2013 has produced such good, quality television (ignoring all the garbage) that I honestly had a tough time picking my top 10 television shows of the year. But I’ve managed to narrow it down to the 10 shows that affected me the most.
1. Breaking Bad
There was so much anticipation leading up to the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, and the drug drama certainly met the hype. “Felina” has been one of the most satisfying series finales of any TV show that’s been on the air. In fact, fans loved it so much that it resulted in Lost creator Damon Lindelof leaving Twitter because he was getting badgered so much about his own series finale. But it was actually the fourteenth episode of the season, the heart-wrenching, jaw-dropping and utterly unforgettable “Ozymandias,” directed by Rian Johnson, that stood out for me. Whether you followed it from the very beginning or binge-watched the entire show on Netflix in one week, Breaking Bad is a show that will stay with you – by showing you the ugliest side of humanity, and following a character who starts off as a seemingly average high school chemistry teacher, but whose ego and hunger for power takes him to the darkest of places. Well-written, well-directed, and well-acted, Breaking Bad was a tremendous series all-around and I highly recommend that you listen to all those nagging friends who are telling you to watch it. It’s just that good.
2. The Good Wife
The Good Wife has always been a little underrated, as it’s never received the same hype as male-centric shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men. But the fifth season has been absolutely phenomenal, with “Hitting the Fan” bringing The Good Wife to new heights, and showing that major networks are just as capable as cable channels to produce quality, Emmy-worthy television. This season saw a rift between Alicia and her old bosses, Will Gardner (her ex-lover who she’s been inexplicably involved with in an on-again/off-again, will-they/won’t-they type relationship) and Diane Lockhart (wonderfully portrayed by Christine Baranski), when she decided to start her own firm. I’m not a lawyer, but the weight and enormity of that decision has been conveyed really well by the writers. The way this story has been playing out, accompanied by a very tense and cinematic-esque musical score, is absolutely brilliant. This year, The Good Wife has been nerve-wracking, heartbreaking, and totally captivating.
Scandal is a soap opera, Shakespearean tragedy, and Chanel commercial all rolled into one, best described as a political romantic thriller. And I’m as addicted to this show as Olivia is addicted to red wine and those pristine white suits and jackets she’s always wearing (and she somehow manages to keep stain-free). As batshit crazy as this show can be sometimes, as the writers are frequently pummeling you with all sorts of ‘OMG’ moments left and right, it’s impossible not to get caught up in this exaggerated, very soap-y portrayal of D.C. politics. Take an episode like “YOLO,” for example. The title is seemingly innocuous, but this episode had it all – terrorism, murder, torture via tooth extraction, secret identities being revealed, and psychopathic assassins hooking up. The writers work at breakneck speed to deliver a season’s worth of storyline into a single episode, and they barely give these characters (and by extension the audience) any room to breathe. As soon as one arc is done, they’re already onto the next one.
4. Orange Is the New Black
With House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black already under its belt, Netflix has proven to be a formidable opponent to premium cable networks like HBO when it comes to original programming. Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is the New Black is about a women’s prison consisting of a large and diverse cast of characters who vary in age, race, nationality, sexuality, and income, but all prove to be very complex, three-dimensional human beings. You have Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a privileged, upper-middle class white woman, at the center of it all. As the series progresses, she slowly learns how to adapt to this new environment that has its own set of rules and regulations. Through flashbacks, we also come to learn about these characters’ painful past and what exactly led to their incarceration. Orange Is the New Black is so full of light and life, and it’s an absolute must-see.
Enlightened is a character-driven sitcom and it provided us with the opportunity to get to know one of the most frustrating, flawed, selfish, angry, vengeful, and strangely relatable characters on TV. Laura Dern plays Amy Jellicoe, a former business executive who has a breakdown and then undergoes a sort of spiritual and philosophical enlightenment. Amy is a do gooder, yet so many of her actions are driven by impulse, her own selfishness, and a personal vendetta against the various people who have wronged her in some way. She’s socially awkward yet idealistic, self-serving yet genuinely wanting to make the world a better place. Mike White and Laura Dern created something so unique and heartwarming with Enlightened. It’s just too bad we won’t be getting a third season, because it was definitely one of the more innovative, interesting, and extremely powerful sitcoms (more of a half-hour dramedy, really) to come out in recent memory.
6. Orphan Black
Orphan Black is one of the more fascinating science fiction shows to air on television, and it also has one of the more gripping opening scenes that I’ve seen from a pilot episode. We’re introduced to a woman named Sarah Manning, who has a bit of a punk rock vibe about her. As soon as she gets off the train, she sees a woman that looks exactly like her commit suicide. That moment, and how Sarah reacts, kicks off the main action of the series. By the end of the first episode, Sarah learns that there are multiple clones of herself, and that she herself is a clone. These women eventually have to band together because of outside forces that want to hurt or exploit them in some way. The sci-fi elements in this show are amazing, but what really holds it all together is the performance by Tatiana Maslany. She has to play several characters, and they’re all so different (personality, mannerisms, accents, intonation, etc.) and they comes from unique backgrounds. There are scenes where Maslany is only acting with herself, and when you see it play out on-screen, you forget that it’s the same actress.
Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal is a visual masterpiece, and it’s a damn shame that not enough people are watching it. It doesn’t help that NBC has decided to air it on Friday nights, which is the least watched time-slot ever. The series follows Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a character from Red Dragon,the first book in the Hannibal trilogy by author Thomas Harris, and his dealings with Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Will is a criminal profiler working as a professor who’s re-recruited by Laurence Fishburne’s character, Jack Crawford, to help the FBI track down a serial killer and solve a variety of gruesome murders. Will is shown as a really troubled character because of his ability to empathize with murderous psychopaths. He’s able to put himself in their shoes, and Hannibal literally shows this with hallucinatory murder scenarios through some startling, weirdly beautiful, and very stylistic imagery. Hannibal, meanwhile, is introduced to the series as Will’s psychiatrist, to help him deal with his job at the FBI. There’s a bit of dramatic irony here, with the characters completely in the dark about Hannibal’s cannibalistic, serial killing tendencies. And there’s an in-joke between the writers and the audience whenever Hannibal cooks something and feeds his guests.
I started watched Elementary last year, mostly as backlash to the backlash. There was a lot of contempt from fans of BBC’s Sherlock, another modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes, who accused the U.S. of copying and bastardizing a popular British show. Some people were especially outraged over the decision to cast an Asian-American actress in the role of Watson, Sherlock’s longtime companion, a character that’s historically been portrayed by white men. Those haters missed out, unfortunately, because Elementary‘s take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters has been a breath of fresh air. In this iteration of the classic book series, Sherlock is a recovering drug addict living in New York City and consulting with the NYPD. Sherlock and Joan Watson come into each other’s lives when Joan comes to live with Sherlock as his sober companion. Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have great chemistry, and the relationship between Sherlock and Joan is emotionally captivating. Miller’s take on the character is really extraordinary, as well, and shows what a gifted actor he is.
9. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is hands-down the funniest show to come out of the 2013 fall lineup. Andy Samberg’s sometimes obnoxious brand of humor is balanced out by Andre Braugher’s deadpan, tightly-wound Captain Ray Holt, Melissa Fumero’s Type-A and competitive Amy Santiago, Jo Lo Truglio’s dopey and sort of wide-eyed Charles Boyle, and Stephanie Beatriz’s angry and somewhat enigmatic Rosa Diaz. As Sergeant Terry Jeffords and administrator Gina Linetti, Terry Crews and Chelsea Peretti play the wackiest, and often the most hilarious, characters of the bunch. The cast is just so good and I love seeing them come together, have each other’s backs, and be a workplace sitcom family.
10. Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow ended up being one of the more pleasant, unexpected surprises of the fall 2013 season. The premise is pretty silly – Ichabod Crane wakes up in the present to fight demons, witches, and tree monsters and ultimately stop the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from destroying the world. But the writers are able to execute this really well, especially by making sure to include some funny, lighthearted moments in every episode. Take Ichabod’s conversation with Yolanda, the OnStar lady, for example. Just watching Ichabod, whose still recovering from the shock of being transported through time and learn that his wife – a witch – is trapped in purgatory thanks to a demon named Moloch, learn to adapt to the modern world is really interesting. The relationship between Ichabod and Abbie grounds the show and gives it plenty of heart. From the very first episode, even with all this crazy supernatural stuff happening around them, you start to really care about and becomes invested in these characters.