There was a lot to like about television in 2012. Our esteemed panel of reviewers compiled a very long list of contenders and it was difficult in the end narrowing it back to a mere 30 shows we loved.
That said, here is our list. We hope you enjoy our compilation of the year's viewing highlights.
Tell us what you think of the list. Which show was too high or low in the standings? What did we miss? And which shows do you think shouldn't have earned a place at all?
Have your say in the comments section.
30. Underground: The Julian Assange Story (Ten)
CLEVERLY and tightly focused on the formative years of one of the most controversial figures of the 21st century, this telemovie adeptly mixed teen romance, family drama and espionage in its portrait of a hacker as a young man.
29. House Husbands (Nine)
NOT every TV drama can be Mad Men or The Sopranos, but not every TV series needs to be. There is absolutely a place for lightweight, light-hearted television. The most gratifying thing about House Husbands is that it is unquestionably TV popcorn, but with both a heart and a brain. Real thought and intelligence have gone into the characters and their relationships, and that provides a crucial bedrock for plot developments that are, frankly, absurd. It's also great to see a different slice of life: parenthood from the dads' view, which, like the characterisation, eschews cliches and easy options.
28. Episodes (Nine)
BRILLIANT, scathing portrait of the culture clash that ensues when a couple of English writers take their award-winning TV show to Hollywood and find themselves at the mercy of the Americans. Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig were marvellous as the dryly baffled Poms; Matt LeBlanc was a revelation as the devil in disguise.
27. Louie (Comedy/ABC2)
LOUIS C.K. is the most compelling stand-up working today and carries the tradition of American comedians writing and playing fictionalised versions of themselves in a comedy series. The mostly unconnected vignettes in each episode defy convention but the tone is made hilariously consistent by the creator's blend of realism, absurdism and sentimentality.
26. Game of Thrones (Showcase/Foxtel)
LIKE a great novel, television at its best transports you to another world. And Game of Thrones is, of course, both. One of the things that makes the TV series such a standout, though, is that George R.R. Martin's novels are by no means a natural for TV interpretation. Long, dense, packed with odd character names, fictitious places and made-up stuff of all kinds, the books could have become bloated and impenetrable on the small screen. While it's faithful to the original material, it's accessible and utterly entrancing.
25. Veep (Showcase/Foxtel)
IT WAS the new adventures of the old Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The former Seinfeld star helmed this frenetic, biting send-up of Washington politics, playing a US vice-president struggling to define herself in a sometimes pointless job. Louis-Dreyfus could have played the role for sympathy, but she committed to the vision of creator Armando Iannucci, who successfully translated his acclaimed British series, The Thick of It, into American.
24. Call the Midwife (ABC1)
DESPITE the difficult circumstances depicted, this irresistible and heart-warming series from the BBC focused on poverty-stricken East Enders and the women who helped them cope with their growing families in post-World War II London. Perfect Sunday night viewing.
23. Sons of Anarchy (Showcase/Foxtel)
IT WAS, at times, hard to endure season five of this American cable drama that focuses on a Californian motorcycle club. Like The Walking Dead, SOA is unafraid to kill off its main cast members. It was the brutal, shockingly realistic death of Jax Teller's beloved best mate Opie that this season will be remembered for. It was as moving as it was unnerving to watch - a hallmark of great TV.
22. Parks and Recreation (Seven)
LIKE the characters on this wonderful sitcom, viewers had to struggle for what they wanted, as Channel Seven moved this hilarious half-hour deeper and deeper into the night. But it didn't matter, the faltering first season of Parks and Recreation is a distant memory now, and the comedy about local government co-workers in Indiana grew richer and more assured as the fourth season unfolded and Amy Poehler's Leslie Knope ran for office. The ensemble cast continues to shine; the dynamic is consistently rewarding.
21. Revenge (Seven)
ANOTHER Channel Seven hit launched following the Australian Open tennis, Revenge was proof positive that if you make a good soap opera and call it something else, then you can have your cake and eat it, too. If early Desperate Housewives was a soap pretending to be a satire, then Revenge was a soap pretending to be a drama, but the twists and turns - often delicious and sometimes shameless - were pure serial, with Emily VanCamp's Emily Thorne proving to be a vengeful lead stalking the 1 per cent who destroyed her father. Occupy the Hamptons had no shortage of supporters.
20. Redfern Now (ABC1)
INTELLIGENTLY produced six-part anthology series, powerful yet restrained, providing a fresh and thoughtful perspective on the community in a Sydney suburb that usually attracts headlines for all the wrong reasons. An Australian first in many ways.
19. Puberty Blues (Ten)
A BRIGHT spot in an otherwise forgettable year for Ten, this was a beautifully understated adaptation of one of our key cultural texts. Creating significant roles for the adults paid dividends in terms of multi-generational storytelling but the two teenage girls, Debbie and Sue, rightfully remained at the heart of the piece. The period setting was rendered faithfully but nicely underplayed and the writing was excellent - true to the spirit of the book but rendered with a contemporary sensibility. Nothing was forced and the whole thing unfolded at a relaxed pace that's rare for commercial television.
18. Offspring (Ten)
NO AUSTRALIAN drama is more enjoyable to watch than this quirky, soapy Melbourne show. Offspring has something special about it. Warm, funny, contemporary and genuinely moving - all things rarely said about commercial Australian drama. Even the pop music that soundtracks its big scenes is inspired. That this show is a genuine hit proves that Australian drama need not be dull, cliched or predictable. In fact, it's a perfect amalgam of quality production and commercial appeal. When you compare Offspring with another Melbourne-made series, Winners & Losers, the comparison is unflattering for the latter.
17. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
WORKS as the funniest and the sharpest dissection of the US's garish 24-hour news cycle. Host Jon Stewart excelled this year, especially in his takedowns of the insanely biased Fox News and Mitt Romney's comical campaign. In a culture of eroded accountability, political correctness and worldwide political apathy and cynicism, The Daily Show has been inadvertently positioned as both an important news source and a frequently brilliant nightly comedic showcase.
16. Grand Designs Australia (LifeStyle/Foxtel)
THE odds of success were not in its favour when this local spinoff of a well-established British series launched in 2010. The original version of Grand Designs had established a rock-solid format and a beloved host in Kevin McCloud, who had achieved something akin to cult status. But the enduring surprise of the local adaptation of the building and renovation show has been that, far from being a short-lived embarrassment (think Top Gear Australia or Australian Survivor), it works. Part of the appeal is the canny choice of architect Peter Maddison as host. He brings knowledge and authority, along with an easy manner. But through three seasons, the series has also featured a thoughtful choice of projects.
15. My Kitchen Rules (Seven)
OPENING the viewing year with an extremely well-made culinary reality competition, My Kitchen Rules confirmed that it is now a hit franchise in its own right and no longer merely a lesser alternative to MasterChef. By March, the series was running four nights a week, with sizeable viewing audiences, as the initial home visits by competitors and the judges gave way to studio competition. The casting was astute, providing a spin on the proven archetypes - there was a complete tool and a theatrical villain - and French chef and co-host Manu Feildel enjoyed a breakout year.
14. Rake (ABC1)
PETER Duncan, the co-creator of this adult drama for the ABC, once said that he didn't want to watch or make a show about the ordinary lives of people such as himself. I want someone better than me, smarter than me, he said. And that in many ways goes to the heart of the pleasures of this legal dramedy, which centres on the unorthodox methods and life of barrister Cleaver Greene (Richard Roxburgh). With a third season on the way, Duncan and co-writer Andrew Knight will hopefully continue their clever parsing of Greene, whose seemingly messed-up life, cynical views of law and politics, and unusual parenting and relationship skills conceal much wisdom.
13. The Newsroom (SoHo/Foxtel)
THE backlash against Aaron Sorkin's keenly awaited drama was swift, brutal and possibly effective in putting viewers off the main course. While the setting of a cable news channel was new, the playing-out of the drama wasn't. Yet for almost every time you wanted to reach into the screen and smack the obnoxious Don (Thomas Sadoski), scream ''grow up'' at the too-cute-by-half Maggie (Alison Pill), question if there's any boss in the universe as decent as newsroom executive Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) or gag at the cheesy politics, a single sentence would throw everything into relief and we would be taken somewhere completely unexpected. Despite all the contradictions of the show's politics and characters, it ended up revealing much about the US and how it sees itself, as well as being quite funny.
12. The Bridge (SBS)
POSSIBLY the best example yet of Scandi-noir, The Bridge began with the discovery of a body in the centre of the bridge joining Sweden and Denmark and worked its way, via countless ingenious twists, to a satisfying - if not exactly uplifting - conclusion. At the heart of the show was the relationship between the two investigating officers - brilliant but mildly autistic Swede Saga Noren and amiable Dane Martin Rohde. Dense, moody and constantly surprising, this series hints at the rich vein of depravity and corruption that lies below the thin veneer of civilised society. Simply brilliant.
11. Tangle (Showcase/Foxtel)
THE third and sadly final season was a triumph of bold writing and strong performances from a talented and perfectly chosen ensemble cast. Dismaying to think we won't get to spend any more time with Ally (Justine Clarke), Nat (Kat Stewart) and their family and friends, and find out how they're getting on.
10. The Good Wife (Ten)
FROM the marvellously crisp editing to the seamless interweaving of plot lines, The Good Wife is a masterclass in television. And unlike last season, where there were definite fluctuations in quality, this season has been close to flawless. No wonder so many quality actors - Maura Tierney, Marc Warren, Kristin Chenoweth, Stockard Channing, Amanda Peet and Christina Ricci - are lining up to guest star.
9. The Chaser: Hamster Wheel (ABC1)
NOBODY comes close to doing what The Chaser lads do on Australian TV. Fiercely intelligent, exhaustively researched and most of the time hilariously funny, The Hamster Wheel examines politics and media with a fearless attitude absent from any other Australian program.
8. Agony Aunts/Uncles (ABC1)
SUPERBLY cast, terrifically edited local series that provided frank, funny answers from a diverse group of men and women. Has made stars - and landed a heap of work - for its breakout participants.
7. The Amazing Race Australia (Seven)
ASIDE from laconic host Grant Bowler, the key element that makes The Amazing Race Australia so much fun to watch is the excellent casting. This year, producers again mixed together a compelling group of heroes and villains. This year's cast boasted identical twins (both rugby league cheerleaders and devotees of peroxide and orange-skin tanning), indigenous Australian cousins, a pair of Melbourne cops, a brother-sister combination and two quirky hairdressers, Sue and Teresa. Then there was Sticky, who was born without a left forearm. Watching this enterprising and relentlessly upbeat youngster compete was an unadulterated joy.
6. The Voice (Nine)
SO this is what it feels like to have a genuine blockbuster television hit? On paper, The Voice was an unlikely hit - B-list rocker Joel Madden as judge? Really? However, doubts regarding the judges' star power, the shallow talent pool locally for singers and the nagging question as to whether we need another talent competition were swept away on the opening night of this surprisingly entertaining reality hit. A rare mix of strong production, excellent casting and, surprisingly, a minor gap in the market coalesced to create as big a smash-hit show as any this year. Back in April, it felt like the whole country was watching. As for Madden, he and his toothpicks would become an improbable national obsession.
5. Howzat! Kerry Packer's War (Nine)
ANCHORED by a towering performance from Lachy Hulme as Kerry Packer, this two-part account of the birth of World Series Cricket in the 1970s had energy, pace and tension. The story of Packer's assault on the cricket establishment pitted a smugly complacent sporting authority against a brash and ambitious media mogul, with the undervalued players emerging as beneficiaries. On the nights it aired, Howzat! became a genuine pop-culture moment that secured the legacy of a network.
4. Breaking Bad (Showcase/Foxtel)
THE first half of the fifth and final season of this acclaimed cable crime drama was compelling, as themes that have percolated throughout became more apparent as the end neared. Bryan Cranston's Walter White, the put-upon chemistry teacher whose confrontation with his mortality made him into a narcotics manufacturer, turned into a monster who controlled everything he wanted, including those he professed to care for. The crimes were more brazen but the detailed writing made the characters desperately authentic. Tragedy loomed but none of us dared look away. As for the last scene of the finale … wow.
3. Girls (Showcase/Foxtel)
THERE was so much to admire and enjoy in the 10-episode debut season of this Brooklyn-set comedy-drama. The coarse language and graphic sex landed much of its publicity, but often overlooked was the huge amount of heart in each episode. None more so than the first-season finale, where Hannah found some contentment - alone on the beach eating an ice-cream. Wonderful.
2. Mad Men (Movie Extra/Foxtel)
BY SEASON five, many dramas have passed their peak, yet Mad Men shifted to an entirely new level as each character dealt with the social upheaval of the US in the mid '60s. Each episode felt like a self-contained work of art, often markedly different in feel and tone to those around it but simultaneously expressing a coherent vision. There was a willingness, unusual in a TV drama, to avoid the obvious, embrace silence and shun exposition. The performances were pitch perfect. Creator Matthew Weiner made the viewer work at times but it's that level of engagement that makes Mad Men addictive. Exquisite television.
1. Homeland (Ten)
MUCH of the first season of this sophisticated thriller involved a breathless cat-and-mouse game: in one corner, the traitorous, callous, duplicitous and embittered US marine Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who, held as a prisoner of war by terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), was sent home to be Nazir's agent in the staging of an attack; in the other, CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), convinced the returned captive was a terrorist, had her fragile mental health crushed when her beliefs fell on deaf ears.
It culminated with Brody's plot to assassinate a bevy of politicians thwarted and Mathison suffering a complete breakdown.
But early into this second season, the show's writers shuffled their pack of cards. The countdown to a new terror plot had begun but, faced with irrefutable evidence of his involvement with the conspirators, Brody had to play both sides.
Despite fears over her mental health and romance with Brody, Mathison has been straddling a precarious tightrope between exposing the plot against the US and protecting him. It was a risky manoeuvre for the writers to reconfigure the drama this way.
Whatever the outcome, the enormous pleasure of watching Homeland comes from the skill with which the storylines and characters are set up. Even ones that might prove less rewarding, such as the subplot involving Brody's daughter, Dana, in a fatal hit-and-run, leave you seduced by the possibilities - in this one, that Dana's righteous admission of her part in the accident would negate Brody's deal with the CIA and he will spend the rest of his life in jail or die, a twist of which she is, of course, completely unaware.
Nowhere is this more evident, however, than in the evolving relationship between Carrie and Brody. In a lesser show, this would have been when it jumped the shark. Yet their encounters are rife with torment, in part because we know Carrie is unhinged and has a bad history with men, and because we can't assume Brody will leave his devoted wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin).
It's for such reasons, and the tantalising but unpredictable places the plot might venture, that make Homeland the must-see show of 2012.
By Andrew Murfett, Greg Hassall, Daniel Burt, Debi Enker, Paul Kalina, Melinda Houston and Craig Mathieson
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