Skip to main content

Top 5 TV Shows Of 2013: Jesse's List

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 Jesse's list, which begins with Parks and Recreation at #5.


5. Parks and Recreation

Even though Parks and Recreation didn't have its best year - the show's 2011 was incredible, unbeatable even - it was still the best (live-action) comedy on television. We'll get into that bracketed qualifier in a few entries, now's the time to celebrate Michael Schur and Greg Daniels' sitcom that adopted the ever-popular mockumentary form to find big laughs in small-town politics. Well, lately the exploration of the absurd aspects of government has extended into 'big-towns' with the fifth and sixth seasons' talking trips to Washington and even overseas. Even with the occasional excisions out of Pawnee, Parks never lost sight of what makes the show so special: its unmatched ability to mine comedy out of warmth and positivity.

It's truly a feel-good comedy which is so rare on any medium, let alone the sitcom world which seems to be built on sarcastic (and superficial) characters looking for any chance to make the easy joke. That's not to say Parks is without conflict. The show brought in Jon Glaser's Councilman Jeremy Jamm to counter the overwhelmingly positive Leslie Knope (played by the incomparable Amy Poehler) and she even lost the recall election, however, all of these seemingly negative developments only serve to strengthen the core cast's incredible chemistry and push the series' positive point of view. 2013 wasn't the most solid stretch in the NBC comedy's arsenal (blame Chris Pratt becoming a movie star), but with episodes like (two-parter) "Emergency Response" and "Leslie and Ben" or "Animal Control," it's still far better than the rest.


4. Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire had a phenomenal season. After the series' third year saw Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson face the void left by the loss of Michael Pitt's Jimmy Darmody in addition to new conflicts from NYC in the form of the magnificent Bobby Cannavale, this season opened up the already compelling (under)world even further by making the leading man a supporting character in his own story. On paper, it looks like Season 4 perhaps bit off more than it could chew by expanding the story into Harlem (as well as down to Tampa), adding several characters and making the heroin trade as important to the story as moving booze, but it only added compelling layers to Boardwalk's already thematically rich and detailed period setting.

In many ways, the 'seasonal' storytelling on Boardwalk Empire is starting to resemble the approach taken by The Wire, another HBO show about illegal substances. Each year was devoted to a new setting and aspect of the Baltimore drug scene, and Terrence Winter's drama may be adopting that structure for BE (not just because they brought in writers from the aforementioned drug series) considering Season 4 put race front and center.

A decision that worked out wonderfully, giving Michael K. Williams the spotlight to duke it out with the equally great Jeffrey Wright in a guest spot that should garner a lot of recognition. Of course, there were many other exceptional threads that developed during the fourth season, with Nucky's self-imposed isolation interrupted by a southern woman, as well as family/legal troubles that provided Shea Whigham (Eli) a platform to strut his considerable stuff. All this and I haven't even mentioned Eddie's tragic exit, Richard's final journey, Margaret's re-entry or Gillian's downfall. Or the exquisite production design and striking compositions. As cinematic as TV gets. It was quite the season.


3. Hannibal

When word first broke that another adaptation of Thomas Harris' series of novels based upon Hannibal 'The Cannibal' Lecter was in the works (and on TV no less), people were immediately skeptical. And while I would normally attend the (dinner) party for skeptics, the fact that Bryan Fuller, the creative mind behind such deliciously macabre series as Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, was running the show not only put my mind at ease, it cranked my anticipation up to 11. A huge fan of the best-selling books (well, some more than others) and their feature films adaptations (ditto), my hopes were high that Gaumont International TV (the folks who made and then sold the show to NBC) had found the right man to do Hannibal justice. Boy, was I right. Commence own horn tooting...

Or would that be rude? I don't want to offend Dr. Lecter, given Mads Mikkelsen's interpretation is as scary as ever. The devil incarnate, with a great tailor. Just as cultured and unpredictable as previous incarnations (Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins Oscar winning portrayal), Mikkelsen delivers something different but equally terrifying. Hugh Dancy also shines as the troubled Will Graham, a 'special' investigator with the F.B.I. who suffers from overactive empathy and a bromance with the good doctor. The rest of the cast is just as captivating, especially Laurence Fishburne and Caroline Dhavernas as well as Eddie Izzard and Ellen Muth in, uh, ‘fun’ guest spots. I'd be truly remiss if I didn't mention the show's unparalleled look, combining ingenious set-design with gorgeous gore and stunning cinematography. As odd as it sounds, Hannibal might be the most beautiful series on television. If you can stomach it.


2. Game of Thrones

Like its network companion Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones also had its best season to date in 2013. And not just because of the shocking and emotional events that took place during the excellent penultimate episode, "The Rains of Castamere." Don't get me wrong, the now infamous installment deserves mention in any piece about the fantasy, especially ones arguing why GoT should be included in any best of the year discussions. You hear that, Golden Globes!?! Despite the snub, Season 3 of HBO's drama delivered some of the most compelling characters and gripping storylines on the small screen on top of exploring important themes in a beautifully rendered imaginary world. While many may come for the admittedly awesome action and special effects (dragons and direwolves are rad), it's the morality play at the heart of GoT that makes the series so emotionally affecting and elevates it above the standard fantasy fare.

George R.R. Martin's world of political intrigue and warring houses is populated with deeply felt relationships and complex characters, ones that force the audience to constantly re-evaluate their opinions and allegiances. The aforementioned 'Red Wedding' (deservedly) stands out as the season's centerpiece and yet, many other the other threads were equally as powerful, especially those as thematically rich (and downright entertaining) as Daenerys' rise or Jamie's fall. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gave what I think is the year's best supporting performance with his cast members not far behind. Find an ensemble better than Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Fairley, Lena Headey, Charles Dance, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, Natalie Dormer, Jack Gleeson, Diana Rigg... get the point? I could go on but I'll leave it at this: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ Game of Thrones was the best drama of the year. (So what does that leave?)


1. Bob’s Burgers

That's right. You just heard me proclaim Game of Thrones the best drama of the year, meaning AMC's Breaking Bad didn't make the cut. Start dismissing this list immediately. But in all seriousness, while great, BB's final stretch was not its finest and this isn't about the series as a whole, it's the 'Best Shows of 2013' and that's Bob's Burgers. Remember the 'live-action' disclaimer in the Parks and Recreation write-up? If so, you probably saw the Breaking Bad-snub coming. Why am I wasting so much time on another show in this write-up? Because I have a feeling 'No Breaking Bad? This list is bullshit' will turn up in the comments instead of people celebrating the awesomeness of Loren Bouchard's animated comedy. Something I'm guilty of right now! But no longer...

Actually, a little longer. Before getting to Bob's Burgers proper, I am going to take a detour to discuss another (exceptional) series (that missed the cut) but, don't worry, it's relevant to the discussion of why the Fox show in question deserves to top the list. The animated comedy not only managed to produce twenty plus excellent episodes of their own show in 2013, it also played a key role in the season premiere of Archer ("Fugue and Riffs") because the incredible H. Jon Benjamin voices both series' titular character. The installment was very funny with all the of Bob's Burgers' hilarious cast contributing to the crossover, however, nothing compared to some of the Fox series itself which produced gems like "Topsy," "Carpe Museum" and "Turkey in a Can." I could have said any.

The talent assembled for the Fox comedy is another big reason why this season was so successful, with 'voiceover king' Benjamin joined by comedians John Roberts, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman, Dan Mintz. And yes, they do recording sessions as a group, which could help explain why the family's chemistry is so palpable. The Belchers - Bob, Linda, Louise, Gene and Tina, respectively - aren't just my favorite animated family on television, but my favorite family on TV period. The 2013 stretch also featured a ton of great guest stars from the comedy world (Aziz Ansari, Laura and Sarah Silverman, Will Forte and Paul F. Tompkins, to name a few) preferring someone funny than simply a big name for name's sake. And Jon Hamm. Comparisons to early Simpsons seem inevitable but Bob's Burgers is very much its own show with a distinct look and unique comic-voice.

Press play...

Though this is a Top 5 list, it feels necessary to mention the five shows that almost made the cut but didn’t quite get there… 10. Eastbound and Down 9. Rectify 8.Breaking Bad 7. Arrested Development 6. The Fall.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the other writers’ Top 5 lists, coming soon!