Newsday television critic Verne Gay picks his 12 best TV shows of the year.
12. Smash (NBC). Setting the flaws aside, "Smash" attempted something never really done before on network TV -- the fictional creation of a Broadway musical -- and succeeded memorably and (occasionally) even beautifully.
11. Homeland (Showtime). Great start to the Emmy winner's sophomore season, but it started to wheeze by the end.
10. The Walking Dead (AMC). The third season has been superior in every single respect to the second, plus this special bonus -- a pair of newcomers, The Governor (David Morrissey) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), who are even freakier than the zombies.
9. 30 Rock (NBC). As fresh, funny, inventive and smart as ever, "30" refuses to go quietly. This, the seventh, is the last season and when "Community" and "The Office" also go next year, a cherished part of NBC's great comedy history goes with 'em.
8. Portlandia (IFC). Even funnier second season of Carrie Brownstein/Fred Armisen satire of Portland's animal and biker rights activists, feminists, '90s-era hipsters, folkies, transgenders, anarchists, bisexuals, radical vegans, greens and all others who harbor a seething bias against Seattle for being a bigger and somewhat cooler city.
7. Community (NBC). Richly deserving of a spot on any top-12 list for several episodes, though perhaps one above all -- last May's "Digital Estate Planning" (in which the study group turns into a video game) comprising 22 of the most creative minutes anywhere on U.S. TV in '12.
6. Boardwalk Empire (HBO). The show's third bested its second season by finally turning Atlantic City prohibition-era kingpin Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) into a fully-functioning, unapologetic, bloodcurdling gangster (with plenty of help from the perfect nemesis, Bobby Cannavale's psycho wiseguy, Gyp Rosetti).
5. Frozen Planet (Discovery). Spectacular, stunning, inspirational -- help me, please, I'm running out of effusive praise words -- the BBC and Discovery's glorious portrait of the planet's frozen extremes was also a masterpiece of nature filmmaking.
4. Louie (FX). One of those rare shows that can't make up its mind whether life's a comedy or tragedy, and so usually just settles for a tie -- life is both -- while Louie's (Louis CK) efforts in the third season to replace David Letterman with the aid of a lunatic TV executive (played by David Lynch) were especially flawless tragicomedy.
3. Mad Men (AMC). After a long absence (17 months), "Mad Men" returned intact -- most notably with its flawless attention to the characters' cluttered interior worlds -- though a certain chilly remoteness did creep in by the end of this fifth season.
2. Game of Thrones (HBO). A great series with lofty intellectual ambitions that manages to be entertaining and relevant, as a long meditation on opposites -- light and darkness, north and south, night and day, fire and ice, realism and magic, true gods (and kings) and false idols -- and how these rule human affairs, notably the quest for power. A terrific second season.
1. Breaking Bad (AMC). TV's best drama remains a masterpiece of direction, writing, pacing and (of course) storytelling. Too bad this story ends this year (maybe).