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Best of 2012: Top TV Shows of the Year (Honorable Mention)

It’s that time of year. I’m going to be counting down my favorite shows of the year. It was a very strong year for television and that made it even harder to narrow down my choices. For this first part I’m going to countdown the bottom half of a Top 20 list. These are UNRANKED. I found it hard to rank these choices and it only really matters what the ranking is when it comes to the Top 10. These are shows I thought were exceptional in the past year but not quite up to the standard of the ones in the Top 10. The Top 10 will be posted tomorrow and hopefully the Top 100 Episodes of the Year list will be up this weekend, at the latest. Let’s get started.

American Masters
I’ve been really impressed with PBS’ offerings these past few years, especially in the documentary area. American Masters was responsible for two of my favorite documentaries of 2011, both insights into the works and minds of Woody Allen & Bill T. Jones. They did it again this year with two more excellent examinations of Johnny Carson & David Geffen. To be honest, I’ve never really gotten the love for Johnny Carson. By the time he signed off The Tonight Show for the last time, I was only two years old. But the American Masters gave a great look at Carson’s legacy and why he’s so important to so many people. The David Geffen episode was also excellent. He’s a name I’ve heard about in the entertainment business, but I’ve never really been that interested in finding out more. The episode focused on Geffen was filled with a lot of interesting stories about Geffen and his dealings in music and film. Geffen is an interesting person and I thank PBS and American Masters for informing as well as entertaining me. This program could’ve been bumped into the Top 10 because of a third film. This Friday, December 28, they are airing a new episode about Joffrey, the American ballet dance company. Can’t wait.

The animated comedy about an arrogant spy agency is still as funny as it was in its first season. The voice cast is one of the best on television. They work extremely well together and are led by the very talented H. Jon Benjamin, one of the best voice actors working today. The show had some strong episodes, including “Lo Scandalo”, which was more suspenseful than anything you’ll find on CBS. That episode was also a great showcase for Jessica Walter. And the “Space Race” finale episodes really brought the strong season to a satisfying finish. The new season starts in January and I can’t wait.

Bob’s Burgers
The show was off the air for almost a year. The first season ended in May 2011 and the second didn’t start until March 2012. It was a long wait but it was worth it. This is another case where the excellent voice cast works together so well and elevates a show. The standouts have to be the children though. Tina, Gene and Louise are three of the most interesting characters on television and they’re misadventures are always a pleasure to watch. Dan Mintz as Tina is really something special. Tina is a fascinating character and Mintz’ portrayal of her awkward personality only makes it work even more. The show was rightfully nominated for an Emmy this year for “BurgerBoss” (their strongest episode to date) and I hope they can do it next year with “Tina-Rannosaurus Wrecks” (or an even stronger episode in 2013).

I can’t believe this show didn’t end up in my Top 10. That proves what a strong year it was for television. But it’s also because 2012 only contained a half-season of Community. NBC was supposed to bring the show back on Fridays in October, but they held it until February where they could put it back on Thursday. I appreciate that the show is going to be getting a better timeslot, but it also means that we were deprived of more episodes of the show. But that doesn’t take away from what the show did in the final half of the third season. It was still one of the most inventive and creative shows ever put on television. The Law & Order and animated 8-bit episodes were two of the best things put on television last year. I wasn’t as enamored with the Ken Burns episode, but it was still a pretty ambitious and ballsy thing to do and I appreciate the show going for it. I would expect nothing less. While I’m concerned about the departure of creator Dan Harmon in the upcoming 4th season, at least the show will be making all-time best lists based on the first three seasons alone.

Happy Endings
The show is a mix between the ensemble/chemistry of Friends and the pop culture heavy/fast paced dialogue of Gilmore Girls. It could be a mess, but the actors make it work and its become of the funniest shows on television. Eliza Coupe is the standout of the ensemble for me. She’s able to take a character that could be an annoying archetype and makes her into the most loved one on the show. But that doesn’t take away from the rest of the cast though. All of them have found their characters and play them with such confidence that the show has become stronger for it. Even Zachary Knighton has improved in the beginning of the third season. It’s a great sign when a show only improves as it goes along. It has recognized it’s strengths and built the show around them.

Nurse Jackie
Nurse Jackie had an incredible first season. The second season really fell short and the third season worked hard to make up for those shortcomings. Then the fourth season was like a completely different show and produced the strongest material for the show. One of the critiques of Nurse Jackie was that Jackie was constantly getting out of sticky situations too easy and there were no consequences for her. That changed this season. Jackie went to rehab and she was forced to face the consequences of her actions. Edie Falco, always incredible, was given some fantastic material to work with and she absolutely nailed it. “Disneyland Sucks” was one of her finest moments as an actress. The show also made some smart decisions besides that storyline: including having scene-stealer Merritt Wever’s character move in with Jackie. It gave Wever more screentime and that alone gives the show a place on this list.

Kerry Washington is one my favorite actresses working today. But even that didn’t make me interested enough to watch the show when it premiered in March on ABC. After hearing some good things about the show, and the fact that Netflix was streaming the complete first season (only 7 episodes) on Netflix, I caught up with it in time for the second season premiere. The show definitely had some straight procedural elements that worked against it, but Washington was incredible and the rest of the ensemble impressed me too. Tony Goldwyn is a hit-or-miss actor and he hits here with his portrayal of fictional President Fitz. His chemistry with Washington can’t be denied either. The show took a risky move with its final episodes in November and December. Their was an attempted assassination of the president. While it could’ve been really poorly handled, it was done perfectly and the gave the show some of the most intense and moving moments of television this year.

Don’t get me wrong, this show has some issues with storylines and character choices, but there’s something so comforting about this show that I have to put it in the honorable mention list. One reason is that the ensemble is one of the best on television. Emmy Rossum was never an actress that I liked, but her performance as Fiona is spot-on. The character needs to be a fierce mother-bear that takes care of an entire family, including an alcoholic father, and I believe every second because of Rossum’s performance. The show was also boosted this season thanks to two guest stars: Louise Fletcher and Chloe Webb. They both returned from brief first season appearances. Fletcher played William H. Macy’s mother and had some excellent scenes. Webb is the mother of the family that is an even bigger mess than Macy. Both of them added to an already solid acting ensemble. I can’t wait to see what the show has in store for the new season in January.

For whatever reason, this show has become a punch-line for other shows on television. Glee, The New Normal and Happy Endings have all used the show as a punchline in one or multiple episodes. Yes, the show is a little confusing in some areas but it doesn’t deserve to be kicked around like that. I absolutely loved the first season of the show and had major problems with the second season. The third season fell in between those two feelings. One of my issues with the second season was that the characters were too separated and everyone felt like they were on different shows. That changed this season. More characters began to interact and certain aspects of storyline began to overlap. That helped the show for the better and made it a much stronger show. Khandi Alexander had another incredible arc this season. Her character LaDonna was still dealing with the fallout from the rape in the second season and Alexander nailed every single moment. The show was “kinda” cancelled by HBO. They gave David Simon a certain amount of money to wrap up the show. The show is currently in production in its’ fourth season, which will wrap up the series with a 5 episode mini-season. I can’t wait to see how Simon brings it all home. I have all the confidence in the world in him and the actors.

The Walking Dead
I know I said I wasn’t going to be ranking these 20-11 picks, but I have to confess that this pick was #11. I wouldn’t have believed it myself a year ago but the beginning of the third season was that good. The show has had some difficulty in the showrunner department. Frank Darabont was let go in the middle of the second season and was taken over by Glen Mazzara. The show found a perfect match with him. Last week it was announced that AMC had creative differences with him and let him go, so who knows what the show will look like in the fourth season. But regardless, the beginning of the third season was incredibly tense to watch and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. The show got out of the stale barn they were living in during the second season, and moved to a deserted prison that provided a great set-piece for the characters. The opening sequence of the premiere where there was a silent montage of the character migrating was one of the best things put on television last year. The introduction of the Governor character was also a smart move for the show to make. David Morrissey infused him with such energy and darkness that the show was improved for the better. I can’t wait for the second batch of episodes to start in February. Even if the show can’t continue this streak of awesomeness in the fourth season, at least it will have a damn fine third season to rest its laurels on.