It’s been a magnificent year for television. “Breaking Bad” blew our minds. “House of Cards” devoured every spare minute of its debut weekend. “Mad Men” somehow stayed strong. “The Americans” gave us hope for the future. “The Colbert Report” was on a higher plane.
Here are the five best shows of the year — a very hard list to compile — and the five worst, which was much easier than we would have liked.
It feels a little ungrateful to point out that there were some bad shows among the great ones, but really, what’s their excuse? We’re in a golden age. Start shining.
BEST: “Breaking Bad,” AMC
Forget the best shows of the year. This is the best show ever made. Much as we love “Breaking Bad,” we don’t miss it, because it resolved perfectly. The final season cooked up an addictive mix of comedy, tragedy, characters we obsessed over, and inventiveness that made MacGyver look like MacGruber. On Walter White’s meth purity scale, it was 98 percent wonderful. Maybe 99. Maybe even 100. -Tim Molloy
WORST: “Two Broke Girls,” CBS
Men and women’s bodies are different. People come from different backgrounds. Got it? Then you’re ready to appreciate 90 percent of the jokes on one of TV’s most egregious bottom feeders. The sad fact is that lots of viewers feel involved in the show because they like one of the lead cartoon characters over the other. The only character we like is Chestnut the horse. Have they made a joke about his name yet? -T.M.
BEST: “Scandal,” ABC
Crammed with so many twists it makes other shows seem pedestrian by comparison, “Scandal” is must-see television in the best way: Look away from the screen for a second and you risk missing the latest jaw-dropping development. Stylish in the extreme, it flirts with going over the top but somehow never does. Three seasons in, the personal and political intrigues keep mounting for Olivia Pope and company. And the acting? Top notch. -Diane Garrett
WORST: “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” ABC
Just when it seemed like Marvel Studios could do no wrong, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” landed on television with a mighty thud. Where Marvel’s films have made billions by blending candy-colored superhero action with snappy nerd dialogue, the TV show version just looks … well, like a TV show. Something about the glossy hair, the too-white teeth and the angular jawlines of your standard-issue television procedural stars look downright goofy here, even when surrounded by cool S.H.I.E.L.D. logos and a giant flying bachelor pad. But the biggest problem: Where are the superheroes? ABC got its audience with the promise of crossover content — and have been losing it as episodes fly by without it. No amount of Clark Gregg can make up for that. -Josh L. Dickey
BEST: “Masters of Sex,” Showtime
Yes, there’s plenty of skin. But there’s so much more to this retro drama about pioneering sex researchers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson than that. The femme-powered drama delves into the repressive mores of the 1950s, displaying remarkable humanity toward characters with limited sexual experience. And it takes its time developing the unusual relationship between the researchers, somehow managing to keep the tone light and the titillation factor from overwhelming the plot. -D.G.
WORST: “Dads,” Fox
Seth MacFarlane‘s latest series gives dad jokes a bad name. It isn’t that the jokes are vaguely racist and sexist: It’s that they’re so horribly choreographed. J.R. Havlan’s great “Writer’s Bloc Podcast” nailed the problem: The show says what the joke will be, shows us the joke being acted out, and then elbows us to make sure we heard. Yeah, dad, we did. We just didn’t think it was funny. -T.M.
BEST: “Boardwalk Empire,” HBO
People say it’s slow. No. Their attention spans are too short. “Boardwalk” is the most gorgeous show on television, but what pops most is the writing. It’s a show that creates a vast world and invites us in by showing, not explaining. The series’ honor code is every bit as complex as that of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi). It’s joyous to watch him joust with characters out to steal his fortune, and their scenes. And, every so often, “Boardwalk” stops everything for some of the best musical numbers on television. -T.M.
WORST: “Mike & Molly,” CBS
This year Melissa McCarthy toplined two hit films — “The Heat” and “Identity Thief” — and the blogosphere exploded at the idea that Elle magazine hid the full-figured actress’ curves in an oversized coat on its “Women in Hollywood” cover. So how is it that McCarthy stars in a show with the repugnant central premise, “Fat people are funny”? Not only is the premise thin, but over the course of three seasons, we know little more about the characters than we learned in the admittedly funny pilot. Most offensive, though, is that “Mike & Molly” is just not funny. All the people who picketed Elle (she looked stunning, by the way) should focus their attention on the real travesty here: This series makes a red-hot McCarthy bland as milquetoast, and that is a damn shame. -L.A. Ross
BEST: “Game of Thrones”
It fires our imaginations and nightmares. Is there a ballsier show on television? It hardly stops to remind us who these crazy people are, and never… stops… killing them. Remorselessly. And it’s much too funny for a show with so many decapitations. How ribald, we thought, when it first debuted. A fantasy show with some nudity. Then everything went insane. -T.M.
WORST: “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”
I’m going to break it to you gently: The nitwits on this show never think about you. What they seem to think about is tacky, relentless self-promotion. You encourage them every time you tune in. Why? Because one of them made a sex tape once? There are other sex tapes out there, friend. Also: books. -T.M.