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Josie's Best of 2012

Last year, I hoped Santa would stuff my TV stocking with all sorts of goodies, from a zombie apocalypse on Person of Interest to a better boyfriend for Caroline on The Vampire Diaries. Sadly, not a single one of my predictions came true, but 2012 wound up being a darn good year for television nonetheless. And--hooray!--the world didn't end. At least not yet.

Bronze Medals

Justified’s third season couldn’t top its second, which was phenomenal not just for the quality of its hats, but also for the great Margo Martindale’s portrayal of Mags Bennet. But any show that has Rayland givens using a tablecloth as a tool in the fight against crime still has my vote.

The Vampire Diaries, on the other hand, seems to be off to a rocky start in its fourth season. Some controversial character changes (and reactions to those changes from other characters) have made it harder and harder for me to love this show as much as I used to. But I’ll keep the faith and trust this surprising little supernatural soap to regain its momentum in the back half of the season.

Person of Interest almost made it into the silver medal category, which I never expected to happen. While the CBSiness of the first few episodes turned me off, the second half of the first season added some humor and some much-needed mythology. This second season has had a few duds and a few wonderful moments, most of which center on Michael Emerson’s Finch, who is exactly the sort of person I would be if I were a male, eccentric, funny-looking billionaire.


Silver Medals

Homeland’s second season has had its detractors, but the trick is to just watch it all at once, as I did recently. Doing so gives the show a manic quality not unlike Carrie at her worst (or her best), and makes the complicated familial emotions fit not uncomfortably with the global stakes of the war on terror from all sides. And sometimes Saul "Inigo Montoya" Berenson makes me cry.

Game of Thrones didn’t make it to the gold medalist podium this year: not for any specific flaw, but rather because I still don’t understand how anyone who hasn’t read the books would possibly be interested in watching these bizarre machinations. As someone who has read the books, though, I appreciated the Battle on the Blackwater immensely, and absolutely loved Arya’s interactions with Tywin.

The Walking Dead will make it onto the gold medal list next year, if they keep up the great work and stop killing off silent black characters to replace them with other silent black characters. Although I enjoyed the second season, in retrospect I realize that it was a bit of a drag—and that retrospection is colored by the great third season, which had all the forward momentum previously lacking. Who knew a prison could be so much more liberating than a farm?


Gold Medals

Fringe is a difficult show: I sometimes love it, sometimes hate it, and sometimes (still) wonder why they constantly re-set the universes just as we’re getting invested. But as it winds to an end, despite all of its flaws, I’m still consistently impressed each week by what a fascinating, thoughtful, and understated show it is. Sure, universal destruction—not really an understatement. But Fringe has gotten increasingly comfortable, and increasingly nuanced, in the way it grapples with Big Ideas that don’t have easy answers. I’m excited to see how it all ends in January, and I already know I’ll look back on five seasons of reviews with fondness.

Sherlock’s first season impressed me, but I was still underprepared for the second season. The premiere literally had me shaking with exuberant glee at such the fast-paced, witty, intricate delight of the mystery and the Watson/Holmes interactions. The season finale’s mysterious “how did he do it?” is a fun puzzle, but what I’m most excited about is the real intelligence behind Steven Moffat’s storytelling.

Awake was short-lived and much-loved, at least in my household. Like Fringe and Sherlock, it was intelligent TV that didn’t pander, that raised questions it didn’t answer, and that left me wanting more. The series finale was lovely, and I look forward to watching Kyle Killen’s next project with just as much rapturous enthusiasm.

Interestingly, the common thread among my three favorites of the year is their literariness. Sure, they are undeniably TV shows: Awake made great use of light and color to designate universes, Sherlock uses on-screen graphics to explain extraordinary mental processes better than any narration could, and Fringe relies on having the same actor play different characters to lend gravitas to its most science-fictiony plot elements. You can't do those things in a novel.

But each of these shows is thought-provoking in a way that we don’t often find in even some of the best TV shows, and each of them toys with narrative in a style reminiscent of some of the twentieth century’s biggest literary developments. (Awake, in particular, could be easily classed as a “high modernist TV show.”) If we assume that TV will follow the pattern of development we’ve already seen in novels and movies, then we might be moving into an exciting, experimental phase of TV that allows showrunners to bend the rules and transform a popular genre into high art.


Old Favorites

The biggest event of 2012—in my TV-watching life, that is—was probably my rewatch of all six season of Lost. After the season finale aired, I lost my faith. But now I’m born again: Lost’s mysteries fade into the background without the accompanying theorizing that some of us went a little crazy for. What’s left is a fast-paced show that bends narrative conventions to tell some straightforward stories about redemption, love, and loss. And, because he deserves two mentions in my Best of 2012 list: Michael Emerson is awesome.


New to Me

The Wire I could add a sub-heading to this section: “courtesy of Jess.” Jess has recommended some great TV shows, but The Wire takes the cake. Simultaneously intimate and sprawling, this five-season portrait of Baltimore’s drug trade is vibrant, depressing, and fascinating. The fourth season, which focuses on the problems of public schools, ought to be required watching for any politician, teacher, or parent. Or, really, just anyone at all, anywhere, ever.

Deadwood I’d tried to watch Deadwood before, but stalled out somewhere in the second season, when the dialogue got so pseudo-Shakespearean that it started to suffer from the same “let’s show how erudite we are to disguise a lack of substance; anyone who criticizes us will be deemed too stupid to understand!” that plagues Ulysses. (Yeah, I went there.) While I remain conflicted about its style and its message, I’ve got to admit that Deadwood was fascinating to watch and to consider.

Friday Night Lights I’m just getting into this show—still in the first season, but hooked enough that I’ve started to develop a Texas accent. (That’ll make me popular at the holiday parties!) Another Jess favorite, FNL is not dissimilar to The Wire and Deadwood. Instead of drugs or gold, the focus is football—but the emphasis on communities held together (and torn apart) by one major trade is the same. The realistic dialogue, strong acting, and cinéma vérité techniques make a show that could be Dallas for the redneck crowd into something far more skillful, and more touching.


This Year in Cats

Henri le Chat Noir One of my favorite shows of 2012 isn’t a show at all, but rather an incisive documentary about Henri, an existential philosopher with a huge following. Sure, Henri is a cat whose major theoretical works exist on YouTube rather than in the stack of a university library—but can we deny the veracity and significance of his claim that “Sometimes the cat door is closed”? I think not.




The Best for Last

Us, and You I might be most excited about something that isn’t TV or a cat video, though. Billiedoux.com has become huge—fourteen writers, multiple posts every day, the delightful weekly Doux News, and (as always) a wonderful community of readers. We review more shows than I have time to keep up with, but that’s part of the joy, isn’t it? There’s always more TV to look forward to.

21 comments:

  1. Lol re: Born Again Lostie.

    I had totally forgotten about Awake! That was such a good show, but it certainly didn't belong on NBC. I wish it could have been rescued by basic cable. Sigh. How many other shows feature CGI penguins in insane asylums?

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  2. It's funny you mention that, sunbunny. I was just thinking we should do a Best Animals of 2012: Bear from PoI and the dragons from GoT came to mind as candidates.

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  3. Great choices, Josie. We watched, and enjoyed, a lot of the same shows this year!

    As for animal of the year, it will always be penguins for me. :-)

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  4. I'm still debating whether or not to try Homeland, and since I no longer have Showtime, it might just have to wait until season 2 comes out on DVD.

    I recently caught up with some shows that I never would have considered until they were covered here. Nikita, Revenge, Teen Wolf, Downton Abbey, and Scandal to name a few, have become my favorites this year.

    Josie, I wanted to mention that your reviews were the reason that I went back and really tried to watch Fringe and Vampire Diaries a couple of years ago. So thank you so much for giving me the push I needed. Now I'm hooked on both.

    I want to wish everyone (writers and readers) at Billiedoux.com a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Assuming that the world doesn't end tomorrow.

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  5. Wasn't the world supposed to end on the 21st? I've been feeling victorious for the past 37 minutes. (Because if the world ends, it will do so on California time.)

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  6. The fourth season of The Wire is the great season of television ever made and should be required watching for everyone ever.

    Great selection, Josie.

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  7. Unfortunately we have another 21 hours until the actual deadline.

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  8. Was the fourth season the one about the kids? I'm a little fuzzy on the break in seasons since I watched them back to back.

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  9. What you said about Fringe.. after last night's episode... it really hit home. What an incredible ride indeed.

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  10. JD - Seriously? I thought it was 9:30 on the 21st? Ugh. I guess that means another whole day feeling ever so slightly on edge/ashamed with myself for feeling ever so slightly on edge.

    Josie - Makes sense. The world revolves around California. :)

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  11. Yes, JD, the fourth season was the one about the kids and the school system.

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  12. Yeah fourth season was amazing, still the fates of those kids was even more poignent.

    Sunbunny, no reason to be ashamed. I bet at some point one of these stupid prophecies might actually turn out to be true. It'll be blind luck, like the infinate monkeys with an infinate number of typewriters writing Shakespeare thing.

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  13. 8h30 am on a VERY cold morning on the 22nd in Montreal. Yup, checked through my windows : the World is still there.

    (It was a kind of the end of the World yesterday at the office. Kafka won points yesterday (personal story)....)

    On the positive side, I, we'll be able to see Fringe's end in 3 weeks and Community in February. Unless the (.....) at NBC are thinking about another postponement ?

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  14. POI : as you may know, I'm still behind everybody on this one. However, so far, what I've seen in season one makes me eager to watch more. And yes, you can't get wrong with M. Emerson. Big Fan of his since Lost.

    GofT : haven't read the books. Enjoying it.

    Fringe : sharing your feelings on this one. The top three cast members are doing a SPECTACULAR job. I will terribly miss them on the 19th of January.

    Awake : never seen it, but now, adding it to my list of new possibilities.

    Lost : I CAN'T be considered a born again LOL Just call me a late Lostian. Never too late, right ? I consider this one as THE best TV show produced EVER.

    MY personal best of 2012 : discovering this site. Long Life to this and all of you guys. Big fan of yours. Wishing you the very best for 2013.

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  15. Josie, I'm so delighted to hear that you enjoyed your "courtesy of Jess" selections! Nothing makes a TV nerd happier than knowing something she loves has been discovered and loved by someone new. And you sharing that love will hopefully get someone else new to give these wonderful shows a try!

    The first season of The Wire is fantastic, with an emotionally devastating climax, but it is the fourth season that stays with me the most. I still get emotional thinking about those kids, who will always seem "real" to me, no matter how many other things I see the young actors in.

    I'm also happy to hear that Homeland S2 goes down better if you binge-watch it, because I'm planning to go nuts when the Showtime free preview weekend comes 'round next month. Woot!

    Happy Holidays, all! I'm glad we've almost survived another apocalypse window, and have another year of TV obsessing to look forward to!

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  16. Have seen the first season of the Wire now..amazing. I adore Omar Little and wow was that an interesting season.
    Homeland nearly lost me but Damian Lewis pulled me back in..He can make me watch almost anything..and of course Claire Danes and Pantikin as Saul..it's less great than the first season but still worth seeing.
    Anna

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  17. I've been avoiding Homeland because someone told me there was a lot of torture in it. Is there?

    Let me join in with the praise for the fourth season of The Wire. Strong, upsetting, heavy and meaningful.

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  18. There's not that much torture. And I used to think you wouldn't like it, but now I think I'd recommend it.

    I have some bad news, everyone: the real-life Omar Little is dead. His name was Donnie Andrews, and judging from this article, he did a lot of good after doing a lot of bad:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/us/donnie-andrews-basis-for-omar-of-the-wire-dies-at-58.html?ref=television

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  19. Thanks for the year end wrap up but now I will have to watch more TV and do less work :). I think I will try Awake and the Wire.

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  20. Great list Josie! And I love your system of medals as well as the recipients!!! The only I haven't seen is Awake, and I gave up on Walking Dead after the first season... the whole zombie thing didn't quite click with me...

    Sooo glad the world didn't end on Friday! Now I can fully enjoy the final episodes *sob* of Merlin and Fringe these weeks! :o)

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  21. Great list Josie! And I love your system of medals as well as the recipients!!! The only I haven't seen is Awake, and I gave up on Walking Dead after the first season... the whole zombie thing didn't quite click with me...

    Sooo glad the world didn't end on Friday! Now I can fully enjoy the final episodes *sob* of Merlin and Fringe these weeks! :o)

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