Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for ThinkProgress.org, as well as a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com and a columnist for Slate.
Alyssa's top 5:
1. "Game of Thrones" (HBO)
2. "Girls" (HBO)
3. "Breaking Bad" (AMC)
4. "Homeland" (Showtime)
5. "Justified" (FX)
1. What was the show of the year? There are shows with more jewel-like execution, but they operate on a smaller, tighter scale, and are at work on less ambitious projects. At the end of the day, no show is producing a greater number of tremendously impressive performances, many of them from first-time or relatively new performers, covering more territory, or at the end of the day, having more fun with itself than "Game of Thrones." Whether it's Charles Dance and Maisie Williams putting on a multi-generational acting clinic as bitter enemies who are pretending not to know each other, Peter Dinklage's turn as one of the sexiest men on television, or Oona Chaplin proving that she can do literally any kind of period piece, whether it's the impact of sexual violence on society, the vicious joke of chivalry, or the return of magic to a world that doesn't believe in it, the 10 weeks that "Game of Thrones" are on my television are 10 of my favorite weeks of the year.
2. What was the best scene? "You are the strangest person," Ray told Shoshanna in the season finale of "Girls," before asking if he could take her home after Jessa's wedding. "You vibrate on a very strange frequency." She said yes, on the grounds that Ray promise to "Just stay out of my emotional way." Their decision to get together, at least for the purpose of divesting Shoshanna of her virginity, an act of which Ray noted, “I don’t know if I deserve that much power … but I probably do," was one of the oddest, emotionally truest scenes in a very weird, very emotionally precise show. I can't stop thinking about it, or smiling when I do.
3. Best performance of the year? There's a lot of tremendous acting happening on television these days. But if I'm honest with myself about the person I was desperate to see on television every week, it was Andra Fuller as closeted rapper Kaldrick King on the barely watched "The L.A. Complex Amid all the antiheroes and funny men, Kaldrick was one of the most tender, sexual, complex roles available to a man on American (and Canadian) TV, and Fuller embraced it with gusto, guilt and sometimes joy. His show is gone, but some smart person should find a way to keep Fuller on our screens.
4. What was the funniest joke or line? There were a lot of comedies I liked this year, but my favorite funny scene came from the year's darkest drama. Watching Jesse Pinkman trying to bluff his way through dinner with the estranged Mr. and Mrs. White on "Breaking Bad," telling Skyler, "Good work on your shopping then, because these are choice," after his attempt to compliment her cooking resulted in her disdainful declaration that the green beans were from Albertsons, was one of the most hilarious, tense things I saw all year. And it wasn't just a joke: "Breaking Bad's" decision to put Jesse and Skyler in the same room repeatedly seems like it could be clue to the antihero drama's endgame.
5. Which series best evoked life in 2012? "Homeland," hands-down. The Showtime drama about a CIA agent and the traitorous soldier she loves may have gone a little nuts down the home stretch. But then, so is the War on Terror, and the places drone strikes and the Sept. 11 attacks have taken us. In an election year full of patriotism-offs, a show that reminds us that everything about Washington, D.C., from coverups of the murders of children abroad, to coverups on behalf of politically connected children at home, is more than a little crazy is a tonic, even if one that comes with side effects.
6. And personality of the year goes to … If only for her election-night question to Karl Rove, "Is this just math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?" I would have picked Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly — that moment could be the one that leads to the reconceptualizing of an entire network. But on a day-to-day basis, there's no one I find more fascinating, in part because I find her infuriating, than Kelly. Watching her pivot from smacking down one of her own network's junk-science-peddling "experts," to delivering Republican misinformation on Benghazi makes me insane, and makes me wonder how good Kelly could be on a network with actual standards.
* * *