In 2011 and 2012, I shared lists of my favorite things about film and television in those years. 2013, however, has been such an exceptional year for television in particular that I feel compelled to split this into two lists.
This is not a traditional Top 10 list, as I watch nowhere near enough television to feel qualified to make one. Rather, this is a list of things I felt were particularly noteworthy on television this year.
PBS Sunday night British drama (PBS)
Although Downton Abbey had its problems this year (meaning its third season, as I’m going by U.S. airings for this list), it remains one of my favorite television programs, and I will follow the triumphs and trials of the Crawley family and their servants until the powers that be decide to end the show. But PBS offers so much more British drama. Last year, I got hooked on Call the Midwife, which continued to charm me this year, but I also sampled a few other shows, with my favorites being Mr Selfridge, which entertained with its lavish turn-of-the-century department store setting, and The Bletchley Circle, which intrigued with its female quartet solving crime in the 1950s.
The Good Wife (CBS)
2013 has been the best year of The Good Wife so far. The one problem with the fourth season – Kalinda’s husband – was resolved at the end of 2012, allowing the show to move forward in this year. From last season’s stellar St. Patrick’s Day episode, featuring John Noble as a guest star, to its brilliant finale, The Good Wife set up the fifth season to be the best yet, and so far, it has delivered. The dissolution of many of the show’s professional relationships has created some of the most riveting television this fall, including the thrilling “Hitting the Fan.” This show is on fire, and I cannot wait to see where it takes us next year.
The perfection of Breaking Bad (AMC)
I only started watching Breaking Bad in February, but I caught up in time to watch the last eight episodes, a stretch of sheer perfection. The masterpiece “Ozymandias,” which still has a perfect 10 on imdb, was a raw and visceral examination of what Walter White’s crimes have caused his family, and the finale “Felina” closed the show in a way that elicited many cheers from fans. Was “Felina” too perfect? Maybe. But it tied up all the loose ends in an emotionally satisfying conclusion, and I doubt any other ending could have been as universally loved.
The Sound of Music Live! (NBC)
This production received entirely too much criticism, but since it was live theater on television, it should not be judged against a movie, a television production, or a live theatrical performance with an audience. It’s entirely different, and what was lost among all the discussion was the important fact that this had not been done on television since the 1950s, meaning that none of the cast or crew had experience mounting a production of this kind. Was it perfect? No. Could Carrie Underwood’s acting have been stronger? Certainly. But the problems do not undermine the guts it took NBC to try this experiment, and the mere fact that it exists brings a smile to my face. Plus, it gave us Audra McDonald’s stunning rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” and Underwood’s enthusiastic version of “The Lonely Goatherd,” a song I admit I never enjoyed before now.
The honesty of Rectify (Sundance Channel)
I was late to catch up on the Sundance Channel’s brilliant Rectify, but I am so glad that I did. The story of a man convicted of murder who is released from prison after nineteen years, Rectify shows how this man and his family cope with his freedom. The series is almost painfully honest about the difficulty of reintegrating back into society, especially back into a small town with a long memory.
The slow burn of Broadchurch (BBC America)
In the small town in Rectify, we see the old wounds of a murder from nearly two decades ago reopen. In the small town in Broadchurch, we see these wounds as they first open. Broadchurch begins with the murder of an eleven-year-old boy, and over the course of eight episodes, we watch the investigation to find his killer, with the search gaining more urgency with each twist. Stars David Tennant and Olivia Colman carry this murder mystery from its devastating opening to its emotionally shattering conclusion.
Celebrating the past, present, and future of Doctor Who for its 50th anniversary (BBC America)
Some spoilers for the anniversary special in this paragraph and the video.
On November 23rd, Doctor Who celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first airing. BBC marked the anniversary with a number of special programs that celebrated the show’s past, present, and future, chiefly, the anniversary special itself, “The Day of the Doctor,” which contained throwbacks to the classic series, had all the past and present Doctors looking towards their future together, and even had a split-second shot of 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi. BBC2 also produced the lovely movie about the show’s inception An Adventure in Space and Time, starring David Bradley as 1st Doctor William Hartnell. But BBC America went a step further, airing eleven The Doctors Revisited specials throughout the year of 2013. Each month, one new special focusing on one Doctor would air alongside a classic episode featuring that Doctor, allowing newer fans to get a sense of the long history of the show.
History’s one-two punch of The Bible and Vikings (History)
I admit History’s blockbuster biblical miniseries and its stunning first full series have little in common besides their ambition, but I fully enjoyed both programs. I liked The Bible despite its flaws, particularly the final installment that fittingly aired on Easter Sunday. Vikings, however, was a whole other animal, a brilliant new series based on the life of the historical figure Ragnar Lothbrok. Some gorgeous scenery complements a great story full of power struggles, and it has also given us a brilliant new multilayered female character in Lagertha, Ragnar’s wife, who is also a mother, a sword-wielding shieldmaiden, and Ragnar’s equal in practically every way.
The series finale of Fringe (FOX)
When compiling this list, I had almost forgotten that Fringe in fact ended early this year. Although I only have a patchy recollection of the details the the final episode, I remember the emotions I felt watching it: that bittersweet happiness that had me smiling through tears. Maybe the plot of Fringe wasn’t resolved as neatly as that of Breaking Bad, but it was the perfect conclusion for the reality-bending, wonderful show full of heart that Fringe is.
Celtic Woman: Home for Christmas (PBS)
This is admittedly the most personal choice on my list, as I am a megafan of Irish musical group Celtic Woman. This Christmas special – the group’s second – notably brought back original member Méav Ní Mhaolchatha, the brilliant soprano who hadn’t performed with the group since 2007. I watched this delightful special many times in December, often having it on in the background as I was doing chores around my apartment. And it always got me into the Christmas spirit.
What were your favorite things about television in 2013?