Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Best of 2013: Dave's Top 13 TV Shows of the Year

By David Allen

Just like I did last year, before we can close up 2013 and start judging the entertainment of 2014, we need to look back on what was so great about this year in television. Below is what I believe to be the thirteen best shows of 2013. (Possible spoilers below).

13. New Girl

Ranking New Girl is tricky. As with all these shows I am looking at all the episodes that aired in the calendar year of 2013. For New Girl this includes both the second half of season two and the first part of season three. While the tenants of 4D beat out the sophomore slump with a great second season developing both Schmidt and Nick’s characters (and also creating Julius Pepperwood), season three took an interesting turn. Instead of giving us seasons of “will they/won’t they” (à la Jim and Pam) Nick and Jess finally became a couple and had sex. For the most part this plot development has created some bumpy storylines. I’m looking at you “All In” and “The Box.” However, the idea that I am scratching my head the most about is how they treating Schmidt. For a fan favorite they are really taking him down a notch (and how dare you create a new notch in his belt worn by Kanye West)! First they make him look like, to steal a word from the show, “douchebag” for dating both Cece and Elizabeth at the same time. Then he tries to break up Nick and Jess because he cannot see them happy when he isn’t. Man he is really filling up that jar of his! In the end, despite some problems, season two’s highlights outshine the dark spots of season three and with Coach returning the future looks bright for the rest of the season. As for Winston, he’s having fun being color-blind solving puzzles with a cat, leave him be.

12. The Walking Dead

While most of America couldn’t get enough of Rick and the gang this year (over 16 million people tuned in for the season four premiere) I was in this for the Governor played by David Morrissey. When watching I was more interested in what he was doing at Woodbury than what Rick’s group was doing at the prison (which wasn’t much at all). For the most part many of the characters at the prison still feel one-sided and have only one goal or character motivation: survive. However the Governor seems more fleshed out and an interesting anti-hero. When the show focused two episodes solely on him (“Live Bait” and “Dead Weight”) I loved it. To see the big bad guy of season three reformed and trying to start anew, I was not ready to go back to my sentence at the prison. However, in true Walking Dead fashion this did not last long and by midseason we lost the Governor to Rick and the other members of his team that I can never name. Now I am worried for the future of this show. Season two really lacked a villain or a central conflict with them just hanging around the farm. Season three got better, thanks in part due to this conflict with Morrissey’s character, but without him the second half of four may be another period of waiting around. Sure I love to see zombies killed week after week but I need something more and I am not talking about splitting up boring characters in side groups that we will certainly focus on in season four part two. However in the end, 2013 was the year of the Governor and while we probably won’t see Morrissey back in 2014 on The Walking Dead at least we probably see less Carl come the final eight of season four.

11. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Back in May if you asked me what new fall show I was looking forward to the most Brooklyn Nine-Nine was probably not on my list. Andy Samberg was never my favorite Saturday Night Live character and a police comedy? Already saw that on shows like Reno 911! The first few episodes reminded me of Parks and Recreation and its relationship to The Office. This probably has something to do with the fact that Michael Schur (along with Dan Goor here) is the creator of both shows. However, very much like the first few episodes of Parks and Rec, once Leslie Knope became her own person and unlike Michael Scott, the show started to shine. Many of the characters at the Brooklyn precinct were carbon copies of the Pawnee Parks Department (Captain Holt is Ron Swanson and Detective Diaz is April Ludgate). But now many are beginning to morph into their own identities. Also by becoming more of an ensemble show and focusing less on Samberg’s Jake Peralta, we are getting to see the comedic chops of Joe Lo Truglio and Chelsea Peretti. With a future lead-in of New Girl and an episode airing after the Super Bowl, FOX thinks the gang of the 9-9 have a lot in store for 2014 and I am ready to believe them.

10. Girls

This second season of Girls had me more interested in the guys than Lena Dunham and company. Whether it was Charlie impressing Marnie with his Zuckerberg-like business or just Adam Driver delivering both dramatic and comedic moments with ease, this season was all about the guys. Even Jessa’s quick fiancé played by Chris O’Dowd, Booth’s torture TV booth, and Elijah’s “first time” with Marnie on the couch had me more invested in their stories than Hannah’s out of nowhere battle with OCD. Despite this and a somewhat cliché romantic comedy season ender (no way anyone has that great of a phone connection throughout the city to FaceTime) Lena Dunham further pushed what she could get away with and what she wanted to say this season. Don’t believe me? Just look to “One Man’s Trash” and “On All Fours.” While it will be interesting to see how quick Christopher Abbott’s Charlie is written out especially since season two ended with him finally back together with Marnie, when season three hits in a few weeks I will be ready to see what Lena, the girls, and all the guys have in store.

9. Arrested Development

…and now for the season of a cult show, which received mixed reviews in it’s Netflix premiere. It’s Arrested Development season four. In 2011 it was finally announced that the show barely anybody watched (but everybody loved on DVDs years later) would return after seven years of footage not being found. Leading up to the May 2013 premiere the Internet was so full of frozen bananas, cut-offs, and beads bees that nothing, I repeat, nothing would satisfy everybody’s dreams for the Bluth family. Many did not like the anthology type structure, which had episodes focusing on one Bluth family member (due to the very busy schedules of the now in-demand actors). However, as Mike and I discussed on the podcast, it was perfect Arrested Development. Many forget that when Arrested premiered it was way ahead of its time in not only humor but style as well. Now fast-forward to the revival premiering on a whole different type of “network.” What Mitch Hurwitz and the team did was create a new type of show with a unique style perfect for the medium it was premiering on. It was an ambitious puzzle, which, believe me, requires multiple rewatches much like the original series did. For me, I would much rather have some new ideas and jokes (of course mixed in with some classic callbacks) instead of just episodes reliving their greatest hits, which they could have easily done. However, my only piece of real criticism is in regards to the length. There were times I feel that these episodes (some ranging up to 37 minutes) could have been tightened up to really have the fast paced feel of classic episodes. While Mitch did not have to cut them down to 22 minutes exactly for FOX, each episode could have definitely been shorter with the same ideas conveyed. But in the end I shouldn’t complain because at the end of the day we got some Bluths and some Bluths are better than no Bluths at all.

8. House of Cards

Netflix was on fire this year, so much so that it somehow traveled from the O.C. (don’t call it that) all the way to Washington D.C. House of Cards based on the BBC series of the same name brought political intrigue and betrayal to a whole new level. How did it become so good? It could be due to the caliber in front of the camera. Robin Wright, Kate Mara, and my personal MVP of the season Corey Stoll knocked every scene out of the park and it’s quite a shame we won’t get to see Stoll’s Peter Russo come back in season two. Oh yeah the lead? Played by some newcomer named Kevin Spacey. Believe me this guy is going to make it in this town! As for his character? He is the next Walter White. There are times I see myself rooting for him to lose in hopes to just see his next plan of attack. Other times I am strangely rooting for him to win and get the revenge he may or may not deserve. If Spacey isn’t enough we have executive producer David Fincher behind the camera directing the first episode and creating an even darker Washington then we have ever seen in before. Very much like how the villains of Shakespeare’s plays would look directly to the audience and explain their plan of attack, when Frank Underwood stares and addresses me, I’m all ears and on the edge of my seat ready for what him and House of Cards has up their sleeves.

7. Parks and Recreation

While not as strong as say it’s third season, Parks and Recreation is one of the most consistently funny sitcoms on television today. Unlike a show like Modern Family, which is cranking out mostly the same episode every week, Parks is willing to try new things expanding their Simpsons-like world of crazy characters. While this current season has less Andy Dwyer (since Chris Pratt is filming Guardians of the Galaxy) and will soon see the loss of both Ann Perkins and Chris Traeger, this has allowed for some meatier stories for characters like Retta's Donna. We also received a great villain in Councilman Jamm, played by Jon Glaser. However, the real highlight to put Parks so high up on this list was last season’s wedding episode between Ben and Leslie called “Leslie and Ben.” While originally written as a series finale before NBC asked for more episodes, this episode would have been a great conclusion for everyone in Pawnee, Indiana. While I worry we may not get as good as a series finale once that day comes, as long as NBC gives us one I am sure the Parks team can capture lighting in a bottle again. Just don’t let Jerry Garry Larry be in charge of the finale plans.

6. Mad Men

Oh Don! What a terrible year for you but a great year for Mad Men. While many awards like the Emmys and Golden Globes may be done with you, I’m just as hooked as ever. Despite historical moments like the MLK assassination to great guest spots from Freaks and Geeks’ Linda Cardellini, this season was all about the downfall of Don Draper. Between Sally walking in on her father cheating on yet another wife to unpredictable behavior at the Hershey’s pitch, Don was off of his game this season. By the end season six he loses Megan, is forced to take a leave of absence and he finally opens up to his children about his mysterious past and growing up in that brothel in Pennsylvania. It will be interesting to see if the Emmys will welcome Don and the gang of Sterling Cooper & Partners back and if Don will be able to pick himself up and become the powerful and important man he once was in this final, but two-part, seventh season.

5. Survivor: Blood vs. Water

Can you believe it? 27 seasons! Survivor has been on for 13 years (and will be hitting 15 years with the recently announced Survivor 29 & 30). While many shows start declining by season three (Homeland I’m looking at you) Survivor hit a high point this year. While season 26 in Caramoan was no sleeper, with The Three Amigos taking out Stealth R Us Captain Phillip Sheppard, it was all about Blood vs. Water. When the season was first announced I liked the idea of Survivor favorites being joined by a loved one but was worried about the execution. The return of Redemption Island? Day zero? Allowing love ones to switch out once their counterpart is voted out? Idol clues given out to the winner of the duel (which are really truels)? Colton, Rupert, and Laura who? These are my favorites? Calm down with all the twists!! But in the end everything seemed to click. Colton and Rupert left early, Redemption Island brought drama this time around, and idol clues were hilariously burned. The best part about the season? A deserving winner. Tyson Apostol, who was a coconut bandit and found idols left and right, controlled the game. Not to mention we got an amazing “purple rock” tiebreaker (the first since season four) and a girl voted her own mom out of the game! With an interesting concept for Survivor 28 (three tribes of brawn, brains, and beauty all against each other) I can not wait to see what the leader in reality-competition shows gives us next!

4. Masters of Sex

Based on everyone’s favorite book Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love, Masters of Sex tells the story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson and their controversial sex study back in the late 1950s.  When I first saw the advertisements on billboards in LA I thought it was just a shameful way to try and attract viewers with promises of sex and nudity. While the show is full of these two things, there is so much more. A cousin of Mad MenMasters of Sex explores themes of just not sex but marriage, love, homosexuality, and gender bias in the work place.  Played brilliantly by both Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, Masters and Johnson are two already complex characters that you want to see succeed and at the same time worry that mixing work and play will lead to a disaster down the road. Speaking of down the road, while I am sure there is some sort of timetable for these characters (since it is based on real people doing a real sex study) the show’s home worries me. Showtime has not had a good track record of ending a show before it stays past its welcome (Weeds, Dexter, and soon to be Homeland, which I am sure will be on for the next five years). While this is still (hopefully) a few years down the road for Masters of Sex, at least we have a great freshman season to study over and over again.

3. The Returned

This time last year if you told me a French-speaking show about people coming back to life that re-aired on the Sundance Channel for American audiences would not only be in my top 13 but be number three I would say “je vais le croire quand je le vois.” The Returned, which originally aired on Canal+ in 2012 and was titled Les Revenants, tells the story of a small mountain town where various dead people begin to reappear as if nothing has happened. Imagine if you took the mysteries of Lost, the cinematography and score of Breaking Bad, and I guess “zombies” from The Walking Dead, threw them into a blender along with a French dictionary, the result would be one delicious television show. Perhaps it helps that I have never seen any of these actors in other roles but every single character is believable in their portrayal and are creating a realistic world where people of all ages can be resurrected from the dead. While mystery shows like Lost may have dropped the ball in later seasons, between the acclaim to re-air this show in various markets and a general “rule” that oversea shows do not stay past their prime, I’m hoping The Returned can stay out of any temple, skip the time travel, and leave the polar bears out of this intriguing and puzzling show.

2. Orange is the New Black

Netflix is the new HBO. Again if you asked me in 2012 which Netflix show I was most excited about between this, the Arrested Development revival, and a show about revenge starring Kevin Spacey, a show about a women’s prison would not even be on my radar. However, taking the number two spot on my best of 2013 list is that show starring a bunch of relative unknowns, the girl from That 70s Show, and that guy who “studied” (Dr. William Masters-style) that apple pie. While the show began as Piper Chapman’s adjustment and observations about life inside a women’s prison, it soon morphed into an ensemble story with unique characters detailing how they all ended up at Litchfield Correctional Facility. While there were characters you loved like “Red” and “Taystee”, there were also characters like George “Pornstache” Mendez and Sam Healy that you loved to hate. Whether you did your sentence all at once or spread it out to enjoy every moment, the real punishment is having to wait until mid-2014 until we get to see everyone again and find out what is in store for Chapman after that “screwy” cliffhanger.

1. Breaking Bad

After years of jaw-dropping episodes and fascinating characters this drama starring everyone’s favorite anti-hero finally concluded its final season this September to rave reviews. Of course I am talking about Showtime’s Dexte- sorry I cannot even finish that sentence. Was there any doubt that it would not be Breaking Bad? After a $#!% your pants cliffhanger at the end of season five part one, there was not a second to breathe in these final episodes that saw the end of Walter White. So many great moments that it is hard to even list them all. Hank working with Jesse to trick the great Heisenberg to lead himself right to them. One massive cliffhanger in the To'hajiilee desert that led a nation to yell at their TV screens. A machine-gun robot used to take down a room full of Neo-Nazis! Even the “simpler” moments hit you right in the gut. It was hard not to cry with Walter when baby Holly started asking for her mom in the gas station bathroom. Just watch the ending of "Granite State" one more time as Walt regains his mojo to return to Albuquerque and try not to get chills. I could go on and on for hours (which I did with Mike this season on the podcast) but like Jesse I just need to hop in my car and finally drive away with a giant smile on my face for one hell of an ending. Let’s pray to the king of kings Ozymandias and hope that this spin-off prequel/sequel Better Call Saul makes it to next year’s top 14 and does not tarnish the legacy of this amazing show.

That’s a wrap for 2013! After a year of amazing television I cannot wait to see how 2014 tries to top it. How will the return of Dan Harmon affect Community season five? Will the return of Louie be everything we hope for? What about the second seasons of many of these break out shows? Will shows ending like How I Met Your Mother be able to stick the landing? Only time will tell!

For even more coverage of Mike and I talking about television in 2013, listen to our weekly wind down podcasts on either iTunes or on YouTube.

Do you agree with my list or did I forget to include one of your favorites? Send me your thoughts or lists either in the comments below or @eastwoodmcfly.

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