Top 50 TV Shows of 2013
Jan 16, 2014
The modern golden age of television's luster certainly continued into 2013 with current classic shows ending celebrated runs being replaced by new classics. Not all of the writers of our humble music magazine are avid TV watchers, but eight of our staff (including our two publishers) submitted their Top 20 favorite TV shows of 2013 lists, from which the master list below was derived. Any show that aired new episodes in America in 2013 was eligible. Of course, the definition of "aired" has changed slightly in recent years, with several of this year's best shows streaming exclusively on Netflix and many watching shows after they've first aired via DVR, DVD, or streaming services.
It was a photo finish for our #1 show of 2013. The Walking Dead took our top spot in 2012, but couldn't fend off an attack from Walter White. Breaking Bad's final episodes constituted one of the most acclaimed seasons ever of one of the most lauded shows ever. Diehard Doctor Who fans will likely forever debate whether or not the show is headed in the right direction, but most seemed to agree that November's much hyped 50th anniversary special lived up to expectations and that was enough to land it at #3 on our list.
This year we not only bid farewell to Breaking Bad, but the following, among others, also aired their series finales in 2013: Fringe, Eastbound and Down, 30 Rock, Burn Notice, and The Office. The baton was passed-what a year for new shows, with the following all in their freshman season in 2013: Broadchurch, Masters of Sex, Orphan Black, Hello Ladies, The Americans, The Blacklist, Orange is the New Black, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Goldbergs, Top of the Lake, The Bridge, House of Cards, Maron, The Returned, Hannibal, Rectify, Ray Donovan, and Rick and Morty.
Stay golden, TV.
Vince Gilligan’s brilliant tragedy about a high school chemistry teacher turned meth dealer concluded last September with a finale that left no loose ends or dangling questions. Since its debut, Breaking Bad has been hailed as a hallmark of a television renaissance, an example of an original, creative, and risky new direction for drama, while raising the bar of what we should expect in serial writing and television performance.
Bryan Cranston’s complex embodiment of Walter White and his now iconic alter-ego Heisenberg challenged audiences with moral dilemmas that evolved throughout the story. Nobody started off hating Walter White, but as he proved he would do anything to build his drug empire he gradually lost more supporters along the way.
The final season didn’t disappoint either. Where even the most celebrated series careen off-road towards its finale, Breaking Bad maintained a carefully paced and meticulous plot structure right up to its breathtaking final moments. Breaking Bad wasn’t just the best show of 2013, it was possibly the greatest American television show ever conceived. By Cody Ray Shafer
The Walking Dead
Do you get to come back from the things you’ve done? That’s the central premise driving season 4 of AMC ratings juggernaut The Walking Dead, and watching central protagonist Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) attempt to answer that question provided some of the most compelling storytelling of 2013. Following a season 3 that found Grimes slowly unraveling psychologically as his “Ricktatorship” forced him to face the dire implications of making life-and-death decisions for his small group of survivors, pitting him against a neighboring antagonist (David Morrisey’s note-perfect Governor) who had no such moral qualms, new showrunner Scott Gimple has proven himself up to the challenge of orchestrating a richly textured human drama where every attempt to establish some sense of normalcy only results in more heartbreak. Where season 3 lingered a bit too long in the buildup to a war between the Grimes and Governor factions that ended with little more than a draw, season 4 has ratcheted up the death and intrigue, adding an epidemic of Ebola-like disease, fence-breaching zombie hordes, and the looming return of the Governor in setting the stage for a truly stunning half-season finale. Over the show’s history, the writers have been put in the unenviable position of trying to please everyone—with the blood and gore fans wanting constant zombie-killing action and the fans of narrative-driven storytelling wanting more careful character development—but if the first half of season 4 is any indication, they have found a near-perfect balance. Now scattered to the wind, the survivors face nothing but questions. Chief among them, after so much death and despair, do you ever get to come back to who you were? The rest of season 4 should provide the answer. By Matt Fink
Doctor Who turned 50 in 2013 and the BBC pulled out most of the stops with its special 50th anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor. The feature length episode starred Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor alongside the much-heralded return of fan favorite David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. If you count the short online prequel, The Night of the Doctor, then Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor also made an appearance. John Hurt played a previously unknown regeneration of The Doctor, The War Doctor, and Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) even had a cameo.
Old school Whovians may have lamented that the other three living classic Doctors (Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy) weren’t invited to take part, even though such a feat would have required some major narrative loopholes to explain why they had aged so, but the sting was eased by Davison’s amusing spoof The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, which he wrote and directed and featured the three actors trying to get a part on the 50th special, along with a parade of other current and former Doctor Who actors, writers, and producers. The Night of the Doctor even screened in 3D in select movie theaters worldwide, beating in America the one-day per-screen average of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, then the #1 movie in the country. And the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time lovingly recreated the beginnings of Doctor Who back in 1963 and the writers, producers, directors, and actors who first brought The Doctor to the screen.
All of this is to not discount the rest of Doctor Who’s regular season, which included such high points as 1970s set haunted mansion drama Hide and the somewhat disorientating Journey to the Center of the TARDIS. Matt Smith’s departure in the Christmas special The Time of the Doctor may have felt a bit rushed when compared to David Tennant’s two-part final regular appearance in the role, but the Eleventh Doctor’s last scenes were especially heartfelt. And with Peter Capaldi taking over this year as the Twelve Doctor, it’s still an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan. By Mark Redfern
Game of Thrones
It’s a weird time we live in, when one of the most serious and heartbreaking television dramas also features dragons, witches, and a mysterious horde of walking frozen corpses. Game of Thrones didn’t let up during its third season, and HBO’s revolutionary fantasy series based on George R. R. Martin’s epic series continues to impress casual and die-hard fantasy fans alike with brutal scenes of betrayal and blood-baths. Game of Thrones’ superb cast plays characters we love to hate, and not since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings has a production so thoroughly explored all the gritty details of a fantasy epic, and none is as deserving as Westeros. By Cody Ray Shafer
In the spirit of Downton Abbey or Doctor Who, Broadchurch is the latest revelatory import from the U.K. that proves the golden age of television isn’t secluded to our side of the Atlantic. David Tennant and Olivia Coleman star in a mystery series that takes place in a secluded seaside village, working together to solve the murder of young boy. Broadchurch shows restraint and ingenuity, and the result is a haunting exploration of grief that avoids tripping over the tired clichés usually found in detective dramas. By Cody Ray Shafer
Masters of Sex
Parks and Recreation
The Good Wife
The Big Bang Theory
American Horror Story: Coven
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Eastbound and Down
Orange is the New Black
The Colbert Report
How I Met Your Mother
Top of the Lake
House of Cards
Rick and Morty
Adult Swim/Cartoon Network
An Adventure in Space and Time (BBC America) Bates Motel (A&E), Behind the Candelabra (HBO), Bob’s Burgers (FOX), Comic Book Men (AMC), Conan (TBS), Falling Skies (TNT), Family Tree (HBO), The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot (BBC America), Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), Hell On Wheels (AMC), Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC), Luther (BBC America), The Mindy Project (FOX), The Office (NBC), Person of Interest (CBS), Psych (USA), Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO), Sleepy Hollow (FOX), South Park (Comedy Central), Suburgatory (ABC), Treme (HBO), Veep (HBO), and White Collar (USA).