Don’t miss out on these 2013 TV gems

By: Ryan Pait

First things first: 2013 was, all around, a great year for television. And what better time than January to reflect on the past year?

Here are my top five TV shows from last year—they’re also the ones you should be looking into this year.

1. TIE: “30 Rock” (NBC) and “Breaking Bad” (AMC)

Two of TV’s all-time greats came to an end in 2013—and both went out on top.

“30 Rock” is one of the most uproariously funny and innovative sitcoms that television has ever seen. Its final episodes provided both closure and fallout for Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and company.

“Breaking Bad” is one of the most riveting, spectacularly-acted crime sagas to grace the small screen. Its final stretch of episodes included some of the best of the series and some of the best of the year.

Basically, both were so excellent that I couldn’t possibly pick between the two. Rest in peace, you beautiful angels.

2. “Game of Thrones” (HBO)

If “30 Rock” and “Breaking Bad” hadn’t ended so spectacularly, “Game of Thrones” would easily claim my number one spot for 2013.

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss got to work from George R.R. Martin’s best book this season, which is filled with big payoffs and even bigger shocks.

On screen, this translated to the best season of “Game of Thrones” yet. Benioff and Weiss and their wickedly talented cast and crew bring Martin’s world to life in a way that’s intoxicating in its enormity.

“Game of Thrones” excels because it truly is epic—and only getting bigger.

3. “Bob’s Burgers” (FOX)

“Bob’s Burgers” is the best animated show on TV.

Bob’s Burgers” is one of the best sitcoms on TV.

Heck, “Bob’s Burgers” is one of the best shows on TV.

“Bob’s Burgers” features some of the most human characters currently on the air, and it’s made all the better by the fact that they’re animated.

A touching mix of wonderfully weird and terrifically sweet, “Bob’s Burgers” is a rare treat indeed.

4. “Mad Men” (AMC)

It was a quieter season for “Mad Men” this year, but after the wild ride that was season five, it’s maybe exactly what was needed.

While there were no huge shocks (read: horrific deaths) this year, there were some wonderful character moments that made the four-time Emmy winner’s sixth season worthwhile.

While Don (Jon Hamm) was frustrating as ever, this was a banner season for Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), who made huge strides. A small victory for perpetually depressed housewife Betty (January Jones) was also immensely satisfying.

 “Mad Men” once again excelled at what it does best: playing with subtlety while knocking viewers over the head with the obvious.

Many called this the worst season of the show. But if this is the worst, I’ll gladly take it—I loved it. One request for next season though: more Joan (Christina Hendricks)!

5. “Veep” (HBO)

Isn’t it just the best feeling to see something good become something great?

HBO’s political comedy “Veep” did just that in its sophomore season. While the show displayed some flashes of true brilliance in its first season, it hit nearly all of its marks in its second season.

The “Helsinki” episode was an absolute standout for season two, showing just how far the show has come as well as how acute and bitingly funny it can be.

The show’s ensemble, led by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has only gotten stronger. Louis-Dreyfus has always been great, and she and her cohorts are breathing riotous life into one of the most sharply-written political satires on TV.


6. “Bates Motel” (A&E)

What a pleasant surprise “Bates Motel” was.

When A&E announced its “modern prequel” to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” I was expecting an unmitigated disaster.

But as it turns out, “Bates Motel” is a crazy fun show anchored by two phenomenal lead performances.

Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore absolutely knock it out of the park as Norma and Norman Bates. The two have wonderful chemistry with each other that brings a whole new context to the famous oedipal pair.

And the show’s campy but creepy tone helps make it a more unique offering in the TV landscape.

7. “Girls” (HBO)

“Girls” went pretty dark in its second season, and I liked it.

Lena Dunham and co. branched out a little this year, covering touchier and more awkward material than ever before.

Between Hannah’s (Dunham) descent into the throes of her struggle with OCD and Marnie’s (Allison Williams) downward spiral, the show truly became the darkest of dark comedies in its second season.

While I had some mixed thoughts on the finale, I’m more excited than ever to see what Dunham and her team deliver for the future of “Girls.”

8. “House of Cards” (Netflix)

Slick, stylish, and a little skeevy, “House of Cards” was another nice surprise this year.

Netflix’s original series is executive produced by director David Fincher, one of the most talented working directors in the industry.

“House of Cards” also overflows with great actors turning in great performances. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are both exceptional as modern versions of Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth.

The story is well-constructed for both binge viewing and regular viewing. Whichever way you watch it, “House of Cards” is fantastic.

9. “Parks and Recreation” (NBC)

“Parks and Recreation” may be starting to wear a little thin creatively and storywise, but it gets bonus points for what it accomplishes: it’s a show that gets its laughs from positivity.

It’s the polar opposite of the cynical sitcom—”Parks and Rec” is like a modern-day “Andy Griffith Show,” where love (in all its shapes and forms) always saves the day.

In TV landscape dominated by cynical sitcoms, “Parks and Rec” is a genuinely sweet antidote.

It also features one of the best ensembles on TV, led by the indomitable and (indomitably funny) Amy Poehler.

10. “American Horror Story: Coven” (FX)

“Coven” claims the tenth spot only because it hasn’t quite wrapped up yet.

It’s been a wild and crazy ride so far, more akin to the campy fun of season one than the sometimes crippling darkness of season two.

“Coven” features a largely female ensemble, spearheaded by greats like Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, and Kathy Bates. The anthology series’ returning cast is also turning in some of their best work.

Many have criticized “Coven” for its flip-flop nature—no one ever stays dead, and the rules are clearly being made up as they go along—but I’m having a great time with it.

I’m lovin’ “Coven,” and I can’t wait to see how it all ends.