It’s that time of the year again when we reflect over the best in the past 12 months. And, of course, that means more best-of and top this or that lists. Well, you’ve probably already seen a top 10 TV shows of 2013 list on every site on the Internet at the moment, but none of them are mine. That’s got to mean something, right? No? Well, OK. But I promise there are at least a couple of surprises on this list!
But before we get to the list, let’s talk about a few of the honorable mentions: Parks and Reacreation was still fantastic as ever this year; Nikita continued to be the most mature and compelling series on The CW (regardless of hackneyed sci-fi technology); and House of Cards was a splendid way to spend 13 hours. Those series and many more just barely missed the top 10. There are only 10 slots, so it was definitely difficult.
Full disclosure: I don’t watch every series on television, though I wish I could/did. Here are my top 10 series of 2013:
10. The Mindy Project
I don’t want to hear it. I just do not. Look, we all know the world loves New Girl and Parks and Recreation a whole heck of a lot more, but to be quite honest, the sitcom that I look forward to the most every, single week is The Mindy Project. I can’t really describe why. Even Wired agrees with me here; The Mindy Project isn’t perfect, but there’s something about it that’s effortless in its quick-fire quips. Some have complained that Mindy is an unlikable character, and yet that’s sort of what draws me into the show even more. It’s not always perfect, but when it works, The Mindy Project can make me bust my gut a lot harder than any sitcom on the air right now. Yes, even Parks and Rec.
This was Sundance Channel’s first year dabbing into television series. Unfortunately, their series didn’t make much of a splash in mainstream, but that was of no fault of their quality. Case in point, Rectify was a masterful execution in subtlety. Though, that’s not to say it couldn’t be loud at times, because it was when it needed to be. But it made sure to make those moments count. Sundance’s series of a man being released from prison and returned to his family home could have been overwrought and frothy, but Rectify was wonderfully compelling with fantastic performances, to boot. At only six episodes in season one, if you haven’t watched this series: fire it up and binge-watch it. It can probably be accomplished in a day.
8. Orange is the New Black
I could probably have swapped out Orange is the New Black for the other Netflix series House of Cards, but what ultimately gave OITNB the leg up was its fantastic representation of minorities. I wasn’t a fan of OITNB‘s weird and seemingly procedural-like setup when the season started, but was strangely won over when every episode became somewhat of a character study for most every individual. Honestly, what other show can focus most of its attention on an entirely different character every episode and work like gangbusters? More so, there’s no other show on television that gives this much attention and writes so well for women, lesbians, blacks, Hispanics, and trans women. OITNB is sort of revolutionary.
7. Orphan Black
Look, yes, a lot of the success of Orphan Black has to do with its leading lady. I will continue to say it, but I don’t know if there was another person working as hard as Tatiana Maslany last season. Maslany successfully created more than five different characters, sometimes all onscreen at once. It’s been an absolute joy to watch her work. But that’s not all, Orphan Black was also a compelling watch in its own right. Equal parts camp and thriller, it was hard to take your eyes off screen throughout its 10-episode run. This is another show you need to binge-watch if you can before season two begins.
6. The Americans
FX’s quiet series about the Cold War decided to focus in on a story about marriage, and thankfully so. The Americans was brilliantly acted and superbly written. It was definitely a standout this season, and it makes me sad that the awards season (and many best-of-2013 lists) has left it out of contention. The two leads were quite charismatic and turned what could have been hackneyed repetition of the back-and-forth of a marriage into something quite compelling.
And they say broadcast can’t compete with cable. Not so, especially when it came to NBC’s Hannibal — a wonderfully subtle and not-needlessly gory series that continued to subvert expectations of a broadcast series. Lead by the impeccable Hugh Dancy and charismatic Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal wasn’t another serial killer series aimed at shock value. It dug deep into the psyche and never once insulted the viewers’ intelligence. Just a fantastic series all around, which is to be expected from series creator Bryan Fuller of Heroes (season one) and Pushing Daisies fame. One of my most anticipated for 2014, too.
4. The Good Wife
I binge-watched The Good Wife this year after four years of wanting to watch, and it was just a fantastic decision — I mean, look how highly it placed on my list! Now, The Good Wife isn’t without its flaws, of course. But in the year 2013, this show has found new life five seasons in when most shows would have flailed to their very timely death. Nope, not The Good Wife. I know you may not be watching because it’s a legal drama, seemingly procedural, and it’s on CBS (plus it’s called The Good Wife). But trust me, you’re missing one of TV’s smartest and most rewarding shows. And beginning with the second half of season four up to the 100th episode that aired a couple of weeks ago, The Good Wife made good on knowing when to shift dynamics, forgoing outside guest stars to cause conflict and having our core characters go against each other. It’s been so great. Some are calling it the best drama on all of television at the moment, and I can very much understand why.
The second season of Girls may have ruffled feathers for changing things a bit drastically, including an episode that worked more as a short film. But none of that negates it as one of television’s most intriguing and auteurist ventures. HBO’s Girls continued to be daring and even told some cringe-worthy stories (paired with cringe-worthy visuals). There’s no series on TV like it. Some may call it the monster child of privileged women and nepotism, but it’s always fascinating to watch Hannah and Co. stumble through their 20s, continuing to make the absolute wrong choices. Some say that there is no real reason to like these characters, but that’s what I find to be so compelling.
2. Masters of Sex
If you’re not watching Masters of Sex, you’re missing televisions new best show. It’s also television’s best new show, but the former is very much the truth. Where to begin? The writing! The directing! The acting! Goodness, the acting. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan have slithered into roles that were tailor-made for them. How Sheen can keep someone as manipulating and emotionally stunted as Bill Masters a likable character is beyond me. And that’s just the beginning. The guest stars are great too; Allison Janey is perhaps doing some of the best work of her career here. I know it sounds like it’s on Skinemax, but you have got to be watching Masters of Sex.
1. Breaking Bad
I know, I know. You’re tired of seeing Breaking Bad on best-of lists, and you’re tired of it always taking the top spot. Think of it this way: next year, Breaking Bad won’t even be on the list. But don’t misunderstand: Breaking Bad isn’t at the top spot just because it won’t be eligible next year, it truly was the best show on television in 2013. The first half of season five didn’t disappoint in 2012, and the second half took it up a notch, which is a grave understatement. The last eight episodes was perhaps the best stretch of episodes of any drama in a very long while. And, of course, it aired the best episode of 2013 (and perhaps the 2013-2014 season) in “Ozymandias.” Vince Gilligan and his writers left it all on the stage — or, uh, screen — as did all of the actors. Breaking Bad was already the best drama on television, and season 5b exceeded the hype.
All right, those were my top 10 series of 2013. Now it’s your turn! Which series would place on your list?