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The Observer Rates the Best Television of 2012

With 2012 coming to a close your favorite series are taking a break for the holiday season. So, let’s take this opportunity to toast some of the best shows of 2012 in no particular order:

The Legend of Korra: Creating a sequel to a beloved television series rarely works: from Joanie Loves Chachi to That 80’s Show some of the most egregious travesties of the last fifty years have arrived in sequel form. When Nickelodeon announced that The Legend of Korra would be revisiting the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender fans blindly cheered. And what could have started as a cheap cash grab ended as an outstanding series that took risks and organically expanded its universe’s mythology. The first season’s abrupt ending aside – Korra was originally envisioned as a standalone miniseries and got a four season pickup halfway through production—Korra rewards returning fan loyalty and will continue to draw some of Nickelodeon’s now-adult audience back. Let’s hope that season two of Korra will fix many of its pacing flaws when it returns to Nickelodeon sometime in the first half of 2013.

Shark Tank: Who would have ever thought that the Friday night death slot on ABC would produce such an entertaining show, and about finance no less? Shark Tank keeps growing as the venture capital reality show keeps on balancing creative businesses with the larger-than-life personalities of its resident sharks. And it’s always nice to see Mark Cuban outside of his natural habitat, courtside at a Mavericks game.

Brickleberry: Just joking! It’s time for a palate cleanser and if there were awards for the worst series on television then Brickleberry would clear the animation categories. I love the National Parks Service just as much as the next Eagle Scout but it’s time to set fire to the title wildlife reserve. Dane Cook is a magnet that repels everything that is funny. You would think that network executives would know to ignore Cook at this point instead of greenlighting yet another terrible series that is trying to be a more offensive Family Guy. Not since the death of Bambi’s mother has the reputation of our noble wildlife rangers been this irrevocably damaged.

The Middle: In a perfect world, The Middle would have replaced Modern Family as ABC’s flagship sitcom. But we live in a world where jokes about Sofia Vergara’s chest and accent are enough to carry a show to record viewership and uncontested critical appreciation. Over in fictionalized Indiana, Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn are killing it while playing within the limits of reality. There’s nothing wrong with quirky characters but overreliance is hazardous. The Middle is real life and real funny even as its characters walk so dangerously close to this boundary.

Archer: This has been a great year for fictional secret agents. First, Skyfall takes all of the trappings of your average James Bond adventure and creates not just a great James Bond movie but a great movie, period. But the award for spy of the year still goes to our last Duchess, Sterling Archer on the FX comedy. Archer thrives when its characters are thrust into the most outlandish situations imaginable: it will be hard to top reaching the danger zone of space in last season’s finale. I don’t want to know anything about his future assignments. Just let the dossiers fall where they may when Archer returns this January.

Homeland: Homeland season one is just a near perfect season of dramatic television. To see a case study in great characterization and pacing from the same creative team as the pulpy 24 was a welcome surprise. But now we’re approaching the end of season two and Homeland is starting to collapse in epic fashion as it brings on some improbable plot developments. Viewers don’t care. Even if this is a trainwreck in slow motion then we’ll still be following Carrie and Brody as they go all Thelma and Louise off into the sunset. More likely these contrivances will sort themselves out while we are left to wonder about what will happen next fall.

Community: If absence really does make the heart grow fonder, then expect the legions of devoted Community fans to declare the second coming of its greatness when it returns this February after a half-season hiatus. With the well-publicized shake up of its creative team it will be interesting to see if new Community meets the unrealistic demands of its fans. Let’s just hope that Chevy Chase’s farewell season doesn’t end up as the show’s farewell season.

Fringe: Fox’s greatest genre show since The X-Files is going out with a bang this January and fans who have been along for the entire ride are reaching the end of a thrilling story about science, humanity and the need for both to exist together in cooperation. American science fiction has been overshadowed in recent years by British imports like Doctor Who, but Fringe is going out on top. Once the complete series hits Netflix in a few years it will surely gain the following it has always deserved.


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