Best of 2013 - Television

The year is over, and it’s been a completely alright one for television; we’ve had good shows (which you’ll see on the list), good shows that have grown bad (The Vampire Diaries), decent shows (Supernatural, The Blacklist, Teen Wolf, Warehouse 13) a large heap of uninteresting new shows (Hostages, The Michael J. Fox Show, Super Fun Night, and so on and so forth), and the just plain terrible ones (Dexter, Do No Harm, The Following, Under the Dome). Next year has all the promises to be great, with True Detective, Looking, Helix and Black Sails, among others, plus new seasons of Girls, Hannibal and The Americans, not to mention the end of How I Met Your Mother. However, 2013 wasn’t a total loss - not by a long shot.

I chose to focus the list as much on new shows as I could; I know people use these type of lists as a way of checking out new series, and it’s easier to do that with 13 or 20 episodes, instead of catching up on a show in its seventh season, with 150 episodes. And no, I have still not seen Justified, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire or Treme, but it will be done. One day... Hopefully sometime this year. (I've already started Mad Men.)

With that out of the way, here are my 20 picks;

20. Bob’s Burgers

Yes, it's that other animated Fox family-sitcom! It's sweet, funny, recognisable and flat-out hilarious. Wearing its heart on its sleeve, it's not afraid to get sappy, but it knows how to be mean, crude, emotional and undercutting in just the right portions. 

19. Arrested Development

Arrested Development returned with an all-new season, seven years after Fox cancelled it (the bastards!). It was a hilarious, brainmelting reunion with television's most idiotic, crude, rude and stupid family. And what about that ending, huh? Now, when's that movie coming out again...

18. Trophy Wife

Again a sitcom which seems like a mash-up of Arrested Development and Bob's Burgers... Kinda. We have a family, it's sappy and emotional, it's funny and crude, it's... just a great sitcom with a fantastic cast, from toddlers to Bradley Whitford and Malin Akerman! Marcia Gay Harden also stars, and is great. So is this show. YAY SHOW!

17. Arrow

Action, superheroes, costumes, drama, soap opera, twists, turns, a deserted island, madness, serial killers, romance; if Arrow doesn't have what you're looking for, then... Well, then you're very picky. There's something for everyone here, especially with a cast that looks this good. 

16. Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow was the show everyone loved to mock before it premiered. Ichabod Crane is buried sometime in the 1700's, comes back to life along with GEORGE WASHINGTON'S BIBLE to fight the Headless Horseman, who's actually one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It sounded ridiculous. It wasn't (or, well, it was, but it was also fucking great); it was entertaining, funny, tongue-in-cheek, twisty and surprising. Feeling like an eighties adventure movie - maybe The Goonies mixed with Indiana Jones - everyone involved made this much better than it had to be, and with a strong emotional undercurrent the show ended its first season in an amazing way. Solid, dependable genre entertainment in a year where all the usual shows (Vampire Diaries, American Horror Story) went a bit too ludicrous and crazy.

15. Broadchurch

I love crime. When it's good, it can be one of the best genres out there; making you think, doubting everyone, suspecting everything. This British miniseries (there's a season two coming, but a new case) featured the death of a ten year old boy in a small coastal community. We followed detectives, families, suspects; some grieving, other busy with their own lives. It was riveting, surprising, emotional and just great television from Chris Chibnall of Doctor Who and Torchwood-fame, who managed to put himself further on the map and create something different from what he'd done earlier - though not without the help of some Whovian actors; both David Tennant, Arthur Darville and Olivia Coleman have starred in the original BBC sci-fi show, in various roles.

14. Enlightened

One of HBO's stranger shows, but its second (and last) season was touching, exciting, hilarious and epic - a word I never thought I'd use about this show (seriously, there were strong thematic parallells to Game of Thrones this season), where Laura Dern plays a somewhat unstable woman who's discovered herself after an anger-episode and a trip to Hawaii. It sounds trite as hell, but it features a powerhouse performance by Dern, fantastic characters and Mike White's steady hand behind the camera and in front of the computer, writing it with a little help. Just a really good show about people trying to improve the world, themselves and others. It also features Molly Shannon in an amazing supporting role. We'll get back to Shannon in a while, by the way.

13. Homeland

Speaking of things improving... While I thought the second season was great pretty much the whole way through, it did blow up a lot of stuff and left some groundwork to be laid again. After a few weeks of tablesetting and a very strange twist that left the audience spinning - becuase of the reveal and the internal logic, both in the show and its general plausibility - Homeland was back at its top game, delivering fine emotional cues, intense suspense and a harrowing last batch of episodes. But there was a lot of other great stuff this year, and while those last heights were good, overall this season was a weaker one. Still, I'm very much looking forward to its fourth season, where once again things have changed quite a bit. It's nice to have a show that's this willing to take chances, and I'm very interested in seeing where they go next.

12. The Americans

The other undercover-spy-series (ish... "Homeland during the cold war" is a very cheap way of selling the show, as it doesn't make sense for either Homeland or this show) premiered its first season last spring. Showing us the struggle of married life through the prism of two undercover Russian agents posing as one, with sharing secrets and keeping some themselves... Let's just say things got incredibly muddy, and as the show continued to mix in FBI agents and other Russian operatives... Boy, were there many emotional, tense and surprising moments. It's quality entertainment, and if the rumors about season two are to be trusted, it's just going to get better.

11. Scandal

Scandal is crazy. It's been this years' "crazy show", where the previous ones have jumped the shark a little and had to reign it back in again, Scandal has kept firing on all cylinders. It's gone darker, nastier, with more bite than ever. Every episode is filled to the brim with delicious dialogue and amazing acting, usually with a stunning surprise in there as well. And as the focus starts to turn towards the other, smaller characters, more shades and trouble seems to be coming from every thinkable - and unthinkable - direction. I cannot wait for this to come back. 

10. Black Mirror

A second season of three episodes aired last spring, and while the last episode was a bit of a letdown, the two first were beautiful, dark, shocking and horrifying in all the right ways. This sci-fi series about technology and our relation to it is something everyone should see, and its themes should be discussed and talked about, to the point where you might put down your phone and computer and just go for a walk once in a while. So you could think about the technology and everything you're missing out on, of course.

9. Masters of Sex

Dubbed "Mad Men at a hospital!", this show quickly found its groove in its cast and study of humans and sexuality, and through that its characters and the world itself. A smartly written soap opera where you constantly wondered where these characters' heads were at, and what they were thinking (it fueled a lot of discussions regarding morality, ethics, characters and their headspace between the people I watched it with). An incredibly interesting show that slowed things down between the hectic Homeland and the shocking Scandal, among other things.

8. Girls

Season two leapt to new hights and found its wings, making this story of first world problems between a group of flawed, imperfect human beings into something akin to poetry. Awkward, surprising, deep and with more of a short-story-like structure than ever before, season 2 introduced me to the phrase "These are the days that must happen to you" (thank you Todd Vanderwerff) and was, overall, extremely poignant, even beautiful. One of the best experiences I had watching television last year was this show. So thank you.

7. Bunheads

Goodbye, Bunheads. You were reaped too soon, and while you aired like three episodes this year, you really, really deserve this space. Great dialogue, well-drawn characters, fantastically emotional... You were the best plotless drama this year. No monsters, no murders, no nothing - just a group of boys and girls, young and old, trying to live their lives. In the right hands, even that is a powerful plot. 

6. Doctor Who

In its 50th year, Doctor Who switched companions after giving the old ones a big send-off. Sadly, Clara seemed to get lost in a storyline that was more Doctor than ever, and while the climax(es) were something else - clarity in the season 5-7-season was much, much needed, and the 50th Anniversary is something I'll always treasure - the "standard" season had some great episodes, but was too much standalone and not enough Clara-developing. Blame scripts originally written for Amy, a showrunner busy with the big 50th, the Christmas Special and Sherlock, or just a failure to make the companion anything more than a mystery or plot-device; whatever it was, it made the season as a whole feel a little off, in many ways. However, we'll still have those two last Smith-adventures, along with Cold War and Nightmare in Silver. More good than bad, but it was still a weaker one than usual. Here's hoping some Capaldi can fix that right up.

5. Gravity Falls

And we've reached top 5, with a Disney Channel animated show. Gravity Falls is crazy. Its humour is gleefully childish and genuinely hilarious, its stories are genre-stuff rooted in emotions and characters, and the whole thing is lovingly animated. The best way to describe it is as a mix of Twin Peaks and Welcome to Night Vale (a podcast from a city where every myth and conspiracy is real), just made as an 80's movie and then animated today. Ish. Either way, it was absolutely fantastic, and due to return for another season sometime in 2015, if we're to believe the creator. So that's a lot of time to catch-up, and then a lot of time spent thinking about that last cliffhanger! Phew.

4. Hannibal

There were four serial killer-shows coming out in 2013; Cult, The Following, Bates Motel and this. I predicted Cult would be awesome and amazing, The Following would be crazy but really entertaining and genre-busting, Bates Motel would be alright and this would be awful. I did not have faith in this at all.
I was so wrong.
The Following was shit. Cult was pretty crazy, but still shit. Bates Motel was on the verge of being good, but had serious problems. But Hannibal? Hannibal was amazing.
Taking place before any of the movies and novels, Hannibal features Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter hunting down serial killers for Jack Crawford. With an excellent cast and a writing-team delivering gruesomely beautiful and haunting murder tableus, it's a show interested in the human psyche, in psychology and manipulation, in how much the mind can handle before it breaks down. Each death, each murder, each horrible thing the characters witness takes a toll on them, unlike in other crime series, and that leads to a fascinating depiction of who we are, what we want and what we can handle. It's a dark show, but it's also beautiful and smart writing about something that could've been schlocky and too on-the-nose. In short; watch it. I doubt you'll be disappointed. Though be warned; the first episode is a little messy, setting up a lot of stuff in crude ways just to get it out of the way. And watch it for the characters, not murder-of-the-week; not much time is directed to the latter, but expect a lot of dialogue about brains and feelings and psychologies. Also, very, very strange dreams. 

3. The Returned

A French "zombie" show takes the spot as 2013's third best show. Once again marrying a genre-concept (the dead are coming back to life, never knowing they were dead, and return home) with emotions and rooting the entire thing in characters, The Returned is like a mix of Masters of Sex and Twin Peaks. Instead of a soap opera-parody, you get to think about characters' relations to each other, their motivations, how much they know and hang on, what's that stuff happening over at the dam? So many great mysteries, so many surprising reveals, so much to wonder and so many characters to get to know, wonder about, understand and love. This one is heartbreaking, scary (but not too scary), mysterious and surprising. The psychological horror is strong here - healing wounds get ripped up again, makes everyone react differently and the whole thing ends on a chilling note, full of uncertainty but with just enough to guess at things. Just thinking about this show makes me want to rewatch it. The perfect blend of mystery, plot, characters and emotions.

2. Rectify

We're going back to America, to one of its newer channels; Sundance (though they did air The Returned over there, having gotten the rights) and their original drama. While Top of the Lake was a bit of a bust for me - I liked some of it, hated most of the other parts, especially the last two episodes - Rectify hit all the right notes. I watched it all in a night, staying up till morning just to finish it, in the middle of the week. It's about Daniel, who was arrested for a murder he might have been involved in when he was a teenager - 16-18. He's spent the last 19 years on death row and now he gets out, in his thirties, having to piece together his life - or whatever little's left of it. The question if he's innocent or not hangs over the entire series, as do what happened that night. Some in the small town think he was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, others think he's the main culprit. Either way, he tries his best to come back to society, to find his place and to do what he must, what he can. It's a beautiful, tragic, magnificent and unique series, and while you might be in it for the mystery, you'll leave with the poetic dialogue and musings, along with a broadened mind when it comes to a lot of things. This show makes you think, it makes you doubt, it makes you feel - it makes you a better person, and I hold it highly as one of 2013's true treasures. It feels like a Malick-directed version of Twin Peaks, written by the ones doing Masters of Sex. A peaceful and thoughtful study in what it means to be human; to regret, to make right, to become a better person, to live with yourself and others. If season two is even half as good... I don't even dare to think about it. I only hope. 

1. Breaking Bad
Beginnings are one thing, but endings? Endings are hard, especially when it comes to television. So many characters, episodes, plots, so many roads walked down and so many mouths to be fed. A lot of shows have ended this year (Fringe, Doctor Who's latest four-season long storyline, Awkward) yet I've kept this list focused on beginnings. Fitting then that the end of the list marks another end, and frankly, hands down, no show did it better than this in 2013. It was horrible, tragic, wonderful, glorious; pick an adjective, and it fits. Bringing Walter White’s journey to a close, one episode at a time, was simultaneously wonderful and excruciating. Never has a show ending been more exciting or sad, and rarely has it been this satisfying. Even with only eight episodes, this show ruled everything. One of the best series I have ever seen and a spectacular ending to an amazing. Bravo.

Honourable Mentions:
The Newsroom - season 2 was still fun, and in many ways an improvement to season one. Season 3 looks to be interesting, going by the sorta-cliffhanger. I’m still enjoying this mostly because of good actors performing good dialogue, and even though I see all the problems it has, I’m able to gloss over it because of that. Also, I see this show mostly as a wish-fulfillment show that’s supposed to be fun and sitcommy instead of realistic and hard-hitting, which makes it much easier to swallow. 

Game of Thrones - An excellent third season, but I’m still suck in the box of people who think it's solid and good instead of amazingly brilliant. I am hoping that this fourth season might finally be what changes my mind, as I’m going into it with a clear mind, having stopped reading the books after 3.5. 

How I Met Your Mother - Somewhat troubled these last few seasons, HIMYM are now delivering solid comedic episodes week-to-week, while the show inches closer to the end. I’ll be sad to see it go, and if it continues like it’s done this last half-season, it’s sure to earn a(t least a celebratory) spot among the top 20 next year, when Ted’s finally met that Mother.

American Horror Story - Season 3 started out looking like the best season yet on this show, but with a ton of juggling plotlines, things happening and then un-happening, people dying and being resurrected, it’s started to be more like a mess than a story. But the show is still crazy, it’s still fun and there’s still those last episodes of season 2, which were some of the shows best. It’s been a good year for American Horror Story, and next year’s episodes can make sense of the mess they’ve been making so far. Then it’s on to season 4 and more craziness with this theater troupe-show. With rumors of leading lady Jessica Lange leaving, it’s sure to be a different one than the three first - but maybe it’s good to shake things up a little? I can’t wait.

New Girl - This one is inches away from the list. The latter half of its second season was excellent, and the third season started incredibly strong, but it’s since sagged a little. It’s still a great show though, and incredibly worth checking out - there are lots of laughs to be had with a talented cast that manages to keep the “joke a minute”-count incredibly high in each entry.

Suits - This solid, interesting and Shakespearean lawyer series always delivers, with interesting plots and dialogue that seems like the bastard child of Whedon and Sorkin. Still, it always seems to miss the top 20 just barely. 

Fringe - It’s been a year of endings, both planned and unplanned - Breaking Bad, Enlightened, Bunheads, Futurama, Awkward - but none were tasked with something more difficult than Fringe. After four seasons of universe-skipping, world-ending science-fiction, we were thrust into a future with a single threat, and treated to thirteen serialized episodes focusing on our characters, the consequences of their actions and how they would undo everything. In a last scene mirroring the one that started this entire saga, it was a fitting end to a strange series, delivering answers and character-arcs that satisfied the long-term viewer, perhaps more than Lost did three years earlier. 

Awkward - 2013 will always be remember as “that year the fourth season of Community aired”, without Dan Harmon in any capacity. Even friends only casually watching television (those not usually paying attention to what went on behind the curtain) knew about this, and even if season 4 had occasional sparks of real fun, it never reach the heights of the first three years - wasn’t even close, as a matter of fact. But there was another creator/showrunner who is leaving the show behind, and much like Community’s pseudo-ending last year, Awkward’s Lauren Iungerich wrote her series finale to the MTV high school “sitcom”. When the show continues last year, it’s without her, and the ending we saw just before the holidays is her part of the story completed. And the ending was both fitting and important - the main character stays single in a celebratory, “life goes on” way. She’s happy, she’s alone, she’s with friends. In this age, with stories of love, of relationships, of sex and of romance, that’s an important message to get out there - especially when so many female storylines this year included pregnancies, abortions or true love.

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