It was an especially transformative year of television, at least for me, as my TV viewing diet underwent a bit of restructuring. Once-favorite shows began collecting dust on the DVR (sorry “Burn Notice,” but you’re losing your sizzle), and in the case of a few (like “Chuck”), were deleted altogether. Consequently, NBC’s “Community,” which spent most of its freshman season on the fringe of receiving similar treatment, is now the highlight of my Thursday nights. That’s because while shows like “Burn Notice” and “Chuck” are pretty much running on dead fumes at this point, “Community” has just begun to hit its groove. “How I Met Your Mother” also bounced back from an off-year with some of its funniest episodes to date, “Glee” and “Castle” continue to be as guilty as they are pleasurable, and the new season of “Top Chef” might just be the best yet. But none were able to crack my Top 5, which goes to prove that while there might have been a few misses this year, the hits were a lot more memorable.
Clever, funny, dark and provocative, “Terriers” may have wowed critics with its flawed characters and rich storytelling, but that didn’t change John Landgraf’s recent decision not to renew it for a second season. I don’t blame the FX President for the low ratings (most networks would have given up after only a few weeks), but I do blame the rest of America for failing to tune in to the best new show of the season. Yes, you heard right. Although I enjoyed “The Walking Dead” and the overrated “Boardwalk Empire,” the buddy detective drama delivered better acting and writing week in and week out. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James had unparalleled chemistry as the scrappy private investigators (the titular terriers, if you will) caught in the middle of the case of a lifetime, so it’s a shame that we won’t get to tag along on any of their further adventures – especially since the season finale left things wide open. Another brilliant but cancelled television show that, ten years from now, will still be missed.
2. Modern Family
It hasn’t even completed its second season, but “Modern Family” already seems destined to become a comedy classic. It’s that good, and anyone who says otherwise should get an X-ray to see if their funny bone is broken. Of course, considering that it’s one of the most-watched shows on TV, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t agree. But for those who still haven’t experienced the funniest half-hour of television, it’s about time that you do, because there isn’t a single show that even comes close to matching the number of laughs in an average episode. And although the writing staff certainly deserves some credit, it’s cast members like Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara who make every joke that much funnier. Even the kids are funny, and that’s saying a lot from someone who isn’t particularly fond of child actors. It’s almost unbelievable the way the show fires on all cylinders so consistently, but that’s what separates a great show from a good one, and “Modern Family” is nothing if not that.
3. Sons of Anarchy
The third season of FX’s outlaw biker drama may not have been its best, but after a sluggish start, the series redeemed itself by getting back to the kind of top-notch storytelling that fans have come to expect. Many of those fans were quick to criticize the ambitious Ireland subplot that dominated most of the season, but along with fleshing out some of the club’s back story, it also set the stage for what turned out to be a killer finale. Many of the supporting players got lost in the background this year, but Charlie Hunnam gave the performance of his career, guest stars Paula Malcomson and James Cosmo proved themselves worthy additions to the cast, and Ally Walker put the finishing touches on what might just be the best TV villain in quite some time. The show may have stumbled a bit along the way, but no matter how you felt about the season as a whole, those who stuck around for the long haul were given plenty of incentive to come back next fall.
4. The Walking Dead
Robert Kirkman’s survival horror comic, “The Walking Dead,” is tailor-made for the hour-long TV format, so its success shouldn’t really come as a surprise to many. Still, fans had to be excited at the prospect of seeing Kirkman’s story brought to life – especially with names like Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd and Greg Nicotero involved. Brimming with great writing, first-rate zombie effects, and a talented ensemble cast including Andrew Lincoln, Laurie Holden, Darabont regular Jeffrey DeMunn, and scene-stealing newcomer Steven Yuen, “The Walking Dead” isn’t just a show for horror buffs, but an edge-of-your-seat drama about a group of people struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. In fact, the only complaint that can be made is that the first season only consisted of six episodes, so it’ll be interesting to see if Darabont and his team can maintain that same level of quality when the show returns for a full, 13-episode second season next year. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait until October to find out.
5. Mad Men
As a resident of Columbus, OH who couldn’t care less about the town’s college football team, it’s easy to become a little annoyed by the fervent, unrelenting worship of the Ohio State Buckeyes. It’s kind of how I feel about “Mad Men” as well. Although I’ve been a loyal viewer since Season One, I still think that the show has received more acclaim than it probably deserves. But while previous seasons have run a little hot-and-cold for my taste, this year really took things to the next level with the opening of a new agency, the financial struggles that plagued its growth, and the personal changes that developed as a result. Don Draper is a much more likeable guy now that he’s not boozing or womanizing (and Jon Hamm’s performance should finally net him an Emmy), Elisabeth Moss continues to deliver strong work as the cute but headstrong Peggy, and Kiernan Shipka was nothing short of incredible as Don’s psychologically complex daughter, Sally. So yeah, I’ll admit it, “Mad Men” was pretty damn good this year, but one has to wonder how much longer Matthew Weiner can keep it going.