The regular Weekend Rewind looking at past seasons is preempted this week for my second annual rundown of my Top 20 episodes of the year. A quick disclaimer: this is of course based on shows I watched. I am watching the first couple years of Parenthood on DVD and I love it but I haven't gotten to 2012's episodes yet. Also, there are shows like Homeland that I'm sure I love but haven't watched yet, so this is based on what I do watch and what I enjoyed in 2012. So check it out below! And also, check outmy top 20 episodes of 2011!
The season finale of Criminal Minds was a two hours full of heart stopping drama. Set mainly around a tense bank robbery, this episode had everything that Criminal Minds fan love: twists and turns, intense action sequences, and building suspense. Then at the end of the episode, there was a very sweet sendoff to Paget Brewster as Agent Prentiss. She has such an impact on the show and it hasn't been the same without her but at least they sent her off in style in a way that made me realize I care about these characters even though they often seem like props in the procedural story.
New Girl has been in the opposite of a sophomore slump: it has been getting better and better after a stellar first season. It started off its second season in a real strong way with Jess losing her job. That made her neurotic tendencies even stronger. Adding in a real funny side of Winston after too many of Nick's drinks, I remember being so excited that these guys were back after a long summer off. This is the Friends of this generation in my opinion.
Chicago Fire has been the surprise of the year for me. I thought it would be a mundane drama that would run out of storylines quickly (after all, how many ways can they portray fighting a fire?) But instead, the show has been building strong storylines with interesting characters as it's more about its ensemble than the fires. Honestly, give it a chance - the performances are better than you'd think. The most recent episode continued to add new levels to the characters and ended with a dramatic and unexpected moment to send the show into 2013 with new storylines to explore.
The season's most addictive new drama just keeps twisting with each new episode. In this episode, the building conspiracy involving many of the lead players possibly throwing the election for President Grant was explored by a snooping reporter (and lover of the President's Chief of Staff) in the small town of Defiance, Ohio. As he uncovered evidence, the President celebrated a birthday. It was a good, twisty episode that also included a sometimes comical case of the week with a crazed billionaire. But then everything got real twisty in the final seconds when President Fitzgerald Grant was shot and Scandal just took things to a whole new level.
Alcatraz ended up being a big fat disappointment both in quality and the ratings for FOX. But I was extremely hopeful and for good reason after one of the best pilots of the year. Alcatraz had a dark and compelling pilot about a group of prisoners that disappeared from the famed prison in 1963 and resurfaced in the present day. The show eventually got repetitive and disappointing but I remember finishing the pilot and being so excited for what was coming next. The disappointment of the series doesn't take away from the great start that captured a mood the show needed to keep.
This episode of New Girl captured everything that is awesome about the show: it furthered the Nick and Jess saga where Nick felt like Jess is using him like a boyfriend. The episode included a great dinner scene between Nick and Jess. The show is doing a great job of keeping these two apart so far much like Cheers did with Sam and Diane but each episode like this adds to the story. This episode also had one of the funniest "B" plots of the year when Schmidt pretends to be of the Romney sons to connect with hot young Republican women.
Smash was such an interesting show in season one - the show everyone loved to rip on but kept watching anyway (and I was no exception to that crowd). Season one was wildly uneven, ranging from a strong and creative new drama to a silly, misguided show. However, there's little dispute about the quality of the pilot which was regarded as the best pilot heading into the 2011-12 season and with good reason. It was something unlike anything else on TV, an interesting look into the inner workings on Broadway. The performances were strong and the new songs introduced were dynamic. Let's hope season two can recapture some of that pilot magic.
I miss Revenge from season one. I still like it this year but everything is just getting so complicated and it's starting to lose me a little bit. It was already heading down that path at the end of season one but it turned things around with a dynamic season finale filled with twists and turns as Emily came face-to-face with the white haired man and Victoria stepped on a plane doomed for disaster. So what if we all knew Madeleine Stowe wasn't really getting killed off, it ended the season with a real bang and there hasn't been as strong an episode since.
I think I sometimes take the greatness of Modern Family for granted as it is one of TV's strongest shows week in and week out. But every once in awhile there's an exceptionally great episode to remind me and "Schooled" was one of those episodes. Everything that makes Claire and Phil a great couple was on display as they completely embarrassed Haley when they took her to college (including Phil's book of advice - "Phil'sosophy". Meanwhile, Mitch and Cam got in a battle with some strong minded lesbian parents. As every great Modern Family episode does, this show ended on a very sweet note with Haley appreciating her parents after all.
I love Person of Interest each week but I had a hard time pulling out certain episodes that stood out as the show is consistently one of the best but rarely spectacular at certain points. The season finale, however, was one of those "spectacular" episodes. Finch and Reese are completely fooled by a "person of interest" (a great guest appearance by Amy Acker). The show brilliantly tied up season one while setting up season two as Carter and Fusco finally realized they were both working for the same people and Reese begins to understand the workings of the machine. It was an action-packed, thrilling episode.
For most of the half hour, this episode seemed like a generic Parks and Recreation episode - funny and witty with good performances. But then in the final minutes, it threw us for a loop with Ben's proposal to Leslie. As she cried and said yes, fans of the show were jumping for joy that the hopeless romantic Leslie got her storybook proposal. This is where the show differs from so many other shows like it - it is inherently sweet, not crass and not sarcastic. That's the appeal of this show and this final moment of "Halloween Surprise" was a perfect of example.
Sometimes The Middle seems to be more of a kindred spirit to a show like The Andy Griffith Show than any show on TV today and the plot in this episode is a good example of why. When the Heck family goes to a new church, the pastor inspires Frankie and the congregation to "get your business done." She spends the rest of the episode trying to do that to consequences you might expect. This show makes great episodes out of minor things. A great side story was also in this episode involving Sue babysitting a kid her own age.
Dallas made a triumphant return to TV on TNT this past summer with one of the more successful reboots in TV history. They did it by blending the old cast with the new - not retelling the story but continuing it. And the pilot got them off to a great start as we explored the next generation of Southfork with JR's conniving son John Ross and Bobby's well-meaning son Christopher at the center of the new generation. Of course, this episode and reboot wasn't complete without the arrival of the late, great Larry Hagman in his iconic role as JR Ewing. Hagman died during production of season two but at least we'll get a year and a half of seeing what the delightfully evil JR is up to in 2012.
Go On is the best new sitcom in a season with a very weak class of freshman sitcoms. I don't always make this appointment viewing (especially with it airing against New Girl) but I do enjoy it every time I watch it, some weeks more than others. Its best episode so far shows the real potential of this show - as Ryan prepares to spend his first birthday alone, his wacky group therapy friends take him on a scavenger hunt. It keeps his mind off his late wife until a poignant final scene that displays how this show can blend humor and emotion in a very natural way, which is tough for a sitcom to do.
I have maintained for a long time that Criminal Minds is underrated. Of course it has many fans but most TV critics dismiss it immediately as a standard procedural that brings nothing new to the table. That argument has merit but I think Minds will sometimes exceed its procedural box and create real compelling drama. That is true in this episode which featured a brilliant guest turn by Meschach Taylor as a homeless war hero. The case of the week was almost secondary to this performance. Taylor should be considered for an Emmy, though he never will because snobby critics see the title Criminal Minds and move on to the next show.
It might not be a great sign that my favorite episode of a show came in the first airing of the year but I have already lamented Revenge's current direction. Instead, I choose to look back at when the show was at its best - that first summer in the Hamptons before the disappointing "reveal" episode, the "initiative," the unnecessary side characters. In this episode, crazy Tyler disrupts Daniel's beach-side clambake birthday dinner as Emily stays a step ahead of the game as she always does. This show seemed much simpler then when it was all about Emily's revenge and this was another fantastically twisty episode.
New Girl is the only show to get three spots on my Top 20 and they're all from the fantastic start to the second season. There were others that could have made the list too but my favorite was the Thanksgiving episode featuring Jess trying to "parent trap" her divorced parents (played excellently by Jamie Lee Curtis and Rob Reiner). That storyline alone was great but Nick's bonding with Jess' mother and Schmidt's increasingly crazy competition with his brother added to the fun of the episode. There is no more enjoyable half hour on TV each week than New Girl.
The episode that had me laughing the hardest this year was courtesy of Modern Family and its brilliant new cast member in older Lily. When Lily learns some bad language ahead of being a flower girl in a wedding, Cam and Mitch desperately try to discourage the language (even as Cam repeatedly finds it hilarious). When Lily drops some major swear words at the wedding, Cam and Mitch are horrified and the audience is laughing its head off. This episode was the source of a minor controversy due to the young Lily swearing but its a great storyline that many parents have likely dealt with.
Right after the stunning cliffhanger of the President getting shot (see #17), Scandal picks up with an even better episode. From the opening scene of a dazed Olivia in the ER in the moments after the shooting to the steamy flashbacks that show more of the origin of Olivia and Fitz's relationship to the final twisty moment that implicated Huck as the gunman in the shooting, Scandal packed more excitement and emotion in an hour than some shows do in their whole run. It proved why it is the best drama on TV right now with this mind boggling and juicy episode.
The fantastic arc of Leslie Knope's run for City Council came to an end in this incredible episode that was the best of 2012. It featured more brilliant guest turns by Paul Rudd and Kathryn Hahn as the competition and ended the way everybody wanted it to. As Leslie's professional dreams came true, she was also forced with the fact that Ben was heading out to Washington DC. The best part of this episode though was seeing this amazingly talented ensemble working together to get Leslie elected and then partying together when she did. It captured everything that makes this show great in one episode and it was the best of the year.