UPDATED: Dec. 28, 2012
A long time ago (or, actually, two years ago), I would make annual Best Of lists, usually for movies and music, and I loved doing it. I always wanted to include TV shows and books, but I often found myself unable to list 10, and since all good lists come in groups of 10, I would leave them off and be done with it.
Last year, though, I opted for an overarching list that included all things I loved about the year, so I’m now thinking that’s the way to go. Oddly enough, this year, I had a hard time narrowing my TV shows down to 10 – we really are in an amazing era of quality TV. Note: These aren’t necessarily listed in order of favorites or quality.
So, I give you The 2012 List of So … There I Was’ Favorite Things
Louie: This past year, three shows went so far past what other shows are doing that they deserve special awards just for themselves. Louie (the other two follow immediately on this list) led the way, going from a collection of short films about a comedian’s life to a series of Oscar-worthy short films about life itself. Louie proved to be the most accomplished piece of art I experienced in 2012.
Breaking Bad: The first half of the final season (the last half comes in Summer 2013) kept the show running at its usual high standards. Based on how the series ends its run, I’m prepared to call it my favorite drama of all time.
Mad Men: I’ve always appreciated Mad Men but never loved it. This past season completely changed that for me. It had no less than four episodes that belong on a list of “best episodes I’ve seen on TV,” and the show continued to prove that creator Matt Weiner has an overall vision he’s trying to achieve.
Happy Endings: In terms of laughs, it’s the funniest pure comedy on network television. They throw so many jokes at the audience, and, surprisingly, most of them land.
Fringe: OK, so a weird show got weirder, but even in doing so, it remained a fascinating look at the lengths people will go to help the ones they love. Also, would someone please finally honor John Noble for the work he’s doing as Dr. Peter Bishop, one of the most wonderful characters ever created for television?
Homeland: When it’s good, it’s very good, but when it’s bad, it’s laughable. Fortunately, it stays very good most of the time.
Childrens Hospital: With no semblance of continuity, Childrens Hospital aims to do one thing and one thing only: make you laugh. It always succeeds.
30 Rock: After two so-so seasons, 30 Rock has returned to its brilliant form in its last season, giving a fitting farewell to Liz Lemon and company.
Downton Abbey: I love the show so much I couldn’t wait for Season 3, so I watched the BBC version. US fans are going to LOVE it.
Community: I always respected the show but never loved it. With the inventive episodes this year, I went firmly over into the “love it” camp.
Veep: While Girls gets most of HBO’s buzz, Veep proved to be one of the most consistently hilarious shows on television.
Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen: Bruuuuuuuce!
King Tuff by King Tuff: Pure adrenaline-fueled rock n roll. I only discovered this album in early December, and I’ve barely stopped listening to it.
Channel Orange by Frank Ocean: If Prince had been influenced by modern hip-hop, this is the album he would have made after Purple Rain.
Handwritten by Gaslight Anthem: Primary writer Brian Fallon moves past the broad strokes painted in previous songs and zeroes in on his own world, giving intimate lyrics with an anthemic sound.
The Tempest by Bob Dylan: In case you aren’t aware, Mr. Dylan can craft a song.
Boys and Girls by Alabama Shakes: The album is fantastic, but nothing can compare to seeing them live.
The Master: Paul Thomas Anderson makes challenging films, and this one is his most challenging to date. The pre-release buzz was that it was a fictionalized take on the founding of Scientology, but it proved to be an intense (and fascinating) character study about one man’s animalistic nature.
Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino’s slave-revenge fantasy is his most linear movie to date, and it’s filled with great acting and gorgeous shots. It’s pure adrenaline in film form.
Moonrise Kingdom: Pure perfection from Wes Anderson, who deserves more Oscar buzz for this look at early love. It also has my favorite line of the year.
Wanderlust: If you can watch Paul Rudd’s ad-libbed mirror scene and not laugh and laugh hard, then I’m not sure I want to know you.
The Hunger Games: Big expectations, bigger payoff. This is exactly how adaptations of blockbuster young adult novels should be done.
The Dark Knight Rises: I didn’t expect it to be as good as The Dark Knight, and it wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not nearly perfect in its own way. Bane proved to be the perfect force of nature to take on Batman, and director Christopher Nolan provided a fitting end to a landmark trilogy.
Skyfall: James Bond is back in the year’s best pure action movie. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the terribleness of Quantum of Solace.
Argo: Ben Affleck, Oscar-nominated director. Yes, we’re a few months away from living in that world.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: Just when you think you might know what’s happening, Flynn flips it all out from under you.
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz: In this interconnected collection of short stories, Diaz continues showing why everything he writes is worth devouring.
Dream Team by Jack McCallum: As good as the 1992 Olympic men’s basketball team was, the behind-the-scenes stories are even better.
The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King: I did not want King to return to his masterpiece, The Dark Tower series, because there was no need to mess with perfection. In this one-off story, King does what he does best: spins an interesting yarn (in this case, two).
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Kids with cancer? Sounds depressing, and it is, but it’s also beautifully written. Read this immediately.
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane: A prohibition-era gangster tell set in Boston then the South that almost begs to be adapted into a movie.
In One Person by John Irving: My favorite author returns to form with a beautiful and stunning novel.
You’re Not Doing it Right by Michael Ian Black: The comedian deftly blends big laughs with real emotion in this book about marriage and raising a child.
The Last Great Game by Gene Wojciechowski: It makes Duke fans appreciate Kentucky , and, maybe vice versa.
Alabama Shakes (Oct. 8 in Louisville): I’ve made it clear I’m not a fan of hipsters, mainly because I can’t stand people who can’t get passionate about anything. However, as the Shakes concluded their set, I saw people, the hipsterish hipsters among them, openly weeping and shouting/stomping for more. That’s how good this band is live.
Radiohead (June 5 in Cincinnati): I never know how international acts like Radiohead will do in venues outside of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, but I can’t imagine how they could get too much better than this night in Cincinnati.
Wilco (July 15 in Louisville): For my first Forecastle Festival, I went for one band, and they, as usual, didn’t disappoint.
Gaslight Anthem (July 18 in Nashville): It didn’t hurt that I was almost on the stage in a small venue.
Steve Earle (Aug. 23 in Cincinnati): I will always regret bumping into Steve Earle pre-show on the streets of Cincinnati and not at least offering to buy his dinner.