Best of 2012: Are USA’s ‘Suits,’ NBC’s ‘Community’ among the underrated?

It’s day two of our Best of 2012 voting, and following up our announcement of the Best Late-Night Escape nominees Monday, we are now turning to a subject that all TV viewers love to talk about: underrated shows. It’s easy to get a chip on your shoulder when one of your favorites is continually snubbed for nominations, especially when you sit there and say “hey, this show is better than [insert name here].” This is what this category is all about: recognizing the shows that we all debate about with our friends when awards season rolls around.

Our criteria for picking the seven nominees here was simple: none of these shows are perennial Emmy favorites, have devoted fan followings, but are still examples of some of the best our favorite medium has to offer. In case you’re visiting the page for the first time, here’s how everything works: voting is open until midnight on Friday, December 21, and the winners will be announced by noon that same day. We’ll be releasing our official picks on December 28.

Now, let’s get to the nominees this year for Best Underrated Show.

“Big Brother” (CBS) – You may be cynical about this one, but think about this: is it at times trashy TV? Yes, but it is at least trashy TV at its finest and funniest, and there is a genuine strategic game underneath people squeezing fluid out of each other while wearing giant sponges. There’s really no other show like it that runs in real time, and allows you to both observe and be a part of the game simultaneously. It’s really more of an obsession than a TV show. “Big Brother” has never gotten any Emmy love in the reality competition category, mostly because the Emmys probably prefer to pretend like it doesn’t exit.

“Community” (NBC) – Is “Community” really underrated? We debated about this one, since it clearly is the target of much critical praise, has an enormous fanbase, and did win some Critics’ Choice Television Awards this past summer. However, the show has been routinely snubbed save for a writing nomination this year from the Emmys, even though it consistently producers some of the funniest, most creative work on television. Any world without “Community” getting love is the darkest timeline, indeed.

“Happy Endings” (ABC) – On a different note, “Happy Endings” is getting almost no love from awards shows at all for delivering a product that is actually funnier than “Modern Family” or anything else ABC has on the air right now. Damon Wayans Jr. is in particular stellar, but the only thing working against the show right now is a terrible timeslot that forces it up against “New Girl” and “Go On.”

“The Newsroom” (HBO) – Like with “Big Brother,” some people will hate this nomination and blast the show as either being too talky or saying that many of the characters save for Will and Jim are one-note. There are flaws to Aaron Sorkin’s production, but what he does he does so right in producing compelling, fast-paced television that is unafraid to tackle current events. The first five minutes of the pilot are quite possibly some of our favorite five minutes of television all year long, and they are right up there with the Dexter – Isaak conversation in the gay bar, Lane on “Mad Men” trying to kill himself in his Jaguar, and the train scene on “Breaking Bad.”

“Pan Am” (ABC) – It always feels appropriate to have a canceled show on this list, mostly because they are in many ways the truest definition of an underrated show; so underrated, in fact, that it never truly got a chance to stay on the air. The 2012 episodes of “Pan Am” were a huge improvement over its 2011 pilot, and the show boosted some great characters, delightfully-soapy storylines, and some of the most beautiful visuals on network TV. Unfortunately, but that point many of the viewers from the pilot had tuned out … but continue to watch a far inferior show in “Revenge.”

“Sons of Anarchy” (FX) – This may not be the consolation Kurt Sutter is looking for in favor of an Emmy, but we’re giving it to him anyway. Few showrunners care so much about their audience, or pour so much into a single season of their show. This is often a violent spectacle, but it is not just gunplay for the sake of shock value. We see this story almost as a combination of Shakespeare and George Orwell, proof that power can destroy good people and leave a trail of bodies in the streets. There also are few acting trios on television right now better than Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, and Ron Perlman.

“Suits” (USA) – Patrick J. Adams was a surprise SAG Awards nominee earlier this year, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise: USA quietly has developed one of the strongest legal dramas on TV at the moment that combines some of the shrewdness of “White Collar” with the power of “The Practice” and creates something that is subtle but gripping television. Even the name of the show serves as a perfect representation of the masks that Mike, Harvey, and so many of the other characters wear.

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