By almost any standard, 2012 could be considered an outstanding year in popular entertainment. The summer featured blockbuster after blockbuster with some of the highest-grossing movies also garnering serious critical acclaim. We are also in what is widely heralded as the Golden Age of Television, with scripted programming being more original and daring than ever before. The recording industry provided us with exciting new artists and the return of some established superstars, populating the airwaves with music ranging from thought provoking lyric based songwriting to the irritatingly undeniable catchy hooks of pop music earworms. In books, there were a slew of revealing and confessional autobiographies, excellent political works designed to influence the election and the return of the Great American Novel. If you are someone who, like me, consumes an awful lot of content, then 2012 was as good a year as any you can remember.
To start this new blog, we decided to do a staple of entertainment based blogging: the year in review. I will be focusing on my favorites in both movies and TV while my sister will be providing her thoughts on books and music. Here we go.
TV I Liked
I had three distinct favorites in TV this year that I want to talk about. Readers will notice the absence of many of the big prestige programs that have dominated the conversation about TV over the last few years. While I have watched shows like Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Homeland and Girls and I find those shows to be very well made, I have decided to focus on the shows that I ENJOYED watching the most this year.
Game of Thrones – To be fair, I have to admit that I am a huge fan of the book series. That being said, I love this show as a completely separate entity. As a fan on the Fantasy genre in books, I am often disappointed at how a lot of those works have been adapted in TV or movie form. Either the content needs to be watered down to make it more palatable to a larger audience or it needs to be scaled down in order to make it fit into a smaller, less expensive shadow of the original material. Fortunately for us fans, there have been notable critical and commercial successes in both TV and movies which has made studios and networks more willing to commit the time and money necessary to do this material right. HBO has given an amazing amount of support to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss allowing them to create the best possible version of Game of Thrones. While most of the attention paid to the show focuses on its more sensational aspects, (Nudity! Violence! Incest!) It is the quieter moments of the show that, for me, are where the true power is. Peter Dinklage leads a stellar cast that gives the breaths between the explosions and beheadings some real gravity. Game of Thrones has provided moments of humor, intensity, shock, sadness and rousing triumph. You are forced to face the humanity of the villains even as you hate their ruthlessness, and see how sometimes the goodness in a man can make him weak. It makes you wish you didn’t have to wait another week to find out what happens, and I can’t imagine anything more you could ask of a TV show.
Best Episode: Blackwater
Happy Endings – It has been a hard last 10 years for the Sitcom. Most of the shows cranked out by the major networks have been duds both creatively and commercially leaving people wondering if there was much of a future for Network TV Comedies. Many of the real stalwarts like The Office, 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother seem to be headed towards the finish line, but when it seemed all hope was lost, there have been a slew of new shows that have picked up the baton. New Girl, Ben and Kate, Suburgatory and Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23 have all been fresh and funny new additions to their lineups. My favorite new comedy of the last few years has to be Happy Endings, for a number of reasons. The show has managed to have six distinct characters that all play off each other incredibly well. The humor works in large groups and when the six of them break off into smaller units. Happy Endings has great punch lines along with terrific physical sight gags which makes it relentless as it goes for laughs. When I watch comedy, I want a show that is aggressively trying to make me laugh and not just hoping I will. The cast is very, very strong and each member of it is capable of carrying their own storyline. I can’t imagine a comedy ensemble working together any better than this. It is the most reliable comedy on any channel.
Best Episode: Sabado Free-Gante
Burn Notice – This is a show I have liked for a long time, but this year it really elevated itself from a show I liked to one I loved. Burn Notice has always been a tense, action-packed hour of television, but it had slowly devolved into a pulpy spy serial where the overriding story arc was ignored in favor of a thug of the week format that made each episode more of a stand-alone than of part of a larger narrative. They remedied that in a big way by introducing a great villain played brilliantly by Jere Burns who returned the show to its roots. The level of danger increases and the show isn’t afraid to kill off some recurring characters to show how serious the threats the team is facing are. Jeffrey Donovan does his best work this season as burned spy Michael Westen. Westen is a man whose job as a government operative was to make decisions with life and death consequences, and this season on Burn Notice for really the first time, we see the weight of those choices and the toll it takes on a man to make them. He is more conflicted, emotional and dangerous than at any other time on this show and it makes Burn Notice the best it has ever been.
Best Episode: Under the Gun
TV I Didn’t Like
Mockingbird Lane – There is no reason that a reboot of the Munsters should have been such a dull, drab, humorless hour of television. With today advances in make-up and special effects, a show like this could have been taken to some amazing places. On the surface, I thought there was a good chance I would enjoy Mockingbird Lane. The cast included three people whose work I consistently like: Portia De Rossi, Jerry O’Connell and Eddie Izzard and each of them looks like they want to be anywhere but here. Where there should have been humor there was melodrama, where there should have been campy fun there was brooding tension. I tuned into Mockingbird Lane hoping for a light, enjoyable guilty pleasure and what I got was an hour of TV that missed the mark in almost every way.
Gone Too Soon
The Finder – This show, originated from a character that debuted on an episode of Fox’s Bones. Geoff Stults plays Walter Sherman who, after suffering a brain injury serving in the Iraq war develops an obsessive ability to make connections between people, places and events that can help him find anything. This doesn’t sound like a great premise, but The Finder had a cast with a lot of charm and a very unique take on the current TV procedural archetype. This is also Michael Clarke Duncan’s final project, and he uses his gruff, loveable persona to great effect as he mentors a juvenile delinquent played by Maddie Hasson. The Finder moved in a lot of interesting directions in its 13 episodes and I was eagerly looking forward to watching it mature and develop its voice. Sadly, it was gone too soon.