For us, 2012 was the Year of Television... for like the twentieth year in a row. And reflection is the month of December's dominant mood, which explains the internet's preferred form of information in month number twelve: the year-end list. So naturally we projected the TV.com bat-logo into the sky and summoned the site's contributors to ask them to name their five favorite shows of the year. Below you'll find plenty of usual suspects—including Breaking Bad, Homeland, and Game of Thrones—but there are plenty of unexpected entries, too. Take a look at our lists, and make sure to list your own favorites in the comments.
In the first part of its final season, all of Breaking Bad's strengths were on display. Entire episodes dedicated to step-by-step explanations of seemingly unbelievable but ultimately thrilling criminal processes? Check. Gut-wrenching and shocking moments involving violence, drugs, or both? You know it. Compelling considerations of masculinity and family? Absolutely. Tremendous performances from top to bottom? Duh. In just eight episodes, Vince Gilligan and company managed to push Walt, Jesse, and company beyond the loss of the Chicken Man while simultaneously pivoting the show toward an end-game we all saw coming but still can't wait for anyway. No show on television builds and releases tensions like Breaking Bad; in this run alone, the show killed an innocent kid, disposed of a major character, and turned the lead into a full-blown villain, all while somehow constantly showing off how fun meth-cooking and inmate-killing montages can be, before concluding with Hank having both a bowel movement and an Aha Moment on the toilet. Not bad for eight episodes. — Cory
Parenthood is a machine. After creating a show that fans struggle to mention without welling up, Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights) engineered another series fastidiously constructed to reduce even the coldest of hearts into a sobbing mess. Like one of Stefon's clubs on SNL, it's got everything: familial belonging and support; constant underdog stories despite the entire Braverman clan being well-off and unhindered by societal ills; cute, multiracial children. Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, and even Dax Shepard have been yanking at our heartstrings for years but now, during this too-short fourth season, Monica Potter has showed up to eclipse them all with that television narrative trump card: cancer. Add Ray Romano—who's been combining his Men of a Certain Age surliness with Parenthood's special blend of sentimentality—to this already strong cast and the audience is just bombarded with crying prompts on every front. This show is a tornado of emotional catharsis that'll hug you in its warm embrace and not let go until it extracts fifty gallons of tears. The season finale is coming. Stock up on tissues. — Nick
You may not have noticed, but one of the outright funniest new shows of 2012 was a cartoon on Disney Channel. The set-up: After twin siblings Dipper and Mabel Pines arrive to spend the summer with their Great Uncle Stan, a two-bit huckster who runs a tourist trap in Gravity Falls, Oregon, they quickly realize the quiet hamlet is an epicenter of spooky phenomena ranging from sentient wax figures to psychotic elves to a man-eating monster made of discarded Halloween candy. The result: In just twelve episodes, Gravity Falls built out a rich world of oddballs and outré antics. The show's humor includes plenty of slapstick and concentrated silliness, but also verbal gags as meticulously crafted as those of the sharpest network sitcom. Anchoring it are the vocal performances of Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal (the voice-acting MVP of 2012, between Gravity Falls and her work on Bob’s Burgers). Dipper and Mabel’s relationship offers not only a fluid comic yin-and-yang, but also a genuine emotional core. And the supporting and guest cast—including Linda Cardellini, John DiMaggio, Grey DeLisle, and Tara Strong—is as solid as they come. — Andy
After seven seasons, we’re familiar with the intricacies of Liz, Jack, Jenna, Tracy, Kenneth, and the rest as they run around 30 Rockefeller Center, and in 2012 30 Rock took advantage of that fact in tackling the absurd (“Leap Day”), the historical (“Live from Studio 6H”), and the topical (“Murphy Brown Lied to Us” and “There’s No I in America”). It continued to mock NBC’s woes with Jack's attempt to tank the network (“The Beginning of the End”), and it didn't shy away from interrogating feminism in delightful ways (“Mazel Tov, Dummies!”). Criticisms abound that 30 Rock has become too “cartoony” or lacking in stakes as it's chugged along, but that’s fairly ridiculous since the show has always been those things at its core (remember Tracy hallucinating a Blue Dude in Season 1?). These are stories about ridiculous people in ridiculous situations, and they've never better than in 2012. — Noel
When a show only airs twelve episodes in a calendar year, it’s usually because that show is on HBO or AMC and thinks it’s better than the rest (those cable shows can be such snobs). When a half-hour NBC comedy only manages to get twelve episodes into a whole year, there’s something weird going on. But “something weird going on” only begins to describe Community's 2012. With so many things working against it—numerous scheduling delays, the fractured relationship between series creator Dan Harmon and NBC/Sony, Chevy Chase’s negative attitude—it’s amazing to look at what the show accomplished in its short run. It was still as funny as ever, delivering joke after joke and making a second (or third) viewing mandatory just to catch everything. Jeff, Abed, and everyone else grew as characters. The season finale, "Introduction to Finality," was killer, and it could have served as a touching series finale if the show had ended there. And thankfully, we still have three seasons and a movie left to go... right? Right... ? — Bill
When Teen Wolf creator and executive producer Jeff Davis first cited Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Spider-Man as inspirations for his modern conception of the property, many people, well, they scoffed. (This was back when the very idea of a moody adaptation of the Michael J. Fox film was understandably scoff-worthy.) How could this proposed MTV abomination even begin to approach those two pop-culture classics? Well, those questions were quickly put to rest in Season 2, which featured not only a huge increase in the size and diversity of the werewolf population, but also a Greek mythology-derived reptilian beastie, a ghost bent on resurrection, a terminally ill villain, a secret society of cryptozoological experts, and storytelling to rival the most breakneck comic-book pacing. Add to that Allison's transformation from damsel to asskicker, the audacious no-big-dealness of gay issues, and a starring role for Colton Haynes' torso, and few shows walked such a careful line between trashy serial and legit societal asset than Teen Wolf. And don't even get me started on the underappreciated awesomeness of Dylan O'Brien's Stiles. Yeah, I'm calling it now... Someday when everybody's done scoffing at the concept of MTV's Teen Wolf, maybe they'll realize what we fans already know: This show has the makings of a modern classic. — Price
Destined to appear on every last one of those “Shows You’ve Never Seen But Must” lists, Adult Swim’s Delocated packs more types of comedy into the half-hour format than most sitcoms do in an entire season. The premise reads like an inspired Conan O’Brien sketch (on which star/creator Jon Glaser birthed the character): Obnoxious family man “Jon” testifies against the Russian mafia, enters the witness protection program, and then willingly becomes the ratings-hungry subject of a reality show. Oh yeah, the entire time he wears a ski-mask and has his voice modulated, all while dodging attacks on his loved ones from the very crime family he ratted out. Sound nuts? Sure, but the genius of Delocated lies in how few winks at the audience occur. This season zipped past the obvious laughs, and instead saw the asinine Jon struggling with parenthood, friendship, romance, and fame while accessing an emotional truth that elevated all the ridiculousness around him into a constant, deadpan joke. In a culture that can be absurdly voyeuristic, Delocated goes beyond its one-note tagline to show how conflicted the human experience can be when the simultaneous needs for privacy and attention duke it out in the most irresponsible way possible. — Ryan
It was only appropriate that as Mad Men progressed through the '60s and we got to the part where the decade got “weird” that the show itself followed suit. Spanning the months between Memorial Day 1966 and spring of 1967, Mad Men Season 5 seemed to go off the rails of sanity just a teensy bit with Don’s homicidal fever dream and Roger’s little trip down LSD lane, but there was method in the madness because Mad Men is Matthew Weiner's show so of course there was. It’s Mad Men, man! The series has always served as a microcosm of the '60s; the upheaval of the latter half of the decade fundamentally changed the world—and it wasn’t gentle or nice about it, either. Season 5 reflected that as core characters were repeatedly forced out of their comfort zones, for better or for worse. There was an air of impending doom permeating nearly every episode, whether due to Pete’s liaison with Depressed Housewife Action Rory Gilmore or the infamous Richard Speck murders providing a horror-laden backdrop to Joan’s failed marriage (and boy, did that doom eventually appear). Even eternally loyal Peggy jumped ship for a firm that offered her equality and respect—two concepts that repeatedly seemed to elude her peers at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Roger and Don lamented the loss of the “good ol’ days,” and the question of whether a man like Don Draper could still flourish in the world of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles was one that continued to elude us all season long. — MaryAnn
So many shows disappoint in their sophomore seasons, yet our second journey with Game of Thrones was perhaps more immersive and enthralling than its wildly popular first. On its surface, Game of Thrones' appeal is obvious: high-production values and sweeping vistas of a world that's become the height of contemporary fantasy. However, what has captivated audiences well outside the fantasy genre is the incredibly well-written story's ability to base a fantasy world in humanist political drama with gritty, devastatingly tragic consequences ("Blackwater" showcased one of the most emotionally harrowing battle scenes ever filmed, for TV or cinema). Every character is as beautifully developed and three-dimensional as the series' award-winning, jaw-dropping special effects, and the show's combination of truly world-class acting, a rock-solid script, and money-is-no-object production values leaves Game of Thrones seared into your heart and mind long after the finale. — Lily
Breaking Bad's shortened half-season broke the series' four-year streak as my top show of the year, but ready and willing to take its place was Showtime's tin-foil hat of a drama, Homeland. There's an argument to be made that Season 1 was superior to Season 2, but even in its weaker moments, Season 2 beckoned like a bug zapper. We cross-examined every Carrie tick, over-analyzed the capture of Brody, and debated the value of teen hit-and-runs. This round of Homeland was an exercise in redefining how we think of dramatic television as it ping-ponged between out-of-control pacing and quiet, subtle conversations, with sometimes only minutes in between. It gave us the year's most hilarious murder/phone call AND crafted the greatest scene of 2012 (the Carrie-Brody interrogation of "Q&A;" was even more enrapturing than the lime-green fireworks of Game of Thrones' Battle of Blackwater). Homeland became more about the show itself than what was happening in the story, and that's what made it such a blast. —Tim
New Girl has grown on me so much since its debut that I've started using the show's title as a verb—as in, "That show was just okay in the beginning, but then it New Girl'd on me and I love it now." Which, okay, lots of shows get better after their first few episodes, but I can honestly say that New Girl is one of the shows I look forward to the MOST every week. It's got a great balance of silly sitcom situations and real, emotional moments. Somehow it's both absurd and realistic, without going too far in either direction. It's definitely not just The Zooey Deschanel Show, as many people feared it would be; the cast has grown into a true ensemble. And it's doing great things with its (potential) romantic relationships, hitting familiar/predictable TV arcs in a new way. But most importantly New Girl is funny. It's really funny and I love it and sometimes that's all you need. — Jen
Psst! Don't forget to vote in TV.com's Best of 2012 polls!