It has been painful whittling down my TV shows, but I did come up with a Top 10, quickly followed by another 20 TV shows that I thought were top performers in 2013. These are TV shows which not only brought me great joy, but also brought their creative edge and spark to television this year. (Note: To any show that didn’t make my list, do not think I do not love you too. Be reassured, I do love you too and I am a devoted fan. It was just too hard to fit all 100 of my TV shows onto such a small list!)
Top 10 of 2013
(1) ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America) – For those who discovered this amazing show, no explanation is needed. It was simply stunning. Fortunately, ORPHAN BLACK was not content to simply shock and surprise, it rose to the occasion and delivered pure entertainment. It understood that its purpose was not to be the cleverest show on television (though it certainly has earned that accolade as well), it was simply one of the most addictive and entertaining. In fact, once viewers started watching, it was all anyone could talk about. It also won over the bulk of tough, jaded television critics who thought they had seen it all. ORPHAN BLACK immediately became part of the universal zeitgeist overnight as fans hotly debated which clone was the best, and in a mere 13 episodes, it etched a permanent place in television’s esoteric hall of fame, remaining one of the most eagerly anticipated returning shows of 2014. For those uninitiated, the question is frequently asked: what’s so exciting about clones? To which, we all just enthusiastically respond: just watch and see. There’s a reason why everyone is talking about it: Tatiana Maslany. With her performance simultaneously portraying 7 different characters, she created a work of art and became a television phenomenon. (Special shout-out to Jordan Gavaris whose portrayal of Felix is also deliciously awesome.) ORPHAN BLACK returns with new episodes in Season 2 on April 19, 2014 on BBC America.
(2) BROADCHURCH (BBC America) – Another TV show that simply left viewers gasping with pure delight and horror was the British series BROADCHURCH. A murder-mystery series is a hard sell as one of the best shows on television, but when such effort goes into every nuance of it as put into BROADCHURCH, it makes you take notice. The carefully crafted writing, the nuanced casting, the haunting location, and the pain lacing each scene was acutely felt. It made viewers feel each and every step of the investigation into who could have murdered a young boy. It also managed to take an actor best known as the Tenth Doctor on DOCTOR WHO and turned him into a character that had viewers just as riveted. In fact, the pairing of Olivia Colman and David Tennant was brilliant; one could simply not stop watching them. BROADCHURCH captured our attention and when it finally revealed the killer, we understood how shattering it was. As such, BROADCHURCH’s second season remains one of the most anticipated TV shows in 2014. Look for it on BBC America later next year.
(3) THE GOOD WIFE (CBS) – Both the 4th and 5th seasons of THE GOOD WIFE were beyond anything we could have imagined. The show continues to defy expectations and manages to take its characters to places we never thought they would go. What is surprising is how surprised we feel when it does. Premised on a woman who stands by her husband after he is caught cheating and accepting sexual favors in exchange for political contracts, viewers thought they knew what this show was about. Yet year after year, it finds a way to exceed our expectations and leave us wanting more. From the timely court cases to its delight in technological advances to the willingness to let its characters be as ruthless as possible to achieve their goals and win their cases, THE GOOD WIFE knows exactly what captures our attention. Frequently called the only cable TV show not on cable, the series delivers a level of quality and ambition that most network TV shows do not aspire. But, like its characters, THE GOOD WIFE does not trumpet its intent to conquer the world, it simply does. In addition, its guest casting is a thing of beauty and rises to the level of pure art. THE GOOD WIFE currently airs Sunday nights on CBS.
(4) THE NEWSROOM (HBO) – Despite the backlash from TV critics, THE NEWSROOM remains a critical darling amongst viewers. Why? Because the stories it seeks to share are imaginative and compelling. The stories are woven amongst a tapestry of office politics that should be too ludicrous to be true – yet there is always a distinct grain of truth to them — for indeed, truth is stranger than fiction. Borrowing liberally from world events and news scandals, THE NEWSROOM, finds a way to make the real world more interesting than the actual news of today actually is. It also remembers that human beings are frequently the cause of false reporting, misconstruing information, and delivering information through their own world-weary biases or rose-colored glasses. Fortunately, THE NEWSROOM is not a documentary and instead enjoys the privilege of finding the comedy in dire news, as well as the outrageous world of news reporting. It dares to skewer anyone and everyone in its quest to showcase the fallacies of news reported by profit-businesses. It is a delight and we hope to enjoy it for many years to come. THE NEWSROOM should return in summer 2014 on HBO.
(5) THE AMERICANS (FX) – Also turning preconceptions on its head, THE AMERICANS had the audacity to ask its viewers to root for two Russian spies while they navigated the thorny world of espionage and family life. Casting the unexpected pairing of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, watching them transform into various personas and disguises, the ease with which they can manipulate and exploit everyone around them, and their characters’ simultaneous internal struggle to find peace and happiness in their own personal lives is mesmerizing. The Cold War has never felt more romantic and cheer-worthy – and it is bizarre to feel so tempted to root for the Russians as they try to bring down our government. But that is the clever twist of this series: it seduces even the more diehard, pro-American supporters into cheering for the enemy; for likability and good intentions can woo even the most ardent supporters. Also returning February 27, 2014 for its second season on FX, we are happily counting down the minutes.
(6) HOUSE OF CARDS (Netflix) – Oh what a wicked game is played in politics. Daring to introduce a hero who will literally kill to achieve his political goals, we could not help but fall under the spell of Kevin Spacey as the slimy political opportunist, Frank Underwood. Perhaps because he specially invites the viewers into his long-con and we are party to each step of the master plan to eventually put himself in the White House, viewers are happy to accompany him along the wild ride. In its first season, fell under its spell asking: How long can he get a way with it, and who will next sell their soul for a piece of the political pie? It also seemed to reinforce what we all want to secretly believe: Washington is for sale. It can be bought, bribed, blackmailed and when all that fails – stolen. By playing to our dark political fantasies, HOUSE OF CARDS hooked its audience and left them clamoring for more. Fortunately, Netflix answered that prayer and Season 2 is coming out Valentine’s Day in 2014.
(7) JUSTIFIED (FX) – Some shows flounder in their fourth seasons searching for stories. This was not the case for FX’s drama series JUSTIFIED, which seemed to have found its groove and blazed straight through with the tale of the missing Drew Thompson. Each episode deftly wove each of the character’s personal and professional lives into a hornet’s nest of problems. But it was a blast watching Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins’ portrayal of Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder as they dug themselves deeper and deeper into the Harlan underworld, proving that no matter how hard they try, there fates were sealed together long ago. With a brilliant ensemble backing up their performances, all the characters seemed to shine on screen together and one was never quite sure who to root for. Addictive, compelling, unflinchingly brutal with bullets flying, JUSTIFIED is a show that one feels they just have to live in, if only for awhile. JUSTIFIED returns with its 5th season on January 7, 2014 on FX.
(8) THE BRIDGE (FX) – Daring to tell the tale of mass kidnappings of young women on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, THE BRIDGE was both stark and startling, and yet it quickly hooked viewers into its terrifying world. Teaming up Diane Kruger with Demian Bichir as Detectives Sonya Cross and Marcos Ruiz was clever and ultimately the reason one tuned back in each week. They made for an odd-couple detective team, but both unyielding in their pursuit of a killer with a personal vendetta wrapped up in a political message. One never doubted that whatever their methods, nothing was going to stop Sonya and Marcos from seeking all the culpable parties and making sure justice was served. Their bulldog approach was tempered by their humorous steps towards friendship and trust between the unlikely partnership. Viewers were not tuning in just to see killers caught, but to see what Sonya and Marcos will be up to next. Their unpredictability was fun in very dark tale of murder and mass kidnappings. FX was smart enough to order a second season for this great show and it will return summer of 2014.
(9) THE KILLING (Netflix) – Another dark, disturbing tale of murder of young runaways and prostitutes, THE KILLING is not an easy show to watch. But helmed by the charismatic team of Detectives Linden and Holder, it was fascinating to watch how they slowly worked their case, tracking down lead after lead to find a killer. Rough on the edges and difficult to like, this odd duo somehow found a mutual appreciation for each other’s methods and tenacity. So much of police work is simply the desire to never give up and to relentless pursue each piece of evidence until the puzzle is complete. It made watching Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnamen as the deeply flawed detectives working tirelessly through their own problems to find a way to get their thankless job done riveting and compelling. For those looking to see what is next for Holder and Linden, after three seasons on AMC, THE KILLING makes its 4th season debut on Netflix in 2014.
(10) PERSON OF INTEREST (CBS) – With a rare display of fine craftsmanship, PERSON OF INTEREST built its series around a non-human character, and that is what keeps viewers hooked and coming back. Without the Machine, PERSON OF INTEREST would be just another philanthropic-hero story of those trying to help others in jeopardy and need. But add in a super computer with artificial intelligence that recruits those it wants to work with, and suddenly there is a cool sci-fi spin on a familiar tale. The all-seeing Machine anticipates when people are about to kill or be killed and then tasks a team to help them. It made for a fine procedural-based story, but as this past year has demonstrated, there is now a lot more going on: The Machine orchestrated its own rescue and freedom from the constraints that the government and Harold Finch placed upon it; and once freed the Machine set up teams to protect itself and others. Adding a few key characters with differing goals and methods, and the willingness to sacrifice another to give the show a heightened sense of real world threats, PERSON OF INTEREST took a huge step up creatively and earned a place on this Top 10 list. Currently in its third season, PERSON OF INTEREST airs Tuesday nights on CBS.
Honorable Mention for more Top TV Shows of 2013
(11) REIGN (CW) – It was impossible to not fall in love with this historical drama which is heavily influenced from modern romance and fantasy tales. It offers a lush, inviting, charming look at the pending marriage of the Queen of Scotland to the Prince of France, both 16 years old and on the cusp of young love. Then throw in a bold, bastard brother, a hunky seer, a handful of luscious maidens, a castle ghost and a dash of paganism and ritualistic killings and REIGN quickly seduces viewers into its outrageously addictive world. It became my No. 1 “must watch” show on my DVR this Fall and I have loved every minute of it. REIGN currently airs Thursday nights on the CW.
(12) ARROW (CW) – Right out of the gate, ARROW has been a fast-paced, no-holds-barred type of adventure show. Splitting its story between the hero-escapades of Oliver Queen in Starling City against the trials and tribulations he suffered during his five years trapped on a remote island, ARROW races through huge amounts of story each week. But Season 2 really took things up a notch as Oliver embraced working with a team and how that interpersonal dynamic stirred up sizzling chemistry. In addition, with the introduction of the CW’s new Marvel hero The Flash aka Barry Allen, wonderfully portrayed by Grant Gustin, ARROW became the hottest superhero show on television. Further credit goes to newcomers Emily Bett Rickards and Colton Haynes, who portray Felicity and Roy respectively, who keep Oliver on his toes. They both serve to remind Oliver that being a hero is not enough; he has to be a better man. With huge amounts of heart, laughter, and cheers, ARROW has become a fabulous show worthy of must-see TV status. It also has superb guest-casting, which adds to its addictive appeal. ARROW currently airs Wednesday nights on the CW.
(13) BANSHEE (Cinemax) – Returning January 10th, this Cinemax series is a pure adrenaline rush. From vicious beat-downs to rapid-fire gunplay and explosions that will put your teeth on edge, this show does not hesitate to embrace the sheer violence that goes hand-in-hand in criminal life. Plus, when the show’s hero is a recently released convict posing as a local sheriff, hunted by a ruthless Ukrainian mob lord, things tend to hit the high-octane level fast. Yet counterbalancing the violence is a beautiful love story of a thief who served 15 years in prison with the hope of reuniting with his soulmate and living out their lives with the $10 million in diamonds they stole. But a con’s dream rarely can become reality when so many past and present villains wanting your head on a platter. With equal measures of raw sex and violence, BANSHEE is not for the faint of heart. But it is sure fun to watch.
(14) SCANDAL (ABC) – Fully unleashed, this series is like crack-candy: pure addiction. Once SCANDAL decided that literally nothing was off-limits and embraced its wild side, it became the most talked about show on television. A stolen presidency, a murdered Supreme Court Justice, an attempted presidential assassination, a torrid White House affair, blackmail – it’s all there; and they make it look like so much fun. SCANDAL currently airs Thursday nights on ABC.
(15) CONTINUUM (Syfy) – Dipping its toe into the hard-core sci-fi realm of time-travel with mind-bending exploration of time-loops, disruptions to the time continuum, and a bit of time manipulation, CONTINUUM is an uncommon sci-fi/police drama. But for those who like to play with time and its multiple variations, including “the butterfly effect,” this series is just awesome. CONTINUUM returns with its 3rd season on Syfy in 2014.
(16) ELEMENTARY (CBS) – With its own take on the classic Holmes/Watson adventures, ELEMENTARY introduced us to a recovering drug addict and his sober companion and showed how they ultimately became consulting-detective partners in New York City. Willing to bend a few iconic rules to tell its tale, ELEMENTARY carved out a special place in viewer’s hearts, and a place on our must-see viewing schedule. It’s first season finale was particularly memorable and laud-worthy.
(17) HOMELAND (Showtime) – For all its complex meandering storytelling in Season 3, HOMELAND remained true to its audacious roots and told the intertwined tale of CIA analysis Carrie Mathison and suspected terrorist Nicholas Brody. Struggling with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and an undeniable physical attraction, their story hooked us since Day One. Their love story was always destined to be a tragedy in the end, but viewers were happy to follow along just to see how their tortured romance played out. While Brody is no longer a player on the board, Season 4 of HOMELAND promises to introduce yet another tortured journey for Carrie, and wherever she goes, we will follow. HOMELAND will return with its 4th season in Fall 2014 on Showtime.
(18) THE BLACKLIST (NBC) – With one of the biggest television debuts in recent history, THE BLACKLIST has one distinct secret to its success: James Spader. Casting alone has brought this crazy series to the forefront of the new television shows and quickly found a place on viewer’s must-see TV list. Add in some tricky storylines whispering as to the possible familial relationship between Elizabeth Keen and master criminal Red Reddington, not to mention a potentially deadly twist involving Elizabeth’s husband, and suddenly viewers could not get enough of it. THE BLACKLIST currently airs Monday nights on NBC.
(19) LONGMIRE (A&E) – Two seasons under its belt, this summer hit has established that the era of the modern cowboy is alive and well. Backdropped with gorgeous outdoor scenery and a stellar cast, LONGMIRE is a compelling tale of western justice in a modern world. With ratings rising steadily, it is great to see more viewers discovering this great show. Season 3 of LONGMIRE will air in Summer 2014 on A&E.
(20) LUTHER (BBC America) – Another fine drama series from BBC America, and helmed by the captivating Idris Elba, LUTHER is a dark tale of a police detective confronting the worst crimes in the modern world. But throw in the devilishly delightful Ruth Wilson as Alice, a serial killer with a crush on John Luther, and the series just crackles with chemistry and charisma. At this time a 4th season has not yet been ordered, but look for either another season or a feature film to be ordered given the mass popularity of the series, (hopefully) in 2015.
(21) DEXTER (Showtime) – The final season of DEXTER had its fair share of shocks and surprises, but the biggest was perhaps that everyone’s favorite serial killer lived to fight another day. It was always such a treat to secretly root for a man who stalks, kills and dismembers other serial killers. He was society’s ultimate trash-collector and it was fun to root for him to get away with it. DEXTER is a show that will be missed as its brand of shock-and-awe was always so fun to watch.
(22) SONS OF ANARCHY (FX) – A brutal, harsh series showcasing the tale of a bunch of criminals trying to pursue a better life, SONS OF ANARCHY defies expectations. For all its relentless depictions of burning bodies, mass executions and back-stabbing betrayals, this Shakespearean tragedy still demands our attention. It’s the ultimate wish-fulfillment bait: we so desperately want to see them escape their dark destinies and earn a happy ending. Credit goes to Kurt Sutter for brilliant casting and deftly crafted characters that make us care so much that we are willing to forgive their multitude of sins. SONS OF ANARCHY returns for its 7th and final season in Fall 2014 on FX.
(23) SLEEPY HOLLOW (Fox) – Another newcomer this Fall, SLEEPY HOLLOW was unlike anything we had ever seen before. It literally threw in as many supernatural elements it could come up with and stirred them up into a classic tale of American folklore. With three fascinating leads helming the series, they made the outrageous tales of apocalyptic horsemen, witches, demons and other things hiding in the dark seem believable. In a time when real world terrors remain unchecked, it is fascinating watching a fictional world where the average man and a police detective can combat anything the universe can throw at them. It is also unabashed fun and it invites viewers to join in. It’s just that infectious and irresistible. SLEEPY HOLLOW currently airs Monday nights on Fox through January, returning with its second season in Fall 2014.
(24) HANNIBAL (NBC) – Offering the surprising duo of a serial killer and a FBI profiler, HANNIBAL shows the seductive dance between them. It may have taken the entire first season for Will Graham to see the killer right in front of his nose, but now that he does, what is next for Will and Hannibal? Shall their cat-and-mouse game continue? Will they ever be friends again? Who can they now trust? Gripping, enticing and terrifying, HANNIBAL gets under your skin and you cannot turn away. Fortunately, it returns for its second season February 28, 2014 on NBC.
(25) BATES MOTEL (A&E) – Serial killers are all the rage right now. Thus, it makes sense that one of the most notorious in film history from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” would one day be brought to television. What is most intriguing about it is that it portrays Norman Bates as a classic hero. Given his ultimate destination in life, it seems unfathomable that Norman was once a boy, who had high school crushes and a quasi-loving family. But with the superb casting of Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore and the rest of its fascinating cast, BATES MOTEL is a curious tale of how a hero slowly loses his humanity, one piece at a time. BATES MOTEL returns for its second season in Spring 2014 on A&E.
(26) DOCTOR WHO (BBC America) – Over the years, DOCTOR WHO has remained a steadfast favorite. Some years it rose higher with stellar storytelling and performances, and others it was content to coast as pure pleasing entertainment, but it never failed to delight. It is a series that exudes charm and goodwill, and one just loves spending time with it. After the recent change over of actors in its Christmas special, look for new episodes of DOCTOR WHO sometime in 2014.
(27) HEMLOCK GROVE (Netflix) – This dark tale of modern supernatural beings living amongst us posed an interesting question: can werewolves and vampires be friends? The first season of this series dared to explore whether it was possible, but with tragic results. Yet with compelling characters and a willingness to embrace the darker side of supernatural creatures with raw instincts, HEMLOCK GROVE drew us in and then sprang the horror upon us. In spite of this, it was addictive to watch and impossible not to root for. Seeing the show’s popularity rise, Netflix quickly ordered a second season, which should be released in Spring 2014.
(28) TEEN WOLF (MTV) – While there are no vampires, there are certainly plenty of werewolves and other creatures crawling through the night in MTV’s TEEN WOLF. But with a ridiculously attractive and fun cast, TEEN WOLF’s tales of druids, shape-shifters and werewolves is classic must-see TV. You cannot help but watch it with equal measures of blissful glee and appreciation. TEEN WOLF returns with new episodes on January 6, 2014 on MTV.
(29) THE ORIGINALS (CW) – Another series daring to embrace its darker roots, THE ORIGINALS took a bunch of villainous vampires and pitched them against a bunch of witches in voodoo-infested New Orleans. With a perfectly cast bunch of young actors, as well as some audacious storytelling, THE ORIGINALS proves that vampires absolutely have more fun. But as fun as they are, do not ever cross one, for their idea of justice is extremely bloody and unforgiving. THE ORIGINALS currently airs Tuesday nights on the CW.
(30) HAVEN (Syfy) – A long-time favorite, HAVEN is an addictive tale of supernaturally-afflicted folks living in a small town in Maine. Loosely-based on the Stephen King tale “The Colorado Kid,” HAVEN introduced the ongoing tales of the Troubles. Having just concluded its 4th season, HAVEN had the audacity to end on a nasty cliffhanger where its hero, Audrey Parker, reverted to a prior personality and turned into a very evil villain. Yet whatever the outrageous story, the secret ingredient to this series is its fantastic cast. Highly addictive and charming, HAVEN has provided must-see TV and fans are hopeful that Syfy will renew it for another season in 2014.
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