Best of 2013: Television

Any real suspense over what television series would top our list, or pretty much any other, ended on September 15th—the night that Breaking Bad aired its instant classic episode “Ozymandias”. In a chilling, depressing hour, all of Walter White’s brilliant schemes come crashing to the desert floor, and his family is irrevocably shattered, like the visage of the ancient statue in Shelley’s poem.

With Rian Johnson at the helm, and every member of an extraordinary cast performing at their peak, the episode—and much of the entire final season of the series—showcased more depth of emotion than most films this year, proving once again that television is now the premier destination for writers and actors ready to make an impact.

This top ten list—pulled from lists provided by our staff, contributors, and fans—proves the remarkable variety of entertainment that TV offered in 2013, from an ever-increasing variety of sources. Whether we were watching timey-wimey sci-fi soap operas or medieval power struggles, and whether we were watching them on our flat screens, our phones, or our watches, 2013 was the year that the oft-maligned medium became the driving force of our cultural conversation.

 

THE DRUNK MONKEYS

TOP TEN TELEVISION SERIES OF 2013

10.) DOCTOR WHO

Coming off forty-nine years of insanity, Doctor Who celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a special episode called “The Day of the Doctor,” which acted as a perfect celebration of the series’ themes. Perhaps the best example of optimism done well, Doctor Who challenges the audience to be better while also giving them hope that the world is not simply a horrible place filled with cynical people.Doctor Who does the impossible by appealing to a family audience wherein the children and adults are seemingly just as engaged and inspired. There has been no other television show like Doctor Who and it is doubtful there ever will be again so here’s hoping it lasts for another fifty years.

Donald McCarthy, staff writer

9.) THE DAILY SHOW

Yes, again, the show provided wondrous social and political satire, but also it was fantastic to see John Oliver get a chance to shine. His best moment was when a major technical failure occurred and he pulled off the interview and closing with expert finesse and humor. Another shining moment in the show this year was the cast of Anchorman 2 looting the show’s green room and wrestling with Jon Stewart. You never know what surprises and laughs the show will serve up.

Noel Schornhorst, artist

8.) ORPHAN BLACK

As important as a series lead always is for a show’s long-term success, it’s rare to find one person—especially an unknown—who so completely defines their show that to remove them would take away everything that makes that series special. Breaking Bad without Bryan Cranston is still a good series. Orphan Black without Tatiana Maslany is nothing.

Her performance—performances—as an ever-expanding number of clones is easily the most astonishing bit of high-wire acting this year. Each clone is a stock character, from street punk Sarah to high-strung soccer mom Alison to damaged psychopath Helena, but Maslany invests them with a life all their own—even when she’s playing one close posing as another. If Maslany faltered for a moment you’d second guess the plot, but because she’s so confident in her portrayal it’s easy (and fun) to go along with the sci-fi wackiness.

Orphan Black was the most entertaining series of the year, and Maslany the greatest television discovery since James Gandolfini.

Matthew Guerruckey, Editor-in-Chief

7. BOB’S BURGERS

Bob’s Burgers might be the best animated show to ever air on network television.  Now in its third season, it is proving time-and-time again that The Simpsons did not use up every idea in the cartoon world.  Starring H. John Benjamin as Bob, each episode explores the strange, silly world that he shares with his wife, three children and a large cast of quirky townsfolk.  What makes this show stand out is its excellent riffing, as each character plays perfectly off the others.  If you don’t laugh at this show, there’s no hope for you.

Taras D.,  staff writer

6.) BOARDWALK EMPIRE

Boardwalk Empire has remained mostly under the radar since its first season aired back in 2010 and the show revealed itself to be different from the mob bloodbath folks were expecting. Often slowly paced and never afraid to linger on aesthetics, Boardwalk Empire was hard to pin down. Over the course of its last three seasons the HBO drama has shown itself to be a unique program, more interested in power, connections, and family than in nonstop action. Its fourth season aired this year and was structured in a decidedly different manner from previous years, one that seemed similar toMad Men in its ability to hop from one narrative to another and its refusal to show you what the season’s conflict was really about until the very end. This change in structure gave Boardwalk Empirewhat is likely its best season so far and reminded those who were watching just how sly, moving, and surprising the show can be.

Donald McCarthy, staff writer

5.) ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

 They returned. It was a little weird, like seeing friends you haven’t talked to in years, and they’ve changed so much you don’t know how to relate to them anymore. But then it all comes back to you and it is good again, even if it’s not quite the same.

Ryan Roach, staff writer

4.) GAME OF THRONES

The adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series came out strong in 2011 and has only gotten better each year. In its third season, Game of Thrones found better ways to link its multiple narratives together, a seemingly impossible task considering how spread out its characters are geographically. The year also brought Game of Thrones its highest ratings and most notoriety thanks to its bloodbath of a ninth episode, “The Rains of Castamere.” But even without its shocking moments, Game of Thrones gives us some marvelous direction and thought-provoking monologues about power and corruption that are as relevant today as they are to the medieval society we see on our screens ten Sundays a year.

Donald McCarthy, staff writer

3.) MAD MEN

Mad Men remains one of the most artful and socio-politically significant shows on TV. It resonates and interrogates on myriad levels: Nostalgia, emotional and sexual transgressions, feminism (yes, feminism), iconography, pop culture and semiotics, referential music as evocation, consumerism, politics and individualism. Wiener dishes it all up to us; juxtaposing the cartoonishly idyllic snapshots we’ve been fed with the undertow of the actual radical movements that fueled the decade of the 60s. Don Draper returns, without glamour, to his predisposition to cheating—it was almost a relief to see him back in bed with someone other than his wife, it was bound to happen. Still, in this season he had his deepest existential progression yet, back to the further insights into Dick Whitman, and the liberating effects of dismantling the Don Draper persona publically.

This season felt the most extreme for many characters, the gentile gilt of Camelot so prevalent in season 1 fading as fast as Ted’s promises to Peggy (who has morphed from dowdy secretary to a pantsuit-wearing tour de force, all while finding herself yet again the other woman). Shady characters like Bob Benson shine and dissipate like meteorites, Sally gets shuttled off to boarding school, Cosgrove gets shot by clients, Pete’s mom goes overboard and he decides she’d rather be “at sea” than pay to find her, and Joan checkmates Pete (and Ted) who is assigned to grab her potential client.

Knowing this is the penultimate season, many of the episodes felt preparatory—setting us up for that grand graphic opening fall we’ve all been holding our breath for.

Pamela Langley, Fiction Editor

2.) ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

Netflix upped its game in 2013 by releasing arguably one of its best original series., Orange is the New Black. A new series released as an entire season to binge watch all at my leisure? Yes please. Weed’screator Jenji Kohan has outdone herself with Orange, and we couldn’t be happier. Jason Biggs and real-life wife Taylor Schilling star as husband and fiancé in this shocking, amusing and down-right real show about people serving time and working in a women’s prison.

Prissy girl Piper Chapman (Schilling) is thrown into a world she nor her family never saw herself in, and she realizes that although she may seem widely different from these women, they are all, in some ways, the same. Through trying to dodge prison girlfriends, an ex-girlfriend and avoiding homicide and more, we see Piper transform from good-girl fiancé to a legitimate prison inmate. We watch the enthralling stories of her peers, and we can’t wait for season two.

Cassie Ciopryna, Assistant Editor

1.) BREAKING BAD

In Breaking Bad’s final season, Bryan Cranston, Vince Gilligan and the entire cast and crew scorched the earth, went for broke, and every other cliché you can think of to bring us the finest season of the show yet. Every scenario that you’ve waited for years to see (Hank, Marie, and Flynn finding out the truth, Jesse learning about Brock and Jane, Walt finally admitted to Skyler that he didn’t do for the family) was paid off brilliantly, aided by excellent writing and the best cast of actors since The West Wing. Even if Walter’s ultimate fate wasn’t exactly what you wanted, you can’t say it wasn’t epically entertaining.

Ryan Roach, staff writer

LISTS OF NOTE

 

RYAN ROACHstaff writer
1.) Breaking Bad
2. Orange is the New Black
3. Mad Men
4. The Middle
5. Arrested Development
6. Shameless
7. Masters of Sex
8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
9. The Americans
10. Archer

DONALD McCARTHYstaff writer
1.)  Game of Thrones
2. Breaking Bad
3. Boardwalk Empire
4. Justified
5. Arrested Development
6. Mad Men
7. Enlightened
8. Doctor Who
9. Veep
10. Bates Motel

MATTHEW GUERRUCKEYEditor-in-Chief
1.) Orphan Black
2. Breaking Bad
3. The Daily Show (with John Oliver)
4. Orange is the New Black
5. Key & Peele
6. Bob’s Burgers
7. Comedy Bang Bang
8. Mad Men
9. Girl Code
10. Community