I’ll keep this brief. I started out by doing an ordered list for this, going from #10 to #1, but for a couple of reasons, it wasn’t a fair list. So, in alphabetical order (which is fair to everyone except for X-Z) here are my picks for the best television shows of 2013.
Breaking Bad – AMC
Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not a surprise that this show is on the list, especially given my deep and undying love for it. Literally, as I write this, I’m also watching the show’s best episode, “Ozymandias”. I wrote an entire article about why I think it’s the greatest show of all time (and, by default, 2013). To avoid sounding like a broken record, I’ll just say you should check it out.
Broadchurch – BBC America
The only non-American show on this list, Broadchurch took a formula as old as time, the “Whodunit,” and completely reinvigorated it. Compelling lead characters help create a dark world that sucks you in. But, unlike most other shows that operate in a harsh and gritty world (as seems to be the trend in TV nowadays), I love Broadchurch because at the very least it provides a clear sense of morals behind it; it’s not just a cautionary tale, it’s a true battle. Not between “good” and “evil” necessarily, but between “right” and “wrong,” in more ways than one. If you can’t figure out how to watch this or get past the accents, there is an American version coming in 2014. But I’d suggest you watch this before then.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – FOX
This freshman comedy has had a little trouble getting its feet firmly on the ground. I hope it does soon, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comedy begin so confidently since 30 Rock. The characters are all uniquely funny but blend together perfectly, and the plots of each episode are wildly funny by their own devices. Plus, Brooklyn is a silly comedy that knows it’s just a silly comedy; it doesn’t try to be anything more, only adding to its confidence. If it continues on this path, maybe allowing for just a little more character development or an occasional change from the basic story structure (which it’s already begun to do in its last few episodes) it can become on of the best comedies on TV.
House of Cards – Netflix
The show that changed the game. Netflix’s first (good) original television series, HoC started the streaming revolution, permanently changing the way that television will operate. I started writing more about this, but it made this blurb far too long, so maybe I’ll give it a separate piece. Anyway, House of Cards is a truly brilliant show, with almost every aspect coming together perfectly from the directing by mastermind David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club) to Kevin Spacey giving a performance so powerful that him simply speaking will make you feel uncomfortable. Next to Breaking Bad, this takes the cake for best television show of the year.
Louie – FX
One of the two best comedies on TV today (keep reading and you’ll find the other), Louie is remarkable for its grasp on humankind today, especially for a comedy. While it is produced, written by, directed by, and starring comedian Louis C.K., the show doesn’t seem like the product of one man’s mind. That creative structure allows for every aspect of the show to fit together like puzzle pieces (they are part of the same puzzle). And C.K. does not project opinions exclusive to him, he seems to have a real grasp on many of the hidden fears and anxieties and general life struggles many people face, even if portrayed in a comedic fashion.
Orange is the New Black – Netflix
With OITNB, the creative team knows what they’re doing. Unlike many “dramadies,” they know exactly the right moments to insert tiny bits of drama in otherwise hilarious scenes, and vice versa; but more importantly, they know where not to put them. Plus, the ensemble cast is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen. Each actor is so good at bringing the heart of their character to the forefront of any scene they are in that it makes you wish that sometimes you didn’t have to pick sides. And I love that there is finally a group of strong women on a TV show. I can say from experience and knowledge of pop culture that as a rule, good female characters are incredibly challenging to write. And somehow, this show features a dozen well-written ladies. To me, it’s almost mind-boggling how they do it.
Parks and Recreation – NBC
Probably one of the two best comedies on television right now and definitely the funniest, there is no comedy that has such a strong grasp on its characters and their motivations. Each of the actors has such a strong grasp on what they’re doing that you could put them all in a room, tell them to talk for twenty minutes, and film it, and the result would be incredible. The creative team only amplifies their hilarity by giving them hysterical situations and interesting plots, both of which are often lacking from other comedies.
Honorable Mentions: Top of the Lake (Sundance); Masters of Sex (Showtime); Scandal (ABC)
Top of the Lake, gets only an “Honorable Mention” because, while a stellar “whodunit” crime series, it doesn’t seem to surpass Broadchurch, already on this list. Masters of Sex is a truly unique drama, but it needs just a touch more of that: drama. Plus, on both of these shows I’m only a few episodes in. So only time will tell how they turn out. Scandal ended its second season in May on a wildly strong note, but so far the third season had yet to prove itself. But, only time will tell how they all turn out.