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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 Alicia’s list, which begins with Mad Men at number five.
5. Mad MenWhat a divisive and explosive season Don Draper had, eh? The penultimate season of the AMC series found Don in a bad way on all fronts of his life: his marriage, his drinking, his job, and his relationship with his daughter. And through each moment of this season, I was transfixed. Mood, imagery, and music joined forces to cause a sharp, ambitious, effective season of deeply moving television.
After a long stretch between seasons five and six, the passage of time only helped to amplify the complexities of Don, Peggy, Joan, Roger, and Sally. Especially Sally. Oh little Sally Draper had quite a year — eye-opening and jarring. Her experiences throughout the season laid out the very real ramifications for Don’s actions that he’s been too self-absorbed to consider. And now that his whole world is falling down around him, how he handles it will make or break everything in the series’ upcoming final season. Brooding, moody, and melancholic, Mad Men really delivered.
4. HannibalThere has never been a show as captivating and haunting in its beautiful horror as Hannibal. The first season of the Bryan Fuller series pushed audiences to the edge visually and emotionally with masterful aplomb. In all its twisted glory, the series delivered week after gruesome week, with Mads Mikkelsen as the perfect pre-Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Dancy as the addled-but-brilliant Will Graham. The show succeeded on so many levels — right down to some seriously fucked-up but beautiful-looking dinner parties — it’s hard to pick out just one reason why it stood out in a season of seriously spectacular television.
Though perhaps it all boils down to Hannibal’s ability to feel fresh and new even when its not. Where knowing how the story ends (spoiler alert: Hannibal gets caught) could’ve very easily killed the intensity and tension the series worked so hard to establish, Fuller has managed to weave it into the show’s very fabric via hints and visual cues that it actually amplifies the situation. The relationship between Hannibal and Will is electrified and teetering on the edge of something very, very bad. And with a supporting cast that includes Laurence Fishbourne, Raul Esparza, Eddie Izzard, and Gillian Anderson? It’s no wonder the whole thing just worked.
3. Masters of SexIf there was an award for Best New Television Show of 2013, Showtime’s Masters of Sex would win by a large margin. Michelle Ashford has created one of the most riveting and thoughtful looks at the complexity of relationships and people — and yes, there is a lot of sex. But what makes the sex in Masters work where so many falter is its ability to push the story forward rather than shock or provoke just for the sake of it. It’s funny, it’s sincere, it’s thoughtful, it’s complex: it is the sum of all of its brilliant parts.
And the work that Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) and Bill Masters (Michael Sheen) captivated America like no other. Arguably responsible for the sexual revolution of the 1960s, these two scientists pushed the envelope in ways they never even dreamed, and had one of the most complicated and confounding relationships ever brought to screen. And if that isn’t enough to convince you that this smart and funny show is worth all the praise, perhaps the Emmy-worthy acting of Allison Janney, or her on-screen husband Beau Bridges’ closeted homosexuality will convince you that this is a series worth watching.
2. Breaking BadIt’s sort of a no-duh move to put Breaking Bad’s final season on the list, which admittedly caused me a bit of grief. But there’s no way around it: season seven of the AMC series was probably as close to perfect as television storytelling can get. With heaps of praise lofted upon its shoulders by everyone, their mother, and their grandmother, it seems repetitive to go on and on about it.
But the work Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, and Aaron Paul (as well as every other brilliant person that brought that show to life) did in those final few episodes was so flawless it felt like watching a master class. The storylines, the acting, the visuals: all converged in one effortless churning move that maximized the serious emotional weight involved. Anything I say cannot do justice to what happened during the fifth season of Breaking Bad, I just feel very fortunate to have been able to experience it.
1. VeepConsidering the immensity of cable and network drama this year, it would’ve been very easy to overlook the comedic side of television. But in the wake of 30 Rock’s departure was the second season of HBO’s Veep — and holy shit was it a firecracker. Armando Iannucci’s look into Vice Presidential politics upped its ante going into the second season — with nary a potshot not taken. Cutting, brilliant, and tears-in-your-eyes humor shot forth with every bumbling mood and outrageous insult.
And Julia Louis-Dreyfus is at her comedic best. As the uptight-but-audacious Selina Meyer, the oft-shut-out punching bag of her president’s administration, she gives powerless egoists a bad (and therefore good) name, eviscerating her employees (and Jonah) with vicious tenacity to hilarious effect. She is constantly taking her emotions out on the wrong people in order to save political face, and the supporting cast really takes it. Surrounded by Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, and Sufe Bradshaw (as well as Anna Chlumsky, Timothy Simons, and Reid Scott), the show takes on a moving circus feel — wholly appropriate given the current political climate — that never dawdles too long, to the show’s benefit. No show made me happier this season, and for that reason Veep had to be made the number one best show of 2013.
This was a hard list to make, and it should be noted there were plenty of excellent series that just barely missed the top five. Those include Orphan Black (No. 6), Broadchurch (No. 7), House of Cards (No. 8), Game of Thrones (No. 9), and Parks and Recreation (No. 10). The Most Improved show was The Mindy Project, and the rest that we’re missing (The Fall, Orange is The New Black, Luther) were also just really, really good. Gah! Picking favorites is the worst, especially in as gangbuster a TV year as 2013. But if you're still not satisfied, try out one of the other lists and see if they align more with your tastes.