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Downton Abbey

Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Brown Findlay, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt, Thomas Howes

(PBS)

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Downton Abbey
PBS


Some may describe Downton Abbey as a British period soap opera, and in some ways it takes the dramatic tropes and twists of the genre to heart, but the series is so successful because of the characters, not because of the outrageous things that happen to them. At this point characters like Lady Mary, Mrs. Hughes, and Carson are so engaging by themselves that the series often has its best moments when they’re just standing around talking to each other about that night’s dinner menu. Downton Abbey remains a wonderful showcase for sharp writing and a terrific cast, as Maggie Smith, among others, continue to attest. Jessica Suarez


 

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Arrested Development

Cast: Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter

(Netflix)

Review [21.Feb.2006]
Review [2.May.2005]
Review [10.Nov.2003]

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Arrested Development
Netflix


The best way to understand the brilliance of Arrested Development‘s much-hyped and sometimes-maligned return is to adjust to its new form. Neither movie nor traditional TV season, these 15 episodes essentially comprise a single encyclopedic, cross-referenced episode of the show, reconfigured to tell an epic (and epically detailed) story across the years since it went off the year. Some character-centric episodes are better than others (GOB! George Michael!), but even more than the original run of the show, the effect here is cumulative, with the show’s penchant for running gags and callbacks highlighted and spread across a massive canvas. Arrested on Netflix was supposed to challenge traditional TV delivery methods; instead, it challenged the very form of television. Jesse Hassenger


 

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Masters of Sex

Cast: Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Teddy Sears, Nicholas D’Agosto

(Showtime)

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Masters of Sex
Showtime


Sometimes it seems like most cable channels are trying to outdo HBO as they include more violence, sex and cursing to their own shows, and it seemed as if Showtime’s Master of Sex would be just that. With its scintillating premise which chronicles the revolutionary studies of human sexuality conducted by Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), the show promised viewers the opportunity to tune in week after week and see people have sex. But it seems that this very promise was just a way to lure viewers into what has turned in a masterful—no pun intended—drama about intimacy. With stunning performances by the entire cast (with Caplan being the clear standout as the strong willed Johnson) the show uses sex as a portal to study that one thing scientists still can’t put their finger on: love. Jose Solis


 

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Girls

Cast: Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky

(HBO)

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Girls
HBO


“One Man’s Trash”, a second-season episode of Girls, may have been polarizing even to the most strident fans of the show, but it proves why the series deserves a spot on any Top TV list. The episode finds Hannah Horvath (series creator Lena Dunham) spending a lost couple of days with a Brooklyn doctor (played by Patrick Wilson). The episode exists in a bubble; Hannah barely talks to any series regulars, and she and the doctor never venture outside of his brownstone together. It was so removed from the rest of the series, people speculated it was a dream. “One Man’s Trash” proves Girls’ originality and fearlessness. In a TV-watching culture that prizes serialized storytelling and binge-watchability above all else, Dunham isn’t afraid to take her show on a different tack and do a stand-alone episode. She’s also not afraid to go broad when other shows are trying to be grounded, or to show female characters spiraling out of control or refusing to grow up (normally the domain of male characters). It’s this willingness to take risks—some of which, admittedly, turn out to be more successful than others—that make Girls one of the most exciting shows on television. Marisa LaScala


 

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House of Cards

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll, Michael Kelly, Sakina Jaffrey, Kristen Connolly, Constance Zimmer

(Netflix)

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House of Cards
Netflix


In retrospect, Netflix’s first original television series House of Cards lived up to the hype. Whether you were one of the many binge-watchers who viewed the entire first season in one sitting within hours of the show’s release, or you spread the episodes out to savor them over a long period of time, there is no denying that we were all hooked. Kevin Spacey owns the screen as Francis Underwood, a corrupt Congressman who will do whatever it takes to stay in power. The supporting cast is equally fantastic, including Robin Wright as Francis’ quietly menacing wife Claire, Kate Mara as the ambitious political reporter Zoe Barnes, and Corey Stoll as the tragic Representative Peter Russo. House of Cards is political intrigue at its finest, and one of the best new shows of 2013. Jon Lisi


 

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Treme

Cast: Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown, Chris Coy, Kim Dickens, India Ennenga, John Goodman, Michiel Huisman, Melissa Leo, Lucia Micarelli, David Morse, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, Jon Seda, Steve Zahn

(HBO)

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Treme
HBO


Treme may have failed to make as strong an impression as David Simon’s earlier series,The Wire, but it’s not for lack of quality. The series remains an acquired taste for many, despite the excellent ensemble of actors and strong writing. In focusing on post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Treme has consistently offered an unflinching portrait of a city devastated by tragedy, yet still so culturally rich as to rise above it all. Music has always been the anchor of the series and in its last season it continues to bring together a diverse cast of characters in unique and intriguing ways. Jessica Suarez


 

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Cast: Andy Samberg, Stephanie Beatriz, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, Andre Braugher

(Fox)

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Fox


Perhaps the only new network TV comedy to make you really want to see another episode next week, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a refreshing entry into the canon of police shows airing on current TV. Andy Samberg stars as goofy detective Jake Peralta whose reign of childhood antics (which still save the day) is put to a stop with the arrival of tough Captain Ray Holt (a brilliant Andre Braugher) who is assigned as the new Commanding Officer of the 99th precinct. The beauty of the show is that the cases aren’t as interesting as watching the dynamics between the ensemble. From Stephanie Beatriz’s hilarious Rosa Diaz to Melissa Fumero’s overachiving Detective Amy Santiago, the show offers a collection of characters that it makes fun of lovingly, without reducing them to silly stereotypes. Week after week the writing proves to be some of the smartest on current television as it subtly explores issues of race, gender and crime proving that comedy too can serve a higher social purpose. Jose Solis


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