Sam's Top 15 TV Shows of 2013
Best of 2013: TV

15. Doctor Who

Granted, this latest series was fairly lackluster, showrunner Steven Moffat salvaged the year with two strong specials, “The Day of the Doctor” and “The Time of the Doctor.” While the regular season struggled through a clunky departure of Rory and Amy and a new companion, Clara, who lived up to some of Moffat’s detractors, the specials showed how Moffat still has such a strong grasp of the Doctor. In the 50th anniversary, he exploits the fandom’s love of old Doctors as well as addressing/changing major canon. In Matt Smith’s final episode as the Doctor, “The Time of the Doctor,” Moffat delivered an emotionally resonant goodbye to the actor and this incarnation of our hero, while jolting us into the new era. While the plots felt lost and the lack of two-parters still seems questionable, Moffat still displayed he’s got the Doctors hearts just right.

14. Orphan Black

More than anything Orphan Black is a showcase for lead actress Tatiana Maslany. While I found some episodes lackluster, Orphan Black has proven to be a reliable science fiction show, providing excitement and twists. While it was one of my favorite shows of the year, I’m worried for its future. Like many other sci-fi shows of the past, sticking the landing and finding a way to keep the show fresh can be a challenge. If Maslany can continue to deliver so well in her multiple roles, that may not be a problem.

13. Key and Peele

When Dave Chappelle suddenly left his hit show on Comedy Central, the network has been looking for someone to fill that irreverent sketch comedy gap. They tried and failed massively plugging in Mind of Mencia. Years later, they have found their new stars in Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Gathering a larger and larger following thanks in part to how well their sketches play on YouTube, the dynamic duo has cranked out brilliant (and often beautiful-looking) sketches that range in topic from race to sex to pop entertainment and beyond. Nobody has made the absurd feel so smart since Monty Python.

12. Top of the Lake

Jane Campion brought a truly haunting tale of a small town murder and rape to a television landscape that’s already filled with such dark premises. However, Campion’s New Zealand tale felt gritty and beautiful, without taking an exploitative turn. Elisabeth Moss makes her first appearance on this list as lead detective Robin, who must face her troubling past while helping a young girl who’s been thrown into a horrific circumstance. Some of television’s most frightening episodes didn’t involve zombies or vampires, they came from a small New Zealand town.

11. Girls

Lena Dunham created a difficult world to get comfortable in. And I can honestly say I questioned whether I wanted to keep hanging out with the often-horrible people in Girls, but I’m glad I stuck around. As long as one accepts that sometimes the men and women of Girls can be a bit unbearable, there will be rewards. I found some of the year’s best television came from Girls with Dunham challenging her audience in “One Man’s Trash” and later giving us a moving journey in “Boys”. The journey portrayed on Girls is messy, never a clean path for any of our young cast. I look forward to more sloppy journeys, I can always count on arguing about them with someone and there’s a great deal of value in that.

10. Broadchurch

I found that Broadchurch just barely edged out Top of the Lake because it offered even more impressive performances (no small task given TotL’s great ensemble) and it’s slow burn to start proved to deliver an explosive end to the season. David Tennant and Oliva Coleman, who are both known for lighter roles, were absolutely outstanding. Yes, it was another small town murder, but between the excellent acting and an interesting take on the media’s participation in local tragedies let it slide its way into the top 10.

9. Bob’s Burgers

Bob’s Burgers replaces Parks and Recreation on my list as the endlessly hilarious AND optimistic comedy of the year. Bob’s Burgers continues to utilize one of the best voice casts on television to great affect. It also takes advantage of creator Loren Bouchard. Sometimes crass and always silly, Bob’s Burgers never forgets that the Belcher family loves each other and will go toe to toe with anyone to protect their own. I’d go as far as saying it’s the best animated show on television right now (sorry, Archer) and it seems to be right in the middle of its own golden age. How many shows can build heartwarming episodes around talking toilets and inanimate store mannequins?

8. The Americans

Another one of the slew of new shows on my list is The Americans. A smart and wonderfully paced 80s spy drama that also stealthily shifts in a meditation on marriage and the American dream, The Americans proved to be endlessly entertaining from a number of angles. Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys play the couple at the center of the action and are joined by great supporting performances from Noah Emmerich, Annet Mahendru and Margo Martindale. How far can Russell and Rhys keep their various charades going? That’s only part of the fun of The Americans, and that’s what landed it on my list.

7. New Girl

Not since Parks and Recreation has a show shot up in quality like New Girl’s second effort. While I think New Girl was fairly solid in its first season, year two gave us an all-time great will they/won’t they with Nick and Jess finally kissing in one of the year’s best episodes, “Cooler”. That January episode spurred on a brilliant end of season two. While season three is still trying to find its bearings with the new Nick/Jess relationship, the show is still fairly funny. Schmidt is Schmidt and Winston is crazy as fuck. But that stretch of episodes starting at the beginning of 2013 would be tough for any year of New Girl to top. Hopefully they can find a way to return to those glory days from all the way back in the early 2013’s.

6. Masters of Sex

Yet another great new show to make the list. While Masters of Sex doesn’t have the insane devotion to detail of the era like Mad Men, Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan carry a fantastic show about the first days of the Masters and Johnson studies on human sexuality. The show could have easily been – “Oh look how shocking it is for this time period, boobs!” But the show has delved deep into the psychology of its two main characters. Supporting performances from Beau Bridges and Allison Janney round out a triumphant first effort. My only concern is that since its on Showtime, Masters and Johnson will start dealing heroin or something in season two and go live in a log cabin in season three. Here’s hoping it maintains this high quality.

5. Mad Men

With all of the hoopla surrounding the final season of Breaking Bad, I felt Mad Men kind of got the short end of the stick. Granted when Mad Men takes its final bow there will be plenty of coverage. --And rightfully so as it remains one of the (quietly) greatest shows of all time. This season we explored new depth to Don Draper and further explored the personal lives of one of television’s best ensemble casts. Elisabeth Moss continues to be a fan favorite while Vincent Kartheiser shined with a simple, “Not great, Bob!”. Linda Cardellini blended seamlessly into this world as Don’s mistress, while showing such amazing vulnerability. The closing shot of the season showed Don’s childhood home, putting a perfect capper to a predictably great season of television. I Can’t wait to see how they close out this wonderful journey.

4. Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black legitimized Netflix as an original program player more than the popular House of Cards simply because of its quality. That Netflix can produce such a rich show gives me hope for the platform. Jenji Kohan (of Weeds fame) helms the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) journeying into the world of a women’s prison. The Lost-style flashbacks giving us backstory on her fellow prisoners helps flesh out their stories without clunky exposition (“I’m in here because I XYZ’d”) and it makes for such a compelling world that could essentially go on forever – there are always more prisoners and Chapman’s story, while the initial main focus of the show, isn’t necessarily the most important. There are a lot of stories to be told on Orange is the New Black, and I’m glad Netflix is providing the platform so we can binge-watch the entire thing.

3. Game of Thrones

Packed with more stories than I can fit in these small blurbs, Game of Thrones kicked into high gear in its third season. Fans of the books are quick to say that it makes sense given the source material. I haven’t read any of the books, but they weren’t kidding. Some of the best moments of spectacle television came from this year’s GoT. Few episodes of television blew up the internet and the proverbial water coolers more than “The Rains of Castemere” a truly shocking episode to those who hadn’t read the books. Another great ensemble combines for the best show HBO has to offer at the moment. Luckily its popularity means we’ll be getting as much Game of Thrones as George RR Martin will allow.

2. Hannibal

The best new show of the year was Hannibal hands down, and this is coming in a GREAT year for new programs. Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy lead the way with Emmy-worthy performances and the cinematography deserves an Emmy, an Oscar and fuck it, throw in a Grammy. With Breaking Bad bidding adieu, Hannibal has taken over as the most beautiful looking show on television. It’s a bit odd to say that give how grotesque and simply gory the show is. In fact, it stretches what I think could be shown on network television. With unforgettable performances from its two leads and writing that let us delve deep into already-famous characters, Hannibal was one of the year’s most impressive achievements. Now if only more people watched, showrunner Bryan Fuller could dish out stories for years to come.

1. Breaking Bad

What can I say about Breaking Bad that hasn’t already been said? I can’t really, but the praise heaped upon over the last few months is deserved. It will surly be on the short list for best shows of all time. Where exactly, I don’t know. Time tends to have a way of sorting that thing out and I’m still so close to the end of the show that I don’t necessarily want to claim it king of the hill or an also-ran out of fear of sounding flippant. The last half of the two-part final season was as pulse pounding as the show ever got. Throughout its run, Breaking Bad provided the most thrills any show has given me. That I can say as a fact. It’s a tribute to Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston that Walter White is pretty much unrecognizable when looking back at the first season. Hell, the show was a black comedy back then. By the end it was pure darkness with Walter dealing with all of the fallout from his choices. Yes, the finale is up to debate, but no matter how you feel about the very last episode, most could agree that the years leading up to it were damn near perfect.

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