Best TV Drama 2012

Another excellent twelve months for television drama. The undisputed leader of the pack HBO really upped it’s game with three outstanding new commissions; Danmarks Radio seemed to air a new drama each month and Sky’s millions delivered comedy and tragedy in spades.

Obviously the standout moment of 2012 TV was Jedward at Eurovision. The rest, as follows:

Luck – HBO
It took a little getting used to and often episodes had to be watched more than once but by the time it reached it’s denouement Luck had become my favourite show of 2012. Fabulously complex, it skilfully negotiated trackside gambling, equine ownership tussles, jockey rivalry and (an unresolved) revenge plot by ex-con Dustin Hoffman. Cut short by multiple horse deaths on set, this could have run four seasons; instead we’ll have to settle for nine hours of near perfect television.

Playhouse Presents
Playhouse Presents – Sky
Sky really opened the funding floodgates this year and stepped up as a major force in drama, comedy and documentary; not least with this twelve part anthology series. One or two were poor (Nellie & Melba being particularly unwatchable) but the majority we really very good. Highlights for this viewer were the Emma Thompson/Eddie Marsan two-hander Walking the Dogs, the rather touching King of the Teds and The Other Woman which trod the line between an author’s life and his creations expertly.

Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire – HBO
The scheduling gods were benevolent enough to grant us not one but two seasons of the Nucky Thompson legend this year and in doing so delivered a masterclass in long-form storytelling. The writers managed to balance the inherent narrative constraints perfectly: that is navigating around the real life events of the characters and still finding ways to keep viewers on the seat edge. It was a bold move [SPOILER] killing off a main character at the end of season two but the show was no poorer for it.

Forbrydelsen – DR
Another series that had a double billing in 2012 (though admittedly not in it’s native Denmark), The Killing explored super twisty high politics for season two that even saw Detective Lund take a 36 hour trip to southern Iraq. The third & final season returned to more familiar surroundings and reflected a lot of the feel of the first outing, centering on a couple’s grief at the loss of their child that dragged more and more of civil society into the maelstrom as the weeks went on.

Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones – HBO
Season two effortlessly built on the show’s flawless previous outing as it explored more of the exotic lands of Westeros and introduced another raft of arresting characters. The scale of this show is immense yet never loses focus on it’s characters’ motivations and the compromises each inevitably must make to survive.

Mad Men
Mad Men – AMC
Another established show that hit new heights this season. Season Five taught us that Kenny Cosgrove wasn’t a half bad Sci-Fi writer; Lane was a pretty decent fighter (upright boxing stance preferred); Roger is the prefect subject for an LSD trip and yes, Peggy can function away from the gaze of Don Draper. The writers even killed off one of the main characters but that only strengthened the show.

Girls – HBO
In spite of some strong competition from Stevie Little in Eastbound & Down, Lena Dunham can lay claim to this year’s most fearless performance. Girls may have veered very close to being supreme self indulgence but the characters and writing were so good that hardly mattered.

Broen (The Bridge) – DR / SVT
A body is discovered lying across the middle of the Øresund bridge separating Sweden and Denmark, causing all sorts of jurisdiction problems for the two police forces. Another well paced Scandinavian Noir, and another one with a female protagonist as complex and striking as Sara Lund, this pulled no punches as it raced toward its satisfying and shocking ending.

Hunderby – Sky
Julia Davis’ extraordinary take on Rebecca was home to some of the more breathtaking moments on TV this year, and certainly contained some of the filthiest. This was at the forefront of Sky’s gigantic comedy offering and deservedly won two statues at the British Comedy Awards.

Veep / The Thick of It – HBO / BBC
Sorry this pairing up appears to be cheating but these shows are so similar in theme, setting and resonance – not least because they share the same writing and production team – that it seems odd not to group them together. They also mirrored each other rather nicely too, so where Veep began it’s journey through the back biting corridors of American power The Thick of It breathed it’s last foul-mouthed breath. In the final episode the entire cast were afforded their own personal swansong with Malcolm Tucker’s bitter, lonely detumescence a particular joy.

Hatfields & McCoys
Hatfields & McCoys – History
An interesting departure into drama for the History channel which, despite some griping from the experts, portrayed the famous feud quite remarkably. Costner was better than he’s been in years, ably supported by Mare Winningham, Bill Paxton and a scene-stealing Tom Berenger.

Worth a Look

  • Walking and Talking
  • Borgen
  • Braquo II
  • Derek
  • Modern Family
  • Line of Duty
  • Justified III
  • Last Resort (magnificent pilot then went a little downhill: the best/cheesiest TV this year)
  • Eastbound & Down III
  • Hung III
  • Homeland
  • Hit & Miss – though this kinda lived up to it’s name
  • Sherlock