Over the past few years there has been an increasing number of people predicting the imminent death of television. Relatively new media forms such as YouTube have been seen as a big threat to incumbents in the game of network and cable television. Well, while that demise might yet come some day, it is certainly not imminent. 2013’s incredible line-up of television shows prove that beyond a doubt.
Before I go into my picks for the best shows of 2013 be advised that a few of the shows on the list haven’t come to air yet, but given their stellar track record I have confidently added them. Time will tell if I made the right choice, but I’m not sweating it. Here are my top ten shows for 2013:
10 – Spartacus: War of the Damned
This is not a show that will appeal to everyone. It is violent, gory, and is filled with coarse language and gratuitous sex scenes. It is also filled with super slow motion action scenes that many might consider cheesy, or over-the-top. Yes, it might not have the broad appeal of a show like Mad Men (which did not make my list, by the way) but if you are the type of person that is not put off by the caveats above then you will likely find Spartacus: War of the Damned one hell of an entertaining show.
The final chapter in the Spartacus story is epic in scope. Spartacus and his army of former slaves take on the might of Rome in a grisly, no-holds-barred fight to the death. The production value is impressive, with well-choreographed fight scenes, and impressive CGI that rivals that of major motion pictures. If you haven’t seen the series, or abandoned it when former Spartacus leading man Andy Whitfield died, definitely check it out. You’ll be captivated right until the final scene.
9 – Hannibal
This show was a pleasant surprise to me. When I heard that NBC would be airing a drama based on the fictional cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, I rolled my eyes, thinking that network television couldn’t do justice to that type of story. I’m happy to report that I was very wrong. The show is every bit as chilling and as gory as the movies were, and it appears series creator Bryan Fuller has been given the green light to really push the envelope. I love that network television is getting edgier after playing it safe for so long. Hopefully Hannibal opens the door to other boundary-pushing shows in the near future.
8 – Dexter
This is one of the shows I referenced in my intro. No, it hasn’t aired yet, but can you really doubt that Dexter’s final season isn’t going to live up to the high standard it has set in its first seven years. If you’ve somehow managed to miss this show to date, do yourself a favor and grab season one on DVD. It is an unusual show that can have you cheering for a serial killer, but Dexter’s history, and his adherence to his code make viewers want to root for him to somehow divest himself of his “Dark Passenger.” Season seven ended with one hell of a cliffhanger. I can’t wait to see how Dexter and Deb resolve their latest crisis.
7 – Orphan Black
Being a Canadian, I always try and squeeze a little homegrown content into these lists whenever possible. However, I don’t think anyone who has seen this superlative show could accuse me of any sort of bias this time around. In fact, it’s more likely I’ll be criticized for placing it too low.
Science fiction on television has always been hit or miss. If done right sci-fi can quickly adopt a cult following. Done wrong, and finicky fans will quickly take to the net to decry a show’s shortcomings, usually spelling a quick, unceremonious ending for a show. In this case even the harshest critics are finding it difficult thinking of anything negative to say about Orphan Black.
Tatiana Maslany does incredible work in the lead role(s), playing several clones of women born in the 1980s through in vitro fertilization. With a half dozen or so roles to assume the acting and writing require a virtual juggling act that is pulled off very well. Fans of sci-fi will fall in love with this show, and even the casual viewer will find lots to enjoy about this great new show.
6 – Bates Motel
NBC wasn’t the only network tapping into the horror genre this season. A&E got into the act, introducing this surprisingly polished gem based on Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic slasher film, Psycho.
It is young actor Freddie Highmore, who plays a teenage Norman Bates that really makes this show worth watching. It is a huge challenge to live up to the high standard set by Anthony Perkins in the film, and I think Highmore did a masterful job of pulling it off. He sets just the right tone as a young Norman, who while earnest and polite, has a darkness seething just under the surface. Writers do an excellent job of showing how subtly Norman’s mother Norma, played by Vera Farmiga, stunted his independence, binding him with invisible ties and instilling in him a creepy need to please her. It is a great effort for a network more known for documentaries or syndication of long-running dramas from other networks.
5 – Vikings
Another show from a network not well known for producing original fictional series, Vikings does an excellent job of delivering an entertaining tale of these Norse raiders/explorers. Fans of Spartacus and Game of Thrones alike will find plenty to enjoy with this show. There is violence, sex and political intrigue, though not in the same heavy doses as GoT or Spartacus. Travis Fimmel is great in the lead role as Ragnar Lodbrok, an ambitious Viking who braves the unknown to raid west, sacking and pillaging the shores of England.
Plenty of action, good writing and great acting would be enough to get the show on this list, but it is the cinematography that really makes Vikings shine. Norway and Ireland both serve as backdrops for the show and the vistas are consistently spectacular, often stealing the spot away from the action.
4 – Arrested Development
Anyone who follows the blog and has read my previous lists – Top 10 Best Tobias Funke Quotes and Top 10 Lucille Bluth Quotes – knows what a huge fan I am of this show. The groundbreaking comedy originally aired on Fox, but poor marketing by the network saw the show cancelled after just three seasons. The release of the DVDs and the favorable buzz around the internet saw the show grow in popularity over the years, and there was a groundswell of fans demanding the show return to the air. Well, Fox never delivered what the fans wanted, but surprisingly Netflix did, reuniting all the former stars of the show and bringing them together for a fourth season.
Unfortunately the fourth season did not live up to the gold standard set by the original three, which is why you don’t see Arrested Development at the top of this list. That said, this is still the funniest show on TV in 2013 and like its previous run, the unearthing of previously missed references and quotes will add to its popularity as the years go by.
3 – Banshee
I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of people reading this list aren’t even aware this show exists. It certainly hasn’t been marketed well, and though buzz is finally starting to build it hasn’t penetrated the consciousness of the general public just yet. A big part of the reason for this is the show airs on Cinemax, a cable network that doesn’t have the reach or clout of any of the major networks, nor that of rival cable network HBO. Still, though they are a smaller player they won’t stay that way for long if they keep producing quality shows like this.
Like Dexter, the show’s protagonist is a criminal that’s managed to work his way into law enforcement. Antony Starr plays Lucas Hood, a thief who just got out of prison after 15 years and winds up as a small-town sheriff. He enforces the law in a violent fashion that meets and often exceeds that of the criminals he’s matched up against. If you don’t like sex or violence on television then stay far away from this show. It has copious helpings of both, and some scenes are very graphic.
The acting is good, if not great, and the characters are compelling. Season one was fantastic. I can’t wait to see what next season brings.
2 – Breaking Bad
I don’t think anyone is going to gainsay me for putting this show on the list, despite the fact that is has yet to air in 2013. In fact, when the show picks up in July it will actually be a continuation of the current season that aired this past fall, and like Dexter, ended with one hell of a cliffhanger.
Bryan Cranston’s spiral into evil over the arc of the series has been as compelling as any storyline on television, and the supporting cast is every bit as brilliant. How far is Walter White willing to go in the interest of self-preservation? The conclusion of this season promises to be even better than what we’ve seen to date.
1 – Game of Thrones
I have been reading George R.R. Martins A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series over and over again since it was first released way back in 1996. It is by far my favorite fantasy series of all time, and many, myself included, would assert that when it is complete it will challenge Tolkien’s masterpiece Lord of the Rings as the best fantasy series ever written.
Needless to say when I heard that HBO was producing a series based on the novels I was ecstatic. I also experienced some trepidation, however. It was hard to imagine any network, even HBO, with its amazing track record, would be able to do Martin’s amazing story justice. Well, now three seasons in I can safely say that any fears I had were completely unwarranted. What a series!
The first two seasons, much like the first two novels in the series, were spectacular. Not only did the action closely follow the plot of the books, but the casting was damn near perfect, and now when I read the books I visualize the characters from the television show. Season three, much like book three, A Storm of Swords, impossibly manages to not just improve on the first two, but does so by a large margin. The acting, the action, and the betrayal – oh, the betrayal – reaches previously unseen heights. I reveled in seeing some of the most shocking scenes from the books come to life on screen, and reveled even more in the shock and outrage that hit the Twittersphere from fans of the show that never read the books and didn’t know what was coming. 🙂