It’s often difficult to heap praise upon a medium that has tortured us with “Jersey Shore” and Honey Boo Boo. But for all its glaring faults, television continues to turn out some exceptional work. Here are 10 great examples in 2012 that made my job a lot more fun:
1. “Breaking Bad” (AMC): Season 4 of this still-magnificent meth drama ended with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) vanquishing the monster. In the first half of its farewell season, Walter became the monster. High on his own hubris, the meek chemistry teacher-turned-ruthless-kingpin spiraled deeper and deeper into the dark depths while alienating his wife (Anna Gunn) and his longtime partner in crime (Aaron Paul). His journey was disturbing, horrifying — and absolutely mesmerizing. And now that Walter’s DEA agent brother-in-law (Dean Norris) finally appears to be onto him, I can hardly wait to see where this twisted morality tale takes us next.
2. “Sons of Anarchy” (FX): The hog-straddling bad boys of this biker drama have always made for good TV. But Season 5 revved up the raw intensity to full-throttle as it chronicled Jax Teller’s (Charlie Hunnam) tumultuous transition to club leader and his ugly dealings with the traitorous Clay (Ron Perlman). (Ah, yes, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown). Moreover, the usual violence and villainy was tinged with visceral heartbreak (R.I.P., Opie), and the show benefitted from jolts of fresh energy provided by Jimmy Smits and Harold Perrineau. The excessive plot gyrations drive me bonkers at times, but this so-called “Hamlet on Harleys” has managed to keep its motor runnin’.
3. “Homeland” (Showtime): OK, so that whole bit about hacking into the vice president’s pacemaker was a plot-line straight out of crazy town. And the hit-and-run storyline? Ugh. After nabbing an Emmy for its extraordinary first season, this political thriller occasionally fell prey to “24”-like contrivances. Still, “Homeland” found ways to keep us on the edge of our seats — and plugged into the twisted relationship between high-strung CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and bedeviled congressman Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). Meanwhile, the performances by the entire cast continued to be brilliant.