I’ve mentioned before my philosophical problems with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the charming serial killer created by novelist Thomas Harris, but Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller’s take on the character provides something new: a hero (Hugh Dancy as Will Graham) worth rooting for. Most people talk about the show’s grisly cinematic beauty, but the real feat here is that, for the first time, Hannibal isn’t the de facto protagonist.
I’m not a huge Zooey Deschanel fan and the show’s quality varies, but I laugh very, very hard when this sitcom hits its mark.
A show about two Soviet spies living as normal Americans, with normal American kids, at the height of early ’80s Cold War paranoia. What could be a campy premise instead becomes compelling, especially when the husband of this husband-and-wife spy team starts wondering if being a family man in America wouldn’t be so bad.
What starts as a classic Agatha Christie whodunit becomes an examination of the evil that lurks behind small-town life. It’s been done before, sure, but Broadchurch’s ultimate celebration of community and goodness has not. In a very ugly world, this show still dares to hope.
6. Orphan Black
A classic science-fiction trope – clones! – becomes a master class in acting by Tatiana Maslany, who plays at least a half dozen variations of herself. The fact that it all works - and that we care about the mother/daughter relationship at the show’s heart - is a credit to her.
Raylan is both the hero and a Pharisee: a guy who acts good, but for less-than-good reasons.
It’s as true now as the last time I said it: Justified has the best dialogue of any show currently on TV. It also has one of my favorite characters in Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). There are plenty of smooth-talking sheriffs on TV, but none with Raylan’s depth. He’s both the hero and a Pharisee: a guy who acts good, but for less-than-good reasons. He’s nowhere close to salvation right now, but this show takes faith seriously enough that I still believe he’ll find it.
This is technically a cheat since the show's 2nd season didn’t air in 2013. However, this BBC take on the titular detective runs circles around the one on CBS. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s Holmes/Watson chemistry is the best, the show’s cinematography is great and the plots are always interesting. I’m absolutely ready for January’s season 3 premiere.
The radical optimism of my favorite comedy has taken a hit as of late: Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and her crew have been beaten by the selfish, power-hungry and lazy leaders around them. This show has always recognized that the biggest threat to a community is laziness and entitlement, and that theme has been ramped up in this final season. There’s something Psalmic about the show: yes, evil seems to be triumphing while the good suffer, but righteousness still brings life. Also, did I mention the show is funny? It is. Really, really funny.
One of my favorite shows of the year is also the most anonymous. Tucked away on the little-watched Sundance Channel, Rectify is a slow-moving meditation about relationships, religion and guilt. Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is released from death row when new DNA evidence comes to light. But is he really innocent? I’m still not sure, and neither are most of the people around him. Set in the Deep South, Rectify wrestles with themes of guilt and salvation. I’m not sure what answers the show will ultimately provide, but the journey is worth watching.
1. Breaking Bad
While I’m slightly ambivalent about the final episode, there’s no denying that Breaking Bad stuck the landing of its last season. The penultimate episode of the series gave one of the most realistic depictions of the banality of evil I’ve ever seen. It’s been a couple months since the final episode and this show is still rummaging around in my head. It’s not just the best show of 2013 - it’s one of the best shows of all time.