The Top TV of Twenty-Twelve (Part One)
There is little more arbitrary in the arts then an end of year Top Ten; a non-critical comparison of films chosen not for their content or classification but by the date on which they were released. They’re stupid when you really think about it, they even fail as cultural barometers in the same way that award shows do and yet each December I enjoy reading them as they are released. So it would be sort of selfish of me not to throw one or two of my own back out into the ether; to consume and not create, so here goes.
Now TV top tens are, I think, even further flawed than any other mediums. With the exception of works from the Motherland and men like David Milch (are there really any other men out there like Milch?) each season of a show is the sum of many different parts, many different writers and many different directors each shaping, not simply a single piece of a puzzle but a whole painting that will be hung as a triptych or in a themed gallery show. So saying that this ‘season’ was better than that one seems strange and inaccurate to me because while it may be true of one week, what of the next?
For my list then I will mention what were to me the ten greatest episodes of the year and why each is indicative of its host show’s qualities as a whole. As I suck at stringently following even the rules that I myself have set I have made two exceptions, which will be the first two shows listed. So enough with the pretentious preamble and into the programs themselves, after the jump…
The Daily Show with John Stewart
2012 is a number that signifies a great many things to a great many people but in America, arguably the home of quality television, it has only one great numerical significance: it is a multiple of four. It therefore heralds what all TV fans fear: no, not the end of the world but the opening of the Olympic Games and another even more exhausting event, the Presidential election.
In an election year this show is a shoe in for both an Emmy win and a spot on my list ( prizes of equal value). Sure as a comedy The Daily Show is only a slight piece of satire, the stupidest show on the list by far and an easily disposable entity but nevertheless it is also in many ways the heaviest, smartest and – if ever there was a television show that could truly be classed in this way – the most ‘essential’ program of the year because unlike certain Mayan prophecies it is entirely real.
This entry too is an exception to my episode rule, but more than that it is also bucking the straightforward standard of having one show per slot. The reason for this isn’t simply that I wanted to cheat and include more shows but because for the entirety of their debut runs I watched these two shows as a block, back-to-back, just as they aired ( and just as they were advertised, the bus placards and billboards i saw were all shared) and so that is just how I have judged them.
Though the execution of both was drastically different it seems feasible that they may have even been conceived together: both are small scale, half hour dramadies built around controversial female figures that pissed off as many people as they pleased. For a few weeks at least i was also unsure as to which type of person i was but just as both seasons dipped together they also rose in sync both culminating their short stays with strong season finales that cemented them as comedies that were enjoyable and experimental in equal parts, the antithesis of the stale network sitcom.
Louie – Miami
Speaking of strange comedy shows Louie was, as it has been for the past few years, a high wire combination of challenging some conventions and constructing others with a heretofore unseen class. Much has already been said about the season and which of its stories was the funniest, the saddest, the strangest and the strongest – all hard titles to assign given the wealthy nod consistency on show – but the one episode of the show that no one seems to mention is the one that, for me, best sums up why I love the show as a whole.
Louis C.K. is a comedian and although it might not stand out on the surface this fact cann been seen in so many facets of his show, no more so than in Miami. rather than tells the kind of tall, telling tale that this generation of ‘alternative’ stand-up’s are known for. Louis could easily have scripted the story of his meeting a handsome, male life-guard on the beaches of Miami after an accidental call for help as a hilarious bit; he could have told the story on stage with nothing more than a microphone but instead he blows life into its lungs and lets it breath as a living entity all it’s own. By showing rather than telling, by leaving everything unsaid – using silent visuals, Miami’s native music and of course the awkward facades put on by both men – he creates something utterly unique and the show is so much more effecting for it.