best tv of 2013

A friend asked me this year what my New Years tv marathon would be. I hadn’t really found a good one yet, because I feel like I’ve already seen everything I like. Quite a few times. I’d just finished s5 of Merlin which has been my favorite holiday indulgence for a while so there wasn’t anything left but to put them all on a list and move into the new year.

ARN cropped 2013

Which is when she suggested Arn: The Knight Templar. It is officially the honorary mention this year. In part because it’s only 6 episodes so it is more of a mini-series than a full show. And because it is a lot like Kingdom of Heaven, only Swedish. But it’s incredibly well produced and the characters pull you in even though it’s predominately sub-titled (and for the record, Swedish is really beautiful). If you have an idle 6 hours, it’s well worth watching.

You can see how it compares to the shows that did make the list of best tv shows this year.
I actually don’t know what to saw about the shows this year. Most of them feel like they’ve been around forever even though two of them are new. They’re an eclectic mix of fantasy and sci-fi and drama. But this is probably the first year where they’re all very typically my style somehow.

SHERLOCK BBC Martin Freeman Benedict Cumberbatch cropped 2013

10. Sherlock
I admit this one is totally cheating. Because I actually watched both seasons in 2012. But I re-watched both seasons in 2013. And I was having a really hard time coming up with 10 shows this year. The last two contenders (Castle and Suits) both had issues in recent seasons I really felt kept them from meriting a spot on the list. And so a re-watch of Sherlock was better than either show so I cheated. Every year there’s a ‘my list, my rules’ show and this year it’s Sherlock.

WHITE COLLAR Matt Bomer 2013

9. White Collar
White Collar barely made the list this year. As much fun as Neal and Peter are, there just isn’t that same spark. The writing isn’t as witty and quotable as it has been in seasons past. Neal doesn’t get to do the small, quirky, really fun cons he used to. Each season is, ‘Neal is lying to Peter and Peter doesn’t trust Neal and also there’s a big bad.’ I want it to be innovative and fun and witty again and I realize that gets harder and harder to do 5 seasons in but this show has such great characters I think it could.

HAVEN Season 5 Banner 2013

8. Haven
The mythology got a little twisted the past two seasons and you can really see how much more the writers are creating that mythology as they go along. Even so, they’re making interesting choices. And the characters are good and keep me coming back each season. The expansion of the mythology has pushed all of them into new territory which is good because it’s never fun when characters get stale.

Bonus points for adding Colin Ferguson for season 4. I haven’t seen how it ends yet, but his storyline is one of those interesting twists and he’s fun to have around again.


7. Downton Abbey
Everyone who watches Downton Abbey thinks it’s great. So, I really don’t have to explain why it’s on the list. And I also don’t have to explain why it was almost left off the list.

Everyone also knows that Dame Maggie Smith is awesome. I just wanted to say it out loud.

CRAZY ONES Robin Williams cropped 2013

6. The Crazy Ones
I know some people are annoyed by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Luckily, I’m not one of them. And I pretty much think both she and Robin Williams are nearly perfect tv stars. They can each carry a show well and just have a great tv presence. Put them together with quirky, funny scripts and you’ve got a pretty good show (ET: I’ve now rewatched The Crazy Ones like 3x). Granted, at least a quarter each episode is probably Robin Williams and James Wolk improvising. But they edit it enough that it doesn’t become annoying, like Williams can when he’s just allowed to go fooorrevvver.

Plus, Sarah Michelle Gellar mentioned Sunnydale in one of the outtakes so I like her even a little more for that.


5. Agents of SHIELD
In some ways, SHIELD would kind of be on the list no matter what. The petigree of the show is spectacular. It’s Marvel and it’s Maurissa and Jed Whedon and Joss helps some too. It gives Coulson a chance to live again. But it doesn’t just coast on those advantages. I don’t love all the characters. Sometimes it feels like they’re trying too hard. I like the way it plays into the Marvel mythology and is really working with the elements from the movies and expanding them. And I like what they’re trying to do – capture the smaller side of this world they’ve created. The lower decks crew on a superhero starship, if you will. I hate to say that I don’t think it’s as good as it could be. But I think that’s mostly because they haven’t given me characters to love. But I like it well enough. And most of all, I want to trust the writers enough to give the characters room to move and grow and be worth caring about.

REVOLUTION Season 2 Banner 2013

4. Revolution
This season has been much bloodier and more violent. But it’s also been a great reinvention of Revolution. The lingering mystery was solved in great detail and flashback the first season. And while there’s mysterious things this season, alleviating it from the burden of the unknown allows it to be a show about these characters.

And the characters are more interesting this season. They’re wrestling with new struggles and burdens and reacting a lot to the choices they made last season. Miles is a little less interesting, he needs to really be in command again. But Monroe is a lot more interesting when he’s given more than a single maniac role to play. I’d like to see Rachel less broken but Charlie’s much better this season.

Tomorrow People Banner Robbie Amell Luke Mitchell 2013

3. The Tomorrow People
This is like the perfect CW show. It’s got action and an other-worldly element and it’s full of beautiful young people. It could be Roswell or Buffy or Supernatural. Plus it has a great special effect when they teleport.

The thing that hooked me, though, is that they’re toying with interesting dynamics to these characters. It all happens too fast to really delve into anything or let too much linger. But in the first half season there’s already been betrayals and uncovering of sordid secrets and characters put to the test. The Tomorrow People is exciting and it’s fun and in a lot of ways it’s John’s show more than Stephen’s because with his rich history he’s a much more interesting character.

ARROW Stephen Amell cropped 2013

2. Arrow
The second season of Arrow is pretty fantastic. I don’t care that much about the bad guy of the week, or even the big bad of the season. The characters are interesting and the action is fun but most of all Stephen Amell is an incredibly compelling actor. He pulls off the casual arrogance of Oliver Queen but balances it with the unflinching authority of his Arrow persona. And I don’t really care much about a relationship with Felicity and Oliver other than that she’s the person he is most interesting with. She has great lines at the most hilarious and inappropriate times. But the nuance of his reactions and expressions around those moments are almost stunning. He’s not just incredibly well built, he’s a really fun, dynamic actor who gets stronger and more interesting as the show goes on.

MERLIN Season 3 Banner Bradley James 2013 2020

1. Merlin
Season 5 was the end. And it was complete, just like Battlestar. And it was good even though it was heartbreaking. But the season leading up to the finale was brilliant. The characters were pushed and tested in painful and beautiful ways that made me think this show is everything Once Upon a Time wants to be. OUaT wants to have character conflicts that cut into you, that are shocking and deep and meaningful. But it only scratches the surface. This season was a silver dagger carving out your heart with breathtaking precision.

It helps that I’ve always loved the characters. That they’re fun and sweet and noble and strong. I loved Merlin when he was the dragon lord and the power he wielded without question or hesitation. It was beautiful and I wish there’d been more of it. He was such a strong character in so many ways and it was amazing to see how he’d changed, embraced his power and wasn’t afraid to use the strength and the knowledge he possessed. Colin Morgan totally deserved to win the NTA even though he beat Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch. I loved the knights of the round table, their loyalty and how much fun they were. I liked the twists in the mythology and I even liked the end.

spoilers »
It ended so well because they knew what the audience really wanted isn’t a happy ending so much as a day where Arthur knows the truth about Merlin, where they can talk about it and see the truth of so many moments in the past 5 years.
I loved Arthur in the end.

It’s number 1 this year because it’s brilliant. And because the characters are so good it’s easy to go back and watch all five seasons again and again so that it’s never really entirely over.

January 6, 2014 | Annual Best TV List , , , , , , , , , , | this post contains affiliate links

8 responses to “best tv of 2013

  1. JW

    And now, my yearly (completely un-anticipated), rebuttal to AJ’s top TV of the year. This year we speak of 2013, and admittedly we watched wildly different content (more so than usual). I was hoping for some overlap near the top of the list (ahem, Orphan Black), but figure you just didn’t have an outlet to watch it this (past) calendar year. Let’s be honest though, you did, somehow watch a Swedish show, so let’s hope next year is the one in which everything is available to everyone at any time so that this will be a much more informed back and forth. That said, the below is going to be (mostly) uninformed.

    Sherlock is (still) great. It really is so fantastic and I cannot wait for season 3. I do think that the first episode of season 2 is the best (thus far) and I’m very interested in seeing how they deal with the cliffhanger at the end of season 2 during this new season. Even this season 3 teaser was great.

    I (still) have no appetite for USA’s slate of programing. Enough said.

    I haven’t watched just about any of Syfy (and it’s [still], interminably horrible spelling) original content. I have nothing against it and will be most interested to hear what you think of Helix (which I assume you will watch because Battlestar).

    I (still) haven’t watched Downton Abbey. I feel most bad about this one. I did see an out of context episode from some season that I couldn’t recount if I tried. I’ll get there one day. I’m sure I’ll be happy when I do.

    I can’t believe The Crazy Ones made your list! And here, you’d think it would be something we can agree upon (or at the very least have an equally informed conversation). Alas, I haven’t watched it yet, and realize I shouldn’t be surprised that you did (because Buffy). I’m glad to hear its good (look at you enjoying some half hour content! There’s some good stuff out there in half hour form.).

    Finally, we get to Agents of SHIELD. Let me start by saying that this was the show I was looking forward to most this season. It was tantalizing to think about what it could be. Currently, I’m caught up on the show but really do not like it. Strange, I know, but I feel similarly to you in that I think the creators have it in them to give us something good, but as of right now they are failing. The world this show lives in should be so much more dynamic. I wish they wouldn’t rely so heavily on the fact that the Avengers (wink wink, nod nod, one liner) live in the same universe and more of a blunder, that they rely on that as the cool factor for the show besides trying to manufacture their own. And think of how cool it would be with the pedigree of content creators they have on retainer. I think this un-coolness (or better yet, cardboard coolness) bleeds to the new characters too, which are so one-dimensionally boring most of the time. And really, another major qualm comes from it looking so much like television (not a compliment). I’m not sure it’s entirely the show’s fault as those other superheroes they rely on so heavily even though they are unseen but constantly spoken about are buoyed by budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars. I think they did a great job of trying to avoid the “television problem” (on paper). Having the recurring sets be small (and mobile) seemed pretty great to me (especially as a production person). But piecing it together with scenes in remote locations with bad effects really does it a disservice. It makes the show feel small, which it should feel huge even if we are only seeing a sliver of what’s out there. The more I type this the more I feel like this is a missed opportunity for good content and what we got is a very low common denominator wrapped in a package that they know people (who liked the movies, which is a TON of people) will watch regardless. All hype and no substance makes me nervous. And right now this show is just barely treading water for all of the wrong reasons.

    Revolution is (still) on the air. I gave up on it a long time ago. I’m glad it has its footing but there’s nothing here that begs my return.

    I haven’t heard much about The Tomorrow People, though I did read something recently that panned the show completely. I would have been apt to agree with the panning as the billboard by my apartment is terrible and tells me nothing about the show (a pet peeve of mine). That said, I have nothing against a “perfect CW show” so let’s just leave it at that.

    I tried with Arrow hoping it would reel me in. Spoiler: it did not. But, it’s a big hit, so hooray for that. I didn’t really feel that the story that I saw transcended beyond typical CW/superhero fare but okay. That dude who plays Arrow seems good enough.

    I didn’t realize Merlin was (still) a thing. I’m glad you enjoyed it, but am pretty indifferent to it all. That type of fantasy isn’t really my cup of tea (I’m still trying to expound my thoughts about The Hobbit 2 which generally degrades to frustration). But good tv is something I like, so I’ll give it that benefit of the doubt. That said, I’m surprised it was number 1 on your list, but maybe shouldn’t be.

    I’m wracking my brain trying to think of what would have made my list this year. Most definitely House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. I would think the former may be a little out of your usual content bubble, but the latter is definitely something to check out. Both are extremely high quality content airing solely on Netflix, which makes for interesting debate in general in calling this a best of tv list, as opposed to a best of short form content list. As mentioned above, Orphan Black was great (just based on the pilot alone and the performance of the lead). Here’s hoping we get some extra thought provoking and entertaining content in 2014.

    • aj

      I love your rebuttals!!

      Orphan Black, I know! I’ve heard nothing but great things and I intend to watch at least the pilot eventually. The Swedish show was on netflix so that’s how I managed that (how astute of you to recognize my outlet limitations – as self-imposed as they are). And as much fun as everything available to everyone would be – it wouldn’t facilitate a more informed back and forth because you still woudn’t watch my shows (and vice versa) 😉

      Totally agree that the first episode of s2 Sherlock is the best. Though I do also like A Study In Pink. And the first episode of s3 (due to delayed commenting). Apparently, I like first episodes.

      Actually, I’m not planning on watching Helix, even with the Battlestar connections. Two reasons:
      1 – I don’t like suspense that much in either movies or tv so it doesn’t look like any fun
      2 – they might overcome that if they had a good latch and from everything I’ve seen in the trailers they don’t. So I’ll wait until everyone else watches the first few episodes and then give it a shot after everyone else loves it.

      dude! Downton Abbey. It should not be watched out of context (though it wouldn’t hurt as much as say watching Battlestar out of context but it wouldn’t be any fun). And I can’t be the only one telling you that you should watch it.

      not only half hour but also a comedy! I can hardly believe it myself 😉

      I sort of adore everything you said about SHIELD because in many ways you said everything I’ve been *not* saying. Because, you know, it’s just hard. The creative team is just way too good to be delivering a show like this and I just couldn’t bring myself to say it – so thank you for doing it for me.
      The world this show lives in should be so much more dynamic. That is so much of the core of it because they are capable of dynamic shows and great, vibrant characters with depth and that’s not what is being delivered.
      that they rely on that as the cool factor for the show besides trying to manufacture their own. And I loved that part too because it’s so true! They are capable of creating their own coolness instead of coasting on the brand coolness. It’s sucking a lot of life out of the show.
      Plus, there’s no latch.

      I think there’s a lot in s2 of Revolution you’d like, though I know you’ll never give it a chance 🙂 There’s some interesting twists in character alliances and they’re never afraid to push the characters into darker territory.

      I don’t think you’d like The Tomorrow People so I’ll give you a pass but I really love it. Great special effects. Sufficient character development. And a very, very good latch. Whoever panned it was probably a guy. People underestimate the impact a latch can have on my decision to give a show a chance or liking it at all but I wrote a whole blog post about the Terrier’s Effect for a reason.

      Did you try in early s1 with Arrow? Because we both know even the best shows sometimes need to get on their feet. I think you’d like some of the latter half of s1 and more of s2 so far. It doesn’t really transcend typical CW/superhero fare, but it does it very, very well which (as SHIELD proves) isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do.

      Merlin was not much of a thing since it ended earlier in the year but you know me and my delays… I still want to hear your thoughts on Hobbit 2. Especially in comparison to Hobbit 1 since it seems like we’re on opposite ends of that. Seriously, though, Merin managed to do something that a lot of other shows are only grasping at in the moments they forced their characters into. It was brilliant and beautiful and the next time you’re sick you should sit around all day watching Merlin and give it a chance 🙂

      I’ve thought about Orange is the New Black but I have to admit there’s not much chance I’ll watch that. Maybe the first episode of House of Cards if I’m really bored one day. Thank you for not trying to convince me to watch GoT (or did we already have that conversation?).
      And I don’t even watch my tv on tv (except now I do because I got chrome cast) so that makes the title of this post even more nebulous but good for SEO 😉

      And I echo your hope for thought provoking and entertaining content in 2014 🙂

  2. Lori

    Wow, I’m kind of surprised you like The Crazy Ones, but I’m really glad I gave it a shot. You totally nailed it when you said that Robin Williams gets annoying when he’s not well edited so I think that’s one of the great strengths of the show. I also wasn’t sure how I’d feel about SMG in a half hour format but I like it. I sometimes forget how funny Buffy is/was. And I second JW (who’s rebuttal I actually do enjoy each year) there’s a lot of good half hour content out there that you would like. Hint, try The Wrong Mans on Hulu. 30 minute action/comedy with Dougray Scott and that guy from SPY. It’s perfect.

    I just started watching Haven. You once described a show as being a chore but that you ultimately enjoyed when you forced yourself to finally watch. This is exactly how I feel about Haven. I don’t know why I put it off. But I do.

    Would I like Revolution? I’ve heard nothing about it.

    I’m not sure you would like Orange is the New Black. The story is very compelling and there are some truly great moments but I’m not sure it made up for SO MANY morally bankrupt characters (not to mention gratuitous nudity, we get it, you’re not on a network you can do whatever “the F” you want. But seriously, get over the naked ladies.)

    Wait, I take it all back, there is a moment that makes it worth it. It took me by surprise and all of the sudden I was sobbing and just…maybe my best moment on tv last year.

    • aj

      The Crazy Ones is very well produced – all bright colors and sharp contrast, it looks like a USA show which probably helped me decide to give it a chance. I’ve thought SMG totally just belongs on tv so it’s good to see her on a show that is such a good fit.
      I’ve seen the ads for the Wrong Mans. I’ll probably give it a chance now that you recommended it.

      Yeah, isn’t it weird when you’re so reluctant to watch a show you know you like? If you just started than I think Haven will get easier to watch. I think it was like the second half of s1 that I started liking it more. And the music in s2 (I think) was really pretty good. Duke and Nathan and Audrey all just become engrossing, dynamic characters so it’s worth it.

      There’s things you’d like about Revolution but the main girl would drive you crazy through a lot of s1. I’m not sure if Miles would be enough to offset that but he’s very badass and fights with a sword and is very surly so you’d like him.

      Yeah, and I’m not a fan of either morally bankrupt characters or anti-heroes which is why I don’t think I’d like a lot of things (including Orange is the New Black). I still have an unpublished post on anti-heroes in a post modern world Kel helped me with that I have to refine some. I’ll get to that eventually…

  3. Lori

    Oh and Amell is “not just incredibly well built…” made me LOL. (Although I still can’t get back into Arrow)

    • aj

      seriously, you’d love Felicity and Oliver. Did you try watching the first episode of s1. I think she has a few good lines in there you’d like enough to keep coming back – just to see what she’ll say next 🙂

  4. Lori

    Lots of stuff here so I want to make sure to hit “my” high points.
    I have to comment on Arrow because I LOVED the pilot and I am the #1 proponent of the 4 episode view, then critique. I maybe learned that from you because we all know pilots suck (which you are blowing me away with your apparently I like 1st Ep comment do you mean after pilot? I learned it from watching you!) and then it takes a while to find legs.
    BUT I digress, Arrow. It lost me. Why? I loved it! I pointed it out to all my comic book friends and some of them weren’t watching so how did it keep them and lose me? But by the time of the midseason break I was like who cares? I’m a little sad about it.

    I figured out why Haven is a chore for me. I love it but I miss the witty banter of other dramedies I’m used to. I get it. Canada.

    Orphan black: why don’t we watch together. It will be our ‘chore’ show that we come to love.

    Finally. Watch Orange is the New Black. Let’s talk about it offline. Pros and cons.

    • aj

      You’re right – I’m totally a proponent of giving series a chance and not judging them too early. The 1st ep comment is specific to Sherlock which is really a spectacle in and of itself 🙂

      Give s2 of Arrow a chance. I have no idea why it lost you and kept them, unless you sort of know what you were looking for that it was missing. It’s a lot the same show this season as it was last season, just more so.

      Yes, Haven is sort of banter-less. I think the reason I liked it was that I was fascinated by Nathan’s trouble and what they did with it in the first season. One episode in particular was really interesting.

      I’d be totally open to watching Orphan Black together. But I’m pretty sure Orange is the New Black won’t happen. We’ll connect offline 🙂