Monday, December 10, 2012

Year End 2012: My favourite TV episodes of 2012

Caveat for my year-end lists: the non-existence of my readership should render this moot, but I feel compelled to clarify a few things. First off, while these lists are referred to as "best of," "worst of," and everything in between, they are of course a reflection of solely my opinion. Some people might think that "Work It" is the crown jewel of the comedia dell'arte; those same people might think that "Parks and Recreation" isn't funny at all - I mean, nobody even falls down in it or makes sexual puns. That's fine. We'll agree to disagree. In addition, there are a lot of shows that I don't watch. As much as I've heard nothing but good things about "Parenthood" and "The Good Wife," I don't watch them and therefore as much as they might be deserving of being on such a list, they're not on this one. My "worst of" list is also a representation of shows that were not only bad, but specifically a disappointment. "Honey Boo Boo" was not intended as profound commentary on Southern life and the harsh realities of childhood fame whose execution completed failed. That's why it won't be on my "worst of" list, and a mediocre, inoffensive sitcom with such a stellar cast like "Up All Night" is (although really, the tipping point for that one was its hilariously misguided decision to convert to multi-cam).

Tonight comes the first of a four part "year-end" series, with a list of my favourite TV episodes of the year. I started compiling this list around mid-summer and looking back at it, it's a reminder of how much I've enjoyed the year in television. It's a lengthy list, but I wanted to give it a little bit more substance, so I've tried to explain in one sentence (I often failed) why each episode stood out to me.

Even though most shows have wrapped up airing new episodes for the year, 2012 isn't over. If I have any new inclusions for the rest of December, I'll add them as I see fit.

Click on to view the full list...

“Out in the Burbs” – January 11, 2012
Suburgatory – ABC

The best new comedy of last fall doing right by one of its least cartoony cartoon characters - a funny and touching episode for Rex Lee's Mr. Wolfe.

“Dance Like Nobody’s Watching” – January 12, 2012
30 Rock – NBC

In its sixth season premiere, "30 Rock" remains just as funny as it always has been, and that can't be said for many comedies. Also, "America's Kidz Got Singing".

“The Comeback Kid” – January 12, 2012
Parks and Recreation – NBC

Leslie Knope kicks off her city council campaign with a disastrous thud in one of the best comedic sequences on TV in 2012, as the parks department walks delicately across a sheet of ice to Gloria Estefan's "Get On Your Feet". Thanks as always, YouTube.

“The Landlord” – February 7, 2012
New Girl – FOX

To my mind, the best episode of the first season - comedically sound, and not as awful as all the other episodes in which Nick and Jess screamed at each other despite being in love (?)

“The St. Valentine’s Day Maxssacre” – February 8, 2012
Happy Endings – ABC

I wrote it in my review - for "Happy Endings" to climb out of Max's unfunny non-jokes about being anything but a stereotypical gay guy in the first season to creating an actual root-able romantic storyline for him in less than a year...pretty great.

“Ain’t Love Strange” – February 14, 2012
Cougar Town – ABC

We waited a long damn time for it to come back, and the third season premiere of "Cougar Town" delivered with hysterics and romance that all tied together in the end.

Maya Rudolph/Sleigh Bells – February 18, 2012
Saturday Night Live – NBC

If it was no greater evidence that SNL's primary problem is a lack of diversity, it still would have given us Maya Angelou's "I Know Why The Caged Bird Laughs," and for that I am forever grateful.

“A Mind with a Heart of its Own” – February 21, 2012
Cougar Town – ABC

Co-MOHs, a zip-line, and Grayson shooting a horse - sounds like the "Cougar Town" I know and love.

“Karma” – February 27, 2012
How I Met Your Mother – CBS

Perhaps the only episode of "HIMYM" I liked in 2012, all thanks to a great performance from Neil Patrick Harris.

“Pilot” – March 1, 2012
Awake – NBC

To my mind, 2012's best one-and-done show - a visually provocative, challenging pilot that managed to translate as well as it could into subsequent episodes.

“Standards and Practices” – March 8, 2012
30 Rock – NBC

For one week, a glorious storytelling triumph in putting Kenneth in a position of authority. Too bad it was only this one week...but what a week it was.

“Party of Six” – March 14, 2012
Happy Endings – ABC

An excellent showcase for the entire cast, particularly Casey Wilson, in which six funny people are funny.

“Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” – March 15, 2012
Community – NBC

"Community" returned from a three month hiatus with one of its most normal episodes in a while - a nice reminder that while the show has exhibited positive changes, it wasn't worse off in the days before meta-humor and references became more prevalent.

“Guilty” – March 15, 2012
Awake – NBC

At its core, "Awake" was a police procedural, but its third episode demonstrated how powerful the show is when it lets Britten's personal life drive the drama - and very much bucks the trend of irritating teenage characters.

“Mystery Date” – April 8, 2012
Mad Men – AMC

With "Mystery Date," the AMC period piece begins a run of what are, to my mind, the four best dramatic hours of the year - poor, poor Sally Draper.

“Get Your Business Done” – April 11, 2012
The Middle – ABC

There are episodes of "The Middle" in which I find Frankie to be a little too grating, but with an episode like this, her weekly endeavour is the result of her good intentions. As a result, she's much more forgivable when her misguided attempts to get the family to pursue their ultimate goals backfire.

“Signal 30” – April 15, 2012
Mad Men – AMC

A devastating, sad, pathetic forty-seven minute look into the life of SCDP's most obnoxious head of accounts - as Damon Lindelof said on Twitter, Pete Campbell at his worst is "Mad Men" at its best.

“Murphy Brown Lied To Us” – April 19, 2012
30 Rock – NBC

Liz finds her spirit animal in a little girl (of course she does), causing her to reconsider her decision to not have children, in perhaps the funniest episode of the sixth season.

“Far Away Places” – April 22, 2012
Mad Men – AMC

I still give the edge to "The Suitcase," but this might be the second best episode "Mad Men" has ever done - a trilogy of error featuring fantastic performances, Roger on LSD, and Megan eating her sherbet.

“Live from Studio 6H” – April 26, 2012
30 Rock – NBC

The second live episode for Fey and co. managed to top their first outing from a year earlier by constructing an episode that was better suited to live TV and the SNL stage - now is your father or a policeman nearby?

“The Debate” – April 26, 2012
Parks and Recreation – NBC

Written and directed by Amy Poehler, she gave herself one hell of a triple threat Emmy episode - too bad the Emmys are stupid; this might be the best episode of a comedy series to air in 2012. And she's not going anywhere.

“At the Codfish Ball” – April 29, 2012
Mad Men – AMC

"How's the city?"

“The Guidance Counselor” – May 2, 2012
The Middle – ABC

Whoopi Goldberg found time to make a non-"Glee" guest appearance as the new Orson High guidance counselor/older black version of Sue Heck, in an outstanding showcase for the ridiculously underrated Eden Sher.

“Curriculum Unavailable” – May 10, 2012
Community – NBC

John Hodgman tries psychoanalyzing the study group in an episode that made me think, "Just when you think this show can't get any more Dan Harmon-y".

“Win, Lose, or Draw” – May 10, 2012
Parks and Recreation – NBC

Leslie, in the voting booth, fulfilling one of her lifelong dreams real quick, tears rolling down her face - and Bobby Newport can't figure out the pen. And yet for any other comedy, I guarantee I view that as a cheap and pointless joke ruining an emotional moment. This show.

“Chung” – May 13, 2012
Veep – HBO

The ignorance and offensiveness of Selina Meyer and her staff is on full display in the funniest way possible.

“The Motherload” – May 16, 2012
Suburgatory - ABC

Tessa copes with Mother's Day in Chatswin - a season finale that puts a bow of feels on a pretty great first season.

“Introduction to Finality” – May 17, 2012
Community – NBC

While I can't wait for season four, nobody would have complained if this had been the episode "Community" went out on, right?

“The Return” – May 20, 2012
Girls – HBO

I'm not sure if anyone else likes this episode, but this is probably one of my two favourites of the season. "The Return" proved that while the ensemble of "Girls" is strong, it's capable of pulling its central character completely out of the familiar setting and letting her run with a completely isolated story. Hilarious, mortifying, eyebrow-raising - perhaps the three best descriptors I can think of for the life of Hannah Horvath.

"Blackwater" - May 27, 2012
Game of Thrones - HBO

For the second year in a row, the best hour of the season for #GoT is its ninth - an hour long look at a stunning battle at King's Landing, ignoring any and all other tedious plot lines.

“Baseball” – May 27, 2012
Veep – HBO

"Veep" is at the top of its game when, in near real time, the team has to work together to get Selina out of a public mess. "Baseball," chronicling the team's attempts to keep the VP's pregnancy test under wraps, was the funniest episode of the first season.

“Commissions and Fees” – June 3, 2012
Mad Men – AMC

Farewell to Lane Pryce in a classic "Mad Men" "I can't believe they just did that" episode. God damn.

“Weirdos Need Girlfriends Too” – June 3, 2012
Girls – HBO

If for no other reason than the excellently played fight between Hannah and Marnie at the end of the episode.

“The Phantom” – June 10, 2012
Mad Men – AMC

A bit more broad than the show is accustomed to, but it brings the dynamic fall of Don Draper full circle - he's alone, alright.

“Tears” – June 10, 2012
Veep – HBO

Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Emmy episode, in which Selina channels real life tragedy into public sympathy. Every now and then, much like Michael Scott, we need to see glimpses that Selina is good at her job. She's despicable, but she's good.

“She Did” – June 17, 2012
Girls – HBO

I'm still obsessed with the closing sequence of this episode. This girl, on the subway, having her purse stolen, defeated, heading to Coney Island to just eat some cake. Hannah Horvath, this is your life.

“Live Free or Die” – July 15, 2012
Breaking Bad – AMC


“Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 2” – July 26, 2012
Louie – FX

Wasn't a huge fan of part one of this episode, but part two is just a full on firing of neurons that could only come from Louis C.K.'s twisted brain.

“Fifty One” – August 5, 2012
Breaking Bad – AMC

"Breaking Bad" is excellent, but felt a little slow getting its feet off the ground this year. And then, Skyler reveals she's just waiting. For the cancer to come back. Gutpunch.jpg

“Dead Freight” – August 12, 2012
Breaking Bad – AMC

Probably the best looking episode of TV in 2012. A classic, "Breaking Bad" heart-pounding caper, ending in a way that only this show (with a little help from Landry Clarke, of course) can.

“The Soundtrack to Me Coming Back to Life in This Game” – August 29, 2012
Big Brother – CBS

The last time I was a regular viewer of "Big Brother," Dan Gheesling easily outsmarted his housemates to win it all. Four years later, the Internet buzzed over returning player Dan's great upset, and I was treated to perhaps the greatest coup in the history of reality TV competition. It's a testament to his charisma and intelligence that he managed to convince his two greatest opponents to fall for his offer of an alliance for the 87th time. Unfortunately, you can't punch seven people in the face and expect them to get up and hug you, leading to Dan's 6-1 loss in the final vote.

“Gliding Over All” – September 2, 2012
Breaking Bad – AMC

“Late Show, Part 2” – September 13, 2012
Louie – FX

General "Louie" absurdity, *plus* David Lynch? Yes, please.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – Comedy Central

Jon Stewart manages a thoroughly perfect, relentless, yet fresh takedown of Fox News in an era where making fun of Fox News is painfully easy. A shining example of why the show won its tenth Emmy for variety series just four days later - not only is it hilarious, it's genuinely important for our culture.

“Ms. Knope Goes to Washington” – September 20, 2012
Parks and Recreation – NBC

A fantastic start to the new season. Jeez, Senator McCain, give a central Indiana city councillor some privacy, will ya?

“Late Show, Part 3” – September 20, 2012
Louie – FX

A cathartic, powerful episode for Louie, in which he realizes he's already won. So fuck you, Moonves.

“There’s No ‘Ryan’ In Team” – September 25, 2012
Go On – NBC

The fall's best new comedy (even if the bar is low) has come a long way from a pilot that I didn't think was all that funny. It's still not all the way there, but in this one brief week they captured lightning in a bottle - I laughed, I felt, I flinched as the clock struct 1:23 am. Not bad at all for just four episodes in.

“Re-Launch” – September 25, 2012
New Girl – FOX

Schmidt pretending to be a Romney son is a brilliant concept - leave it to Max Greenfield to completely knock it out of the park, especially in a season where I've considered Jake Johnson's Nick to be the new MVP of the show.

“New Year’s Eve” – September 27, 2012
Louie – FX

Nothing in 2012 made me laugh harder than Louie and the doll. Wasn't even close. Hysterical, touching, thought-provoking - all the things we've come to love about this show. Is it 2014 yet?

“Schooled” – October 10, 2012
Modern Family – ABC

Lord knows I've turned on "Modern Family," and yet here they are with an episode that makes it kinda tough to argue with Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen's Emmy wins. Sometimes all it took to make it on this list was to be the one episode I liked of a show I otherwise don't like. HIMYM did it with "Karma," and in a surprising twist, another show will do so later in this list.

“Homecoming” – October 17, 2012
Suburgatory – ABC

Through Shay parents and Alicia Silverstone, "Suburgatory" has remained faithful to Tessa and George, each having to cope with the introduction of Tessa's mother into her life. Excellent work, as usual, from Jane Levy and Jeremy Sisto.

“New Car Smell” – October 21, 2012
Homeland – Showtime

Any other show would have stalled until the finale for an episode like this. Instead, "Homeland" decided to blow up its universe four episodes into the season. They've got balls, I'll give 'em that.

“Halloween Surprise” – October 25, 2012
Parks and Recreation – NBC

“Walk With Me” – October 28, 2012
The Walking Dead – AMC

Hey look, an hour in which the regular characters are ignored and we meet new characters that don't make me want to stab my eyes out! Thanks, "The Walking Dead". By the way, when I said another show would make it on this list just by being the one episode I liked of a show I otherwise don't, I wasn't talking about this one. But I guess it applies here too.

“Q and A” – October 28, 2012
Homeland – Showtime

Oh, "Homeland". Your plots might get ridiculous sometimes, but you do so fucking right by your characters. Please stand, remove your hats, and give a round of applause for Claire Danes and Damian Lewis for the best acting I saw on TV all year.

“Not the Only Actor on This Island” – October 31, 2012
Survivor: Philippines – CBS

Haven't watched "Survivor" in a long ass time, but I really needed to know whatever happened to the legitimately insane Michael Skupin from season 2. In its 25th season, it's no longer the game I watched and loved for so many years, but there's still something hilariously brilliant watching Blair from "The Facts of Life" in an alliance with one of "Survivor"'s classic characters in Jonathan Penner. Returning players alienated me from the show. Oddly enough, they brought me back this year (even if I'm now many weeks behind).

“Louis C.K./fun.” – November 3, 2012
Saturday Night Live – NBC

After the disastrous Bruno Mars episode that only I hated, SNL returned in rare form with a show hosted by a funny comedian, but one who could have really floundered in this setting. And I mean...the "Lincoln" digital short.

“Anne Hathaway/Rihanna” – November 10, 2012
Saturday Night Live – NBC

For the second week in a row, SNL draws big laughs by relying on one of its best hosts of the moment. Still willing to pay $5 to anyone able to get "Mokiki Does the Sloppy Swish" out of my head.

“The Target” – November 29, 2012
The Office – NBC

Ah, "The Target". I kind of liked you. By the standards of the current era, you were a good episode. How refreshing to see that Dwight, the voice of reason for once, still has his limits and is still kind of a human being. It was the only episode of "The Office" in 2012 I can really say I liked. Stay on that boat for as long as you like, Andy. In return, I will not go see "The Hangover 3". Deal? Deal.

“Ron and Diane” – December 6, 2012
Parks and Recreation – NBC

Any episode in which Ron Swanson giggles will automatically make such a list. If I've forgotten any from this year, please notify me immediately.