Who knew, in 2012, a little 6-year-old named Honey Boo Boo would teach us the fine art of dumpster diving and introduce “redneckognize” to the nation’s lexicon? In other news, Ricki Lake came back from the 90s, Elena became a bloodsucker on The Vampire Diaries, the Ewing brothers returned to primetime (R.I.P. Larry Hagman), and Gossip Girl signed off for the final time. And oh yeah, a little thing called the London Olympics happened (go Gabby Douglas!). Here are just some of the titles that heated up my DVR and sucked me in:

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1. Girls (HBO) — Those who have ignorantly labeled or dismissed Lena Dunham’s polarizing comedy about entitled twentysomething white chicks living in Brooklyn as a GenY version of Sex and the City should be pitied for their lack of open-mindedness…and the huge sticks they have up their asses (Those diversity arguments? Trite). Because they apparently haven’t scraped away the surface to see that underneath the whiny, woe-is-me sensibilities is an acutely observed portrait of post-collegiate life, packed with embarrassing mistakes and complaints we’ve all been guilty of making but never wanted to admit — or remember. Many comedies and dramas have attempted to paint the Twentysomething Experience with no real resonance, accuracy, or success. What this show has that others didn’t is a creator at its helm who’s actually living it in real time (note: writer-director-star Dunham is 25) as well as a female lead who actually looks like she’s torn through an occasional pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Now put that in your silver spoon and eat it.

2. Homeland (Showtime) — A game-changing second season added more jolts, twists, and butt-clenching tension to this Emmy-winning drama and continued to break the narrative mold most shows get chained to. Cheers to the addition of the irresistible Rupert Friend as a Black Ops agent with a secret agenda up his sleeve.

3. Breaking Bad (AMC) — Shortly after the grisly saga of Walter White started its final season, viewers witnessed the inevitable: Walter finally embracing his dark side and succumbing to a life of treachery. Watching one of TV’s most morally ambiguous protagonists evolve into a Big Bad has never been this scary, funny, and utterly compelling.

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4. Southland (TNT) — I avoid most cop shows because of their formulaic premises and by-the-book cases. This one proudly shatters all of those conventions and offers insightful looks at the lives of the men and women of the LAPD when they’re in and out of the uniform. The always riveting drama, which starts its fifth season this winter, brilliantly balances the procedural and the serial and puts characters before plot, which is always killer. That said, may I be put in charge of the Emmy campaign for Regina King? Because whoever was doing it before certainly doesn’t realize how much she deserves that golden statue.

5. The Walking Dead (AMC) — After a frustratingly uneven second season, Dead delivered eight episodes — a first half that introduced new blood (Hello, Governor and Michonne) and raised the stakes like never before. Episode 4, entitled “Killer Within,” proved to be the most intense piece of scripted television I had ever seen in a while.

6. Last Resort (ABC) — The Crimson Tide-meets-Lost comparisons weren’t enough. This short-lived thriller (it ends this winter) briefly showed promise, indicating that major networks are willing to take risks with high-profile concepts, produce outside the box, and compete with those award-hogging cable dramas by delivering high-quality material to an increasingly sophisticated and evolving television audience.

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7. NBC’s Thursday Night Line-Up — Liz Lemon & Co. aren’t holding back as they set sail into their farewell season on 30 Rock (neither are those Office workers). Parks and Recreation has a lot of comedic weight to carry once those two are gone (as does Community). And Up All Night is the possibly most enjoyable rom-com on TV today.

8. Downton Abbey (PBS) — The most amazing thing about this period soap is how it has managed to turn seemingly stuffy British costume shenanigans into utterly juicy drama for American audiences. Besides, as we all know, love affairs and verbal jabs are exponentially more enjoyable with British accents. Season 3 cannot come any quicker.

9. Happy Endings (ABC) — These 21st century friends have hit their stride in their third season, and by now, if you haven’t jumped on the wacky bandwagon, then you’re probably one of those sticks-in-the-mud chalking up this comedic ensemble to acquired taste. My favorite moment thus far:

10. The New Normal (NBC) — More heartwarming and cute than funny — although Ellen Barkin steals every scene with a biting soundbite — Ryan Murphy’s version of Modern Family is so…Ryan Murphy. Kudos also go to the casting of the insanely adorable Bebe Wood as Shania, a wiser-than-her-years fourth grader who knows how to put on a killer tribute to Grey Gardens.

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BEST SUMMER ADDICTION: Political Animals (USA) — Equal parts campy family soap and Sorkin-esque potboiler, this “limited series event” featured a delicious ensemble. Sigourney, you’re welcome to come back to TV whenever you want.

BEST SHOW I’M NOT WATCHING (so get off my back already): Parenthood (NBC)

BEST GUILTY PLEASURE THAT DIDN’T QUITE LIVE UP TO ITS NAME: Smash (NBC) — Yes, this musical about Broadway musicals was uneven during its first sprint out of the gate, but I have to hand it to NBC for its ambitious gamble on such a lofty concept. Season 2, thanks to a newly crowned showrunner, looks like a major improvement.

BEST GLEE PERFORMANCE OF 2012: “The Scientist” — The Fox comedy grew up in its fourth season, particularly in the episode titled “The Break Up,” during which every character sang his or her heart out in a closing number that saw the end of every couple’s relationship on the show. Heartbreaking, nostalgic, and most importantly, necessary. See it HERE.

BEST SHOW I DIDN’T REALIZE I’D LIKE: Don’t Trust The B in Apartment 23 (ABC) — Consider me happy for James Van Der Beek rejuvenating his career. Well done sir.

BEST FLASH-IN-THE-PAN: The Rosie Show (OWN) — O’Donnell’s short-lived return to the genre that put her on the map went through several formats before settling down on one-on-one interviews that proved to be surprisingly riveting, personal, and thoroughly watchable.

Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)