Year-in-Review: Top 10 TV shows of 2013

By Columbus Alive
From the December 26, 2013 edition

This was a very prolific year for television. The greats presented their usual greatness, and a number of new series burst on to the scene with gusto. There were so many shows that I couldn’t keep up with some of the most buzzed-about new series; missing on the likes of “Orphan Black,” “Black Mirror,” “Rectify” and “The Returned.” So with that qualification, here are the 10 best things to air on TV in 2013.

10. “New Girl”

Season 3’s fall episodes haven’t been as great as the heights of Season 2. But guess what? Many of those fantastic episodes (“Cabin,” “Pepperwood,” “Tinfinity,” “Chicago,” “Cooler,” “Virgins”) aired in 2013 too. And maybe I’m slotting “New Girl” at 10 because I marathoned the entire series on Netflix, and it was one of the few things that made me happy this year.

9. “Hannibal”

Adapting the Hannibal Lector tale for TV isn’t an easy task, but creator Bryan Fuller made the preamble to Lector (Mads Mikkelsen) and his original cat-and-mouse game with Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) utterly haunting and original. “Hannibal” was the most visually arresting show outside of “Breaking Bad.” Not to mention, Mikkelsen and Dancy gave two of the best performances on all of television this year. Is it weird that this show always makes me hungry, too?

8. “Archer”

Sploosh!

7. “Justified”

Another year, another solid outing for “Justified,” one of the best-written series on television. While this season was built around a “mystery” most of us figured out long before it was revealed, the ride was incredibly fun and highlighted by some particularly compelling dramatic character moments. I never want to actually see the eventual showdown between Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd (Walton Goggins) because choosing who I want to win is impossible. It sure will be fun, though (and filled with “Google translator-level” prose).

6. “Orange is the New Black”

Netflix produced another, more hyped series in “House of Cards,” but this was the one that took everyone by surprise with its deft humor and depth of heart. The show about a Brooklyn yuppie woman (Taylor Schilling) going to prison for past drug trafficking was filled with sadness, happiness, irony and straightforward humor, all buoyed by a wonderfully talented ensemble cast that did justice to creator Jenji Kohan’s writing.

5. “Top of the Lake”

The Sundance Channel broke into the TV landscape big this year (see also “Rectify,” and “The Returned”). But “Top of the Lake,” a miniseries about an investigation into a missing raped girl in New Zealand starring an incredible Elisabeth Moss was utterly brilliant. Writer/director Jane Campion produced a heartfelt, thematically powerful narrative around a mostly compelling mystery — something rarely seen on TV anymore — while making everything look gorgeous.

4. “Mad Men”

It’s a credit to how great “Mad Men” is that even this flawed season could still make the top five. I wasn’t pleased with how this season started, but man, did it finish strong when Don Draper’s id finally exposed itself. [Spoiler alert] Hersey’s equals sadness.

3. “Game of Thrones”

The best season of the series had some big, shocking moments that I won’t mention for the two or three of you who’ve managed to avoid spoilers. Yet the most impressive feat was servicing the massive cast of characters in this compelling and atypical fantasy epic.

2. “The Americans”

Critics like to point to the end of “Breaking Bad” and the upcoming final episodes of “Mad Men” as the end of TV’s modern Golden Age. They’re wrong! There’s plenty more top-notch TV for the future, and “The Americans” is the shining example.

Right out the gate this series, about Russian spies living as everyday Americans during the height of the Cold War, displayed utmost confidence and skillful storytelling with an incredible cast to deliver it. Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and Noah Emmerich did incredible work, but this was filled with top-to-bottom stellar performances. Can’t wait until “The Americans” returns in February.

1. “Breaking Bad”

The final eight episodes were as brilliantly intense and menacing as anything before — and that says a lot. My personal pick for greatest television series of all-time is just that because it didn’t lose steam down the stretch (ahem, “The Wire”). Plus, we should all just be awestruck, and frightened, at what director Rian Johnson did in the “Ozymandias” episode.