Our list of the best dramas of the year.
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TV’s best procedural, Castlle has something for everyone. There’s comedy in episodes like the one set at a sci-fi convention filled with clever references to Nathan’s beloved Firefly. There’s tense drama like an episode set around a bomb going off at an Occupy Wall Street-style protest. And there’s romance as Castle and Beckett finally got together.
#11 The Newsroom
Yes, Aaron Sorkin’s latest series about a 24-hour cable news network can be preachy and preposterous, but that’s also its greatest strength. The first episode boldly announced that anchor Will McAvoy and his producer MacKenzie McHale would follow Don Quixote’s mission and dream the impossible dream of making an intelligent, responsible news program. The result is a real-world fantasy balanced with romantic comedy and broad farce.
#10 Teen Wolf
This MTV supernatural drama is jam-packed with funny, sexy, intense, nonstop action. The second season expanded the show’s mythology with the kanima, a brilliant mystery involving Jackson, the creepy new kid and Allison’s wicked grandpa. The show proved that the first season was no fluke and this is easily one of the most entertaining shows on television.
#9 Breaking Bad
The first half of the final season saw Walt and Jesse go into business for themselves with the help of Mike. As a result we saw Walt’s increased delusions of grandeur as he seemed to take joy in the role of the kingpin. The season also featured a brilliant performance by Jonathan Banks as the enforcer who, like Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon, was getting too old for this shit and at least one forgettable when baby-faced Todd (Friday Night Lights star Jesse Plemons) shot a little kid.
#8 The Vampire Diaries
What other show would kill off its main character and turn her into a vampire? The answer is none, but TVD did that this year in the latest bold move by a show that dares to move at a rapid-fire pace. The amount of mythology the show adds every week is astonishing and helps to create a rich, textured world of the other-worldly.
#7 Mad Men
The times, they are a-changin’. That was the unofficial motto of Mad Men’s fifth season, and it helped to create some remarkable tension. Just look at the madness of the year: Don’s seesaw marriage to Megan, Peggy quitting, young gun Ginsberg threatening Don’s status as top dog, Roger recognizing his increasing irrelevance and experimenting with LSD, Pete taking on a mentally unstable mistress, Lane committing suicide and Joan prostituting herself for a promotion. It all helped to move the story dramatically forward.
#6 The Walking Dead
This year saw the end of season 2 as the survivors abandoned the Farm after it was overrun by Walkers and the start of season 3 which found one group take shelter in a prison while others entered the seemingly idyllic but secretly monstrous town of Woodbury. The introduction of fan favorite characters from the comics like Michonne and the Governor added much excitement, but it’s the way the writers fearlessly killed off countless major characters that made this year truly remarkable. In 2012, The Walking Dead killed off Shane, Dale, Lori and T-Dog, four original members of the group that were there from the very beginning. That may be the highest body count of series regulars for any show this year.
The show’s second season offered some of the finest writing and acting on TV. Jessica learned Mike’s secret, Donna was fired and Harvey went to war with the returning Daniel Pearson. The result was a wickedly smart show filled with smart people saying smart things. At a time when TV audiences are getting dumber (see the ratings of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo as proof), it’s refreshing to see a smart, well-made show.
Times are tough in the real world for average Americans and usually people look for escapism in shows about vampires, zombies and magic. But Parenthood faces the problems head on with a show that feels authentic. The Bravermans are a loving, hard-working family facing difficult, real-world situations, and they do it in a way that feels real. The show has hit new levels of greatness this season with Kristina’s breast cancer storyline. It’s a struggle that isn’t easily resolved in an episode or two, but one that has played out realistically. The credit should go primarily to Monica Potter, whose performance as Kristina has proven to be, in my opinion, the single best acting achievement of the year.
#3 Game of Thrones
I didn’t think it was possible, but the second season of this HBO epic actually expanded an already packed universe. The battle for the Iron Throne brought Stannis Baratheon into the fray against Joffrey, Robb Stark and his own brother, Renly. There were also White Walkers, baby dragons breathing fire and the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar. But the true genius of the second season can be described using just one word: Blackwater. The episode and the battle itself featured some of the best writing, acting and visual effects TV has ever seen.
#2 Sons of Anarchy
This was the best season yet for this gritty FX drama. It began with Jax taking over the club and the season was filled with unrelenting tragedy, from ruthless crime boss Damon Pope burning Tig’s daughter alive in front of him to Jax’s best friend Opie sacrificing himself in prison. The many threads of the season all came together in the end as Jax’s master plan to exact revenge on his two biggest enemies, Pope and Clay, came together as his home life crumbled. Every episode increased the drama and the characters all evolved naturally.
The final season of Fringe will likely go down as one of the greatest pieces of science fiction television has ever seen. Leaping more than 20 years into the future where the Observers have taken over and a small rebel army tries to reclaim the planet, the show managed to create a story that felt brand-new while retaining everything wonderful that came before it. It works as a massive sci-fi battle between rebels and an invading group of mind-reading time-travelers, but there’s also an intensely personal emotional journey for the characters we love.