The New Year has arrived, and as we anticipate the new shows, we pay tribute to the old ones (and, hopefully, learn a few lessons about what works and what doesn’t). Behold, the results of the Golden Armchair Awards: the best and worst of 2012, as voted by you! Thanks to everyone who voted, and Happy New Year!

Best New Miniseries/Show

Readers’ Choice: Call the Midwife

The sometimes charming, sometimes harrowing story of late-1950s midwives working in London’s East End ran away with 82% of the vote.

My Choice: Hunderby/A Young Doctor’s Notebook

These two shows gave us heaping helpings of the blackest black comedy. Gory and scatalogical, they cleverly played with costume drama conventions, turning them on their heads and using flowery language to rather filthy ends. Were they offensive? Sometimes, but they were also rather brave, and for that, I tip a hat to them.

Worst New Miniseries/Show

Readers’ Choice and My Choice: Titanic

There was no contest here at all. Julian Fellowes puffed himself up and said this would be an entirely different take on the tragedy. It wasn’t. Not only was it completely derivative of all that had come before it, it was poorly researched, poorly acted, and poorly written. How such a great cast was attracted to this nonsensical mess of paper-thin characters and stereotypes is beyond me. This was so slapdash it was clearly just thrown together in an attempt to capitalise on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, which makes this an absolute insult to the memories of the 1500 people who died that night.

Best Couple

Readers’ Choice: Denise and Moray (The Paradise)

I’ll admit to being a bit surprised by this one, but apparently the readers loved the slowly unfurling romance between the conflicted store owner and his ‘little champion’.

My Choice: Two Face and Julia (Boardwalk Empire)

At last, Two Face gets a little love in his life! It’s amazing this man hasn’t been too damaged for it, but he’s an almost surprisingly complex character, capable of both great tenderness and great brutality. The relationship with Julia got off to a rocky start, and it wasn’t without its highly realistic awkwardness, but they managed…for a while. It was nice to see him genuinely happy and able to make those fantasies of a happy family life a reality, even if it was only for a few weeks.

Worst Couple

Readers’ Choice (3-way tie!): Robert and the zombie housemaid (Downton Abbey), Edith and Patient Patrick (Downton Abbey), Hallam and Persie (Upstairs Downstairs)

Three highly disappointing subplots. Robert’s and Hallam’s affairs (or near-affair in Robert’s case) were out of character and made little sense, and the whole storyline with the imposter Patrick was preposterous, clichéd, and just another reason to make poor Edith miserable.

My Choice: Branson and Sybil (Downton Abbey)

I wanted to like this couple, because at one time I really liked both characters, but they both seriously disappointed this season. Branson got pushy and condescending, scorning Sybil’s war work, which is rich coming from a guy who’s just polishing a posh car all the time. And Sybil, previously the most spirited daughter, just stood there and took it. Defend yourself, Sybil! Weak sauce, show.

Best Team

Readers’ Choice: Mrs Bird, Patmore, Molesley, Daisy, Cora, and O’Brien feeding soldiers at Crawley House

Did our hearts not soar when first Patmore, and then Cora rolled up their sleeves to muck in at the makeshift soldiers’ canteen? These six made a surprisingly great team and proved that, in wartime, everyone really does have to do their bit.

My Choice: The Band of Badass (The Borgias)

Look, you just don’t go around attacking nunneries and making a nuisance of yourself when there are people like Cesare and Micheletto around and expect to get away with it, ok? The French thought they had Italy at their mercy, but our guys had a different idea, and I’m pretty sure the French never forgot it.

Worst Character Assassination

Readers’ Choice: Branson (Downton Abbey)

I’ve covered Branson both above and below. Suffice it to say, he’s let us down, big time.

My Choice: Hallam Holland (Upstairs Downstairs)

From intelligent, loving husband to dirty, cheating stooge in only a few episodes. Impressive, and gross.

Best New Character

Readers’ Choice: Sir Richard Carlisle (Downton Abbey)

Mary’s newspaper-baron suitor could have (and was probably supposed to be) a moustache-twirling bad guy we all just hated unconditionally, but he was played by a good actor who made him a bit more interesting than that. He was a businessman, and probably the ideal match for the heartless, unfeeling robot that is Mary Crawley. His entanglement with Lavinia Swire was stupid, but I’ll overlook that because other aspects of his character were somewhat intriguing. It’s too bad they rushed him out the door so they could hook up Mary and Matthew at last. Maybe he’ll come back for Edith?

My Choice (tie): Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones) and Caterina Sforza (The Borgias)

I’ve got a soft spot for the ass-kicking women, and did these women ever kick some ass. Nobody was a match for Brienne, the lady giant tough enough to command the respect of even Jaime Lannister, and neither Juan nor Cesare Borgia was able to bring Caterina to heel. Well done, ladies.

Most Disappointing New Character

Readers’ Choice: Vera Bates (Downton Abbey)

Julian Fellowes promised us a complicated woman, but instead we got a cackling harpy joyfully munching on the scenery and mired in a ludicrous blackmail storyline that didn’t hold up to any logic at all. The worst part is that she kept ruining the show from beyond the grave.

My Choice: Gyp Rosetti (Boardwalk Empire)

Without a doubt one of the worst antagonists of any show I’ve ever seen. An overly sensitive, idiotic, cartoonish thug who was too stupid to make a credible foil for Nucky Thompson. I can’t remember the last time I so joyfully watched a character get (literally) stabbed in the back; my only question was, what took so damn long?

Character That Most Needs to Go

Readers’ Choice: Lovett (The Paradise)

Denise’s uncle gave us a few glimpses of a kind heart, but mostly he was a childish, obnoxious, whiny idiot hellbent on making himself irrelevant and blaming the Paradise for his store’s ills. It’s no wonder Miss Audrey left him, a marriage between these two would have been miserable.

My Choice: Agent Van Alden (Boardwalk Empire)

His storyline on the show has run its course, but still they keep him around. His scenes this season dragged the story down and pulled us away from Atlantic City and Nucky, which are what the show’s really supposed to be about. We got hardly any Chalky White at all so we could watch this idiot start to ingratiate himself with the Chicago mob? Seriously, give him his walking papers already.

Stupidest Subplot

Readers’ Choice and My Choice: Hallam’s and Persie’s affair (Upstairs Downstairs)

Nothing, not even the horrible Patient Patrick storyline on Downton, enraged me quite so much as this. Persie was loathsome, so anything involving her was bound to irk me, but what really bothered me about this was that it just made absolutely no goddamn sense. The only way this worked was if Hallam had a complete personality replacement in between series one and two, which I guess is what happened, because he went from being a tender, sensitive, loving husband who saw Persie for the monster she was to a condescending jerk who refused to engage with his wife for no reason at all, even when she tried to draw him out, and who fell into bed with Persie because…she gave him a tea-tin or something? Yes, that’s exactly how much sense it made. And everyone around him kept telling him this was stupid, and yet he didn’t listen. And he blamed Agnes for everything that was going wrong, and when it finally came out that Persie was a spy, he was shocked. These leaps and bounds would only have made sense to someone fortunate enough not to have seen the rest of this terrible show. We’re not the only ones who hated it—Upstairs Downstairs was cancelled after this season.

Worst Wasted Opportunity

Readers’ Choice and My Choice: Despite everything happening in Ireland, Branson stays at Downton, polishes the car, talks about Russia, and tells Sybil she’s not doing enough (Downton Abbey)

I was rather excited to see what Branson would be up to during series two of Downton. After all, he’s a politically astute Irishman at a time when Ireland was starting to really get it together as far as breaking away from England was concerned. There were so many opportunities for him to get involved in something interesting. And then…nothing happened. He didn’t return to Ireland or get involved in much of anything, aside from cooking up the stupidest plots to embarrass the British army you could possibly begin to imagine. Instead, he went from one of my favourite characters to one of the most irritating, constantly babbling about Russia, acting like an idiot, and condescendingly berating Sybil for working as a war nurse when all he was doing was driving rich people around. What a complete ass.

Hell Yeah! Moment

Readers’ Choice: Matthew Proposes to Mary (Downton Abbey)

After years (in show time) of will they-won’t they, Downton’s A couple got together during a romantic proposal in the snow, and millions of Christmas Day viewers breathed a sigh of relief.

My Choice: Tyrion Lannister rallies his troops (Game of Thrones)

Tyrion, who’s clearly the best character on this show (which is saying something), really came into his own this year, ably manipulating his way through the treacherous court at King’s Landing. But even he was clearly a bit daunted by the prospect of facing down Stannis Baratheon’s armies during the Battle of Blackwater. When both Joffrey and the Hound crapped out, though, Tyrion seriously stepped up, whipping up the troops and turning the tide of the battle. Though he be but small, he is fierce.

Most Heartbreaking Moment

Readers’ Choice: Daisy’s and William’s deathbed marriage and William’s subsequent death (Downton Abbey)

I loved William, but knew he was a goner. Sure enough, he sustained injuries bad enough to kill him slowly, leaving him just enough time to marry his sweetheart, Daisy. Although Patmore’s insane strongarming of the poor girl was horrific to see, it was rather touching to see the staff and even Violet rally together to give the dying young man his last wish. This moment was so sad, it made the Dowager Countess cry, so you know it’s serious.

My Choice: Mary’s baby is taken away (Call the Midwife)

The whole Mary subplot was depressing as hell, but undoubtedly the saddest moment was right after her much-loved baby, Kathleen, was taken away. Her grief, which went from hysteria to complete numbness, was heartbreaking to see and conveyed with amazing skill by the young actress playing her. It helped, too, that this was a fairly complex situation: the priest who took the baby away wasn’t a cruel man, he just knew that Mary was in no condition to care properly for a baby, and there wasn’t anything else to do. There were no real bad guys and no winners here.

Biggest WTF Moment

Readers’ Choice: Robert starts an affair with the housemaid while his wife’s at death’s door (Downton Abbey)

I can buy that Robert would be feeling a bit needy and rootless when faced with the monumental changes brought by the war years, but I don’t buy that his personality would change so utterly that he’d go from being a slightly gruff but clearly loving husband and father to a childish, sulky brat who considers messing about with a creepy housemaid. Especially not when his wife is possibly dying of Spanish Influenza. What the hell happened to him?

My Choice: Dr Clarkson admits he withheld a specialist’s diagnosis of Matthew’s paralysis because he didn’t want to be wrong (Downton Abbey)

Matthew’s walking again didn’t shock me, because this show’s clearly become a soap opera anyway, but the whole thing with Dr Clarkson was one WTF after another. He withheld a favourable diagnosis because he didn’t want to give his patient hope? Or risk being made to look stupid? The family called in a specialist but then never spoke to him or asked what his opinion of Matthew’s case was? The specialist only spoke to the other doctor and not to the patient or the family? And after all this, everyone was just a-OK? Not a single person was upset about this? Medical ethics clearly still had a long way to go.

The George Entwistle Award for Gross Professional Incompetence

Readers’ Choice and My Choice: Dr Clarkson (Downton Abbey)

See my rant above, and add to that the fact that he failed to properly diagnose flu in either Cora (she’s just tired!) or Lavinia (just give her warm milk with cinnamon and she’ll be fine) until their illness was very advanced. Yes, the flu pandemic was bigger than anyone anticipated, but it was not a new disease, and word of it had gotten out by that time, so he really should have been more on top of the symptoms. Again, Clarkson fails.

Worst Case of Animal Cruelty

Readers’ Choice and My Choice: Johnny gasses Solomon the Monkey to death (Upstairs Downstairs)

I never thought of Johnny as being particularly bright, but I didn’t think he was capable of quite this level of cruelty or stupidity. I had hoped the second series of Upstairs Downstairs would be better than the first, but this early example of facepalm-inducing idiocy only set the stage for worse to come.

MVP (Most Valuable Prop)

Readers’ Choice: Mary’s good luck dog/dachshund/stuffed thingy (Downton Abbey)

What was it? Nobody could quite figure it out, but apparently it was a longstanding good luck charm for Lady Mary, and it was rather sweet when she handed it off to Matthew so he could take it to war with him. Though it didn’t protect him from injury, he did come out of the conflict alive and, eventually, on two feet, so I guess it worked. Too bad we never saw the thing again.

My Choice: Two Face’s mask (Boardwalk Empire)

It’s rare that a prop can be, by turns, creepy and touching, but the mask hiding Two Face’s horrible war injuries does it. And by depriving Jack Huston of half of one of the most emotive parts of the human body, we get to see what an amazing actor he really is.

Special mention to the Snout Muffins on Hunderby, for giving me one of the most prolonged laugh-out-loud moments this year.

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