When it comes to TV bests in 2013, it’s hard to be restrictive. Even splitting up new shows and returning shows leaves so much unexplored. What about miniseries, for instance? There were so many greats. And what about all of those amazing season finales, not to mention all of the full series we also said goodbye to? And still, there’s more. To finish up my list of worthwhile television of the year, here’s a list (in no particular order) of 10 programs, episodes, dearly departed series and sundries – leftovers, in the best sense, and with a few overlaps — that deserve a mention. If 2014 does half this well, things should look pretty good.
10. Best Miniseries: Top of the Lake [Sundance]
Like many of the entries for Best New Series, Top of the Lake was another haunting, emotional, addictive tale of a pristine lake-side town with a dark underbelly. With a great cast and bizarre characters set against a dramatic New Zealand backdrop, the miniseries is one that will stick with you, for better or worse, for a long time.
9. Best Show Cancelled Before Its Time: Don’t Trust the B– in Apt 23 [ABC]
Was Krysten Ritter absolutely fantastic in this dark comedy as a roommate from hell? Yes. Was she still eclipsed by James van der Beek, though? She was, but Lord love them both. Title aside, one of the best and strangest comedies in a long time, with a consistently outstanding and hilarious turn from the Beek playing a super diva version of himself. Bye, Bitch. You will be missed.
8. Best Show With a Terrible Name: Trophy Wife [ABC]
ABC has a habit of doing this with comedies. Like Cougar Town, a bad name has probably warded off the viewers the show deserves. (Happy Endings, another best “cancelled before its time” contender, suffered a similar fate. Also, it was a show that was too weird for anyone to figure out how to market. This seems to be a sign of good comedies). As for Trophy Wife, it’s funnier than it sounds. Check it out.
7. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Best Performance of the Year: Parade’s End [PBS]
The man also known as Sherlock was pretty busy on the big screen this year, with mixed box office results. But one appearance beyond question was on TV: his lead role in the WWI drama Parade’s End, a sweeping, emotionally devastating miniseries that fills in the horrors of war that Downton Abbey blew past. A fantastic adaptation of the Ford Maddox Ford novels, boasting a stellar cast that was too overlooked the year.
6. Best Docu-Series: Generation Cryo [MTV]
The lone reality entry in any of these lists deserves its spot, if only because it marks MTV actually being relevant and interesting again. The engaging series follows the story of a teenage girl concieved through artificial insemination, who goes searching for her siblings, and the man who gave his biological material so that they could exist. The best thing about the series are the teenagers featured, who are mostly all regular, pretty nice, mostly awkward kids. It’s a refreshing change from the manufactured personalities and model looks of most young adult reality shows, and it actually has some real things to say about the choices behind and consequences of artificial insemination, as well as what family means.
5. Best Show That Didn’t Air in the U.S.: My Mad Fat Diary [Channel 4, U.K.]
Another show focusing on real teenagers that sadly never aired here (but can be found…). My Mad Fat Diary is based on the 1996 diaries of then-16 year old Rae Earl. Not only is the series a really awesome time capsule, it also does an amazing job dealing with difficult themes about body image and mental illness, all wrapped up in a coming of age saga that may be foreign, but whose themes are universal.
4. Best High-Brow Entertainment: The Hollow Crown [PBS]
An exceptional telling of Shakespeare’s tetralogy, anchored in greatness by Tom Hiddleston‘s expert, nuanced and ultimately majestic portrayal of the young prince Hal — a spoiled and wayward youth — who denounces his old drinking buddies as he grows up and into the roll of King Henry V. A masterful program that is not an easy watch, because of the dense nature of the material, but ultimately a very rewarding one.
3. Best Low-Brow Entertainment: True Blood [HBO]
Kudos had to be given somewhere for the writers who inherited such a mess from departed show runner Alan Ball, then went through another mid-season show runner change, and still managed to make some weird sense of Billith before laying that plot point to rest. Given the last several seasons of the show, though, the turnaround was really immense, and has set up a decent final season. Shows like Sleepy Hollow learned from True Blood‘s commitment to its own crazy, and something has to be said for that.
2. Best Season Finale: Broadchurch [BBC America]
This was by far the most difficult decision of any of these year-end TV lists. 2013 was filled with fantastic season finales, full of emotional depth and (even in the case of a comedy like Veep) outstanding payoffs full of building interest for the following year. Most of them also ended with a lot of slaughter, or at least the death of one major character. There’s been a trend with drama series recently that equates real drama only with death, and never with hope or joy. Thus, despite the many series who deserve consideration here, I’m rewarding Broadchurch for ending with everyone coming together, full of hope and love even in the wake of tragedy. It’s not just a good place to end, but an excellent place to start.
1. Best Series Finale: Breaking Bad [AMC]
Series able to end on their own terms often (though not exclusively) do so with a satisfying flourish. Again, many series departed in 2013 that are worthy contenders here. But Breaking Bad‘s series finale provided closure and also left things open enough that, depending on your world view, created a sense of hope, frustration, sadness, or any number of emotions. Breaking Bad was the rarest of shows, with a trajectory that escalated in intensity and exceptional storytelling every year. Its finale stayed true to what the show always was, and exactly what it set up to happen. Masterful entertainment. Pretenders to the throne should tread lightly.