June Thomas’ Favorite Pleasure Shows of 2012 (Only One of Them Is Guilty)

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 21 2012 3:59 PM

15 Fabulous Pleasures From the Year in TV

Clara Mamet, Max Charles and Isabella Cramp in The Neighbors
Clara Mamet, Max Charles and Isabella Cramp in The Neighbors.

Photo by Peter "Hopper" Stone © 2012 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

At this shirt-tail time of year, instead of new television, each day brings a fresh Top-10 list. I did my part, providing a Top 10 for the HitFix poll of polls. Rest assured that I chose those 10 with a scientific precision that permits no possibility of error in either selection or ranking, but I adore many more TV shows. So, under the principle that there’s no such thing as the wrong kind of TV-viewing pleasure, here are my 15 favorite pleasure shows—the ones that are not the great shows, but whose imperfections make me love them all the more.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

1. Lost Girl (Syfy). Sexy, snarky, and Canadian—all the things I love in a TV show! For me, television and the supernatural just don’t mix. (I also can’t take violence—which is why Game of Thrones and Walking Dead aren’t part of my media diet. Remember, this is a list of things that make me happy.) Nevertheless, Lost Girl is the irresistible story of a woman who has always felt like a freak finally finding her people. The show’s absolute refusal to turn sex and attraction into something shameful is a beautiful thing. Even better, perhaps because I’ve never watched any of the classic supernatural series, the plots feel fresh to me.

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2. The Neighbors (ABC). If you’re still making jokes about how bad this show is, we can’t be friends. After a dreadful pilot, the “stranger in a strange land” series has turned into one of the warmest, goofiest, and funniest comedies on television. Toks Olagundoye is my pick for the breakout star of the season, but the entire cast is wonderful.

3. Scandal (ABC). In its second season, Scandal has turned into a cycle of ever-crazier conspiracies, and it is all the more fabulous for it. This is a show in which the president’s adulterous affair with a D.C. fixer is the most plausible plot point. In a sense, it’s the anti-Homeland—a show that has sidelined its love story in order to focus on political conspiracies and strangely sympathetic meanies.

4. Person of Interest (CBS). I love procedurals and spend many happy hours watching them each week. When Person of Interest debuted in 2011, I dismissed it as an unmysterious mystery that was far too reliant on gimmicks. It has evolved since then, becoming that rare thing on network television, a show that regularly pulls off surprises. I no longer care that it relies on crime-solving shortcuts, like the heroes’ ability to turn anyone’s phone into an audio surveillance device. Instead, I enjoy its unclichéd story lines and the gradual unfurling of a few inscrutable characters’ back stories.

5. Happy Endings (ABC). I love Happy Endings because the whole group of friends really does seem to have a great time together. They also watch television and talk about it. They’re my people.

6. Parks and Recreation (NBC). I have a theory that each character in Parks and Recreation represents an aspect of the perfect personality. If your Herman-style head contained equal parts Leslie, Ron, Donna, Tom, April, Andy, Chris, and Ben, you’d be a good person. But we must all try to be kinder to our inner Jerry

7.-9. Royal Pains/White Collar/Suits (USA). It’s unfair of me to lump these shows together, but their stories of pretty people with amazing talents having fun while solving mysteries are awfully similar. Royal Pains shows concierge doctor Hank Lawson MacGyvering ad-hoc cures for mysterious medical ailments; White Collar features former con man Neal Caffrey knowing everything and fooling everyone; and Suits’ Mike Ross has a mega-memory that allows him to pull off astonishing legal feats every single week (despite his lack of a law degree). All have problems with story—if you want to keep your love for these shows alive, you have to stop yourself from examining each week’s plot too carefully—but they do some things better than anyone else. Despite being guy-heavy, these shows tackle love and partnership beautifully, while maintaining a tone that is brusque and believable. Hank has fun jousting with his brother, Evan, whose summer wardrobe is to die for; Neal negotiates a complicated relationship with his FBI handler Peter Burke and a more straightforward friendship with his old pal Mozzie; and Mike has his boss and mentor Harvey Specter. Most important of all, USA has turned summer into a season when there’s always something to watch.

10. RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo). Even after the sub-par experience of the recent RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race, which shortchanged the things I love most about the show—low-budget tackiness, the gradual assertion of the queens’ personalities, challenges that involve something other than channeling Henny Youngman—RuPaul dispenses so much love and kindness that I’ll never stop watching.

11. The New Normal (NBC). Oh, so flawed, but also the gayest show ever to air on network television. As I wrote back in September, “it speaks my language and parrots my paranoias.”

12. New Girl (Fox). This show is 80 percent annoyance, 20 percent brilliance. The writers don’t know what to do with Nick and Winston, Jess is even more irritating as a lost soul than she was as a dorky elementary school teacher, and Season 2 Schmidt isn’t as fabulous as Season 1 Schmidt was. But New Girl has also provided me with the biggest laughs of the season so far.

13. 2 Broke Girls (CBS). I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures, but 2BG really is a pleasure that makes me feel guilty. I realize what I’m about to say is hardly a ringing endorsement, but nevertheless: These days, it’s much less racist than it used to be. The way to enjoy 2BG is to say to yourself, just before you watch, “Can you believe this shit?” Every week something shocks me—whether it’s the cavalcade of ethnic stereotypes or the idea that someone could think it would be a good idea to structure a TV episode around a drug trial causing anal leakage—and I come back every week to see how much further they can push it.

14. House of Lies (Showtime). I miss the old-fashioned Showtime bonk-busters in which attractive people with amazing bodies would have full-on rumpy-pumpy in the middle of a sincere rumination on the fate of the black family or while waging jihad. House of Lies is a flashback to those days. It has great actors, hot sex, and something important to say about the stupidity of putting work at the center of our lives.

15. Book TV (C-SPAN2). A DVR malfunction can reveal a lot about your true feelings for a show. When you feel bereft to learn that a show hasn’t recorded, you’re saying that some part of you finds it essential. Book TV—a parade of author readings, Q&As, and live feeds from book festivals from around the nation—speaks through the electronic program guide. Every few weeks I curse the TV gods when my Friday night cruise through the listings to find out which authors Book TV will be serving up this weekend comes up empty—offering vague listings rather than specifying which new books will be featured. That’s how I know Book TV is an indispensable part of my weekend.

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