This has been a stellar year for television and it's difficult narrowing it down to a top ten, though I must say it is a pleasure to have two Irish productions in the list. Here are my favourite shows of 2012:
"TV's cleverest comedy" as it is known had a strong third season. Highpoints included the spot-on Law & Order spoof Basic Lupine Urology and Inspector Spacetime, a hilarious Doctor Who homage. Community is not afraid to push the boundaries and conventions of the sitcom, and though it is never likely to top the TV ratings it has a loyal and dedicated fanbase. Showrunner Dan Harmon and the controversial Chevy Chase have now left the programme and it will be interesting to see if it can maintain the high standards we have become accustomed to.
9. Boardwalk Empire
This prohibition-era drama set in the decadent Atlantic City rewards the patient viewer. It follows the fortunes of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) who runs the town through his own corrupt methods and does business with various historical figures like Al Capone and Arnold Rothstein. Season One was a ponderous affair but those who stuck with it reaped the benefits in the explosive second and third series. The heavyweight cast (including Kelly MacDonald and Michael Shannon) are a joy to watch and the lush production values mean there is scarcely a better-looking show on TV.
8. Game of Thrones
Partly filmed in Northern Ireland, this lavish fantasy epic pulled out all the stops to bring George R. R. Martin's popular series of books to our screens. Season One may have seemed slow at times but it had several complex characters to introduce and back-stories to fill. The second season is where the real action begins and the battle rages with several pretenders to The Iron Throne. The penultimate episode, Blackwater, will live long in the memory for those who have seen it. Sometimes described as an adult Lord of the Rings, it also contains two of television's most compelling characters in the witty, womanising "halfman" Tyrion Lannister and the sadistic, infuriating Joffrey.
7. Moone Boy
Chris O'Dowd can do no wrong at the moment. Not content with starring in The IT Crowd and taking Hollywood by storm, he decided to film a comedy series based around his childhood adventures in Boyle, Co Roscommon. It was a brave venture which could have easily fallen flat on its face but we are delighted to say it's an absolute triumph. Following the exploits of the eccentric Martin Moone and his dysfunctional family, it showcases some of the most exciting Irish comedy talent and a rising star in David Rawle, the eponymous Moone Boy. The show perfectly captures what it was like growing up in the early nineties and is comfortably the best Irish sitcom since Father Ted.
6. The Walking Dead
It may have been a surprise initially to see zombies on prime-time TV and it would be unwise to try eating your dinner during some of the gorier scenes (the Well Zombie springs to mind). However this fantastic drama had us gripped from the start as a small band of survivors try to stay alive in a barely recognisable America, their numbers ever-dwindling. Some viewers may have felt disappointed by the slow-moving second season, though it certainly had its share of shocking moments. The latest series has really upped the ante and it has become must-see TV again.
This modern day retelling of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries is probably the best thing on the BBC at the moment. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the brilliant but flawed main character, with Martin Freeman providing able support as the world-weary, pragmatic Watson. The plots are fiendishly clever and wonderfully told, and reward repeated viewing. A teasing cliffhanger concluded the last episode - we await the next series in 2013 with baited breath.
Featuring superb production values and the cream of Irish acting talent, including Aiden Gillen, Robert Sheehan and Ruth Bradley, this is the best drama RTE have produced in years. In the thrilling third series, Nidge (Tom Vaughan Lawlor) rises to become gang boss but pressure and paranoia lead him to make some dubious decisions. The show has been accused of glamourising gangland violence but that is an indication of how scarily accurate it is. Love/Hate has become a huge, critically-acclaimed hit and is one of the most talked about programmes throughout the country. It has already been broadcast in Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East and there are rumours of a remake for US TV.
3. Parks & Recreation
Parks & Recreation is quite possibly the funniest comedy on TV right now and certainly one the sweetest. After a ropy first year it has really gone from strength to strength and each episode is full of pain-inducing belly-laughs. Recently the main story centred around Leslie's campaign for city council but other highlights included Tom's media venture Entertainment 720, the appearance of Ron's ex-wife Tammy One and the return of Andy's FBI alter-ego Bert Macklin. Not only is the show flat-out hilarious with a terrific ensemble cast, its engaging small-town characters are heart-warming and lovable.
Catch one of Leslie's funnier moments here.
Homeland's latest season continued the spy games and double-crossing and pulled out twist after twist. The beauty of this show is that you never know who you can trust. Brody and Carrie's unconventional relationship developed throughout the series as the hunt for Abu Nazir continued. The acting from both leads was stunning, as Damien Lewis deftly portrayed a man under severe pressure and Clare Danes proved she has more strings to her bow than Carrie's infamous cry-face. There may have been a couple of missteps, (the hit-and-run springs to mind) but on the whole it was a fantastic set of episodes. Some may feel it is straying into 24 territory, occasionally preferring cheap thrills over character development, but there is no doubt it is still unmissable TV.
1. Breaking Bad
As drug kingpin Walter White expands his empire the noose of justice also tightens - imagine saying that back in Season One? Surely he can't get away with it? Showrunner Vince Gilligan said his mission was to transform Mr Chips into Scarface and as we all know things didn't end well for Tony Montana. We are nearing endgame on Breaking Bad and the final eight episodes next summer are eagerly anticipated. It is without doubt the most compelling and well-written show on TV and should be the gold standard that all other dramas aspire to.
Words: Peter Boyle