2011 was a great year for TV. 2012? Not so much. The first half was pretty decent, but the second half of the year was pretty much a strike-out. So while 2011’s list was a lot of work (because I had to whittle down a huge list to acceptable levels), 2012’s list was also a lot of work (because it was that hard coming up with a list of decent new shows).
And so… the list, keeping in mind that this is all about new shows, not returning ones. There’s also lists of shows that didn’t make it, shows that ended this year, the biggest disappointment of the year, the best news of the year and the best and worst moments of the year. Enjoy!
THE BEST NEW SHOWS OF 2012
Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 (ABC) – The premise of this show is simple: June, a naive and trusting Indianan, moves to New York City after graduating college to pursue her dream career. But on her first day the CEO of her mortgage company is arrested for running a Ponzi scheme. Desperate, June becomes the roommate of Chloe McGruff (Krysten Ritter), an amoral scam artist, a swindler and party girl. Chloe is the worst person ever, and is only genuinely nice to her best friend, former Dawson’s Creek actor James Van Der Beek. Unfortunately, the ratings aren’t very good, the writing has taken a turn for the worse in season 2, and ABC is monkeying around with the episode order. I don’t expect it to last much longer.
Line of Duty (BBC) – Every year the BBC puts out a really dark police drama in which the police aren’t necessarily any better than the people they’re chasing. Be it my personal fave Luther or last year’s favorite The Shadow Line, there’s always some show about the dark side of police work. This year’s entry is Line of Duty, in which the young, idealistic Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) accidentally causes the death of an innocent man during an anti-terrorist raid. Arnott refuses to participate in a cover-up of the incident, and is ruthlessly ostracized by his colleagues for it. To get away from them he joins an internal affairs division led by Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar). Hastings’ main target is Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (the great Lennie James). Gates’ unit consistently has huge arrest numbers, and Hastings knows that this is partly because Gates only takes on cases he knows he can solve, then piles tons of charges on criminals once caught. But Hastings suspects the corruption is far worse. Although family man Gates might not want to admit it, he has a mistress, and she just might get him in a world of trouble.
Copper (BBC America) – And speaking of dark police dramas, BBC America debuted its first original series, Copper, about Kevin “Corky” Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), a rough and tumble Irish cop in 1860s New York City, specifically the notorious, crime and poverty ridden Five Points neighborhood. Like a lot of men at the time, Corky went away to fight the Confederates in the Civil War, and while he was away his wife and daughter were murdered. Much of the series is about his investigation into what happened to them. He’s helped by Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) a wealthy industrialist who was his major in the Union Army, Eva Heissen (Franka Potente), a Prussian madam who knows a lot of secrets, and Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), a black physician who seems to know more about forensic science than any other doctor in America at the time (one of my small beefs about the show). Many disliked the show, saying it was too slow, and the fact that it was set in a time-frame similar to the slightly more popular Hell On Wheels didn’t help. But if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded. It’s a well-done series with rich characters and well thought-out stories.
Veep (HBO) – Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as Vice President Selina Meyer in this comedy created by English comedian Armando Iannucci, inspired by his earlier (similar) British series, The Thick of It. At first I was worried that Meyer would be a cheap Sarah Palin knock-off, but Dreyfus plays Meyer as middle of the road (in fact, the show will probably never discuss political parties). It’s not “laugh out loud” so much as it is a highly amusing look behind the scenes at a barely competent vice-presidential administration. It’s not “great” by any means, but it’s certainly worth a view!
The Newsroom (HBO) – It shows how paltry this year’s lineup of new shows is when this show makes a “Best of” list. Where do I even start? It’s jam-packed with all the cliches you expect from Sorkin by now: the “walk and talk”, the circular camera pans, the hundred mile an hour dialog that doesn’t really say anything, the snappy comebacks to insults (has Sorkin ever heard of L’esprit de l’escalier?), the “silly woman can’t understand something until a wise man explains it to her” tripe, and all the misplaced speeches that none of the other characters asked for. Yep, it’s all there, folks, in all of Sorkin’s smug, self-righteous glory. And it’s even worse because the main plot lines in The Newsroom are based on real-life events, so Sorkin’s bleeding-heart characters can use hindsight to make them look even smarter than they actually are. In the pilot, for instance, two staffers figure out every major problem with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in mere minutes when, as best I recall, the true scope of the disaster wasn’t known for days. I could grant some leeway here… I don’t really want to watch a TV show where staffers spend days on the phone verifying facts with drilling and environmental experts. But to figure out what happened, the consequences of it, and the nature of the buck passing (between BP, Halliburton, etc.) all within 5 minutes beggars belief. People as smart as this shouldn’t be working in news rooms, they should be on Wall Street. In the end, it’s Aaron Sorkin. Love or hate the guy (I’m much closer to the latter), this show is still a pretty well put together… even if it is a nauseating liberal lovefest.
Hunted (BBC\Cinemax) – The amazingly hot Samantha (Melissa George) is a spy for a private espionage agency known as Byzantium. While on an assignment, an attempt is made on her life, and the fact that no one should have known where she would be leads her to believe Byzantium is behind the attack. She returns to the UK to recover from her wounds, and eventually returns to duty as an undercover nanny in the home of a wealthy former gangster gone legitimate who is bidding £1 billion to buy a dam in Pakistan. Why is he risking everything he has for a dam on the other side of the world? Where is the money coming from? And who attacked Samantha and why? Patience, friends. Answers to these and other pressing questions will come. The BBC decided to not renew it for another season; co-producer Cinemax was happy with the ratings and is considering doing a second series on its own.
Elementary (CBS) – This modern reinvention of Sherlock Holmes features Jonny Lee Miller as recovering drug addict Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson, a “sober companion” hired by Holmes’ father to make sure he stays off drugs. Holmes was, of course, based in London, but gets in to some sort of drug-related trouble there, so he’s sent to New York City where “crimes are more interesting”. Many fans of Holmes (especially of the BBC’s recent Sherlock series) were outraged (OUTRAGED!) that an American network would, in their view, take a standard police procedural and graft Holmes and Watson (A FEMALE WATSON??) on top of it. But you know what? It’s pretty entertaining, and one of the few network dramas I look forward to every week. Is it paradigm-changing TV, like Twin Peaks or Mad Men? Of course not. But it’s fun to watch anyway.
And the show of the year is… [drumroll]
Continuum (Showcase) – It says a lot about the crappy state of American TV that a Canadian sci-fi series is my New Show of the Year, but here we are. Continuum is initially set in 2077, where the governments of the United States and Canada have been dissolved and North America is ruled by an Evil Corporation™. The corporation catches a group of “terrorists” and sentences them to death. But just as they’re about to be executed, one of them sets off a “time machine grenade”, which sends them back to 2012. Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols), a police officer who helped catch the terrorists, is there to witness the execution, and she rushes towards them to stop their escape. So she gets sent back to 2012, too. Kiera wears a high-tech bioelectronic suit which gives her assorted powers (like Jessica Alba in Dark Angel, only not quite so over the top). The suit communicates wirelessly, and her transmissions are picked up by a computer genius named Alec Sadler. In the future, Sadler has perfected the wireless technology, and it’s his company that takes over North America. But when we see him in 2012, he’s just a teenage tinkerer in his garage… who is shocked when someone starts talking on his radio prototype! Like Logan Cale in Dark Angel, Sadler uses his hacking skills to remotely help Kiera. For example, when Vancouver Police notice Keira repeatedly showing up at crime scenes caused by the time-traveling terrorists, Sadler hacks in to Canadian government computers to make it appear that Keira is a federal agent. So Kiera and the VPD team up to track down the terrorists one by one. But here’s the thing: although Kiera is our “hero”, she’s actually working for the Bad Guys in the future. She’s brainwashed, having lived her entire life in a sort of slightly more benign 1984. Her “terrorists” are our “freedom fighters”. And the “terrorists” she’s hunting – a group called Liber8 – aren’t a monolithic group, either. The terrorists want to hunt down and kill their future oppressors, but one of their group, Matthew Kellog, wants to use their knowledge of the future to work the stock market and take down Sadler’s future company financially. And when Liber8’s leader, Edouard Kagame, suddenly appears… all bets are off. This isn’t ground breaking television, but it’s highly entertaining, especially given the paucity of quality sci-fi on TV these days.
WORTH A WATCH
Moone Boy (Sky) – If you’re a fan of Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd, FM), this show is a must-see. Loosely based on O’Dowd’s own life, the show is about 11 year-old Martin Moone, a boy growing up in Boyle, Ireland in the late 80s. His father is a henpecked sign maker, while his mother obsessively campaigns for presidential contender Mary Robinson. Martin has three overbearing older sisters – Trisha, Fidelma and Sinead – who give him endless grief, but he has an imaginary friend, Seán Murphy (O’Dowd, playing an adult as seen through a child’s eyes) to help him through the tough times. It’s heartwarming coming-of-age comedy along the lines of The Wonder Years, Irish-style.
Cuckoo (BBC Three) – In the UK, it’s common for students entering college to take a year off to travel (or work or volunteer). It’s called a gap year, and in this show a young, pretty English girl named Rachael Thompson (Tamla Kari) uses her gap year to explore Asia. There she falls in love with and marries an American hippie known only as Cuckoo (SNL’s Andy Samberg). The happy couple return to the UK, where Rachel’s father, Ken (Greg Davies), is aghast, while mother Lorna (the lovely Helen Baxendale) tries to be “hip” and supportive. Most of the series is about the conflict between the conservative Ken and the ultra-liberal Cuckoo (and it says a lot about English politics that Ken, a Liberal Democrat, is the conservative here). Ken ultimately hatches a plan to get rid of Cuckoo for good. Not laugh out loud funny, but pretty amusing, and I’d watch Helen Baxendale in almost anything.
Dirk Gently (BBC Cymru Wales) – Stephen Mangan stars as the eponymous private investigator in this adaptation of Douglas Adams’ famous books. As with any beloved literary character brought to the screen, fans were apprehensive about how the Beeb would handle it. Fear not: The Mirror said: “It’s just a shame creator Douglas Adams isn’t around to see how [show creator] Howard Overman has transferred Dirk to the screen. He’d definitely approve”. Have no idea who Dirk Gently is? Imagine Sherlock Holmes’ quirky, hippie cousin. Sadly, the BBC decided to not renew the series, so all you’ll have to enjoy is the pilot episode and three regular episodes. Which is a shame, ‘cos this was really good. In fact, had it not been cancelled already, it might have been in the running for “Best New Show”!
SWING AND A MISS…
666 Park Avenue (ABC) – I have a love-hate thing with the horror genre. On one hand, they’re usually kind of… well, stupid, honestly. But I like being scared, so I sometimes watch them anyway. And I kind of liked 666 Park Avenue, a series in which Lost’s Terry O’Quinn stars as Gavin Doran, the owner of a fancy apartment building in New York City called The Drake. In the pilot episode, he hires a couple to live in the building and work as managers: Henry Martin (Dave Annable) and Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor). But all is not, as they say, what it seems. The building seems possessed and Gavin might be the Dark Lord behind it all. It was (and is) a fun, silly show, but low ratings killed it.
Alcatraz (Fox) – When former prisoners of Alcatraz prison start showing up in 2012 – committing new crimes but not having aged a day – a shadowy FBI agent named Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) appears. SFPD homicide detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) works one of the cases and is recruited by Hauser along with Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia from Lost). This wasn’t a bad show, and it got pretty good ratings at first. But viewers soon tuned out for some reason, and Fox axed it.
Awake (NBC) – The short version: LAPD detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) gets into a car wreck which kills his wife and son. However, waking up in the hospital after the accident, he finds that he lives in two worlds: in one, his wife survived the crash, but not his son; in the other, his son survived the crash but not his wife. He moves between the worlds in his sleep, spending one day in one world, then going to sleep and waking up in the other. He can’t tell which of the two worlds (if any) is the “real” world, despite seeing therapists in both worlds. He then starts to notice clues from one world crossing over into crimes in the other world. Names, places and dates in one world become relevant to a case in the other. We at least got some closure in this series, and it was perhaps the most critically-acclaimed bomb this season. But it was nice while it lasted.
Bent (NBC) – OK, so the only reason I watched this show is because I have a thing for Amanda Peet. But not even her hotness could save this paint-by-numbers comedy about uptight attorney Alex (Peet), who hires a laid-back contractor to renovate her kitchen. And guess what? The two fall in love… or at least start to fall in love. The show wasn’t around long enough to find out. And good riddance, really. Jeffrey Tambor (as the contractor’s actor father) and Margo Harshman (as Alex’s flirtatious sister “Screwsie”) couldn’t save this show.
Eternal Law (ITV) – Hopes were high for this show by Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes creators Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah. In the series, “Mr Mountjoy” (God) sends two angels – the 14 billion year-old Zak Gist and the newbie Tom Greening – to act as lawyers in York with one rule: they can comfort humans and aid them in obtaining grace, but they cannot interfere with free will. They are assisted by Mrs Sherringham, a former angel who gave up her wings to marry a human and is now widowed. They are opposed by fallen angel Richard Pembroke, who frequently acts as prosecutor against the humans in court. This was actually a pretty good show, and I was tempted to actually put it on the “Best of” list. But it didn’t click with English audiences, and was canceled after one season. It’s good for its six episodes, but there won’t be any more.
GCB (ABC) – ABC needed a new show to cover the departure of Desperate Housewives, and hoped this show would be it. Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb) was forced to return to her native Dallas after her Ponzi scheming husband died while receiving “road head” from his mistress. She’s greeted by her overbearing mother, “Gigi” Stopper (Annie Potts), who re-introduces her to all the people Amanda purposely or inadvertently hurt during high school. The first episodes were fun, but the cast was so large and the schemes so quick to appear that it became hard to keep up. It was like Housewives, only with a much larger cast and all the “crazy plots” from the get-go.
Girls (HBO) – I guess I’m the only person who doesn’t like this show. I gave it a try, and decided that my Sunday nights were just too busy for one more show, especially one that I had to really, really try to like.
Go On (NBC) – Matthew Perry is back! And his show seems like “Community for Unhip People”. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just… well, Community for people not hip enough to understand Community.
House of Lies (Showtime) – OK, this sounds cool: a TV series loosely based on real-life management consultants. Ever wonder how a group of contractors could just waltz into a company and fire half the staff or get rid of half their product lines? Well keep wondering, because this show ain’t gonna tell you. It started off pretty well, but it soon devolved into showing how much trouble main character Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) can get in to. So there’s much more emphasis on Kaan sleeping with client’s wives in restaurant bathrooms and figuring out how to bill clients for cocaine than there is actual consultant content. As much as I love Kristen Bell (Kaan’s underling Jeannie van der Hooven), there’s no way I’m sticking around for season 2 of this.
Last Resort (ABC) – A neat idea, but one wonders how the show would have gone on if it’d been renewed. It’s not like they could have strung this show out over 4-5 seasons. Plus – and maybe this is just me here – this show seemed to share much of the look and feel of Lost. Seriously… I’m sure someone out there good at video editing could come up with some kind of Lost\Last Resort mash-up where the sub stops at that island.
Longmire (A&E) – [Homer Simpson voice] Boooooring. [/Homer Simpson voice]
Made in Jersey (CBS) – Janet Montgomery is hot. Almost hawt, even. But she couldn’t save this show which, while not terrible, was almost an exact remake of the 1988 Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford film Working Girl. Seriously, take out the love connection between Ford and Griffith and update the clothes (but not the hairstyles) and you’ve got this show.
The Mob Doctor (Fox) – Few things make me reach for the remote faster than the words “starring Michael Rapaport”.
Napoleon Dynamite (Fox) – Who decided to greenlight this 8 years after the original movie came out? Hey Fox, you do know that all the 14 year-olds who loved the movie then are almost out college, right?
Revolution (NBC) – Another cool idea: one day, in the near future, electricity simply stops working, sending the human race back to the Stone Age. So how could they fail so miserably? And where do I even start with this show? For one thing, landmarks are shown as being overgrown with vegetation (you might remember an ivy-choked Wrigley Field from the promos), but everything looks fine when it suits the writers. So Wrigley Field is crumbling away, but everyone’s clothes are pristine. And one of the characters, Maggie Foster, is a British nurse who wants to find her children back in the UK. But she lives in Seattle, so she decides to walk across the United States rather than find a sailboat in Seattle? But the worst is Charlotte “Charlie” Matheson, one of the main characters in the story. She finds her uncle, Miles Matheson, a former Marine Corps sergeant. Miles kicks ass, like a lesser Chuck Norris or Jack Bauer. So why does Charlie have to argue with Miles – especially about military tactics – all the time? Can he not, just once, say “look, ya spoiled bitch, I was in the Marines when you were in diapers… so shut the hell up and do as I say”? She’s a brat, and rather than cheer for her, I wanna see her killed as soon as possible. And that’s just the start of it. If you want to read more about how stupid this show is, read this article from Cracked entitled “The 10 Dumbest Things on TV So Far This Season”. #5 on the list is the infamous Seahawks-Packers game (where the replacement refs blew the call at the end of the game). The other 9 things on the list are from Revolution.
True Love (BBC) – Well, it was worth a try. David Tennant’s mostly improvised drama about love – in which each 30 minute episode tells a love story from five tangentially related people in a small English coastal town – just fell a bit flat. You could certainly do worse than this series (and really, watching the entire series only wastes 2.5 hours of your life), but it just seems like so many talented people should have been able to do better.
Vegas (CBS) – Dennis Quaid stars as the good ol’ boy cattle rancher turned sheriff, while Michael Chiklis stars as his arch-enemy, Vincent Savino (based on real-life crime boss Marcello Giuseppe Caifano). I liked this show, and found it a cut above most crime dramas on network TV these days. But I guess viewers didn’t agree.
White Heat (BBC) – This series, about a group of seven college students who become roommates in the early 1960s, was dreadfully stale and boring. Like a low-rent Aaron Sorkin series, the show tried to beat its “importance” over your head, with that snobbish “oh weren’t the 60s so grand” mentality to I just… can’t… stand. It’s one thing to be pompous. It’s one thing to be dull. But to be pompous and dull is just death.
POUR SOME OF YOUR FORTY ON THE GROUND FOR…
Dirty Jobs (Discovery Channel) – It’s sad that ol’ Mike Rowe’s show is gone. He is, by all accounts, a good guy. To tell the truth, however, I think they’d been running out of ideas for some time now. The last season even went to Australia, and one of the “dirty jobs” was to live like an Aborigine for a few days, which is neither dirty nor a job.
Weeds (Showtime) – Praise Jesus! Jenji Kohan ran out of ideas for this show years ago, and it limped along with crappy, nonsensical plots (and that’s “nonsensical” within the context of Weeds, mind you, so it’s a very low bar!). I think I could have done a better job writing for the show! And honestly, you know it’s time to hang it up when the only thing I remember from last two seasons is “Kat Foster wore BDSM outfits and got spanked a lot”.
Damages (Audience Network) – Let’s see… loved the first season, didn’t care for season 2, liked season 3, and didn’t much care for season 4. I actually didn’t much care for the story in season 5, either, but seeing Patty and Ellen finally go at it after all these years was worth the wait. Or it would have been. The finale was better than the Lost finale… but not by much.
Laid. (Australian Broadcasting Company) – This quirky Aussie black comedy, in which the past lovers of a girl named Roo McVie begin dying inexplicably, got even darker in its second season. I loved the show, and as far as I know it hasn’t “officially” been cancelled. But the finale of season 2 made it pretty obvious that the show is done. Loveable, funny, and just plain weird… I loved this show!
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (Travel Channel) – I’ve felt conflicted about this show for a while now. For one thing, Bourdain’s been almost everywhere. It’s like he’s running out of things to say, which isn’t exactly surprising after 142 episodes. And of course there was January 18, 2010, when the “Istanbul” episode aired, in which Bourdain blatantly shilled for the Chase Sapphire card. We get it – TV shows are expensive, and any product placement money you can get helps. But Anthony Bourdain shilling for a credit card? What’s next? John Lydon selling butter? Oh wait. Anyway, in spite of the product placement and lack of “new” on the show, it was hard to turn away. The camerawork in the later seasons of No Reservations was just incredible, some of the most cinematic you’ll ever see on TV. I’ll miss the show – even if I started skipping episodes the end, especially all the damn clip shows in the final season. The episode from Emilia Romagna was worth it, just for the scene with the Parma hams. That was heartrendingly beautiful.
House (Fox) – Odd… I’ve always liked Hugh Laurie, but never watched an episode of this show. Ironically, I figured I’d get in to it and Fox would cancel it halfway through the first season.
CSI: Miami (CBS) – Yeaaaaaaaaaahhhhh. No more.
King (Showcase) – Two seasons and done for this Canadian crime show. I liked the first season, and it got really good press, but for some reason I just didn’t care for season 2 at all. I watched the first 2-3 episodes and gave up… and much of Canada apparently did, too. Funny side-story: On a trip to Myrtle Beach, my friend Scott saw a girl on one of the “tourist channels” and announced that he was “going to drink until that girl is pretty”. Amy Price-Francis does that same to me.
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret (IFC) – How can a show with such a funny first season have such an awful second season? It’s like no one involved in the show cared at all about the second season.
Are You There, Chelsea? (NBC) – It’s getting to where I can’t stand that old hag on her talk show. Her terribly conventional, unfunny sitcom didn’t help.
Jersey Shore (MTV) – The cancellation of this show proves that God exists.
Hit & Miss (Sky Atlantic) – Sky Atlantic is a new(ish) channel in the UK that only airs “quality” shows. They have access to almost all of HBO’s programming, in addition to critical darlings like ER, Friday Night Lights, Battlestar Galactica, Awake, House, Inside the Actor’s Studio, Mad Men, Seinfeld, The Borgias and more. Hit & Miss is their first original series, starring Chloë Sevigny as Mia, a transsexual
hit man hit woman contract killer who finds out that an ex-girlfriend, Wendy, has died of cancer. Unbeknownst to Mia, she also fathered a son, Ryan, with Wendy back when she was a “man”. In her will, Wendy names Mia guardian of Ryan and her other children, Leonie, Levi and Riley. So Mia travels to the small farmhouse Ryan shares with his half siblings. Mia wants to become a parental figure for the children, and quickly wins over Ryan, but the others actively resist her authority. Meanwhile, Mia continues her contract work for Eddie, a lifelong criminal who also has a grandfatherly streak. Early in the series she runs in to John, the man who owns Wendy’s farmhouse, and the two do not get along. At all. I won’t reveal more, just say that the series has a lot of “oddball charm” to it. No, it won’t rewrite your opinion about British TV or transgender people. But it’s a lot of… well, “fun” isn’t the right word, but it’s worth a watch. And oh yeah, this series will remind you that Chloë Sevigny, unlike many actresses these days, can actually act.
The Syndicate (BBC) – Five employees of a grocery store form a “syndicate” to buy lottery tickets every week. Sadly, they find out that their store is closing and that they’ll all be laid off. But then, a couple of days later, they win an £18m ($28m) lottery. And they all live happily ever after, right? Well no. After he finds out about the layoffs, but before they win the lottery, syndicate member Jamie, who owes a lot of money to the “Wrong People”, convinces his brother and fellow syndicate member Stuart to stage a robbery of the store. Stuart is a nice guy who wouldn’t normally do something like that, but he’s being hounded by his pushy, materialistic (and pregnant) fiancee Amy (my current TV crush Amy Beth Hayes) to move them out of his mother’s house. The night they win the lottery (but before they find out they’ve won) they stage the “robbery”. Unfortunately, their beloved boss and fellow syndicate member Bob (the great Timothy Spall) leaves his cell phone at work, and when he comes back for it he interrupts the “robbery”. Jamie knocks Bob in the head with a liquor bottle, causing him great harm. But it just gets worse for poor Bob: he’s given a CAT scan at the emergency room, and he finds out that the reason he’s been so forgetful lately is because he has an brain tumor. And the other members of the syndicate have their own problems, too. Will everything work out for everyone in the end? Will money change everything? Technically this is no longer a “miniseries”, as the BBC has ordered a second season of the show, which will have a similar story, but with a different cast. But I’ll leave it here anyway.
Blackout (BBC) – This three part series tells the story of a corrupt council official, Daniel Demoys (Christopher Eccleston). Demoys is a pathetic drunk; throughout the first episode, he’s frequently seen chugging a pint of vodka in his car or at his desk. He was once young and idealistic, but now is caught in a web of illegal payoffs, illicit affairs, a collapsing marriage and family and lots of vodka. Lots of vodka. He drinks so much one night that he completely blacks out, waking up the next morning with a severely injured right hand. He finds out later that morning that a corrupt property developer he was in cahoots with has been assaulted and is near death. Could he be responsible for the beating? In an odd moment of clarity, Demoys sees a man with a gun, who wants to kill a witness in a drug trial. Demoys steps in front of the witness and takes a bullet for him, making him a hero in Manchester. The public love him… but is he worthy of their admiration?
Hatfields and McCoys (The History Channel) – The feud between the Hatfield family of West Virginia and the McCoy family of Kentucky is an American legend. Even though the feud was settled almost 125 years ago, the phrase “Hatfields and McCoys” is still used by millions of Americans today to describe folks having a long, personal disagreement. Like many historical events turned folk legends, there’s a lot people don’t know about the feud. I’d always pictured the feud as something out of Lil’ Abner, with barefoot hillbillies taking potshots at each other. The real story, as shown here, was much more complex. The miniseries was big, sprawling and epic. The cast of characters necessarily huge. But the series was personal, too. We could relate to these characters. And, God bless him, Kevin Costner was actually good in this! There were a few moments here and there where the timing seemed to sag, but all in all I was surprised by how much I liked this!
Mrs. Biggs (ITV) – The name Ronnie Biggs is barely known in America outside Anglophile circles and World’s Biggest Robberies type “edutainment” shows. On August 8, 1963 Biggs and several associates robbed a Royal Mail train of £2.6 million, which is around $66 million in modern money. Biggs was caught a year later and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was incarcerated for 19 months before escaping from Wandsworth Prison. He fled to Brussels, then Paris, before moving to Australia. He moved his family there and lived quietly for four years before police tracked him down. He fled to Panama and then Brazil. There he got a woman pregnant, and Brazil at the time had a policy prohibiting extradition of anyone who’d fathered a Brazilian child. Biggs remained there until 2001, when he voluntarily returned to the UK to finish his sentence and, in his own words, to “walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter”. This miniseries tells the story through the eyes of his wife. Born Charmian Powell to an extremely conservative schoolmaster, she saw Ronnie, then a small-time thief, as a way to rebel against her father. The two fell in love and stuck together through thick and thin… until Ronnie knocked up the Brazilian. He tried to talk Charmian into getting a “paper divorce” so that Brazilian authorities would take his pregnant girlfriend situation seriously. But by this point Charmian had had enough, and went back to Australia to care for the couple’s two living children. Critical reception to this miniseries was mixed; I think much of this has to do with the divisive nature of Ronnie Biggs. Many saw him as a kind of Robin Hood-type, while others thought he was scumbucket who flouted the law for decades. A few reviewers didn’t like the nearly five hour running time of this series. If you’re British and intimately familiar with the story already, I can see how you might think that. But I was engrossed the entire time. There are some really touching moments in the series, such as when Ronnie comes home from the robbery and dumps a giant pile of money – almost £180,000 – on the bed, in a time when the average income was around £1,100/year. Charmian looks at it and bursts into tears, explaining that Ronnie “took too much”, that the cops will “never stop looking for him”. There’s also a scene where their oldest child Nicholas dies in a car crash and Charmian, alone without her beloved husband, just loses it. Sheridan Smith is incredible as Charmian Biggs, and Daniel Mays plays a charming Ronnie in this series, which is absolutely worth your time.
Underbelly: Badness (Nine Network) – As I said in last year’s recap, Underbelly is a “series of mini-series” based on real-life crime stories in Australia. The first series (Underbelly, about gangland wars in Melbourne in the late 90s), was so popular that Nine did a second series, Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities, about the start of the wholesale heroin trade in the 70s and 80s. A third series, Underbelly: The Golden Mile, was about organized crime and police corruption in Sydney’s nightclub district, while last year’s Underbelly: Razor was about a series of wars between two of Sydney’s most legendary 1920s gangs. This year’s entry is Underbelly: Badness. It begins with the 2001 murder of Terry Falconer, a prisoner out on work release. Little did Australian police know they were embarking on a decade-long investigation that finally brought down Anthony “Rooster” Perish, a drug dealer and gangster. The title of the series comes from a police investigator who found that there was almost no record of Perish anywhere. He had a birth certificate, but apparently never had a bank account, baptismal record, driver’s license, library card, insurance of any kind, a car or house in his name, a credit card, any type of loan, and had never applied for any government benefits. The investigator, Camille Alavoine, said that “only someone with serious badness to heart” would go to so much trouble to hide their existence. Jonathan LaPaglia, younger brother of Anthony, plays Perish, while Matt Nable plays Det. Sgt. Gary Jubelin, head of “Strike Force Tuno”, the Aussie police task force dedicated to taking Perish down. I liked this mini-series, but think it’s one of the weakest of the brand. Was it entertaining? Sure. Did it feel like the “same old, same old”? It sure did. There will be yet another series next year, Underbelly: Squizzy, about Joseph “Squizzy” Taylor, who was active between 1915-1927. Maybe this series will capture some of Razor’s magic, which was one of the best of the series.
MOST IMPROVED SHOW AWARD
The Borgias (Showtime) – You may recall that I called this show “The Bore-gias” in last year’s recap. But my how things have changed! It seems as if the creators spent almost all of the first season introducing characters and setting up relationships, hence, my “boring” crack. But this season they really got it in gear. Almost every episode had me on the edge of my seat, and (aside from Mad Men and this season of Boardwalk Empire), The Borgias has really been the only “appointment show” of the year. Yes, it plays fast and loose with history… but it’s a far sight better than The Tudors, and this season seemed to move at a much faster pace than even that series. Good job at improving the series, Showtime!
BEST NEWS OF THE YEAR
In my 2010 recap, I named the Australian Broadcasting Company’s legal drama Rake as the Show of the Year. And why not? Richard Roxburgh plays Cleaver Greene, a Sydney barrister who uses obnoxious tactics to get his (almost always guilty) clients off. Think of the kind of stuff they pull on Franklin and Bash, only not nearly as over-the-top. Outside the courtroom, Greene is a complete… well, rake: a bitterly sarcastic, obnoxious, coke snorting, womanizing boozehound with a gigantic gambling problem. Oh, and he owes a ton of money in back taxes, too. Season 1 was absolutely brilliant, one of the best things I’ve ever seen on TV. I was so pumped that the show came back this year for season 2. But the season 2’s ending was… rather permanent. It seemed as if the show was over for sure. I was pretty bummed… only to find out that there will be a season 3 after all! Hell yes!
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
As much as it pains me to say it, I’m going to have to go with season 5 of Mad Men. Part of this had to do with the mountain of hype AMC created for the show. Mad Men had been off the air for 18 months, and few shows (if any) would be able to overcome the landslide of hype surrounding the season 5 premiere.
And then there are the cost-cutting measures AMC insisted on. Did they affect the story? Did we see so little of Betty because Weiner wanted it that way, or because he couldn’t afford to pay January Jones for the full season? Did we see less of the main characters like Peggy and Betty and more of the minor ones like Stan and Ginz because they’re cheaper? Or is it because he’s planning to “pass the torch” to them next season? And is Peggy gone for real?
But wait, there’s more. Don Draper is aging, and thanks to the corner Matthew Weiner has written him into he can no longer really be the “star” of the show. Look back at season 1: Don Draper was, by far, the hippest guy in the room, no matter what room he was in. Now he’s starting to look like the old fuddy duddy, only slightly less out of touch than Roger. There’s still a lot to love about the show, especially the beautiful camera work, Pete’s transition into “Don Lite” and Sally’s transformation into “Mini Betty” (I’m no fan of child actors, but it’s no joke: Kiernan Shipka can act; it’s amazing at how well she mimics January Jones). Still this season had a lot of gimmicks – Lane’s suicide and the eye-rolling LSD episode. It’s still the best show on TV… just not by a mile any more.
WORST TV MOMENT OF 2012
In my mid-year recap, I called 30 Rock’s “Queen of Jordan 2: Mystery of the Phantom Pooper” the worst moment of TV so far. And if you want to stick to scripted TV shows, I’ll stand by that.
But the worst “moment” of TV by a longshot was NBC’s coverage of the London Olympics. Not only did NBC “edit” the opening ceremonies by cutting away for commercials or athlete interviews as it chose, hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira just wouldn’t shut the hell up! And while inane chatter is one thing, being outright stupid isn’t. Look, I don’t care if Meredith Vieira doesn’t know who Tim Berners-Lee is, even if his invention, the World Wide Web, is one of the most important of the late 20th century. But don’t you guys have interns to research this stuff for you? WHY would you go on national television – and during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics no less! – and say “if you haven’t heard of him, [laugh], we haven’t either”?
And then there were the actual competitions. I get that any network would want to save the best stuff for prime time, and with time zone differences would be problematic for any network. But come on! People have desktop computers, laptop computers, smartphones and tablets, and broadband connections for all the above. Sports is the last category of programming that people want to watch live, and even though NBC offered live streaming of many events, the most popular events were not streamed, or only available for streaming after the event had aired on TV… which wasn’t just “NBC”, but the company’s confusing array of networks. And that’s assuming NBC’s tweets and promos hadn’t spoiled it for viewers by then. And while it’s understandable that NBC would take a US-centric view with regards to its programming, the network really went too far in that direction this go-round. Many of the best moments of the Games weren’t shown at all on US TV, or else were shown on Bravo at 5:15AM.
And then there were the closing ceremonies. NBC cut away several times, most notably from Muse performing the Olympic theme song to show a “sneak preview” episode of Animal Practice, an inane comedy that’s already been cancelled. I myself tried to watch NBC’s “uncut” streaming feed of the ceremonies, but was rewarded with the worst streaming experience I’ve ever had. The quality of the video was atrocious, assuming that I even got that to work after many page reloads. It was so bad that it made me yearn for the days of postage stamp-sized RealPlayer videos over a 28.8 modem. So I did want many Americans learned to do during the Olympics: I set my browser to use a UK proxy and watched the BBC feed instead. So at least lots of people learned something during the Olympics, even if it was how to use a proxy server. NBC, I fear, will never learn.
BEST TV MOMENT OF 2012
I’ve watched HBO’s historical drama Boardwalk Empire since the first episode. And it’s been challenging at times. The first season moved at a glacial pace, and since there were very few likeable characters (aside from Kelly Macdonald’s likeable but boring Margaret Schroeder) it was sometimes hard to remain invested in the show. Season 2 seemed like more of the same, only with an expansion of characters and plots that made it confusing, too.
But if seasons 1 and 2 were slow burns, season 3 was a full-blown forest fire. For the first two seasons, Steve Buscemi’s Enoch “Nucky” Thompson character (based on the real-life Enoch Johnson) was more of a corrupt Atlantic City politician than straight-up gangster. He preferred using his cash and political power to persuade, rather than guns or violence to compel.
But this season a mobster named Gyp Rosetti took over Tabor City, the halfway point between Atlantic City and New York, an important refueling stop for the fleet of trucks Nucky uses to ship illegal booze to Arnold Rothstein in New York City (yes, the same Arnold Rothstein behind the Black Sox Scandal). Rosetti starts seizing Nucky’s liquor, knowing that he’s protected by Joe Masseria (who led what would eventually become the Genovese crime family).
Gyp decides to go after Nucky in Atlantic City and sends an army of heavily-armed men to take him out. Nucky, who had lived in luxury at the Ritz-Carlton, ends up on the run, hiding out in a lumber yard. His family has fled the city, he hasn’t showered in days, he’s down to one friend, black gangster “Chalky” White, and is reduced to eating stale pastries and lukewarm coffee. He’s even running out of cigarettes, for goodness sake! But then the two men hear the sound of approaching cars. The cars stop, and several armed men get out. Nucky panics until he sees his brother Eli, who he’d sent to Chicago to beg for help from gangster Johnny Torrio. But the armed men part, and instead of Torrio, his protégé Al Capone walks up:
Chomping on a cigar, Capone looks at Nucky and says:
“We been on the road for 18 hours… I need a bath, some chow… and then you and me sit down… and we talk about who dies.”
Fade to black.