10. The New Normal (NBC). Ryan Murphy is so over-taxed — in addition to this, he has three other shows on the air (Glee, The Glee Project and American Horror Story: Asylum), all of which took a turn for the worse (however slightly) this year. While New Normal wasn’t perfect, its sassy discussion of gay issues, including the best comic villain since Will & Grace’s Karen Walker in the form of homophobic GOPer Ellen Barkin and the delightful Bebe Wood as a precocious pre-teen, kept us watching.
9. Nashville and Revenge (both ABC). It wouldn’t be fair to call these ABC shows our trashy secrets or our guilty pleasures — they were both damned good in their own rights last year, with interesting storylines and superior acting. The nighttime soap opera has certainly improved since the old days of Dallas and Flamingo Road.
8. Downton Abbey (PBS). Maggie Smith. That is all.
7. Boardwalk Empire (HBO). The genius of this series? It doesn’t have any likeable characters, just unlikeable ones you end up rooting for. Steve Buscemi forms the emotional center of this tale, based on some real characters from the era of Prohibition, but the ensemble work is as good as you’ll find.
6. Modern Family. The funniest live-action comedy on television got even better this fall in a episode when gay couple Mitchell and Cam crossed paths with two lesbian moms, but that was just the high-water mark in a show that has been consistently great.
5. RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo). It helped that the last “newcomer” season had a winner (Sharon Needles) who didn’t go simply for glam, and that the All-Stars edition brought back some of our favorites. This show still makes America’s Next Top Model look like it’s populated by rejects from The Walking Dead. And Ru’s deadpan delivery makes it all the funnier.
4. Archer (FX). This foul-mouthed animated spoof of James Bond movies, with a petulant superspy and his Oedipal relationship with his mom, who’s also his boss, is like The Sopranos without James Gandolfini’s weight gain … and a whole helluva lot more laughs. Gayish, sexy and weird, you rarely saw where it was going.
3. Game of Thrones (HBO). Mythic fantasy never seemed more vibrant, and never better told than in this remarkable series, which juggles fully 40 major characters across competing storylines without ever becoming confusing. Throw in a lot of hotties (including some same-sex attractions), dragons and rousing battle scenes, and you have the most fully-realized action series since Alias.
2. The Daily Show (Comedy Central), The Colbert Report (Comedy Central) and Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO). 2012 was an election year, so almost nothing mattered more than comedians who put the ridiculousness of the election process in perspective — and the liberal perspective (even ironically presented via Colbert’s faux Bill O’Reilly impersonation) gave a counterpoint to the serious-as-a-heart-attack misinformation of Fox News. Collectively, 2012 would have seemed very different without these folks — not just on television, but possibly at the ballot box.
1. Key & Peele (Comedy Central). Comedy Central scored a threefer this year, and this sketch comedy show is the reason why. The one unmissable show of 2012 was this hilarious satire of everything from same-sex marriage to gay adoption to Rihanna, though it is probably the “Obama and his anger translator, Luther” segments that made each fall episode so timely and funny. We needed to laugh — no one made us laugh harder than these two humorous hotties.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 4, 2013.