Here is a list of my top 13 shows for 2013, some that didn’t quite make the cut, and some of the worst shows of the year. If my list is missing a critically-acclaimed show, chances are that I didn’t watch it (e.g. Top of the Lake).
13. Raising Hope
Arguably the most underrated comedy on television, Raising Hope keeps chugging along with solid, genuine blue-collar comedy. Fox seems to want nothing to do with this show as it has now been banished to Friday evenings and the episodes are shown two at a time. This short fall season featured some immediate classics such as “Burt Bucks” (where Burt invents a new form of currency which inevitable backfires). It will be disappointing if this show is cancelled while it’s still in its prime, it will be “Arrested Development” all over again.
12. Inside Amy Schumer
2013 featured a lot of great sketch comedy shows, such as The Kroll Show, Key & Peele, and my nomination for the best of the lot, Inside Amy Schumer. I must admit, I was not a big fan of Amy Schumer before this show aired. I felt like she tried too hard to be offensive and that her standup lacked wit. Well this show ended up far exceeding my low expectations. Considering that the show airs on the young-male-demographic-aimed Comedy Central, it was surprising to see a powerful female comedy show that defied most conventions. The show also features an interesting interview segment (“Amy Goes Deep”) where Amy interviews a random person, such as an ex-cop and a dominatrix. It is refreshing to see a funny female-led sketch show as it is typically a male-led format.
11. Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones continued its run as the most exciting fantasy show on television, paralleling the first half of the third book of the Song of Ice and Fire series, ending the season with the eagerly-anticipated “Red Wedding”. As solid as this season was, I fear that this may be the peak of the series (I would hope to include season 4 in this peak). In my opinion, the books lose steam after book 3. This can already be seen in the Daenerys storyline, as she is still on another continent, far away from the intrigue of Westeros. As much as people didn’t seem to like the Theon storyline (I thought it was fine, albeit uncomfortable to watch), I am eager to see where it takes the character next season.
10. The Americans
I was initially wary to watch this show as it looked like a knock-off of Showtime’s “Homeland” but I became hooked after the intense premiere. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are Russian spies who are posing as normal Americans in Washington DC in the early 1980s. This show splendidly captures the look and feel of the Cold War and has great performances from the leads as well as supporting roles such as the ones played by Margo Martindale and Richard Thomas.
I am a fan of Jim Jefferies’ standup so I was excited to check out his new series “Legit”. The show features Jim as a version of himself who attempts to become “legit”, i.e. become a better person and do good things with his life. This leads him to take on a big-brother-esque role to his friend’s disabled brother Billy, played brilliantly by DJ Qualls. The show takes a few episodes to set up the premise but then it takes a huge leap forward when the show backs off from focusing on Jim and lets the ensemble work with each other. DJ Qualls should get an Emmy for making his disabled character one of the strongest characters on television in recent memory.
8. House of Cards
2013 was the Year of Netflix as it established itself as a content powerhouse, with 3 shows on my top 13 list. House of Cards put Netflix original content (though it is not technically original as it is a remake of a British show) on the map back in February and may have revolutionized the way new television shows are provided to the public, becoming one of the first shows to make a full season of new content available all at once, to the joy of serial season watchers. Kevin Spacey (who will win an Emmy for this role) chewed up scene after scene as a South Carolina Congressman who is one of the most powerful men in Washington DC. The show has deservedly received a lot of acclaim and I know I can’t wait for season 2 to become available.
7. Eastbound and Down
The excellent final season of Eastbound and Down is arguably the best season of its run, mostly due to finally showing true character development and change in the stubborn Kenny Powers. Kenny begins the season humbled, living as a “normal person”, but the taste for fame and fortune once again pollutes his life. He finds a second career as a sports pundit on “Sports Sesh” only to find the fame once again ruining his relationship with April. The show comes to an insanely hilarious conclusion and we finally see Kenny Powers head up instead of down.
6. Arrested Development
I was skeptical as to how funny this reboot would be as it had been a seven-year hiatus, but the new season of Arrested Development did not disappoint. It was strange to see the new format of the show; due to budget restrictions, episodes focused on one character at a time rather than the previous ensemble. The show was as brilliantly written as ever, with some jokes that wouldn’t even pay off until multiple episodes later. One joke in particular, involving Lindsay Bluth talking to a guru, blew my mind when it was referenced episodes later.
5. Masters of Sex
I admittedly did not know about Masters and Johnson before this show aired, but I would watch Lizzy Caplan in anything, so I gave this show a chance and it turned out to be the best show that aired this fall. Initially it feels like a Mad Men knockoff as it is a post-WW2 period piece, but Masters of Sex focuses mainly on sex and the differences between men and women in regards to sex. Lizzy Caplan plays the sexually-liberated Virginia Johnson, who begins working as a secretary for Michael Sheen’s Dr. Masters. Dr. Masters wants to study sexual response in human beings and he ends up enlisting Virginia to be his assistant. The first season begins with their meeting and ends with an initial presentation of the sexual response data; what happens in-between is a lot of sex, but it never feels gratuitous and is oftentimes cold and clinical.
Enlightened is my most “disappointed that it got cancelled so soon” show of the year, with Treme being the second show. At least Treme got 3.5 seasons. Enlightened ended with only 18 episodes in total, but those were an amazing 18 episodes; plus the show ended on a satisfying note. This show followed Laura Dern’s Amy Jellicoe as she attempted to bring down the evil Abaddonn corporation that sent her to rehab previous to the start of the series. The viewer is tempted to side with Jellicoe as Abaddonn has done some heinous stuff, but Amy has so many character flaws (i.e. most of her ambitions are self-serving in the disguise of being selfless) that it is hard to root for her. The cast of side characters is fantastic, with co-creator Mike White as her co-conspirator Tyler, Luke Wilson as her ex-husband Levi, and many others I won’t mention here. Season 2 brought in Dermot Mulroney and Molly Shannon as love interests for Amy and Tyler, and both characters are used to help bring Abaddonn down. The finale ends on a great note and even if they were to make another season, I’m not sure how they could continue it. RIP Enlightened.
3. Orphan Black
I devoured the whole first season of Orphan Black in the matter of two days (one of those days being Christmas 2013). This show hooks you in right off the bat when British punk Sarah Manning sees a woman about to jump in front of a subway train. Before the woman jumps, she looks over at Sarah and the woman is her exact twin. What happens over the next ten episodes was a non-stop thrill ride that uncovered secret after secret with exciting cliffhangers at the end of each of the ten episodes. Tatiana Maslany has become a new favorite of mine as she had the unenviable task of bringing up to 8 different characters to life. Through excellent special effects, she had to act with other versions of herself. She did such a fantastic job that the viewer was never distracted by the fact that the same actress was playing all of these characters. Maslany should (but probably won’t) win an Emmy for this role.
2. Orange is the New Black
This show was created by Jenji Kohan, who created the brilliant Showtime show “Weeds” (at least, I thought it was brilliant for its first few seasons). Inspired by the book of the same name, this show features a highly-diverse cast of interesting characters. I nicknamed this show “Gentle Oz” as it showcased some of the same prison system issues as the HBO show “Oz”, albeit without the gratuitous violence. The show is very well-written, well-acted (would love to see some of the actresses get nominated, such as Taryn “Pennsatuckey” Manning, Kate “Red” Mulgrew, or Uzo “Crazy Eyes” Aduba) and I can’t wait for Season 2. Although the real Piper was only imprisoned for 13 months, I have a feeling they will figure out ways to keep Piper in prison.
1. Breaking Bad
RIP to arguably the greatest show in television history. Breaking Bad performed the rare feat of somehow improving upon each consecutive season. The final season was a non-stop adrenaline rush featuring one of the most stressful hours I’ve ever sat through (“Ozymandias”). Breaking Bad re-defined dramatic television and set the bar so high that I don’t envision a show surpassing it anytime soon.
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Unfortunately, only a few people will, as this show was criminally underwatched. I will greatly miss watching this show and its final five-episode season was a solid send-off.
Comedy Bang Bang
This show became a Friday-night ritual for me this fall and it was consistently one of the funniest shows of the year for me, but not quite in my top 13. This show is about as close to live-recreating “Space Ghost Coast To Coast” as you can get.
Solid first season for the Marc Maron semi-autobiographical series. It drew a lot of comparisons to “Louie” but I think that is an unfair comparison. It was solidly funny and emotional, though it didn’t hit me with the same gravitas and creativity that Louis CK’s show does.
This show will always give me solid laughs, but as it wasn’t significantly different from the first season, it sits outside of my top 13.
Probably my favorite fall comedy debut, this show is the rare television cop comedy that works, due to Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher’s precinct captain, and all of the hilarious supporting characters.
Toast of London
My Matt Berry addiction was continued with the new British fall series “Toast of London”, where Berry plays awful theatre actor Stephen Toast. I thought this show was hilarious, but not quite top 13 material.
Low Winter Sun
I am embarrassed to admit that I was excited to watch this when I first read about it. A cop show starring Mark Strong and Lennie James, two underrated character actors? Sign me up! Little did I know that it would end up becoming the punching bag of internet critics everywhere (of course, it had the task of following up Breaking Bad, which would be like being asked to perform some standup after Louis CK). I tuned in for about 15 minutes of the first episode and I was treated to a boring, bland show with a plot I could not muster interest in. It might be unfair to put it on this list, but based on the outpouring of disdain for the show, I’m fine listing it here and have no guilt over quitting it tout suite.
This show ended around the same time as Breaking Bad and it was amazing to see how shitty Dexter was by comparison. In Breaking Bad you had a multi-layered, well-crafted drama that wrapped itself up perfectly. With Dexter, you had a final season that featured multiple meaningless side-stories (Masuka’s daughter? Quinn not getting a promotion? Harrison’s treadmill fail?) and an ending so unsatisfying, it makes sense that it was likely due to interference by the Showtime executives.
What is the point of this show anymore? Why are we supposed to care about any of these characters? All I want to see now is 60 minutes of a coked-up Al Capone doing Al Capone things. That’s about it, especially after killing off a few of my favorite characters this season. I’m not even sure I’ll keep watching Boardwalk Empire.
This made my worst list because I think the show has run out of ideas. After blowing its load with shock after shock, I’m not sure the show is going to be able to keep going strong after (from what I can tell) getting rid of two of its main characters. Claire Danes’ Carrie is an interesting character but she’s going to need strong, interesting foils and I’m not sure she’s going to find that in Istanbul. I may drop this show, but if I don’t, it’s definitely not a show I care to immediately watch (I’ll be watching Masters of Sex ahead of this).
What a disappointing, horrible final season. After watching a few episodes, you can see why Comedy Central shit-canned it.