It’s that time of year where we take stalk and make lists, and today we make a list of the Best Nerdy TV Shows of 2012. Now the Best Nerdy Shows are not the same as the regular Best Shows of the Year. Sure, your average nerd may love to watch Homeland, or Mad Men, or Breaking Bad, or maybe even the recently departed Gossip Girl, but the content of those shows are not necessarily nerdy. So for the purposes of this list, the “Best Shows” are ones that take place in a nerdy genre – like sci-fi, fantasy or horror – or feature a cast of characters who fit the definition of nerds.
So now that we’ve gotten than bit of preamble/introduction out of the way, let’s take a look back at the year that was (the final year?) on the boob tube. With a nerdy bend, of course.
1. Lost Girl
I know, this is a curious selection, right? Let’s just say it’s my Canadian bias showing. And I’ve got to say that it means a lot that so many American fans have hopped on the bandwagon of this show, because, as Canadians, we need constant affirmation from our older cousin south of the border. But seriously, I feel, and I think objectively, that Lost Girl is the inheritor to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s TV Crown for best, complex, butt-kicking female character, and things definitely got heavy for our succubus heroine this year as Bo had to put together a plan to deal with the big bad Garuda who wanted to start a war between all Fae. She also had no less than three different romantic entanglements to unravel and found out that her Fae mentor Trick was also, in fact, her grandfather. The creative team did a marvelous job of enriching and expanding the world of Lost Girl with new characters that explored the ever murkier world of the Fae, as well as bringing back old characters like Vex, who got a chance to play (almost) hero in the fight against the Garuda. As well, the writers set up the possibility that Bo may ultimately be her own worst enemy moving forward, which looks likely to play a role in the new season. Not much has been revealed about what’s in store for the upcoming season 3, but the good news for American fans is that it will quite nearly be simulcast on both Showcase in Canada and Sy-Fy, which proves just how big Lost Girl’s gotten stateside: fans will not longer wait months to share a Canadian experience.
2. Game of Thrones
Winter came and it was awesome. The sophomore season of HBO’s Game of Thrones not only expanded the series’ scope, its story and its cast, but it also expanded its audience as more people came to the world of George R. R. Martin’s Westeros, where war, treachery and sexy times await. Despite the adulation over that first season, even fans noted that from the outset that the tone and pacing were uneven, which made season 2 an even more pleasing experience in that it looked like the writers had worked out some of those issues. Call it more confidence, not just in execution of the concept but in the willingness of the audience to play along, but the Thrones team seemed a bit freer from the weight of expectations and play things more organically, even with some occasional humor. Along with the expanding story was an expanding cast, and unlike many other HBO shows (most notably True Blood) adding new faces didn’t necessarily feel like bloat. In fact there’s so much going on between the characters that you only occasionally get a chance to take stock of the tremendous locations, set design and visual effects, which are all, of course, awesome. With new fans coming to Thrones all the time, the show gets one label that we, the nerdy, may not necessary like, but helps a show like Thrones reach an audience far broader than the hardcore fans: it’s the fantasy show that doesn’t have to flaunt it. It’s just great TV.
3. The Vampire Diaries
Twilight maybe over, but The Vampire Diaries, now in its fourth season, is still going strong. What’s the difference, you may ask. Because yes, this a show filled with attractive young people, fresh from iTunes musical choices and fashion catalog ready threads, but Diaries also doubles down on being TV’s fastest moving drama. Your arch-enemy one week might be the one person you need to save the day next week, and the love or you life in the previous episode becomes the one who delivers the most stinging betrayal now. Also working in Diaries favor is its capacity to kill off characters without pity or remorse, even its main character. Now granted, Elena woke up at the end of the episode as a vampire, but unlike her thematic soul sister Bella, Elena’s had actual difficulty trying to deal with being one of the undead. And on top of all that, she’s broke up with her vampire boyfriend Stefan and fallen for his vampire brother Damon, which is due in no small part to Stefan’s obsession in trying to cure Elena’s vampirism by working with arch-villain Klaus who wants to make Elena human again because her blood is the key to making vampire/werewolf hybrids. And that’s only about three minutes of plot from the average Diaries episode.
Although technically in 2012 we only got about half-a-season’s worth of Community, but those dozen episodes were no less potent and uproarious than a year’s worth of other sitcoms on the air. We saw Troy and Abed’s friendship devolve into a literal Civil War, the gang went all 8-bit to help Pierce get his inheritance, and in the most stunning and hilarious acts of product placement ever performed, Britta fell for a man who was the legal, human embodiment of Subway at Greendale. Somewhere along the way, Chang seized campus in a bloodless coup, Evil Abed crossed over into our universe and Troy assumed his destiny as the True Repairman. What it all adds up to is that Community is a series that will almost literally do anything for a laugh, and laugh we certainly did. Well, those that tuned in did, and Chevy Chase is obviously not laughing. And I guess we’ll find out if we still will be when the series returns with new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port on February 7. Long live Star-burns! #sixseasonsandamovie.
5. Doctor Who
Steven Moffat is a master of subverting expectations. We all knew that this was going to be the last season for Amy and Rory, we knew what episode they would leave in and we more or less knew the circumstances under which they’d depart. Then, just when you think the day is saved via a nifty paradox, nope, it turns out that everything’s eventual anyway. Truly, these are the best of times and the worst of times for The Doctor. He stood triumphant above the Silence, and the Daleks, and all other enemies, but those victories came with a cost. He’s made the universe forget him, but he’s still making new friends, and on Christmas Day we’ll meet his latest friend, or companion (if you will), Jenna-Louise Coleman. But what does it mean when The Doctor meets her in Victorian England, especially since he met a girl that looks just like her (even if, to The Doctor, she looked like a big old Dalek) at the top of series seven? That’s only one of the many mysteries Moffat and Co. will surely lay before us as we officially head into The Doctor’s 50th year since premiering on the BBC.
6. The Big Bang Theory
TV’s perennial nerd ambassadors had a huge year with marriages, space missions, new levels of commitment, and, of course, new adventures in nerdery. What began as seemingly a venue to mock the overly broad perception of what it is to be a nerd, The Big Bang Theory has grown into a fun ensemble comedy where in the writers as often play against stereotypes and expectations to deliver laughs as they indulge in them. Self-deluded ladies man Howard has become the one member of the gang to settle down into married life with Bernadette (of course “settled down” is relative), Penny finally dropped the L-bomb on Leonard who’s blissfully ignorant of the growing affections of Sheldon’s lab assistant, and Dr. Cooper himself has allowed some degree of humanitarian growth, amending his relationship agreement with Amy to allow for some (slight) physical intimacy. But the most astounding part is that Big Bang now sits perched as TV’s biggest comedy, and while it’s not definitive proof that nerds now rule the world, it’s definitely an encouraging step forward.
True, Fringe in 2012 has been, at times, wildly uneven, but when the series is at its best, it’s still the best sci-fi show on television, not just because of the weird science, but because it also wears its heart on its sleeve. Instead of going the obvious route and setting up the stakes for all-out war between the two universes, they came together not just to battle the threat of David Robert Jones (and his puppet master/God-in-the-making William Bell), but to foster a better understanding with each other. It was indeed a very bittersweet goodbye when the alt-universe went bye-bye at the end of season four. That’s okay though because there’s now the small problem of The Observers to deal with in the year 2036. The sucker punch that was the death of Peter and Olivia’s now grown daughter Etta added some much needed emotional heft to season 5’s Observer defeat plan scavenger hunt, and Joshua Jackson finally got to put a new spin on Peter when the grieving father put Observer technology in his head in order to expedite revenge. And while I will note that this season’s future action was often seemed quite detached from the rest of the series five years, the cast and crew of Fringe continue to make sure that we will still miss it when it’s gone after next month.
8. The Walking Dead
After a run where even the shooting of zombified 8-year-old in the head couldn’t summon the requisite dramatic gravitas for a series about a group of survivors at the end of the world, The Walking Dead came back to life (pun intended) in a big way through the second half of season 2 and on through the first half of season 3. Many thought the mere introduction of The Governor was enough to get Dead’s juices going again, but the writers have kept up the heat by keeping our crew of survivors on a constant razor’s edge that any one of them may fall off at any given time. Even the precocious Carl got his moment to be a stone cold zombie killer by ending his own mom. (And that was after she gave birth in a harrowing emotional sequence to boot.) Dead still needs to find a way to carry dramatic tension without relying solely on the threat of zombie-fried death, but considering where we’ve been. this series finally found its footing in 2012.
It seemed doomed to failure. A new CW series based on a DC Comics character, shepherded by the team behind the script of last year’s superhero flame-out Green Lantern, and based on a character that was already ploughed and examined in previous CW hit Smallville? Doubtful it could be anything but lame, right? Too bad the cast and crew of Arrow had other plans. Taking their cue from Christopher Nolan’s darkly down-to-earth Dark Knight trilogy, Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg have combined edge-of-your-seat action, compelling crime drama, and your typical CW romantic melodrama in a compelling way. And on top of all that, they’ve thrown in more comic book references than The O.C., Big Bang Theory and all of Kevin Smith’s movies combined, and they’re only nine episodes into the show. So far we’ve met China White, Dark Archer, Deathstroke and The Huntress, and in the new year we’ll meet Count Vertigo and Roy Harper. As for what Evil Captain Jack Harkness has in store for our titular hero, who was finally referred to by name in last week’s episode, we’ll have to wait and see.
Like Lost Girl, Continuum has already aired in Canada, but its coming to Sy-Fy in the new year, and I can already tell you it will be the most sci-fi thing on Sy-Fy in a long time (or at least since the end of Stargate). Centred around a terrorist group from a corporate-ruled future who escape to our present day with a singular cop (played by Rachel Nichols) accidentally in tow, Continuum combines high-minded science fiction with a crime procedural. Watching the series you get important discussions about the increasing control of unregulated corporations over our lives, but you also get a complex character drama as the terrorists’ master plan suffers the slings and arrows of competing interests, including one who works with the cop in exchange for being allowed to stay in the present and get rich from his future knowledge. Meanwhile, the series also indulges in time-travel fun, including a character in the present who perhaps has a greater influence on future events than even he knows. (And that includes a fine, creepy return to form by Cigarette-Smoking Man William B. Davis.) Continuum maybe the best sci-fi (and Sy-Fy) series you see in 2013, but you’ll have to come back here next December to be sure.