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25 Best TV Shows of 2013 (Part Three)

The Good Wife promo pic, "Hitting the Fan"

10. The Good Wife (CBS)

This year, The Good Wife did the unthinkable. Five seasons (and almost 100 episodes) in, it blew up the show. The original premise, that the publically shamed wife of a crooked politician begins her life anew at a former flame’s law firm, is gone, replaced by a baroque melodrama of conflicting loyalties and devastating emotional stakes. The progression of the series over the course of the year has been masterfully executed, with creators Robert and Michelle King building subtly to April’s season four finale, wherein Alicia decided to leave the firm at which she’d worked since the pilot, and then again very carefully to the season five explosion, when Alicia’s plans are discovered and she’s fired, leading to all-out legal war between the old firm, Lockhart Gardner, and the new one, Florrick Agos. There are emotional and legal casualties left and right and every scene drips with emotion and intent. Very few series have maintained their initial quality by their fifth season. Hardly any reach new dramatic heights 100 episodes in. Cable dramas get most of the year-end attention, but The Good Wife is proof that amazing television is possible on network TV too. (54 pts)

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9. Top of the Lake (Sundance)

In a year filled with crime serials, be they stand-alone stories or continuing series, the Sundance Channel’s Top of the Lake stood out as the pinnacle of this genre. Built around a staggering central performance from Elisabeth Moss, this mystery miniseries followed Moss’s Robin, a detective, as she returned to her hometown to uncover how 12-year-old Tui wound up pregnant, and then missing. Co-created by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee and filmed in New Zealand, the miniseries is beautifully shot, capturing the distinct character of each setting, and its deliberate pace gives the audience plenty of time with Robin and her past struggles. The supporting performances are uniformly fantastic, each character, down to young Tui, feeling fully rounded and developed, and the eventual resolution is satisfying on a character level as well as a plot level. Campion and Lee have created a truly memorable, moving story with Top of the Lake, one that hopefully many more viewers will seek out and, along with Rectify, this miniseries cemented the Sundance Channel this year as a place to watch for quality original drama. (58 pts)

The Americans best TV of 2013

8. The Americans (FX)

From first-time creator Joe Weisberg, The Americans made a splash with its fantastic pilot, hitting the ground running in a way few new shows do. The pace and the quality continued throughout this year’s 13-episode run, making it one of the best debut seasons in recent years and certainly one of the best series of the year. Centered on the complicated relationship between Elizabeth and Philip, two undercover KGB officers in 1980s Washington D.C. whose cover is that of a happily married couple with two children, the series explored not only the Cold War and the tricky politics of the time, but the complexities of marriage. The interpersonal drama was riveting, supported by excellent performances from Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, but the show also managed to balance it with thrilling action setpieces and fun period spycraft, no small feat. Along with the strong central performances, the series is rounded out by an incredibly talented supporting cast, helping to make The Americans one of the most fully-realized and cohesive shows on television this year. (59 pts)

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7. Spartacus: War of the Damned (Starz)

Undoubtedly the most underrated series to air this year, Spartacus finished up its four season run with War of the Damned, which followed the titular leader as he led his rebel army in their final clash against the Romans. From its premiere to its near-perfect finale, the season was filled with emotion, action, and high-stakes drama as Crassus (played by the fantastic Simon Merrells) and Caesar (Todd Lasance, putting a new spin on the familiar name) teamed up to take down Spartacus (Liam McIntyre, ably filling the role begun by Andy Whitfield) and his troops. Any fan of history will know how the story ends, but Steven S. DeKnight and company manage to craft a season that holds true to most of the historical facts we have while letting the audience forget what they know, or even better, making them believe history might just have it wrong. Spartacus manages to craft thrilling action setpieces with almost no budget, create a whole new (addictively quoteable) vernacular, and explore ageless themes of freedom, sacrifice, and justice. It’s a fantastic series, one of the most overlooked in recent years, and War of the Damned was a powerful and fittingly epic conclusion. (67 pts)

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6. Justified (FX)

Each season of Justified has taken on a slightly different genre; this year, they explored a mystery- who is Drew Thompson? The season may have struggled a bit in the lead up to the reveal, but once they answered the season-long question, the show put on the gas and didn’t let up, giving audiences not only one of the best episodes of the year, but one of the best series. The world of Justified is beautifully distinct, the dialogue is some of the best and most memorable in all of television, and each character jumps through the screen, fully realized and developed. This season, along with the inevitable conclusion to Raylan’s complicated relationship with his father, we got a better look at his fellow Marshals, a deepening of Boyd and Ava’s relationship, and the introduction of a number of memorable characters, the top of that list being Mike O’Malley’s Nicky Augustine and Patton Oswalt’s Constable Bob. It was a completely satisfying, exciting, and emotional ride, making Justified easily one of the best shows of the year. (85 pts)

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25 Best TV Shows of 2013 (Part Two)

25 Best TV shows of 2013

25 Best TV Shows of 2013 (Part Four)