The Year In Review – The Best TV Shows Of 2012 – Drama
The early drafts of this list had upwards of thirty titles competing for fifteen places and for a while I dabbled with the idea of expanding the list out to twenty, just to include a couple of the more interesting titles that didn’t crack the top fifteen. I’m sticking with fifteen for the main list again this year because that’s a nice number.
There are a handful of shows that might of made this list if I had gotten a chance to watch them, including Boss, which made the list last year; Hell On Wheels, which had a promising but flawed first season; Shameless, which was solid and amusing the first time around; Fringe, which from all accounts has been having a great final season; Revenge, which just missed the cut last year but hasn’t interested at all this year; and Misfits, which I’ve only ever heard good things about but I’m three seasons behind on.
The Next Five:
These five shows are all good series that didn’t quite hit with the level of consistency that the top fifteen did. All five of these shows are a lot of fun, and all five are attempting things that you don’t see a lot of on television.
The Borgias – The Borgias goes mostly unnoticed because it doesn’t have the buzz of Homeland, and it never feels as epic as Game Of Thrones, but it remains a solid series full of political intrigue and people staring intensely as they stab others.
Strike Back – Strike Back delivers an action film an episode, and not an action film squeezed into the budget of a television show, but one given to exotic locations (that always look fantastic), thrilling chases, bloody shootouts and the sort of pulpy extremes you expect from a well-crafted cable series.
American Horror Story: Asylum – The first season of American Horror Story, quite rightly, got a bit of a booting for being erratic and nonsensical; even if those were the exact reasons that made it so watchable. Asylum has gone the interesting route of being completely enjoyably nuts but also backing up the insanity with some semblance of a coherent plot (by American Horror Story standards, at least).
The Hour – The Hour’s second season was a worthy follow-up to the first, and while the ongoing mystery was a tad underwhelming the show kicked things up a notch toward the end as it’s tightly wound storyline paid off nicely.
Spartacus: Vengeance – Spartacus was given the unenviable task of replacing their lead actor after the tragic death of Andy Whitfield, and while Liam McIntyre lacked the screen presence of Whitfield, the series wisely made up for this by turning Vengeance into a sort of ‘all-stars’ edition of Spartacus, bringing together a whole swag of great characters from the first season and the prequel, for a bloody, thrilling season.
Notable Exclusion (Or: Why Sons Of Anarchy Is Not On This List):
Sons Of Anarchy – Sons has made an appearance on this ‘best of’ list since Change The Channel started in 2009, but this fifth season has been, for lack of a better word, gross. It is a show where the “heroes” are bad guys but Jax, who in previous seasons has been somewhat sympathetic, turned into such an enormous, unlikeable asshole that it became uncomfortable to watch the show transform into a sick revenge fantasy. It seems obvious that Sons wants to show the depths Jax will sink to as President of the club, but the show also acts as if everything the Sons do is so incredibly cool and badass. This leads to some incredibly uncomfortable viewing as we watch members of the club (a club that doesn’t allow black members) spend a season killing minorities (and the vast number of dead this season were black or Hispanic) for our enjoyment. After four mostly great seasons I now find it hard to continue enjoying a show that revels in the sickening misdeeds of its characters the way that Sons Of Anarchy does.
Here now are the top fifteen dramas of 2012.
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Boardwalk Empire seemed to get stuck in a rut during its third season. The season started well by introducing the intimidating and unhinged Gyp Rosetti, played by Bobby Cannavale, but lost its way during the middle episodes. Boardwalk Empire stuck some of its characters in uninteresting plots (unlike previous years it was hard to get interested in anything Margaret or Nelson were doing this season) or dull pairings (lumping Gillian and Richard together all year felt like a waste of both those characters), and at times the show felt far more like a soap opera than it has in the past. It did manage to pull things back together with two great final episodes that were some of the best hours this series has produced.
For four seasons Southland has been plugging away (first on NBC, then on TNT) delivering a show that on the surface looks like just another cop series. Despite not quite living up to the impossible standards set by The Wire or The Shield, Southland is a damn fine series in its own right. The series weaves together the stories of a group of Los Angeles police officers working in different divisions, each struggling to live up to the expectations of the badge. It’s hard to imagine that Southland wouldn’t attract more buzz if it was about a subject we haven’t seen so much of before. No matter the base material, Southland is a gritty and thrilling take on the genre and well worth the investment.
The L.A. Complex (The CW)
This little seen (the lowest rated premiere for a broadcast television series ever) Canadian import on The CW about young people trying to make it in L.A. was such a lovely soap-opera that was far more intelligent than it needed to be. The L.A. Complex delivered not just what was expected of a primetime soap (fun twists, troubled romances, attractive people) but it did so with so much heart and such surprising intelligence. The series was also genuinely funny (Paul F. Tompkins kept popping up throughout the two seasons playing a gloriously dickish version of himself) and it offered a not-so-glamourized look at what it takes to make it in L.A. and a nuanced look at what not making it looks like as well.
Bunheads (ABC Family)
While it didn’t quite capture all the magic of Gilmore Girls, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s latest series Bunheads was still a delightful, heartfelt and goofily fun comedy-drama. The low-ratings for the series suggests that the back half of the first season might be the last we’ll see of the charming inhabitants of the small town of Paradise, but hopefully that’s not the case. While Sutton Foster could, at times, be a bit much as former showgirl Michelle, the real heart of the show and the part that makes it such an enjoyable series are the four lead girls from the dance academy. Bunheads even ended the first half of its season with a Dead Poets Society homage that was both moving and a little bit cheesy in just the right way, a lot like the show itself.
The Good Wife (CBS)
One of the few great dramas on broadcast television The Good Wife has continued to deliver in its fourth season. While Kalinda has been wasted in a terrible subplot all year long (which happens far too often to such an interesting character) everybody else has been kept out of that mess. Over the years The Good Wife has shown that it is far more than just a case-of-the-week legal drama, but there’s something to be said about a show that can continue to deliver such cracking cases on such a consistent basis. The regular cast all deliver outstanding work, and the show is absolutely littered with great guest star turns. The Good Wife is a wonderfully entertaining series; that while not as dark as some of the more critically acclaimed cable dramas on this list, it is just as clever.
Boy, Homeland took a slide in quality somewhere around the middle of its second season. That subplot nobody was happy with, Carrie’s increasing stupidity, Dana in general, that heart attack; Homeland got a little dumb this year. There are those that will say the series was always unbelievable and that you just have to go with it, but there are twists of the plot that make sense and then there’s most of Homeland’s second season. With that said, when Homeland works (and it did early on, and in spits and spurts throughout the season) it is a thriller like nothing else. The show also benefits incredibly from the work of Claire Danes and especially Mandy Patinkin (I’m less impressed with Damian Lewis but only because Brody seemed lost at sea for most of the season). Homeland brought things to a close with a finale that was half-stupid/half-amazing; the third season is going to have to do a lot of work to get this still-good-but-no-longer-great series back to where it was.
Treme paints such a detailed portrait of New Orleans and its various inhabitants that at times the show can feel like a documentary. The third season David Simon’s look at the different sub-cultures of New Orleans didn’t feel quite as complete as previous seasons but there is still so much going on in every corner Treme. While the show’s pace could come across as plodding at times (it works to its own relaxed rhythm) more than any other show on this list it’s one that you can really soak in. Other shows might offer more thrilling adventures filled with twists and turns but no other show creates such an interesting world that is worth visiting week in week out, through good times and through bad, just to see these characters lives unfold.
Parenthood creator Jason Katims knows how to make me cry like nobody else. Katims’ previous series Friday Night Lights made my eyes well up week after week, and now Parenthood holds the title of ‘show that’s guaranteed to produce tears by the end of the episode’. Parenthood is filled with so much humanity that it’s an absolute joy to watch. What Parenthood gets so right, and what’s hardest to grasp about the show in the early going, is that like any large family you’re not supposed to like everybody all of the time. The show gets that it doesn’t matter what these characters do, what matters is whether at the end of the day they love each other. It sounds so gooey and “made for TV” but it really isn’t at all. Just as Friday Night Lights wasn’t about football, it was about people; Parenthood isn’t about family portraits and group hugs, it’s about these people and the very specific ways they are connected to each other.
Sadly Luck will forever be remembered as ‘that show with the dead horses’, which is a shame because Luck was something special. David Milch had put so much work into creating a detailed and full world while never speaking down to the audience. Just as with his series Deadwood, Milch expected you to keep up to him, not for him to slow things down for you. Luck contained some truly stunning horse race sequences that were like nothing else on television, as well as a expansive and fantastic cast. The worst part about Luck’s time with us being cut short was that the first season built to a point where you could just get a taste of where the second season was going to go and it is a damn shame we won’t get to see more of this intelligent, compelling drama.
Between its first and second seasons Justified took a huge leap forward in quality, and season three kept things rolling right along. It wasn’t a step forward so much as a step sideways but when you’re delivering drama as consistently electrifying as Justified staying the course is no easy feat. While the bad element that menaced Harlan this season wasn’t quite as entertaining as the Bennett clan; the series still filled the world out with the sorts of oddballs and creeps prone to amusing turns of phrase, that are just part of what make Justified such a great show.
Sherlock (BBC One)
While we can probably all concede that ‘The Hounds Of Baskerville’ made for a rather weak middle episode in Sherlock’s second season, the first episode and especially the final episode more than made up for it. There is no show on television as flat out enjoyable to watch as Sherlock. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were as great as usual but the real standout this year was Andrew Scott, who is amazingly fun as Moriarty. The worst part about Sherlock is that there’s only three episodes every couple of years, but as both times around the middle episode has been the weakest, maybe the series would be better served with only two episodes each outing. (Please don’t take this suggestion; we always want more Sherlock, not less.)
This Is England ’88 (Channel 4)
This Is England ’88 isn’t a show for everybody simply because it can be incredibly challenging to watch (although ’88 was not at the same level as the film or ’86, which was extremely difficult viewing in parts), but it truly is one of the most remarkable series to make it onto the small screen. This Is England is incredibly raw and can be utterly devastating but it can also be laugh out loud funny. Shane Meadows has such a wonderful understanding of these characters, and the actors (especially Vicky McClure and Joe Gilgun) are so amazing that they turn This Is England into a series that feels so incredibly real. ’88 saw the gang forced to grow up whilst nursing the wounds of their younger years, and it made for a series that was both joyous and utterly heartbreaking.
Breaking Bad (AMC)
For whatever reason, possibly the shortened season, Breaking Bad felt slightly off its game this year. That it still managed to be one of the best series on television shows just how incredible Breaking Bad can be. Season five wasn’t as strong as the previous two seasons but it still delivered tight, tense, incredible drama. It has been documented many times before that the cast are talented, that the scripts are clever, that the direction is magnificent and that the finale left us all desperate for the next episode; really there is nothing left to say about Breaking Bad that hasn’t already been said; there is a reason that people go crazy for this show, it is amazing.
Game Of Thrones (HBO)
What Game Of Thrones managed to pull off in its second season is tough; not only was it able to live up to its stellar first season (something that the other much-buzzed-about show from last year, Homeland, couldn’t do) but it was also able to keep track of a whole host of characters without getting bogged down, all the while continuing to make the show feel epic (which is something that the similarly themed The Borgias has never been able to achieve). Yes, there are dragons, and swords, and blood, and nudity, and all the things that have made this show one of the most talked about on television, but what makes Game Of Thrones work so well is that it’s incredibly detailed world is filled with such wonderfully fleshed out characters. Without that huge list of characters to both love and hate Game Of Thrones simply would not work, not matter how splendid the production values.
Mad Men (AMC)
Mad Men is still the best show on TV by a mile. Some viewers were irritated that the show focused a lot of attention on Don’s new wife Megan, but her presence added to the series rather than detracted from it. Sure, it would be great to see the show focus more on somebody like Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss is delivering the best performance on a show full of outstanding performance) but it also feels like Mad Men could tell any story about any character and make it work (well, maybe not Betty…). While its possible no episode this year was as great as season four’s ‘The Suitcase’, Mad Men’s fifth season was still this show at the absolute top of its game creatively, stringing together stellar episode after stellar episode.
That’s all from Change The Channel for a while, with the site going on hiatus for the foreseeable future. I hope to be back this time next year with another Year In Review (I won’t stop watching television, I’ll just stop writing about it), but in the meantime I wish you all a merry Christmas, a just as merry New Year, an even merrier Easter, and a not merry at all Halloween. Thanks for reading Change The Channel, now go watch some TV!
The Year In Review – The Worst TV Shows Of 2012 – Drama
The problem with any ‘worst of’ list is that the odds you stuck with a bad show beyond its pilot episode are low. You get a taste of a show that you don’t like and you get out, so while this could have been simply a list of the crappy pilots of 2012 (and there are still a couple of those below) I thought I’d throw in a trio of watchable failures. Some shows have that extra special bad-ness that renders them compellingly watchable; this is an easier feat to pull off with a bad movie, because you don’t have to invest as much time, but being able to create something so bad and yet so “enjoyable” is a mini-achievement in itself and the bottom two entries on this list reflect that. They are failures, sure, but they are enjoyable ones.
Having jumped off the Downton Abbey bandwagon a long while ago (it got very samey and very silly very quickly) I was hardly the target demographic for Julian Fellowes bloated retelling of the sinking of Titanic. Fellowes decided to tell his story of that fateful voyage in the most tedious fashion possible – the first episode followed a mass of characters from setting sail to hitting the iceberg, then the second episode started again with more characters, then the third episode started again with even more characters before bringing things to a close with the boat sinking in the fourth and final installment There were too many characters, all of whom were thinly sketched out and incredibly dull, and the story kept covering the same ground over and over again. You could say Titanic was a failure of Titanic proportions, except that would be ridiculous as this was merely a dumb a mini-series and that was a devastating maritime disaster.
Perception is one of those terrible pilots I mentioned earlier; now for all I know Perception transformed into an amazing series after episode two (it probably didn’t) but in that first episode it personified television drama at its most mediocre. Perception is so pedestrian it almost functions as an expensive parody of any procedural where a quirky genius (played unconvincingly here by Eric McCormack and his scarf) and the female FBI agent (played by Rachael Leigh Cook) who is the only one who truly understands his gifts. Perception is ultimately completely harmless but it is also completely incompetent at delivering anything other than generic mush.
Beauty & The Beast (The CW)
Beauty & The Beast is the other ‘bad pilot’ on this list, and despite its clunky start it has somehow turned into a minor hit for The CW. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the show is any good, of course (it is The CW after all) but it does mean the show might have improved since the first episode. But what a first episode! If you wanted a barely plausible premise smashed together with appalling dialogue and wooden performances then you’ve got to check out Beauty & The Beast. Beauty & The Beast was one of the most boneheaded new series to arrive in 2012, and unfortunately it came across as just another show made by a group of people who mentally checked out the moment they were hired.
The Newsroom (HBO)
I am an Aaron Sorkin apologist. I gave the first episode of The Newsroom a good review. I watched the entire season and at no point was I bored, but goddamn did this show devolve into one of the dumbest, most incredibly misogynistic series on television. The Newsroom is incredibly watchable (if sometimes in a train wreck fashion) and there were certainly good episodes scattered throughout the first season but it wouldn’t kill Sorkin to include a female character who isn’t a ditsy moron and who doesn’t have to be taught how to do the news by a male character. This can EASILY be fixed, and The Newsroom is the only show on this list that could go from laughable to great in its second season. Sorkin does have that X factor that Ryan Murphy also has where even at his utter worst he’s producing television that you can’t look away from. (It’s worth pointing out that The Newsroom would probably have made this list simply for that terrible Sex & The City rant from the finale.)
Smash comes in right at the bottom of this list because while it was fun car crash television for a while, at some point it became too tiresome to even hate-watch (unlike The Newsroom, which even at its worst never felt like a chore). Smash was a great idea for a television series (let’s put on a Broadway show!) that backed that great idea up with a whole bunch of terrible ones. Most everybody was awkwardly miscast (Katharine McPhee isn’t a lot of things, and Broadway star is one of them) and the ensemble was filled out with characters so infuriating (has somebody punched Ellis yet?) that the show even figured out it had to dump a bunch of them before the second season starts. That Smash has made the smart decision to remove its worst characters (see you later, boring loved ones!) means the show COULD improve in the new year, but a teenage son who can’t act to save his life wasn’t Smash’s only fault.
The biggest problem with Smash was the exact same problem with the similarly misguided Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, the characters were supposed to be putting together a wonderful show. The difference between watching a bunch of misfits come together to win the big game, and watching a bunch of misfits come together to create a great production is that you can’t bluff a great production. If the show-within-the-show seems kind-of terrible (and with the exception of the occasional musical number, it did) the whole premise is blown. Now, if maybe the show had been called Flop and we’d watched these same dullards put together an expensive mess lacking in creativity; THAT is something I could believe.
The Year In Review – The Best TV Shows Of 2012 – Comedy
On occasion Change The Channel has been accused of being too negative, and while that’s probably true (I do tend to find glowing praise to be both slightly sickening and harder to write) I thought in an effort to counteract all that negativity I’d pump this ‘best of’ list up to fifteen comedies that I very much enjoyed this year. While it is unlikely you’ll enjoy every one of these show as much as I did, there’s bound to be at least one show on this list that makes you laugh.
Some notable exclusions this year include 30 Rock, despite delivering one of its best seasons in years; How I Met Your Mother, as that show is sadly running on fumes at this point; Peep Show, because it only reappeared just as the lights were being turned off on the year; SNL, despite finally doing away with the screen hogging Kristin Wiig and Andy Samberg; Eastbound & Down, as the third season was kind of terrible; Archer and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, because I don’t watch either of those shows despite many, many people telling me that I should.
The Mindy Project (FOX)
The Mindy Project has quickly established itself as one of the wittiest and most quotable sitcoms on the air (“her boyfriend looks like an example photo at the barber shop”, “I hate it when people say old school when all they mean is inefficient and rude”). The Mindy Project is also one of the few new shows to remain consistently funny throughout its first season; getting better even as the ratings have dipped. While it’s unlikely to challenge the top ranking comedies on this list any time soon, it’s a damn fine comedy series.
Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
Key & Peele is an incredibly likeable and inventive sketch comedy series from the creative minds of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who engage in onstage banter between sketches. Key, especially, is wonderfully affable and his enthusiasm for a sketch idea sometimes helps a so-so sketch come across. Key & Peele mostly steers away from recurring characters (and it’s telling that the one recurring sketch, Obama and his anger translator Luther, has quickly become tired) and tries to offer up fresh ideas, like a clever sketch about the guy who has to deliver the speech AFTER Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
Bitter, cynical and blisteringly funny; Veep isn’t your traditional sitcom except that it kind of is. It uses far more expletives than its broadcast television cousins, but it also hits so many familiar sitcom beats. Unlike Girls, the show Veep shared its timeslot with, you knew what you were getting out of every episode. The show was always sharp and funny, and after the first couple of episode it really found its groove. The only real downside to Veep was that simply because the characters were all narcissistic and fairly unlikeable, finding the enthusiasm to watch the next episode was sometimes hard. You weren’t supposed to like any of these characters all that much, but because of that you didn’t like any of these characters all that much – despite this, or perhaps because of this, the show always managed to be laugh out loud funny.
The Cafe (Sky1)
The Cafe is a sitcom that only the British can do; a charmingly low-key, lovingly human romantic comedy. The Cafe fits snugly in that Royale Family and Gavin & Stacey sized hole in our television hearts. This is such a wonderfully sunny comedy but never nauseatingly so; it has such a great lived-in feel to it that even after only six episodes you still felt like you knew these characters. While never always laugh-out-loud hilarious, The Cafe was always simply lovely and was the perfect show to just hang out with.
Remember when Louie was not just daring and original but also funny? Don’t get me wrong, there were some great episodes in season three, and there were some incredibly funny moments, but this season felt off in a way that the last two didn’t. The upside of a show like Louie is that you never know what the future holds, and with a long break between now and season four, Louis C.K. has a chance to recharge. Louie is on this list because there really is nothing like it on television and even though it didn’t have a standout season like last year when Louie hits (‘Miami’, the ‘Never’ half of ‘Barney/Never’) it really hits.
Best Friends Forever (NBC)
Best Friends Forever only ran for six episodes, four episodes arrived in April, with the final two surfacing at the start of June, but this quickly cancelled, little seen comedy made me laugh so much that it wouldn’t feel right to leave it off this list. Written and starring real life best friends Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair as, surprisingly, best friends Lennon and Jessica; the chemistry between the two leads was delightful and obviously the result of years of working together. Even though it only ran for six episodes there were still, sadly, one or two episodes that felt flat, but the rest of the time the show really clicked and was endless fun to watch.
Portlandia is a strange sketch comedy series in exactly the right way. Fred Armison’s particular brand of oddball comedy can often feel out of place on the big stage of Saturday Night Live, but Portlandia is the perfect vehicle for his and Carrie Brownstein’s quirky comedy. Portlandia manages to both skewer and pay tribute to their hometown of Portland with its parade of off-kilter citizens. The show is at its best with its spot-on portraits of various types of people (the self-explanatory ‘She’s Making Jewelry Now’ is just one of many highlights). Occasionally Portlandia’s more out-there sketches can become too bizarre for their own good (I remember something about a strange fruit from space…) but it’s still the best sketch series currently on television.
Cougar Town (ABC)
Have we gotten to the point where we’re all able to accept that Cougar Town isn’t just that show with the bad title yet? Or is that still the only thing people know about this hilarious and heart-warming series? Cougar Town turned into a great show over two years ago now and yet it’s carried around that stigma of being a hacky comedy about a middle-aged woman picking up young dudes since its inception. Like a couple of shows on this list it’s been a little while since we last saw Cougar Town, and when it finally returns it will be on a completely different station, but we should never forget how amazing this show can be. At the top of its game it is one of the funniest shows on TV, and can be both incredibly silly and surprisingly moving. Writing this also reminded me how much I miss Cougar Town, forget about when Community comes back, where’s our much needed Cougar Town fix?
Childrens Hospital (Adult Swim)
Childrens Hospital is one of the great unsung comedies on television. It does some things that other much-praised comedies do but does so with only a ten minute running time. The fourth season of Childrens Hospital contained some of its best episodes yet, including an episode of Childrens Hospital UK, the British version of Childrens Hospital with a completely different cast but equally silly jokes. Childrens Hospital does deft parodies of other genres without needing to slap a heart-warming speech on the end like, say, Community might (Childrens Hospital’s Law & Order parody also gives that Community episode a run for its money). The show also manages to take both creative risks and remain laugh out loud funny, which makes for a nice change of pace from, say, Louie (the episode that followed the hospital over a single year was just one highlight). Childrens Hospital is seriously one of the most imaginative and hilarious comedies on TV.
Parks & Recreation (NBC)
Parks & Recreation has wormed its way so completely into my heart that it’s honestly hard to remember a time when I didn’t love Leslie Knope and co. Not only is it always laugh-out-loud funny but it’s just so goddamn adorable at times it’s sick. I would just watch this show if it simply Andy & April being the dumbest, funniest, loveliest couple on television. I would just watch this show if it was simply Tom Haverford describing his latest scheme. I would just watch this show if it was simply Leslie Knope striving to do the right thing. The individual parts of Parks & Recreation are great, but together they’re an absolute joy.
Bob’s Burgers (FOX)
The funniest family, animated or otherwise, on television; Bob’s Burgers works so well because it has such a solid understanding of its characters and it knows exactly how to make each of them hilarious. Even at its very best there was always this feeling that, say, a ‘Marge’ episode of The Simpsons was a bit of a letdown (not to say those episodes weren’t funny, but Marge isn’t exactly a hilarious character on own); not so with Bob’s Burgers. I would happily watch any episode whether it followed Bob, or Linda, or the so incredibly odd Tina, or the amazing Gene, or the always hilarious and completely insane Louise. Bob’s Burgers has been on a creative roll for three seasons now and it still feels like it’s only just getting started.
It hurts me a little to bump Community down so many notches. Community is a show that I, like so many internet-peoples, have loved very, very dearly and the only reason it has slipped on this list is partly because the back half of the third season wasn’t terribly strong (there’s really only one or two great episodes, the Law & Order parody being one of them) and partly because it feels like an awfully long time since we’ve seen Community. Please don’t take any of this as a slam on the show (it is still fourth on this somewhat ordered list) as Community remains wildly inventive and wonderfully amusing. The only major quibble I do have for the Greendale gang is that the more distance you put between yourself and the show you do notice that it is VERY, VERY in-jokey and meta in a way that the other great comedies of the year are not (what I’m saying is there is a very specific reason as to why Community has never found huge ratings success; if you’re not in on the joke, it’s hard to get in on the joke).
New Girl (FOX)
New Girl happily fills that ‘are you serious?’ spot that Cougar Town has been filling these last two years; the one where somebody asks you what the funniest shows on TV is and you say “New Girl” and they say “are you serious?” New Girl was flying at the top of its game as it came to the end of its first season and it has flown even higher in its second. The show still has a definite Winston problem (in that it rarely finds anything for him to do) but it managed to level Jess out, whilst continuing to wring huge laughs out of Schmidt and quietly turning Nick Miller into one of the best characters on television. The show still isn’t hitting every mark (see most Winston storylines) but ‘Fluffer’, the third episode of the second season, is easily one of the best episodes of television to air this year and I say that after having watched it only about a half dozen times.
When a show is greeted with the kind of hype Girls was earlier in the year backlash is inevitable. Once something becomes the flavour of the month everybody has to taste it and broadcast their opinion. The more noise surrounding a project the more likely people are to speak up, ESPECIALLY if they get the chance to be contrarian (something which I have definitely been guilty of in the past). The thing is that if Girls had just snuck up on audiences and hadn’t been carried to them on the shoulders of every critic in the land, the only ones to find the show would be the ones that wanted to. I absolutely loved Girls, it offered such a brutally honest and wholly unique view of the world (and the complaints about this show being ‘too white’ are nonsense; want to know what other shows are ‘too white’: almost all of them). Unfortunately Girls hasn’t really had a chance to exist away from the constant attention foisted upon it because when you take that away the show really is amazing. If you don’t see that, that’s fine, that’s really quite alright, I’ve heard the arguments, I’ve heard the naysayers, and you can all go away now because those of us that love Girls, LOVE Girls.
Happy Endings (ABC)
Happy Endings is flat out the funniest show on television at the moment. It hasn’t taken long for the ensemble consisting of Eliza Coupe, Casey Wilson, Elisha Cuthbert, Damon Wayans, Adam Pally and Zachary Knight to really click into place. Happy Endings has figured out what works best for every character in order to get the most laughs every week (which is something New Girl is still working on, and even after this many seasons Community still hasn’t figured out, sorry Shirley). One of the ways Happy Endings is able to wring so many laughs out of every episode is by coming to the conclusion that plot, while important in the moment, isn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things. There are ongoing storylines; Alex & Dave are back together, Brad can’t find work, but they are left purposefully bare bones so that the show can go in any direction it wants to in order to find laughs, which it does on a remarkably consistent basis. Community who? Happy Endings is the new king of comedy.
The Year In Review – The Worst TV Shows Of 2012 – Comedy
How bad were the comedies that debuted in 2012? Animal Practice, Rob and The Neighbors didn’t make the bottom five, that’s how bad the comedies of 2012 have been. There have been some truly hateful, horrible, and bafflingly terrible comedies to arrive on television screens this year and here are the worst of the worst.
Anger Management (FX)
Anger Management exists because FX has had a lot of success with Two & A Half Men reruns and because the network wanted to cash in on the notoriety surrounding Charlie Sheen being an unrepentant, self-destructive asshole. These are both horrible, horrible reasons for a television show to be created. What’s worse is that Anger Management didn’t even try to be anything other than a painfully mediocre sitcom which, thanks to curious viewers who pushed the ratings to an acceptable level, will now be around for at least 100 episodes. So that’s something we all have to live with.
Work It (ABC)
WhenWork It debuted in January I remarked that “the rest of the year can only get better” and that there are three shows on this list ahead of Work It proves that, as always, I can be horribly, horribly wrong. The premise of Work It is enough to stricken it to any ‘worst of’ list – there are no more jobs for men in this world, so two guys have to dress as women to get work. You know that situation? How women have taken over and being a guy is so hard that we have to dress up as women in order to get work? Remember when that happened earlier in the year? No? Okay, well, I’m just glad somebody had the balls to make a terrible, offensive, unfunny cross-dressing comedy about that stupid scenario.
Family Time (Bounce)
Family Time may very well be worst made sitcom to debut since the invention of television. Family Time was a no-budget sitcom on a barely-existent cable network that nobody saw and nobody cares about. I’m doubtful the people involved in the show bothered to watch the finished product. It’s really rare that in this day and age a show gets on television that is this poorly made, but Family Time suffered from not just bad acting, bad writing, bad jokes but also bad editing, bad lighting, bad sound mixing, and bad set design. This was television at its shoddiest; I would not be surprised to discover that Family Time had been assembled for a school project by fourth graders with learning disabilities.
If you’ve ever wondered what ‘nothing’ sounds like, just watch Brand X With Russell Brand. Russell Brand’s particular talent is his ability to ramble for a while and go off on amusing tangents whilst people laugh at his loud persona. Yet Brand X, a show based on the premise of ‘what would happen if we let Russell Brand talk for a while on a drab set’, is so deathly boring that it’s hard to remember what anybody ever like about Brand in the first place. Brand X was a horribly misguided idea for a television show that devolved very quickly into Russell Brand’s inane lessons on the meaning of life. The only person who could possibly love this show is Russell Brand because he can’t get enough of the sound of his own voice.
Brickleberry (Comedy Central)
Brickleberry is the most hateable show to debut in a long while. There have been so many ‘cartoons that say naughty things’ over the years but Brickleberry is the worst example of this particular repulsive, try-hard genre. No show should be able to squeeze this many rape jokes into every episode and not be called on it more often. This isn’t ‘dark, edgy comedy’ because there’s nothing edgy or comedic about any of this and it’s only dark in the sense that actual humans devoted a large chunk of their life to making this and that’s almost too depressing to think about.
The Year In Review – The Best TV Shows Of 2012 – Australian Shows
The hardest part of naming the best Australian TV shows of 2012 is the struggle to come up with a handful of shows that were actually enjoyable to watch for more than a single episode. Previous ‘Best Australian Shows’ lists have been padded out with dependable titles like Media Watch or Four Corners. Letters & Numbers has even made an appearance which speaks not so much to the quality of that recently departed game show but rather to bitter mediocrity that is Australian television.
There are a handful of shows that might have made the list had I seen more of them (The Hamster Wheel was well-received this season and Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell got good reports from everybody except, oddly enough, the Green Guide who are dim at the best of times so that slight can only come as an endorsement) or if I had seen them at all (any of those boring looking but critically praised ABC telemovies). In an effort to stretch this list to five entries I was going to include Channel 9’s solid Beaconsfield telemovie but in my review I described it as “competent if not terribly memorable” and its inclusion seemed more like a slight on the state of the industry in this country.
Of the four shows to make the cut there are two I have genuinely loved and two that are admirable efforts.
Danger 5 (SBS One)
This low budget SBS comedy series is on this list because it tried something incredibly different; that it failed to pull it off is disappointing but I’ve mentioned previously I prefer it when comedy in this country dares to experiment. Danger 5 was a purposefully terrible spy spoof that ran out of steam incredibly quickly despite only running for six episodes. The problem with Danger 5 was that once you got the joke (and the first episode was the funniest of the series) there wasn’t a lot else going on to keep you around. It was, however, a nice change for SBS to let somebody other than Paul Fenech make a comedy for once.
Problems fell into the same boat as Danger 5 as it also had endless potential that it squandered almost every episode. Problems is funnier than Danger 5 and has gotten funnier since the premiere (I could watch David Quirk and Sam Simmons talk at each other for thirty minutes, and the more Ronny Chieng the better) but for good chunks of its running the time the show just isn’t funny. Sam Simmons has a habit of being weird for the sake of being weird with the hope that the strange-ness is somehow amusing. This sometimes works (that ATM argument is the funniest moment of the series and “Aww, I’ve never been on a plane. What’s Perth?” is my favourite line of the show) but most often it doesn’t (the bits with the bickering moth couple seem to drag on forever). Problems makes this list mostly because unlike every other ABC1 comedy to debut this year it actually makes me laugh.
Warehouse Comedy Festival (ABC2)
Hands down the funniest half hour of Australian television you will see this year is Celia Pacquola performing her show ‘Delayed’ as part of the Warehouse Comedy Festival on ABC2. If you saw ‘Delayed’, you already know this, but Celia Pacquola is the best stand-up comedian working in this country and ‘Delayed’ is hilarious from beginning to end. The first season of Warehouse Comedy Festival was great, and the second (still running on ABC2) has been just as good. Pacquola is the clear stand-out in the second season, alongside Michael Workman who is also wonderful. Tommy Little, Randy and Lawrence Mooney have also all been solid, with only Peter Helliar’s lacklustre ‘Snazzy’ completely underwhelming (he had an extensive bit about Excess Baggage that couldn’t help but feel dated). There are a wealth of talented, imaginative and hilarious comedians in this country and Warehouse Comedy Festival is, at the moment, the only chance they get to show their stuff on our television screens. It’s just a shame it’s hidden away on ABC2 as it’s been far funnier than any comedy to hit ABC1 this year.
Puberty Blues (Ten)
Puberty Blues is not just the best Australian drama of this year, or of the last five years, but the best Australian drama I’ve ever seen. Puberty Blues was everything that drama in this country never is; intelligent, funny, warm, inviting, beautiful, gripping, moving and truly great. Puberty Blues was the best thing Channel 10 did this year, it was the best thing commercial television did this year and it put to shame the mediocre drama offerings the ABC has been churning out whilst they’ve patted themselves on the back as being “Australia’s answer to HBO.” This was brave, challenging and altogether fantastic television viewing. The cast were almost perfect, and the show was filled with complex characters who felt all too real. I absolutely adored Puberty Blues, and it is easily the best Australian show of 2012.
The Year In Review – The Worst TV Shows Of 2012 – Australian Shows
Change The Channel may have closed its doors but I didn’t watch all of those shows this year to NOT have a dig at the bad ones and pump up the good ones.
The Year In The Review usually covers Australian Shows, Reality TV, Comedy and Drama but this year I’ve dropped ‘Reality’ from the wrap-ups because there’s only so many times I can go on about how good Survivor is. (Seriously though, these last two seasons have been great).
Trying to narrow down the list of Australian shows to the very worst is a tough task because there is just so much bad television on the air in this country. There are a bunch of reality shows that should probably populate this list but nobody needs to be reminded that Please Marry My Boy or The Shire were both stupid things that shouldn’t have existed. In the end I settled on just five series, and one broader trend, and declared them the worst Australian TV had to offer in 2012.
The Endless Parade Of Dull ABC Dramas
This year it seemed as though the ABC’s target demographic was people who need help sleeping. The ABC like to think they’re the home of cutting edge drama in this country and yet they produced a whole swag of dramas that were either boring or looked boring. (This entry mostly goes to the ABC promo department who can make even the most exciting show look like work.) The Straits, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Rake and even Redfern Now (which looked so dull that it was honestly one of the reasons I gave up Change The Channel, because I thought “if I can’t be bothered watching this important Aussie drama I should probably just stop writing reviews altogether”). Package those snooze-fests together with telemovie after telemovie (Mabo, Devil’s Dust, Jack Irish, The Mystery Of The Hansom Club and Dangerous Remedy) that looked like the sort of thing that compels your dad to try and get the VCR working again so he can catch the end of it, and you had a return to the sort of snoozy dramas that turned so many people under the age of 55 off the ABC in the first place.
Andrew Denton is a smug prat and the failure of Randling was enjoyable comeuppance. Unloved by even the most devoted of ABC viewers Randling turned out to be a much bigger gamble than the ABC was expecting. Giving 20+ weeks over to one of the biggest stars on the network to host a similar show to Spicks & Specks, which had owned that timeslot for years, doesn’t even seem like that much of a risk in hindsight and it wouldn’t have been a risk if Randling had been even remotely amusing. Randling was lame and half-baked but suffered most because it was hosted by the insufferable always-smirking Denton. For 2013 the ABC are trying something really out there and bringing back Spicks & Specks…
The Green Guide named Agony Aunts / Uncles the 7th best show of the year and the best comedy of 2012. That is the funniest thing to have come out of Agony Aunts / Uncles. Yes, the show includes many funny, interesting people who have said funny and interesting things in the past and will say funny and interesting things in the future, but the show was cobbled together in shoddy, tiresome fashion and was such a stock standard ‘talking heads’ show that it’s a wonder anybody is still talking about it to be honest. Adam Zwar asked a bunch of people to give some bland relationship advise that he then chopped to pieces and attempted to pass it off as an idea that wasn’t at least a decade and a half past relevancy (HOW LONG DO YOU HAVE TO WAIT BEFORE CALLING A GIRL?! PLEASE TELL ME JOSH LAWSON AND/OR SAM PANG!!)
Laid is the worst kind of comedy – the kind that is both utterly unfunny and totally pretentious. This second season had some minor highlights (the fourth episode even resembled a comedy humans might enjoy), but the rest of Laid was atrocious. There were talented people involved in Laid (David Herriman, Celia Pacquola and Toby Truslove have all been great elsewhere), it’s just that the two writers responsible were convinced they were doing one thing (creating a funny and original show) when they were actually doing something else entirely (creating an unfunny, kind of creepy, deeply depressing and incredibly formulaic show). The biggest fault with Laid lay with the main character Roo who was supposed to be a likeable hero who occasionally did awful, awful things and the show never, ever got that balance right (in one episode our loveable hero attempted to rape somebody). Roo was just awful and spending time with her was a drain. The first season of Laid was a misfire, the second season was even worse, and odds are the ABC will make a third because the ABC are stupid like that.
Conspiracy 365 (FMC)
Conspiracy 365 managed to slip by mostly unnoticed this year but it was a magnificent example of Australian television at its absolute shoddiest. Even the worst Australian drama productions can create shows that at least look nice (oh hey Crownies, what have you been up to lately?) but Conspiracy 365 was a failure on every single level. The acting was atrocious, the direction was pathetic, the action sequences boring, the plot dopey, even the soundtrack was clunky. Conspiracy 365 cost 13 million dollars to make and not a single cent of that is visible on screen. As one crew member on the show put it after I suggested the show was a result of everybody involved having a bad week: “we weren’t having a bad week… we were having a bad six months.” When even the people making the show can’t be bothered halfheartedly defending it you have a real bomb on your hands.
Tricky Business (Nine)
What’s most fun about Tricky Business appearing on so many ‘worst of’ lists at the tail end of the year is that the critics panning it now were nowhere to be seen when the show debuted, choosing instead to say “it’s not that bad” like the sycophants that television critics in this country always are.
Even the end of year write-ups that tossed Tricky Business on their ‘worst of 2012′ lists still had to pat the show on the back. The Age named it the 10th worst show of the year but started it’s write-up with “A great premise, a strong cast and a strong locale were all fluffed in this exercise in offensive mediocrity.” A great premise? A strong cast? And a strong locale? Are we talking about Tricky Business? The premise was half the problem (they ran out of stories to do about a debt collection agency part way through the first episode), the cast slept through their performances (with the exception of Antony Starr who’s been rewarded for suffering through this show with the lead in the US series Banshee coming in 2013), and the locale was FUCKING WOLLONGONG.
As I mentioned in my reviews it takes a spectacular amount of incompetence and general laziness to create a television drama as inept as Tricky Business. Australian drama (with a few exceptions) is a joke for a reason; it’s a joke because producers in this country phone it in more often than they try to create great work. Tricky Business was the worst example of made-by-committee tossed-together-the-night-before who-gives-a-shit-we’re-just-making-this-to-fill-our-drama-quota bullshit that we’ve seen on Australian TV in a few years. Everybody involved should be suitably embarrassed to have been a part of Tricky Business (Lincoln Lewis obviously was, that’s why his character disappeared all of a sudden part way through the series).
Farewell from Change The Channel
Change The Channel, in its current form, has existed since July 2009 but I started writing TV reviews in December 2008 and I feel after four years that it is time for the end credits to roll on this little TV review site. I was hoping to be able to make it to the end of the year but as the posting of new reviews has slowed to a trickle in the last couple of weeks I would rather hang up the… keyboard?… now than drag things out. The Year In Review wrap-ups that close out every year at Change The Channel will still appear sometime around mid-December (as all end of year reviews are prone to do) but until that point there will be no new reviews published.
It was not an easy decision to give up the site, having put so much time and effort into creating the mass of words you see before you, but over recent months I’ve found the writing has become more of a chore than it should be. That lack of motivation combined with a lack of time are the major factors behind this farewell letter. I will still be consuming copious amounts of television, I just won’t be writing about it so much anymore.
A month or two ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine and he asked if I’d seen the latest episode of some great show, and I said that I hadn’t had time to catch up on it yet – I had a whole swag of new shows to review first – and we joked that maybe my hobby should be reading reviews rather than writing reviews. I laughed, but it was a point that really hit home; why watch a bad show to write a review of it when there are so many great shows out there waiting to be watched. While I have loved writing these reviews, I’m willing to sacrifice my love of critiquing television in order to devote more time to my love of television.
I want to thank all of my readers, when I started Change The Channel I was writing for myself and to find that there were other people out there who wanted to hear my voice and read what I had to say was really quite something. It was especially encouraging to find that I was not alone in regards to my thoughts on the shoddy state of Australian drama. To find others who want the Australian television industry to produce good TV and not just pat every new show on the back simply for being made was one of my favourite discoveries in my time with this site. (So I guess something good did come out of Crownies after all).
This is, sadly, the end of the road for Change The Channel. The internet is littered with farewell messages promising that whatever-the-site-is will return at some point, and that this is more of hiatus than anything else (hell, I’ve written at least two of those letters before) but I’m not going to say that this time. It is entirely possible that my need to force my opinion on others will return at some point in the future and if it does Change The Channel will roar back to life, but until that point 2012 will be Change The Channel’s final season.
My last piece of advice for you dear readers is if you don’t already live at the A.V. Club, go check them out, I cannot recommend that website highly enough – their TV Club was the model I aspired towards with Change The Channel and they produce consistently fantastic coverage of everything pop culture. Seriously, if the only thing I achieve with this blog is to turn a few people onto the A.V. Club then all is right with the world.
Thank you again,
Change The Channel