I have my reservations about year-end lists—though I contributed to several, including HitFix’s TV Critics poll and Salon’s year in review, which will be out on Friday, this fall—because I have trouble distilling my pleasure in popular culture down to numerical rankings, much less picking ten of the things I liked in any category of entertainment out of the many things I loved this year. But I’ve had an awful lot of fun at the movies, in front of my television, and with my nose buried in books this year. So here are 65 of my favorite—not necessarily the best, but the things that gave me the most joy and food for thought—television shows, movies, books, documentaries, and people, places and things from 2012, with the caveat that I haven’t seen a number of things I expect to like very much, like Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. If you’re looking for a fun way to while away the hours over the next week—I’m off until January 2—all of these things come highly recommended.
Alphas: The most charming superhero show anywhere on television, with one of the smartest, insightful portrayals of a character on the autism spectrum anywhere on television.
Appropriate Adult: Dominic West is terrifying as British serial killer Fred West in this British mini about West and the woman assigned to be his Appropriate Adult, a figure present at police interviews with people who may not be ruled competent.
Avatar: The Legend of Korra: This time out, the Avatar gets to be a teenage girl named Korra, and Republic City became the setting for terrific explorations of political extremism, self-sacrifice, and the greater good.
Bent: Cancelled far too soon and a victim of NBC’s scheduling department, this charming look at a stressed-out lawyer, her contractor, his poser of a father, and her daughter was one of the nicest shows I’ve seen on television in a long time—and that’s a compliment.
Breaking Bad: If only for Jesse Pinkman desperately trying to complement Skyler White’s cooking, I would have put the best show on television on this list. But as Breaking Bad winds down, the show has only gotten more visually potent, and more emotionally and morally terrifying.
Community: It could have ended this season and been marvelous—the video game! The Law and Order parody!—but I’m glad the Greendale study group will be back in February.
Game of Thrones: Do I need to justify this one? HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s novels is beginning to edit them in smart ways, and has just gotten more emotionally rich and visually ambitious as it’s gone on.
Girls: The most emotionally precise show on television, with Robyn and accurate women’s health information in the mix.
Happy Endings: Eliza Coupe is a demented genius, and so is the show she stars on, the best live-action cartoon anywhere on television.
Homeland: It danced a Saul-inspired Hora all over my soul in the back half of the season. But damn if I don’t love seeing this group of actors at work, even if I wish they were being given material more fitting their talents.
The Hour: The show The Newsroom desperately wanted to be, and the one we all need so badly about what it takes to do truly hard, ambitious reporting, and to get it on the air.
Justified: The best exploration, anywhere in pop culture, of what it means to be a Southern man. Also, the funniest drama on television. Also, Walton Goggins.
Key & Peele: The best Obama impression anywhere, and a great, nuanced exploration of race, faith, and gender.
The L.A. Complex: Andra Fuller should get an Emmy nomination for his performance of coming-out-rapper Kaldrick King. And everyone who wants to know how Hollywood works should be watching.
Lost Girl: The heir to Charmed in the best, cheesiest, bisexual-succubus-y way possible.
Nashville: Team Juliette all the way, in this fascinating exploration of how the process of making music actually works.
Parks and Recreation: Leslie’s road to City Council was smartly observed and beautifully acted, and writer Aisha Muharrar is crushing it in the episodes she’s written this fall.
Political Animals: A soapy female power fantasy, and prep for Hillary 2016.
Sons of Anarchy: There’s still too much plot in this FX drama, but it’s never felt more like the brutal update to Hamlet it was always meant to be, and the strong cast is hitting its stride.