It was another year of change for TV in 2013.
Networks continued their slow, inevitable trudge to irrelevance. Cable somehow took the ratings crown with shows about zombies and Louisianan duck hunters. And Netflix effectively created a third medium altogether on its streaming service with shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.
Still regardless of how much things changes, one fact remained the same: TV is really, really, really good right now. And to honor our favorite glowing box of wires, we’ve compiled some of the best that TV had to offer this year.
Best New Show that Begins with the letter “O” and Features a Mostly Female Cast: Orange Is The New Black
House of Cards was supposed to be Netflix’s iconic show and it was for a couple of months before Orange is the New Black premiered. OITNB was fresh, funny and best typified what the sleeping giant that is Netflix is capable of.
Best New Show that Begins with the letter “O” and Features a Mostly Female Cast (All Played by One Actress): Orphan Black
If you didn’t catch the debut season of BBC America’s Orphan Black, you missed out on the best televised science fiction since Lost debuted. Tatiana Maslany is an easy target for adoration, creating and inhabiting no fewer than seven distinct characters but the show is so much more than just one brilliant performance.
Best Performance on a Show that Secretly Sucked but No One Will Admit It: Elizabeth Moss, Top Of The Lake
Between The Returned and Rectify, Sundance Channel had an excellent year, announcing itself as the new AMC. But it was Top of the Lake that garnered the most critical adoration…bafflingly. It’s beautifully shot and features near-perfect performances from Elizabeth Moss and Peter Mullan but its heavy handling of victimization and sexual violence falls just short of the thin line between enlightening and excessive.
Best Season-Long Mystery: "Who is Drew Thompson?," Justified
Justified has been firing on all cylinders since episode one of its second season, so it’s no wonder that the writers would knock the first season-long mystery they attempted out of the park. The character of Drew Thompson took on a Bill Brasky-esque aura of mystique throughout the season and the big reveal of who he is didn’t diminish his legend in the slightest.
Best Episode that Made Absolutely Zero Sense: “The Crash," Mad Men
“The Crash” is why the TV medium is forever better for having been graced with Mad Men. It is unabashedly strange but so, so much more bold than any TV show would dare to attempt. Yes, even Breaking Bad. Plus, it gave Mad Men fans, the .gif of the year.
The Feud Of The Year: Chalky White Vs. Dr. Narcisse, Boardwalk Empire
Give Michael K. Williams and Jeffrey Wright all of the awards. Now. From the moment Chalky Black called Dr. Narcisse a "saditty motherf*cker," we knew this was going to be epic, but things ratcheted up to another level as the season progressed to its tragic conclusion. Hopefully, this isn't the end as we'd take Williams and Wright on camera together as often as possible forever.
The Best Thing DC Comics Has Going: Arrow
DC Comics is doing to the TV field what Marvel is doing for movies: creating a united, connected universe that's totally kickass. Sure, Arrow suffers from a few CW-based setbacks but it's the best super-hero show we've seen in ages. With the introduction of the Flash and other DC characters, it's the best action show you're maybe not watching.
Your Reality TV Guilty Pleasure: Total Divas
David D. here taking over for a minute. Total Divas is everything. If you're not reading Burnsy's recaps then you're just not watching it right. Not only does it have beautiful women (HAY NAOMI), but it occasionally gets out of the way long enough to show some insight into the inner workings of the WWE and it's fascinating. Plus, you know what, f*ck you.
Most Graphic Sex Scene on HBO: “On All Fours,” Girls You thought it was going to be from Game of Thrones, didn’t you? Well it turns out that hardened, horny warriors from a lawless fantasy realm have nothing on bored Bushwick twenty-somethings. “That scene” featuring Adam Driver and Shiri Appleby was the Red Wedding of sex in 2013.
Most Shocking Moment: The Red Wedding, Game of Thrones Speaking of The Red Wedding, if a moment on TV occurs that’s so shocking, it gets its own name, then it’s got to be the most shocking moment of the season. Who saw that coming? Aside from millions of readers of A Storm of Swords. Book-readers who didn’t spoil the Red Wedding for their non-book reading Game of Thrones fan friends were the unspoken MVPs of 2013.
Funniest Scene: Anything involving the Animal Control guys from Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation had a slightly down Season 5 and is slogging through an even slower sixth season but it’s not the fault of Harris Wittels and Colton Dunn’s animal control department guys. YouTube doesn’t even have the single funniest scene. Watch the episode “Emergency Response” on Netflix and try not to die laughing at Brett’s insistence of drowning birds.
Biggest Crashes: The Bridge and The Americans
The Bridge and The Americans both started out strong for FX The Americans was the exciting spy drama that TV hadn’t seen in years and encapsulated the ‘80s nearly as well as Mad Men has nailed the ’60s. The Bridge was the rare show with a political message but still dedicated to a human story. Then somewhere along the way, both shows strayed from their promising paths. The Bridge and The Americans were supposed to be the next generation of excellent FX shows but in the end they just served as a reminder that FX’s new “classy” channel “FXM” can’t come soon enough.
Most Deserved Emmy: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Veep became the best comedy on television in its second season but more improbably it also became the rarest of TV breeds: a comedy that the tone-deaf Emmys actually recognizes as brilliant. Julia Louis-Dreyfus should clear off plenty of mantle space for more statuettes.
Best Performance that Will Never Win an Emmy: Charles Dance, Game of Thrones
Charles Dance is never going to win an Emmy. Game of Thrones’ cast is too large, and the Emmys are allergic to all non-Peter Dinklage fantasy performances. Sadly, Dance deserves a golden statue more than anyone on television. His Tywin Lannister is the most feared and powerful man in Westeros and there is not one frame of Game of Thrones where Dance makes you question why. He is a towering, terrifying, withering presence and clearly having the most fun on a show where actors routinely get to stab each other in the face.
Best Daily Show Host: John Oliver
Jon Stewart will forever be the only definitive Daily Show host (stop crossing your fingers, Craig Kilborn) but in 2013, John Oliver provided a much needed injection of energy and wry British wit to keep the show interesting. Stewart got his break and has come back with as much vigor as ever but for an eight week period this summer, Oliver did a wonderful job with one of American pop culture’s most iconic institutions. Good luck at HBO, Johnny.
Best Actor (Non-Cranston Division): Danny McBride, Eastbound and Down
Comedic performances do not get enough credit in TV and film. Case and point: Danny McBride’s absolute monster of a creation in Kenny Powers would make Shakespeare himself proud but is often not thought of amongst the Cranstons and Hamms of the world. And that’s a shame. McBride created a gem and the final season of Eastbound and Down gave him his best showcase of Kenny Powers’ weird brilliance yet.
Related: The Best TV-Related .GIF Of The Year
Best Actor (Cranston Division): Bryan Cranston
Best Season of TV (Ever?): Season 5 of Breaking Bad
One of Breaking Bad’s most impressive qualities over its five-plus season run was its sense of escalation. Vince Gilligan so meticulously crafted Walter White’s journey to power and ruin that it never once felt rushed. So the thrill of season five’s Greek tragedy-esque opus is that the epic has never felt more plausible yet still thrilling. If you didn’t like season five of Breaking Bad, you don’t like television. Good luck topping this, 2014.