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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:

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

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

28 comments
jas
jas

Revenge 

The Vampire Diaries 

Teen Wolf

The Walking Dead 

Pretty Little Liars

The Originals

Breaking Bad

Downton Abbey  


All Amazing

ChristopherCorrales
ChristopherCorrales

2. Breaking Bad

3. Orange Is the New Black

4. Game of Thrones


Those are really good ones, but Breaking bad sould be #1, and what about Big Bang Theory, Dexter, The Walking Dead and Spartacus?

sajdah
sajdah

My top ten in no particular order:

Orphan Black

Suits

Breaking Bad

Scandal

Game of thrones

Masterchef Australia

Misfits

America's next top model

Newsroom

Hannibal

legalw
legalw

If we are talking right now here is my list


Downton Abbey

The Mentalist

The Good Wife


Homeland


The Blacklist


Person of Interest


Law and Order SVU


Nikita


Bones


Castle

seraph20
seraph20

On a scale of 1 to ALL TIME...here is my list:


Breaking Bad

Orange is the New Black

Masters of Sex

House of Cards

The Good Wife

Touch

Orphan Black

Girls

Homeland

Newsroom



the_notorious_biv
the_notorious_biv

Breaking Bad

Mad Men

Bob's Burgers

Orange is the New Black

Eastbound and Down

Nathan for You

30 Rock

Veep

Archer

Family Tree

ToDoLists
ToDoLists

@jponiewozik I'd love to hear your thoughts on Parenthood. While the show clearly was unbeatable in 2012, I still feel it's had a very strong fall, culminating with the tear-jerking election episode of two weeks ago. Why no honorable mention?

sargentodiaz
sargentodiaz

Not one of the shows I watch!


Why do you liberal reviewers think stuff like this is any good?


Try something like Almost Human where human/android interactions are dealt with.

NevinMathew
NevinMathew

I think Arrow should definitely be mentioned here. It's my favorite show out right now.

The_TVSnob
The_TVSnob

Bravo for adding Hannibal as an honorable mention. The boldest show on network, taking the kind of risks usually reserved for cable and even then, pushing the envelope. Hands down the scariest stuff I've ever seen on TV. Dancy and Mikkelsen gave Emmy-worthy performances and I'm very happy NBC decided to renew at the 11th hour. @The_TVSnob

zizou21
zizou21

I'm confused, why is there no mention of House of Cards? 

jdtvi
jdtvi

My Top Ten

Breaking Bad

Game of Thrones 

Scandal 

Orphan Black 

House of Cards 

Once Upon a Time 

Mad Men

The Good Wife 

The Americans 

Rectify 

ghaff
ghaff

With the caveat that I haven't watched all your shows (and don't get the premium channels) and am behind on others, here's what I would list based on what I've personally watched to at least some degree--not in any particular order:

Breaking Bad

Orange Is the New Black

Game of Thrones

The Americans

Mad Men

House of Cards

Scandal - though I'm not current

Homeland - ditto

The Good Wife- way behind

Downton Abbey



jponiewozik
jponiewozik moderator

@sargentodiaz Do liberal reviewers hate robots? Why did we go so nuts for Battlestar Galactica?

DeNiro
DeNiro

@The_TVSnob I would have put it ahead of Orphan Black and The Americans, to be honest. One of the best new shows of the year.

skaterblm
skaterblm

@zizou21 Technically not on TV but Netflix? that's my best guess since the show is really good

jponiewozik
jponiewozik moderator

@cowboyesfan I'm a sci-fi fan generally--and wish there were more really good sci-fi on TV like Orphan Black--but after repeated attempts on multiple series, I have concluded I lack the Dr. Who gene. 

zizou21
zizou21

@DeNiro You're right.  Clearly not as outstanding as New Girl. 

ghaff
ghaff

@jponiewozik @cowboyesfan Orphan Black sounds like the sort of thing I'd like. I'll have to check it out. I've made at least a modest effort to get into Dr. Who through a number of iterations--including the current one. I never do. Like you, I must be missing a gene.

faulknerster
faulknerster

@jponiewozik @cowboyesfan This is a respectable list. The only thing that doesn't sit well with me is that tacky, mostly forgettable season of Mad Men. But I know critics just can't resist it, so it being ranked in many top tens are inevitable. The only real oversight I see is that Person of Interest is not even in the honorable mentions. It was the best broadcast drama of the year after The Good Wife. R.I.P the brilliant Enlightened.