TELEVISION: Triumph and tragedy

It wasn’t exactly a bad year for TV, but you’d hope for shinier days in your love affair with the big appliance in the lounge room.

Not many new shows became hits. It was painful watching some of them try. Certain offerings set in Sydney beachside locales resembled desperate cruise ship performers, crying out for attention with splashes of colour (mostly orange) and movement.

Some established giants maintained their might (Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad), while The Voice and Big Brother 2.0 revived reality formats that had seemed dead. They even got their corpses to jiggle around a bit.

Comedy remained a luscious terrain, if you knew which corners of the digital and pay channels to forage. 

Remember the days when laughter only came in one flavour, marked ‘‘obvious’’? Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing and Mrs Brown’s Boys are relics of that famine, but the top shelf comedies continue to soar past their earlier peaks.

You feel mean pruning them down to a handful, but mention must be made of the pockets of joy that are Parks & Recreation, Modern Family, LouieEpisodes ...

OK, enough. Here are the best and worst of 2012.

Best drama on TV

Homeland (Ten).

The best thing on TV. This is television that grips your whole body. Heart thumping, dry mouth, that hot feeling in your head when you actually don’t know things will be OK. 

After season one, viewers wondered if Homeland could sustain its premise of Carrie trying to expose Brodie. Season two mined domestic habitats for every trace of tension. It rarely wobbled, or lost its suspense.

Best of the rest

Breaking Bad (Showtime), Mad Men (Movie Extra), The Good Wife (Ten), Puberty Blues (Ten), Howzat!Kerry Packer’s War (Nine).

Best comedy

Louie (ABC2). 

Comedian Louis CK’s fantasy memoir isn’t always ideal to show someone you’re trying to win over to it, because it misses. But when it hits it surprises, amuses and touches you in a way that feels honest.

Best of the rest

Episodes (Nine), Modern Family (Ten), Parks & Recreation (Seven), Archer (ABC2).

Worst show

The Shire (Ten).

Network heads have rolled because of The Shire. Members of the cast still get hassled in the street. If you say ‘‘The Shire’’ five times a demon is conjured from a mirror to slay you with a hook.

Only one of those things is a lie. Australian viewers’ first dabble with soft-scripted reality was one that many wished they could un-watch.

Dishonourable mentions

Everybody Dance Now (Ten), Breakfast (Ten), Last Man Standing (Ten), Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms (Ten), Excess Baggage (Nine), Anger Management (Nine), Please Marry My Boy (Seven).

Biggest surprise (in a good way)

Revenge (Seven).

Soap on a serious drama budget, with dollops of wit and clever twists. Exploded for Seven at the start of the year.

Biggest disappointment

Randling (ABC1).

Like a rock god unveiling a breathlessly anticipated album that’s actually crap, Andrew Denton smothered his gameshow by straight-jacketing its comedic guests with a deadening format. Randling was Spicks and Specks for those who wished there were more rules and fewer laughs.

Never to be seen on our screens again

Paul Henry. Andrew Bolt. Tom Waterhouse.

Never to be said

‘‘Blocktacular.’’

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