Jane Austen is tattooed, lives in a Brooklyn walk-up and should wash her hair. Lena Dunham's up-to-the-minute comedy of manners thrust us into the messy lives of four young women who, despite having grown up with privilege, can't seem to make a go of anything. Love is bruising. Jobs can't even be described as entry-level. But the girls have humor and friendship. They have life, so they have everything. If the show is ugly, it's also a joy.
2 Mad Men
The saga of Don Draper (Jon Hamm), '60s ad man and all-American malcontent, hit a stretch of greatness in season 5. While colleagues tripped on acid, Don gambled on a gorgeous, young new wife (Jessica Paré). She ultimately just made him seem sadder, even more aware of time and decline. Turn on, tune in, drop dead.
You and me, let's never break up/You fill me, Nashville, like wine in a cup/Two purdy gals give each other the freeze/If this was New York, they'd be frenemies/Everyone fights, but then they sing sweet/With their own voices-now ain't that a treat?/Stay strong, darlin' Nashville, don't go adrift/Or I'll sing 'bout you like I was Taylor Swift.
4 Hatfields & McCoys
There isn't enough tobacco to plug all the bullet holes in this low, mean story of the infamous feud. With an imposing performance by Kevin Costner as Papa H.
5 The Walking Dead
An electric season 3, which featured severed zombie heads kept in an aquarium (either as trophies or grotesque pets), hit us with a truth: People are monsters too. Ew.
While Homeland slipped, Dexter ripped. Killer Dex finally shared his secret with his sibling, a cop, and a series that had run out of ideas was again ingeniously sharp.
Here it is, so watch: the one genuine star turn on network TV. As a political fixer, Kerry Washington is beautiful, passionate-you've never seen a liberal with such a bleeding heart-and in full command of the camera. If she's also humorless, that keeps the breathless plot from boiling into camp. And I don't mean David.
8 Election 2012
In a dull fall, nothing matched The Presidential Debates, the exciting three-part miniseries starring Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It was talkier than The Newsroom, but the verbal jabs left the Twittersphere breathless. And in August Clint Eastwood brought down the house at The Republican National Variety Show when he talked to a chair. Let's have more elections.
Jonny Lee Miller's modern Sherlock Holmes is a reforming addict-his deductions seem to emit like sparks from his fried synapses. Which means there's always danger of fire. A clever, realistic spin.
10 Steve Harvey
Like nature, television abhors a vacuum, especially one created when a supernova like Oprah ends its run. Of all the celebrities racing in with their own talk shows-from Katie Couric to Jeff Probst-comic and game-show host Steve Harvey had the surest grasp on how to while away an hour: Be funny, be light on your feet-be, you know, Steve Harvey.
The Year's Best Performance, Period
In a guest role on FX's Louie, the Oscar winner was a blind date from beyond hell: sourly bitter at dinner and, after some booze, sexually unhinged in her pickup truck. She was as real and raw as rust on a bucket. Oh, and hilarious.
Boardwalk Empire, HBO
Steve Buscemi's bootlegger has had to grow more coldly ruthless or be run out of Atlantic City.
Game of Thrones, HBO
Wormily played by Jack Gleeson, the occupier of the Iron Throne throws hissy fits that end in massacres. Caligula's mini-me.
Breaking Bad, AMC
He's now so corrupted by his drug-empire ambitions, his wife wishes he'd die of cancer. Bryan Cranston makes this creep fascinatingly repugnant.
"I have a heart attack every time I watch it."
The Walking Dead
"I think it's really fun. My wife and I are obsessed with it."
Game of Thrones
"The savage nature of the world that they're in is fascinating."
"I love anything historical, and that show works so well."
American Horror Story
"It's edgy, it's cool. Creator Ryan Murphy is brilliant."
THESE ACTRESSES SCORED IN POLITICAL ROLES
Flawless as Sarah Palin-a candidate who was both political star and political novice-in HBO's Game Change.
On USA's Political Animals, resolute, confident and altogether entertaining as a Hillary Clinton-like Secretary of State.
At her absolute funniest as a Vice President ignored by the White House and mishandled by her staff on HBO's Veep.