Like every critic out there, I have put together my best of list for the year. However, rather than pick the best series of the year, or even the best episodes of the year, I want to focus on the most memorable moments of the year. Some of them came from some of the most acclaimed shows of the year, some from lesser known (and totally worthy) shows that came out this year. So without further ado, and in no particular order…
1) The Police Procedurals Get Spun On Their Heads
Last year gave us three mini-series (one Irish, one British, and one Australian) that turned the police procedural on its ear by being just more about a standard case. And unlike say The Killing, the limited number of episodes (in order of the three shows – 5, 8, and 6) the shortened amount of screen time forced the plots down but still gave room for plenty of atmosphere and strong performances. Allan Cubitt’s The Fall turned into a spectacular cat and mouse game between Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson and the unsuspecting serial murderer Paul Spector (made all the more glorious by the riveting performances of Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan). Meanwhile the British mini-series Broadchurch was about the reaction of an entire town to a murder of a young boy and the search for his killer. And Top Of The Lake (created by film director Jane Campion with Gerald Lee) used the disappearance of a pregnant 12 year old girl to shine a horrifying light on the embedded rape culture of a small New Zealand town (and as horrifying as it was it had some of the best performances of the year from Elisabeth Moss, David Wenham, Peter Mullan, and Holly Hunter).
2) A Spit Take For The Ages
The Good Wife often gets shunted aside because (a) it’s on CBS and not an “adventurous” network like HBO, AMC, et cetera, and (b) it’s a procedural which gets boring after a while. But it has always stood above the pack thanks to its strong cast (Juliana Margulies, Christine Baranski, Josh Charles, and Chris North among others) and in the way it’s shaken the status quo of the show this past year (including Peter’s election as governnor, Alicia and Carey’s rebellion from the firm, and more). And it ended 2013 with a perfect capper for its 100th episode; as gubernatorial aid and fixer Eli Gold (played by the brilliant Alan Cumming) reacts to a comment pregnant with meaning in the end that serves as the perfect capper to a fantastically tumultuous year on the show.
3) The “Theme from Cheers” In A Whole New Light
Adventure Time has always been more than a simple children’s show, and show creator Pendleton Ward has not been shy in his attempts at world-building (especially when you realize that the Land of Ooo only got that way after a nuclear holocaust) and hinting at the very dark core that everything is built on; thanks to the hinted history of Marceline The Vampire Queen and The Ice King, who both survived The Great Mushroom War (as revealed in last year’s heartbreaking episode “I Remember You”). In “Simon and Marcy,” we learn just what they went through to survive the war. In a moment to try and cheer a scared Marcy up, the man who would become The Ice King sings a shattering version of the theme to one of the greatest television shows of all time in a pathetic attempt to restore some normalcy for a scared girl. It is equally hilarious, absurd, and heartbreakingly moving, and would be one of the best musical in a show that has consistently used music so well.
4) “The Name Game”
While we can bitch about the luridness and lunacy of the current season of American Horror Story, the biggest reason for complaints was this; the second season – Asylum – showed us that the show could tell a genuinely engaging story while still having its share of WTF moments. And the most insane part of the truly good second season when Jessica Lange (as the discredited Sister Jude) is recovering from shock therapy and with the help of her fellow inmates uses a 60s novelty song to remember who she is. In typical AHS style it comes out of left field but in atypical style it leaps from a grounded moment in a story that shows off its repertory cast (including such heavy hitters as Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy, Evan Peters, and Zachary Quinto) to the best of its abilities.
5) “The Red Wedding”
While I am no fan of Game Of Thrones, I give credit to the production staff of the show for actually committing to the full gore of one of the most seminal events in the entire book series. It was as shocking and as disturbing on screen as it was on the page; so shocking in fact that even fans of the book were surprised by it.
6) Best One Woman Show Of The Season
One of the most intriguing shows of the season, and one of the most intriguing sci-fi shows ever, Orphan Black asked the questions of the root of identity in examining one woman and the clones that have been made of her. None of this would have worked had it not been for Tatiana Maslany’s galvanizing performance(s) as all of the clones; each radically different from one another.
7) Two Surprising Disappearing Acts
If you had sad the words “Michael Douglas as Liberace” or “Helena Bonham Carter as Liz Taylor” I would have said “Are you crazy?” But both actors disappear into their roles so completely that it’s astonishing to watch. And while Behind The Candelabra was the more acclaimed performance (thanks to the star power in front of and behind the camera – read my review here), Bonham Carter nails the inherent loopiness and heartbreak of Elizabeth Taylor in the intimate BBC film Burton and Taylor. Both actors deserved every plaudit they got for their work.
8) FX Has A Banner Year
Of all the networks putting out great work, no single network did better than FX, giving us great dramas all year. In addition to American Horror Story, there was The Bridge, Justified, Louie, Sons Of Anarchy, and one of my favorite new shows of the year The Americans. Each show listed was filled with great writing, great performances, and some great moments that left everyone speechless. A great year for the network that was managing to upset HBO and AMC’s dominance.
9) Sally Draper Kicks Over The Dominos
As we all predicted when it started, the sixth season of Mad Men would probably be the most tumultuous of the entire show, thanks to being set in 1968 – one of the most tumultuous years in all of American History. And while we all wondered if Don Draper would be able to handle the year, we saw his past creep into his present in very disturbing ways; leaving him open to manipulations and attacks from the various women in his life. But it would be his daughter, not so little Sally Draper, discovering him with his pants down that would set off the chain of events that would lead to Don’s life crumbling around him. Attention once again must be paid to Keirnan Shipka who has turned Sally’s descent into teenage angst and righteous fury into one of the most compelling performances on television.
10) The Television Meme Of The Year
Of course. (It also helps that Vincent Kartheiser did some of his best work on the show this season.)
11) Audra McDonald Shows Us How Its Done
While many people were watching The Sound Of Music Live! purely out of morbid curiosity (and pure hate watching), there was a lot of good there to be had; particularly from the actors in the cast that knew their way around a Broadway musical. Leading the charge was five-time Tony-award winning actress Audra McDonald as the Mother Superior. Not only did she sing the role beautifully (climaxing in a truly thrilling rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”) but her brilliant acting made the Mother Superior a fully realized character that stood in sharp relief to Carrie Underwood’s undefined Maria.
12) Breaking Bad Nails The Ending
As I mentioned before, it’s a rare thing to see a television series that gives us a truly satisfying ending. Leave it to show creator Vince Giligan to bring it home with the ending of Breaking Bad. Using the show’s sense of economy to its best effect (and getting thrilling performances out of every single cast member), the end of Breaking Bad was one of the best moments on television in 2013 because it was a proper ending to the tale of Walter White.
Photo and Video Credits: Sundance Channel, Cartoon Network, FX, HBO, BBC Television, AMC, NBC