Carrie Underwood. Pretending all the singing is perfect would be a lie, however Panettiere, Jonathan Jackson and Charles Esten really are standouts. Plus, the music in the show is accessible to country fans and non-country fans alike. My only quibble would be the side story with Eric Close’s flat character. It’s starting to get more interesting, but Close is better than the story he’s been given so far.

9. Once Upon a Time: This is one of the few shows I have to watch live each and every week. I have become completely entrenched in the mystery surrounding Storybrooke, and the magic the characters managed to weave onscreen – even if they don’t actually possess magic. Season one ended on a genuine high. The curse was broken by true love’s kiss – this time a mother for her son (nice touch) – and Snow White and Charming were reunited in electric fashion. The second season started smart. There was an uncomfortable family reunion before Snow and Emma were transported to a different world – where they got a chance to bond, and Emma got a chance to learn that maybe her parents did do what they thought was best for her, after all. The show wisely reunited the main cast in their mid-season finale – and introduced a whole new threat. I can’t wait for new episodes.

8. Falling Skies: This show is what the ‘V’ reboot should have been. There is such a strong sense of family in this show that you can’t help but root for this rag-tag group of survivors. ‘Falling Skies’ is more than just an alien show, though. It’s about what happens when power fails and new power tries to step in. It’s about not giving up – especially when it seems like the odds are insurmountable. The second season of the show took a look at politics and introduced the sweet love story between Hal and Maggie. Ben continues to be a source of fear and suspicion in the group – but it’s Hal that could be the real threat now, thanks to a great cliffhanger. This summer can’t come fast enough – and that’s not just because I hate snow.

7. Girls: This could be one of the most realistic show about 20-something girls in today’s society on the air. The four main characters in ‘Girls’ are not especially likeable. They’re not especially talented. They’re not living in apartments way beyond their means, or buying shoes they couldn’t possibly afford. Lena Dunham’s Hannah is so narcissistic that she borders on shrill – but she’s also believable. That’s what 20-something girls really are like (even if their parents don’t want to admit it). My only quibble with the show would have been the “spooning” in the opening episode. That was quickly abandoned, though, and the show got stronger as the season progressed.

6. Parenthood: This show is emotionally manipulative. There’s no getting around it. Still, it hit its stride this season when Kristina Braverman was diagnosed with breast cancer. Monica Potter and Peter Krause have hit their scenes out of the park – and I got a little weepy when Haddie returned from college to surprise her mother. The show also managed to give Julia some depth this season when they had her quit her job and struggle to bond with her newly adopted son. Amber’s sweet love story is also a highlight – but Sarah’s story is definitely floundering this season. Despite the heavy tone of the season, there have been a few laughs. Max’s obsession with the vending machine at school rings true, and Kristina’s new pot habit often has hilarious results.

5. Game of Thrones: I wish I had gotten into this show during its first season – because that was a practically perfect season of television. The second season didn’t have as much magic – but it was still solid. I think ‘Game of Thrones’ has one flaw that could drag it down – and that is that the cast is just too big. A lot of the secondary characters not only look alike, but it becomes hard to remember what they’re doing and why we’re supposed to care. Still, Arya and Tyrion manage to anchor their stories with real depth and rooting value. And, I don’t know anyone that isn’t rooting for Cersei and Joffrey to get what’s coming to them. March 31st is only three months away – and winter is definitely coming. Poor Jon Snow and his unfortunate haircut saw the first hints of that.

4. Sons of Anarchy: This show is brutal. I have no idea if it is even remotely realistic – because I don’t hang around with a lot of bikers. Still, though, it is engrossing. This season saw a prison arc that actually had the show trek through new ground that helped the characters climb to new heights – and fall to new lows. The intrigue and backstabbing in this show is more interesting for me to watch than any family bonding scenes. I’m not really invested in the central love story. I’m more interested in finding out when Clay is going to get true retribution and when Jax is going to truly step out from his father’s long shadow. Any show that has a death by snow globe, though, is all kinds of awesome.

3. Justified: I would watch Walton Goggins and Timothy Olyphant sit in the middle of an empty room and read a phone book. That’s how charismatic they are.  I feel like ‘Justified’ never gets the love that it truly deserves. This is an underrated show. Season two is still my all-time favorite, but season three had so much to love about it that I don’t know where to begin. I loved the bootleggers. I loved that Mags’ memory reached beyond her death. I loved that Winona left – because she was boring. I also loved that Boyd seemed to find some solid footing. This season is supposed to bring Boyd and Raylan head-to-head, and I truly can’t wait until this show premieres this week.

2. The Walking Dead: This is the other show that I always have to watch live (Sundays are a busy night for me). I am so invested in this show’s mythology and characters that I get legitimately excited for each and every episode (and the ‘Talking Dead’ episode that follows).  There were complaints that the second season was too slow. You can’t say that for the third season. From the opening shots, the third season has been one huge development after the other. The Governor and Michonne were both great additions. The dead weight that was T-Dog has been eliminated. And Lori, the most hated character in the universe, got a heroic death and a welcome exit. The mid-season cliffhanger has everyone chomping at the bit to see how Daryl is going to get out of the mess he now finds himself entrenched in. Everyone is also hoping Andrea develops better taste in men.

1. Homeland: This show has an almost maniacal energy that lasts from the opening shot to the closing reel. Claire Danes’ damaged Carrie Mathison centers the show and makes each episode an action-packed extravaganza. It’s Damien Lewis’ Nicholas Brody, a U.S. Marine Sergeant that may or may not be what he seems, that really keeps me coming back, though. ‘Homeland’ gets tons of accolades – and there’s a reason for that. This show has great writing, acting and plotting. There really is nothing better on television today.

Honorable mentions go to ‘Revenge,’ ‘Psych,’ ‘Wilfred,’ ‘Treme,’ ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ ‘Revolution,’  ‘Downtown Abbey,’ ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Dexter,’ ‘Suits,’ and ‘Breaking Bad.’

What do you think? What were the best shows of the year?


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