TV of the year 2013

Good grief. There was so much top drawer television broadcast this year it was difficult to narrow down a top eleven. Not that, you know I’m complaining.

Two crucial documents that provide a good guide to the ongoing golden age also came out within the last twelve months and by coincidence were both written by men called Alan. The first was Sepinwall’s fantastically detailed The Revolution was Televised, the other from Yentob who interviewed near enough every major player in the American TV scene to produce the exhaustive four part BBC doco United States of Television. Both well worth your time.

On to the list.

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad – AMC
The consequences of Walt’s actions finally caught up with him in the final season of Breaking Bad. Tension built superbly, constantly teasing us with a series of flash forwards, the best train heist since The Wild Bunch and the increasingly vexatious relationship with Hank as the show roared toward a finale that gave every character a fitting and touching goodbye.

Perfection.

Utopia

Utopia – Channel 4
“Where is Jessica Hyde?” Oh you don’t know? In fact you don’t even have an idea what I’m talking about? Well, think fast my friend ‘cos if you don’t give me an answer you could lose an eye, your family, your identity or even your life.

Great four part mystery thriller from Channel 4; certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones – HBO
Finally the Stormborn Queen got to do something with those dragons of hers, but don’t fret: season three was not all mystical and magical, there was plenty of the gore, swearing and sex we’ve all come to love in this show including a jaw dropping episode nine that stopped everyone in their tracks.

Mad Men

Mad Men – AMC
The best historical drama on TV (beat it, Borgias) continues to tackle the big issues of the emerging 60s counterculture, race riots, LSD and Women’s Lib while also cornering SCDP into a merger and finally forcing Don to shape up and recognise quite what a terrible man he is becoming. This was the weakest season of the last few years, but it still towers over much of the year’s output.

Les Revenants

Les Revenants – Canal+

Previously dead residents of a French Alpine town return from beyond the grave, remembering nothing and in full health. As you might imagine this results in mixed emotions from the friends and families they left behind.

With World War Z, The Walking Dead, Warm Bodies we’re living though the zombie zeitgeist right now but is that what The Returned really are? Even with the first series over it still remains a mystery, which makes the wait for season two all the more tantalising.

Black Mirror

Black Mirror – Channel 4
Less disgusting than last year’s series and slightly more mature, this three part anthology was an excellent and chilling look at what the future could/will hold if we continue along our current technological line of progress. Would we be comfortable if we could bring lovers back from the dead? Perpetually torment child killers? Elect cartoon characters to public office? Charlie Brooker answers all these questions with elan.

The Fall

The Fall – BBC
Earlier this year Swedish crime writer Arne Dahl stated that the current run of superb Scandi dramas owed their inspiration to the taut and gritty crime shows Britain (apparently) does so well. If that’s the case BBC Two’s The Fall brought the phenomenon full circle. Set in Belfast it featured a no nonsense female detective who lacked any sort of empathy but possessed a focus almost beyond human understanding. This was only five episodes long but was edge-of-the-seat stuff for the duration.

Broadchurch

Broadchurch – ITV
Another heavily Scandi-inspired crime procedural. The sleepy titular seaside town witnesses the murder of a child and is turned upside down when a senior police officer arrives whose investigative method, like Sarah Lund before him, involves accusing everyone in turn before finally uncovering the killer. Excellent from beginning to end.

Justified

Justified – FX
Amongst the best plotted shows currently on television and far and away home to the snappiest dialogue, Justified goes from strength to strength. The writers tried something different this season – opening up a decades old mystery that involved the whole neighbourhood. Needless to say it worked fabulously.

The Americans

The Americans – FX
Very nicely crafted period drama set in 1981, with Reagan new in the White House and the temperature of the Cold War bumping along at sub zero. Each side (the FBI and the Soviet sleeper cell) mirrored the other perfectly with neither getting an upper hand for long. Amongst a galaxy of good performances it was nice to see Richard Thomas finally breaking free from his John Boy Walton role and the heart-breaking Derek Luke as a committed American Commie who realises he’s come to the end of the road.

It also certainly didn’t hurt that this had by far the best opening credits this year, very reminiscent of the cruelly cut-short Rubicon

Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan – Showtime
Performance of the year came from the lizard-like Jon Voight, a no nonsense Baaaaarrrstahn criminal recently released from jail and intent on being a thorn in his son’s side. This initially sold itself as a show following a Hollywood fixer but broadened into a very tense and sensitive study of alcoholism, sexual abuse and well, how can I say it? father issues.

Just Missed Out

  • Boardwalk Empure
  • The Following (Started out strong but weakened progressively with its recycled plotlines)
  • Derek
  • Bob Servant Independent
  • An Adventure in Space and Time
    (Which starred David Bradley who also appeared in both Game of Thrones and Broadchurch which sort of makes him worth his weight in gold.)

…and a couple of docos

  • Churchill and the Fascist Plot
  • Good Italy, Bad Italy: Girlfriend in a Coma
  • Derren Brown: The Great Art Robbery