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Jury Duty: The AFI 10 Best Shows of 2012 List and How I Voted

From horror to comedy to politics, here are the American Film Institute's 10 best shows of 2012, and how we came up with the list.

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The Walking Dead, one of AFI's 10 best, and a much-improved show (even though I didn't vote for it)

It’s December, and though I’ve already published my top 10 TV shows and episodes lists for TIME, like Santa or a greedy child I am not done with my holiday listmaking. For the fourth year (if I’m counting right) I was on the American Film Institute jury to pick the 10 best shows of the year. (The film list is also here, if you care about those things.)

First, here’s the TV list, in alphabetical order:

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM

BREAKING BAD

GAME CHANGE

GAME OF THRONES

GIRLS

HOMELAND

LOUIE

MAD MEN

MODERN FAMILY

THE WALKING DEAD

You probably would have made a different list. So would I! But before you comment, a few things about how the list works.

One thing that distinguishes the AFI jury is that it’s not just critics. There are a few (this year, Matt Roush, Mo Ryan and I), but there are also academics and professionals in the TV business. So you have the input of people who watch a wide range of TV to write about it, people who watch some kinds of shows more than others, and people who work in the field full-time. Everyone has access to DVD screeners to catch up on contending shows that they’ve missed. I never agree with the complete final tally, but every time out it’s a good discussion on what was best, and what matters, in TV.

I’m not privy to how the other members of the jury vote (unless they share their votes publicly), but it is a vote, not a consensus. We bat around ideas and make suggestions of shows we feel deserve consideration, but we then each vote separately and privately. AFI tallies up the votes, applies tiebreakers if necessary, and then releases the list, ranked in no particular order.

I voted for seven of the ten shows that made the list: American Horror Story: Asylum, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Girls, Homeland, Louie and Mad Men. All those shows were already on my top 10 list for the year, so you can go there to read my reasons.

As for the winners I didn’t vote for: I didn’t vote for Game Change, because–as I wrote in my review–it was too superficial for me to consider it a great TV movie, an extended impression instead of any novel statement about politics beyond, “Whoo, that Sarah Palin! Dodged a bullet there!” (Note: TIME’s Mark Halperin co-wrote the book the movie is based on, which, as is evident, did not affect my vote.) I still watch Modern Family most every week, but it’s gotten way too stagnant for the top 10.

The Walking Dead, on the other hand, could definitely be a top 10 show for me—next year—if it maintains the growth it showed this fall with the start of season 3. It’s finally growing into its potential of being a show not just about zombies but about how living people deal with the evident end of the world. But it’s not there yet in terms of its characters, and I have to take the second half of season 2 into account as well.

Now it’s your turn. Usual rule applies: for every show you would add to this list, you need to take one off—preferably one that you’ve watched. Check it twice!

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KT8711
KT8711 like.author.displayName 1 Like

My list would look like this:

Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Community, Eastbound and Down, Game of Thrones, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Louie (the first half of the Barney/Never episode is utterly brilliant), Mad Men, Parks and Recreation (consistently the funniest comedy on TV), and Veep.

I appreciate your reasoning behind Boardwalk Empire, considering season three finished with a real bang and you had to make your list in mid-November.  I had been back and forth on this show for its first two seasons. It's beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, but due to its pacing and plotlines, it often felt like a slot machine I kept pumping quarters in, with no payoff. Season three, however, was a game changer. The last two episodes of the season had me biting my nails out of anxiety for my favorite characters. Richard Harrow is simply the best supporting character on television.

I still watch The Walking Dead every week, but I find myself not connecting much to any of the characters. The writing and pacing have improved dramatically since the second half of season two, but I still find that the show lacks character development (T-Dog anyone?).