Flavorwire’s Favorite TV Shows of the 2012-13 Season

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Flavorwire is celebrating Memorial Day with The Year in TV, a series of features on the 2012-13 TV season, which ends this month.

Although it’s easy to forget at a time when the flexible schedules of basic and premium cable — and now online streaming services — have pretty much destroyed the idea that television has an off-season, Memorial Day does, in fact, mark the official end of the 2012-13 TV season. So, even though many of our perennial favorites (Mad Men, Game of Thrones) haven’t even ended their seasons yet and others just dropped a new batch of 15 episodes on our head (Arrested Development), it’s time again to take stock of the past 12 months on the small screen. From standbys like Louie and Parks and Recreation to such newcomers as Bunheads and Hannibal, here are Flavorwire’s 15 favorite shows of the year.

Louie

“When I wrote the Parker Posey stuff,” Louis C.K told The New York Times last month, “it was really verbose and long, and I was like, ‘This is supposed to be one episode.’ So I wrote a card that says, ‘This can be anything you want,’ and it sat on my desk the rest of the season. Once I got to that, I was like, ‘Hey, telling longer stories, that’s fun.’” But it wasn’t just the long stories that gave the third season of television’s best comedy its extra juice — though the Posey arc was a powerful and poignant deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, and the three-part Late Show run was as good as any 90-minute comedy film in recent memory. The idea that Louie could be “anything you want” informed the storytelling even on one-offs like the evocative “Miami” episode or the wonderfully peculiar “Barney” vignette (featuring Robin Williams’s best work in years). Even as he’s become a critics’ darling, Louie is still experimenting and taking chances, and that’s what makes his work so exciting. — Jason Bailey

Happy Endings

Happy Endings is the perfect sitcom that’s prime for alienating an audience: it takes a familiar setup of six friends in their late 20s / early 30s, but adds a dash of the clever, self-referential comedy made popular in the years since Arrested Development went off the air. At the end of three seasons, ABC canceled Happy Endings after shoving it under the rug by airing the second half of this season in two-episode blocks on Friday nights. But Happy Endings moved right along, with its producers and writers refusing to compromise their brilliance by watering down its fully fleshed characters and full-throttle assault of biting comedy. It’s quite a shame that Max, the lovable schlub played by Adam Pally, was the least stereotypical gay character on TV. I’m crossing my fingers that a more forward-thinking network picks up this brilliant show. — Tyler Coates

Bunheads

The Amy Sherman-Palladino cult rejoiced at the news that she was back with an hour-long drama series for the increasingly forward-thinking ABC Family — and with Kelly Bishop (a.k.a. Emily Gilmore) in a supporting role, no less. But you didn’t have to be a Gilmore Girls fan to get hooked on Bunheads, a show that transformed the fairly silly premise of a Vegas showgirl landing at a dance school in small-town California into a masterpiece of intergenerational, pop culture-obsessed girl talk. Largely unencumbered by plot considerations, that weekly trip to Paradise, CA became as compulsory for viewers of all genders as a regular dinner engagement with their wittiest friends. Sadly, Bunheads hasn’t been renewed yet; here’s hoping we won’t have to pour out a bottle of wine for Michelle, Fanny, and the girls after only one season. — Judy Berman

Breaking Bad

Make no mistake: the decision to bust Breaking Bad’s final season into two eight-episode “parts,” separated by a full year, was a bummer. But it was hard to complain when Vince Gilligan’s sun-cracked morality play kept topping itself — with the continued deadening of Skyler (beautifully realized in the fourth episode, “Fifty-One”), the stunning dispatching of Mike (in “Say My Name”), and especially with the season’s fifth episode, “Dead Freight,” which managed to pack in both a blockbuster-movie heist scene and the show’s most shocking death to date (and that’s saying something). By the time it concluded with Dean’s on-the-throne discovery, there was little doubt that this is, without equal, the finest drama on TV. — Jason Bailey

The Mindy Project

Throughout its first season, The Mindy Project has divided critics, but for all its shortcomings – the inconsistency of its characters (with the departure of Shauna, the receptionist, and Mindy’s friend Gwen bumped from a regular to recurring role), the plot’s meandering – by the finale, the show found its feet. And we kept watching because its protagonist was also trying to find hers; we met Mindy fresh from a breakup, literally at rock bottom (of a swimming pool), but have since watched her move on from her married ex as she excels in her career as an OBGYN. Meanwhile, we’ve met some fantastic characters for her to bounce off, from her oddball colleagues and friends to her dates, especially her co-worker Danny, with whom she has the best banter, and who we know she’ll end up with – though for now, Mindy is far too busy moving to Haiti to make another relationship work (no doubt, she’ll be back, though). There have also been some impressive cameos, with Bill Hader as Mindy’s married ex, Ed Helms and Seth Rogen among her dates, Chloe Sevigny as Danny’s returned ex-wife, and Jay and Mark Duplass as a pair of holistic midwife brothers. What really makes The Mindy Project work is Kaling’s riffing on romantic comedies as she lives their infinitely less glamorous reality. — Chloe Pantazi

Enlightened

It seems fairly appropriate that Enlightened followed Girls on Sunday nights earlier this spring — and yet it’s not surprising that the latter show did not benefit from the former’s lead-in. After all, Mike White and Laura Dern’s brilliant, quiet little show did not share Lena Duhnam’s brand of shock-comedy; instead, it focused on the internal anguish and neuroses of middle-aged characters who find themselves just as lost and unfocused as Dunham’s 20-somethings. (Those in their 40s, of course, are not as simultaneously fun and enraging as Millennials.) While Enlightened‘s run was cut short after two brilliant seasons, the show’s cult success will hopefully translate to a continued following when the second season is released on DVD, and surely the show’s universality and timelessness will prove more success for stars and creators White and Dern. — Tyler Coates

Bob’s Burgers

Few writers portray childhood in a more honest, loving way than Loren Bouchard, who has perfected his form with Bob’s Burgers. The show’s longest season has proven to be its best yet, relying as much on character development as it did on guest stars and musical numbers. While the Belcher kids may never age, they are constantly growing up, and Bouchard refuses to let them feel weird about it. This is what sets Bob’s Burgers apart from other animated sitcoms: no matter how strange its characters become, they always manage to feel true to life. — Sarah Fonder

Game of Thrones

This season of Game of Thrones set out to tackle the original book series’ densest and best book, and as with the first two, it’s more than risen to the challenge. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss continue to masterfully walk the line between bringing already compelling characters to life and creating their own material. The highlights so far have also been evenly split between high-budget fantasy spectacle and more intimate, extraordinarily well-acted sequences: Daenerys’s conquest of Astapor, Jaime’s confession to Brienne, Jon and Ygritte’s near-death experience on the Wall, and Tywin and Olenna’s verbal sparring session all come to mind. Game of Thrones continues to pull me in with every episode — not to mention ease the pain of waiting for book six to come out. — Alison Herman

Mad Men

At this point, there’s no arguing with Mad Men — it’s one of the most beautifully designed and most quietly compelling shows on television. But I’m a viewer who needs someone to root for — that’s why I gave up on Breaking Bad — so it says something that even though I’ve been alienated by nearly every character on this show, I keep coming back, both faintly disgusted and deeply stirred by all the gilded darkness. — Emily Temple

New Girl

Don’t believe the title or theme song: New Girl is not as much about Zooey Deschanel as it is about her effect on the sexual dynamics of her household. Since the pilot, her presence has complicated the relationships of three longtime best friends, and Season 2 brought this to a head as Jess and Nick grew closer. The resulting chaos forced the show’s four central characters to ask themselves hard questions about sex, death, and their paralyzing fear of the future. Thanks to brave comedic writing and a stunning ensemble cast, Season 2 of New Girl provided viewers with one of TV’s funniest, most accurate evaluations of 21st-century relationships. — Sarah Fonder

Hannibal

The last time I paid serious attention to a network drama was during the early seasons of Fringe. Somehow, Hannibal has managed to break my dedication to the cable hits (Mad Men, Girls, and other usual suspects) with its surprisingly well-executed reboot of a beloved franchise. The all-star cast certainly doesn’t hurt — Mads Mikkelsen is terrifyingly compelling as the title character, and Gina Torres’s appearance was a pleasant surprise — and thanks to the cable-style shortened season, the pacing is much tighter than most 20-plus-episode -per-season shows. Fingers crossed that Bryan Fuller manages to secure a second (and a third, and a fourth) season; he’s managed to craft this year’s best freshman drama. — Alison Herman

Parks and Recreation

This season of Parks and Recreation has been less about the politics of Pawnee and more about the local government gang, and their respective growing up: Leslie and Ben tied the knot in a super-adorable surprise wedding, Ann and Chris finally got it together and are trying for a baby, Tom’s Rent-a-Swag company’s taken off, April got accepted to veterinary school, and Ron’s going to be a father. Oh, and in less exciting news, Jerry retired. As well as the Parks Department’s usual smattering of comedy, there were some fresh faces who kept the season interesting: the superb cameo from Patton Oswalt, who played a lovable retromaniac loner (in breeches), and a rollicking performance from guest star Jenny Slate as Mona-Lisa Saperstein, Jean-Ralphio’s sister and Tom Haverford’s worst dream and best nightmare. In short, this season has tackled the usually pitiful feat of developing the trajectory of the show’s most beloved characters and kept us engaged in the process. — Chloe Pantazi

30 Rock

It can be difficult to say goodbye to the shows we love, but by the time Season 7 rolled around, the consensus was that 30 Rock had passed its prime and was wise to wrap it up. So it was a wonderful surprise when Tina Fey pulled out some of her smartest, funniest material for the show’s final 13 episodes. Highlights included a classically “meta” season premiere that found Jack trying to “tank” NBC with dumb shows like, well, Tank It (which was simply about grandpas in tank tops); the best Octavia Spencer guest spot television will ever see; and a final string of episodes that managed to be poignant without ever scaling back on biting humor. After losing the character’s thread somewhere in Seasons 5 and 6, Fey restored Liz Lemon to the deeply flawed, utterly unique feminist heroine who single-handedly broadened the possibilities for female characters in TV comedy (just ask Amy Poehler, Zooey Deschanel, and Mindy Kaling). Hell, she even pulled off the seemingly impossible: a feminist wedding where Liz married Criss entirely on her own terms, albeit after plenty of agonizing over what women are and aren’t supposed to want in life. — Judy Berman

Elementary

As any Sherlock Holmes aficionado — specifically, my best friend, who has written a book of poems on the fellow — will tell you, the neurotic, broken character on CBS’s Elementary isn’t Holmes. Not even close. He’s too emotional, he’s too far down the well. But then, maybe that’s what someone with Sherlock Holmes’s mental peculiarities would be like in the modern era. Either way, if you can let its many diversions from the source material go, the show is an engaging, clever crime procedural with two stellar leads (Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu) whose chemistry, as with any Holmes and Watson worth their salt, steals the spotlight every time. — Emily Temple

Girls

The second season of Girls proved that, while she’s still not completely great at telling a convincing story, Lena Dunham is brilliant at making provacative television that sparks a national debate about feminism. While this season was uneven — Jessa was nearly written off the show, Marnie and Charlie’s relationship lacked any realistic development, and Hannah’s OCD came (back) out of nowhere and went to ridiculous, comedic places — the bad was always outweighed by the good. Take the now-classic episode in which Hannah hooks up with that hot doctor for an entire weekend: it was one of the best episodes in the history of television, if only for the dialogue surrounding it on the Internet the following week. Rarely is a show providing online water-cooler chat so regularly and so vehemently. — Tyler Coates