What is the best show of 2013? We’ve touched on a variety of other categories so far in our CarterMatt “Best Of 2013” series, but there’s no doubting that this is the granddaddy of them all. “Community” was the winner of our 2011 Show of the Year title, and in 2012 the honor went to “Game of Thrones.” We’ll be revealing our own personal pick come December 27, but for now we’re presenting both our personal top ten (unranked) and also an opportunity for you to vote for your favorite.
The ten shows below were not only excellent, but also serve as a microcosm of sorts for what was happening in television as a whole this year. 2013 brought great dramas, violent programming, a rise in historical epics, and also proof that just because you fight crime does not mean that your show has to be cheesy.
Arrow (The CW) – Hold off on your CW snobbery outrage for a minute, and don’t knock the show until you’ve seen it. This is arguably at this point the best superhero show ever made, and we’ve already argued that it is the best show in The CW’s history as a network. There’s fast-paced action, drama, character development, romances, and a feeling that every episode matters. When you are able to do that and produce more than 20 episodes a year, you deserve some sort of special medal of achievement.
Bates Motel (A&E) – Sometimes, shows actually can meet expectations. Going into it, we knew that there was a reason to be excited here. You had the Norman Bates origin story coming from “Lost” co-showrunner Carlton Cuse, and you had an actor in Freddie Highmore who has been giving great performances since “Finding Neverland.” The show rose to the occasion here, and really demonstrated how to properly tell an American horror story: You give it time to marinate, and make us care about characters.
Breaking Bad (AMC) – There is probably no other show that will be on as many Top Ten Lists as this one. “Breaking Bad” is an incredible achievement, and one of the most original, enthralling dramas in television history. Walter White is a great sort of tragic hero, and Vince Gilligan and the writers this year found a way to do almost the unthinkable: Tell an ending to a cable drama that pleased almost everyone.
The Bridge (FX) – One of the biggest trends of 2013 was the whole “serial killer investigation” stories … basically television’s attempt to make a David Fincher movie in TV form. You had “The Following” on Fox and “The Killing” on AMC try to go about telling these sort of stories, but “The Bridge” did it the best. Away from the great performances, you had an interesting take here on international law, and the heartbreak that can come from the complicated politics at the U.S. – Mexico border.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) – 2013 will not be remembered for its comedy, so it is nice to see that at least one show managed to be consistently funny throughout its first batch of new episodes. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has already shown to be very much as funny as its predecessor “Parks and Recreation,” from the array of characters to the writing. It’s also somewhat old-school in that you really don’t care much if there is a long-term story right now.
Game of Thrones (HBO) – It’s funny that season 3 was the best for the fantasy epic, yet it is getting the least amount of attention overall. Are people still really this hurt over the Red Wedding? In addition to giving us television’s most horrifying moment perhaps of the entire year, “Game of Thrones” delivered with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie giving top-notch performances, and having some of the best crew on television in actually bringing this messy world of Westeros to life.
Girls (HBO) – What made “Girls” a marvel of sorts is that Lena Dunham didn’t really put pressure on herself to make every episode of season 2 funny, or make every one actually feature all the girls in her cast. She just told the story that she wanted to tell, and they were often fantastic little character stories about growing up, realizing who your friends are, and learning what sort of person you want to be. A good three of these episodes were among our favorite episodes of any show this year.
Masters of Sex (Showtime) – In just one season, “Masters of Sex” supplanted “Mad Men” as the best period drama on TV, and also one of the bravest. This is a show that is taking on a subject that some people still shy away, and delivering something that feels appropriate to the time and the characters. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan should also be favorites for many awards seasons to come.
Orphan Black (BBC America) – Call this the winner of the “where did you come from?” award. Prior to it premiering, “Orphan Black” was not a show on many other critics’ radar. It starred a woman in Tatiana Maslany who very few people had ever heard of, and it was on a network known mostly just for nostalgic British shows and airing “Doctor Who.” But what we got here was one of the year’s most imaginative, surprising, and thought-provoking stories with Maslany giving the best performance (or performances?) of any actor this year.
Sons of Anarchy (FX) – Another violent year in the books for Kurt Sutter and his motorcycles, but the violence wasn’t the most surprising thing about the season so much as what it represented. Tara being stabbed by Gemma was the culmination of a weeks-long “war of the mothers,” and seeing Clay go out as a fall guy, the last thing that he ever expected to be, was particularly heart-wrenching. Most of these people are of the kind that we’d never want to meet in real life, and yet we’re entirely invested now in what happens to them.
To vote for your pick, just take a look at our poll below! You can view the rest of our Best of 2013 categories here, and the full results will be revealed come Friday, December 20.