The episodes on this list are based on nominations by myself, our merry band of freelancers and you the readers as to what we think the standout moments of the year were. And as always, be sure to revisit some of our previous picks in the archives.
Obviously our final list will differ from the ones you sent in - but that's half the fun! So sit back, relax and enjoy the countdown!
25. modern family: bringing up baby
(originally aired: september 26, 2012)
Worth a spot on this list for its wonderful closing moments as Gloria's anxiety over telling Jay about her pregnancy is quickly sated by his overwhelming joy of having the Pritchett clan expand by one more. The resulting time jump to a now very pregnant Gloria - alongside everyone else's sped-up foibles - was just plain delightful.
24. big bang theory: the vacation solution
(originally aired: february 9, 2012)
Sheldon and Amy's relationship remains one of television's comedic gold mines, a fact made all the more evident by this episode in which Sheldon is forced to take a vacation. His destination of choice: Amy's workplace, where he's tasked as her assistant. The resulting journey - from being emasculated by his girlfriend, to drowning his sorrows in piña coladas to eventually doing the adult thing and apologizing - was not only a stellar showcase of Jim Parsons's talents but also a reminder of how big a part Mayim Bialik has played in bringing it out of him.
23. mad men: far away places
(originally aired: april 22, 2012)
"Mad Men" continues to thumb its nose at expectations, opting for vignettes about existential subjects rather than plodding forward as your typical serial. Case in point: this fable in which Peggy, Roger and Don attempt to maintain control of their lives, a haunting reminder that our vision of the world and ourselves is fleeting, always on the cusp of being replaced by something else, no matter how hard we try to ignore it.
22. 30 rock: mazel tov, dummies!
(originally aired: november 29, 2012)
Liz Lemon's wedding was everything we hoped it would be and more. Sure there's the expected silliness (Top Gun-esque windmill high fives, dressing up as Princess Leia, anything involving Dennis Duffy, etc.) but it's the perfect amount of sweetness - beau Criss cleverly sabotages their city hall wedding so she can have the one she hadn't yet admitted to herself - that set it apart.
21. how i met your mother: no pressure
(originally aired: february 20, 2012)
I love that even some eight years in, the romantic pangs of the pilot - in which the blistering chemistry between Robin and Ted is crushingly undercut by the news that she is in fact not the mother - still hang over in the series. Such was the case here as Ted once again offers his heart to her, to similarly devastating results. The ensuing fallout: Marshall tells Robin she needs to move out in order to give Ted space to heal was equally bittersweet, another example of the emotional honesty that makes this show so great.
20. fringe: letters of transit
(originally aired: april 20, 2012)
The hallmark of "Fringe" has been its ability to establish a family unit no matter how outlandish the scenario. Lose your son, replace him with one from an alternate universe. Lose your universe, have yourself dropped into a new one. Regardless of the makeup, the connections of love and family still manage to get created. That constant state of reinvention once again became evident in this episode, as Walter, Astrid and Peter awaken some 25 years into the future under the rule of The Observers. Among the rebels: Peter's now grown up daughter Henrietta, squaring the circle of the family unit once again.
19. community: virtual systems analysis
(originally aired: april 19, 2012)
If centering an episode about trying to help Abed, a character who is paralyzed by his skewed perception of reality, using an even more fake perception of reality, the Dreamatorium, isn't snake-eating-its-tail meta manna from heaven, I don't know what is.
18. treme: tipitina
(originally aired: november 25, 2012)
David Simon and Eric Overmyer's annual closing up shop remains as potent as ever, as their characters either find peace in letting go of their previous ambitions or remain resolute in the face of the realities of their fates. As always "Treme" remains a compelling story about survival and what that means to each of its denizens.
17. parks and recreation: halloween surprise
(originally aired: october 25, 2012)
Ben's (Adam Scott) marriage proposal to Leslie (Amy Poehler) was somehow surprising, touching and hilarious all at the same time - a perfect moment between two great characters, not to mention two wonderful actors.
16. dexter: are you ...?
(originally aired: september 30, 2012)
It's a development that's been hanging over the series since its start: what happens when Deb finds out her brother is a serial killer? Six years later we finally got the answer. No cop out, no switcheroo, she really knows. The result: a full-on reinvention of the show, one that gave rise to questions about the status quo we've accepted for Dexter the character (and the show) all along.
15. luck: episode 9
(originally aired: march 25, 2012)
The de facto ending to David Milch's horse racing opus proved to be a surprisingly upbeat capper, from Mike and Ace's détente over the race track to the windfall for our sad sack group of gamblers. The latter in particular was disarmingly sweet as what were initially a group of degenerates at best ultimately morphed into a quartet of true friends, all hopeful of the future.
14. the good wife: another ham sandwich
(originally aired: january 29, 2012)
The defeat - for now at least - of Wendy Scott-Carr (Anika Noni Rose) was "The Good Wife" at the top of its game. Whether it's the cleverly passive-aggressive way the characters manage to manipulate each other or the endless shades of grey they continue to become mired in, this show is a delightful meal any week. Here though we them pushed to the precipice, from Kalinda going all double-agent to Alicia being tasked with admitting to her personal foibles on the witness stand.
13. mad men: lady lazarus
(originally aired: may 6, 2012)
Pete's search for and Don's attempts to hold onto happiness remained as fascinating as ever in this episode. For the latter, Megan's decision to leave Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to pursue acting pulled the floor out from under him (literally if you count his experience with an empty elevator shaft). And in the former's case, a dalliance with an acquaintance's wife (Alexis Bledel) once again exposed - much like Don - his perpetual need to control the world around him.
12/11. breaking bad: say my name/gliding over all
(originally aired: august 26-september 2, 2012)
"Shut the f--- up and let me die in peace," were the final words of Mike Ehrmantraut to Walter White. They also marked the beginning of the end of Walter's empire as his meticulous construction begins to unravel across these two episodes. It's the end result of pride unchecked by humility. Even with his initial goals long achieved - Walter literally has more money than he can spend - there's a hubris inside him that still demands more. More respect. More fear. Just more. So how fitting then that the man who thinks he knows everything overlooks the one thing that lays the tracks for his downfall: a seemingly innocuous copy of "Leaves Of Grass" that Hank stumbles across and gets his wheels turning.
10. sons of anarchy: j'ai obtenu cette
(originally aired: december 4, 2012)
"Sons of Anarchy" finally stuck the landing so to speak in 2012. Each year the show seemed to paint its characters into inescapable corners for 12 weeks, then just pull them out of their predicaments without significant consequence. This time though, the big choices were finally made and their costs were heavy. That especially applied to Jax, who in his efforts to remove Clay for good, finally became the man he's loathed all along.
9. suits: she knows
(originally aired: june 14, 2012)
A breakthrough episode which solidified its status as a top-tier drama, "She Knows" doubled down on its previously shaky premise and somehow emerged clearer and sharper than ever thanks to its supernaturally charming cast, distinctive voice and slick look. At a certain point you either fall in love with a show or you don't and we fell hard in 2012.
6/7/8. louie: late show, parts 1-3
(originally aired: august 30-september 20, 2012)
After three seasons of character pieces, "Louie" finally pushed for a full-fledged narrative in this trilogy of episodes and the dividends were tremendous. Admittedly part the fun was seeing who would show up next (Jay Leno! Chris Rock! David Lynch?!) but the true draw was seeing Louie actually challenged on a level we haven't seen before, both at work and at home. The prize: a chance to succeed David Letterman on CBS. The ensuing "Rocky"-esque journey gave us a litany of great moments: from a pragmatic discussion about his career with a network executive (Garry Marshall) to learning how to literally tell jokes by the aforementioned Lynch. The piece de resistance of course arrives in the closing installment when, after learning the entire operation is for naught, the mere fact he was in the discussion proves to be all the victory he needs.
5. mad men: signal 30
(originally aired: april 15, 2012)
A dinner party at the Campbells - not to mention a science-fiction story by Ken Cosgrove - provided a window into Pete's foibles in this memorable episode. Perennially painted as the petulant child of the show, Pete nevertheless has grown to match the personal and professional success of his idol Don Draper. And yet, despite it all, he's still unhappy, on the cusp of tearing down his great life because it's suffocating him. It's Don of course who steps in and sets him straight, advice that also serves as a reminder he'll never be Don Draper... or anyone else for that matter, as much as he wants to be.
4. homeland: new car smell
(originally aired: october 21, 2012)
We all knew the day would come, we just couldn't imagine it happening this fast. And yet here we are 16 episodes in and the unthinkable has happened: Carrie and company, armed with definitive proof of Brody's terrorist activities, take him into custody. The fact that a rattled Carrie does it to simply regain the power in her relationship with Brody: all the better.
3. breaking bad: dead freight
(originally aired: august 12, 2012)
A brazen, daylight train robbery served as the backdrop for this standout installment as Walter and company endeavor to not only steal a shipment of methylamine, but replace it with water to cover their tracks. The end result was about as stunning a setpiece as this series has ever achieved, made all the more harrowing by its closing moments in which our "heroes" rejoice after pulling off their expertly crafted heist - only to be spotted by a random boy riding his bike. The choice is made before even a discussion can be had: Todd shoots and kills him in cold blood. Just... wow.
2. the walking dead: seed
(originally aired: october 14, 2012)
Season three opened with a staunch reminder of just how bad things have gotten in the world of "The Walking Dead." Ever outnumbered, our heroes make the only choice left to them: hole up at a nearby prison and pray its walls keep them safe longer than a few nights at a time. Before that can happen, they literally have to clean house. Said efforts are about as stunning and visceral of a TV experience as I've ever encountered, an agonizing sequence of events that's both thrilling (seriously how many zombies did they kill?) and downright unsettling (seriously how many zombies did they kill?) plus not without its costs (Hershel is bitten but potentially saved via impromptu amputation). Just another white knuckle episode of "The Walking Dead."
1. game of thrones: blackwater
(originally aired: may 27, 2012)
Sometimes things just live up to the hype. So goes the penultimate episode of season two, which finally put the show's oft-referenced - but rarely seen - epic battles front and center. A wondrous spectacle of both military strategy and CGI, Stannis' attempt to take King's Landing was worthy of the big screen. But as is custom with this show, it's the character beats that eclipse it all, whether it's the seemingly invincible Sandor Clegane losing his fire for battle, packing up and leaving; Cersei's spiral into drunkenness, acknowledging the cancerous presence she has become; and of course, Tyrion's stirring speech to keep on fighting, not for the crown but for their homes. Man do I love this show.
The Futon Critic staff blogs at The Futon Critic.