My 12 Favourite TV Shows Of 2013

Enlightened Banner

So, these are my favourite shows of 2013. I’m not really going to call them the “best shows of 2013,” because that’s subjective and my mind is always changing, but these are the ones I enjoyed the most. And, yeah, don’t put too much stock in how I ranked them, because I have no clue, I like them all, and my opinion of them is always shifting and jockeying. In fact, I just thought of a new order to put them in…..

1. Enlightened

A simply beautiful show that masterfully handles comedy and drama better than either full-fledged dramas or comedies can. Elements of short stories and a long form narrative give the show everything it needs to be successful on a plot level. Laura Dern, Mike White, and Luke Wilson among others are perfect in their roles and inhibit areas of sadness that make their characters feel so, so real. I’m crushed it won’t get a third season, but I’m happy with what we got.

2. Breaking Bad

Not as high on it as a lot of people, but I still greatly enjoyed the ride. That’s the keyword, “ride.” I don’t think the show is particularly all that great, or even close to the best show of all time, but it was damn fun, suspenseful and entertaining that actually got me counting down until the next episode aired.

3. The Americans

The best new show of the year, a spy drama in the 80s. Faced under Cold War pre-texts a married Russian spy couple goes undercover in the States. Not only is it a action drama in that sense, but it also gets great depth out of it’s portrayal of a forced together and crumbling marriage and how to deal with these emotions in the face of geo-politics.

4. Orange Is The New Black

Even better than I anticipated after all of the hype. Mainly focalized in a women’s prison, it allowed the show to work through a formed structure and keep the action clicking along under one roof. Very funny and dark, and mixes these two elements perfectly.

5. The Good Wife

Has always been good, but season five has pushed things to a new level. After Alicia and co. have moved on from Lockhart/Gardner they face all sorts of new problems dealing with their own firm, and the fall out from where the once came. The best show on network TV, a procedural, but bucks all preconceived notions that come with that title, keeping it fresh every episode.

6. Hannibal

The most surprising show that not only turned out to be good, but was often great in spots. One of the few shows to have actual imagery that was frightening and rivaling most current horror movies. Hugh Dancy is utterly perfect as Will Graham, a frayed and conflicted Special Agent who gets unraveled to his last piece of yarn. Mads Mikkelsen is equally chilling as Hannibal, driving the suspense to a constant peak. I’m not sure what season two will bring, a lot of shit went down at the end of the first, but I’m just glad we’re getting some more of the show.

7. Justified

Consistently one of the best shows on TV. Olyphant continues to own the role, really like he was born to play it, and just oozes cool at every step. They always tell a compelling, intertwining and smart story with enough action and twists and turns to keep you guessing. The odd stand-alone episode only further cements how great this show is, and how in control of its motives it truly is.

8. Masters Of Sex

Was very unsure and luke-warm to the show at first, but progressively grew on me as the episodes wore on. As the sex studies experiments became more in-depth and real so did the relationships that it accidentally affected and changed for the better or worse. Michael Sheen is great as the withdrawn and calculated Masters, while Lizzy Caplan puts in excellent work as the driven assistant who becomes much more than that.

9. Mad Men

A down year of the show in my eyes, not that it wasn’t any good, but to the standards I hold this show (one of my favourites of all time), it wasn’t what I had hoped.

10. Game Of Thrones

I really like this show, but sometimes it becomes a slog for me becuase I really can’t stand fantasy. That being said, there were some fantastic episodes, of course “The Rains Of Castamere,” and there’s usually always some crazy shit going down or about to go down, with seemingly nobody safe.

11. Treme

I like this show a lot more than most, but I see why others don’t like it. Yeah, it comes off boring and not much plot propulsion, but it really is just about the characters, the city and the atmosphere of these intertwining people and the short stories trying to recover in their own way from disaster.

12. Homeland

Yeah, I was pretty disappointed with season three, and it turned me off of a lot of the show, but goddamn if I still like watching and see what ridiculous well they go to next. It’s an entirely different show from when it started out, and I never really know what they’re going to do next. That’s pretty much it, I look forward to watching the show still, and they continue to somehow keep roping me back in.

‘The Americans’: Intertwining Relationship Drama And Action

'The Americans' Banner

No matter the show you watch, there’s always going to be elements of exploration of relationships, whether it be romantic, friendly, antagonistic, work-related, or whatever combination you can dream of. These relationships are the connective tissue to learning about specific characters and deepening our knowledge of them. Now each show is different of course, and carries their own variety or depth of exploring these relationships. A more action-orientated show like 24 will put less emphasis on the development of romantic or even casual relationships building because it is focused more on thrills and action. Of course, these developments will pop up, especially over the long run of a serious, but are infrequent and not one of the shows main tenants. Soapier shows on the other hand like Downton Abbey are built off of these webs of relationships, rivalries and family ties. The narrative itself is often spun out of these connections and establishes changing in character goals and often the shifting of paradigms. Procedural shows such as Law & Order and Numb3rs (a prime example I like to use for this) are always focused on a case-a-week type structure, but always have some tag or coda at the end, that is divorced from the case and reveals something about the personal life of a main character.

I bring this all up because balancing these relationships is hard to do and integrating it so faithfully that it plays intelligently off the narrative structure of the series is something hard to do. Action shows are mainly focused on thrilling, comedies have interconnected relationships but are mainly after the joke and soapier shows trend in the direction of putting these relationships at the forefront, but often end up being silly and over the top like soaps usually are. Applying the depth of relationship building of not only a family but also of a romantic idea and weaving that directly into the main plot of an overarching show is quite hard to do while giving equal credence to both sides of the coin.

The Americans, an obvious candidate for best show of the year, manages to be focused on its narrative plot of two soviet spies who pose as a married couple in the United States during the Cold War, and the familial ties that bind. On the face of things the show is billed and is primarily about these two married Russian spies, Elizabeth and Philip, who are intent on mining information from the American government in order to pass it back to their homeland in gaining the upperhand in the Cold war. The show is serialized, but has some elements of procedurals where one mission is the focus of an episode and is closed off, albeit with some loose ends to keep the overarching story forward. Now this would be a fine action thriller all by itself, but because of the unique dynamic of Philip and Elizabeth who were arranged and paired together and are forced to raise kids around this to maintain their cover, everything gets an entirely different layer. They obviously have grown together and grown a special sort of kinship over the years, having posed like this for so long, but the actual real depth of their love for each other is always fluctuating, if it even exists at all. It seems one moment they’re completely trying to make things work, with legitimate feelings, until Philip has to sleep with a government secretary to gain information, something that again unsettles Elizabeth into what if any their feelings and relationship to each other means. The added component of having to raise kids, and you know, do actual parenting shit like feeding them, getting them to school etc. etc. can’t be ignored. The unsettling of their relationship feeds into their “job” and how they work together, something never admitted by either side, but growing into their trials and tribulations in trying to complete missions.

Bringing this all around, The Americans works so well in establishing, breaking down and servicing both romantic and family relationships because it is tied so intrinsically to the main conceit of the continuing narrative. Their relationship quibbles and spats aren’t something that is secluded to one section of the episode and never brought up again, but rather more like a boiling pot of water that slowly simmers throughout a mission or event, and can boil over at any instance depending on their position with each other and causing the ability to compromise a mission. This is serious business for them, being an undercover Russian spy in the 1980s might be the worst job outside of facing the dynasty New York Islanders or Edmonton Oilers. Elizabeth becomes unsure of Philip’s commitment to the cause, him being more sympathetic to capitalistic ideas, causing her to think about turning him in and telling their handlers. Every single personal decision in the family or between them as a couple often has significant bearings on their professional life and by proxy the main narrative of the show. By embracing these aspects of relationships and directly injecting it into the “action” plot of the series, The Americans creates a new level of uncertainty and thematic depth to every action taken personally or professionally.