Our Top Ten TV Shows Of 2012

The countdown of our finest shows of 2012! Will your favourite series make the list?

10. Being Human

Just skipping in at number ten, it’s Being Human, BBC Three’s vampire-werewolf-ghost flatshare romp. They suffered massive cast losses this year, but bounced back with one of their strongest series yet, bringing in some much needed warmth and humour among the gothic villainy.

Not perfect – could never warm to the Annie character – but a fine run, and deserves recognition simply for the level of improvement and surviving the kind of cast losses many shows never recover from. See the slightly ropey fourth series of Misfits for an example of that. The ghouls are back shortly for year five, and I hope they keep it up.

9. Fresh Meat

There is a lot of contention for the Most Improved Series award this year, with a few shows turning in stronger performances than 2011. Channel 4’s student comedy-drama Fresh Meat, from the writers of Peep Show, nailed it with this second year, riding the comedy/drama line more assuredly and delivering interesting stories even when their finest comic creation (Jack Whitehall’s JP) was off-screen.

They don’t seem to know what to do with the Oregon character, and sometimes the desire to be both dramatic and hilarious can get away from them, but this was consistently excellent and has me excited for the third year.

8. Dexter

To be honest, it’s been a couple of years since Dexter would’ve even appeared on my top ten list, but once again, the improvement this year was great. Sparked into life by the end of the entire show next year, they’ve finally begun to tug at loose ends and bring everything together. Season seven also gave us Dexter’s battle of wits with Isaak Sirko, one of his most charismatic enemies in a while.

The stretches in plausibility are always there to let our blood-spattered hero continue getting away with murder, but I’m intrigued by Dexter for the first time in a while. Only hope the final season keeps up the tension.

7. The Walking Dead

Technically, The Walking Dead aired not just the intruiging start to the third season in 2012, but also the final six weeks of the less well received second. To be honest, the latter half of that season wasn’t too bad, bar a couple of slow weeks, so I’m giving it top ten placement regardless.

Mostly because the third season was trashy, meat-grindy fun, putting us through the emotional wringer and not even repeating themselves too often. I might struggle to say it’s high art, but I admit The Walking Dead was one of my most anticipated TV appointments each week, and I can’t wait for the concluding half of this season.

6. Doctor Who

For much of the year, Doctor Who might have been even lower, to be honest. The opening five episodes of the seventh series were fun but, except for the first and last, not really exemplary. Only one was really disappointing (yes, I mean The Power Of Three), but in a five-part series, three of them being merely okay isn’t great.

But then came last week’s Christmas special, and I loved it. Fine, well-crafted fun, and a great introduction to new girl Clara. Maybe the Ponds were dragging my excitement down after all. So that sneaks it a few points higher, although not into the top five, and I’m still looking forward to the upcoming year – both the second half of series seven with Clara and the much anticipated fiftieth anniversary special.

5. The Killing III

The Killing trilogy ends, with a new double-mystery and a strange ending that… well, I won’t spoil it, but weird, let’s put it that way. We-ird. The story itself was an interesting callback to the first year, even if it didn’t pulse with excitement in the same way, but the tension was still there, as were the grey, grey backdrops.

And now it’s all over. The series that brought Danish drama to prominance in the UK has ended, but Denmark’s influence on this list may not have. Yeah, you can probably guess what’s coming later. But not yet!

4. Sherlock

The second series of Sherlock is also the second Steven Moffat show on this list, and it produced a much stronger average than Doctor Who, due to the clever trick of only doing three episodes. Unlike its first year, there wasn’t even a rubbish saggy one in the middle. The Hounds of Baskerville was weaker than the other two, and featured the very silly “mind palace” scene, but still entertained me, mostly thanks to a great joke about dogging.

And the first and last episodes were excellent pieces of modern, zippy mainstream drama. Shot along at speed, plenty of twists, and yes, the final scene of the year wins Best Cliffhanger by far. Good work.

3. Borgen

The promised second Danish entry on this list, it’s Borgen! A political drama from the makers of The Killing, starring a few of the same actors and focusing on the rise and rule of the first female Prime Minister in Denmark. One of my favourite dramas of the year, character focused and intruiging, the best straight political drama I’ve seen since the oft-worshipped The West Wing.

Happily, Borgen returns for a second series on BBC Four very soon, and the third and final series is airing in Denmark this spring too. So 2013 could be a very good year for this show, even if we never see it again after that.

2. Breaking Bad

In the course of 2012, Breaking Bad has really Broken Through, becoming TV choice of Guardian readers and internet users everywhere. So not only did many people, including me, watch the brilliant first four seasons this year, but also the beginning of the end with the first half of season five.

And happily, that was really good too. You do kinda miss the great villainous presence of Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus, but this is the final year, so it makes sense that Walt’s greatest enemy will now be himself, and the cliffhanger topping off those first eight episodes was masterful. Hopefully the 2013 finale to this show will top itself yet again.

1. The Thick Of It

So, here it is, the show of the year: The Thick Of It, Armando Iannucci’s dead-on, dead-funny satire of the UK government. 2012’s fourth run was advertised as the last ever, throwing the entire series to date into one glorious mess, satirising the coalition, managing the transition from straight comedy to comedy-drama with ten times as much grace as most long-running sitcoms and pulling off an audacious format experiment with the inquiry episode.

Best thing on TV all year, no question. Even tackles my main criticism of the previous series by making Malcolm Tucker less cuddly and over-used, pushing him back towards his roots as a dubious villain. To be honest, my only complaint is I wish there had been more of it. You can’t imagine the sadness in stating that my favourite show in this Best Of 2012 list is also one of only two that won’t be coming back in 2013.

(The other one is The Killing, in case that was frustrating you.)

So, do you agree with our top ten? Any big omissions? I must admit, Game of Thrones and Homeland were hard to leave out, but I just felt the above shows more.
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Nick Bryan

Updated: Dec 30, 2012

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