It's the mark of a good TV season when I know I'm going to leave a bunch of shows I really enjoy off my Top 10 Dramas list. I'd love to be able to include a series like "Person of Interest," "Fringe" or "Elementary," but I can't, in good conscience, put them ahead of the shows listed below. Likewise, I didn't include reality shows such as "Shark Tank," "The Amazing Race" nor "The Voice."
Probably the most notable omission on the list below is "Homeland," which swept the top three Emmys a few months ago. As I've noted in other posts, however, I was extremely disappointed by this season's writing, to the point that I considered dropping the series entirely despite its outstanding cast.
There are enough good shows that I don't feel bad leaving "Homeland" off my list.
Here's my Top 10 (and the order was VERY difficult to decide):
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10. Miniseries: OK, I'm cheating a bit on this one, but PBS' "Sherlock" and "Downton Abbey" and History's "Hatfield & McCoys" need to be on every critics Best Of lists, so this is what I've done. It's my list -- deal with it. (Yes, technically "Downton" is considered a regular series, but that's because the Emmy voters changed the rules. I'm a traditionalist).
9. "The Hour" (BBC America): A tad leftist in its storytelling, but gripping drama nonetheless as the series dealt with the 1956 Suez Crisis through the eyes of a group of journalists who had launched a newsmagazine for the BBC. Watching the first four episodes of Season 2, everything has been raised a notch, especially the addition of Peter Capaldi as the Head of News.
8. "Dexter" (Showtime): "Dexter" can be very uneven each year, but this was the show's best season since the time when John Lithgow played Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) nemesis. Letting Deb in on Dexter's secret totally revitalized the show, and guest turns by Yvonne Strahovski and Ray Stevenson meshed well. The shock twist ending made for an incredible cliffhanger.
7. "The Good Wife" (CBS): OMG, "Good Wife" is only No. 7 on this list? That makes for a strong TV season. The show has remained consistently strong over each season, with a great group of guest stars such as Nathan Lane and Amanda Peet. The only points it loses is for the misbegotten storyline involving Kalinda and her ex-husband, but even then the producers have nipped it in the bud.
6. "Sons of Anarchy" (FX): The show reformed its dynamic this season, with Jax leading the club while deposed Clay sought to reclaim his president's gavel. Throw in the usual great work of Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff and an intriguing villain in Harold Perrineau, and this could have been an easy No. 1 for me.
5. "Mad Men" (AMC): Again, I'm stunned by my own placement of this, because as usual, "Mad Men" turned in its typical great season. (Was any scene more fun than Megan's rendition of "Zou Bisou Bisou"?) Jared Harris became a breakout star this year by turning in the finest performance of his long career. "Mad Men" does very little wrong, and the season finales always leave me counting the seconds to the next year.
4. "Game of Thrones" (HBO): I've started to read the "GoT" books by George R.R. Martin, and I'm impressed as to how the writers stay true to them, yet make the show unique as well. Season 2 was a perfect companion to Season 1, and the penultimate episode "Blackwater" (scripted by Martin himself) may have been TV's finest hour this year -- certainly its most epic.
3. "Justified" (FX): The only shocking thing to me is how many lists I see this show omitted from. The show lost one great villain in Emmy winner Margo Martindale from Season 2, yet replaced her with two equally great bad guys in Neal McDonough and Mykelti Williamson (not to mention series regular Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder). Timothy Olyphant remains TV's coolest anti-hero.
2. "Walking Dead" (AMC): While some people complained about the pacing of Season 2 (I never did), no one can complain about the action level this season. Introducing the Governor and Michonne, bringing back Merle, killing off Lori and T-Dogg, the writers of the show were unafraid of change or pushing these characters to the limit. My only complaint, an off-camera one, is that AMC parted ways with showrunner Glen Mazzarra, which I hope doesn't hurt the show next season.
1. "Breaking Bad" (AMC): After the death of Gus Fring last season, no one would have been surprised if their had been a slight drop-off, considering actor Giancarlo Esposito created one of TV's all-time great villains. But now that series protagonist Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has replaced him as the bad guy, it shows just how far showrunner Vince Gilligan is willing to push the envelope. Throw in stellar supporting work from the rest of the cast, and "Breaking Bad" is a show for the ages. I don't know how I'll cope once it goes off the air.
So, which dramas did you enjoy in 2012?
WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: Almost all reruns this weekend. "Call The Midwife" (PBS, Sunday, 8 p.m.) airs a new Christmas special.