5. Justified (FX)
People’s exhibit A: Despite the fact that this Elmore Leonard based drama was better this season that the fabulous second, it received almost no recognition from the Emmys this year. From the moment Quarles made a gun appear out of his sleeve, Neal McDonough created one of the most formidable adversaries Raylan has yet faced, and there were more than a few after his scalp this year. From watching Limehouse coat a barbecue to the bizarro Ocean’s 11 that formed looking for the late Mags Bennett’s money, this was one of the most well put together thrillers on TV. It is the first of these series to return, and I’m breathless with anticipation
4. Parks and Recreation (NBC)
This was, by a considerable distance, the funniest show on any network this year. Watching Leslie Knope rise to city council against the most incompetent of opponents (any resemblance between him and certain ex-Presidents purely coincidental) to her upcoming marriage with soulmate Ben showed what a dynamo Amy Poehler is, and she is more than ably supported by a hilarious and sweet combination of characters. This years Christmas episode demonstrated how hysterical and lovable so many of the characters have become, even in their insanity. Here’s hoping Ron finds love, too.
3. Mad Men (AMC)
Who would’ve believe that Don Draper could be even more fascinating happily marries than he was when he was single? As the sixties continue their turbulent spinning, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (absent Jared Harris’s haunting exit ) it’s clear that the revolution is cutting to close to the ad wizards. Christina Hendricks was absolutely robbed of an Emmy for her haunting work as Joan, who climbed to the top over the crassest manipulations, while Elisabeth Moss continued to demonstrate how gifted a talent she is. The most turbulent years of the sixties are still to come, and I can’t wait to see how the storm will hit them.
2. Homeland (Showtime)
Technically speaking, this series wasn’t any weaker than it was last season, when I named it the best of the year. It continued to demonstrate the ability to make fascinating characters, shocking plot twists, and something that it’s creators never managed to do on 24— make the season finale as riveting as the rest of the season while completely changing the game. Damien Lewis and Claire Danes were as spellbinding this season as they were in the turns that won them both Emmys, and their confrontations with Abu Nazeer showed that even when they won, the world does not have happy endings. If the show manages to duplicate it’s win for Best Drama, I will be more than delighted. So why did I only rank it number 2? Because…
1. Parenthood (NBC)
this series needs all the critical and ratings help it can get. And it constantly delivers the most human and real relationships of any series on television. Watching Kristina go through her bout with cancer this season wasn’t like watching so many other series on TV do it, for cheap histrionics. (Although Emmy voters would do well to take note of the spectacular work Peter Krause and Monica Potter have done so far) This was a series about how a marriage deals with grave illness in a moving, realistic way. This show deals with so many pertinent issues— returning veterans, racism, teenage sex, adoption — none of which are done checking off boxes. The show has arguably the largest ensemble on TV, none of whom ever seems underutilized. Add to this a well done guest cast (it’s taken me fifteen years, but I finally love Ray Romano), and you have a show that would be great in any era. Anyone tells you the network drama is dead, show them this program, and they will shut up. Watch it. Before it’s too late.