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Top 2012 TV Shows

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The arrival of a New Year is traditionally a time of duelling impulses. On the one hand you're determined to get fit, learn a new language and stop eating brandy butter with a spoon.

But on the other, there are suddenly plenty of shiny new distractions intent on pinning you to the sofa for the coming months. With that in mind, here are the TV shows that may well keep your gym card frustatingly wedged in your wallet throughout 2012.

Homeland

Most of this year's crop of new American dramas have been met with either mixed reviews, stifled yawns or swift cancellation. But twitchy conspiracy thriller Homeland (pictured above) has been a runaway success. After disgraced CIA operative Clare Danes is told that Damian Lewis's recently released US prisoner of war is actually an Al Qaeda sleeper agent a deliriously addictive battle of wits ensues. Action-packed, expertly acted and full of 24-style dinner-spilling twists.

Due: February, Channel 4

Game of Thrones

With a sprawlingly complex tale, controversial character deaths and a charismatic anti-hero who just happens to be 4ft 5in tall, this bawdy fantasy saga was the surprise hit of 2011. Series two focuses on a brutal four-way battle for the throne and there are even more high-profile casualties. Expect it to be bigger, bloodier and far more cerebral than a show with CGI dragons has any right to be.

Due: April, Sky Atlantic

The Hour

There may have been concerns over series one's muddled plotting and grumbles over the period anachronisms (come on, it's not like someone whipped out an iPad) but this newsroom drama still sparkled. Set a year later in 1957, series two deals with rising immigration and Cold War jitters as Peter Capaldi joins the cast as new Head of News Randall Brown.

Due: Autumn, BBC Two

New Girl

Zooey Deschanel. New Show. Those words alone might be enough for some particularly undemanding male viewers but the good news is that the High Priestess of Kookiness's debut sitcom is pretty good. She stars as a recently jilted teacher who is forced to move in with a group of slacker guys. It's zippy, crammed with quality zingers and Zooey even sings the theme tune Dennis Waterman-style.

Due: Jan 6, 8.30pm, Channel 4

Luck

Think of horse racing and you probably think of ludicrous headgear, stubby biros and John McCririck bellowing incoherently. But we doubt there'll be much of that on offer in this classy new HBO drama created by Deadwood writer David Milch and Hollywood director Michael Mann. Dustin Hoffman stars as a troubled serial gambler in a show that's bound to be tough but rewarding.

Due: February, Sky Atlantic

Mad Men

After arguments, rumours and contract wrangles that wouldn't have looked out of place in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office, the long delayed fifth series is finally on the way. Series creator Matthew Weiner is keeping quiet about plot details but we know Jon Hamm is directing an episode and we're also willing to bet chainsmoking and cocktails will feature heavily.

Due: April, Sky Atlantic

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy

People with an extreme allergy to surreal comedy might struggle with this utterly demented multi-format sketch show. But fans of The Mighty Boosh are in for a treat as Fielding uses bizarre costumes, cartoons and CGI to propel us through his psychedelic imagination. Expect name-dropping manta rays, grizzled New York cops and plenty of warped laughs from start to finish.

Due: January, E4

Dancing on the Edge

Chiwetel Ejiofor follows the overblown noir of The Shadow Line with this classy drama from Stephen Poliakoff. Set in early Thirties England, it follows a group of black jazz musicians as they tackle prejudice, stir up high society London and ultimately get embroiled in an underworld conspiracy. A premise so enticing we'll forgive the odd Ron Burgundy-grade flute solo.

Due: Autumn, BBC Two

Alcatraz

The burly presence of Jorge Garcia (aka Hurley from Lost) isn't your only clue that JJ Abrams' fingerprints are all over this mysterious US drama. Set on the iconic island correctional facility it concerns a police investigation into the mysterious reappearance of prisoners from the Sixties and the secret history of Alcatraz. A supernatural thriller with bags of potential.

Due: Spring, Watch

Birdsong

Hot on the heels of Steven Spielberg's War Horse this sweeping adaptation offers a more adult (and decidedly less neigh-filled) view of life in the trenches. Based on the acclaimed Sebastian Faulks novel, and told in two 90 minute time-skipping chunks, it stars hot property Eddie Redmayne as a First World War officer struggling to cope with the effects of a passionate pre-war affair. Classy stuff with an all-star cast of actors as the mud-caked soldiers.

Due: Late January, BBC One

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