25 Best TV Shows of 2013 (Part One)

The Walking Dead promo pic, "Clear"

Once upon a time, it may very well have been possible to see all of the great television that aired in North America in a calendar year. For most of us, that time is over. From the ever-growing list of networks supplying quality programming to the advent of digital content providers smuggling in new and previously-unavailable series from around the world, 2013 marked the year TV became a truly unwieldy beast – in the best way possible. Beyond the distribution aspect, great television became a more diverse concept than ever before, in ways reflected in our staff’s collective list. Our Top 25 finds room for series of all shapes and sizes, from popular network mainstays to canceled-but-beloved cable darlings and everything in between. The beauty of it all? It’ll likely be even more painful to whittle it down to just 25 next year.

****

arcst2b

25. Archer (FX)

One of the best animated series going at the moment, Archer had another strong year in 2013 with its character through-lines as well as its usual zaniness. Lana examined her options, her subtle changes in behavior paying off when she revealed in the finale that she’s pregnant, and Archer was downright self-reflective at various points, confessing his love to Lana before recanting almost immediately to go hook up with his robot-loving ex, Katya. These touches of character worked well  set against the typically insane, and entertaining, storylines this season, including the fantastic Archer/Bob’s Burgers crossover that started the premiere, Archer and Cadillac Ron’s stepfather/son bonding roadtrip, Archer and Lana’s exploits transporting a dog, and the season-ending two-part Sealab 2021 parody. Ray got the use of his legs back, we met Cheryl’s brother, and Barry hung out in space, plus audiences were treated to guest appearances from Timothy Olyphant, Anthony Bourdain, Nick Searcy, Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal, and Jon Hamm, among others. All in all, it was another fun, wacky season for Archer. (26 pts)

Masters-of-Sex-600x300

24. Masters of Sex (SHO)

The standout new series of the fall, Masters of Sex immediately set itself apart with its excellent pilot, not only introducing viewers to the fascinating Bill Masters and Ginny Johnson, but casting a light on how much, and little, has changed in American gender politics since the 1950s. This promising start continued through the season itself, which introduced more intriguing characters such as standout supporting player Annaleigh Ashford as prostitute Betty DiMello, the under-used and appreciated Julianne Nicholson as Dr. Lillian DePaul, and the ever-fantastic Beau Bridges and Allison Janney as Barton and Margaret Scully. At the center of the show, Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen created truly individual characters unlike many we’ve seen on television, and paired with the show’s lovely period aesthetics, these performances brought the world of Masters of Sex alive in a unique, memorable way. It may not have been a perfect season, but it’s a confident start for an exciting new show that explores sexuality and gender roles in a way no other has, but many more should. (27 pts)

Enlightened Ghost Is Seen

23. Enlightened (HBO)

Mike White’s Enlightened may have flown under the radar for most of the year, but those who sought it out were rewarded with a second (and final) season that kept the same focus on the intriguing, but often difficult Amy Jellicoe while it shifted its tone to become the Enlightened version of an espionage thriller, with Amy, Tyler, and eventually Dougie working together to bring down Abaddon Industries. Amy’s complicated relationship with Levi was explored further and Dermot Mulroney dropped by as her dream guy, but in the end, it was Amy’s relaxed, solo stroll down the street that showed the true through-line of the season. Laura Dern was once again fantastic as Amy, Molly Shannon and Mike White both gave excellent supporting performances, and the entire ensemble worked well together, bringing humanity, humor, and depth to this utterly unique series. One of the best surprises at the end of the year has been the resurgence of critical acclaim for Enlightened– hopefully new viewers will seek out this introspective, short-lived series. (28 pts)

The Walking Dead promo pic, "Clear"

22. The Walking Dead (AMC)

After years of behind the scenes turmoil, The Walking Dead finally seems to have some creative stability, with current showrunner Scott M. Gimple at the helm (and AMC looking like they’ll actually let him stay there). 2013 gave viewers one of the best episodes of the series in “Clear”, written by Gimple, as well as the memorable and emotional deaths of Milton, Merle, Andrea, Hershel, and perhaps Lil’ Asskicker.  We saw the final conflict between Woodbury and the prison, and later our heroes and the Governor, more examination of fan favorites Michonne and Tyreese, the departure of Carol, and a new and dangerous threat in the form of a mutated, fast-acting strain of the flu. Throughout all of the turmoil, the momentum was sustained thanks to strong supporting performances, great scoring and cinematography, and fantastic effects work and action sequences that somehow never seemed to repeat themselves. The characters will face new challenges in the coming year, scattered after the destruction of the prison, but whatever comes, their adventures over this past year have been memorable and among the best, most satisfying episodes and arcs of the entire series. (29 pts)

Boardwalk Empire promo pic

20. Boardwalk Empire (HBO- tie)

Full of striking performances and absolutely gorgeous to look at, Boardwalk Empire had another characteristically slow-burn season this year, following Nucky’s expansion into Florida (and delightful partnership with season-highlight Patricia Arquette’s Sally), Chalky’s war with Dr. Narcisse, Gillian’s relationship with undercover Pinkerton Roy, and Van Alden/Mueller’s exploits in Chicago. The increased focus on the Onyx Club, and Chalky’s relationship with Daughter Maitland, allowed for numerous performance sequences featuring Maitland (played by fantastic singer Margot Bingham), and along with the always-beautiful cinematography, costuming, set design, and hair and makeup, the soundtrack provided an extra period flourish to television’s most painstakingly crafted drama. In a cast filled with exceptional actors, Michael Shannon, Jack Huston, and Gretchen Mol once again stood out, as did new additions Jeffrey Wright and Brian Geraghty. Fan-favorites Eddie Kessler and Richard Harrow died in affecting, dramatic fashion and these losses, along with the downfall of both Gillian and Chalky, cemented this season as one of Boardwalk Empire’s most memorable and eventful yet. (30 pts)

The Scientist - Arrow

20. Arrow (CW- tie)

In a year of genre surprises, Arrow stood out by embracing its comic book roots, memorably writing off established characters and bringing in fan favorites Black Canary (Caity Lotz, who surprised many with her strong performance) and The Flash (the likable Grant Gustin). Unlike Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which fizzled by aping the tone of any number of network procedurals, Arrow managed to capture the energy and fun of the comic while tweaking the character dynamics to give the show a strong emotional core. It’s also proven itself more than capable of building to long-term reveals with its effective teasing of Ra’s Al Ghul and the show has demonstrated a canny sense of its weaknesses, building up characters who struggled last year. With its shoutouts to long-term comic fans, confident exploration of its mythology, and exciting action setpieces, which are regularly among the best on television, Arrow has become easily the best live action superhero series on TV and arguably the best network genre series. With a Flash spinoff in the works, it will be interesting to see if the show can maintain its momentum in the coming year, but whatever comes next, 2013 has been a breakthrough year for this entertaining series. (30 pts)

HOUSE OF CARDS

19. House of Cards (Netflix)

As Netflix’s first experiment with original programming, House of Cards had a lot of expectations to live up to. Fortunately, this darkly comic political thriller delivered, thanks to the charismatic central performance of Kevin Spacey and strong supporting work of Robin Wright. The surprise highlight of the season, however, was Corey Stoll, whose alcoholic politician started out a despicable, unlikeable character before transforming organically into the emotional heart of the show. His tragic death is profoundly affecting, quite a feat given where the character began, and this event will likely propel much of the action next season. The season is remarkably consistent, both in tone and quality, and along with its central cast, it features a number of entertaining guest stars, particularly Gerald McRaney as an advisor to the President and Sandrine Holt as an employee of Wright’s Claire. With its sleek visuals and confident direction, House of Cards firmly established Netflix as a legitimate breeding ground for original content and delivered an entertaining, strong debut season of television. (31 pts)

1   2   3   4

Scroll to Top