“TV is better than movies now.” For a long time, when somebody said that they meant it to be surprising. But it’s not even surprising anymore. It’s just a fact. You know how I know? Well, for one thing, it was a LOT harder to put together a Top Ten Geek TV Shows of 2012 than it was a Top Ten Geek Movies. The two top-rated new genre shows of the year, Revolution and Arrow, didn’t really even get a sniff as an honorable mention. Neither did such ongoing hits as True Blood or Warehouse 13, both of which were, over the last five years, my favorite shows on television. However, if you were a geek living under a rock for the entirety of 2012, you could do a lot worse than plopping yourself on the couch and catching up on these ten shows.
Despite being burdened with a premise that’s hard to explain in a single sentence and thus limited to a single 13 episode run in the spring, Kyle Killen’s cop drama/trippy, alternate worlds fantasy/meditation on the nature of grief still managed to attract quite a few eyes. Jason Isaacs plays an LAPD detective who finds himself in two separate realities after a car accident, one in which his wife lived, one in which his son lived and wife died and one in which his wife died and his son lived. The show gradually abandoned its more procedural elements and ended with a crazy finale that left my wife yelling at the screen and demanding more episodes. Sadly, none will be forthcoming.
9. New Girl
If you were driven away by Fox marketing the comedy series centering on Zooey Deschanel as “adorkable,” it’s time to come back. The show has developed a great cast of scene-stealing characters that are one of TV’s most fun groups to just hang out with on a weekly basis. And if you’re questioning the inclusion of the show on this list, just check out the recent episode that ended with a dramatic reading from Nick’s zombie novel, which he finished in one night after drinking way too many cups of coffee. It includes a word search with no actual words to find and may or may not have be written in iambic pentameter.
By the time Archer rolled around, you would have thought we’d have had enough spy spoof romps to last us a lifetime. But Archer isn’t just funny, it builds the humor around a large cast of great characters and an obsession with tiny details of its own continuity. It’s sort of the animated spy comedy version of Arrested Development. This year the show was as great as ever, from Burt Reynolds guest- starring role as himself to an episode where Archer is distracted from escaped Canadian terrorists by Cheryl’s pet ocelot. Oh, and it ended with a two-part season finale IN SPACE, guest starring Bryan Cranston.
7. Once Upon a Time
It’s rare for a show to be so bad it’s good and actually good at the same time, but OUAT, as the online fan base affectionately refers to the show, has somehow managed it. If you have a low tolerance for cheese this one may not be for you, but there is apparently a lot of mileage to be gained from creating new, live-action spins of classic Disney characters and then bouncing them off one another in unexpected combinations. This is the show that made Sleeping Beauty and Mulan besties, that had Captain Hook getting bored with rescuing Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) and proceeding to punch her in the face, and the somehow rehabilitated Evil Queen being a “good guy” (sort of). I say with no (or, at least, very little) shame that this was one of the shows I anticipated most on a weekly basis.
6. The Walking Dead
Not only do the show’s titular zombies continue to destroy ratings records for an adult drama on cable but they also powered a second season that was better than the first and a third season that has, so far, been better than the second. I watched the first year and wondered how in the world I was supposed to care about any of these sorry characters. But in 2012 the show finally got to all those parts from the comic you’ve been hearing about the past several years, like the prison, Michonne and The Governor, and the soap opera bits finally seemed worth caring about. 2012 was the year The Walking Dead secured its position as one of the premiere water cooler shows in the country.
Before Dan Harmon managed to alienate everyone paying his salary, Community pulled off another spectacular run as my favorite show on TV in the early part of 2012. If you’re not a Community fan already, you’re most likely tired of hearing about it. If you are, you already know about the spot-on Ken Burns parody, or the episode that took place inside a video game, or the episode that started out with Abed and Annie playing Inspector Spacetime in his “Dreamatorium” and somehow escalated into complex psychological explorations when Abed’s Evil Twin managed to cross over from the Worst of All Possible Timelines. Here’s hoping that when the series finally returns for a fourth season in February (“Harmon-less“) it will somehow be just as funny and just as daring.
4. American Horror Story
This might be the single most insane series on TV this year and that’s saying something. Already a wild mishmash of every horror trope you can imagine, the show took itself to the next level with a complete reinvention for its second season. Each season of the show tells a completely separate story, with many of the same actors in different roles. This year is set in an insane asylum in 1960s New England. So far we’ve had, let’s see, zombies, Nazis, murderous Santas, demon possession, a serial killer named “Bloody Face” and his crazy house with lampshades made out of skin, and, oh yeah, aliens.
3. Doctor Who
Some other shows may have gotten higher ratings, at least in the States, but for the past couple of years the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat version of Doctor Who has stood astride the geek cultural landscape like a colossus. And quite deservedly so, I might add. For those looking for unadulterated fun and crazy sci-fi storylines, all wrapped up in a package that can also make you cry whenever it wants to? If only they made more of it. There were only a total of six episodes of Who that debuted in 2012 and I don’t think any of them are anybody’s favorite episode of the series, though most were very good. It just feels like there was more because I was the groom in a Who–themed wedding in July. Still, the series seems poised to weather the loss of the Ponds with aplomb and I can’t wait to see how many episodes we can get in the new year.
2. Game of Thrones
“WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS!?” HBO’s epic fantasy series adroitly managed a huge cast in its second season while still keeping its sweeping story of clashing kingdoms moving along with a modicum of speed. Peter Dinklage emerged as the show’s true leading man, navigating the politics of King’s Landing with wit and charm. Meanwhile, Theon Greyjoy got himself in way over his head, Jon Snow ran into some problems Beyond the Wall, and Daenarys Targaryen quite literally burned her way through the upper crust of Qarth society. And, in the season’s second to last episode, we finally got the huge battle we’d been waiting for since the series began. All of this complete with all the horrible violence and gratuitous sex your heart could ever desire.
With only three episodes to go before the end of the series, I fully admit that this is, at least to a degree, sort of a lifetime achievement award. The show that started out as sort of a poor man’s X-Files has come a LONG way in the five years since by completely reinventing itself several times. However, Fringe earned the top spot in 2012 with the second half of a fourth season that switched back and forth between two different universes and ended with Leonard Nimoy trying to destroy the world, and most of a fifth season that takes place entirely in a dystopian future where humanity is crushed under the boot of the Observers. Anna Torv, once derided as the show’s weak link from an acting perspective, pulled off alternates of the same character with aplomb, while, as my wife always insists, John Noble continues to deserve “all of the Emmys” for his work as the brilliant but damaged scientist, Walter Bishop (not to mention his “Walternate”). With the show airing from the beginning on Science Channel, now’s the perfect time to catch up on Fringe, our #1 Geek Show on TV for 2012.
Sherlock – Stephen Moffat’s other BBC import that threatened to break Tumblr would have made the list if there had just been a little bit more of it this year. Still, the three movie-length specials left us champing at the bit for the series’ return.
Lost Girl – This Canadian import has a succubus for a hero, a bisexual love triangle at its core and rode ratings success on SyFy into an upcoming third season. It is one of those show’s that’s hard to describe to people but is well worth checking out.
Merlin – This BBC drama aired its final episode in the UK on Christmas Eve, although the final season has yet to air on SyFy. Over five seasons the show has transcended its Smallville-meets-King Arthur roots and built up to an epic confrontation between “the old religion” and the new Camelot.