I want to make something clear. I love every show I watch. I do not hate-watch anything, and since I’m not a critic I can choose what I want to see. Still, I enjoy making a top ten list because it helps me spotlight certain shows that I particular loved this year. And, unlike most people, I have no problem with ranking.
Disclaimer: I only rank shows that I watch. Also, I have tried to avoid spoilers, but you never know. Read at your own risk…
1. Parks and Recreation
I debated putting Parks and Recreation as my number one program of the year again because, honestly, I enjoyed last year (season 3 and the first half of 4) a bit more. Looking back at this year, though, I realized that there was no show that made me happier. From Leslie taking the debate into her own hands to winning the election to getting engaged, this year was full of wonderful Leslie moments. My favorite? Leslie’s face in the season four finale when she’s finally able to vote for herself. Amy Poehler can always make us laugh but she also gives weight to the moments that matter. The rest of the cast is great, too, and their storylines this season have all fit where each character is and needs to go.
2. Mad Men
Viewers waited a long time for season five (so long that Mad Men couldn’t even appear on last year’s top 10), and, while I liked season 4 more, season 5 did not disappoint. While many people disliked the large role Don’s new wife Megan took this season, I never minded her presence. To me, she was an important link to the progression of Mad Men women: From Betty to Joan to Peggy to Megan to Sally. Season five also had the most controversial episode of the series, when Joan becomes a partner, as well as the Codfish Ball, Lane’s death, and Roger’s trip. It didn’t end with any surprises, but that only makes me more curious to see what’s coming.
3. The Middle
Two words: Sue Heck. Sue Heck (played by Eden Sher) has become one of my favorite characters on television and she’s only in high school. I love everything about The Middle, a sitcom about a family in Indiana, but Sue Heck elevates it to #3. Sher excels at physical comedy, and my favorite moment this year was Sue jumping head first onto a park swing only to have the swing snap off and crash to the ground, taking Sue along with it. The rest of the family is great, and it’s refreshing to see a poor family on television again. The Hecks seem to me to be the most real family on television. I wish more people watched them.
Sutton Foster is the best I’ve ever seen her as Michelle, a Las Vegas dancer who quickly married a slightly obsessed suitor, moved to his home in a small town called Paradise, only to have him die the first night there as she was just getting to know and like him. Now, directionless, she lives there with his mother (Kelly Bishop), who happens to own a ballet school. The best moments in the shows are often the dances, especially teenage Sasha’s “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” angry dance, but I also love the scenes with Foster and Bishop as well as the ones with the four main dancers. The show has taken its time establishing the world and the characters, and I’ve loved that emphasis on character over plot. So few shows are brave enough to do that, and television could use a change of pace.
Parenthood has made my list every year because it’s one of the rare shows that I both eagerly look forward to watching and enjoy as I’m watching. The plots this first half of the fourth season have been wonderfully intense, with Kristina’s breast cancer and Julia and Joel’s struggle to acclimate their newly adopted child, Victor. Even the smaller stories with Crosby and Jasmine, finally newlyweds, have worked well in the overall season arc. I’m not entirely on board with Sarah’s love triangle with Mark and Hank, however, mostly because I’m tired of seeing Sarah make stupid romantic decisions and then be punished for them, only to quickly move on to someone else. I’ll just have to see where this goes. And, once again, Mae Whitman is amazing.
Girls ended up being the most talked about show of the year, and that wasn’t always a good thing. While sneering criticism was hurled from all directions, I found the show to be funny and beautiful, and while I don’t really see myself in these characters I enjoyed spending time with them. Lena Dunham may be young and have successful parents but that doesn’t stop me from loving her wit and personal take on 20-something New York City life. It also helps that she gave one of the most popular characters my name.
It takes a little time to get used to the wacky world of the Chatswin suburbs, but soon you realize you’ve stumbled upon a treasure trove of loveable, funny characters. Tessa, the 16-year-old from NYC, felt that way at first too, and the show mines a lot from the contrast between her grounded precociousness and the craziness around her. The show has vacillated between beautiful episodes and insipid story arcs (Alicia Silverstone’s character was, unfortunately, annoying), but when the show gets it right it’s one of the funniest and most heart-warming sitcoms on TV. The latest Thanksgiving episode in which Tessa meets her mom for the first time was perfection.
8. 30 Rock
For a few seasons, I was sour on 30 Rock. It wasn’t funny anymore. Liz Lemon was too ridiculous. Last season, though, the writing got back on track. It’s essential viewing again. This makes me so happy because this was my favorite show during its first and second season, and if it has to end I’m glad it’s going out on top. I think it’s really helped Liz to have a good relationship, not because all characters need relationships but because this particular one has resulted in much-needed character growth. While I loved Liz’s wedding, I wish Jenna had been there, but I guess the one thing 30 Rock can’t return to is their more nuanced relationship from the first season.
I’m surprised I haven’t seen Awake on more top ten lists considering the praise it got when it premiered last spring. Perhaps many forgot or just didn’t watch, as the show was canceled after its first season for low ratings. I’m okay with it being canceled. It could have gone intriguing places in season two, but as a one-season show the ending was satisfying. The intricate plot centered on a detective whose family is in a car accident. He wakes up from the accident, alternating one day in a timeline with his wife dead and the next day in a timeline with his son dead. If it sounds confusing, it is, but the separate storylines always worked, even when they started to converge as the conspiracy took shape. While the show is gone, I hope it doesn’t just fade into a distant memory.
10. Raising Hope
I nominate this show for the Most Underrated Show of the Year award. I know only a few people who watch it, yet no show has made me laugh out loud more, and it stars the fantastic Martha Plimpton as baby Hope’s grandmother, as well as former terminator Garret Dillahunt as her husband and TV legend Cloris Leachman as Maw Maw. Perhaps it’s because this show appeals to my love of physical comedy and clownish behavior. Whether the Chance family is trying to better themselves through education or preparing for the end of the world, they’re doing it in crazy ways I’ve never seen before on television.
Even though this season of Homeland was not as brilliant as its first season, it still provided a taught thrill-ride that kept everyone guessing. I’m not a fan of Carrie and Brody together, so the last half of the season was not my favorite. Still, the last episode was wonderfully haunting in its comfort and stillness before the bomb. And just like last season, the writers have deftly set up a completely new storyline for next year.
12. Ben and Kate
Ben and Kate is my favorite new show of the season. It has such an easy, relaxed quality to it, which is a nice change from the pack-in-the-jokes and/or fast-paced anxiety of other sitcoms. The characters—20-something Kate, her older brother Ben, her daughter Maddie, her best friend BJ, and her brother’s best friend Tommy–are still wacky, but it’s more of a sweet, delightful wacky. Check it out, because I don’t want this show to get canceled because of its low ratings.
This is a placeholder for Louie, which I’m sure would be on this list had I been able to watch season 3 this year. Usually the episodes are on Hulu or I’m in a position to regularly watch them On Demand. Not so this year. By the time I realized they weren’t going to come on Hulu, the season was almost over. I was able to catch one episode, however, the weird and disturbing one with Melissa Leo. Please note that “weird and disturbing” is not a criticism. I hope I’m able to find a way to watch season 3 soon because I was one of the few non-critics championing this show from episode one. Now everyone is ahead of me.
Compare to last year’s rankings.
Other Shows I Watch(ed)
The Walking Dead
Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23
The Big C
Once Upon a Time
TV on DVD/Streaming I Watched This Year
Episodes season 1
Enlightened season 1
The Good Wife season 1
Game of Thrones season 1
Dexter season 6
Slings and Arrows