The Best TV Shows Running in 2012

by Clockwork Eyes | created - 24 Mar 2012 | updated - 02 Mar 2013 | Public

If you're looking for "quality" shows that are innovative, off-beat, "special," and feature characters you'll become enamored of, this List is for you.

*** If something is on this List, it's here because it's *different* and stands out from its genre!

(And if you're a movie buff, you might also want to have a look at my new List-in-progress, "MOVIES: Excellent, Offbeat, Quirky, Eye-Candy, Heart-Shredding, and Dark Films of the New Millenium: 1990s-2000s-2013-Present".)

*** This list (and my taste) leans towards:

* Themes of social justice, charitable humanity, and original, innovative, ground-breaking or quirky themes;

* "Authentic" or quirky characters; highly-talented or charismatic actors (either as a single lead or a "team"); and

* Shows starring a lead character or group with a "special gift" of some sort (e.g., hyper-intelligence or professional or supernatural talent).

Although the list may seem top-heavy with crime-themed shows, there are also off-beat dramas, comedies, and several animated series.

Don't "judge a book by its cover" here: Some of the show names, ID pix, and one-line synopses you'll see here may "look like a dozen others," but they're not--again, if something is on this List, it's here because it's *different* and stands out from its genre.

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1. The Mentalist (2008–2015)

TV-14 | 43 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Rate this
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

A famous "psychic" outs himself as a fake, and starts working as a consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation so he can find "Red John", the madman who killed his wife and daughter.

Stars: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Tim Kang, Owain Yeoman

Votes: 143,044

"Psychic" Patrick Jane is the real star of this character-driven "whodunnit" series. He's not really psychic, but rather an uncanny judge of human nature and motivation.

The real kicks in this show come from watching Patrick's "seeing right through" suspects and telling them (quite untactfully) who they really are and whatever thoughts they're hiding--simultaneously embarrassing both the suspect and Jane's superiors (who, while baffled and even outraged by his methodology, "put up" with his "antics" because he is the best case-closer in the California Bureau of Investigation [CBI]).

Whether his hunches about who's the true culprit are right (which is 95% of the time) or wrong, he uses his uncanny ability to read people to set personalized, elaborate traps that manipulate the bad guy into revealing himself.

It's enjoyable watching Patrick in action: despite his calculating (and sometimes ruthless) professional mind, he has an endearing and disarming boyish charm and is an old-school gentleman. He's also mischievous and enjoys pranking people when someone's bugging him. A born showman, he always "fills the room" no matter what's going on, and that's the real appeal of the show: enjoying watching Patrick Jane being his various selves, and eagerly waiting to see just what he's going to pull out of his sleeve next.

Character background: Patrick Jane has zero police training, and is paid by the CBI as a "consultant." Jane was raised by "carnies" in a traveling carnival, and his father was also a con-man, who had Patrick running cons with him from childhood--an early education which left Jane with his trademark finely-honed people-reading (and -manipulating) skills.

2. La Femme Nikita (1997–2001)

60 min | Action, Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

Section One, a clandestine anti-terrorist organization, fakes the death of a jailed, convicted murderer and, believing her twin assets of beauty and ability to kill will make her a valuable... See full summary »

Stars: Peta Wilson, Don Francks, Eugene Robert Glazer, Roy Dupuis

Votes: 7,913

NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH: 'Nikita (2010 TV Series)' (listed further down)

This late-nineties series totally rocked when it originally began airing in 1997, and now, 13 years later, it still rocks. Unlike many shows 10+ years old, this Nikita series does not on any level feel "dated". The dialogue and idioms are not anachronistic; the cinematography still holds its own in 2012; costuming (clothes and hairstyles) look just like the here-and-now; and the slick musical score is as current as any of today's music (largely because--to support the ambiance of the "dark plot"--someone really smart chose to score every episode with indie and "alternative" music tracks, and music from little-known, progressive groups).

Another reason the "look" of the show is timeless is because, in this "prequil" to the 2010 series, Nikita (blonde, and played by stunningly beautiful Australian actress Peta Wilson) and Michael are both working inside Section 1 (renamed "Division" for 2010) for the duration of the series, which means lots of "look" changes when these characters are on ops that require disguise or impersonation. This Nikita owns dozens of pairs of sunglasses of all colours, uses wigs of all colours, lengths, and styles, and dresses in cutting-edge fashion, both on and off the job

This show is very different from the 2010 reincarnation, because "this Nikita" is slave-driven and working under duress in every episode. Section 1 is under the thumb of "Operations" (reincarnated as 2010's "Percy")--a sinister, ruthless man who keeps Nikita under a microscope for her "unique style" of operating (i.e., Section hasn't broken her humanity, and she routinely deviates from and even blatantly defies orders in order to preserve her own humanitarian agenda). She lives under constant and repeated threats of being "Canceled" (executed in-house) by the fear-mongering. Machiavellian "Operations."

Many elements of Nikita 1997 were very "dark": they were shocking then, and are still shocking today.

The show pushed the violence envelope farther than any show of its time, specifically, showing graphic, horrific torture
, usually performed by a sinister pair of Section torturers. The steel restraint chair in "Containment" (Section's torture room) makes us witness the unthinkable. Most everyone unlucky enough to survive a Section "strike" is hauled back to Section, where they are tortured for information in Containment. Under Operations' iron rule, even the characters we know well and sympathize with (Nikita, Michael, Birkoff, Walter, and others) have all had their own turns in that dreaded chair in Containment.

The 2010 reincarnation is a lot easier to watch in some ways. We are spared the horrific inner workings of Section 1 as the "new Nikita" (Maggie Q) is free of, and operates outside of, that malevolent environment.

3. Breaking Bad (2008–2013)

TV-MA | 49 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.5/10 X  

A high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine in order to secure his family's future.

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt

Votes: 1,055,303

4. Touch (2012–2013)

43 min | Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

A widower struggling to raise his emotionally challenged son discovers that he can predict events before they happen.

Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, David Mazouz, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lukas Haas

Votes: 39,481

5. Burn Notice (2007–2013)

TV-PG | 44 min | Action, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

A spy recently disavowed by the U.S. government uses his special ops training to help others in trouble.

Stars: Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell, Sharon Gless

Votes: 62,148

6. NCIS: Los Angeles (2009– )

TV-14 | 43 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

The Naval Criminal Investigation Service's Office of Special Projects takes on the undercover work and the hard to crack cases in LA. Key agents are G. Callen and Sam Hanna, streets kids risen through the ranks.

Stars: Chris O'Donnell, Daniela Ruah, Barrett Foa, Linda Hunt

Votes: 40,351

7. NCIS (2003– )

TV-14 | 60 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

The cases of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service's Washington DC Major Case Response Team, led by Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Stars: Mark Harmon, Pauley Perrette, David McCallum, Sean Murray

Votes: 97,089

This quirky, elite team of Naval Criminal Investigators solve murders of Navy personnel against a lightly humourous backdrop of inter-team teasing and one-upsmanship.

No-nonsense Special Agent Gibbs (who is old enough to be the father of everyone on the team) is a distinguished, masculine role-model for men and possibly an attractive father-figure type for women. Gibbs relies upon his polar opposite, Abby Sciuto, for genius-level forensics and hot-shot computer skills. Abby is the highlight of the show: brilliant, beautiful, and routinely showing up for work in Goth-to-the-nines attire, complete with studded dog collar. It's hard to talk to Abs because she works with headphones on with the music cranked unimaginably loud. Other refreshing treats in the show are the dazzling array of movie-references constantly spouted by film buff Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, and Israeli expat Ziva entertains by getting English idioms wrong in every other sentence. DiNozzo is a shameless womanizer who we love to hate, and Ziva routinely astonishes with her finely-honed close-quarters combat skills (acquired in Israel, where she was formerly a Mossad agent with a high-ranking father in the Israeli political scene).

8. Flashpoint (2008–2012)

TV-14 | 41 min | Action, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

The missions and trials of a Toronto police tactical unit.

Stars: Hugh Dillon, Amy Jo Johnson, David Paetkau, Sergio Di Zio

Votes: 15,073

So many good things to say about this top-notch Canadian-produced series!

Firstly, Kudos! to Executive Producer Anne Marie LaTraverse! It is rare to see a woman "behind" an action/crime show. But it is perhaps precisely because a woman is in charge of this show that it stands apart from most crime shows.

"Flashpoint"--although revolving around a "SWAT Team"--is no mere "break the door in and shoot all the bad guys" copycat. Rather, this special police team is an elite "Strategic Response Unit" (SRU), all of whose members have been additionally trained in the deeper aspects of "negotiating": Psychology, sensitivity training, you name it--with the result that they are able to resolve most stand-offs without a single shot fired.

Nevertheless, this superb show manages to induce a high level of viewer interest and involvement in every episode: it achieves a high level of humanistic and dramatic tension, along with edge-of-your-seat suspense.

To quote an oft-repeated negotiation lead-in offered to "subjects" by team-leader Sgt. Greg Parker: "Nobody has to die here today. We can all get to go home today."

And Parker's equally-life-affirming message to his SRU teammates when they are heading into an unusually dangerous situation: "Let's go save lives, people."

9. Person of Interest (2011–2016)

TV-14 | 43 min | Action, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  

An ex-assassin and a wealthy programmer save lives via a surveillance AI that sends them the identities of civilians involved in impending crimes. However, the details of the crimes--including the civilians' roles--are left a mystery.

Stars: Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson

Votes: 142,772

10. The Bridge (2010– )

R | 60 min | Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

A cop becomes a union leader for the police force. He has to balance between protecting the police force as well as take out the dirty cops in the force.

Stars: Aaron Douglas, Paul Popowich, Ona Grauer, Michael Murphy

Votes: 431

11. The Chicago Code (2011)

44 min | Action, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

Detective Jarek Wysocki, one of Chicago's toughest cops, struggles to clean up the town's violence and corruption.

Stars: Jason Clarke, Jennifer Beals, Matt Lauria, Devin Kelley

Votes: 7,469

12. Misfits (2009–2013)

TV-MA | 60 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Rate this
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

A group of young offenders doing community service get struck by lightning during a storm, and begin to develop superpowers.

Stars: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Joseph Gilgun, Iwan Rheon, Lauren Socha

Votes: 81,263

13. Alphas (2011–2012)

TV-14 | 44 min | Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Dr. Lee Rosen leads a team of "Alphas", (human beings with enhanced abilities) who investigate the death of a witness in a court case. They soon uncover more than they had bargained for.

Stars: David Strathairn, Ryan Cartwright, Warren Christie, Azita Ghanizada

Votes: 25,363

14. Rookie Blue (2010–2015)

42 min | Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

Andy McNally and her friends are out of the academy and must adjust to the challenging life of a police officer at the 15th Division in Toronto.

Stars: Missy Peregrym, Gregory Smith, Enuka Okuma, Travis Milne

Votes: 14,773

15. Rizzoli & Isles (2010–2016)

60 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

Detective Jane Rizzoli and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Maura Isles team up to solve crimes in Boston.

Stars: Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, Jordan Bridges, Bruce McGill

Votes: 25,961

16. The Listener (2009–2014)

TV-14 | 42 min | Crime, Drama, Fantasy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

A young paramedic discovers he has telepathic powers.

Stars: Craig Olejnik, Ennis Esmer, Lauren Lee Smith, Rainbow Francks

Votes: 6,984

17. Covert Affairs (2010–2014)

TV-PG | 60 min | Action, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Fresh out of the farm, Annie Walker must adapt to the challenging life of a CIA operative under the guidance of her handler, Auggie. But soon she realizes her recruit might have to do with her last boyfriend rather than her talent.

Stars: Piper Perabo, Christopher Gorham, Kari Matchett, Peter Gallagher

Votes: 24,097

18. Nikita (2010–2013)

60 min | Action, Crime, Drama

Rate this
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A rogue assassin returns to take down the secret organization that trained her.

Stars: Maggie Q, Shane West, Lyndsy Fonseca, Aaron Stanford

Votes: 44,654

NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH: 'Nikita (1997 TV Series)' (listed further up)

19. 30 Rock (2006–2013)

TV-14 | 22 min | Comedy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

Liz Lemon, head writer of the sketch comedy show "TGS with Tracy Jordan", must deal with an arrogant new boss and a crazy new star, all while trying to run a successful television show without losing her mind.

Stars: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer

Votes: 98,486

NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH: 'Third Rock from the Sun' (not in this list)

20. King (2011– )

Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

Life of detective Jessica King does not run exactly smoothly. When she becomes the head of the Major Crime Task Force, she is eager to prove she is the best cop in town.

Stars: Amy Price-Francis, Alan Van Sprang, Gabriel Hogan, Tony Nardi

Votes: 1,106

21. Criminal Minds (2005– )

TV-14 | 42 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

The cases of the F.B.I. Behavioral Analysis Unit (B.A.U.), an elite group of profilers who analyze the nation's most dangerous serial killers and individual heinous crimes in an effort to anticipate their next moves before they strike again.

Stars: Matthew Gray Gubler, Kirsten Vangsness, A.J. Cook, Thomas Gibson

Votes: 124,144

22. Bones (2005–2017)

TV-14 | 40 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

Forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan and cocky F.B.I. Special Agent Seeley Booth build a team to investigate murders. Quite often, there isn't more to examine than rotten flesh or mere bones.

Stars: Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz, Michaela Conlin, T.J. Thyne

Votes: 123,039

23. Boston Legal (2004–2008)

TV-14 | 44 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  

Boston Legal is a spin-off of the long-running David E. Kelley series The Practice (1997), following the exploits of former Practice character Alan Shore (James Spader) at the legal firm of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt.

Stars: James Spader, William Shatner, Candice Bergen, Rene Auberjonois

Votes: 38,234

24. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000– )

TV-MA | 28 min | Comedy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.7/10 X  

The life and times of Larry David and the predicaments he gets himself into with his friends and complete strangers.

Stars: Larry David, Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman

Votes: 77,341

25. Da Vinci's Inquest (1998–2006)

44 min | Crime, Mystery, Drama

Rate this
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

A Vancouver cop turned coroner searches for truth and justice with the help of his friends.

Stars: Nicholas Campbell, Donnelly Rhodes, Venus Terzo, Ian Tracey

Votes: 942

26. Suits (2011– )

TV-14 | 44 min | Comedy, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  

On the run from a drug deal gone bad, Mike Ross, a brilliant college-dropout, finds himself a job working with Harvey Specter, one of New York City's best lawyers.

Stars: Gabriel Macht, Patrick J. Adams, Meghan Markle, Sarah Rafferty

Votes: 291,383

27. No Ordinary Family (2010–2011)

TV-PG | 60 min | Action, Comedy, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

The Powells are a typical American family living in Pacific Bay, California, whose members gain special powers after their plane crashes in the Amazon.

Stars: Michael Chiklis, Julie Benz, Kay Panabaker, Jimmy Bennett

Votes: 15,343

28. Sea Patrol (2007–2011)


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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

Following the crew of the patrol boat HMAS Hammersley, as they patrol the northern sea border of Australia. They have to deal with foreign fishermen poaching fish, smugglers and with political unrest in a neighbouring island state.

Stars: John Batchelor, Matthew Holmes, Lisa McCune, Kristian Schmid

Votes: 1,353

29. Bomb Girls (2012– )

60 min | Drama, War

Rate this
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

A drama about World War II women at work in a munitions factory.

Stars: Meg Tilly, Jodi Balfour, Charlotte Hegele, Ali Liebert

Votes: 3,521

30. Family Guy (1998– )

TV-14 | 22 min | Animation, Comedy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

In a wacky Rhode Island town, a dysfunctional family strive to cope with everyday life as they are thrown from one crazy scenario to another.

Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis

Votes: 263,610

31. The Walking Dead: Webisodes (2011– )

8 min | Short, Drama, Horror

Rate this
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

A web-series spin-off of "The Walking Dead."

Stars: Rick Otto, Lilli Birdsell, Josh Stewart, Daniel Roebuck

Votes: 3,511

32. Happy Tree Friends (II) (1999– )

TV-14 | 21 min | Animation, Comedy, Horror

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

A series of horrible sudden deaths keep happening to a group of creatures caused by themselves doing the most stupid things.

Stars: David Winn, Ellen Connell, Warren Graff, Kenn Navarro

Votes: 14,808

33. Star Trek: Voyager (1995–2001)

TV-PG | 44 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

Pulled to the far side of the galaxy, where the Federation is seventy-five years away at maximum warp speed, a Starfleet ship must cooperate with Maquis rebels to find a way home.

Stars: Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, Roxann Dawson, Robert Duncan McNeill

Votes: 45,306

34. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994)

TV-PG | 44 min | Action, Adventure, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  

Set decades after Captain Kirk's five-year mission, a new generation of Starfleet officers set off in a new Enterprise on their own mission to go where no one has gone before.

Stars: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton

Votes: 76,574

35. Numb3rs (2005–2010)

43 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

Rate this
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

Working for the F.B.I., a mathematician uses equations to help solve various crimes.

Stars: Rob Morrow, David Krumholtz, Judd Hirsch, Alimi Ballard

Votes: 35,422

36. Seinfeld (1989–1998)

TV-PG | 22 min | Comedy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  

The continuing misadventures of neurotic New York stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his equally neurotic New York friends.

Stars: Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, Jason Alexander

Votes: 199,655

37. The Big Bang Theory (2007– )

TV-14 | 22 min | Comedy, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

A woman who moves into an apartment across the hall from two brilliant but socially awkward physicists shows them how little they know about life outside of the laboratory.

Stars: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg

Votes: 590,458

38. $#*! My Dad Says (2010–2011)

TV-14 | 30 min | Comedy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

A middle aged son moves in with his old fashion dad.

Stars: William Shatner, Jonathan Sadowski, Nicole Sullivan, Will Sasso

Votes: 4,650