The final installment of our Top 100 Everything of 2012 contains only the best of the best of the greatest, the ten items that made the year in television worth watching. All you Work It fans holding out hope that the cross-dressing comedy would crack the Top 10, we're sorry. Instead we decided some of the best shows of the year deserved the honor instead. Thank you all for scrolling through our picks over the last couple weeks, and we'll start working on the Top 100 Everything of 2013 at midnight.
One of the most talked-about shows of 2012 was a little HBO half-hour dramedy about some entitled twenty-something chicks living in New York. Fans loved its fresh voice and honest look at post-grad life for a spoiled generation; haters wanted to brutally murder every single person involved with the show. But Girls carried on and hushed up most of its reasonably minded critics by accurately reflecting the lives of this current generation over the course of the season: Hannah and her friends expected life to be handed to them on a platter at first, but by the end, they were left eating old wedding cake on the beach by themselves. Those who never gave the show another shot missed out on one of 2012's best new entries.
This may be the shocker of our Top 10, but think about how different the television landscape became when three of the major broadcast networks decided to air comedy blocks on Tuesdays. And not just run-of-the-mill comedy blocks, but GOOD comedy blocks. New Girl, The Mindy Project, Ben and Kate, Happy Endings, Don't Trust the B----, and Go On all call Tuesday home and have rendered two-tuner DVRs useless. Unfortunately, those shows are all going to cannibalize each other, but it's a sign that network TV hasn't given up on the new breed of comedy that we love.
Look, we know NBC made some egregious F-ups with its coverage, including cutting off the closing ceremony for a sneak preview of a monkey in a doctor's coat and tape-delaying some of the biggest events until primetime, but when the network didn't have its head up its ass, the grandiose tradition of the Olympics shone through. LeBron finished his amazing 2012, a guy ran on high-tech spring-legs, McKayla was not impressed, the dream Danny Boyle had after huffing ammonia that one time oozed into the opening and closing ceremonies, and some new neckwear was handed out in recognition of some incredible feats of athleticism. Even NBC's botched coverage and a thousand New Normal promos couldn't keep us away.
The idea of a television show changing historical periods, stories, or settings from season to season while keeping most of the cast intact isn't new, but it needed to find the perfect series to succeed. Enter American Horror Story, which has switched things up to perfection in Season 2 by moving to a '60s mental asylum and giving us an entirely new story while keeping Jessica Lange, Lily Rabe, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto, and more in its credits. And let's also make note of how much of an improvement Season 2 has been over Season 1. Now we're more excited than ever to find out where Season 3 will be set.
It tends to be a man’s, man’s, man’s, world over at Mad Men, but Season 5’s “The Other Woman” was (almost) entirely The Joan and Peggy Show, with both women being forced to make some tough professional and personal (professionally personal?) decisions. Joan went from glorified secretary to partner in one great leap, but paid what many would argue was a pretty hefty price. Peggy, who seemed perpetually underused all season long, left the SCDP mothership—and her mentor—for greener pastures and a pay raise, but more importantly, for respect and acknowledgement. Certainly, we haven’t seen the last of Peggy Olson, but her emotionally fraught goodbye scene with Don felt so final and made it one of the hardest scenes to watch all season... if not the hardest. Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm earned every single accolade hurled their way in a mere five minutes of screen time.
The pyromancer's expression when Blackwater Bay was engulfed in a lime-green light show perfectly captured what we were all thinking when the mayhem of the series' best episode began. From that point on, "Blackwater" was a delightful orgy of violence and gore on a summer blockbuster's budget that shined in explosive and more subtle moments alike. All told, the episode was major a highlight of television's current king of epic adventure.
The most riveting scene of television in 2012 happened in Homeland's "Q & A," when Carrie and Brody had a heart-to-heart in an interrogation room. Their talk occurred just as Homeland was redefining the accepted pace of a television series, but it was a quiet showcase for leads Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Whether she knew it or not, Carrie was playing the role of a blonde, sexy Abu Nazir with Brody's mind, and the honest admissions of her obsession with Brody were as real as any character was in 2012. Yes, a lot of crazy shit happened soon afterward (Finn and Dana ran over some lady later in the episode), but this chat was the one we'll remember on our deathbed.
Breaking Bad has always been about the gradual transformation of Walter White into his evil alter-ego Heisenberg, and while shouting at Skyler a few times is one thing, orchestrating the mass murder of loose ends in multiple jails withing minutes of each other is ice cold, man. And Breaking Bad being Breaking Bad, the show had to go and make it one of the most beautiful and dark sequences it's ever done.
Halfway through The Walking Dead's second season, even the most hardcore zombie fans started falling asleep while Rick and company walked in circles on Hershel's farm. But a showrunner change proved to be just what the series needed, and when Glen Mazzara took over, the show was shot out of a cannon and into a wall of awesome. There was more character development, more zombie-slaughtering, and more end-of-world tension. The Walking Dead hasn't looked back since, and the world has responded by making it the top-rated show in all of television in 2012. Well deserved.
How does a balding middle-aged man topple dragons, meth dealers, and zombies for our top spot? By delivering the most touching, poignant, and darkly comic television of the year. Louie's third season was the excellent series' strongest one yet, centered on the title character's search for a sense of self. He went to Miami and forged a strange friendship with a lifeguard, he toured New York with a crazy woman, he took on David Letterman in an epic three-episode arc, and he had to go all the way to China to find someone who wanted to spend New Year's with him. If Louie is the future of television, then put us in a cryogenic chamber immediately and freeze us until the quality of everything else catches up.