Sabienna’s Top 20 TV Shows of 2013 [Part Two]

With the final day of 2013 upon us, I humbly offer my top 10 shows of the year.

Yesterday, I discussed how hard it was to narrow my picks down to just twenty shows; well, it’s twice as hard to further narrow a list down to ten. I feel confident about every show below though, even if I may regret the rankings later. Months after many of these shows aired, I’m still thinking about them. They captivated my imagination, wowed me with amazing performances and every single one left me wanting more (especially the one that won’t be coming back). These shows were 2013 for me.

10. Broadchurch

Broadchurch Episode 7 (3)

Broadchurch captivated Britain and while it didn’t make a splash quite as big across the pond, it made enough of an impression that Fox has a remake in the works. That begs the question, how do you remake perfection? The winding mystery took us deep into the heart of a tight-knit community and laid its secrets bare. The murder of a young boy was the catalyst of a story about small town life, humanity and how the choices we make guide us. Grounded by two stunning lead performances from David Tennant and Olivia Coleman, Broadchurch was more than just a who done it, it was an unflinching drama that dared us to look away before the final, devastating chapter was revealed.

Best Episode: Every episode was densely plotted and difficult to watch, but the final episode was a knockout with an award-worthy performance from Coleman.

9. Elementary

Looking back, it’s hard to remember a time when everyone was up in arms about Elementary. A season and a half later it is perfectly clear that there is room for more than one Sherlock on television, especially when he is played by Jonny Lee Miller. Add in the equally talented Lucy Liu and you have the recipe for a good procedural. Elementary has never settled for merely being good or a procedural though. This brilliant detective series has given viewers a version of Sherlock and Watson committed to growing as people. Sometimes it’s a rollicking ride and at others it’s a densely plotted masterpiece, but never is it anything so mundane as simply “good.”

Best Episode: I’m tempted to say “The Woman” because the Moriarty reveal was so beautifully done, but “M.” still reigns supreme as the young series’ best outing. We got to see just how dark Sherlock could go and the weight of his inner demons was astonishing.

8. Call the Midwife

I love Downton Abbey, but the PBS import that deserve a boatload of accolades is Call the Midwife. The series has a gentle spirit that slyly masks the ease in which it tells stories about women’s healthcare, their friendships, their fears, their careers and the inequalities they faced in the past and today. Far from being fluff, Call the Midwife is a treasure more people need to discover in 2014.

Best Episode: I’m still surprised there wasn’t a public outcry over episode 5 of season two, stateside. It just goes to show how under the radar Call the Midwife is flying. The episode took a human and compassionate look at the unwanted pregnancy of an impoverished mother of eight– an issue that divided the midwives, and shined a light on a topic that is all too often discussed in cold, political terms.

7. Mad Men

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 13 In Care Of (5)

There was a lot of grumbling about Mad Men season six, but as one of the great American television series prepared for its final season, it took us and Don Draper back to the beginning. At some point everyone has to face who they truly are and this was the season Don had to take a long, hard look at himself and make peace with Dick Whitman. Season six was all about tearing him down, so that perhaps he might finally find peace or at the very least stop hiding.

Meanwhile, Peggy quietly ascended to the top of the firm; the protegee surpassing her teacher. Old falling away to welcome new. Matt Weiner took some hits in the media for being repetitive and overly artsy this year, but in a season where dreams, memories and mortality were in constant play, Mad Men shined once again.

Best Episode: “In Care Of” was the ultimate pay-off. No matter how the story ends, the moment when Don delivers that heartbreaking, career-destroying pitch to Hershey’s will stand as a testament to why Mad Men is one of the true great American stories.

6. Game of Thrones

The only complaint I can lob at season three is that there wasn’t more of it to devour. It fed my desire to see awesome action sequences (think Dany unleashing her dragons) and to watch complex character arcs unfold (oh, Jaime). By turns painful, beautiful and downright hard to watch, the third season took the series to new heights. Also, there was a certain wedding that left the world talking for days. What more could we ask for (besides more)?

Best Episode: I tried to choose a single episode, but I would much rather choose an arc. Jaime and Brienne’s journey through the Riverlands was perilous, vicious and the beginning of a beautiful friendship. In a season overstuffed with fascinating stories, their’s towered over the rest.

5. Bunheads

Bunheads Season Finale Next Episode 18 (3)

My biggest heartbreak of 2013 was seeing ABC Family let Bunheads go. There truly was nothing else like it on television. The intricate dance sequences, the heartfelt stories about growing up no matter your age, the dialogue– everything was exquisite. I hated saying goodbye to a show that still had so much to offer, even when it had given us so much (including a ukelele performance from Sutton Foster).

Best Episode: “The Astronaut and the Ballerina,” hands down. The episode gave us greater insight into Michelle and introduced us to Scotty. Meanwhile, Bailey Buntain began to emerge as the Bunheads‘ MVP.

4. Please Like Me

An Australian import about a philosophical twentysomething tentatively embracing his sexuality and his own emotions was unexpectedly hilarious, relatable and spot on. Creator/star/writer Josh Thomas is lovably neurotic and his story should resonate with anyone who has ever felt out of sync with normality– which if we’re honest with ourselves is every single one of us.

Best Episode: “Horrible Sandwiches” took the always talkative, witty Josh and forced him to let his guard down enough to feel. The results were painful and funny, but more importantly they were unforgettable.

3. The Killing

The Killing Season 3 Episode 11 and 12 From Up Here;The Road to Hamelin (5)

I’ve written ode after ode to The Killing. It’s a chronically misunderstood modern noir with amazing performances and the ability to take us to the darkest corners of humanity. It’s grim business and season three was not for the weak of heart. Every episode was a tension-filled nightmare where small glimpses of hope were constantly ripped away. It wasn’t misery porn; it was a look at the forgotten: children on the streets, prisoners and so many dead girls. Every episode made me ache, but the passion in the performances of Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Peter Sarsgaard and newcomer Bex Taylor-Klaus made it impossible to look away.

Best Episode: “Six Minutes” was the single best episode of television I watched in 2013. It’s horrifying, panic-inducing and so human it will rip your heart out. It is essentially a duet between Sarsgaard and Enos, and it is masterful.

2. Orange is the New Black

I am a latecomer to Orange is the New Black, but the moment I watched the first episode it was love. Like Call the Midwife, the series is focusing on women television has no place for. It fearlessly explores issues of privilege, race, sexuality, gender, poverty, the treatment of prisoners, the bonds between women and so much more. It is everything that’s great about television and it just so happens to be a product of the internet.

Best Episode: “F***sgiving” was a holiday episode like no other. As the warden and guards tried their best to break the women down, we see Piper, Red and the others fight back in small, but significant ways. They may not have power over their lives, but they still fight to maintain power over themselves.

1. Top of the Lake

And finally we have Top of the Lake. A stunning, unworldly journey that made it clear, in case there was any question, that Elisabeth Moss is a star. This was the year the Sundance Channel emerged on the scene as a real player and this series, so dense, so beautiful and so nightmarish all at once, is one of the primary reasons why. It is hard to explain why the series was so incredible without seeing it for yourself. There’s the ethereal, charlatan quality of Holly Hunter’s GJ, the sweetness of Thomas M. Wright’s Johnno, the grittiness of Peter Mullan’s twisted drug lord Matt and the unwavering dedication of Moss’s Robin. It isn’t easy viewing, but it is rewarding and it was the best series I watched in a year full of great television.

Best Episode: Top of the Lake cannot be picked apart, but rest assured the final episode makes all that came before worth it.


Happy New Year, everyone! May the next year bring us all more amazing television.

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