Best TV shows of 2012
By Hank Stuever,
Missoula, Mont. — I moved way out west to the mountains this year, far from home, for a few months. Life is different here. For starters, the woodsy condo I’ve been living in has a 70-inch high-def television in it (just like Lewis and Clark had), which receives its signal from Dish.
1. “Breaking Bad”
2. “Mad Men”
3. “The Walking Dead”
. . . might have been unavailable to me, were it not for the screener access privileges afforded to grumpy TV critics. The penultimate half-season of “Breaking Bad,” with Walter White’s hubristic attempt to run his own meth mini-cartel, continued to prove why it’s far and away TV’s best show. (Geez, just for that train robbery episode alone . . .)
“Mad Men,” meanwhile, finally found a newly devoted fan in me, thanks partly to Jessica Pare’s happy/sad turn as Don Draper’s new wife, Megan (zou bisou bisou!). She came on like a daisy applique affixed to a rainy window, brightening up the ’60s. Yes, I know she might be a fruitbat. I love her anyhow.
And once the survivors in “The Walking Dead” fled Hershel’s farm, the sociocultural zombie drama is going places again — and boldly shedding important characters. No one is safe from the walkers, not even Carl. (Get out of here, Carl!) Now, will the people who’ve read the comic books, please tell me — how much longer do we have to put up with “the Governor?”
There are plenty of other shows that made my job a lot easier this year:
4. Showtime’s “Homeland” veered smartly into a new arrangement (double agent!), and has me biting my nails every Sunday night; Carrie’s taking her meds, and so am I. We all could have lived without the teenage hit-and-run sideplot, though.
5. The funny and profane “Veep” (HBO) broke a long spell of boring Beltway-related TV shows by ignoring politics and deliciously chronicling the raw, ugly ego of Washington — starting with Julia-Louis Dreyfus’s Vice President Selina Meyer, and tapping the neuroses of her snipey, BlackBerry-preoccupied underlings. I feel like I know these people, and that someone has finally exposed them.
6. “Dallas” (TNT). Sometimes lowered expectations give way to a delicious bit of guilty pleasure. Such was my reaction to the faithfully fun “Dallas” update, which came on sharply and stylishly. Not sure what happens now, with the recent death of Larry Hagman just as the second season began filming. J.R. Ewing’s boots are impossible to fill, and John Ross (Josh Henderson) is clearly not up to the task.
7. “Girls” (HBO) got off to an annoying start for many readers, but built to a compelling and melancholy finish worthy of its hype. All the smartypants, post-hipster analysis of the show was worth enduring for that opening scene where Lena Dunham’s protagonist, Hannah, gets the financial cut-off from her fed-up parents. Everyone who hates entitled 24-year-olds (a group that includes entitled 24-year-olds, by the way) cheered.
8. If there was anything on TV this year as lovely as Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen’s acoustic duet near the end of the perfect pilot episode of ABC’s “Nashville,” then I’d sure like to know about it.
9. I detest what Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have done to their “American Horror Story” (FX) this season. The “Asylum” yarn is a mean-spirited, unfrightening gross-out that quickly ran through all its good ideas. (Anne Frank? Whatever.) So why is the show on this list? Jessica Lange’s Sister Jude, of course. I am rooting for her, maybe because of the way the Vatican and the American bishops have been picking on today’s nuns so much. Don’t mess with the sisters.
10. Lordy, there are a lot of channels on Dish. Not long after I took up residence in my retreat, I was flipping the clicker and discovered Dish Earth, a 24-hour picture of the planet beamed in every few seconds from Dish’s geosynchronous satellite orbiting 22,300 miles away. (Accompanied by soothing spa music.)
I was transfixed. I watched the planet night and day on my ridiculously huge screen. The Earth shot, far enough away to include the whole blue marble, pointed right at North America. From this vantage point, I watched a hurricane graze the Republican National Convention; I said goodnight to my love in Washington, D.C., as night crossed the East Coast and headed my way. When I couldn’t sleep, I watched our hemisphere slumber in darkness, completely shrouded except for a crescent sliver of reflected sunlight to the west. Dawn would come back around from the east, and as America bickered and fact-checked its way through the awful campaign season, I took solace in the perspective that humbled astronauts.
And then, like most everything I’ve ever loved on television, it got canceled. (Dish decommissioned the camera in October and took the channel down. Conspiracy theorists joked that its last shot was of a bug-eyed creature crawling across the screen.)
Oh, well. While I had it, Earth was one of my favorite shows of the year.