We’re nearing the end of December here meaning it’s time for everyone to say goodbye to 2012 and welcome in the new year. 2012 was a big year for the site as it reached nearly 30,000 total views and my article on HBO’s now defunct series Luck was used as a required reading at University of Oregon. Sadly, work and personal things interfered with the blog in the later half of the year, but I figured I’d try and make up for things with the second annual Remotely Interesting Retrospective. This time I’ll be breaking down my favorite TV series into three categories: First Tier, Second Tier, and Third Tier. Any of the five shows in the First Tier could easily be number one given the episode. The Second Tier consists of my five “second best” series of the year and the Third Tier is to highlight five additional shows that were particularly outstanding and deserve some extra recognition. And don’t worry, all the write ups will remain spoiler free, dealing with only broad strokes rather than fine details, so go ahead and read without fear.
(Second best shows of the year)
Ben and Kate: I unabashedly love this show. I’ve seen just about every episode twice and many episodes three times, and each time it holds up. There’s a warmth and humor in this show that’s rare in most sitcoms these days that aren’t Parks and Recreation. Like Gravity Falls, the brother/sister relationship that centers this show is handled wonderfully. It’s hard to get two actors with great chemistry that doesn’t come off as vaguely romantic (see Suburgatory), but they pull it off here. Dakota Johnson (Kate) instantly became my favorite actress in comedy. Just about every line she has is golden and hysterical. She’s “adorkable” in every way Fox tried to claim Zooey Deschanel is. The show has an incredibly low-key premise, and is everything a comedy should be. Defined characters with great actors and sharp jokes. And they handle the child character Maddie, played by Maggie Elizabeth Jones, expertly by turning the age old sitcom treatment of kids upside down. Maddie actually talks and acts like a kid, but all of the adult characters treat her like she’s different from anyone else in the gang. Fully excepting her to keep up with their discussions and problems. There’s few other shows that make me as happy as a new episode of Ben and Kate. It’s going to hurt real bad when the show doesn’t come back next season, as ratings aren’t fairing well and for some reason Fox is determined to prove Mindy Kaling is a star, despite her show’s constant retooling and almost equally low ratings.
Highlight Episode: “Reunion”, which includes a pitch perfect final scene where every joke lands and the emotion feels genuine. Most plots in Ben and Kate are fairly routine sitcom stories, but it manages to always move past the usual path to find a new angle or turn that hasn’t been used before. This episode is textbook sitcom, but the actors and writers make it work and stand as a shining example of the modern situational comedy.
Girls: A lot has been written about this show since it premiered earlier this year, so I’ll keep this short. It’s hysterical, complex, and disturbingly accurate to the rising twenty year-old something lifestyle. Perhaps the greatest surprise of the year was seeing the character of Hannah’s boyfriend Adam go from pretentious jerk to lovable weirdo. Hannah is in no way a likable person, but her world and viewpoint makes for a fascinating character study.
Highlight Episode: “Welcome to the Bushwick a.k.a. the Crackcident”, which handles and intertwines each girl’s story wonderfully.
Justified: While season three may not be an all time classic like the previous one was, it’s still hard to find a show more fun to watch then Justified. The season feels deliberately experimental and reactionary to it’s season two leap of greatness, focusing on a series of bad guys rather than one singular big bad. It’s full of lies, confusion, manipulation, and meat cleavers. While Mags was the highlight of season two, it’s Raylan, and actor Timothy Olyphant, that stands out. It seems after two seasons of shooting first, asking questions later, Raylan’s finally learned his lesson and his character has become a lot more interesting and clever because of it. There may be “better” dramas on TV, but there’s none I enjoy watching more than Justified.
Highlight Episode: “Slaughterhouse”, which is simply aces and pulls off Chekov’s meat cleaver. It’s just a gangbusters episode of television from start to finish. Perhaps it’s only flaw is it’s the first season finale not to end with “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”, but I suppose emotional satisfaction is more important than mirror structure.
The Legend of Korra: Being a sequel to what I’d consider the greatest animated epic of all time (Avatar: The Last Airbender), it was hard not go into Korra expecting instant greatness, and thankfully the show more than lived up to it. Korra is some of the most exciting and fun TV out there. Out of all the shows on this list, this was the hardest one not to include in the Top Tier. If you told me when the show was airing it wouldn’t be in my top five, I would have called you a liar. One of Avatar’s greatest strengths was it’s perfect pacing, always moving with just the right amount of momentum. Unfortunately, with a shortened order of 13 episodes, Korra seemed to cram too much content into too few episodes. If the season was extended just even five more episodes so there was actual time for the story and characters to breath. For the first time in my TV watching experience, I found myself wishing there were filler episodes. And the last ten minutes of the finale tried to wrap things up too neatly, complete with a nice bow (it was original going to be a miniseries before being picked up as a full time series after the first season was completed). But all of these are really minor points compared to the actual experience of watching. Korra is simply stunning on every level. The animation is some of the best out there, the music is unlike anything you’ve ever heard being a mix between traditional Asian melodies mixed with 1920s jazz, and the Korra world is one of the richest mythologies in modern pop culture. It takes everything great about Avatar and turns up a notch. With an increased, and up front, episode order, there’s no reason this show can’t move further into greatness. Before I move on, I’d like to point out that the single most powerful scene of 2012 occurred in Korra in the finale. It’s simply mind blowing that Nickelodeon actually allowed this and let it air on a Saturday morning right after Fred: The Show.
Highlight Episode: “Turning the Tides”, which plays as one long breathing fight scene for the heart of Republic City and includes an end scene that makes the Avatar fan in me gush with joy.
Sherlock: There is no more definitive adaption in my mind of Sherlock Holmes than Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ amazing modern update. Series one blew my mind with perhaps the best visual style and representation of technology I’ve ever seen on TV, and series two did not disappoint. Release either the first or last episode of the season in theaters and it easily could have been in my top five movies of the year. The second episode was once again a let down, but the the bookend episodes are some of the most exciting and well crafted episodes to air in 2012. There’s no detective like Sherlock Holmes, and there’s no Sherlock Holmes like the BBC’s Sherlock.
Highlight Episode: “A Scandal in Belgravia”, which is classic Moffat. Twists, turns, and cleverness abound. Complete with a classic Moffat title pun, which may be the best he’s ever written in a career full of series title puns. Benedict Cumberbatch is perhaps at his best when completely disarmed by his female equal Irene Adler.