We’re nearly there! Tomorrow reveals the best (and worst) television shows of 2012, but first we need to see who has ended up in the runner up slots.
#4: Alcatraz S1
#3: Smash S1
#2: Glee S4
Glee has never been a show without faults, but ultimately its rendition of Top 40 songs, exploration of somewhat relatable high school themes and (at times, dark) comedic quirks made it a pretty good show it in its earlier days. But after a couple of years on the air, the show lost its freshness as the glee club’s repeated quest to win regionals (and ultimately nationals) became increasingly tedious. I was only able to get through four episodes of S4 before realizing what a chore the show had become to watch.
With many of the core (read: interesting) students, namely, Rachel (Lea Michele), Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Finn (Cory Monteith) having graduated from McKinley High last season, the show is struggling to make those left at McKinley relevant while still following the graduates in their new lives. Graduation offered definite potential to inject new life back into Glee, but instead the show has opted to continue with the same tired formula by replacing those characters who’ve departed with new, significantly less interesting students. I particularly despise the new blonde cheerleader that’s an exact replica of the annoyingly bitchy Quinn (Diana Agron) from season one.
If it were simply the events occurring in Lima, that would at least make the show feel cohesive. Unfortunately the same tired high school antics are interspersed with scenes of Rachel and Kurt in New York. The NYC stuff is interesting at times (although it is painfully predictable) but cutting back to the goings on at McKinley stalls any kind of momentum that builds. The result is a show that’s split into two equally underdeveloped and uninteresting parts. Just watch a few episodes and ask yourself how redundant have Sue (Jane Lynch), Schuester (Matthew Morrison) and Emma (Jayma Mays) become.
Additionally, the musical numbers – the one thing that make Glee unique – feel tired, with the exception of Michele’s pieces (due to her incredible vocal ability). But even then, the numbers just feel like stand-alone performance pieces showcasing Michele rather than being a part of the show’s narrative. On the whole, the songs aren’t nearly as impressive or catchy as they were in the past, instead bordering on cringe-worthy. If you had any doubt as to why Glee ends up on the worst list, I give you two of the worst numbers I’ve ever seen as my rebuttal: Let’s Have a Kiki and Gagnam Style. Just terrible. This show needs to get the gleek off the air.
# of episodes watched: 4
Returns: January 10 at 9pm EST on FOX
#5: New Girl S2
#4: Awkward. S2
#2: Revolution S1
Revolution is my kind of show – or at least it should be. A genre show about an apocalyptic world. Check. A show co-created by Eric Kripke and J.J. Abrams, creators of awesome shows such as Supernatural, Alias & Lost. Check. What could go wrong?
Apparently nearly everything. The show is populated by one dimensional caricatures, including a poor man’s Han Solo knock-off, a whiny teenager and a Google guy. Each week these caricatures move through a stand-alone procedural task that ranges from mundane at worst to minorly interesting at best. And throughout it all our guide in this world – the character we’re meant to align ourselves with – is one of the worst characters that network TV has produced in recent years: Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos).
Charlie is one of those rare characters – the perfect combination of naive idiocy and annoying self-righteousness that writers think audiences like, but who actually drain the life out of shows like nothing else. She’s a stain, a mark on a show that already has so many strikes against it. And just when you think that Spiridakos has improved, she either suffers a set-back or the writers throw her under the bus.
If the problem started and stopped with her, Revolution would merely be frustrating. But the failure of capitalize on its potential (such a wasted premise!), as well as the frustratingly flat characters running around in boring case-of-the-week “adventures” all add up to the second worst show of 2012 – and that’s after only 10 episodes! Can’t wait to see what the show delivers when it returns in March.
# of episodes watched: 10
Returns: March 2013 on NBC
Caveat: Elizabeth Mitchell and Giancarlo Esposito are doing decent work, though the most enjoyable part of the show is watching Charlie get punched in the face or branded
#3: Breaking Bad S5
Awake is one of those shows that likely flew under the radar for most viewers: it broadcast its 13-episode season at the beginning of last year and was cancelled shortly thereafter. And what a shame because Awake truly is complex narrative-storytelling at its best.
After a tragic car accident with his wife and son, Detective Michael Britten (played brilliantly by Jason Isaacs) lives in two worlds – ‘red’ and ‘green’; one in which his wife survived and the other, his son. Each episode features him jumping between worlds, prompting the audience to question which world is reality and which is fiction. Or better yet, is Britten the one who didn’t survive and the whole thing is just a dream?
These big questions are in the back of our minds while Britten goes back to his life as a police detective, solving cases-of-the-week in both respective worlds. Sometimes he solves them, sometimes he doesn’t. What distinguishes these case from other procedurals, however, is that Britten often gets clues from one world that helps solve the case in the other. And herein lies the brilliance of the series: it takes the form of your typical procedural but at its very core, it’s a complex serial narrative.
But not to worry – the show masterfully avoids the polarizing confusion that shows like Lost or Flash Forward succumbed to. The audience gets the satisfaction of a case-closed each week, but Britten’s weekly therapy sessions (with two doctors, naturally) continually ground us in the central mystery, giving us the relevant pieces without being redundant or gimmicky. I can’t help but applaud the acting talents of Cherry Jones and BD Wong as the green and red shrinks that help maintain coherency. Additionally, the wonderful touches of colour in each of the worlds (i.e. the coloured filters and the subtle uses of red or green in set pieces and costuming) are magnificent, further orienting the viewers as to which world we’re in and who is who.
When we do get an episode that explicitly focuses on the problematic nature of Britten’s oscillation between the two worlds, in a way, we’re prepared for it. The series’ more straightforward episodes give us manageable bits of mythology, priming us for what’s to come. Although the serial elements aren’t necessarily at the forefront in most of the episodes, the show never feels like it’s sitting on its heels, or aimlessly avoiding the big questions. We identify with Britten, who is satisfied that he’s able to be with both his wife and son, not particularly caring if one (or both) of them is merely a projection.
The culmination of the series is the absolutely brilliant series finale, a masterful work of art unto itself. It was absolutely engrossing, and proves to be the perfect sendoff to the series (although surprisingly, at the time it was filmed, the show had not yet been cancelled so it wasn’t strictly intended as a series finale). It’s a shame that Awake never got past its first season, because after that finale, I would have loved to see what was next, but likely airing on NBC was its biggest downfall. Awake exhibited the kind of narrative risk-taking that you would traditionally see on premium cable, and unfortunately, it just couldn’t meet the bottom line. As one of the best network dramas I’ve seen in a long time, it rightfully earns a spot on my best list.
Watch: I’m still anxiously awaiting a DVD/Blu-ray release for Awake, but for now, the entire series is available on iTunes.
#3: The Good Wife S4
Game Of Thrones is easily one of the most ambitious shows on television. Not only is it tackling the fantasy genre with gusto, it has a sprawling cast of dozens. Whereas the first season of the series was often a tedious slog of exposition and characters, S2 has managed to find a way to introduce even more characters but – unlike the first season – S2 has maintained a pace, rhythm and tone that makes the show incredibly enjoyable.
The show isn’t perfect – hardcore fans of George R. Martin’s sprawling series of books may have frustrations with some of the adaptive choices – but the second season has been an improvement on all levels. The direction is more assured and characters are fleshed out, with more air time for Peter Dinklage (as the imp, Tyrion Lancaster), as well as meaty subplots for poor Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and hissable villain, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). With so many characters and locations to juggle, the show has managed to not only expand its world, but also invigorate the disparate storylines.
My favourite memories of the second season are twofold: the recurring scenes between Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and gruff Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) and 2×09’s ‘Blackwater’. Williams is even more of a revelation than she was in S1, while Dance has been sublime in his expanded role as the paternal Lannister figure.
The series’ landmark episode, ‘Blackwater’, is also its most heralded. The show somehow managed movie-caliber battle sequences on HBO’s tiny budget, but for me the episode is most memorable not because of the action, but rather because of a single performance that came out of it: Lena Headey’s Queen Cersei.
Headey delivers career best work as drunken matriarch Cersei Lannister. In an episode focusing on the men who fight valiantly (and fruitlessly) for the coveted Iron Throne, it’s the women locked up like china who really made the mark. The most vocal, abrasive and vulnerable of them all proved to be Cersei, who gets progressively more drunk and silver-tongued as the danger escalates outside. While other reviewers may have focused on the amazing battle sequences, for me, the real drama – the real action – is unfolding in Headey’s performance. More please!
Returns: March 2013 on HBO
Watch from: S1 on (it does take 5-6 episodes to get into)
We’re so close – can you taste #1 yet? Tune in tomorrow at 12pm EST to find out which shows take the top (and absolute bottom) of the pile for 2012.