Obligatory Year End List: The Best of British TV in 2012

Happy New Year’s Eve, Telly Visions readers! Hope you have a fun and safe and fabulous time tonight ringing in the New Year and that 2013 is full of many wonderful and magical moments for you.

Because everyone else is doing it, it seems today’s a fitting time to look back on 2012 and everything that happened in it. Which, quite frankly, was a pretty epic amount of great British TV.  So, since everyone else on the internet appears to be making “Best of” lists today, here’s mine – my favorite bits of British television I consumed in 2012. Share your personal picks in the comments – and tell me if I’ve managed to miss something that was must-see this year.

Sherlock. That this show tops my 2012 Must See TV List probably surprises no one, but Sherlock really is the best TV I watched all year, period, not just the best bit of British TV. Yes, I’ve got some issues with some of the plot in A Scandal in Belgravia sort of not being so much with the sense-making, but the other two episodes and, particularly, the stellar performances from stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman basically elevate this show to art.

Downton Abbey. Did Series 2 have some pacing problems? A few eyebrow raising plot “twists” in Matthew’s magical recovery and the introduction of a random soldier who is possibly-not-quite-dead heir Patrick. Of course. However, this show is the definition of addictive and when it gets the emotional character beats right (see: Matthew’s uber-romanatic proposal to Mary in the snow), it’s magical. And of course, Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess is awesome enough to make up for a multitude of ills.

Parade’s End. This BBC2 drama hasn’t aired here in America yet  - rumor has it slated to bow on premium cable network HBO sometime around March – but it’s been sitting on my DVD rack since October (thanks, Amazon UK!) and I hope American audiences manage to see this at some point very soon. It’s a very sort of thoughtful, darker look at World War I and the changes it brought to the British class system and features a strong performance from Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch and a truly standout turn by actress Rebecca Hall as Sylvia, the character I can guarantee you will hate the most next year (yet oddly sympathize with at moments too). Possibly this is Downton Abbey’s dark twin – it’s not what I would call fun for the most part, but it’s hard to shake. (I don’t even know if I liked it, but I’m still thinking about it, which I think is a good thing.)

Twenty Twelve. So many comedies try to do the mockumentary format because it’s been a “hip” thing since The Office way back when, but few recent series have done it as well as Olympic series Twenty Twelve, which focused on the hapless personnel responsible for putting together the 2012 London Summer Games. If you’ve only ever seen Hugh Bonneville as Downton Abbey’s aristocratic Lord Grantham, you’ll be stunned by his hilarious and nuanced turn as committee boss Ian Fletcher.

Call the Midwife. Heidi Thomas’ 1950s period piece about a group of plucky midwives and nursing nuns in London’s poverty-stricken East End isn’t exactly what you’d call a super tense or gripping sort of drama, but it’s got a lot of heart. Watching Call the Midwife leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling generally that some of those more “intense” dramas could possibly take a lesson from. It’s occasionally overly saccharine but you feel good after you watch it. And sometimes that’s exactly what you need as a viewer. Bonus: Comedian Miranda Hart’s breakout performance as Chummy is pretty must-see.

Doctor Who. We said goodbye to longtime TARDIS travelers Amy and Rory this year and met (at least some version of) a new companion. Yeah, there were some problems (the Ponds ending was sort of nonsensical despite being emotionally moving), but there’s not a show on television that’s as much fun to watch as this one. Matt Smith continues to surprise as the Eleventh Doctor and though I wasn’t as nuts about Christmas installment The Snowmen as many others seemed to be, I can’t wait to find out what’s up with Jenna Louise-Coleman’s Clara. Plus, the show's turning 50 next year, and it's hard to argue with that much history.

The Hour. The second series of this period newsroom drama focused a bit too much on Dominic West’s Hector for my taste, but the fact that it dialed down the overly complicated conspiracy theories to some extent and added The Thick of It’s Peter Capaladi almost made up for it. Ben Whishaw’s wonderfully complicated performance as Freddie Lyons remains one of my favorite things on TV, let alone on this show.

The Thick of It/ Misfits. These two series are very different – one’s a political satire and one’s a teen superhero drama, but honestly, these two programs aren’t on my best-of list because of their quality. (Though I’ll be fair, the most recent seasons of both were quite good, though getting used to all the new faces on Misfits took some time.) Mostly, I’m thrilled that these two particular series marked a bit of a turning point for the way we access British TV in America –both were available for streaming on video site Hulu the same day they aired in the UK.  And that is certainly something to celebrate – here’s hoping it’s another turning point in the way we work out international distribution models for British series. Anything that helps to close the gap between when television series air on either side of the pond is a definite “best of” in my world.

How about you, folks? What was the best British TV you watched this year? Did I leave something truly must-see off my list?

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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