Culture

Year’s Over: The best TV shows of 2013

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2013 is almost through, so it’s about time for Year’s Over, HEAVEmedia’s look back at all things pop culture in the past year. Check out all our music and TV coverage to the right of this page if you haven’t already, and check back throughout the week for our film lists and more.

If it’s true what’s been said, that 2013 is the year TV grew up, or that it became the third major pop cultural force, or whatever else, one thing’s for sure: it was really, really great this year. Here’s what our staff thought was the best of the best in 2013.

(Editor’s note: We’re aware that titles are supposed to be italicized. But due to our formatting system, unless you want to look at a lot of washed-out, grey letters, we’re going to omit it here. Please refrain from yelling at us anonymously.)

Jonathan Mondragon

1) Breaking Bad

The final half-season (though you could argue every season) was a whirlwind of game-changing consequences, plot twists, the destruction of a hilarious amount of objects and lives, and life scenarios you’ve just witnessed that you, hopefully, never would in real life. The downfall of Walter White and company has been described as a train wreck in slow motion, but I’d like to think of it as a play about the before, during, after, how, and why behind the train wreck, explicit details on how the train wreck could have been avoided, how in the end it happened, and how things go on. I’ll probably still be recovering months from now, honestly.

2) Game of Thrones
3) House of Cards

My favorite new series of 2013 could barely be considered a “TV” series in the traditional sense. If all Netflix series were as good as House of Cards, we would have no need for TV. All episodes available at once? A protagonist (Kevin Spacey at his most unhinged) so simultaneously evil and understandable? An immense political saga unfolding over 13 episodes? Check, check, and check. In terms of anti-hero-driven stories, House of Cards belongs at the top. February can’t come soon enough!

4) The League

The League returned in 2013 with a season full of an impressive and successful list of guest spots from Lizzy Caplan to Adam Brody to Jeff Goldblum to Aziz Ansari. We got more insane Taco exploits (including a fantastic episode where Taco foregoes smoking weed), an entire (and incredible) chaos storm of an episode devoted to Raffi and Dirty Randy (Seth Rogen), and the ever-present Andre heckling. The writing (or lack of it, as far as the improv goes) is stronger than ever, and The League made containing your laughter harder than ever in 2013. Give it a watch, frittatas.

5) Fringe
6) Mad Men
7) Doctor Who
8 ) Parks and Recreation
9) The Office
10) Arrested Development

Ryan Peters

1) Breaking Bad

Devoted and discerning fans will always probably remember “Ozymandias” as the show’s true finale: a crashing, sorrowful denouement to the dozens of interwoven storylines hanging in the air. And while the actual finale (“Felina”) didn’t scale the heights of Breaking Bad‘s best moments, the season as a whole did. Has there ever been a show that so convincingly argued the bankruptcy of the American dream? Has there ever been a show that thrilled to this degree even as it echoed the recessional angst of the last six years? To my mind, the best moment of the season was the subdued, agonizing conversation between Walter and Walt Jr. beside a hotel pool. It was a perfect encapsulation of what the show so often articulated: that emotional truth, the things we really feel and desire, are right beneath the surface of every lie we tell.

2) Top of the Lake

Almost no one watched this wonderful miniseries, but it had a quiet kind of power that snuck up on you. Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss was stellar.

3) Game of Thrones
4) Archer
5) Parks and Recreation
6) American Dad

Tired of how boring and/or misogynistic Family Guy has become? Don’t write off American Dad just because it’s another Seth McFarlane show. It’s grown from its shaky first two seasons into a show that is genuinely funny and absurdly bizarre. For example: My favorite scene of the season, where Stan and his daughter Hayley sing an a capella version of “Nothing Compares 2U” to son/brother Steve, in an effort to get him to cry. Why? Because the first member of the Smith family to break their Lenten vows owes one of their fingers to Stan’s CIA boss. That’s not even close to the strangest thing that happened on the show this year. Check it out.

7) The Americans
8 ) House of Cards
9) The Daily Show
10) Orange is the New Black

Marissa Morales

1) Breaking Bad
2) Broadchurch

Hands down one of the best things I watched all year. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and waiting for each episode was excruciating. Fun fact: no one, not even the actor, knew who the murderer was until it was revealed in that episode. It’s really interesting to go back and watch knowing this, and a really creative way to do the show.

3) Luther
4) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Even with Jon Stewart’s brief break to film a movie, and John Oliver taking over for the summer, the show stayed on point and continues to be one of the best sources for news in this country.

5) Orphan Black
6) Bob’s Burgers

Don’t trust people who don’t like Bob’s Burgers. They’re bad, bad people. This is what happens when you use female characters as actual characters, and it’s animation!

7) Bad Education
8 ) The Mindy Project
9) New Girl
10) Orange is the New Black

Honorable Mention: Parade’s End. I don’t know if this is considered a mini-series or a television show, but it was a great adaptation of an excellent novel with some of the best acting I’ve seen all year.

Chris Osterndorf

1) Breaking Bad

I don’t know if Breaking Bad really is the best show of all time, as many have suggested. Its finale was almost universally loved, with only only a few lone critics dissenting. Perhaps these sparse voices wanted a greater sense of ambiguity from the last episode, or to be left with something more to wrestle with instead of the show’s neatly packaged, bow-on-top conclusion. Personally though, I not only found Breaking Bad’s final season immensely satisfying, but flawlessly executed. This is TV at its most spectacular level: meticulous, exciting, and cathartic. Is Breaking Bad the greatest show of all time? Maybe it’s too early to tell, but what did become evident in the last eight episodes it aired this year and in the 52 before that, is that Breaking Bad is less highfalutin than Mad Men, less opaque than The Sopranos, and less overstuffed than The Wire. And best of all, it had a higher ratio of great to less than great episodes than any of those shows. So while I’m not going to say definitively that Breaking Bad is the best show of all time, I will say that if you think it’s not, you better have a pretty damn good argument why.

2) Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is getting so good it’s absurd. Never has there been a show in the history of the medium that has connected genre fans, critics, and every other kind of TV obsessive alike the way Game of Thrones has. I’ve already talked ad nauseum about how much I love the way Game of Thrones brought some humanity back to the world of fantasy. But what’s just as impressive is how they’ve bestowed that humanity on all their lead characters without leaving anyone behind. In an ensemble as massive as this, it seems impossible for certain people not to get lost in the shuffle, but amazingly, no one does. The show rivals The Wire for its ability to throw more and more characters at us, without ever losing it’s compassion for those characters. No individual is less realized, or depicted with less genuine feeling than any of the others (except Joffrey, of course, for he really is a bastard through and through). And that’s what makes all the deaths on Game of Thrones so significant. They might have a giant body count to match their ever-expanding roster, but when all the characters are created and portrayed with such passion, it’s only logical that people are shocked when they have to say goodbye.

3) Mad Men

For the first time ever, I didn’t think the latest season of Mad Men exceeded the previous one. But when you plateau at such a high level, that means you’re still better than almost anything else out there. While I didn’t agree with those who went as far as saying Mad Men had jumped the shark entirely, I understood people’s frustration. Much of the season felt meandering, confusing even, and not in Mad Men’s traditional literary fashion. But in retrospect, that confusion was probably essential, considering where the show ended up. With a stellar run of concluding episodes, Mad Men finished up the season by doing the unthinkable: killing Don Draper. There was an excessive amount of death on television this year, but no character’s demise was as unique as that of Mad Men’s foremost antihero.

In case anybody is reading this and chastising me for spoilers, calm down, because Don Draper didn’t die in the traditional sense. Rather it was the lie of Don Draper, the persona created by Dick Whitman to hide behind that perished. Think about that scene where he’s pitching to Hershey’s. Think about how it plays in contrast to the carousel scene in season one. After six years of preying on people’s emotions, he simply can’t do it anymore. The fabricated reality that he lives in comes tumbling down around him, to the point where he’s no longer able to believe his own bullshit.

The 1960s may be the single most significant decade of the last century. But not necessarily because of all the progress that occurred. The ‘60s saw the death of the traditional idea of the American dream. Turns out the system was rigged, and by the ‘70s, people were starting to discover that sometimes even if you did work hard, follow the rules, and want something with your whole heart, you still might not get what you want. This is the essence of Don Draper. He is this idea personified, a fallacy of success and happiness, disguising a contradictory reality of tragedy and conflict. And when Don Draper finally died, it felt like he took the American dream with him.

4) New Girl
5) House of Cards
6) Hannibal
7) Orange is the New Black
8 ) Girls
9) Hello Ladies
10) Orphan Black
11) Parks and Recreation
12) Homeland
13) Luther
14) Arrested Development
15) Behind the Candelabra (movie)
16) Sons of Anarchy
17) Top of the Lake (miniseries)
18 ) Eastbound and Down
19) Community
20) The Walking Dead