The first series is the one I'm talking about here (series two stretched the premise to breaking point). This succeeded as a thriller by depicting interesting, flawed characters in Brodie, the returning war 'hero', and Carrie, the damaged CIA operative who was made to look a fool but was right about Brodie all along. Claire Danes was terrific, nearly matched by Damian Lewis, but all the characters' storylines – with the performances of David Harewood and Mandy Patinkin standing out – made it a drama packed with tension and lives on the edge.
Gave us the most unforgettable character of 2012 in the high-functioning but socially disastrous Saga Norén, played by Sofia Helin. The story began hauntingly with the discovery of a body on the international border on Oresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. While this was yet another story about an ingenious and implausibly elusive killer (The Killing 3 had the same kind of unbelievably omnipotent evil-doer), it was the story of the Swedish Saga and her irresponsible Danish counterpart Martin Rohde that made this so intriguing and fresh. A second series should appear in late 2013, while the Americans – of course – are doing a version that kicks off on a bridge between Mexico and the US.
Farewell, Sarah Lund. You departed in style, if a little hurriedly, but what a way to go. Self-destructive as ever, you managed to take the law into your own hands with some vigilante justice for the evil Reinhardt and destroy your own happiness at the same time. What a woman! Series one remains the best, despite all its irritating red herrings, but The Killing 2 and 3 maintained levels of depth and ambition rarely seen from the Beeb or ITV.
A pilot prequel that fleshed out the Inspector Morse legend intelligently and entertainingly – and had the desired effect of leading to a series commission (watch out for four 120-minute episodes in 2013). Shaun Evans was the young Morse was charismatic and suitably introspective, and the investigation into the disappearance of a teenage girl was powerful, while also offering insights into events that moulded the detective. Roger Allam was excellent as Morse's boss, Thursday.
Wit, mystery and sumptuous performances – the second series was must-see television, and finished with a mighty cliffhanger as social media went into a flutter about Sherlock's apparent death plunge in The Reichenbach Fall. The series also gave us The Hounds of Baskerville and A Scandal in Belgravia, featuring a tantalising Lara Pulver as Irene Adler. In a year that saw a good American rehash of the Beeb's contemporary take on Holmes – Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu – Sherlock still easily out-dazzled the upstart.
Most UK viewers have not discovered Justified, which is tucked away on 5USA, but it is a hidden gem. Based on stories by the superb Elmore Leonard, the series takes us into Kentucky and the law-enforcement world of trigger-happy deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, played with panache by Timothy Olyphant. The third series was another corker and gave us a fresh gallery of nasty rogues, including the butcher Limehouse and the sexual sadist Quarles. Leonard ranks this as one of the best adaptations of his books, and that includes Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out of Sight. Watch out for series four.
Finishing on a rather oblique note – with Sav going into the sea and apparently surrendering to the waves – was a mark of how mature and deeply felt this drama was. It spurned stupid plot twists to zoom in on the human drama, that of the good man who finds himself doing bad things. At first the audience may have cheered him when he turned vigilante, but by the end he had gone off the rails.
A powerful story of a man surrounded by people – ailing dad, female police partner, lover – but emotionally stranded, having ruined his chance of happiness with the mother of his daughter. The acting was brilliant and affecting, the Liverpool setting was fresh and interesting, and the story unforgettable. It should be the making of Warren Brown as a leading man.
British TV can only dream of making a crime drama on this scale. The cast, the stunning period production and the writing put it in a league of its own. The story of Prohibition-era Atlantic City and its corrupt county treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) reached 1923, when our antihero was balancing a mistress and wife, and his political and criminal empires. Fictional and real historical figures – Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano – were joined in this series by the new psychotic Sicilian in town, the fictional Gyp Rosetti. The series reached a spectacular gang war climax and was, as it has been from the start, fascinating and unforgettable.
Murder: Joint Enterprise
I've included this because it was a fresh drama that explored the messiness of crime and the difficulty of finding the truth behind it – and here the police fail and the wrong person is convicted. Birger Larsen, the director of The Killing, hauntingly portrayed Nottingham with an outsider's eye, in a story that blitzed the fallacy of so many cop shows with their neat solutions. Karla Crome and Joe Dempsie were first-rate as the pair caught in a nasty tussle of guilt and accusation.
Writer Jimmy McGovern attracts the best actors to his stories of injustice and moral dilemmas. This second series of one-off dramas started boldly with Sean Bean in stilettos as a transvestite whose love for a married man (played by Stephen Graham) ends in horror. Anne-Marie Duff, Olivia Colman, Sheridan Smith, Ewen Bremner and Anna Maxwell Martin all featured in dramas that were unsentimental but full of surprises and sharply depicted characters. Engrossing and thought-provoking.
Pics: BBC, ITV, C4, C5, BSkyB