by Matthew Thompson
On the one hand, 2013 saw some of my all-time favorite shows end. Some endings were bittersweet. It’s always tough to say goodbye to characters and worlds you loved so dearly for some years now, but if they get to go out on their own terms, it’s hard to be too upset. Others endings were just bitter with cancellations cutting things shorter than I or the creators would have liked. On the bright side, there were some great new shows that debuted this year. While these may never quite replace those other shows, they do alleviate the sting of loss a bit. This combination of no-longer airing greats and freshman favorites is evidenced in my top ten series of the year. Here they are:
10. The Americans: While The Americans features the kind of tense moments and fun espionage action that you’d expect from a spy show, it is the family drama at the heart of the show that really makes it shine. Watching the two leads struggle between their devotion to family and country made for great television. And while I came in with a fondness for Keri Russell from her role on Felicity years ago, it was Matthew Rhys’ Phil Jennings character that I ended up loving as I got into this show.
9. Person of Interest: This is my most improved show of 2013. I’ve been a little behind on this one in years past, but it has always been sort of a B-tier show for me. A good sometimes great show, but not one that would have found itself on this kind of list. The first half of Season 3 in particular with its near-perfect mix of procedural and mythology elements has moved it up with the big boys for me. I’ve also loved the addition of Sarah Shahi’s character, Shaw. Still not sure I love the outcome of the show’s latest arc, but there is no denying it was high quality TV.
8. Orange is the New Black: One of the big stories in TV in 2013 was Netflix’s venture into original programming. My favorite of the bunch was Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black. Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir about her time in a women’s prison, OITNB doles out drama and humor (often dark) in equal doses which is my favorite kind of show. A large cast of colorful characters populate the show and flashbacks help flesh out the backstories and explain how this wide array of personalities found themselves occupying the same space. It’s just a well-done show.
7. Parenthood: No one tugs on my heart strings quite like Jason Katims. He did it with Friday Night Lights years ago and now he’s doing it with Parenthood. Family dramas don’t get much better than this. Season 4 was Parenthood’s best and Season 5 has been great as well despite making me want to punch certain characters in the face. And as odd as it sounds, that is one of the reasons the show is so good. The familial relationships delved into here are almost uncomfortably realistic. So as much as some of these characters are driving me crazy, I can’t deny how well the show is portraying some of these issues they are facing.
6. Happy Endings: I think I’ll just really miss hanging out with this gang every week and seeing what hijinks they get into. I didn’t like Season 3 quite as much as Season 2, but it was still one of my favorite comedies of the year. I’m hoping this show can find a bigger audience in its afterlife via syndication or some streaming service. It didn’t get enough love while it was still on the air.
5. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Two things strike me about Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The first is how much I like the whole cast. While some work better than others (I think my favorites are the Andre Braugher’s Captain Holt and Chelsea Peretti’s underutlizied Gina) everyone works. So much so if someone said any of the main cast was their favorite I wouldn’t bat an eye. The other thing that really impressed me about B99 was just how good it was out of the gate. I can think of few comedies in recent memory who hit the ground running the way this one did (maybe Modern Family?). Throw in some great guest spots (particularly Dean Winters) and you end up with not just the best new comedy of the year, but the best full stop.
4. Orphan Black: Good sci-fi has gotten harder to find on TV in recent years. That’s why Orphan Black’s out of nowhere entry into the genre was such a delight. It is quirky and funny without ever exuding the kind of cheese that turns me away from some science-fiction. And it has my favorite acting performance of the year. Lead actress Tatiana Maslany’s work here is simply amazing. It’s the kind of show that is best watched without knowing much going in, so I am trying to avoid many details, but if you are looking for a new sci-fi fix, this one comes highly advised.
3. Game of Thrones: This year was really dominated by Game of Thrones for me. I started watching the show in the summer of 2012, but it wasn’t until I finished reading the books this past year that I truly became obsessed with both. The third season was GoT’s best yet. It handled the novels’ biggest event so far (that wedding) and one of my personal favorite moments (Daenerys big scene in Astapor) about as well as I could imagine. Jaime Lannister’s character arc was another bright spot. As good as it was, I think Season 4 should be even better.
2. Breaking Bad: I’m still not a big fan of the finale. It felt a bit too much like a victory lap (or as much of one as he could have gotten given his position coming in) for a character who didn’t really deserve one. Other than that, I felt like this final season of Breaking Bad was pretty much perfect. “Ozymandias” is also my episode of the year for 2013 and about as good as an hour of TV can be. Overall this final stretch was an excellent way to end an excellent series.
1. Southland: Much like Breaking Bad, Southland’s final season was spoiled a bit for me by the end. I didn’t like the way Cooper’s story ended which was made worse by the show’s cancellation. But it was just too good this year to hold that against it much. I remember finishing each episode in the season in sort of disbelief at how good the show had been. It wasn’t much different than normal in content. The same realistic, gritty look into the daily lives of the LAPD that Southland typically gave. All delivered with just enough humor to keep you from spiraling into depression after watching each week. This year it just did this at such a high level. All the character arcs, all the little cases and calls the cops came in on… it all just worked. So well that it was my show of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Fringe and 30 Rock: Both of these shows only aired a few episodes in 2013, so I didn’t really think they could be included in a list like this, but they certainly fit into the theme I mentioned at the top. Of the shows that ended this year, I will miss these two the most, but I was really happy with how they finished out their runs.
That will do it for my TV shows of the year for 2013. What were your favorite shows of 2013? Let me know in the comments as I’d love to hear about them. And thanks for reading!