I thought this was an incredible year for television – a lot of my favorite shows came back strong and some great new series popped up in some unexpected places (e.g. Netflix, the Sundance Channel). This year I had to install a workout bike in front of my TV so I could have time to watch all the shows I wanted and also
exercise have something to hang clothes on.
Usual disclaimer: I make no pretense of being even an amateur critic, I just like TV/movies and I like making lists of things. If you think my choices are ridiculous, you are probably right. Also, I didn’t rate non-scripted TV (it’s apples and oranges to compare these shows to something like The Daily Show).
- Top of the Lake. As much as it pains me to move the final season of Breaking Bad to number two, no show in 2013 stuck with me like this Sundance Channel miniseries created by director Jane Campion. Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss plays a detective who returns to her New Zealand hometown and becomes involved in the case of a missing girl. The show is an absolutely gut-wrenching look at the long-term effects of sexual violence. I also commend this show for being what so few shows dare to be these days – a one-shot miniseries with no plans to go additional seasons. At six hours, it’s the perfect length for the story it wants to tell.
- Breaking Bad. It was amazing how popular this show got in its final season – it seemed like everyone I know either watched it this season or was rushing to catch up. While the snobby hipster part of my brain may be disappointed (“I liked this show before it was cool!”), I’m very glad that this show finally got the cultural attention it has always deserved. This was an incredible season of television and the perfect capstone to one of the greatest series of all time. In the same way that people remember where they were during major world events, I’ll always remember where I was when I watched “Ozymandias” (my parents’ weekend condo in Driggs, Idaho). That episode was like getting punched repeatedly in the stomach, but in a good way.
- Orange is the New Black. I almost didn’t watch this women’s prison show because of the stupid title and because it was a Netflix Original (House of Cards was decent but disappointing – it felt like the show Netflix’s computers wanted to make rather than an actual person’s artistic vision). Anyway – OITNB. It’s both moving and hilarious, and justifies a one-month Netflix subscription by itself. If you’re on the fence about whether to watch this show, consider these actual episode titles from this season: “Tit Punch”, “Lesbian Request Denied”, “Fucksgiving”.
- Mad Men. Sometimes I feel like Mad Men is getting too repetitive – the Don Draper arc this season felt very much like a retread of Don Draper storylines we’ve seen before. That said, this is still a terrific show and created some interesting new situations for some of my favorite characters. Lots of good stuff this season for Peggy, Sally, and Pete (not enough Joan or Roger though in my humble opinion). Plus the episode where everyone was running around high on amphetamines.
- The Good Wife. I’ve always enjoyed this show but 2012 was a down year and as of this time last year I considered this an above-average show that had maybe been on the air too long. Then The Good Wife ripped off a string of great episodes to end season four, and season five so far has been even better, as the law firm at the center of the show has erupted in civil war. At this point I’m ready to declare this the greatest lawyer show ever (sorry, L.A. Law). This show has a particular genius with guest casting – they have a way of finding great actors to play clients, judges, or opposing lawyers and investing them with more character than you usually see in people who show up for one or two episodes.
- The Americans. This Cold War spy drama was one of the best new shows of the year. I loved that even in the midst of the complicated spy games, the show took time to show the complications of the main characters’ marriage and by the end of the season, I was as invested as to whether or not they would stay together as I was to whether they would get caught by the FBI.
- Orphan Black. This little Canadian sci-fi cloning caper quickly became one of my favorite shows of the year on the strength of Tatiana Maslany’s amazing performance (playing several different characters), a terrific sense of humor, and approximately 35 thunderous plot twists per episodes. This show burned through more plot in a season than some shows do in six, and yet the writers were able to maintain the breakneck pace without falling on their face.
- Game of Thrones. Worth watching this season just to enjoy the internet have a collective panic attack in the wake of the Red Wedding. I thought this was the strongest season of GoT yet and featured the best fight of the year between a one-armed man and a bear.
- Girls. Not sure I liked this season as much as I liked the first one, but still a very original show with vivid characters and a true-to-life vibe. I especially enjoyed the Patrick Wilson episode that a lot of other people seemed to dislike.
- Bunheads. RIP Bunheads, one of two shows in 2013 that I would put in the “Cancelled Too Soon” category (the other being the similarly delightful Family Tree). I tried to evangelize this one but it’s tough to convince my friends (most of whom are, like me, straight men) to watch a ballerina show.
Honorable Mentions: Justified, Hannibal, Broadchurch, Rectify, Masters of Sex, Boardwalk Empire, Family Tree, Parks and Recreation, Venture Bros., Archer, Veep, the last few episodes of Homeland.