25 Best TV Shows of 2013 (Part Two)

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17. American Horror Story (FX- tie)

With the climactic final four episodes of Asylum and the entertaining first nine of Coven, American Horror Story has had a diverse year, to say the least. Asylum wrapped up its exploration of health care, religion, and power and Coven dove in head-first with looks at gender roles, aging, and the complexities of mother-child relationships. No show on television takes on as many interesting topics as American Horror Story and while its more-is-more approach may not work for everyone, the energy and enthusiasm with which it raises and toys with these themes, often unexplored elsewhere, makes for entertaining, thought-provoking television. The repertory approach Ryan Murphy and co. use to cast the series gives viewers the opportunity to see completely different sides of many interesting performers and while Jessica Lange often gets the most praise for her excellent work on the series, it’s Lily Rabe who stands out as first the possessed Sister Mary Eunice and then the isolated and caring Stevie-Knicks-loving Misty Day. American Horror Story may not have answers to the many questions it poses, but its confident genre storytelling and fearlessness makes it among the most interesting, surprising shows on television. (32 pts)

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17. Veep (HBO- tie)

Veep had a strong second season this year, living up to and even on occasion surpassing its confident first season. Rather than becoming stagnant in its sophomore year, the series continued to tweak its ensemble, with Timothy Simons’ Jonah getting more to do and Gary Cole’s Kent Davison and Kevin Dunn’s Ben Cafferty introduced as foils to Selena and the rest of the crew. Julia Louis-Dreyfus continued her excellent work in the lead role, particularly shining in the madcap finale, and the cast in general remained one of the best, most evenly-matched comedic ensembles on television. From the early-season pig roast fiasco to dealing with the handsy husband of the Finnish Prime Minister (played with irreverent glee by Dave Foley), there was plenty to keep Selena and her team busy this year, including a promising finale shakeup that should give creator Armando Iannucci plenty of material to work with in 2014. One of 2013’s most consistently funny shows, Veep stands out thanks to its strong ensemble, unique tone, and entertainingly acerbic sense of humor. (32 pts)

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16. Bob’s Burgers  (FOX)

Centered on the Belchers, one of television’s most entertaining and endearing families, Bob’s Burgers captures middle-class family life in a way few shows do. Bob and Linda are hardworking, devoted parents who are in turns utterly oblivious and shockingly perceptive to the goings on of their children. Tina, Louise, and Gene, the most entertaining trio on television at the moment, embody the comedic side of many of childhood (and young adult-hood)’s bizarre but meaningful rites of passage, and as a unit, the Belchers are wonderfully realized, specific enough to feel real without the heightened zaniness so many family sitcoms rely on. The series may have its over the top moments, but these are almost always shown from the perspective of the children, such as Gene’s befriending of a toilet, Tina’s imagining of Quickie Kiss it, and Louise’s scheme to smear Edison over his electrocution of Topsy. The animation takes full advantage of these diversions, adding creative visual flourishes, without losing sight of the core of the show- the relationships between each of the characters. Bob’s Burgers has been great for years, and 2013 was no exception; it’s wonderful to see it finally embraced both critically and popularly. (33 pts)

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15. Orphan Black (BBCA)

The single biggest discovery this year for many viewers was Tatiana Maslany, who burst onto the scene with her amazing performance in Orphan Black. Playing not one, not two, but seven different characters over the course of the season, many who frequently interacted with each other, Maslany’s performance was at times heart-wrenchingly dramatic, hilariously comedic, stylishly badass, and everything in between. Paired with her was Jordan Gavaris, who was a necessary, entertaining foil for Maslany and whose Felix was a beautifully supportive brother to Sarah. The show itself neatly sidestepped the usual genre pitfalls, taking its time to establish its characters before diving headlong into complicated mythology and never losing sight of its emotional center. While its villains remained somewhat nebulous throughout the first season, the pressures put on our leads were significant and their reactions telling. Throughout 2013, fantastic television seemed to pop up from the least expected of places and Orphan Black, and Maslany, were among the most pleasant, engaging surprises. (36 pts)

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14. Girls (HBO)

After Girls’s controversial and acclaimed first season, Lena Dunham doubled down for season two, stretching each of the characters in new and often unlikeable ways and removing what had been the safe, reliable center of the show- the close relationship of the main female protagonists. With Hannah and Marnie on the outs, and Jessa taking off, Hannah was left without a consistent foil, to alternatively entertaining and disturbing effect. It was a hard season for everyone, with Marnie floundering, unsure of herself for perhaps the first time in her life, Shoshanna struggling with her individuality, and Jessa being let down one time too many. A significant improvement this year was Dunham’s handling of the male characters, who had much more to do, Ray and Adam getting more exploration and Charlie finally making some progress in his life, before returning to Marnie. While it may not always have been fun to watch (Q-Tip!), Girls was always interesting and the debate that cropped up around several of the more divisive episodes may have been an even more incisive critique of American culture than the show itself. (39 pts)

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13. Happy Endings (ABC)

A heightened, screwball comedy of errors, Happy Endings had one of the most cohesive ensembles on television this year and while its brand of zany humor may not have been for everyone, those who appreciated the show’s irreverent style were incredibly sad to see it go. From Brad and Penny’s accidental bird-er of Alex’s racist parrot to Max’s revenge mind games to Jane’s pull-down charts of each of her friends’ flaws, there was comedy galore in these final sixteen episodes. We also got one of the best, most supportive marriages on television in Brad and Jane, whose discussion of Jane’s past relationships was an emotional high point for the series, and a respectful representation and discussion of the character’s bisexuality. More than anything, though, these characters were a blast to spend time with, and it’s no wonder this talented cast is already popping up on any number of other television shows. Happy Endings may be no more, but it went out well, with a strong and memorable final season. (41 pts)

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12. Rectify  (Sundance)

Quietly debuting on the Sundance Channel in April, Rectify’s first season, comprised of only six episodes, came and went with little fanfare. Many critics lauded the series, but very few viewers tuned in; the Sundance Channel was not yet on most TV fans’ radar. Thankfully, Sundance renewed the series for a second season and over the course of the year, thanks to the buzz that’s picked up around it and its astonishing central performance from Aden Young, audiences are catching up with this remarkable series. Young is fantastic as the newly-released (not exonerated) Daniel, who has spent the past 20 years in jail for a rape and murder he may not have committed, utterly still and contemplative, and just as much an enigma at the end of the season as at the beginning. The series follows his attempts to acclimate to life outside of jail, in a town where most of his neighbors are convinced of his guilt. Created by Ray McKinnon, Rectify beautifully and deliberately explores life, faith, hope, isolation, and much more. It’s a truly singular and unforgettable series, and one of the absolute highlights of 2013. (48 pts)

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11. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Still going strong, Parks and Recreation had another entertaining year, with thirteen episodes from season five and nine episodes from season six airing in 2013. Between Jerry retiring, Ann and Chris having a baby, Leslie and Ben and Ron and Dianne getting married, and Leslie losing her recall election, it’s been an eventful year for everyone’s favorite Pawneeans, and through it all, the characters, and the show itself, continued to exude the sunny optimism for which Parks is known. Amy Poehler remains the strong center of the show, keeping Leslie’s enthusiasm on the right side of mania, and her chemistry with the rest of the ensemble is as strong as it’s ever been. With Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe headed off into the sunset next year, the series undoubtedly has some change ahead of it, but for now, the group dynamic is intact, with each character playing off the others to great effect. In a year of disappointing new comedies, Parks and Recreation remains the benchmark for network sitcoms, an indicator of what is possible, and just how much work most of its network counterparts have ahead of them. (53 pts)

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