This list was way harder to make than the 10-best-movies one. After initial resistance I’ve given in to the view of both TV critics and bloggers: We really are living in the golden age of television. It’s not just the wide variety of programming, it’s the fearlessness with which so much of it is produced. Here’s the list of the best shows I saw this year (yes, I caught up on an older one). If your favorite series isn’t on it, chances are it was a runner-up.
10 The Killing AMC
Season 3 concentrated on a serial killer targeting at-risk teens on the -perpetually rainy streets of Seattle (the tourism board must hate this show), but the chief pleasure remains watching the sometimes tough, sometimes tender interplay between detectives Linden (Mireille Enos) and Holder (Joel -Kinnaman). They’ll ride the city’s mean streets at least one more time, courtesy of Netflix, and that’s good news.
9 Damages DirecTV
The final season’s story—involving leaked documents and featuring an unlikable and only semi-stable -computer genius—is refreshingly au courant. Rose Byrne is beautiful as lawyer Ellen Parsons, Glenn Close has polished her terrifying Patty Hewes to a steely sheen, and Ryan Phillippe does the Julian Assange bit with panache.
8 The Bletchley Circle PBS
Short (only three episodes) but supremely satisfying, Bletchley tells the story of four women who worked as code breakers during World War II. Years later, they have subsided into more normal 1950s lives (male-dominated, in other words). After a series of murders, the Bletchley girls dust off their old skills and set out to find the killer. It’s a cracking good mystery with a thought-provoking subtext: Give the women a chance to use their brains and they’ll run rings around the men.
7House of Cards Netflix
Watching Kevin Spacey’s spot-on -portrayal of Frank Underwood, a predator who will stop at nothing to gain his ends, is as morbidly fascinating as watching a hungry shark inspect the feet of unsuspecting swimmers. Robin Wright is equally fascinating as his Lady Macbeth of a wife. They don’t quite equal Ian Richardson and Diane Fletcher in the British version, but they come close.
6The Returned Sundance
On a clear day in a small French town, a bus full of children veers off the road and plunges into a reservoir. All are killed, or so it seems, until four years later, when one of them—the ethereally beautiful Camille—comes back. And she’s only the first. This French import is the creepy-crawliest thing to come along since early episodes of The Walking Dead. No ghosts. No -zombies. Just dead folks who can’t figure out what happened to them.
5 The Blacklist NBC
If you’d told me a year ago that I’d have an episodic TV drama from one of the major nets on my 2013 list, I would have laughed…but here it is. It’s mostly about James Spader, of course: He gets the best bons mots (referring to the Pentagon as “the five-sided -foxhole,” for example), but Megan Boone, as FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen, keeps up with him most of the time, and boy, is she pretty. The stories rip along at warp speed, making it worthy of comparison to such long-gone spy-athons as The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
4 The Americans FX
More spies, but on this show, the bad guys are the good guys. The suspense is unrelenting, and the principals—played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys—are perfectly cast as deep-cover KGB agents living middle-class lives. The real treat here is the pitch-perfect depiction of America in those Reagan years when the Cold War was entering its final phase. I especially relished the bugging of Secretary of Defense -Caspar Weinberger’s clock. Man, that was genius.
3 Broadchurch BBC America
David Tennant, a former Doctor, gets to play it dead straight as Det. Inspector Alec Hardy, haunted by a botched murder case and beset with personal problems that he won’t talk about. His partner is a village copper faced with investigating people she’s grown up with, knowing one of them is a killer. Broadchurch is a satisfying mystery with an Agatha Christie feel, beautiful settings, and a shocking denouement.
2 Sons of Anarchy FX
It’s the most critically underrated show currently on the tube, and this season was the best. Convoluted plotlines were simplified; what we cared about this season was whether Jax Teller and his wife, Tara, would work out their deep differences, whether Gemma would be revealed
as the schemer she is, and whether SAMCRO could get out of gunrunning. Plot aside, what makes Sons a standout is its concentration on the minutiae of lower-middle-class life: These guys are small-time outlaws trying to make their way in a big-time world.
1 Breaking Bad AMC
The finest drama on American TV ever, an epic of the human heart worthy of Dostoyevsky. Over 62 episodes we watched -nebbish Walter White’s transformation into Heisenberg, a criminal genius who will stop at nothing. The real triumph is in the final episodes, where -Walter makes a last, not-quite-successful effort to atone for his wrongs. The acting by the entire ensemble is flawless, and the unsentimental -photography transforms the New Mexico landscapes into a sunlit nightmare. Only the story of Michael Corleone in the Godfather movies can equal it. Everybody stand and yell, “Bravo!”
I keep up with many shows. Breaking Bad is a must. I'm gona miss that show.
8. Mad Men
6. Game of Thrones
5. Masters of Sex
4. Top of the Lake
3. Orange is the New Black
2. The Americans
1. Breaking Bad
SK and I only had two of the same shows, but they're both awesome. Number 1 is a no brainer! This last season was one of the best ever on TV. This is really a golden age of tv. There are a lot of well reviewed shows I don't watch. Every top ten list I've seen has varied a lot with BB typically number 1. Good stuff!