Best Shows on Television (2012)
With network television now largely consisting of reality shows, CSI-like dramas, and dull sitcoms pretending that the form hasn’t evolved, cable programming has, for some time now, dominated the landscape in terms of quality. Though shows like The Good Wife on CBS; Modern Family on ABC; and Parenthood and Parks and Recreation on NBC have earned their stripes, pay channels HBO and Showtime, and basic channels like FX and AMC are consistently producing the best shows on television. They have the freedom to use whatever language they choose and depict sexuality in a more true to life way. They are not as ratings driven and often allow new shows several seasons to blossom if they deem them worthy. There are plenty of shows doing good things that did not make this list, including HBO’s Veep; The Newsroom; and Curb Your Enthusiasm; AMC’s Walking Dead; FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Justified; Channel 4’sTop Boy; BBC’s Whitechapel and Sherlock; and TBS’s Southland, but here are eleven of the best TV has to offer.
Downton Abbey (PBS) The brilliant British series currently in its third season in the U.K. (it plays in January in the U.S.) has a wonderful ensemble cast and compelling storylines. From creator Julian Fellowes, this rich, sumptuous drama has brought high-brow to the masses.
Mad Men (AMC) Season 5 kept us riveted. Creator Matthew Wiener has said that this meticulously designed show will go for two more seasons. Simply one of the best in the history of the medium.
Breaking Bad (AMC) Having hit the break between the first part of the fifth and final season, it is obvious creator Vince Gilligan, et al, haven’t missed a beat. Watching Walter White (Bryan Cranston) go from meek, mild chemistry teacher to devious, murderous drug baron has been a wild ride. Already off to a rollicking start, it promises a scintillating conclusion.
Game of Thrones (HBO) A deeply plotted, sprawling fantasy epic chock full of characters and its own interwoven lore. So good that even non fantasists can love it. Huge cast of talented actors, great locations.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO) The show took a tremendous chance killing off it’s second lead character, but now into season three it seems as if the gamble has paid off.
Nurse Jackie (SHO) Keeps on chugging. Boasts one of the finest actors on television in Edie Falco as the titular nurse who plays on ongoing game with her own morality.
Homeland (SHO) A compelling political terrorism thriller starring Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, and Damien Lewis. Strong season one, though with season two underway one wonders if it will be able to maintain the momentum. A slew of major Emmy awards can’t hurt the cause.
Louie (FX) In season three, the innovative Louie CK has already taken an unusual chance by inexplicably casting an African American woman (Susan Kelechi Watson) to play his ex-wife (though both children already in the show appear to be fully caucasian). He also casts an actor (Edward Gelbinovich) who looks like teenager (he’s actually 21) as his agent; David Lynch as a bizarre (what else) talk show host; and the show itself has shifted toward a slightly more surrealistic realm. A great example of a piece dominated by a singular voice that cares more about quality than pleasing a wide audience. Shockingly human.
Girls (HBO) Funny and quirky, from the voice of the talented Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture) and backed by mega producer Judd Apatow. Like most television of lasting value, this one felt different and new from the first episode.
Dexter (SHO) Heading into season eight, the show has lagged in places, and has even become repetitive, but it’s still one of the better shows on the tube.
Boss (STARZ) In the midst of season two, this relative newcomer continues to show great promise. Perhaps still a little early to tell where it all will lead, but Kelsey Grammar is as good as he has ever been as Chicago mayor Tom Kane. Great support from the likes of Kathleen Robertson, Connie Nielsen, Troy Garrity, and Martin Donovan.