The best (and worst) around the dial
I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of hours sitting on the sofa waching television in 2013. Was it worth it? Yes and no.
“Breaking Bad” (AMC)—Yes, the show could have ended with the “Ozymandias” episode and we all would have been blissfully happy. Bryan Cranston will win an Emmy, not even for that entire episode—he’ll take one home for one simple phone call he made in that episode. That brilliant, brutal, beautifully subtle telephone conversation was the best scene of the year. Then, two episodes later, we got Walter White’s final fade out to Badfinger’s “Baby Blue”—arguably the most satisfying goodbye in the history of television. R.I.P., Heisenberg. We will miss you.
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)—“Happy Days” gave us the term “jump the shark,” describing a TV episode containing a plot so preposterous that the show is clearly past its prime. This year “Game of Thrones” gave us the term “red wedding.” That would be an episode so brutal and injurious to its characters that it alters the entire course of the series. What this tells us is that HBO’s massive fantasy isn’t afraid to up the stakes, making it one of the best dramas (dragon-filled or otherwise) on TV right now.
“Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)—The entertainingly nasty political series “House of Cards” could easily have gone in this slot. But Netflix’s dark women’s prison comedy “Orange is the New Black” wins out for its originality and for its bold tackling of racial and sexual issues. Plus it’s got the best ensemble cast of any show. And it’s not even on an actual TV channel. Be afraid, broadcast TV. Be very afraid.
“Orphan Black” (BBC America)—The Beeb seems more dedicated to sci-fi and fantasy lately (“Doctor Who,” “Torchwood,” “The Nerdist,” “Atlantis,” “Primeval,” “Being Human”) than Syfy Channel. This twisty Canadian series about a young woman who discovers she’s just one of several (very different) clones is both an addictive sci-fi thriller and a magnificent showcase for the chameleonic talents of breakout star Tatiana Maslany.
“The Returned” (IFC)—FX’s “American Horror Story” remains crazy fun viewing, and the addition of some much appreciated humor has made this season of “Coven” well worth DVRing. (The sight of a decapitated Kathy Bates watching “Roots” was worth the price of admission alone.) That said, the first season of eerie French import “The Returned” was still the best horror on TV in 2013. This mysterious tale of dead people who return—scared, confused and refreshingly unzombiefied—to an isolated mountain town built slowly over the course of its eight episodes. But the writers explored the idea with sensitivity, drama and an increasing sense of dread. I’m dying for season two.
“Dads” (FOX) proved crude Seth MacFarlane jokes just aren’t funny coming out of the mouths of real, live people. Event TV reached its nadir with the interminable “Million Second Quiz” (NBC). This year saw two (count ’em, two) celebrity diving shows: “Splash” (ABC) and “Stars in Danger: The High Dive” (FOX). Reality TV asked a question no one wanted answered with “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” (E!). Anthony Edwards battled Nazis for possession of some Jesus-cloning Rosicrucian clocks that ... Nope, “Zero Hour” (ABC) made no sense whatsoever.