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The Top 10 TV Shows of 2013: The Best and the Rest

This was one of the best years for TV in a long time--and thus, one of the hardest years to narrow down a list.

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Steve Wilkie/ BBC America

TIME’s annual collection of top-10 lists of everything is up, including my Top 10 TV Shows of 2013. (Also up is my list of Top 10 TV Episodes, which I’ll cover in a separate post.)

Some of you will hate my choices–let’s hope so, because let’s be honest, that’s half the reason top-10 lists exist at all. Others will have questions, and some of the same ones come up every year, so here’s a short FAQ:

* Why did you leave off ____? Don’t you like it? This is not the Top 10 and Everything Else Sucks list. I liked far more than 10 shows on TV this year; these ones were tops. It’s not a matter of what was wrong with the shows I left off, but what was right with the shows I put on.

* Don’t you like ____ anymore? Last year, Parks and Recreation was my #1 series. This year it’s not on my list. I still love it! But this list is only about 2013: it didn’t have as strong a year, and more important, the competition was just much tougher.

* How is _____ better than _____? Beyond the first few, honestly, the rank order is fairly arbitrary and apples-to-oranges. I didn’t measure these shows with a nuclear qualitometer. Think the #9 show (Mad Men, in which Jon Hamm played Don Draper) should be #6 (Bob’s Burgers, in which Jon Hamm played a talking toilet)? Sure, fine. Print it out and rearrange them. For that matter, there are probably 20 shows that I could just as easily put in the bottom 5 of this list.

* Aren’t top 10 lists just shameless trolling for readers? Sure! Also, they’re sort of a lie. Yes, this is, more or less, list of what I thought were the 10 best shows of the year. But I also think a list should be a document in itself–a statement, as a whole, of what I value in TV and what TV did best this year. So it’s, sort of, a list of the 10 best shows of the year and, sort of, a list of the 10 shows that represented the best in TV this year–which are related, but not exactly the same thing.

* Um, it’s not the end of 2013 yet. Thanks for pointing that out! I had to finalize this list in November. They still kept making TV, though! I may thus be regretting some choices already, but at some point you just have to let it go.

* You forgot _____. Probably not. I keep a running list of potential shows starting in January, and revise it throughout the year. (My top-10 episodes list, about which I’ll post separately, is a different story–I can’t watch everything, and I almost certainly I did forget things.)

Apologia out of the way, here’s my list (but read the full writeup to see what I thought of each show):

1. Enlightened
2. Breaking Bad
3. Orange Is the New Black
4. Game of Thrones
5. The Good Wife
6. Bob’s Burgers
7. Rectify
8. The Americans
9. Mad Men
10. Orphan Black

Finally, a word about everything else. 2013 was an unusually great year for TV. (Much more so than 2012, when I honestly had to reach to fill out my list.) There was more good TV and more places for good TV: I was considering shows not just from the usual TV suspects, but Netflix, Hulu, and Pivot. So it was a much harder year to get this list down to 10. That’s good; if a list doesn’t involve tough choices, it doesn’t really mean anything. But to give you a taste of just how big a year this was in TV, here’s a very incomplete list (in, I think, alphabetical order) of some of the other shows that, at one point or another, I considered:

Arrested Development
Boardwalk Empire
The Bridge
Key and Peele
MasterChef Junior
Masters of Sex
Moone Boy
New Girl
Parks & Recreation
Please Like Me
The Returned
Sleepy Hollow
Time of Death
Top of the Lake

Post your own top 10 in the comments. Let the TV wars begin!