Review of 2012: Television

Women led the laughs, both in the NHS and the Hamptons, but even Claire can't save 'Homeland'


Jaw-dropper of the year

The Olympics' opening ceremony. Even with Danny Boyle at the helm, it could so easily have been an extravaganza by (international) committee: worthy, abstract and a bit dull. But what we got – including dark satanic mills in the stadium, a parachuting monarch and an ode to free healthcare – was genuinely visionary stuff: feverish, funny and ferociously single-minded. Its greatest endorsement came from the Tory MP moved to describe it as “leftie multi-cultural crap”.

Scene-stealer of the year

“The industry”, as they say in the industry, which, as a result of the Savile affair, spent the autumn making its own headlines. Cast your mind back to 22 October, when you may well have been watching a BBC news programme's reaction to a simultaneously scheduled BBC news programme about the first news programme's failure to screen an investigative segment raising potential questions about the wider BBC's failure to investigate allegations surrounding the private life of a BBC presenter. The consequence of this was to relegate child abuse to the status of a MacGuffin.

Show of the year

Getting On. The third run of writer-star trio Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine's BBC4 series set in an NHS hospital was quite simply the best piece of British small-screen fiction in years. Branching out even further from its notional sitcom roots, it administered shots of high farce, occupational satire, metaphysical meditation and excruciating realism. I refuse to accept that Pepperdine's Dr Pippa Moore is not, at this moment, wafting through some overstretched ward, offering supercilious side smiles to confused geriatrics.

Performances of the year

Back in January, Daniel Mays ushered audiences out of their New Year's slumber with his scintillating cross-breed performance as a convict on parole in Tony Marchant's Public Enemies. And then, in a social galaxy far, far, away, there was Rebecca Hall in BBC2's Parade's End. Playing Sylvia, the disaffected wife of Benedict Cumberbatch's pathologically earnest Edwardian aristocrat, she started out like Joan Collins doing Hedda Gabler, only to fling off the camp and reveal the desperate, threadbare soul beneath.

Documentary of the year

I'll exclude 56 Up, the latest instalment of Michael Apted's groundbreaking Up series, on the grounds that the fact it reduced me to a teary living-room philosopher prattling on about the “human condition” was a foregone conclusion. This leaves the genuine surprise that was All in the Best Possible Taste – Grayson Perry: a three-part survey of the British class system conducted by an Islingtonite artist looking to create some state of the nation's tapestries. What could have been patronising gubbins asked all the right questions, offered astute observations and thrived off Perry's ability to balance warmth and intellect.

Guilty pleasure of the year

Revenge, the moreish US import that cheekily presented itself as a contemporary re-imagining of The Count of Monte Cristo while coming on like an East Coast Dallas (which itself made a slightly unnecessary return). Who needs warmth and intellect when you've got Hamptons interiors porn, super-rich Schadenfreude and Madeleine Stowe (inset left) channelling Bette Davis in endless variations of body-con dress?

Burnout of the year

Homeland. During its first season, shown in the spring, the paranoid conspiracy thriller was mentioned in the same breath as Le Carré. By the end of autumn's second series, it was roundly turned on by the box-set classes, upset at being duped into watching just another potboiler from the makers of 24. But whatever happens, it should always be applauded for bringing the Claire Danes cry-face into international focus.

Newcomer of the year

Lena Dunham of HBO's Girls: self-confessedly not “the voice of a generation”, but just an exceptionally assured comic writer and actress who created one of the funniest, most perceptive and lacerating shows centering on young hipster New Yorkers.

Turkey of the year

Channel 4, which marked the year of the Mayan apocalypse with a post-modern “End of Days” season. Featuring the queasiest, tattiest and most irritating programming imaginable, it ran the spectrum from “Fly-on-the-writing-on-the-wall documentary” (Hotel GB) to “post-pub science programming” (Drugs Live: the Ecstasy Trial), “constructed reality comedy” (Kookyville), “Ricky Gervais, post-Office” (Derek), “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Redux” (Thelma's Gypsy Girls) and “Title first, think later” (Jewish Mum of the Year).

Things that could not go unmentioned

The brilliant Hunderby, Twenty Twelve, the soggy Jubilee Thames flotilla shambles, Nigella's eggs in purgatory, Towie's live episode from hell, Shamazing.