TV Show

Television is a magical window through which strangers enter our home in ridiculous costumes to have sex and cook meth without the risk of us catching any of their communicable diseases. While here, they might make us laugh or cry, or they might just brutally murder each other while we watch. And it is wonderful.

More wonderful than ever, in fact -- the reason we have a dozen of the all-time great TV dramas playing on cable right now (see: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Homeland, etc.) is that the film industry has given up on making any movie that wasn't a comic book first, driving out many of the great writers, directors and actors who still have a desire to actually tell interesting, human stories. This wave of talent has crashed through the magical window in your living room, and we should enjoy it while we can, before the business model changes again.

Here are the editors' picks for the most important TV shows of 2012.

#8. Breaking Bad

What can one say about Breaking Bad that isn't "whooooa" or intense silence? Probably a lot, actually, and a lot of the words will likely be "bitch." But mostly this section will just be intense silence.
Earlier this year, an episode of Breaking Bad featured the now-clearly-pretty-evil main character's wife, Skyler, faking suicide to keep her children safe. And, of course, a bunch of people took to the Twitters. Luckily, they were all really great at watching TV.

There were countless tweets like this, all wishing Skyler White would just fucking die already you cunty, not-dead bitch. Of course, Skyler isn't a villain or anything. She's family, protecting family. Yes, she's in opposition with the main character, but the main character also happens to be the villain. I wonder if these people are aware of that -- that Walter White is an evil, abusive, manipulative, murdering attempted rapist. I wonder if we're watching the same show, where Walter is a monster and Skyler is ... Poor Skyler ...
I wonder if some people really do watch Game of Thrones mostly for the possible glimpse of boob. Like, I'm looking at boobs now, while I'm typing this. A lot of you probably have tabs open that are full of boobs. In fact, if you search in Google (or Bing if you really want to), the number-one result for "boobs" is Cracked's expose on boobs. This segment on Breaking Bad really got away from me...
Bring back Breaking Bad but, in the meantime, bring back Game of Thrones. Meanwhile, Walter just did something embarrassing, terrible, brilliant, reckless, or any combination of those four things, so here's some more intense silence ...
... bitch.

#7. 'Game of Thrones'

Game of Thrones is a fantasy show full of a billion characters and subplots. It's not a procedural or a reality show. Sometimes characters disappear for episodes at a time. People die, quickly and unceremoniously. Characters are complex and confusing. There's a bald eunuch who talks about his melted scrotum. A lot. It's based on a massively nerdy book series.

"Can't we just call it One-and-a-Half Men?"

And it averages 10.3 million viewers per episode. I literally don't know anyone who doesn't watch this show. I watched and really enjoyed every single episode this year, and I still have no idea how it was sold. "Hey, I've got an idea for an incredibly expensive show that's about knights and swords, but it's mostly about different people resorting to sometimes war but mostly sneaky political manipulation to achieve power. There aren't really clear protagonists, and morality is never rewarded. There are dragons and zombies, but I don't imagine they'll impact the plot for many, many years. There will be too many characters to keep track of and about a dozen new ones being introduced every season. Sean Bean's the only kind-of famous person attached to it, but I'm going to kill him fairly early on. Deal?"

Fucking deal.

"We'll also need a child actor who makes the Phantom Menace kid seem tolerable."

#6. 'The Walking Dead'

I'm mostly picking The Walking Dead just so I can say-

Hold on, let me don my golden Condescension Crown and get atop my formal Patronizing Mound before I announce this. All right. All set. Here we go:


It wasn't all downhill from here.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about (and a very dim understanding of hyperlinks), I'll reiterate: At the end of the second season of The Walking Dead, I predicted that the show would absolutely have to get better from that point forward. Not only because it was their rock bottom -- the zombie drama equivalent of waking up hung over next to your naked sister -- but because the writers had written themselves into a corner, and the only way out was to accidentally make some compelling television. And it happened! This season (well, at least as of the time I'm writing this) has been not only better, but actually pretty good! That might sound like faint praise, but a "pretty good" zombie drama serial is like cheap whiskey to me: Even when it's bad, it sure beats talking to other people or doing something productive with my life.

Just a few episodes into this season of The Walking Dead, we've already gotten rid of every annoying character one way or another: through death, abandonment or that most dire of last resorts, finally making them interesting. We've got a freshly crazy, newly minted badass version of Rick for a protagonist, and all of the weak characters have been culled, only to be replaced by Oscar and Axel. Admittedly, their only character traits so far are "being black" and "mustache," but that's still two more character traits than fucking Carol.

Oh, shut up and perform another C-section, you angst basket.

#5. 'Girls'

There's a certain type of TV show that we now give the sort of analysis and cultural weight that our parents and grandparents gave to novels and art house cinema. The conversation usually starts with The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and then it usually moves on to whether shows like Game of Thrones and Friday Night Lights belong in the mix, or wistful reminiscing about the days when we thought Homeland might be that good, too. Comedies almost never come up in this conversation, probably for the same reason that comedies never win Best Picture Oscars. But I will always argue that Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant's The Office belongs in that conversation. The first season of Girls made a pretty strong argument for being the first American comedy to be included in the canon of great Western televised literature.

It's basically Anna Karenina in tights.

The one thing all four of those bona fide TV-shows-as-literature above had in common was that they were created and driven by highly serious showrunners who stood in for the novelist. They ignored or actively upset our expectations, they had big, serious artistic aspirations, and they even had big, serious, biblical-sounding names like David and Matthew and ... Vince. By that standard, Louie would seem to be the American comedy with the best claim to the throne. Some people might still claim it. But Season 3 seemed to make it clearer than ever that Louie isn't really a comedy TV show so much as a series of mostly brilliant, occasionally comedic short films made by a great comedian.

While the asshole showrunner was probably a prerequisite in the early days, when the literary TV shows were first trying to make a place in a typically audience-driven medium, it's probably not as important now that every cable network is trying to create the next Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Instead, I'd argue that the thing that truly sets the four great apart is that they deliver definitive portraits of big, weighty issues that get entire sections of history books about 20th and early 21st century devoted to them -- the mob and Freud, urban decay and drug dealing, the rise of advertising and marketing. Girls took mountains of shit for being only about privileged white women, which seems strange, since The Wire is the only show that seems to reach outside of a very specific demographic of people.

Omar appeals to everyone.

In a year when the foremost expert on feminist comedy claimed that women weren't funny, Girls offered one of the smartest, most brilliant comedic takes we've ever seen on big, meaty, chapter-worthy issues like AIDS, unemployment and sexual politics in the workplace and relationships. It did it in a way that feels more definitive, authentic and hilarious than anything else that TV has given us. The fact that it's told from a specific, admittedly privileged point of view rather than an omniscient third-person narrator separates it from the rest of the pack, but a personal point of view is probably necessary if you're going to let a comedy into the club. And if you are, Girls deserves your consideration.

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