With each new year comes a new set of TV shows to love or loathe. Between cable, network television and Netflix, which falls into its own budding small screen category, 2013 offered us some spectacular TV entertainment. Our favorite new TV shows of 2013 includes robots, clones, informants, politicians and more.
Here they are in no particular order!
Almost HumanFox has developed a knack for merging procedural-type shows with a more serialized format, which offer a satisfying conclusion to each episode but also involves larger story arcs that allow us to get more invested with the characters each week. We’ve seen it with shows like House and Bones, and we’re seeing it again with Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human. The latter series edged out the former as my pick for best new TV show of 2013, but not by much. Both dramas feature interesting partnerships -- both of which, incidentally, occasionally offer great car ride banter -- but J.H. Wyman’s Almost Human takes the prize for me, due in part to my adoration of Michael Ealy’s humanoid robot character Dorian, and the budding bromance between him and his human cop partner John Kennex (Karl Urban). I also appreciate how well the futuristic backdrop is used, not only with the robot cops that are patrolling the streets, but also within the nature of the crimes committed and how they’re solved.
We’ve seen plenty of police procedurals before, but Almost Human is a perfect example of the evolution of the format, which demands a little something extra to keep viewers’ interests piqued and imaginations tickled. Almost Human is also a prime example of a sci-fi series that stands a decent chance to succeed on network television, because it's swimming with the current of a trending TV format, which allows the series to be accessible to both sci-fi fanatics and cop drama/procedural fans alike. Each episode is thrilling, engaging and just the right amount of funny. Let’s hope Almost Human continues to deliver when it returns with new episodes Monday, January 8 at 8:00 p.m. on Fox. (By Kelly West)
Brooklyn Nine-NineAwards show recognition isn’t always a true mark of quality (not naming any names, The Big Bang Theory) but Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Best Comedy nomination at the Golden Globes makes its inclusion in a list of the Best New Shows kind of a no brainer. And let’s hope the full season order is just the first of many with (Parks and Recreation’s) Michael Schur and Dan Goor’s new comedy only getting better with each episode. To be fair, B99 has been solid since the premiere (directed by 21 Jump Street’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller) but chemistry amongst the cast and crew is a crucial component for any sitcom’s success and it obviously only improves over time.
Speaking of the cast, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has assembled an incredible group of actors and comedians with Andy Samberg front and center as the goofy yet effective Detective Jake Peralta. While Samberg is solid as the semi-insubordinate lead, it’s the supporting members of the ‘department’ that elevate the cop-comedy to another level. Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Stephanie Beatriz and Chelsea Peretti are all great in their respective roles (square, sensitive-hulk, schmuck, tough and crazy) with Andre Braugher stealing scenes as the ultimate straight man. Well, except that this stoic African-American police captain is gay. Did I mention the impeccable writing? If you’re not watching, start. Brooklyn Nine-Nine returns with Episode 12, “Pontiac Bandit,” on Tuesday, January 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox. (By Jesse Carp)
The BlacklistOff-kilter procedurals are quite on trend. Audiences currently love the idea of seeing a bad guy caught in his or her deceit and treachery each week, but they don’t want to see the bad guys caught in the same format that police procedurals have offered for many years. Enter The Blacklist, NBC’s latest foray in the genre, which pairs an emotionally exhausted young FBI agent with a calculating criminal to catch some of the baddest baddies in the world.
The premise is simple, but clever. Fugitive Red Reddington (James Spader) turns himself in to the FBI, enlisting himself as a man the FBI needs to take down dangerous criminals. Under Reddington’s terms, his day-to-day business need not change and he would like to work alongside a young agent named Lizzie Keene (Meghan Boone). Playing the collected criminal seems to come naturally to Spader, who eclipses everyone else anytime he’s onscreen. Still, part of the reason The Blacklist works is because its talented cast and premise gel seamlessly onscreen. More importantly, The Blacklist has grabbed our attention hook, line and sinker, ending each episode on some cliffhanger or another. The Blacklist may in some ways offer a procedural format, but it’s more importantly a thriller, and its like nothing else on TV. (By Jessica Rawden)
The Blacklist returns with new episodes Monday, January 13 at 10:00 p.m. on NBC.
Orphan BlackConsidering I already put Masters of Sex on my year-end list, it seemed only fair to highlight my other favorite new show on television: BBC America's Orphan Black. And before you brush past this science fiction series, hear me out. Because I was once like you — I once hated the idea of science fiction, all camp and circumstance — but Orphan Black is different. Half crime drama, half scientific morality play, the intriguing and unique premise of OB follows several identical women (all played by Tatiana Maslany) upon the realization that they're clones in a shady and probably illegal top-secret science project. Coupling crazy science with the social, moral, and biologic ramifications of human clones certainly feels far-fetched in premise, but it's actually not all that far off in reality.
This personal framework punches up the show's emotional quotient by a mile, elevating the stakes in a very human way. By the end of season one, three clones were the focal point of the series: soccer mom Alison Hendrix, science geek Cosima Niehaus, and punk rock rat, Sarah Manning with the promise of others — including pro-clone Rachel Duncan — to appear in season two, Maslany undertakes the Herculean to keep every clone a true individual with brilliance and finesse: you literally forget that it's one actor playing many parts. Each woman is a fully realized and unique individual with her own set of problems, ideas, morals, and desires: made distinct and different by Maslany's cut-up chops. It's the best acting on television today. (By Alicia Lutes)
Orphan Black returns for Season 2 on Saturday, April 19 at 9:00 p.m. ET on BBC America.
HannibalWhen you think about the fact that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had to sleep in separate beds in episodes of I Love Lucy in the late 1950s, and that the first episode of Leave It To Beaver was delayed because it required multiple shots of a toilet, you realize how far television has come in terms of what’s actually allowed to be on the air. Primetime programming is now regularly filled with all variations of sex, violence and bad language – albeit still within limits. Cable shows have always had a bit more freedom in this respect, being a subscription service, but network is starting to catch up. It’s for that reason that Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal deserves to be celebrated, not just for pushing boundaries, but for doing so in bold and intensely effective ways.
I admit that I didn’t catch the series as it first aired. Instead, I chose to marathon the entire first season this past October to get into the Halloween spirit. And I can’t even begin to tell you about the nightmares I had as a result. The show is a stunning mix of psychological horror and both implied and graphic violence that is paired with thrilling and scary drama and backed by some truly phenomenal performances. The last episode ended on a delicious cliffhanger and I am hungry for the show’s return (February 28 at 10:00 p.m. on NBC). (By Eric Eisenberg)
House of CardsAmerican television has always been a step behind the Brits when it comes to successfully taking the piss out of our politicians, and the streaming goliath Netflix looked to the BBC’s past for its first foray into dramatic original programming, the exceedingly drama-filled world of House of Cards. Against all odds, Netflix simultaneously unleashed all 13 episodes of its dark vision of Congressional politics, and gained millions of new subscribers in the process. Led by the droll and devious antics of Democratic House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the Emmy-nominated House of Cards delves deep into the inner workings of the seemingly impenetrable machine that is “getting shit done in Washington D.C.” And it’s a truly scary vision, filled with sex-for-power, morals flimsier than wet spaghetti, and characters whose backs have no room left for stabbing.
Frank’s bloodthirsty revenge on the system that screwed him out of a Secretary of State position is led by Spacey’s magnificent performance, and is backed by a wealth of supporting characters, including his equally self-serving wife Claire (Robin Wright), his young journalist go-between Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), and the drunken patsy Peter Russo (Corey Stoll). No one wants to believe that these are the people running the people that are running the country, but it makes for abundantly provocative TV viewing, with all the text message reading one could hope for from a series.
Orange is the New Black was a good, if too loosely plotted original series, but House of Cards is the densely dramatic web that Netflix can stick its hat in at the end of the day. Plus, it features one of the greatest lines of 2013, in restaurant owner Freddy’s (Reg E. Cathey) wise words: “But you know that’s why God gave us reflexes, so we can move the fuck out of the way when a fridge come out of nowhere.” (By Nick Venable)
House of Cards Season 2 debuts February 14, 2014.
Da Vinci’s DemonsDa Vinci’s Demons is a weird show that vaguely plays within historical timelines and with real historical figures but frequently takes license to amend and abridge for the sake of entertainment value. It offers viewers a pompous and selfish main character who is extremely difficult to root for. It has an odd obsession with birds, and despite is willingness to get sexual and violent, it’s probably a little too science and invention-driven to ever draw a large audience. It’s just an odd duck, but for those willing to walk out on a ledge and fixate on the mind of a virtuoso, there’s a canvas of joy and insight to be found here.
Like Sherlock, Da Vinci’s Demons spends much of its time fixating on how its hero’s mind works. It releases birds into the wild in slow motion as a way of conveying the angles he’s seeing. It leaves viewers completely in the dark as to how Da Vinci will solve problems of imminent importance, and it turns up the volume for dozens and dozens of strategy sessions that plot with the best of ‘em.
Leonardo Da Vinci was a true original with a wide variety of interests and a brain that rivals the smartest who ever lived. It only makes sense his show would be scatter-brained, chaotic and ultimately, really, really good. (By Mack Rawden)
Da Vinci’s Demons Season 2 is expected to air on Starz this Spring.
Check out our other 2013 Top TV lists here!