2012-13: The Television Year in Review

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With the Emmy nominations scheduled for release tomorrow, July 18th, it’s that time of the year to look back on what turned out to be an eventful year in television. Although it was one that didn’t exactly provide many newcomers to threaten the veterans atop critics’ leaderboards, it was nonetheless one with its fair share of surprises and disappointments. That’s not even to mention the welcome return of one of the greatest television comedies of all-time. So here it is, in all its glory, my summation of the year in television; from those shows that continued to hook me each and every week, to those that birthed a whole new brand of boob tube frustration.

Note: I would be remiss not to mention those shows I was not able to view during the year. Those include TremeThe NewsroomThe AmericansThe Good WifeHomelandModern FamilyGirlsVeep, and 30 Rock among many others.

Best Comeback

Dexter 

(Showtime, 2006 to Present)

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When everyone’s favorite serial killer first burst on to the television scene seven years ago, it was immediately something different. Sure, it was yet another show about a male anti-hero, but this one just so happened to place the viewer inside the mind of a murderous psychopath when we are so accustomed to cheering for those who take said psychopaths out. After four seasons however, Dexter began to putter out by succumbing to uninteresting subplots and less than worthy seasonal villain arcs. Thankfully, Season 7 brought us an interesting antagonist in Ray Stevenson’s Isaak Sirko, a murderous member of the Koshka Brotherhood out to get Dexter Morgan. Not only did Stevenson’s performance elevate the material he was given but he also provided Michael C. Hall with an actor of his caliber to play off of, something surely missing from previous seasons. While the season overall does not quite match the best seasons of dramatic television throughout the year, it was a run that reminded us there’s still some gas left in the tank. Here’s hoping Season 8 can finish the series up strong.

Biggest Disappointment

The Walking Dead

(AMC, 2010 to Present)

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In what is perhaps one of the most consistently frustrating shows in the history of television, the third season of AMC’s zombie-focused ratings juggernaut proved that once again it’s a show that can never quite put a completely satisfying season together. In one episode it’s incredibly engaging, the next it’s lackadaisical and abysmally stupid. If there has ever been a show in desperate need of a consistent voice, it’s this one. Unfortunately, AMC doesn’t really seem to care as they continue to jettison showrunner after showrunner with each passing season. That is not to say that the year didn’t have its fair share of ups, most notably in the episode entitled ‘Clear’ which took a simple set-up and provided a huge emotional pay-off for the audience. But that’s just it; season three as a whole had many set-ups with hardly any pay-off. The worst of the season came in the form of its finale, which was built up in anticipation of a final showdown between Rick and The Governor. Instead, the audience was treated to a mess of sloppy guts, and not the good kind. I’d love to say I’m excited for the fourth season, but I’m not. As long as The Walking Dead  continues to drag on, there is sure to be plenty more frustration on the long road ahead.

The Only Reality Show I Watch

Survivor

(CBS, 2000 to Present)

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So, I guess it’s finally time to out myself. Despite my hatred for most reality television shows, there has always been one that I have been committed to throughout the entirety of its 26 season run. The one that started the big boom in the first place, the show I speak of is of course Survivor. The reality-competition series has always held a special place in my heart, mostly due to its insistence on placing individuals in a confined world in which they starve, and subsequently break down to their most basic human forms. It’s a game that is not just about survival, but about strategy, something that certain contestants still fail to understand. It’s the ultimate test of one’s humanity, and although the show has had its fair share of sub-par seasons, the latest rendition of Fans versus Favorites ranks among my favorites. Not only did it provide a new array of characters, but it also brought back some of the strangest contestants from years gone by. Most notable of these was Cochran, my favorite player in the game’s history. The season went through its typical ups and downs, but unquestionably provided some of the best episodes of the series to date. Thankfully, in the end, it surprised many fans by providing us with something that has seemingly becoming a rarity, an actual deserving winner.

Best Goodbye

The Office

(NBC, 2005-2013)

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Although a show that suffered from staying on the air well past its prime, the American version of The Office came to a close in 2013 in a very emotional and satisfying series finale. Not only did it mark the return of Steve Carell as Michael Scott, who truly put the show on the map, but it also brought the documentary format of the show to a close in a strange, yet fitting manner. It’s a finale that helped me recall a time during its first few seasons when there was no show on television I loved more. Often a show overstaying its welcome causes it to lose its luster in your mind, and such was the case with The Office, but I would be remiss if I didn’t state that the finale brought all those feelings flowing back. And hey, there wouldn’t be Parks & Recreation (perhaps the best sitcom on television) without it, so for that I am eternally grateful. Thanks for everything, Dunder-Mifflin.

Best ‘Under the Radar’ Performances

Although it would be easy for me to list twenty performances from the year in television that compelled me like no other, it would be redundant. Most of the performances that continue to receive accolades (Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, Amy Poehler) I couldn’t think more highly of, but I decided instead to take this opportunity to take a look at some under the radar performances. They are performances that are very much critically-acclaimed, yet have somehow never quite gained the Emmy glory they so richly deserve. Here’s hoping for a change in the trend at this year’s ceremony.

Walton Goggins – Justified

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Seemingly the best kept secret on television despite being one of its finest actors, Walton Goggins is seriously deserving of some Emmy recognition. Not only is his character Boyd Crowder a compelling antagonist for Justified‘s protagonist, Raylan Givens (an increasingly fantastic Timothy Olyphant), but he’s an incredibly complex and interesting creation. He morphs from someone you root for to someone you despise at the flip of a hat, and it’s Goggins’ who makes him compelling no matter the side he’s on. If I had my way, he’d win the Emmy every year. He’s that damn good.

Louis CK – Louie

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Now yes, he has certainly gotten his fair share of Emmy recognition up to this point and he may very well be nominated as Lead Actor in a Comedy again this year, but I’m still waiting on them to actually give him the damn statue. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, there’s nothing quite like Louie on television. Although the Louis CK behind the camera is certainly a big part of that, I feel it’s time for Louis CK the actor to finally get his due. His performance throughout Season 3 continued yet again to tow the line between hilarious and heartbreaking, but it was in the finale ‘New Year’s Eve’ when everything finally amassed into something starkly different. There may not be a more consistently ballsy performance on television.

Corey Stoll – House of Cards

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Although Kevin Spacey’s central performance in House of Cards certainly chewed the scenery as many had expected, there turned out to be another performance within the show’s debut season that proved perhaps to be even more compelling. Corey Stoll’s drug-addicted US Rep Peter Russo struck a chord with many Netflix viewers from the get-go and proved to be a worthy opponent to Spacey’s senior US rep, Francis Underwood. Originally expected to be a smaller role entirely, showrunner Beau Willimon was so impressed with Stoll that he took a storyline originally intended for a completely different character and gave it to him. Boy, are we glad he did.

Will Arnett – Arrested Development

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Arrested Development made its welcome and long-delayed return with a season so ambitious and clever that it left many questioning if this was still the show they knew and loved from its previous seasons on FOX. One aspect of it however, that left many satisfied were the performances from the extremely talented cast. Although one could argue that this was the season where Michael Cera as George Michael truly blossomed, I’d argue that Will Arnett just barely beats him out for season MVP. The season not only gave Gob Bluth two of the stranger episodes to work with, but it gave Arnett the opportunity to take the character in unexpected emotional directions. Sure he’s still hilarious, but there was more nuance than ever to Arnett’s performance in that he gave us something new and compelling to connect to.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – Game of Thrones

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The character of Jamie Lannister began his run on Game of Thrones as a despised and ruthless villain, a man who didn’t think twice about severely injuring a child who saw something he was not meant to see. His more recent arc in season three, however, just goes to show that some of the best character development in the business comes in dramatic serialized television. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s performance as Jamie this year endeared him to fans in an entirely unexpected way. The power of the monologue has never been more evident than in the best acted scene in all of season three, when Jamie recounts to Brienne the story of how he truly became the ‘King-Slayer.’ The scene is devastating and it’s all thanks to Coster-Waldau’s performance, one of the finest on television this year.

Best Shows

Justified

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A show as much in the upper-echelon of dramatic television as Breaking Bad and Mad Men, FX’s modern-day western is continually overlooked every-passing Emmy season despite being one of the most critically-acclaimed shows currently on the air. In my humble opinion, it’s most recent season may just make it the best show on television, period.

Breaking Bad

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Rarely is there a long-running dramatic series that continues to get better with each passing season, yet Breaking Bad has seemed to crack the code on that front. With it’s final season beginning in just a few weeks time, it’s safe to say that it will be severely missed on the television landscape come next year. Here’s hoping it can pull off at least one Best Drama Series Emmy win before we say goodbye to it for good.

Mad Men

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A show that continues to be in contention for perhaps my favorite television show ever is Matthew Weiner’s ad agency study in existentialism. Its latest sixth season may not quite match the heights of its previous season, but it certainly provided some episodes that took the show into previously uncharted territory. From the drug-induced fever dream episode, ‘The Crash,’ to ‘The Flood,’ the show explored the racial tensions of the decade in a completely unique manner. Of course, Jon Hamm was as brilliant as ever as Don Draper. He’s gonna win that Emmy one of these days…well…I hope.

Game of Thrones

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No television show was as entrenched in pop culture as was the latest season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Not only was season three its best to date, but it provided memorable character arcs, in addition to a singular moment that both devastated and enthralled its fans in an extremely poignant way. It’s one of those shows that causes you so much pain and heartbreak that you really have no choice but to be compelled. If that’s not storytelling, I don’t know what is.

Arrested Development

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The return of what is, in my honest opinion, the greatest television sitcom of all-time was both an extremely exciting and nerve-racking prospect. Thankfully for this hardcore fan, it fulfilled me in a completely unexpected way. Without question, one of the most ambitious seasons of television ever, AD Season 4 is something that will be analyzed and picked apart for years to come. Mitch Hurwitz, you done good.

Louie

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What continues to be one of the strangest television shows in years, Louie‘s latest season took things to the next level by providing us with episodes in which reality and fantasy are intertwined in such a way that it almost doesn’t matter which is which. The only thing that really matters is Louis CK’s reaction to said situation, whether it just so happens to be in his mind or not. Some find it hard to view Louie as a comedy, but I would still make the argument that there may be nothing funnier on television. The wait for the long-delayed Season 4 is definitely going to be excruciating.

Parks & Recreation

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The best show on network television remains NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Not only has it remained funnier for a longer time than its counterpart The Office did, but it has proven time and time again that its cast are so talented they are able to turn the simplest situation into a tour-de-force in hilarity. Normally, network sitcoms tend to die out around this time in their runs, but fortunately for us Parks has shown no recent signs of faltering. Give Amy Poehler that Emmy!

Coming Soon: My Most Anticipated Films of Awards Season

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