2013 has been a great year for television, so narrowing down our list of favorites was no easy task. As TV Blend has numerous writers with varying tastes in TV shows, we decided to go solo this year in sharing our Top 5 lists of the best series of 2013. This is Mack's list, which begins with an underrated procedural at #5.
5. ElementaryElementary has always and perhaps will always live in the shadow of Sherlock, but beyond the shared main character and the crime solving element, CBS’ offering is fundamentally different from its peer. More importantly, in some ways, it’s actually just as good or better, as well.
That quality starts with acting. Lead Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock is an addict, once upon a time for drugs now simply for excitement and stimulation. His hands sometimes shake. His opinions are always delivered with more confidence than his face would indicate, and his rare moments of honesty are surprisingly touching. Here, he feels like a real person we could be lucky enough to run across at some point during our lives, though he’s not exactly relatable. Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson is the opposite. She’s brilliant, as well, but her brilliance is far more understandable. She processes things much like the audience would, and this combination makes solving the weekly mysteries fun.
In addition to the acting, Elementary typically offers very crisp and sharp writing. The weekly cases are the right level of complicated yet still solveable, and we’re given a chance to understand exactly how the final conclusions are reached. The mind of Holmes isn’t the easiest to portray. It can often lead writers to turn the man into some all-knowing superbeing, but in this effort, he’s simply the world’s most brilliant detective. Sometimes he’s even initially wrong, by the end, he always delivers the solution and a reminder of why he’s so compelling to watch.
4. Modern FamilyWhen Modern Family first burst onto the scene, critics tripped all over themselves to call it the best show on television. Much of the praise was deserved too. It somehow felt like a complete reinvention of the genre, but yet it was still familiar enough to be the same kind of breezy sitcom-ish watch we all love. In the years since, however, the over-the-top praise has largely been replaced by a general consensus that its better days are past.
Well, maybe the show will never recapture the magic of its first season, but regardless, it’s still one of the funniest and most honest half hours on television. It tackles a wide variety of very relatable subject matter with the right amount of humor and seriousness and more importantly, it always has something to say. Even when the show is treading amidst familiar subject choices most comedies have tackled before, it never feels like a boring retread or like a recycling of ideas already put on the table. It always uses its characters to make a new point, and it somehow still stays true to the general personalities of those characters.
In general, we like new, and we forget to appreciate what’s been under our noses the entire time. Modern Family is still a great show, and it deserve to be appreciated among the best offerings on the air.
3. Shark TankFor whatever reason, the majority of reality television shows feel the need to shoehorn in contrived drama and little gags. Even those that bill themselves as being historical, educational and informative like American Pickers and Pawn Stars bizarrely get off topic on a regular basis, as if moments of contrived banter are what viewers actually want to see. Fortunately, Shark Tank is better than that, and thanks to a few minor changes, it’s seemingly getting better by the episode.
On paper, the Tank is pretty formulaic, but because of the wide variety of pitches, each episode actually feels very unique. At some point, producers made the decision not have any rhyme or reason to which pitches are shown each week, and that makes a very big difference for viewers because it’s damn near impossible to predict whether people will get a deal. Sometimes entire episodes will go by with every single investor walking away with their tails between their legs. Other times, it’s the exact opposite. Either way, everyone watching is learning interesting things about business, company valuations, earnings potential and a whole lot more.
There aren’t enough shows on television that are unapologetic about how much thinking they require. Shark Tank is one of them, and in my spreadsheet, it’s a must watch.
2. JustifiedThe key to Justified is its wide net of side characters who appear and reappear depending on particular plotlines. Some are US Marshalls. Some are local residents involved in the criminal underbelly. Others are hookers or members of the Detroit mafia or blood relatives. They all boast some connection to Kentucky, and they’re all used expertly by series creator Graham Yost to add realism and to please the hardcore fans who have grown to love various supporting players who thrive in and around Harlan County.
Most of them somehow perfectly bridge the gap between antagonist and protagonist too. Take Boyd Crowder. At his core, he’s a bad guy. He deals drugs, breaks the law and acquires funds illegally. He’s also a well-intentioned man with his own moral code, however, and because of main character Raylan Givens’ shortcomings, he’s sometimes the person it’s more comfortable rooting for.
Heading into Season 5, Justified is still getting better and better. It pushes the envelope enough to be groundbreaking, but it doesn’t do it so much as to isolate its audience or become showy. It’s just the right level of violent. Just the right level of sexy. Just the right levels of smart, sophisticated and engaging, and thanks to some shrewd writing, the future is full of possibilities.
1. The Good WifeDon’t you love it when the writers of a great television show have a long-term plan? For most of 2013, The Good Wife began introducing characters (Robyn Burdine, Clarke Hayden) and storylines (Diane’s judgeship, David Lee’s emergence) that didn’t seem to be tied together. It was as if they were casting off in many different directions and then suddenly, every little domino aligned and fell into place in a hyper-emotional, multi-episode run that saw Alicia, Cary, Robyn and Clarke branch off to form one firm and Diane return to Lockhart/ Gardner to right the ship alongside the seriously pissed off and betrayed Will, David and Kalinda. It was an absolute masterstroke from the best show on television.
There are few things worse than when a procedural decides to focus too much attention on personal life storylines. Too much character development can be the death of shows like this, but The Good Wife has always found ways to move both the characters themselves and the weekly cases forward, intersecting the two at the most convenient and inconvenient moments to prevent the show from ever getting stagnant or boring. This past year took that process to an entirely new level of greatness and offered up a few brilliant, ripped from the headlines cases involving Internet freedom, collective responses to terrorism and more.
If you’re not watching The Good Wife right now, you’re quietly missing one of the greatest network television drama runs in the history of the entire medium. Start catching up, it’s not too late.
Here are a list of shows that just missed the cut: Parenthood, Spartacus: War Of The Damned, Game Of Thrones, The Americans and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
You can check out some of this year’s other picks by TV Blend’s fine staff of writers, here.