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Best and Worst TV of 2013

I write about video games on here a lot, but I spend way more time watching TV (and movies) than I do playing games. A list like this isn’t necessarily “tech-y,” but if you’re looking for a TV series (or two, or three, or ten) to catch up on during the next few slow winter months, I suggest checking some of these shows out.

(NOTE: I plan to see — but have not yet seen — Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Masters of Sex, Boardwalk Empire, Veep, Broadchurch and The Returned. There’s too much good TV to get to. I can’t deal with it all.)

Hannibal

12. Hannibal (Season 1, NBC)

Silence of the Lambs is a great movie. When I first heard they were working on a prequel series that would air on NBC (of all places), I thought there was no way it could possibly stack up. I was SO wrong. Anchored by outstanding performances by Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson, Hannibal is far creepier, moodier and darker than anything I thought I’d ever see on network TV. Each of the first season’s 13 episodes is brutal in one way or another. This show is not for the faint of heart, but if you like dark, psychological dramas, check this out before Season 2 debuts at the end of February.

The Americans

11. The Americans (Season 1, FX)

FX is probably my favorite channel, and I think it’s safe to say that The Americans stacks up to some of the other great shows on the network. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as a soviet couple married and living in America, plotting to take down the federal government during the Cold War Era. Everything about this series is great, especially the music paired with some of the season’s best scenes (which the AV Club described in far better detail than I ever could). Season 2 of this show debuts at the end of February, too, so time is again of the essence!

Futurama

10. Futurama (Season 8 [Final Season], Comedy Central)

There’s no rush to watch this series; the last 13 episodes of Futurama provided the series’ third (and probably final) swan song. I’ve always loved Futurama, but much of the last four seasons (all on Comedy Central) were up and down. There were classic episodes, sure, but there was something missing. With an ending point in mind, Matt Groening and David X. Cohen dug deep and pulled out some real classics. Few things I watch get me emotional, but Futurama’s finale made me tear up. Farewell, Futurama.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

9. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (Season 9, FXX)

Sunny has always been one of my favorite shows, but it, too, has been on the decline of late. Many of my favorite episodes come from the first handful of seasons, rather than the most recent seasons. But something happened this year, and this season might have been my favorite of all time. The characters were as dumb and loveable (in an awful way) as ever, if not more so. I thought “The Gang Saves the Day,” a Rashomon-like re-telling of how the gang intervened during a convenience store robbery, would be my favorite episode of the year, but “Flowers for Charlie” took the cake. After 9 seasons and 104 episodes, it’s hard to imagine I’d have a new favorite episode of the show… but it’s true.

Justified

8. Justified (Season 4, FX)

Justified might be my favorite show on TV. It’s not necessarily the “best” (it’s never received the accolades that Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones or Mad Men has gotten) but it’s the most fun I have watching any show. Timothy Olyphant is so charming and awesome as lead character Raylan Givens, and even when the show doesn’t match up to its finest seasons (like it failed to do this year), every episode is awesome to watch. If you’ve never seen Justified, you owe it to yourself to start – its second and third seasons are some of the best TV I’ve ever seen.

Siberia

7. Siberia (Season 1 [Final Season], NBC)

Oh, Siberia, you were a shooting star that burned too bright, too fast. A victim of horrible marketing, it was never made clear whether this was an actual reality show or a scripted one … until you watched an episode. A group of contestants is stranded in (you guessed it!) Siberia, with the winner bringing home a hefty cash payout. But when a contestant dies and things go awry, everything begins to fall apart. It’s the closest thing to LOST (my all-time favorite show) that I’ve seen since it ended, and I loved it for that alone. Featuring all unknown actors, Siberia is a show that I’ll be recommending to people for years to come.

The Walking Dead

6. The Walking Dead (Season 4, AMC)

I absolutely, positively HATED the third season of The Walking Dead. The first two seasons were up and down in my books, but the third season was almost entirely trash (except for “Clear”). That’s why it came as such a shock that the fourth season was nearly flawless, from start to finish. Well-written with amazing moments of tension and actual consequences, this was a completely different show than the one I’ve watched for three years. For the first time since the show began, I’m excited to watch more episodes when the back half of the fourth season kicks off in a few weeks.

New Girl

5. New Girl (Season 2-3 / Calendar Year 2013, Fox)

It took almost three-quarters of a year to get going, but New Girl is one of the funniest shows on TV. All of the actors involved have the ability to steal the show, and all have at one point or another. Season 2 was all about Nick (Jake Johnson), one of the most ridiculous and hysterical characters I’ve ever seen on a TV show. Season 3’s stories have relegated Winston (Lamorne Morris) to the sidelines, leaving the writers to grasp at straws for stories … yet has somehow become the funniest character this year. New Girl’s unlike other sitcoms in that you shouldn’t really pick up and start with any episode. There are more throughlines (relationships and otherwise) than on most other sitcoms. Sure, you can tune in to any given episode and laugh a lot, but watching from the start is the best way to go. The first two seasons are available on Netflix, so start now!

Enlightened

4. Enlightened (Season 2 [Final Season], HBO)

Few shows are as beautifully shot or methodically-paced as Enlightened was. While I’d love to see a third season (and creative team Mike White and Laura Dern, who also star, have hemmed and hawed about doing it), it seems like HBO is done with this show. That’s really sad because the first two seasons’ 18 episodes tell a story not seen anywhere else. Amy Jellicoe (Dern) wants to change the world and do good, but winds up doing a lot of bad in the process. But she’s determined to make a positive change, and Season 2 sees her effort to bring down her terrible company. The AV Club named Enlightened its Best Show of 2013, and I whole-heartedly agree. There were, however, three shows I personally liked more…

Comedy Bang Bang

3. Comedy Bang Bang (Season 2, IFC)

Comedy Bang Bang, the podcast, is the funniest thing I interact with. Between movies, TV, podcasts, standup and more, I consistently laugh harder and more often than at anything else. Comedy Bang Bang, the TV show, is a distilled, 22-minute version of the podcast, and is weirder than anything else on TV right now (except for some Adult Swim stuff, but that’s in a league of its own). Scott Aukerman hosts a talk show where he brings in some of the biggest guests in Hollywood, only to see something inevitably go wrong. It’s hard to put into words why Comedy Bang Bang is funny; it’s something you need to see for yourself. I know that’s an awful explanation for a list like this, but it is what it is!

Orphan Black

2. Orphan Black (Season 1, BBC America)

And the award for Best Actress, Best Breakout Performer, Best HOW MANY CHARACTERS IS SHE PLAYING?! goes to Tatiana Maslany, for playing a half-dozen characters on Orphan Black. To watch this show is to see a master class in acting. She’s often on screen three times at once, playing three different characters. Maslany plays a handful of clones, struggling to figure out who they are, what they are, and where they belong. It’s got a season-long mythology arc (sort of similar to ones The X-Files had), making this a show you need to sit down and watch from start to finish. But once you start, you won’t be able to stop. I watched all 10 episodes over two days, only taking a break to sleep in between. I’M WEAK, I KNOW.

Breaking Bad

1. Breaking Bad (Season 5, Part 2 [Final Season], AMC)

Maybe the season of TV I’ve ever seen. Everything about this show was perfect, and gives me chills today just thinking about it. Watching Walter White (Bryan Cranston) go from Mr. Chips to Scarface over 62 episodes is more of a transformation than I’ve ever seen on TV, and likely more than I’ll ever see again. The Emmy Awards could hand out every award they have to Breaking Bad, and I wouldn’t even complain. Watching the show’s third-to-last episode, “Ozymandias,” was the most the most tense I’ve ever been, doing anything. It was outstanding. The best hour of TV I’ve ever seen. Hands down. It’s worth watching the 59 episodes preceding it just to get to that hour of television alone.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (Quick Hits!)

Rectify (Sundance) was, like Enlightened, a slow and beautiful show. Its six-episode first season was one of the best seasons of TV anywhere this year. Trophy Wife (ABC) is far, far, far funnier than I ever thought it’d be, and it’s all thanks to Bert (Albert Tsai) and Jackie (Michaela Watkins). Nathan For You (Comedy Central) was absolutely ridiculous, in all the best ways. Family Tree (HBO) finally brought Christopher Guest to TV; a scene where Chris O’Dowd Skypes with a ventriloquist’s monkey is one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year. @Midnight (Comedy Central) takes everything I love about the internet and presents it to all of my favorite comedians to lampoon. Bob’s Burgers (Fox) is one of the funniest shows on TV, and arguably should be in my best-of list. Sorry, Bob! I started watching Sleepy Hollow (Fox) because I thought it’d be a hilarious train-wreck; it turned out to be an awesome show loaded with supernatural elements I don’t normally enjoy.

Dexter

Worst Show of 2013: Dexter

I’ve written over 1,700 words up to this point, and I could write thrice that amount talking about how much I absolutely despised the final season of Dexter. There was other bad and pointless television I struggled to get through or gave up on (Hostages, The Blacklist, The Bridge and Under the Dome come to mind), but no show enraged me the way Dexter did.

[There are vague spoilers throughout this write-up, so if you plan on watching Dexter, skip this whole thing. Just know the eighth season is awful, and almost ruins the four good seasons the show had.]

Dexter’s first seven seasons were truly, a roller-coaster of quality. Its first two seasons were great; its third season was mostly pointless. The fourth season, starring John Lithgow, was probably its finest up through that point, but that was followed by a boring fifth season and an awful sixth season. But then, out of nowhere, Dexter’s seventh season was outstanding.

[Major spoiler alert!] Dexter is a serial killer who kills other serial killers, but also works in Miami Metro’s homicide division. At the end of the show’s sixth season, his sister, Deb, sees him murder a criminal. Season seven sees the fallout of that. [End major spoiler alert!]

Dexter’s seventh season was my favorite in the show’s run, because the showrunners finally had a sense of purpose. But it ended in a way that the story could be wrapped up in another two or three hours, but instead was given 13. Bad, bad, bad idea.

Dexter’s final season was a trainwreck of epic proportions. Secondary and tertiary characters were given far too much to do, which has always been an issue with this show but never to this extent. New family members were introduced, entire storylines were written in just to give these actors something to do … all while stringing Dexter’s story along with no tension.

[Major spoiler alert, here to the end!] Watching a show like this, you always had to wonder: Would Dexter get away, or would he get caught? Turns out, neither! IT’S THE WORST. He brings his dead sister (oh yeah, she died, sorry Deb!) out to sea, to dump her into the ocean with the rest of his victims. Except then his boat gets caught up in a storm, and you think Dexter’s gone forever. But … is he? NOPE! HE’S JUST A LUMBERJACK! WITH A BEARD! AND HE STARES AT THE CAMERA AS THE SHOW ENDS. AWFUL.

Whew. I could go on, but I don’t want to. Dexter’s final season doesn’t deserve any more of my time. Good riddance, Dexter. Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, I look forward to seeing you in other things. But this final season? Blech.

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More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of NBC Universal’s Live Digital with Shelly Palmer, a weekly half-hour television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.