The Walking Dead Cast
Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Few things are more satisfying than realizing that a TV show you love is getting better. Evolution and experimentation is built into the long-form television medium. Sometimes that experimentation goes horribly wrong, and some course-correction is required. Other times, a show that’s always been good starts firing on all cylinders at once. Here are our five picks for the Most Improved TV Shows of 2012.

5. Sons of Anarchy

Our use of the term “improved” is in no way a criticism of this show’s outstanding run in 2011. But we’d be remiss to not recognize the way Sons has creatively surpassed its own high bar for excellence in 2012, with big moments like Jax’s accession to the club’s top spot and Opie’s death. After all, a leap is still a leap, even when you’re on top.

In its first two seasons, HBO’s Roaring ’20s gangster drama was gorgeously art-directed, well-acted, snappily-written. It was also kind of a meandering mess. That all changed midway through season 3, when the show unleashed its id and roared to life with a series of episodes that felt thrillingly apocalyptic. It feels more than ever like a companion piece to Game of Thrones, except with less dragons and more booze.

Bobby’s death at the end of the 2011 was the impetus for lots of great, sentimental storylines in the new year, but the biggest improvements to the veteran show came at the start of season 8, when fan-favorite writer Jeremy Carver took the helm. A return to compelling monster-of-the-week cases, sharp quips, and a reboot of the show’s mythology have returned Supernatural to (monster) fighting form.

One of the best things Glee could have done was let nature take its course with the oldest members of New Directions. (You can’t stay in high school forever!) And even though it was risky taking many favorites out of McKinley’s hallways, it was a risk that paid off. Fans remain as invested in ever in the lives of their favorites, who are now spread from coast to coast, and though the verdict is still out on the crop of new faces, we’re curious to see where it all goes.

New showrunner Glen Mazzara turned the back half of season 2 into one of the great fix-up jobs in TV history, killing off characters and bringing a sense of danger back to the zombie series. But that was just a warm-up for season 3, which saw Dead rebooted as a grand guignol blood opera. The dialogue still ain’t good; fortunately, there’s about 90% less talking.

Written by Darren Franich, and Sandra Gonzalez

More Best of 2012:

Episode Recaps

Boardwalk Empire
Steve Buscemi stars in HBO’s sprawling Prohibition drama set in Atlantic City.
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