Andy Greenwald writes about TV for Grantland.
Andy's top 5:
1. "Mad Men" (AMC)
2. "Happy Endings" (ABC)
3. "Homeland" (Showtime)
4. "Breaking Bad" (AMC)
5. "Parks & Recreation" (NBC)
1. What was the show of the year? "Mad Men." It's not the newest of cable's sexy prestige dramas, it's no longer the flashiest and certainly it has the fewest disembowelments per season (unless you count what life did to Lane Pryce). But in its fifth season "Mad Men" remains the best thing on television: smarter, deeper, sadder, weirder than any of its competitors. No other series embraces its own gray hairs like "Mad Men": It's a show about the inevitability of aging that is itself getting longer and longer in the tooth. The only thing more depressing than watching Don Draper lose his swag and misunderstand the Beatles is the realization that there's only two more seasons left to see him do it. When Megan walked out of the office, the elevator at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was briefly replaced by a bottomless pit. The meaning was clear: Everybody's going down.
2. What was the best scene? There are cases to be made for "Breaking Bad" (the opening of "Madrigal," when a teutonic middleman zaps himself to death) and "Homeland" (the end of "New Car Smell," when Carrie rushed through an entire season's worth of plot to put her lover/prey in chains) but the scene that stayed with me the entire year was a smaller moment from a smaller show. It was the final scene of the third episode of "Girls" that stuck: Hannah tweets something suggestive, that perfect Robyn song plays, she starts to dance alone. Then Marnie arrives, they talk, they laugh, but mostly they just keep dancing. It was one of the best, most honest depictions of friendship I've ever seen, but also young friendship: that frustrating and exciting time in your life when your burning desire to do things – anything! – outstrips your abilities. If you can't get it together, you can always get down.
3. Best performance of the year? Claire Danes deserves all of the Emmys for her work on "Homeland"; it seems like overkill to give her this too. So let's slide a bit further down the call sheet and praise Mandy Patinkin's unshowy, deeply soulful work as Saul Berenson. On a show that takes the same attitude toward storytelling conventions and audience expectations that Abu Nazir has for collateral damage, Saul is the steadfast, moral center. He's the unflappable pacemaker on a show always in search of new ways to give people heart attacks.
4. What was the funniest joke or line? Can I punt on this? We're living in a golden age of comedy right now, particularly on the networks. And it's not just that the jokes are amazing, there are just so many of them. Thanks to "30 Rock" – which this spring temporarily reclaimed its title as the funniest show on TV – the default speed for sitcoms is warp, meaning I barely remember the biggest LOL after a commercial break, let alone an entire calendar year. So I choose "Happy Endings" only because the quality of the characters finally caught up with the quality of the humor this year, and I could watch Elisha Cuthbert eat ribs forever.
5. Which series best evoked life in 2012? This is a tough one to answer, so let's just go with the half-hour that best evoked life, full-stop: the "Daddy's Girlfriend, Part 2" episode of Louie. Thanks to a blissfully unself-conscious performance by Parker Posey and some of the best and most loving photography of Manhattan since "Manhattan," this half-hour was the liveliest thing I saw on television all year. It was chaotic, it was sweet, it was terrifying and it was profoundly human. I'm still thinking about it. (And I'm still hungry for Russ & Daughters.)
6. And personality of the year goes to … I'd go with the cartoon character known as Karl Rove, particularly his work on the night of Nov. 6. This was reality programming the way it ought to be, as in: someone getting clobbered over the head with it. Live.