See the rest of TIME’s Top 10 of Everything 2013 lists here
10. Orphan Black (BBC America)
Tatiana Maslany played the role — or rather roles —of the year as a series of far-flung clones who discover they’re connected by genetic material and a dark conspiracy. Often playing opposite herself, she executed a range of characters — and characters pretending to be other characters — while capturing a commonality that was more than skin-deep. This was not just a one-woman show, though: stylish, relentless, tense, and twistily plotted, it was the smartest and freshest new work of TV sci-fi since Battlestar Galactica. This kind of ingenuity you can’t just clone in a test tube.
9. Mad Men (AMC)
This drama’s sixth season was not as explosive as some past years. But this long into its run, it still manages to be the most genuinely surprising drama on TV: you begin with no certain sense of where you’ll end up one hour later. With the end of the ‘60s (and the series’ run) approaching, it found typically sly angles on the sky-falling zeitgeist of 1968, kept up a sense of wild narrative playfulness (amphetamine injection, anyone?), and ended with chameleon Don Draper on the verge of possibly the most intriguing change of his life: back into his genuine self.
8. The Americans (FX)
Spoiler alert: the Russians lost the Cold War. Despite that — and, in many, ways because of it —this new thriller about deep-cover KGB agents posing as a married couple in suburban Virginia had a compelling debut season. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are loyally serving a doomed cause while trying to make their forced marriage work. Their identities are fake, their emotions are real — and the wigs look fabulous.
7. Rectify (Sundance)
The wonderful thing about 2013 wasn’t just about the arrival of new quality shows, but also the arrival of new outlets for quality shows (see: Netflix, with Orange Is the New Black, above). Sundance found a niche for series that simmered low and lingered long: French supernatural mystery, The Returned, psychological whodunit Top of the Lake, and this mesmerizing drama about a man released on an overturned conviction after serving 19 years for murder. Like other strong dramas in 2013 (The Bridge, Broadchurch), this haunting drama explored not just a crime but its endless reverberations.
6. Bob’s Burgers (Fox)
In its fourth season, Bob’s Burgers is the most grounded, down-to-earth family sitcom on TV right now, and I say that with full awareness that its past year featured episodes about Thomas Edison’s electrocution of an elephant and a talking electronic toilet (voiced by Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm). But Bob’s is really in the spirit of great Fox animated sitcoms from The Simpsons to King of the Hill; the story of a family (running a shore-town burger joint) whose eccentricities only make it more universal. Fresh and funny, this show has found its voice, even when that voice comes out of a toilet.
5. The Good Wife (CBS)
This legal drama practically had it all: humor, sexiness, suspense, sophistication, fun, political smarts, and moral complexity. How do you possibly improve on that setup? By blowing it all up. The fifth season of The Good Wife let loose an earthquake in the halls of Lockhart/Gardner, having Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and compatriots split off from their longtime firm. The result has been a thrilling legal and political war in which the good guys are not entirely good, the bad guys are not entirely bad, and the audience —getting to watch a grown-up drama at its peak — wins either way.
4. Game of Thrones (HBO)
There are a lot of threads in this fantasy epic’s tapestry: religion, intrigue, mythology, family drama, and two continents full of intersecting storylines. Above all, though, GoT has emerged as TV’s best drama about politics and power: the multiply-contested battle for the Iron Throne of Westeros has become a complex study of power and leadership — and the difference between the two. From the emergence of exile princess Daenerys as a fearsome leader to a less-than-storybook royal wedding to a stunning and bloody betrayal, season 3 stretched its growing dragon wings and breathed fire.
3. Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
The streaming-video outlet emerged as a force in TV this season, first with an HBO-style antihero drama (House of Cards) and an ambitiously rebooted network-TV treasure (Arrested Development). But it found its most original voice in this prison drama. The fish-out-of-water story of yuppie drug mule Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) grew into a rich, darkly funny ensemble story of a prison’s complex society. This racially, sexually, and economically diverse series picked up where TV crime stories usually end; each of its jailbirds has a song worth hearing.
2. Breaking Bad (AMC)
Forget Chekhov’s Gun; the final run of this meth-morality drama started with a whole Chekhov’s Arsenal waiting to deploy — a machine gun, a ricin capsule, Walter White’s cancer, Hank’s discovery of his brother-in-law’s criminal career, a pile of money, and several barrels full of secrets. By season’s end, Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, and company left it all on the field. You could argue about details — whether the finale, say, had the epic power of the seven episodes thundering up to it. But like the glaring desert sun, this show’s ending shone an unsparing light on Walter’s sins and their repercussions. This modern-day drug Western died with its boots on.
1. Enlightened (HBO)
Laura Dern and Mike White’s series was always an odd hybrid: part drama, part comedy; part satirical, part earnest; part introspective character study, part outward-focused whistleblower story. But it was always fully committed. In the second (and, sadly, final season), New Age crusader Amy Jellicoe (Dern) fought to expose corruption at the company she worked for while wrestling with her own issues after a nervous breakdown. At a time when ambitious TV focused mostly on ruthless men breaking bad, this was an unsparing but hopeful look at how much work it is to be good.
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