TV

The Best Television of 2013

Perhaps the most stunning element of this years list is the lack of domination by the broadcast networks. In fact, there are more streaming and pay cable shows taking top honors than any Big Three offering. The future of the medium is here and now.

Perhaps the most stunning element of this years list is the lack of domination by the broadcast networks. In fact, there are more streaming and pay cable shows taking top honors than any Big Three offering. The future of the medium is here and now.

 
TV Show: Hello Ladies

Network: HBO

Cast: Stephen Merchant, Christine Woods, Nate Torrence, Kevin Weisman, Kyle Mooney

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Hello Ladies
HBO

Extras writer/director/producer Stephen Merchant stars in Hello Ladies as Stuart, a web designer in Los Angeles. Stuart wants nothing more than to succeed with women. His tenant Jessica (Christine Woods) wants nothing more than to succeed as an actress. Like Andy and Maggie from Extras, these two are strivers, and at some point in each episode they reflect on their respective failures. In keeping with the brand of comedy Merchant developed with Ricky Gervais, much of the humor of Hello Ladies comes from Stuart's intensely awkward interactions with others. But what sets the show apart from Extras (and the Gervais brand in general) is the show's ample attention to the longing and loneliness of its characters' lives. Whereas Extras had to reach its series finale before expressing the regret of letting foolish ambition interfere with human relationships, Hello Ladies regularly invites viewers to consider how blind its characters are to the goodness that is already available to them. We know how much Stuart and Jessica need one another, and by the end of the first season, here's hoping they realize it, too. Thomas Britt

 
TV Show: Derek

Network: Netflix

Cast: Ricky Gervais, Karl Pilkington, Kerry Godliman, David Earl

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Derek
Netflix

It's safe to say that -- to borrow a British phrase -- the current version of Ricky Gervais is quite the mixer. From his caustic tweets to his occasional interview insights, he doesn't want the status quo resting on their big fat backsides. For his newest TV series, the comic actor is a care giver at a home for the elderly. Slightly deficient in the mental department (though not truly handicapped) the title character loves to use his sweet and gentle naiveté to take apart the horrid people who would persecute him, as well as the infirmed and aging populace where he works. While the show is still experiencing some significant growing pains, you can't beat the regular bits where Gervais tackles and wrestles his bald-headed buffoon co-star, Karl Pilkington. Bill Gibron

 
TV Show: Sleepy Hollow

Network: Fox

Cast: Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, Katia Winter

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Sleepy Hollow
Fox

Sleepy Hollow throws everything at its audience. A time-traveling protagonist transported two centuries in the future? Yes. A menagerie of monsters? Why not. A secret, alternate history of the United States and Revolutionary War? Sure. Why not add in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (the famed Headless Horseman is one) and other Biblical catastrophes, too? It all works together, mostly because Sleepy Hollow moves along at such a pace that don't have time to pick apart how any of it is stitched together. The mix of supernatural elements also gives the show a balance between monster-of-the-week episodes (which usually come with cool creature designs) and episodes that lay out the mythology for the oncoming war between good and evil. But what really sells it is the charm of Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), who sounds equally authoritative talking about 18th-century Freemasons as he does decrying the 21st-century "ten percent levy on baked goods"—aka the sales tax at Dunkin Donuts. Washington Irving would be tickled. Marisa LaScala

 
TV Show: The Jeselnik Offensive

Network: Comedy Central

Cast: Anthony Jeselnik

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The Jeselnik Offensive
Comedy Central

Talk about not understanding what you were getting into. Though they cited "low ratings" as the reason for its cancellation, it was crystal clear that Comedy Central had no idea what kind of show comedian Anthony Jelsenik was pitching. A combination of talk show and stand-up commentary, the brutal and often taboo-busting topics should have been a dead giveaway. So should have the various panel interactions which usually boiled down to dead baby jokes, scandalous scatology, and the routine ripping apart of various sacred cows. Consistently hilarious and often shocking, here's guessing the powers up were looking for a reason to rid it from their line-up. The number of people watching was just a lucky way out. Bill Gibron

 
TV Show: Hannibal

Network: NBC

Cast: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park, Laurence Fishburne

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Hannibal
NBC

The mysteriously macabre Hannibal serves a deliciously vivid bloodfeast for the imagination. Every frame is as elegantly prepared, beautifully lit and lavishly opulent as one of Lecter's frequent dinner dates. It's the most hypnotic, grotesquely ravishing show on TV. Be warned though between the entrée and sorbet it delivers and lustily lingers on things that'll echo through your nightmares. A lamb's tongue. Angel wings. A totem of limbs. A Cello cadaver. Microwave cremations. Bodies under the bed. Human mushroom gardens. Anna Chlumsky's severed arm. Like Lecter's dishes it overwhelms the senses and leaves you stumbling, intoxicated. We follow criminal profiler Will Graham, a haunted man falling through a fever dream of distortions, delusions, stray dogs and stags. But it's Mads Mikkelsen as the titular devil in disguise that brings home the bacon. A charmer who's after your heart. Literally. Developer Bryan Fuller hopes he'll slice 'n' dice for seven seasons cutting "Between Lynch and Kubrick" but should Hannibal die young it'll certainly leave one exquisite corpse. Matt James

 
TV Show: Saturday Night Live

Network: NBC

Cast: Vanessa Bayer, Aidy Bryant, Taran Killam, Kate McKinnon, Seth Meyers, Bobby Moynihan, Nasim Pedrad, Jay Pharoah, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson

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Saturday Night Live
NBC

The most consistently inconsistent show on television may seem like an odd choice for a best-of list, but as network TV crumbles around it, Saturday Night Live remains surprisingly fresh and enjoyable. After losing Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, and Fred Armisen in the spring, the show, yes, overhired in the white-dude department; even halfway through the season, five hardly seems necessary. Yet the show has also had a strong run in the fall, with several standout episodes (Tina Fey, Edward Norton, Josh Hutcherson), no flat-out terrible outings, and plenty to do for its crazy-talented women (Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Nasim Pedrad, and Vanessa Bayer) and, yeah, a couple of goofy new white dudes (Kyle Mooney and Mike O'Brien). Jesse Hassenger

 
TV Show: Sons of Anarchy

Network: FX

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Dayton Callie, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Ryan Hurst, Johnny Lewis, William Lucking,

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Sons of Anarchy
FX

A challenging season sewn together with expert precision and cloth loaned by national headlines and the atmosphere of the music of Joshua James and Leonard Cohen (both of whom wound up on the soundtrack this year), SAMCRO's sixth year marked the deaths of many key characters and the face-heel turns of others. Jax, Clay, Gemma, Tara, Chibs, Tig, Unser, Nero, Juice, Otto, Patterson and Torric all helped contribute to the shifting, frightening landscape of Charming, and of television, this season. Episodes like "Straw", the season opener, proved the show could be as surprising and brilliant as it ever had been, and "Wolfsangel" showed why the Teller-Morrow clan have a vital place in TV history, even in a televised landscape full of philandering advertising executives and cancer-stricken drug kingpins. The most devastating moments of season six, however, came in the final few acts of the finale, "A Mother's Work", proving once again that no one, not even the audience, is safe from the Sons as they race toward the finish line. Kevin Brettauer

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