In addition to a bevy of new and fantastic shows debuting in 2013, there were also plenty of trusted favorites to keep up with as well. While BBC America and Sundance provided most of the best new content of the year, stalwart HBO dominates the list of returning programming. Unlike the list of new series, the returning shows category features a few comedies, an acknowledgement that often it takes comedy series a little longer to get off the ground. Bottom line, a good show is a good show regardless of format or genre. Hit the jump for, in no particular order, the list of Top 10 Returning Series of 2013.
10. Veep [HBO]
Some thought Veep only had niche appeal when it debuted last year (being based off of, and written by the team behind the acidic British political comedy The Thick Of It), but it’s really just a damn funny show. The series’ second season proved that it was not afraid to continue being as confrontational and irreverent as its inaugural season, while also one-upping itself regarding some of the best one-liners and horrible name calling known to TV. The baseness and selfish nature of D.C. politics has never been so fun.
9. Game of Thrones [HBO]
Because dragons. The third season of HBO’s fantasy drama was based on the first half of what many fans agree is the best book of the original novel series, which made the show better than ever before. (Especially for those who found the machinations of the second season a little slow). It also provided one of the bloodiest, most emotional and most shocking episodes probably ever on TV — a gut-punch even for viewers who knew it was coming. That game changer also proved for anyone still unaware that the show will kill your faves. Along with everyone else.
8. Homeland [Showtime]
Okay, some of it was really wonky. But the rest of it was really good. The bottom line is that Homeland, while going through some major growing pains, still managed to stay really entertaining, whether it was because of its spy stuff, or because of the discussion of its super soap drama that filled Twitter the moment it happened. Its finale also proved that the show is willing to shed things that aren’t working, but to do them in a really emotional and great way. It has also positioned itself to go anywhere and do anything next year, and that’s a good place to be.
7. Mad Men [AMC]
At its core, this later season of Mad Men provided further interesting insight into its characters, amid the backdrop of some of the country’s most difficult and confusing times. Not every road traveled was a hit, and one’s tolerance for Don Draper and a belief (or not) in his redemption probably played a big part in enjoying — again, or not — this season. Regardless, everyone else (Pete, Betty, Peggy, Joan and of course Bob Benson) provided such a rich tapestry of the kind of sadness and humor that has defined the show that, ultimately, it didn’t matter. A good show staying solid.
6. Eastbound and Down [HBO]
Kenny Powers could never have imagined a comeback so good. While this final season took on the look of those before it (Kenny is down and out, mounts a comeback, squanders his opportunities in service of his selfish habits, and learns a lesson … sorta), never has it played out so emotionally. Kenny Powers has always been a character to laugh at, not empathize with. But this season proved it was possible to feel genuinely bad for him, then angry, and ultimately sincerely pleased. Plus, what a bizarre and hilarious final montage of scenes (not to mention the inclusion all season of the robot Yul Brynner). Last season’s ending felt final, but we obviously had no idea what we were missing.
5. The Good Wife (Season 6) [CBS]
The Good Wife has always been an excellent show. And not just “broadcast good,” but legitimately great. In fact, it handles politics, and an understanding of the political machine, better than most political shows (even though it’s billed as more of a law procedural); not to mention its savvy grasp and inclusion of current tech. Still, something stepped up a huge notch this year with the show’s sixth season premiere (2013 covers both the end of the show’s fifth season, and start of the sixth). The show has been firing on all cylinders, moving at a whirlwind pace with a renewed sense of vigor, the likes of which I’ve never seen in a show that’s been on for so long. Kudos, Good Wife.
4. Boardwalk Empire [HBO]
Boardwalk Empire finally found its footing again, after a lost season in the wake of a major character death. This year, it retooled things in a number of great ways: it let Nucky take more of a backseat to more compelling secondary characters, it opened up an entire storyline that caused the show to create diversity by not hiring one, but a myriad of black actors in the driving narrative of the season, and it narrowed its focus back to just a handful of plots. It also continued to inflict pain on viewers by ending the arc of a character who had become the soul of show, proving that if one lives by the sword, one will surely die by it, too. There’s no getting out of this game. Not that we’d want to.
3. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia [FXX]
Speaking of comebacks (the story of the last three series on the list), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia might have just finished its best season yet. Every episode was tightly crafted and hilariously executed, finding ways to integrate meta storylines that seamlessly meshed the world of the show with events from the world outside of it. It also rewarded long-time viewers by playing off of the well-established personalities of the leads, as well as old jokes from the show that cropped up for those who have been paying attention. No wild card about this one.
2. Arrested Development [Netflix]
Though Netflix’s revival of the excellent series Arrested Development was met with hesitation from some fans, the show proved itself to be both strange and familiar. The format didn’t sit well with some (character-focused episodes being the biggest change-up), and others found the show being stocked with so many celebrities — even for very minor roles — distracting. But none could deny the show’s trademark intricacy and reflexivity regarding its own jokes and narratives. If there is another season, or a movie, or whatever, bring it on.
1. Breaking Bad [AMC]
You’ll be sorely missed. Bitch.
Honorable Mention: Treme [HBO], Luther [BBC America], Sons of Anarchy [FX], Call the Midwife [PBS], Modern Family [ABC], Downton Abbey [PBS]
Shows Excluded Because I’m Still Catching Up: Justified [FX], Arrow [CW], The Walking Dead [AMC]
Yesterday’s list: Top 10 New TV Series of 2013
Tomorrow: Miniseries, Miscellanea, and More