Television is a fickle medium. A mediocre season can color an audience’s perception of an entire series. It’s a sad fact, but put away the tissues, because this year several fan favorites came back better than ever. After seasons ranging from mildly disappointing to eye-twitchingly awful, they’ve redeemed themselves. Here are five shows that got their groove back in 2012 — Stella style.

5. Parenthood

Parenthood has never been a tentpole, but it’s a solid offering from NBC. This year, the series went from good to great by amping up the drama and raising the stakes for its characters. Parenthood is proving to be one of those shows that sneaks up on you without much fanfare. The series has handled Kristina’s battle with cancer realistically and tastefully, passing on the cliche moments most shows would go for.

4. Dexter

Following season four, Dexter hit a slump. The spark that pulled in a rabid fanbase seemed to fade. But this year, everyone’s favorite serial killer got his groove back. Thanks to the drama surrounding his reveal to Deb (that he’s a murderer), the series was revived. Dexter’s refocusing on the character dynamics and arcs that hooked us in the beginning.

3. Fringe

Fringe is a show that was never supposed to “make it.” After years of upsetting its genre fans with programming cuts (*cough* Firefly *cough*), Fox graciously kept the sci-fi series around. And the pay off has come full circle in the show’s last season. Leading up to the January finale, Fringe has pulled out all the stops, delivering on romance, weirdness and mystery.

2. 30 Rock

NBC comedies have a nasty habit of overstaying their welcome. For a while, it looked like 30 Rock was destined (doomed?) to share that fate. When word spread that the current season would be its last, there was almost a sigh of relief among loyal fans. Instead of puttering out, 30 Rock is going out with a bang. This season strategically placed every character where they belong and has brought back the off-kilter charm that made it a game changer seven years ago.

1. The Walking Dead

When The Walking Dead premiered, fans and critics were astonished by the pacing. The series was willing to let a zombie apocalypse unfold slowly, focusing on character development over scares and survival over carnage. By season two, the conversation changed and so had the pace. It slowed to a crawl, meandering aimlessly with its lack of direction. Fans were promised a different tone for season three and damn if the producers didn’t deliver. With a new setting (the prison), new characters (Michonne, The Governor, Tyreese) and shocking returns (Merle), The Walking Dead regained its position as Must-See TV.

What show do you think improved the most this year?