The clock is counting down to 2014, which means it's time for another "best of" list. This was a very, very good year if you like very, very good television. New distribution methods, from binge watching Netflix originals to finding obscure gems on Hulu, made this yet another year with more quality TV than you can even possibly watch.
I should know. I watch a lot of TV and I still haven't gotten around to starting Scandal. (I know. It's my New Year's resolution!) In addition to all the amazing work being done on primetime, basic cable, and actual cable, now fantastic foreign shows are also invading our airwaves. We're in a television golden age, but that just makes it even more brutal to narrow down a list to just 13 great shows.
Still, I would hate to ruin the tradition where people yell at me about my taste in television, so below are my picks for the 13 best shows of the year:
1. Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad had an impossible feat to accomplish: end a beloved and critically acclaimed television show without tarnishing its legacy. Many shows have tried, and failed, to give audiences an ending that is both logical for the story and emotionally resonant. Breaking Bad did both, telling the story of Walter White's transformation from Mr. Chips to Scarface with painstaking (and sometimes painful) grace. If creator Vince Gilligan was a little too tidy with the finale, the episodes proceeding showed all the horror and pain Walt had inflicted on others in his quest to leave behind a legacy. "I did it for me," indeed.
2. Orphan Black
Orphan Black isn't just an incredible platform for the jaw-dropping talents of its main star Tatiana Maslany, it's also just a really great show. The storyline is interesting and keeps you on the edge of your seat and all the performers are likable and charismatic in their roles. But let's be real: the true draw is Maslany. Each of the clones is so well-drawn and distinctive that it is entirely possible to forget one person is portraying every character. It's not often you see someone as talented as Maslany anywhere, and Orphan Black wouldn't work if not for her ability to inhabit every character she's asked to become.
3. Orange is The New Black
The medium of television can and should tell as many stories as possible, and Orange is The New Black feels like something completely new in a medium that can often resort to repackaging the latest trend. A show about the lives of women doing time in prison, Orange feels like nothing else I've ever seen. Orange is The New Black manages to be truly unique, telling stories we rarely hear with a diverse and wonderful cast full of extremely talented women.
4. The Americans
A period piece that uses the period as more than just window dressing, The Americans is as much a story about marriage and connection as it is about Russian spies. Still, the Russian spying adds a nice layer of action and danger. While all the leads put in marvelous performances, special attention should be given to Keri Russell as a true believer who is as steely as she is loyal.
5. Masters of Sex
It's surprising to find a show with such a self-assured and well-developed first season. Masters of Sex feels like it's been on the air for years, although we're just beginning to scratch the surface of human sexuality researchers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson.
Justified is one of those shows easy to overlook because it is so consistently good. There's almost no show on television with as well-developed and lived-in a world as Raylan and Boyd's Harlan County. Both dramatically affecting and downright hilarious, Justified swung for the fences in the fourth season with a season-long mystery. It didn't always work perfectly, but like protagonist Raylan Givens it hit the mark more often than not.
An atmospheric and darkly beautiful show from the mind of Bryan Fuller, Hannibal could have been just another serial killer show in a year full of people being dismembered on air. Instead the show's over-the-top visuals, beautiful scenery, and chilling performances made it an addicting must-watch.
8. Arrested Development
The beloved cult sitcom classic returned this year and, surprising no one really, it wasn't exactly as we'd remembered. With a scattered cast, creator Mitchell Hurwitz used this restriction to structure an interesting, weird, and ultimately ambitious season. It didn't always work, but it made full use of the Netflix binge-watch format to create a truly original season of television. The jokes unraveled as the season progressed, getting funnier and weirder as it came to a close. Much darker than the original run, let's hope when Arrested Development returns (in whatever format) it'll inject a little more lightness into the proceedings.
A truly impressive British television show, about the investigation into the murder of a young boy in a small village. The premise might not sound very original (it's not) but the way the show unfolds is pitch-perfect. As the chief investigators, David Tennant and Olivia Colman anchor the show with fantastic performances.
Sadly HBO cancelled Enlightened, but the weird little show's second season was practically perfect. Putting well-meaning but ultimately selfish Amy Jellicoe in the role of corporate whistleblower was a fantastic choice that gave the show some dramatic stakes to weigh against the awkward everyday moments.
11. Game of Thrones
Red Wedding anyone? It's amazing how much the HBO fantasy show managed to pack into just ten episodes. The show still has a problem balancing its many characters and storylines, which is more a testament to the denseness of its source material. But the big dramatic moments in the show's third season are still all we can talk about. Like that Red Wedding.
12. Parks and Recreation
Six seasons in, Parks is still one of the most consistent, sweet, and hilarious shows on television. Even when times are tough, best friends are leaving town, and she's been recalled, Leslie Knope soldiers on. It's a rare thing for a late season comedy to be this solidly good, something that's easy to forget but not at all easy to achieve.
13. Sleepy Hollow
Hands down the show with the weirdest premise this fall season also turned out to be one of the most delightful. Sure it's about Ichabod Crane battling the four horsemen of the apocalypse (one of which is headless), but underneath that strange premise is a truly enjoyable ride. The show has a diverse cast of talented actors and actually remembers to have fun with its zanier elements. This has made for one of the most promising, interesting, and funny shows of the new season.
The 2013 TV Honor Roll (a.k.a. the section where I cheat): Awkward., Girls, The Returned, Parenthood, Reign, New Girl, Last Tango in Halifax, Pretty Little Liars, Archer, Veep, House of Cards, Vikings, American Horror Story: Coven, Mad Men
OK, let's do this. What are your favorites from 2013? What did I miss? What should I start watching right this instant? Sound off in the comments!