TV in review: Critic Robert Bianco channel-surfs through 2012
Posted December 30, 2012
Our best TV doesn't always come from New York or Hollywood. To be sure, those twin centers of production did provide any number of shining hours this year. On the drama side, you had TV's best series, Homeland, closely followed by Breaking Bad and Mad Men (along with our happiest import, Downton Abbey). In comedy, the industry gave us another crowd-pleasing season of Modern Family, along with the art-house pleasures of Louie and Girls. Yet the Program of the Year award goes elsewhere. Here's a look at the best, worst, most significant and strangest of 2012:
Program of the Year: Presidential Debates
Few series of any kind were more watched, and none were more analyzed, than this year's presidential and vice-presidential debates. In TV terms alone, they tarnished Jim Lehrer's reputation, burnished Martha Raddatz's, and turned Candy Crowley into the latest red-blue-divide lightning rod. Whether or how much they actually influenced the outcome of the election is itself a subject of debate, but you can bet on this: Any handler whose candidate is sloughing off preparation will be using President Obama's performance in the first debate as a cautionary tale for decades to come.
Drama of the Year: 'Homeland' (Showtime)
No thriller has ever burned through plot as quickly - and sometimes recklessly - or bettered this taut, terrifically acted series' ability to add a layer of emotional truth to its feints and double feints. You cling to the characters even when the plot threatens to leave you behind, and the people, not the plot, are why Homeland holds its place as TV's best drama. Going forward, the writers might want to slow down just a bit, to lay a better foundation for some of their more credulity-challenging moments. But viewers might want to keep in mind that few works in the Western canon - from Homer to Shakespeare, from Jane Austen to John Irving - could survive the weekly point-by-point scrutiny Homeland endured from the plausibility police. Here's a general TV rule: If your goal is to be disappointed, you will be.
Comedy of the Year: 'Modern Family' (ABC)
We offer a few tests of a great sitcom: Do you enjoy the episodes again when you catch them in repeats? Can you imagine people enjoying them for decades to come? Do you believe in the characters enough to care about what happens to them? Does the show make you laugh without making you feel guilty for laughing? Does it have something to say that's worth saying? Thankfully, ABC continues to give us a show that passes all those tests, and with higher scores than any of its current competitors. Warm, wise and witty, intricately constructed and beautifully performed, Modern Family is still the sitcom against which all other must be judged.
Rest of the Top 10:
'Breaking Bad' (AMC)
'Downton Abbey' (PBS)
'Mad Men' (AMC)
'The Middle' (ABC)
'The Walking Dead' (AMC)
Not quite as great, but great fun:
'The Good Wife' (CBS)
'The Big Bang Theory' (CBS)
'Game of Thrones' (HBO)
'Grey's Anatomy' (ABC)
Good Show that Should Have Been Better: 'The Newsroom' (HBO)
Worst New Show: 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo' (TLC)
The election wasn't divisive enough? We really need a show designed to convince half the country that the other half is made up of overfed, under-educated buffoons? And for that uplifting message, we exploit a child - just as a bonus.
Rest of the Worst:
'Anger Management' (FX)
'Emily Owens, M.D.' (CW)
'The Mob Doctor' (Fox)
'Malibu Country' (ABC)
'Work It' (ABC)
'Animal Practice' (NBC)
'Guys With Kids' (NBC)
'Beauty and the Beast' (CW)
'AHS: Asylum' (FX)
'The X Factor,' New and Unimproved Version (Fox)
Actors of the Year:
Comedy, Female: Lena Dunham, 'Girls.' Her show had as many detractors as defenders, but there can be no doubt that its creator is a major TV talent, an absolutely fearless writer and actor with a gift for capturing the world around her (tiny and insular as it may be). In a medium dominated by corporate, composite speech, Dunham's is a welcome, singular voice.
Comedy, Male: Louis C.K. for 'Louie.' Even more than Dunham, Louis C.K. is running what comes as close as TV gets to a one-man show - or, maybe, to a one-man short-film festival - and he's doing so brilliantly. One can only imagine the reaction Louie would have to being called an "artist," but as actor, writer, editor and director, that's what he is.
Drama, Female: Claire Danes for 'Homeland.' She took Carrie Mathison to the brink of treatment-induced sanity, and then slowly, week by week, look by look, walked her back to crazy's edge without ever missing a step. If it's hard to imagine where Carrie can go next, it's also impossible to doubt Danes' ability to get her there.
Drama, Male:(Tie) Damian Lewis for 'Homeland' and Bryan Cranston for 'Breaking Bad.' These were two incisive case studies of two very different, very troubled men, each trying desperately to survive his self-inflicted immersion into evil, each spiraling out of control. Moral collapse has never been more riveting.
Special Mention: Mandy Patinkin for 'Homeland.' Some laughed at him when he left Criminal Minds, a principled move that eventually led him from TV's worst drama to its best, where his talent shines. Who's laughing now?
Best Non-Fiction Programming, Short Form: 'The Dust Bowl' (PBS)
Best Non-Fiction Programming, Very Long Form: The Summer Olympics (NBC)
Best Reality Program: 'So You Think You Can Dance' (Fox)
Worst TV Trend, Scripted or Reality: Sticking a Kardashian in anything and everything. Or anything.
Best Musical Moment: 'Let Me Be Your Star/Don't Forget Me,' from 'Smash' (NBC). Smash had its problems in between, but those two bookend songs - one from the first episode, one from the last - represent why so many viewers fell in love with the show at the start and retained hope at the end.
Most Memorable Musical Moment: Jennifer Holliday's fabulous, powerhouse duet with Jessica Sanchez on 'American Idol.' Admit it. There were moments where you feared she was going to swallow that little girl whole.
Best Miniseries: 'The Hour' (BBC America). At just six hours, that's small enough to count as a miniseries, and a very entertaining one at that.
Biggest Miniseries: 'Hatfields & McCoys' (History). One of the year's real crowd-pleasers, which goes to show what History can do when it actually turns to history. Imagine if it did so more than once or twice a year.
Best Movie, Original: 'Game Change' (HBO)
Best Movie, Remake: 'Steel Magnolias' (Lifetime)
Worst Movie, Original or Remake, This Year and, One Hopes, For Many Years to Come: 'Liz & Dick' (Lifetime)
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