My Favorite Shows of 2012


By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal ®

When I first started writing about TV, I could list my ten best shows of the year with confidence. Sure one viewer’s trash is another’s treasure (some think American Horror Story is brilliant, I find it rather laughable). Lists are always subjective and my opinion is just my opinion. But, back then, I had at least watched one episode of every show and felt I had given every series its fair consideration.

That, my friends, is no longer the case. Even if I did nothing else but watch TV, I don’t think I would be able to say I’ve seen everything the medium has to offer. There are way too many shows on the air. For example, I will admit to you that I’ve never seen a single episode of Justified. It’s been on my “I need to watch this show” list for years. There are other shows I liked –The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad among them – that for whatever reason I haven’t kept up with. The second season of Downton Abbey is just sitting on my desk waiting to be watched. Do spa/TV viewing vacations exist? Because that’s what I need.

My other issue is the rise of what I like to calls shows that are rated NFA – Not For Amy. For example, I can appreciate that Lena Dunham is creating something unique with a distinct point of view with Girls. However, from the opening moments, I couldn’t stand the show. I found the characters to be whiny, obnoxious and self-centered. And series such as Game of Thrones are also NFA.  With its gratuitous sex and violence, I didn’t even make it through the series premiere of Game of Thrones.

What I can offer you are my favorite shows of the year. The shows that have been consistently high in quality. Show that each week offered thoughtful, moving performances and strong writing. Shows that make me laugh, cry or both. Shows that are among the best TV has to offer. I have ranked them in terms of what I would choose to watch first on my TiVo.

1.Homeland (Showtime): So we’re all kind of in a fight with Homeland and I totally get that.  The show is cutting corners and sacrificing realism to advance the story and get the characters where they need them to be. I mean we’re going to have to ask Carrie more follow-up questions about how she escaped from Abu Nazir, right? An acceptable answer isn’t “I got lucky” when it comes to freeing yourself from the world’s number one terrorist. But all my quibbles aside, no other show surprises me and keeps me engaged like Homeland does.  Especially in season two, I never knew what the show was going to do next. Every time I lulled myself into believing I knew what was going to happen, the series zigged in a totally different direction.  But what really sets Homeland apart is the incredible acting. Clare Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin are breathtaking every week. They rise above the most inane writing and ridiculous plot twists.  Danes and Lewis have made me believe in TV’s most unlikely and unhealthy romance. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to a show as much as I look forward to Homeland. And that means, despite the ridiculousness of late, the drama is doing a lot of things right.

2.Parenthood (NBC): This is the season Parenthood transitioned from a good drama into a great one.  I wrote about Parenthood being one of the best shows for Paste Magazine. You can read what I had to say here.

3. Southland (TNT): The best cop drama on TV. With gritty realism, Southland pulls the viewer into its world each week.  This past season the drama added Lucy Liu and, as much as I enjoy Liu on Elementary, I am really going to miss her on Southland. Her performance was transformative. I could write paragraphs about the brilliant acting that occurs each week on the show but I want to especially praise Regina King, whose Detective Lydia Adams is one of the strongest female characters on TV. Bonus points to the show for having C. Thomas Howell in its cast. When I was a girl, pictures of Howell adorned my bedroom walls. How wonderful it is to have him on TV. Some things that are gold can stay.

4. The Middle (ABC): This week Frankie (Patricia Heaton) woke up in the middle of the night to fight with Mike (Neil Flynn) and you know what I loved best about that scene? Frankie was in mismatched pajamas. That, my friends, is real life. (My biggest complaint with Homeland this season remains that Jess packed a negligee to go to a safe house). While Modern Family may be the show all the cool kids watch, The Middle is the show that truly captures the humor of family life. The comedy has the best teenage characters of any show. Each week Eden Sher and Charlie McDermott are perfect as the ever enthusiastic Sue and her older, slacker brother Axl. (For real fun, follow these two on Twitter to see how they interact in real life).  When people ask me what’s the one show they are not watching that that they should be watching, I always say The Middle.

5. Scandal (ABC): From her first power-suit strut into the office, I was all about Olivia Pope and her not-so-merry band of Gladiators. The show provides a juicy soap opera and intense mystery while, without making a big deal about it, has built a show around a successful woman of color. Plus nobody enunciates quite like Kerry Washington enunciates. I want to be a client of Pope & Associates just so I can hear Olivia say my name. Most of the time, I have no idea what the Huck the show is going to do next and I love that.

6. Parks and Recreation (NBC):  What other series could make local politics so utterly compelling? I literally love this show. Parks has the best ensemble cast on TV. There are no weak links. I adore every single character on it.

7. The Glee Project (Oxygen): The Glee Project is the only reality competition that is truly rooted in reality.  The audition process is grueling and, in the end, no matter how much the casting director, vocal coach and choreographer may love you, it all comes down to the executive producer’s capricious decision.  I love that this is a tough competition but one where none of the coaches are mean-spirited or nasty. If you’re not performing well, they will tell you but in a way that allows the performers to flourish. Bonus points to the show for 1):  Totally making up words.  We all need a little glee-ality and romanticality in our lives.  2): Giving me my new secret boyfriend Zach Woodlee. His proud papa face when he watches the kids perform makes me tear up every time.  3): Giving Glee Blake Jenner and Alex Newell. They’ve both been great additions to the series.

8. Mad Men (AMC): Not everything worked this season but when the show worked, it worked brilliantly. Joan finally telling her husband to get out. Peggy leaving the agency and coming into her own. Joan becoming a partner in the worst possible way. These are TV moments indelibly inked in my mind. Mad Men continues to create a world that is mesmerizing.

9. Awkward (MTV):  Yes I know I’m way too old to be watching this show. But what I love about Awkward is that although the technology has changed (no one had a blog when I was in high school), the experience of being a teenager hasn’t. Awkward takes me right back to the not-so-glory days of high school. But it’s not just nostalgia that makes me love the show – it is witty, hilarious, poignant and heart-breaking.  While I always rooted for Jake, the Jake/Matty/Jenna love triangle is one of the best ones out there.

10. New Girl (FOX): For a show ostensibly about a girl, it’s the men who have made this comedy flourish. The rapport between Schmidt, Nick and Winston is the stuff of TV magic. If Schmidt is the series breakout character, Nick is the sleeper breakout character. I still laugh every time I think about Jake Johnson’s “I give you cookie” diatribe.

Honorable Mentions:

The Good Wife (CBS): I adore this show. The only reason it isn’t part of my top ten is due to the mandatory “Nick is a bad husband” deduction. May we never have to see a fight involving raw eggs again.

30 Rock (NBC): As always, I want to go to there. In its final season, this smart comedy has enjoyed a greater and more hilarious freedom as it mocks its corporate parent and takes Liz Lemon through some major life changes.

Switched at Birth (ABC): Bunheads may be Gilmore Girls Redux but it’s Switched at Birth that has filled the hole Gilmore Girls left in my viewing schedule.

Go On (NBC): This comedy is doing exactly what a freshman comedy should be doing: It gets better every week as Ryan (Matthew Perry) continues to grieve his wife’s death with an unlikely support group. It can’t be easy to make a comedy about people continuing on with their lives after a great loss, but Go On is doing an excellent job.

Those are my favorite shows of 2012. What are yours? Talk about it below.

Best New Shows of the Season

Photo Credit: John Paul Filo / CBS BROADCASTING INC.

By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal®

There are some television seasons that will forever be etched in my memory.  In 2004, Desperate Housewives, Lost, Veronica Mars and House all premiered. That, as the saying goes, was a very good year.

And there are some pilot episodes that were magic immediately. I can remember sitting on my couch in 2003, putting in pilot after pilot and stumbling upon Arrested Development. I’m not exaggerating when I say I got chills the pilot was so good. Chills.

Alas, this television season isn’t like 2004 and I don’t think any TV pilot quite captures the sheer brilliance of the first Arrested Development.  But there are still some shows I am excited about.

Here are my picks for the best new show on each network:

Elementary (premieres September 27 at 10 p.m. on CBS): Yesterday I talked about how disappointing it was to have Jordana Spiro and Zach Gilford, two of my favorite TV stars, in a bad show. Thankfully Elementary is the opposite of that. Another two of my favorites -Jonny Lee Miller, who I will always adore because of Eli Stone, and Lucy Liu, who was simply fantastic on Southland last season – headline this CBS drama. And, yes, it is another crime procedural from CBS and, yes, it is another Sherlock Holmes remake. But none of that really matters because it’s such a strong pilot. I want to see more of recovering drug addict Sherlock Holmes and his equally-troubled-but-in-a-different-way sober coach Joan Watson.  Added bonus – Miller gets to use his real accent.

Nashville (premiering October 10 at 10 p.m. on ABC):  Nashville is, by far, the best new show of the season. Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) stars as country music superstar Rayna Jaymes. As the series opens up, Rayna is facing declining ticket sales and her handlers want her to team up with teen singing sensation Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes).  Juliette doesn’t have the best voice but that doesn’t matter in this new auto-tuned world.   You know how Friday Night Lights was about so much more than football? Nashville is about so much more than country music (although the music in show is excellent). That’s why I believe the show could be phenomenal. The pilot lays out several intriguing story lines in addition to the Rayna/Juliette dynamic including Rayna’s romantic past and her current marriage, Juliette’s troubled background, and Nashville intricate political landscape. I cannot wait to see where the show goes next.

Ben and Kate (premiering September 25 at 8:30 p.m. on FOX): Nat Faxon is one of those actors I totally root for. Years ago he was on the short-lived comedy Happy Hour. The show was awful but Faxon still managed to make me laugh. He always can make even the lamest material pretty hilarious. Ben and Kate makes the most of Faxon’s many, many talents.  Faxon stars as Ben, the older, immature brother of Dakota Johnson’s responsible Kate.  Kate has a five year old daughter Maddie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and a best friend BJ (Lucy Punch, whose performance in the pilot is a little too much like Catherine Tate’s Nellie on The Office). Everyone here, including Echo Kellum as Ben’s best friend Tommy, is pretty great and the script is smart and quick. But it’s really Faxon who makes the show. Whether he’s telling five-year-old Maddie that she’s naïve or rehearsing how he’s going to win back his ex-girlfriend, Faxon is uproarious. Last year, Max Greenfield exploded because Schmidt was the right character at the right time with the right actor. I believe and hope that Ben will do the same for Faxon’s career.

Arrow (series premiere October 10 at 8 p.m. on the CW): Arrow is definitely the best new show the CW has this fall. But it didn’t have much competition for that title given that Beauty and the Beast and Emily Owens M.D. are the CW’s other new shows. However, here’s what makes me think Arrow could be great. The show has found a true star in Stephen Amell who headlines the series as Oliver Queen. You’ve probably already heard about his abs, which are put on terrific display in the pilot and ads for the series but Amell also has the gravitas to pull off the role of a ne’er-do-well playboy who returns home five years after everyone thought he was dead. (Because it was driving me crazy when I was watching the pilot I will tell you that Amell played the paramedic who romanced Violet last season on Private Practice).  The other thing the show has going for it is executive producer Greg Berlanti. Berlanti is the man behind Everwood, Brothers & Sisters and this summer’s addictive Political Animals. His presence makes me think Oliver’s backstory and family dynamics will become extremely entertaining.

Go On (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC): Matthew Perry excels at playing the guy with a sardonic exterior that belies the sweet and sensitive guy underneath. This was the persona he perfected for ten seasons of Friends and this is the persona that’s present in Go On.  Sportscaster Ryan King is an older version of Chandler Bing (look their names even rhyme!) It’s a role that allows Perry to be funny and heartfelt in the same episode. The premise provides a rich environment for comedy and pathos – a man grieves the loss of his wife through a wacky therapy group. The show has a strong supporting cast including John Cho as Ryan’s boss and Tyler James Williams as Owen, a teen in Ryan’s group.  Go On is still finding its rhythm but both the pilot and the second episode had several moments that made me laugh out loud. Could I be any more excited?

Those are my picks for the best new show on each network. Talk about which new shows you are most looking forward to below.

This week I will also be talking about the season premieres of Castle, The Office and Parks and Recreation and, of course, the Emmys.  Follow my blog so you’ll know every time I have a new post.