December 30th, 2013 Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Enlightened, Game of Thrones, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mad Men, Masters of Sex, Orange is the New Black, Rectify, The Good Wife 7
2013 really has been an absolutely incredible year of television. To honour these fantastic shows, I’ve decided to compile a list of my 10 favourite shows of the past year. Some shows have just begun, some have just ended, but all are worthy of recognition. My list is not numbered, and is posted in alphabetical order, because it’s impossible to choose one over another. There were certain shows I had to omit to keep the list down to ten — otherwise this post may have gone on forever — and so many more shows that I haven’t had a chance to experience yet. I look forward to 2014, where I will hopefully have to make an even harder decision than I did this year.
Arrested Development — Season 4
Putting the most recent season of Arrested Development on this list may be my most controversial choice. While it’s basically been universally accepted that the original 3 seasons of AD are some of the best things on television ever, the fourth season hasn’t gotten nearly as much love. While I agree that the Netflix season doesn’t come close to the perfection of the original (few things do), I do think that many people overlooked how innovative and original the season is. I’ll admit that I was ready to accept the season no matter how bad it would be (7 years of waiting for something will do that to you), but I still had my fears about it. I was worried that because of how vocal the AD fanbase is, the entire season would be filled with fan-service pandering, where the recurring jokes from the previous seasons would simply be repeated endlessly without anything interesting added to them (Example: Community Season 4). Instead of attempting to recreate the magic of the original 3 seasons by making season 4 a reference machine, Mitch Hurwitz & Co decided to make the show in a completely new format, which was an incredibly bold decision. While it didn’t always work, especially the George Sr. episodes, the newest season had tons of great moments. The ambiguous ending also means that there’s more Bluth hijinks to come, which could never be considered a” huge mistake”.
Breaking Bad — Season 5.2
Breaking Bad has pretty much been deemed the all-around winner of 2013 television by the public, so it should be no surprise that I have it on here too. The final season of BB was pretty much incredible, and probably would have been on my list just based on the fantastic episode “Ozymandias”, but the rest of the season was nearly flawless and is definitely a top contender for best final season of a TV series of all time. Parts of the finale may have been both predictable and implausible, but that can’t take away from the fact that Vince Gilligan and the writers were able to pull off the immensely hard task of finishing a top show with the closure it deserves and the satisfaction its fans deserve. Though I do think some people may give the show a bit too much credit, as the show made mistakes like any other, it’s hard to dispute that it really was great (though if this list was ranked, I don’t think it would’ve gotten the top spot). Breaking Bad went out on the highest of notes, while even managing to give Jesse a sliver of happiness, and for that it gets a spot on my list.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine — Season 1
I’m usually very skeptical of network television. Though there are many network sitcoms that I enjoy watching, there are so many more that I can’t stand. I was pleased to find that for a freshman comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was one of the most consistently enjoyable things on television this year, despite being a new network show. I was taken aback by how quickly the show found its footing and realized quickly that focusing on its ensemble was a better choice than focusing on Andy Samberg’s lead character. Samberg may be the face of the show, but the rest of the cast is full of so many treasures, most notably Andre Braugher as Captain Ray Hoult and Terry Crews as Sergeant Terry Jeffords. There have been a million and one dramatic cops shows on TV, but the cop comedy show is much more rare, which makes the show feel fresh. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is essentially a workplace sitcom, focusing on the relationships of the characters more than the crimes themselves. The show is incredibly self-assured for such a new show, mixing things up in ways that would usually be found in later seasons, and I look forward to continue watching it grow and build upon itself as it has been this past year.
Enlightened — Season 2
I don’t think I’ve ever felt as strongly about a show in such a short amount of time as I did with Enlightened. I was pretty much hooked by the second episode, which made it difficult for me to understand how the show had such a hard time finding viewers. The the writing, directing, and acting are all incredible, and really make the California depicted in the show sometimes seem otherworldly. Though all the acting is great, the performance that stands out most for me is Luke Wilson as Levi, Amy Jellicoe’s drug addict ex-husband, especially in season 2. Laura Dern gets a lot of praise for her performance as Amy, which I completely agree with (it’s rare that a performance can make a character seem so deluded while also hinting that she may have a point), but I don’t think I’ve ever read much praise for the former. I’ve always said that Luke Wilson is a fantastic actor when given the right material — his heartbreaking turn as Richie Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums shows that his lack of critical praise throughout his career is largely due to many poor role choices made in between that film and this show — and this season of Enlightened really gave him the opportunity to shine. In the Levi-centric episode”Higher Power”, we see the journey of a broken man as he realizes that he can still save his own life. The show was never about Levi, but it was so well-crafted that we could follow this supporting character for an entire episode and it can make perfect sense. I really think that the magic of the show comes from the fact that Mike White wrote every episode by himself. The show never lost focus, and never lost the mixture of comedy and melancholia that endeared viewers to it but also made the show so divisive. For some reason, this show is not for everyone, or at least that’s what the ratings would have you believe. I understand that Amy Jellicoe sometimes comes off as annoying and unintelligent (though I was never really annoyed with her), but there are so many other elements to the show that makes it worthwhile. The show has been cancelled by HBO due to the small amount of viewers, but if there is one show I would recommend to someone who enjoys good characterization while watching people try to fight the system, it’s Enlightened.
Game of Thrones — Season 3
The Red Wedding. Three words that have almost certainly been present in every year-end review of the past season of Game of Thrones, to the point where an entire season has been reduced to a single scene of one episode. As much as I thought that scene was important to the show, I thought there were so many other moments that were just as worthy of discussion. Truthfully, I feel like it’s hard to not find a season of GoT incredible just based on the scope of it, but there was still more to this season than the death of 2 major characters, and one slightly less important character. I understand the implications of the “bloodbath” that occurred in that episode for the Stark family’s future, but the deaths weren’t completely unreasonable in my opinion. There were a few things in season 3 that were just as interesting to me as the Red Wedding. The best parts of season 3 were the moments when characters that we’ve watched for two seasons grow in ways we didn’t think (or at least I didn’t think) they could. Jaime Lannister was the most drastically changed character, as we watched him form a relationship with Brienne of Tarth, as well as lose his hand. He became of person with humility, and it was a fantastic transition to watch. We also were able to watch Daenerys Targaryen truly become worthy of the Iron Throne this season, something I was always reluctant to accept until now. She really proved herself as a competent and fiercely strong ruler, and has matured exponentially from when the show began. The Red Wedding may have made Season 3 of Game of Thrones a must-watch season, but it was far from the only reason this season was one of the best of the year.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — Season 9
It’s no secret that I seriously enjoyed season 9 of IASIP. I sung the show’s praises this year both here and here , so it obviously was going to make my list. Sunny’s season was not only incredible for such a late season, it was an incredible season of television in general. Though not every episode was perfect, some of the episodes could be ranked among the best the show has ever done, making season 9 a fantastic season of television. Other than the fantastic 100th episode, the brightest spot of the season was “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award”, the 3rd episode of the season. It has always been something of a mystery how It’s Always Sunny can be such a great show, yet never gets any recognition in all of its 9 years. The episode address all these feelings in the typical way Sunny addresses issues, and the result was a hilarious 20 minutes full of meta commentary. My only major complaint about the season is that they dangled the information that each member of the Gang gets a full day for themselves, but only showed us Mac’s day (though the episode was great, his day is by far the easiest to predict, and I would’ve liked to see Charlie or Frank Day). Overall, Sunny remains incredible in its later years, a streak I hope they can keep up for many years to come.
Mad Men — Season 6
When I think of this season of Mad Men, the first thing that comes to mind is Don showing his kids the brothel he grew up in. Though this year was far from the show’s strongest season, it was the season where Don got some real consequences for his actions in the form of Sally Draper’s glare of ultimate betrayal. This season was a slight step down from the incomparable fifth season, but it definitely had a lot going for it, making it one of my favourite seasons of the year. Its best moments include the aforementioned brothel visit, and by extension Don finally addressing his past in the meeting with Hershey’s, as well as the shot of Peggy sitting at Don’s desk that closed the season. All of these moments tie into themes that have existed for the entirety of Mad Men‘s run, making them some of the most poignant moments of the show. Don and Peggy have always been the leads of the show, and this season has really addressed Peggy’s evolution and Don’s devolution in a way that brings the entire series together in time for the two-part final season. Though the season was messy at times, that messiness made sense with the show’s imperfect characters, and that’s all I ask of this primarily character-driven show.
Orange is the New Black — Season 1
Netflix really had a great year. I’ve already spoken about the season of Arrested Development that Netflix produced, but their best work this year is definitely Orange is the New Black. The show has proven that Netflix’s programming can rival anything found on television, and almost guarantees that the streaming service will continue on its path to create original programming. What was so great about OITNB? The supporting characters. The show may technically be about Piper Chapman learning how to survive in prison, but really it’s about the diverse, interesting supporting characters that occupy the same space as her. Piper is the least compelling character of the series, and had the show focuses solely on her, it would not have been as successful. Instead, each episode is unofficially dedicated to fleshing out one of the “minor” characters, so that they show has become more about the prison community than Piper herself. The first season was a beautifully constructed character-study, humanizing every possible stereotype by giving everyone depth. Even “Crazy Eyes”, the show’s broadest and most comic relief-y character, was given emotionally resonant moments. This may not be a sustainable format for the show to be in (we’ll have to wait and see what happens with season 2), but season 1 will survive on its own merits by being a fascinating 13 episodes of television, or whatever the Netflix equivalent is.
Rectify — Season 1
I recently watched Rectify‘s six episodes on Netflix, and I had a feeling it would make its way on to my year-end list not long after I started. The show, which follows a newly exonerated convict, Daniel Holden, after being released from death row, is beautifully done, in all senses of the word. The direction brings out the beauty in nature, the story focuses on the beauty of the little things in life (which we often take for granted), and the acting focuses on the beauty of subtle and affecting performances. My favourite thing about the show is that so far they’ve managed to keep Daniel’s innocence ambiguous. At this point, he could be either innocent or guilty and it would make perfect sense, largely due to Aden Young’s performance. It’s hard to tell how this show will fare down the line, as six episodes isn’t much to go by, but if I’m basing my decisions on just what has appeared in 2013, then Rectify definitely deserves to be here.
The Good Wife — Season 5
I don’t even know where to begin with this season of The Good Wife. The show has completely made me question my automatic disdain for anything considered a “network procedural”, though this show is definitely not a typical procedural. We still have half the season to watch, and already it’s my favourite season this show has produced. Television tends to have rules of what can and cannot do, and messing with the status-quo tends to be in the category of what can’t be done. Nobody seemed to tell TGW that, since the show completely blew up any stability the show had when Alicia and Cary decided to leave Lockhart & Gardner and start their own firm. On the surface, the plot is similar to what Mad Men did when the main characters left Sterling Cooper to create Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but the two were approached in completely different ways. Mad Men kept its stability by bringing the majority of the cast to create the new agency, while The Good Wife used the separation to start a war between the main cast. The rift that now exists between the Alicia/Cary and Will/Diane pairings may eventually be resolved, but it also might not, and either direction the show decides to take will be exciting. What separates this rift from what would occur on other shows is that it is nearly impossible to take sides. All the characters are loved by the audience, and all have right and wrong in the decisions they make. It’s painful to watch characters you care about fighting like this, but it was a necessary shake-up to make TGW one of the most interesting shows of the year, and I can’t wait to see what happens with it in 2014.
Special Mention: Masters of Sex — Season 1
Though the earlier 10 shows had my favourite seasons of the year, I did want to quickly mention the promise that Masters of Sex has shown this year. It got off to a slow start, but Masters quickly discovered its strengths, and laid the necessary groundwork for it to continue growing into a great show. It felt a bit like Mad Men rehash in the beginning, but found its own voice and perspective, and is definitely one of the best new shows on television.