TV Top 10 of 2012: ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Parks and Recreation’ & more

If you’ve been reading me a long time, you know I’m a complete wimp when it comes to making lists. Tell me to pick 10 shows, and I’ll pick at least 11 – or, if I can, just do multiple lists. (I’m the guy who had to come up with seven different lists to break down the best of the ’00s.)

For my list of the best TV shows of 2012, I actually stuck to 10 – and you can see and hear about all my choices in the video embedded at the top of this post – but only because I knew that I would be doing a longer written list next week, featuring my top 20 shows of the year. Like I said, wimp.

In many years past, I would deal with my need to give everyone a trophy by doing separate lists for new and returning shows, but there were only two new shows this year that I felt that strongly about (hint: both aired on HBO, and both are in the top 10 video). The issue I ran into this year is that I had a very clear top six shows that were on every single permutation of the list I tried, and then a collection of 10 or so other shows that I could have put in any order and felt satisfied with having them on or off the list. There are weeks where “New Girl,” for instance, makes me as happy as any comedy on television, and yet on the day I had to finalize the list to record this video, it just narrowly missed the cut. Even now, as I write the text for this post, I’m arguing with myself for whether that show, or “Boardwalk Empire” or “Justified” or something else should have slipped onto the main list instead, but ultimately, everything was really close together, and the world likes lists of exactly 10, so that’s where I had to cut it off.

One of the things I’ve been repeatedly asked about on my improvised book press tour is whether the golden age of television I write about in the book has already come to an end. And every time I’m asked that, I think about how hard it was to narrow this year’s list down from 20 to 10, and about the incredibly depth of quality TV we have right now. There may not be as many Greatest of All Time candidates on at the same time as there were in the early-mid ’00s, but there are more great shows overall, and all over the TV lineup.

So if a show you love (and/or that you expected me to include here) isn’t on the list, then wait until early next week for the Top 20 before you yell at me. (Though yelling is certainly invited by any kind of best/worst list.)

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at