All of the shows that appear on this list have been shortchanged. The 10 shows listed below would make a perfectly fine top ten list for 2013 (except for the inclusion of Arrested Development). As I explained in my Top 10 Television Shows of 2013 post, the time for television is certainly great, and is only getting greater. Two separate lists need to be written in order to express how great a year of television it has been. The argument could even be made for a Next Next 10 list. That is how great television has been in 2013.
11. The Good Wife
Rarely does a show, a broadcast drama at that, ever find itself at its peak in its 5th season. The Office had a spirited 5th year, and last year Mad Men had one of the best seasons of television ever, but a great 5th season is still a rarity. Yet The Good Wife somehow managed to be as good as it has ever been in the back half of 2013. Coming off an unusual (to say the least) 4th season, The Good Wife kicked into high gear in its fifth season and somehow became the best show on television. Gone were the days of repetitive cases of the week or unnecessary romantic plots as The Good Wife turned into thrilling television. The Good Wife delivered the surprises dozens, the performances became as superb as ever, and there were even no “good” or “bad” stock type characters! The Good Wife experienced something regenerative in 2013, and what resulted was some phenomenally great television.
12. New Girl
New Girl never seemed like the show that I would like. Zooey Deschenel didn’t seem like a great lead for a sitcom, and the dynamics between characters were never really fully realized. But in 2013 the show came into its own. Instead of telling stories outside of the loft where all the characters live, each character gravitated towards each other, and the show became much more personal and compact. What resulted was the best comedy on television. The characters were authentic (even if the writers had no idea what to do with them), the rapid fire succession of jokes was remarkable, and New Girl really showed what it was capable of, even if it has taken a tumble in its third season.
As I made clear in a post titled “Hannibal is the Most Important Show on TV,” I was extremely surprised by the show in 2013. Hannibal revealed that it wasn’t just another serial killer show, but instead had a more thoughtful and empathetic take on the subject matter. In Hannibal the acting was fantastic, writing intelligent, and perhaps most striking was the show’s visual sense. The show managed to make the titular character’s meals look exceptionally appetizing, and his killings all the more mesmerizing. With tactile grace and keen beauty, Hannibal was one of the best shows of 2013, and had the most fascinating examination of the human mind.
14. Bob’s Burgers
It might seem odd, but most often, Bob’s Burgers is the most emotionally affecting show on television. The stories told through the 5 person nuclear family who runs a burger restaurant resonate deeply with themes of family, affection, and childhood. It also helps that Bob’s Burgers is tremendously funny, while still being as emotionally expressive. Take the episode pictured above, “O.T.: The Outside Toilet.” In the episode, a young boy forms a bond with a talking toilet voiced by Jon Hamm. The episode can be taken at face value as an absurd E.T. parody, but at its core, “O.T.” brings to light the immense power that’s found within a simple friendship. In 2013, Bob’s Burgers proved even more that you can count on it for very funny stories that might even make you feel something.
In 2013, Girls showed off its enormous heights and disheartening lows. The second season of this unique HBO dramedy excelled in short stories found in self-contained episodes, but when it came to larger season long arcs, the storytelling fell flat. A lot of the best half hour episodes of 2013 were episodes of Girls. Season 2 had the weird and universe expanding “Boys,” the across the board fantastic “It’s A Shame About Ray,” the simple and genius “One Man’s Trash,” and the dark and unflinching “On All Fours.” Yet season 2 was also the season that became interjected by a storyline about OCD (???) and finished in a grandiose fairy tale love story ending. I’m aware of the school of thought that thinks the season’s ending was some sort of perverse commentary about the mental state of the characters, but I just don’t think that season 2 of Girls was fully interested in that specific subject. But when you look at the episodes that Girls brought us in 2013, the ridiculousness of the season’s end should become irrelevant, because those episodes were small-scale storytelling at its finest.
16. The Americans
Some might credit The Americans for being the best spy show on television, or a great 80’s period piece. I, however, would say that The Americans is the best show about relationships on television. Everything in this new FX drama was telling. The Americans managed to delve deep into how we ally ourselves with our country, what kind of people we trust, and even how we treat our neighbors! But the most important relationship portrayed in The Americans is between the two main characters. They’re Russian undercover spies, yet the most important thing about them is their marriage. The Americans managed to examine this relationship and many others like it thoroughly and beautifully, and a show about spies in the 80’s became the best show about marriage on television.
17. Parks and Recreation
Even if by season 5, Parks and Recreation became a show about nothing (not the good kind), the NBC sitcom still put out some very charming, sweet, and uplifting stories in 2013. Pawnee has always been home to a cast of eclectic characters, and you can always count on Parks and Recreation to have great stories accompanying each one. Like, Girls, the best Parks and Recreation stories were the ones of the smallest scale, like a hilarious telling of “Two Parties,” or a rushed yet beautiful wedding in “Leslie and Ben.” As Parks and Recreation gets older, the season long or multi-episode arcs might not be as good as they were in the show’s earlier years, but Parks and Recreation still retains the ability to make me smile.
Oh Bunheads… We lost you in 2013, but you’ll always stay in our hearts. The second half of the late, great, Amy Sherman-Palladino ballet dramedy aired its last episodes ever in 2013, and even if they weren’t as great as the first half of the season (top 10 material!) it was still Bunheads. The idiosyncratic, eponymous main characters were fantastic as ever, and their dance sequences even better.
2013’s episodes started with the boisterous, explosive “It’s Oh So Quiet.”
Then there was Sasha’s expressive, emotional dance that brought her internal turmoil to life.
It would be a shame to not mention the dynamic Coal Miners’ dance…
Or the sensational season ending “Makin’ Whoopee”.
But it wasn’t just the dancing that made Bunheads special. There were funny montages…
And lots of emotional singing.
Oh the singing!
I’m practically crying now, because Bunheads was perfect. ABC Family cancelled it, but Bunheads is still perfect. At least they got to say goodbye.
In 2013, Scandal proved that not all great television has to be measured and calculated. The back half of Scandal‘s second season was some of the craziest television I have since the dance of the dream man, and it was also crazy good. Scandal operated with no rules, regulations, or restrictions in 2013, and what resulted was some boundary pushing television. Even if there were around two ridiculous plot twists in episode, the back half of Scandal‘s second season still remained convincing and even compelling television. Yes, Scandal may have plummeted in its third season, but the insurmountable highs that the second season achieved justify Scandal‘s placement on this list.
20. Arrested Development
It’s been seven months since season 4 of Arrested Development premiered on Netflix, and I still have no idea how the hell I feel about it. After binging on all 15 episodes over two days, I was overtaken with what was what I thought some of the smartest television of 2013. This may have been because I was exuberant to have one of my favorite shows of all time back, but after I started to think about what I watched, I experienced some mixed feelings. Do I love season 4 or Arrested Development? Do I hate it? To this day I still don’t know the answer, and that fact is enough to have this show place on this list. (But in reality Masters of Sex needs to be somewhere on this list.) At its peak, season 4 of Arrested Development was some of the most brilliantly constructed, insanely funny television of 2013, but when it was bad, season 4 was painfully abhorrent. Maybe after seven more years the show gets resurrected yet again, and I’ll finally know how I feel about season 4.
10 More Great Shows (In Alphabetical Order): 30 Rock, The Bridge, Broadchurch, Happy Endings, Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, Masters of Sex, Olbermann, Parenthood, Veep