The State of the Art: Television 2012

My approach to TV shows this year has been vastly different than my approach to movies. I've been pretty damned attentive to getting out to see movies that I'm interested in, but have been letting most TV shows pile up, waiting until there's an easily-accessible chunk of episodes I can tear through in one stretch. There is an enormous amount of quality shows that I just haven't gotten around to yet, which means that my favorite shows of the year are a lot less representative than my picks in the world of cinema. Please bear that in mind when you mentally scold me for not including Homeland or Breaking Bad. I'll see them someday! You could always check out the TV label for a more inclusive list of what I watched this year, but when it comes to actually watching shows as they air, here are my Top Five TV Shows of 2012:

#1: Parks and Recreation - Season 4

If Parks & Rec had only given us the story arc of Leslie Knope's run for city council, Dayenu! The entire arc was pure gold, giving us brilliant episodes like "Campaign Ad" and "The Debate". But they didn't stop there! Season 4 also included the Pawnee Rangers, Tom and Donna's "Treat Yo' Self" excursion, and the incomparable Patricia Clarkson as the ice queen Tammy One. From start to finish, this was most well-written, well-paced, well-acted, well-everythinged show of the year.

#2: Community - Season 3

If Parks & Rec is the gold standard as far as what a standard sitcom can achieve, Community wins the medal for what high-concept weirdness can accomplish. It's the most imaginative (non-animated) show on the air right now, and for those who enjoys its quirks, there's nothing better. Standout episodes of the year include "Basic Lupine Urology" (a pitch-perfect Law & Order send-up), "Curriculum Unavailable" (a take-off of a clip show, in which the actual backstory of the show is briefly assumed to be a delusion so that more craziness can stand in for the "real" story), and "Digital Estate Planning" (in which the characters are encoded into 8-bit video game avatars). Sound strange? It is! But in all the best ways.

#3: Bob's Burgers - Season 3

The two seasons of the shows mentioned above are long since over. But the Bob's Burgers season still in progress has already had such standout moments that it deserves inclusion on a Best Of list, no matter where it goes from here. And even though Parks & Rec was the best show of the year, and Community had the best episode of the year, Bob's Burgers far and away had the best character of the year, as it continues to develop the shy, awkward, thoughtful, horny, pushover Tina. "Tina-Rannosauraus Wrecks", in which she gets into a fender-bender and is forced to tell a series of increasingly complex lies, had me laughing louder than I have in a long time. All of the family members have been given a chance to shine, though, as seen in the fantastic Halloween episode "Full Bars". I've soured a bit on animated shows lately, but this one manages to balance sentimentality and comedy perfectly, and I'm never not in the mood for it.

#4: Downton Abbey - Season 2

If you call or text me during the three shows above, I'll shrug and ignore you. If you try to contact me during Downtown Abbey, I'll be enraged. This season may not have been as gripping as the first one, but there was plenty to enrapture me. The petty social situations in Season 1 were grand fun, but the arrival of World War I and a wave of Spanish Flu brings much more serious problems to the Crawley household. And while I'm not by any means a "shipper", seeing Mary and Matthew finally manage to snag a moment of love and happiness in a Christmas snowfall was a much-needed exhalation. Season 3 starts up here in the States in about a week, and you can bet I'll be glued to the screen. Plan your calls and texts accordingly.

#5: RuPaul's Drag Race - Season 4

Reality TV doesn't hold the same allure as it once did for me. The Amazing Race, Top Chef, Project Runway... All of these used to be appointment television for me, and all have pretty much fallen by the wayside. Thank goodness there's one show left that skewers everything that's melodramatic and ridiculous about other shows, while still maintaining a source of suspense and delight about who wins. RuPaul's Drag Race seasons have been steadily improving, and this last one, which came down to a decision between a goth horror queen, a snotty, self-entitled showgirl, and a placid, consummate professional, was pure awesomeness. Clever challenges, epic lip syncs, and fantastic casting somehow made a show about bickering drag queens the highlight of the week.


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