So, this is pretty self explanatory. These are my top 10 shows of the 2012-13 season (from June 1st of last year to May 31st of this year), with a bunch of honorable mentions as well. The only thing to note is that it doesn't contain any premium cable shows. One day I might be able to afford those channels, but until then I'm stuck waiting for the DVDs. I'm not complaining, as those ridiculous prices are what pay for shows like Game of Thrones and Homeland. But that's just the way it is. So there's no Enlightened or Treme to be found here. (And of course, there are also a number of shows I just haven't gotten around to watching yet, such as Scandal, Bob's Burgers, and The Good Wife.)
My top shows of 2012-13 after the jump. There are some spoilers for my #1 and #2 shows, but the rest of the list doesn't contain any:
I know, I can't really believe it, either. Justified (a show I've always liked a lot, but never as much as a lot of other people do) topping a best TV list while Breaking Bad and Mad Men are still on the air? Nope, I did not see that happening. But season four of Justified was just that good, delivering multiple episode of the year contenders ("Outlaw", "Decoy", "Ghosts") over its tremendous final six weeks, as well as a powerful and resonant meditation on the theme of consequences. And the first half of the season was almost as great, with the modestly entertaining but largely forgettable "Money Trap" being the only real weak spot. This was a season that gave us that amazing Art speech in "Get Drew", Tim and Colt's life and death chess match in "Decoy", the entirety of "Outlaw" and "Ghosts" (probably my two favorite dramatic episodes of the year), and countless other standout moments. Other shows had numerous such moments as well, but in the end Justified just had more of them than any other series I watched this year. Hence the #1 ranking.
2. Breaking Bad
Of course, part of the reason it did is because of the decision to split the final season of AMC's finest show (sorry, Mad Men, but I'm team Breaking Bad all the way) in half. But the eight episodes we got certainly didn't disappoint, featuring an epic and thrilling train heist that suddenly gave way to one of the most horrifying moments in the show's history, Hank speaking to Walt about "chasing monsters" in the mid-season finale (and of course, his subsequent realization that his brother-in-law is the monster he's been looking for), Skyler walking into that pool in "Fifty-One", and (last but not least) the montage set to "Crystal Blue Persuasion". Minor issues with the penultimate episode aside, this was another standout batch of episodes of a show that will likely end up as my second favorite (or maybe even favorite, if it delivers a flawless stretch run later this year) TV drama of all time
3. 30 Rock
I'm so glad I decided to marathon 30 Rock in time for this list, as this is unquestionably one of the best final seasons of all time. Every episode—aside from the good but not great election two-parter early in the season—was terrific, and the season's second half is arguably the funniest stretch of episodes the show ever did (which is saying a lot). In terms of a long-running series going out at its absolute best, only The Shield can match it. And just as The Shield ended with the best drama finale of all time, so too did 30 Rock conclude with the greatest comedy finale I have ever seen (sorry, Cheers). An amazing end to one of the best comedies to ever air.
4A. Parks and Recreation
The general consensus seems to be that Parks and Rec is slightly past its prime at this point. And I would probably agree with that assessment. What I don't agree with is the idea that being slightly past its prime somehow means it's no longer one of the very best comedies on television. No, there was nothing approaching the nearly wall to wall perfection of season three (or the second half of season four, which to me remains the best stretch of episodes of the show to date), but there was still hilarity aplenty, a great arc involving Leslie's attempts to build a park in lot 48, as well as constant reminders of just how amazing and rich this show's world-building is. Maybe it's the fact that I thought Councilman Jamm made a fine antagonist for Leslie—an opinion I seem to be in the minority on—but to me season five, though probably the weakest of the show's four full seasons, doesn't represent a show resting on its laurels at all. Rather, it represents an awesome series continuing to be awesome: something I hope (and expect) will continue in season six.
4B. New Girl
That's right, it's a tie. Lame, I know (just make a decision, Greg), but these two shows have just been neck and neck all season. Originally I was going to go with Parks, but then I reflected on how brilliant New Girl's second season really was, and I decided I simply couldn't choose. Although the show became terrific midway through season one, it got even better this year, turning in a season that was pretty much stellar from start to finish (the mediocre "Neighbors" being the only installment I didn't like). It doesn't really have Parks and Rec's ambition or richly developed world (few comedies do), but the characters are every bit as hilarious and well developed as Leslie, Ron, and company. And the comic timing—of both the actors and editors—reached often astonishing heights, resulting in some of the funniest episodes of the year. (Bonus points for turning a relationship most people, including me, never really wanted to see happen—Jess and Nick—and making us care enormously about it.)
6. The Americans
The pilot episode of The Americans hooked me literally instantly, with that phenomenal chase scene set to Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk". The rest of the pilot (one of the best I've ever seen) lived up to that opener, as did the ensuing season. Homeland is the obvious comparison here, even though the shows are obviously substantially different. But both had nearly flawless first years, while at the same time giving rise to questions about how long their premises can be sustained. I haven't seen Homeland's second season (in which I've heard from some that the show goes off the rails) yet, but I feel pretty much the same way about The Americans as I did after watching season one of Homeland: glad to have witnessed such a remarkable and daringly plotted (if in this case somewhat less frenetically paced) season of television. Can The Americans find a way to make this narrative continue to work? I don't know, but even if it doesn't, we'll still have episodes like "Gregory", "Trust Me", "Only You", "The Oath", and "The Colonel" to remember it by.
7. Top of the Lake
I'm still not sure how I feel about the GJ storyline. The more I think about it, the more it seems to connect to the themes of Jane Campion and Gerard Lee's brilliant miniseries, and Holly Hunter's performance was predictably amazing. But it still feels awfully underdeveloped to me, so I just don't know. What I do know is that the rest of Top of the Lake was just about the best thing to air this year. The visuals are remarkable, the storytelling and feminist themes rich and compelling, and Elisabeth Moss's lead performance is without question the best piece of dramatic acting I saw on TV this year.
While not quite as astonishing as its incredible second year, season three of Louie was still largely terrific. True, it had a few off weeks in the middle of the season. But then came the miraculous three episode "Late Show" arc, which is one of the best things the show has done so far. And while none of the other episodes were as transcendent as "Duckling", "Eddie", "Subway/Pamela", "New Jersey/Airport", or the numerous other stunning installments that made the second season one of the greatest seasons of TV in recent memory, episodes such as "Telling Jokes/Set Up", the two-part "Daddy's Girlfriend" arc, and the season finale "New Year's Eve" (with its priceless doll repair scene) were nonetheless among the finest of 2012-13.
9. Happy Endings
Happy Endings didn't make me laugh quite as consistently this year as it did in 2011-12, but it remained among the best comedies on network TV. There were a few slight missteps here and there, and certainly fewer classic episodes than season two. On the other hand, there were still plenty of comic masterpieces, including the absolute comic perfection of "The Merry Prankster" (which contained the funniest cold open I've seen since The Office's "Stress Relief") and the tremendous season (and unfortunately, quite possibly series) finale. If this does wind up being the end, it's been a great three season run, Happy Endings.
This season of Archer loses substantial points thanks to "Un Chien Tangerine" alone. But even ignoring that dreadful episode (by far the worst the series has ever done, with its dog fart jokes and almost complete lack of humor), season four was a definite drop in quality from the nearly perfect second and third seasons, featuring several other episodes that, while solid, didn't quite measure up to the show's usual quality. The good news is that a slightly weaker season of Archer is still one of the funniest shows on television, and a number of the season's installments (most notably "The Honeymooners", "Live and Let Dine", and "Legs") were instant classics.
Honorable Mentions (in Alphabetical Order)
For a few episodes, it looked as though the much anticipated return of Arrested Development was going to be dreadful. The show was as smart as ever, but the jokes were largely falling flat. By the middle of the season, however, it had found its footing and become quite enjoyable. And by the time "A New Attitude" and "Señoritis" rolled around, I was in awe of the comedic density on display, as well as laughing almost constantly. This was a slightly messy and occasionally uneven season, certainly. But it was also often flat-out brilliant. And considered as a whole, it's a remarkable accomplishment.
Would that I could just consider the season three episodes that have aired thus far, in which case Awkward. would definitely place in the top ten. But this is a list that considers everything since last June, and that unfortunately includes this show's rather disappointing, love triangle-centered second season. Factoring both seasons in, the honorable mentions seemed like the appropriate destination.
Ben and Kate
Goodbye, Ben and Kate. Although your 2013 episodes weren't your strongest, your fantastic stretch of hilarious episodes in the fall made you one of the year's finest new comedies. And like many great shows, almost nobody watched you. Those that did, however, will miss your hilarious cast and excellent writing, which made you one of the most enjoyable hang-out comedies on TV.
Probably the funniest new show of 2012-13, Burning Love is first and foremost a delightful spoof of reality TV (both specific shows and in general). But when not parodying shows like The Bachelor and Survivor, it also proved to be a hilarious, weird, and inventive comedy in its own right, featuring some of the most delightfully ridiculous characters of the year. It doesn't appear as though anything has been announced about season four yet, but I'm assuming there are plans to continue this brilliant series, and I look forward to seeing more of its inspired lunacy at some point in the future.
It was a sort of a television trend this year that, New Girl and 30 Rock aside, the comedies I love were not quite as strong as they were last season. Cougar Town was a series that would have made the top five last year, but season four was, much like Archer, just not quite as great as the show's second and third seasons, and wound up just missing the cut. (Had I elected to make a top dozen rather than a top ten, this and Rev. would have been the additional two shows added.)
A top ten list without Mad Men would have been unfathomable to me before the season began. But here we are, and the simple fact is that the show has been inconsistent all year. While dual themes of journey and change (or in many cases, the lack of change) have certainly provided the season a thematic spine, overall season six has not been able to find any sort of rhythm at all. Some weeks it's been great, but there have been almost as many missteps as masterpieces.
Hulu brought this terrific British sitcom to American audiences this summer, and anyone that sought it out was treated to a frequently hilarious (and always thoughtful) look at the life of vicar Adam Smallbone. The second season had some issues (before rebounding at the end with two of the show's best episodes so far), and the Christmas special wasn't all that great, but overall this is a thematically rich and very funny series: one I can't wait to see more of.