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10 Best Television Shows of 2013

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Television is supposedly out of its "golden age", however there is some evidence to indicate that where one golden age ends, another one has a sparkling beginning. There are some shows, amongst all the others--the ones that we leave on for background noise and the ones we record on our DVRs simply to keep track of what's going on--there are the special ones that we have to be up front and center for. When it comes to the best, this year some shows hit a stride--both comedies and drama, as well as those in between. Even a few new series found their way on the list. Take a look at the ten best of the year in television and then some...

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10. Hannibal: There’s really no other horror/crime series on television like it; it’s visionary, lush with dark and disturbing imagery--and just as dark storytelling and characters. The television prequel explores the early relationship between the titular psychiatrist and his patient, Will who is haunted by his ability to empathize with serial killers. The level of devilish creativity that goes into this series is spine-chilling. The television landscape has been overflowing with serial killer narratives, but this is something special--something exquisitely vile, captivating and haunting on many new levels. Each installment is like being hypnotized and thrown into a dark, gray world full of complex, anguished characters portrayed by a stellar cast (Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishburne and more). Hannibal Lecter, ever the elusive and stoic monster, makes gorgeous gourmet meals out of people. Intrigue is written all over it! The series no doubt has the potential to be a truly delicious television phenomenon, as it should already be.

9. Breaking Bad: I have never considered myself to be a hardcore Breaking Bad fan whatsoever. There were times during the series, which I watched simply because it was one of the most talked about television shows on air. Still I often felt it was a little maddening, occasionally dull and thoroughly overhyped. However, the last eight installments of the series does everything right to prove me wrong, making this good television series finally into something excellent. It pulls no punches and goes out with more than a few tumultuous bangs. Everything seems heightened in these last hours and appropriately so. Meth kingpin, Walter White faces the crumbling demise of his kingdom and his family in a particularly epic and emotionally raw final half. The story that has been building up to these final moments climaxes perfectly! Tense, gut-wrenching and wholly riveting, with some of the best performances all around from the cast (I especially enjoyed Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn this season!) Awards season will be on this show’s heels for sure!

8. Mad Men: Six seasons in and everything is still on the up and up! One might even argue its getting better with age. Matthew Weiner’s drama series may not be winning consecutive Emmy awards like it did in the not so distant past, but it still remains one of television’s golden masterpieces. The passage of time hasn’t dulled the series as of yet and even shows signs of growing into something new. Donald Draper finds that his old tricks aren’t keeping up with the times, causing even more hell in his already messy world. The creative staff of SCDP merges with a rival company, resulting in more debauchery and conflicts on both sides. With the times continuing to change, every character has a mirror up at them and their forced to look at the often ugly truth: They’re getting left behind. This season seems to put more importance on mood over action, so it is surprising that it remains the riveting drama that chronicles the story of a man’s identity in real crisis and it just gets more complicated--more dark and damaged. Jon Hamm gives his most powerful performances this season--a season of hellish realization.

7. Boardwalk Empire: One of HBO’s most underrated drama series presents its strongest season yet. The goings-on of its fourth season are intriguing and conflicting--there doesn’t seem to be much going on where our main character, Nucky Thompson is concerned. However, there is a hell of a lot going on around him. This is a series that takes its sweet time to get to its usually satisfying point and this season is no different, yet this time over there is a clearer stylistic finesse to the storytelling and development of the characters. Still bustling with a regaling aesthetic to match the story’s era the storytelling hit its stride as it introduced a sly and charismatic new antagonist, Dr. Valentin Narcisse, to its multi-layered masterwork. Exploring various themes of family, racial barriers and the ineluctable nature of crime. There are no moments wasted and every shot is captured with serious skill. The ensemble cast grows considerably and for the best, resulting in more masterfully steady performances. The fourth season serves up some rich stories and is by far its best yet, even with a fan favorite character coming to the end of his story.

6. Game of Thrones: Continuing to expand its already epic and cinematic scope, HBO’s fantasy drama series is demonstrative of . Forget the old fantasy tales of good versus evil; the land of Westeros is full to the brim with devastating grey--savagery, evil, blood-soaked operatic storytelling--all of it on every single character’s head and heart. The fight for power and the Ironthrone creates a devastating rumble--although one wouldn’t know it considering the third season has been one of royal weddings turned into hellish nightmares. Between Jon Snow’s journey with the Wildlings, Khalessi’s fiery conquests, Arya’s search for her family, Jamie and Brienne tag team development and more, everything gets bigger! It’s impressive, the sheer ferocity of the stories being told here and how influential they are becoming in our own pop culture--“The Red Wedding”--we get a not so friendly reminder that no one, no matter how valiant and amenable their efforts, is safe from the general brutality of the world around them. There are many large scale stories as well as intimate ones, all of them of great significance and continuing to change the face of fantasy storytelling and characters.

5. Scandal: Proving she can do more than create a romantic medical drama full of complex characters and relationships, Shonda Rhimes’ D.C. drama quickly became a hit with its second season continuing with first half of its third season. The series follows a crisis management team, Pope & Associates as they tackle one major bomb-shell disaster after another. Putting likeability aside and building up to become one of the most hard-hitting network dramas on air right now. The series rules the Twitter-sphere every Thursday and is pretty much the talk of the town every week. Everything seems to explode when Olivia Pope’s parents become a major plot point that pushes the series to new, unseen heights. The latest season has turned out to be more brutal, more controversial, more exploratory and still brilliantly wild-eyed while engaging the personal and political lives of its West Wing power players. Olitz is still number one! And the powerhouse performances have never been better; the cast as a whole is as top-notch and pivotal as the plot-twists themselves. It’s never been a better time to be a Gladiator in a suit!

4. Girls: HBO’s comedy series following the lives of four twentysomething year old women living in New York brought forth a more nuanced and confident second season. Lena Dunham and her team are more self-aware, more sharp, more clever and continuously provocative. The love-it or hate-it series develops great characters that are well-defined and complex, even amongst their solipsistic dispositions and self-satisfied attitudes. The second season captures a specificity concerning the state of young adults--a generation struggling to be genuine in a world that seems numb and indifferent to them as a whole. We discover more of what makes these girls tick, in uncomfortable, surprisingly humorous confrontations with life that calls them out on their BS. There is a constant bittersweet foreboding that is excruciatingly hilarious and depressingly relatable in every frame. Things get darker in the second season and by design, more comical. But they are almost kind of almost getting it together. The breakout performance of Adam Driver this season, which earned him and Emmy nomination is a definite highlight. The ever perplexing themes about young adulthood hit home harder than ever this passing year. Dunham’s series proves to be one of the most influential shows of the year.

3. Orange Is the New Black: The biggest, most pleasant surprise of the year came from this Netflix original that follows a privileged and engaged thirtysomething woman, Piper Chapman, who on the outside looks to have her life together, but is suddenly sentenced to a fifteen month prison stay at Litchfield Correctional Facility for transporting drug money a decade earlier for her ex-girlfriend, Alex. The series turns out to be much, much more than an average female prison comedy-drama. There is a thought-provoking sharpness in the dark humor and dramatic character studies, heavy with a contemporary intrigue. A diverse cast of lovely ladies that portray some of the years most memorable and interesting characters written in a series, on television and otherwise. The large cast of pivotal female characters are discovered thoroughly by use of a sentimental flashback structure--there are fascinating developments in character and story--how it incorporates every character in some significant and authentic way. Jenji Kohan’s latest is smart, entertaining and hits home run after home run almost seamlessly. Covering themes of identity, friendship, trust, sexuality, religion, race, marriage and the overall debate of what our incarceration system does to its inmates. There is no doubt that this new crackerjack classic is one of the year’s best.

2. Black Mirror: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity”- Albert Einstein. What happens when technology influences all human behavior? Very seldom does one find a series so bizarre yet distressingly truthful that it ravishes the brain with every installment. This special British series specializes in presenting its audience with Twilight Zone-like stories that take the heights of technology and media to new levels. DirectTV aired the first two seasons of the series, consisting of three episodes each, this past Fall. Each installment features some sort of terrifying scenario that doesn’t seem to far from reality, creating unique universes of technological and social media horror. No matter how outré some of the episode stories come across (one in which a kidnapper of a princess orders the Prime Minister to have sex with a pig on national television for his daughter‘s safe return) it is all rooted in realistic, bewildering possibility. This series proves to be an unsettling, thought-provoking rarity. Creator Charlie Brooker and his team have so many things to say about how technology and media influence humans it is scary. Is our culture ready for these technological advances? Maybe and maybe not. The most intriguing thing about the series is the questions it presents us--as well as the often ugly (black) mirror it puts to the viewer’s face.

1. Enlightened: I don’t think any other series has ever been as emotionally resonating than Mike White’s special little HBO underdog dramedy about a recovering woman doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Like the few hidden jewels of television, this series went largely unnoticed by viewers and sadly came to an end because of it with its second and last season. And it was perfect. Seriously, the second season is perfect--eight half-hour episodes that does more to explore genuine human motives, emotion and contradictions than most shows can do in a ten season run. Mike White and Laura Dern create a story that is unlike anything else on television ever, making it a must-see that is still yet to be largely experienced. This story of a flawed heroine making it her mission to take down a corporate parasite sucking the life out of society by any means necessary is charismatic, visionary and highly original. Brave and empathetic, there are questions to be asked concerning society’s values and wants--themes tackled are ones that sharply pierce through the skin and straight to the soul, heart and mind. I’m pretty confident that this is the ultimate show about underdogs and misfits and a series that years from now will be recognized as one of the best to grace the small screen. There is a lot here--too much and too complex to be dissected here. All I can insist is that everyone find a way to view it! A show this rare and of this magnitude comes along once every few decades--and it is often short-lived. Full of on-point performances, some of the most well-executed human storylines, excellent cinematography, music and writing. It is as moving as it is gratifying!

Honorable Mentions:

  • House of Cards
  • The Newsroom
  • My Mad Fat Diary
  • Orphan Black
  • Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell
  • Veep
  • Please Like Me
  • Top of the Lake
  • Doctor Who
  • American Horror Story: Coven
  • Masters of Sex
  • Adventure Time
  • Getting On
  • Happy Endings
  • Grey's Anatomy
  • The Good Wife

Which of your favorite television shows are on your top ten list of this year? Don't forget to subscribe and leave a comment!

© Patrick Broadnax 2013

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