Whether you subscribe to the idea of a “Second Golden Age” of television or not, there’s no denying that 2013 was a great year for TV. Outstanding, even, because for all of the trash there were so many treasures. Hit the jump for the first batch of treasure: a look back at the best new series from this year (in no particular order, and miniseries are saved for another list), which are all worth binge-watching to catch up with in preparation for their second seasons in 2014, if you haven’t indulged already.
Honorable Mentions: Ray Donovan [Showtime], The Wrong Mans [Hulu], Moone Boy [Hulu], The Americans [FX]
10. Bates Motel [A&E]
Bates Motel deserves some love. It’s not probably going to make it into the upper echelons of the TV canon, but it’s a creepy, strange and unexpectedly funny show that has found a way to give a wholly original take to the Psycho story. Vera Farmiga also gives one of the most indefinable performances you’ll ever see; it’s vulnerable, over the top, subdued and kooky all at once.
9. Almost Human [FOX]
Almost Human has shown how good a procedural on network TV can be, and because of that, the ratings haven’t been great. But the expansion of the show’s world, and the emotional (and humor-filled) connection between Karl Urban‘s human and Michael Ealy‘s android characters is a top selling point. A surprising series that has started out fairly strong, but has the potential to get even better.
8. Orange Is The New Black [Netflix]
This rather than House of Cards, you say? Yes. Because Orange Is The New Black was just really fun, strange and unexpected. Its vibrant supporting case made it dominate the zeitgeist for awhile, and rightly so (whatever you may feel about its main character). There’s not another show like it, and it truly came out of nowhere on the TV radar; a radar which Netflix is now firmly and deservedly a part of after a great year.
7. Masters of Sex [Showtime]
Based on the true story of the groundbreaking collaboration between William Masters and Virginia Johnson regarding human sexuality research in the late 1950s, the series is a little slow to take off before the emotional payout starts. In the meantime, there’s a lot of nudity to pass the time. But the show also brings up questions about human sexuality that still interest (and in some cases plague) us today, particularly from a female perspective. An insightful show which has supporting characters that make it excellent.
6. Rectify [The Sundance Channel]
Another slow-burn, small-town drama, but also one that is entirely different from any other. A man returns to his south Georgia town after being released from death row because of a technicality. The town is convinced he’s guilty, and viewers are never really sure. Something happened, but it almost doesn’t matter what, because like Broadchurch, spending time with the family and the townsfolk is the emotional crux of the series. And it’s a strange and beautiful one.
5. Banshee [Cinemax]
In the town of Banshee, located in Pennsylvanian Amish country, an ex-con jewel thief kills the men who just murdered the new local sheriff before he even got to town, and then assumes that sheriff’s identity as he goes looking for his former accomplice. That’s in the first five minutes. Banshee then opens up into a sprawling, emotional, and violent series that is elevated by its lush and inventive cinematography. The new season starts in January, so catch up quickly, because this is not one to be missed.
4. Hannibal [NBC]
A moody, atmospheric series that probably could have been French, given its stylistic approach to such a well-known story. Bryan Fuller‘s take on Hannibal though is independent of any other version, and though gory, the series also has a magical (and frightening) quality to it that kept viewers uneasily drawn to how delicious those cooked human organs looked … Though not a ratings powerhouse, the show luckily garnered enough attention to be given more time to tell its sickeningly good tale in 2014.
3. The Returned [The Sundance Channel]
A moody, atmosphere French anti-zombie series about people in a small lake-side town, confronted with ghosts from their past. Except they aren’t ghosts, they are flesh. They don’t, however, eat flesh. Along with BBC America’s In The Flesh (another fantastic series, and only three episodes), these shows give a refreshingly new and definitely creepy take on the zombie genre, and cannot return fast enough.
2. Orphan Black [BBC America]
Sorely overlooked, this brilliant sci-fi series was carried (many times over … yes, the show is about cloning, but that’s evident as of the first scene) by its star Tatiana Maslany, who is captivating and believable in each of her sundry incarnations. The series brings up the ethical implications of cloning, and gives a variety of faces (literally) to the pros and cons while also tying in a number of mysteries and personal dramas. A truly excellent watch.
1. Broadchurch [BBC America]
Hypnotic and engrossing, Broadchurch‘s addictive quality was largely (though not exclusively) tied to its central mystery: the murder of a young boy in a sleepy British coastal town. But the town’s mix of charm and horror (a theme in a number of series this year) was so popular with viewers that it led to an unexpected renewal for a second season (huzzah!), even though the murder is solved. There’s sure to be plenty left to explore, and it could be a rare series that proves dragging a mystery out beyond its interest point is not the best way to go, especially when there’s a firm foundation of excellent characterization.
Tomorrow: The Top 10 Best Returning Series