Television critics described 2012 as a particularly good year for scripted dramas and comedies. I must've missed all of the good shows. TV in 2012, in my estimation, was average; however, I watch way too many network dramas and miss out on the better shows on cable, which is my fault; so, don't expect any episodes from Breaking Bad, Justified, Boardwalk Empire, Parks & Recs, Archer, 30 Rock, etc. Still, it's not like I don't watch any quality shows. There are so many great episodes of television throughout a calendar year; even on the networks there are shows that show what TV's able to do versus movies.
So, without further ado, let's begin the celebration of my twenty five favorite episodes of TV:
THE WALKING DEAD--"Killer Within"--Written By Sang Yu Kim; Directed By Guy Ferland
The Walking Dead's second season was a well-documented disaster. Long stretches of narrative nothingness rendered the show a laughing-stock. Carl became the walking punch-line of the show. The audience didn't care about the characters. Glen Mazarra, the now former show runner of The Walking Dead, took over the reins around the mid-point of season two. The back-end of season two is very strong; the last two episodes are the highlights. The narrative momentum carried into the third season, which didn't stop to take a breath until its hiatus hit in mid-December. Truthfully, I felt confident in Mazarra's abilities to transform the show. His interviews with Ben Blacker showed a man who clearly knew what the problems were, and who clearly knew he and his staff crafted a kick-ass third season.
The highlight of the first half of season three is the fourth episode, "Killer Within." Rick and the gang cleared out portions of the prison for safe shelter in the previous episodes. Out of nowhere, in "Killer Within," a siren blares and a zombie outbreak happens, which was caused by one of the prisoners Rick left to die earlier in the season. Zombies are everywhere, characters are in peril, and Lori goes into labor. Lori's story elevates this episode from what was already a great episode into an unforgettable one. The human drama of The Walking Dead intrigued me the most when I read the press release for the show prior to the series pilot, as well as the tidbits I heard about Robert Kirkman's comic book series--that this is a show about human beings in impossible circumstances and how they react. Lori's son, Carl, is put into the most impossible of situations when his mother states what she wants to happen to get her baby into the world. Guy Ferland's direction combined with Kim's script and the magnificent acting from Sarah Wayne Collies and Chandler Riggs achieves a rare instance of perfection for The Walking Dead. I sat on the edge of my seat as the moment approached for Carl, and when it happened I was completely affected and moved. Andrew Lincoln's crippling sobs to end the episode were a very fitting close.
LOUIE--"New Year's Eve"--Written & Directed By Louie C.K.
Louie's second season is among my favorite seasons of television, which joins LOST's first season, Community's second season, Everwood's first season, Buffy's third season, ANGEL's second season, etc. Louie's third season took more chances and opened the narrative. It's a more ambitious season than the previous two. Louie spent three episodes trying to become Letterman's replacement in a bizarre homage to the Rocky Films, and no one will forget Parker Posey's two episode arc, especially part two which decapitated the hearts and minds of critics, fans and bloggers.
"New Year's Eve" closed the third season; it followed the three part Late Night episodes. Louie told Bill Simmons during a podcast that he spent three days shooting in China. I constantly wondered which episode would bring Louie to China and how. "New Year's Eve" takes him to China because he wants to see the Yangtze River. He reads to Lily a story about ducklings going to the Yangtze River earlier in the episode. This episode packs in the essence of Louie--it's bizarre, surreal, heartfelt, deeply lonely, and almost out of nowhere breathtakingly hopeful. There's a terrific extended sequence of Louie fixing a doll he purchased for his daughter. Amy Poehler stops by as one of Louie's sisters to invite him on vacation with her family because she hates the idea of him spending the holidays alone. Louie runs into Liz, Parker Posey's character, and meets her face to face only to watch fall sick and die hours later in a hospital room (which many theorized was a dream sequence). So, Louie decides to travel to China to look at the Yangtze River. When he arrives, it's barely a river and more of a brook; so, he then wanders around lost until he runs into villagers and they invite him for lunch. What follows is a tremendous scene of people from two different cultures connecting despite the language barrier. It is a wonderful image to close on.
WILFRED--"Letting Go"--Written By Reed Agnew & Eli Jorné
Wifred's my favorite FX series now. Its second season was better than Louie's third season, and It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia had an inconsistent ten episode eighth season. Wilfred's very funny. Jason Gann and Elijah Wood are spectacular as a duo. Aside from the comedy, I dig the mythology of the show. Who is Wilfred? What's really going in Ryan's head? The show explores these issues in gripping ways, like the episode when Ryan blows off a date because he chose to spend 12 hours in a basement playing nonsense games with a crazy man and a dog. Ryan, afterwards, asks himself, "What's wrong with me?" Loneliness is a theme the show tackles excellently. Among the most heartbreaking scenes of season two involves a terribly sad Ryan who finally admits that his problem isn't Wilfred, but himself, because he's lonely. Wilfred rests his paw on Ryan's hand to comfort him.
"Letting Go" isn't about Ryan's psyche or his loneliness; it's about Wilfred's desire to win a dog competition, and it is awesome and funny. Jason Gann's amazing in each scene Wilfred challenges different dogs he sees as well as when we learn about his rivalry with other dogs. Wilfred starts taking steroids to gain a competitive advantage. Ryan helps him break from the steroids. Also, Wilfred's trying to get attention from Drew, Jenna's alpha male boyfriend portrayed by the great Chris Klein. Drew's the reason Wilfred's competing and roidin' up. It's one of the funniest episodes of 2012, and it's the first episode that came to mind as I thought about which shows I watched and which episode I liked best.
AWAKE--"Pilot"--Written By Kyle Killen; Directed By David Slade
Awake had the best Pilot of 2012. I stopped watching the series after Laura Innes showed up, though. Kyle Killen's "Pilot" told a moving story about pain, loss, and the difficulty of moving on after a tragedy. The show's hero exists in two worlds after a tragic car crash killed his wife and son; however, his wife exists in one world whereas his son exists in the other. I like to think TV's best episodes can stand-alone, like short stories and short-films. I've repeated my wish to match the quality of a great LOST episode. I don't want to be Spielberg or Peter Jackson or James Cameron. If I could match the emotional quality of Awake's story, and its cinematic look, I'd be content. I watched a good amount of Pilots in the last year and even wrote about most of them. Awake's the only Pilot that stuck with me. I remember scenes like I watched it a few minutes ago instead of a few months ago.
ALPHAS--"Gaslight"--Written By Terri Hughes & Rob Bilmauer; Directed By Leslie Libman
"Gaslight" is one of the coolest ghost stories I've watched or read. Alphas is a little known series on SyFy about a group of people with extraordinary powers and who work together to help others and stop other Alphas using their abilities to do bad stuff. Trust me: it's infinitely better than Tim Kring's HEROES. Seasons one and two of Alphas were great. Season 2 took the characters to darker places, even to the edge if the story dictated it. "Gaslight" isn't one of those really dark or edgy episodes, but it's creative and incredibly cool.
"Gaslight" isn't actually a ghost story--it just appears to be one. In fact, it uses the concept of gaslighting, combines it with the mythos of the story and the main narrative arc of the season, to produce a visually gripping and substantial episode in which the characters need to figure out what the hell is going on in this hospital. Gary gets the best lines, as always, and even dons a suit (for Anna's memorial, which is a rich source of texture and substance this episode). Alphas is a great show because of the terrific writing for the characters. People care about this show because people care about the characters. The characters have been strongly written since the "Pilot." The bonus for Alphas is that it doesn't rest its laurels on the characters--the writers think up really interesting and engaging stories.
So that's it for Part 1. Part 2 posts tomorrow with five more episodes.
THE YOUTUBE CLIP OF THE WEEK