TV Feature: The 10 Best TV Shows of 2013

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Average: 4.5 (2 votes)

7. Rectify (Sundance)
It does something to you not to be touched in any positive way for so long. You begin to vascillate between being repelled by touch and seeking it out in any form, even the most negative.
—Episode 1.4, “Plato’s Cave,” 5.6.13

Photo credit: The Sundance Channel

Look at that quote again. What a great little piece of dialogue about how a character like Daniel Holden (Aden Young) has to greet the world years after his wrongful incarceration. As with so much television for this viewer, the shows that really resonate, the ones that get under my skin, do so through their writing. We’re in an era of high-concept TV — Zombies! Witches! The latest “Lost” clone! And so seeing a show like “Rectify,” that has a hook of a concept but doesn’t peg everything to it, felt like a new kind of fiction for the form when it premiered in May. Slow-paced, character-driven, and fascinating, “Rectify” is a show about a man dealing with something unimaginable, written by people who know how to make such an unfathomable journey relatable. I can’t wait to see what they do in round two.

6. Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
You keep looking for people you have that chemical thing with, but that’s not the whole package. You have to find someone you can spend two weeks with in a cramped timeshare in Montauk, in the rain, and not want to kill, who made jigsaw puzzles fun and competitive.
—Episode 1.10, “Bora Bora Bora,” 7.11.13

Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black
Photo credit: Netflix

“House of Cards” and “Arrested Development” got the headlines but it was a show about a women’s prison that really gave Netflix its identity in 2013. First, there’s the writing — so crisp, so smart, so multi-layered in the way it spins wilfly from laugh-out-loud comedy to character-driven drama. But this show doesn’t work without a rock-solid, top-to-bottom ensemble. Taylor Schilling has received some deserved praise but the supporters here have not garnered appropriate acclaim. List the most memorable characters on TV in 2013 and try not to include Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Daya (Dascha Polanco), Red (Kate Mulgrew), and Sophia (Laverne Cox). We complain a lot, correctly, about the lack of well-written female roles in dramatic television and the lack of well-written minority roles. “Orange is the New Black” showed both are possible and that Netflix could lead the way.

5. The Returned (Sundance)
You mustn’t be afraid. It’s all happening as it was written. They’re here to warn us that the end is near. And when it comes, it will be wonderful.
—Episode 1.7, “Adele,” 12.12.13

The Returned
The Returned
Photo credit: The Sundance Channel

With echoes of early “LOST,” this French import almost defies explanation. The simple pitch is that a French Alpine village is shattered when a few of its deceased, former inhabitants suddenly return, as if they never left. A teenager who died in a bus crash, a soon-to-be groom who took his own life, a serial killer, and a mysterious boy simply…come back. Why? And what does it mean when life is no longer the end? The writing and filmmaking on “The Returned” was as riveting as TV got in 2013, all the way up to the stunning cliffhanger. This is a show that contained some of the most dramatically heartbreaking and straight-up terrifying moments of the year. Chapter two can’t come soon enough.

4. Hannibal (NBC)
I don’t know if I will ever be myself again. I don’t know if I’ve got any self leftover. I spent so long thinking I was him it’s gotten really hard to remember who I was when I wasn’t him.
—Episode 1.11, “Roti,” 6.6.13

Photo credit: NBC

The tightrope act of 2013. There’s no reason to have expected that another iteration of Thomas Harris’ legendary cannibal would be this dramatically successful. Sure, we knew that showrunner Bryan Fuller was one of the form’s best but this was still a very delicate proposition. Taking a character we know and love and playing prequel would only draw comparisons to beloved books and Oscar-winning films. (And yet, it worked twice in 2013 with “Bates Motel” finding moments of brilliance as well.) Fuller deserves the majority of the praise for this dense, rewarding exploration into the darkness of true evil but credit to Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen for creating the two most memorable network TV characters of 2013. Hardly anyone watched “Hannibal.” It was barely renewed. And yet it’s coming back. We need more TV this challenging on the networks or they will simply become a revolving door of sitcoms, reality shows, and mysteries. Do your part and catch up on season one and accept the invitation to dine with Hannibal in season two.

Nomi's picture


Brian, so glad to see you include RECTIFY. The quote you pick, and what you say about the particularity of the show — spot on. Thank you.

Julie24's picture

Best new show

I completely agree with this list of best shows! I think a contender for this years list is Reckless! Such a great character-driven show! Watch it on CBS Sundays @ 10pm

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