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Top 12: And the best TV show of the year is. . .
The best TV show of the year? Need you ask? It's smart, well-written/acted/compelling, and has an overarching philosophy about evil (and the evil that lies in the heart of men, as well as the consequences thereof.) But it's also about the forces of good, and how those come to bear in the unending battle between light and dark. It is — in other words — a Greek tragedy for our times, which uses a strange metaphor (meth-cooking) to explore the perversion of willpower. It is simply a great television series.
Here's my list; Newsday this year deploys a "Top 12" twist for obvious reasons (let's hope we don't go for a Top 13 next year.)
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.)
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.
3.) "Mad Men" (AMC) After a long absence (17 months), "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 the 5th.
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.
5.) "Frozen Planet" (Discovery) Spectacular, stunning, inspirational — help me, please, I'm running out of effusive praise words — the BBC's and Discovery's glorious portrait of the planet's frozen extremes was also a masterpiece of nature filmmaking.
6.) "Boardwalk Empire" (HBO) "Empire's" third bested its second season by finally turning Nucky Thompson — Steve Buscemi — into a fully-functioning, unapologetic, bloodcurdling gangster (with plenty o' help from the perfect nemesis, Bobby Cannavale's psycho wiseguy, Gyp Rosetti.)
7.) "Community" (NBC) Richly deserving of a spot on any Top 10 list for a number of 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.
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.
9.) "30 Rock" (NBC) "Hey, Baby, What's Wrong" — parts 1, 2 and 3 — last winter (Criss and Liz celebrate Valentine's Day, etc.) was a masterpiece, while this — the final season — is going out with a roar too.
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.
11.) "Homeland" (Showtime) Great start to the sophomore season, but it started to wheeze by the end.
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.