Backwards and Forwards

A Month-by-Month Look at the Best of 2012, and Expectations for the Spring

2012: From Start to Finish

Just as I was preparing to create a top ten list of my favorite shows from 2012, I thought, why not make thing a little easier on myself by picking a favorite show per month?  That way, I’d probably be considering the scope of the year a little more fairly anyway, and I get to pick 12 shows instead of 10.  Any show that aired at least one episode (that I watched, of course) in a given month was eligible to win that month, and each show could only win one month.  Let’s begin!

January: Parks and Recreation

Possibly the best comedy of 2011 (which included all of its fantastic third season and the start of a very good fourth season), Parks and Recreation continued to roll as 2012 began, with Leslie’s best buds jumping in to help her with her campaign for city council.  January’s episodes showed how woefully, hilariously unfit for campaign work the Pawnee Parks and Recreation staff was.  I now chuckle every time I hear the song Get On Your Feet.

February: Happy Endings

For me, Happy Endings could have won almost every month in which it aired, and was overall my favorite show of 2012.  The show really hit its second season stride in February with a run of episode guest starring James Wolk as Max’s too-well-liked boyfriend Grant.  Of course, there was also this.

March: Awake

The dearly departed Awake debuted in March with one of the most interesting dramatic premises for a show I’ve seen in recent years: A man unable to deal with the loss of either his son or his wife after a car accident constructs an elaborate dream in which his dead loved one is alive, but he never knows which world is the reality and which is the dream.  In addition to being enjoyable just from a procedural point of view, the ways in which Detective Briton’s two realities interacted was fascinating and thought provoking.  It’s a shame the show never caught on with audiences, and that those of us who did watch never learned the full story on what was real and what wasn’t.

April: Community

The always-clever, often-meta pop culture reference machine that is Community produced some of its best episodes yet in its fourth season.  October 2011’s Remedial Chaos Theory got all the buzz, but April’s Basic Lupine Urology, in which the study group went on a Law & Order-spoofing quest to find out who sabotaged their biology project, was also excellent.  Not content just with producing smartly referential episodes, Community also spent much of April digging deeper into the characters’ relationships to one another (Abed and Troy’s friendship, Troy’s feelings for Britta) and their quirky but not trivial mental and emotional difficulties.

May: Game of Thrones

Sweeps months are naturally more competitive than others, and Game of Thrones managed to best the competition with its season-best episode Blackwater.  This fantasy drama always boasts incredible production values and a pitch perfect ensemble, but the battle that was waged in this penultimate episode of the second season, one that had been brewing since the season before, was a spectacle among spectacles.  Both the drama and the stakes are always high on Game of Thrones, and the second season did not disappoint after the high expectations set by the first.

June: Veep

Everyone was buzzing about Girls this past spring, but I was much more taken with the other new HBO comedy this spring, Veep.  With Julia Louis-Dreyfus in possibly her best role yet, that of frustrated vice president Selina Meyer, the show would have been appointment television even if it didn’t feature sharp, biting humor and a game and talented supporting cast.  Now that JLD has an Emmy for this role, maybe the underrated gem will catch on with the Twitterverse.

July: Damages

Damages premiered its fifth and final season in July, and came back with quite a bang, setting up a season-long battle between Ellen (the increasingly fantastic Rose Byrne) and Patty (Glenn Close, who already has two Emmys for this role) that felt like it had been brewing since the very first episode.  The anticipation and intrigue started in the season premiere, and didn’t let up until the end of the last episode.  This unique show and these incredible characters will be very much missed.

August: Pretty Little Liars

Like Happy Endings, Pretty Little Liars was competitive in any month that it aired an episode, most especially in May, when (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Mona was revealed at the mysterious A who had been torturing our eponymous heroines.  Instead, the show wins the month of August for the even more sense-shattering revelation that (SPOILER ALERT!!!) Toby was working with Mona.  The show’s popularity has spread this past year beyond the females under 25 demographic, and anyone who would dismiss the show as high school fluff has clearly never watched it.  The show perfectly balances the struggles of friendship, the frustrations of high school, complex family troubles, and of course love and romance, all on the backdrop of an ever-evolving plot of murders, blackmail and revenge.  And when the show goes for chills, it gets them.  I can’t remember the last time a horror movie made me as tense and jumpy as Pretty Little Liars routinely does.

September: So You Think You Can Dance

SYTYCD wrapped its ninth season in September, and despite difficult formatting changes and some scheduling oddities with Fox, the show produced some of its most talented contestants ever doing some of the most remarkable pieces in the show’s history.  The final performance show and season finale are a feast of magnificent and evocative dance numbers that would thrill any person who enjoys the art of movement.  Plus, can one ever get enough of Mary Murphy putting people on her infamous hot tamale train?

October: 30 Rock

I wanted to award 30 Rock, which aired all of its sixth season and most of its seventh in 2012, the month of November for accomplishing the perfect wedding episode, but it was impossible to deny the number of great episodes the show produced when it returned from summer hiatus in October.  What’s better than a Liz Lemon wedding?  Maybe Liz Lemon getting freaky with her Elf Prince in the stationery aisle of what I have assume is a Duane Reed.  30 Rock has quite consistently been among the best shows on television for the last seven seasons, and is the show I’ll miss most after it airs its final episode at the end of January.  October’s episodes highlight the things this show continues to do so incredibly well: hilarious guest stars, Liz and Jack standing firmly at odds over their beliefs, making relentless fun of its own network, and more jokes per minute than you can find anywhere else.

November: The Mindy Project

Comedies have had a rough go of things this fall, and especially ones on Fox.  The reemergence of the sitcom was a wonderful thing for comedy in general, but tough cookies for any new comedy competing against other new comedies for attention.  November’s champ, The Mindy Project, is holding its own in terms of content, though the ratings could use a boost.  November’s episodes really dug into capitalizing on the show’s strongest aspects: the love/hate chemistry between Mindy Kaling’s Mindy and Chris Messina’s Danny and Mindy’s potential to jump headlong into awkward situations.  Mindy and Danny’s competition to see who could endure the discomfort of Danny being Mindy’s gynecologist the longest was hilarious to watch, and Mindy going into a high school and calling a teenage boy “bangable” within earshot of a teacher was almost as good.  Mindy is still tweaking itself and trying to find its groove, but the A it gets for the month of November is not for effort but result.

December: Hart of Dixie

We cap 2012 and our list with the delightful Hart of Dixie, which only became more and more delightful as the year progressed.  The writing is clever and quippy, the situations are often dramatic and hilarious, and lead Rachel Bilson imbues Dr. Zoe Hart with a lovable klutziness that has never failed to turn good deed into small-town disaster.  Even with all this, the show’s hidden strength, and the thing that makes it so very delightful, is the growing backdrop of charming characters and places in the town of Bluebell.  I smile every time Dash DeWitt shows up in a fancy suit and hat or Tom Long freaks out about a New York food he’s never heard of.  The best thing about the bunch is that these aren’t just walking punchlines, but real characters, people I feel I know, who grow and change, surprise and disappoint.  I hope the people of Bluebell and Hart of Dixie are in my life for many years to come.

 . . . In With the New!

With 2012 in the can and the TV world already back to cranking out its 2013 offerings, there’s hardly time between remembering the shows we loved and anticipating their returns to consider all of the new shows hitting the airwaves for the spring half of the season.  What shows can look forward to joining the others in my DVR waiting room?  Here are six that have caught my interest, some of which I may even watch live:

Deception – 10 PM, Monday, January 7, NBC

Just because Deception seems to be something of a copycat of the show Revenge doesn’t mean that I don’t want to check it out.  From the promos, the only thing that’s really clear is the basic premise: a young woman goes undercover to discover the truth about her childhood best friend’s death.  Anyone having a hard time imagining what entertaining shenanigans can come from a situation like this should watch a few episodes of Revenge to find out.  More seriously, though, Deception looks steeped in soapy situations and the finer things in life, all of which should make for a fun watch.

The Carrie Diaries – 8 PM, Monday, January 14, The CW

I’m a little dubious of this Sex and the City-prequel — any fan who’s seen either of the Sex and the City movies would have to feel hesitant about revisiting that franchise — but I’m ultimately much too curious to pass it up.  The prospects of grabbing the original SATC audience seem not great, especially considering that as that audience gets older, Carrie has become a teenager.  It will be interesting to see what audience The Carrie Diaries does capture, and how that affects the series.

The Following – 9 PM, Monday, January 21, Fox

Kevin Bacon is a pretty good draw for a network television drama, and this one looks genuinely interesting from its promos.  Bacon’s FBI agent is pitted against a brilliant professor and serial killer (brilliant serial killers are the best kind, after all) played by James Purefoy, and his group of followers.  This has the potential to be quite chilling, and with Kevin Williamson, the man who gave us Scream and Dawson’s Creek, as the creator, I couldn’t possibly resist.

The Americans – 10 PM, Wednesday, January 30, FX

Despite strong interest in some of the other candidates, The Americans is at the very top of my anticipation index for the spring.  The lovely Keri Russell, who has yet to find a worthwhile post-Felicity television vehicle, stars alongside Brothers and Sisters’ Matthew Rhys as Soviet spies living in 1980s America.  Like many Americans, I find espionage instantly fascinating, and the glimpses of backstory I’ve seen, with the two main characters thrown into this fake life and fake marriage without even having known one another beforehand, just draw me in all the more.

Do No Harm – 10 PM, Thursday, January 31, NBC

I’m not sure what it is exactly that makes me want to see Do No Harm, the Jekyll and Hyde revamp about a doctor with a dark side.  It’s a little difficult to imagine the premise even being pulled off in a way that works and makes sense.  I can much more easily see the show becoming the worst parts of Ringer, without even Sarah Michelle Gellar to mitigate them.  Still, I am . . . curious.  And could it be that after Awake last spring and a sweeps win in the fall, I’ve developed a degree of good faith with NBC?  We’ll see how long that lasts.

Monday Mornings – 10 PM, Monday, February 4, TNT

Hospital shows are not my usual cup of tea, but there’s an undeniable appeal to Monday Mornings, David E. Kelley’s foray into medical drama.  The dynamite cast certainly doesn’t hurt, but what first caught my attention was buzz comparing Monday Mornings to early seasons of The Practice, a show I absolutely loved.  I find Kelley’s record to be iffy these days — I enjoyed Ally McBeal for a while but couldn’t stand to watch Boston Legal — so I’m excited to see him return to a place of exciting and compelling drama that I can actually enjoy.

Happy 2013 and happy viewing!

Winding Down and Catching Up

My two main preoccupations for the post-Thanksgiving week of television were the latest episode of Revolution, and the show’s evolution (or not?) over the season, and getting caught up on the Fox sitcoms.

The Evolution of Revolution

This week Revolution aired its final episode before going off to hibernate for the winter. (The show will be off air until late March.) As other shows start their winter breaks in the coming weeks, the so-called fall/winter/mid-season finales of these shows mark a good time to reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re going. I’m not sure I have a harder time thinking about any show than I do about Revolution.

When I watched the pilot for Revolution, I thought it was terrible. I couldn’t imagine it would survive more than a few weeks, and I didn’t even think I’d watch a second episode. The plotting was all over the place, with six or eight or maybe even 12 episodes’ worth of action crammed into a single hour, after we’d already been jolted 15 year ahead of what would have been the most interesting aspect of the show. Rather than getting the story of people like ourselves coming with the sudden loss of man-made power sources, we were ultimately handed a rescue mission in a world that had already coped so well with what they’d lost that it hardly seemed to matter that they’d lost it. It became just another story about people who we weren’t given the chance to know before we were asked to care about them. Much of the acting was laughable, and the flashbacks only served to illuminate that apparently, in a world without power, all the visible signs of aging in adults cease to progress.

How then have I come to be so invested in the continuing dramas of Miles, Rachel, Nora, Aaron and, yes, even Charlie, as they go about their various missions? There are moments I watch of the show in the most recent episodes and think how much its grown, that character development has become important and the pacing makes sense and the flashback information we’re getting is interesting rather than obligatory or filler. But I can’t help but wonder if many of these improvements were even intentional, whether getting to know the characters is for its own sake, or simply as a means to stretch the plot because so much of it was expended so quickly in the early episodes? In the episode where we learned Maggie’s backstory, it is casually mentioned that she walked, alone, in a world where people were looting their neighbors’ homes and holding children hostage for a wagon of food, from Seattle to Buffalo. A couple of weeks ago, Neville’s wife Julia went to great lengths to make sure that their son wasn’t send to California from Philadelphia, because of how dangerous a trek it would be, even in a military troop. I see these kinds of discrepancies, and it’s hard to know whether the writers have gained a better sense of this world they’ve created or it’s all just to serve the greater plot.

These questions will start to be answered, I’m sure, as the second half of the season presents itself in the spring. The fall finale left us at an interesting place, and how the show handles things going forward will be very telling. For me, though, nothing is more important than the backstory of how the power was lost. We’ve gotten the beginnings of it, and I was pleasantly surprised that the story so far seems neither lame nor idiotic. But it is much easier to throw out a glimpse of something and make it seem interesting than to craft something that is actually interesting and makes sense. So the jury is still out on whether Revolution is transforming itself into a respectable drama actually worthy of being one of the season’s biggest hits. We’ll have to wait another three months to see if Revolution becomes something more than the show that’s good to make fun of around the water cooler.

Funny Like A Fox

Tuesday has become a wonderfully conflicted night of television for those of us who enjoy “smart” sitcoms, with a DVR-busting lineup that includes Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, Go On, The New Normal, New Girl, and The Mindy Project all airing within the span of an hour.  I’m an old-fashioned viewer who lives to rely on just recording two things at once on the DVR, but Tuesdays has forced me to explore other options to watch all these shows.  This past weekend, I found myself signed up to Hulu Plus to catch up on the episodes of New Girl, Mindy, and Ben and Kate (I’d also missed a few episodes because of power outages and inclement weather) and had a few of those realizations that only come from watching several episodes of things in close proximity.

For one thing, while I like the show well enough to catch one episode per week, i don’t enjoy Ben and Kate enough to watch more than one episode of the show in a row.  I got to the end of the Emergency Kit episode and felt like I’d had enough for a month.  I’m going to have to reconsider giving the time I spend watching this show to something else, like reading or taking a nap.

I more enjoyed watching and contrasting New Girl and The Mindy Project.  My favorite revelation of the weekend was that I’ve actually met Tommy Dewey, the dashingly handsome and charming actor playing Mindy’s love interest Josh on The Mindy Project.  (We went to college together, though I can only claim to have met him during my unsuccessful audition to join the improv troupe of which he was the star.  The saying holds true: Those who can do; those who can’t blog.)  Aside from that, I like the fact that Mindy Project isn’t just doubling down on ensemble hijinks but digging a little deeper into the supporting players.  I didn’t need a reason to invest in Chris Messina’s Danny other than Chris Messina, but I left my mini-marathon caring more about Betsy, Jeremy and even the underutilized Gwen.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Shauna, played by the talented Amanda Setton, of whom I’ve been a fan since Gossip Girl.  I guess the show is going with what works, but I’m sad that she’ll soon be departing.

New Girl continues to march along at its New Girl pace, with its awkward and funny dynamics in the main cast with that hint of the show being not quite as cool as they think they are.  For all Jess’s flaws, I will say it seems uncharacteristically juvenile for her to be pulling the so-called Parent Trap-type shenanigans to reunite her parents who have been divorced since forever.  This by no means ruins the episode, it just detracts from the show’s credibility, which it needs to sell some of the more ambitious episodes it puts out.  But no, what most stands out to me is that almost halfway through the second season, New Girl still seems not to have recovered from having replaced the pilot character Coach with Winston (because of Damon Wayans, Jr.’s unavailability when Happy Endings was picked up).  I can only imagine what the character and the subsequent dynamics would have been like had Coach stuck around, either with Wayans or maybe with Lamorne Morris as a recast instead of a new character, but it is impossible to get past the idea that Winston is just a placeholder or a foil, someone who exists almost exclusively to take a side when two of the other roommates are arguing or act as a foil to Nick’s or Schmidt’s peculiarities.  Toward the end of last season, New Girl really seemed to make an effort to develop Winston, building up his relationship with Shelby and having him search for a career.  But through all of that, and despite a few shining moments (working with Jess’s bell choir kids and singing along to Wicked while driving Schmidt’s van come to mind), Winston has failed to register as an actual person in the New Girl world.  I don’t even mean that he’s just less developed that Jess, Schmidt, Nick and Cece.  Characters have come on for an episode or two and existed more on their own than he does.  I like New Girl a lot, but the show would be much better off if they could find a way to use Winston beyond just filling whatever space the other characters leave for him in every episode and start considering him with somewhat comparable importance to the other characters.  If not, they should get rid of him and replace him with a character who the powers that be do feel is real and worthy of existing beyond propping up the other four.

Top Ten Shows

  • 30 Rock
  • American Horror Story: Asylum
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • The Mindy Project
  • Nashville
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Pretty Little Liars
  • Revenge
  • Survivor

Current (or Nearly Current)

Revenge, Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, Revolution, Go On, The New Normal, Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Hart of Dixie, Nashville, American Horror Story, Survivor, Suburgatory, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Glee, Saturday Night Live, The Soup

On The Backburner

666 Park Avenue, Ben and Kate, Guys With Kids, Last Resort, Fringe