There was too much good television to watch this year. A staggering amount. I'm still catching up most of it, and I even had to shed a few long-time favorites that weren't doing it for me anymore.
That said, I've made my top 10 list because that's what people do this time of year. Some other misc. stuff first, though ...
Shows I gave up on in 2013: “Homeland,” “The Newsroom,” “American Horror Story,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Boardwalk Empire.”
The meh award: “House of Cards” on Netflix.
Best TV performance: Tatiana Maslany on BBC America's “Orphan Black.”
Best episode (tie): “Breaking Bad's” nerve-shattering “Ozymandias” and “Game of Throne's” equally life-ruining “The Rains of Castamere.”
Best Netflix original programming show: “Orange is the New Black,” though the “Arrested Development” reboot was sometimes wonderful.
Best new show: “The Americans” on FX
Worst thing I saw all year: Three minutes of “Dads” on Fox and the first two episodes of “Hemlock Grove” on Netflix
The Top 10 shows:
10. “Person of Interest”
In 2013, CBS's action thriller hit its stride, perfectly calibrating its mix of zippy case-of-the-week fun and larger serial elements. Much like CBS's other great drama, listed as my No. 3, “Person of Interest's” greatest strength is its deep bench of terrific actors playing fascinating characters. In addition to the great odd couple leads Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson playing basically the two-halves of Batman (bad*** brawler/brilliant billionaire), you've got actors like Taraji P. Henson, Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi playing various allies and nemeses.
IMDB synopsis: “A former CIA operative is recruited by an enigmatic billionaire to prevent violent crimes.”
9. “Top of the Lake”
This icky, artsy New Zealand export, which aired as a miniseries on the Sundance Channel, follows a detective's search for a missing pregnant teen in a menacing middle-of-nowhere town. While the texture of the series is pretty dang eccentric, the mystery at the heart of the show is always compelling, and the conclusion is extremely satisfying. It doesn't drag out its whodunit to absurd lengths, like, say, “The Killing.” And as our heroine detective, “Mad Men's” Elisabeth Moss does the best work of her already quite-accomplished career.
IMDB synopsis: “When pregnant, 12-year-old Tui tries to kill herself in a freezing New Zealand lake, Detective Robin Griffin has plenty of questions for the girl. But when Tui suddenly disappears, Griffin finds herself knee-deep in small-town secrets.”
8. “The Americans”
FX is probably the most exciting network for original programming right now because its shows hit that sweet spot between the cinematic aspirations of HBO series and the easy, escapist thrills of major network drama. “The Americans” is the epitome of this. Each week features a potboiler plot but also a thoughtful, sometimes heartbreaking look at an extremely complicated marriage. That the '80s-set series is packed with meticulous period details and pop song musical montages, well, that stuff's just the icing.
IMDB synopsis: “Two Soviet intelligence agents pose as a married couple to spy on the American government.”
7. "Game of Thrones"
HBO's unlikely megahit continues its long, grim grind through George R.R. Martin's series. Every time season 3 threatened to crumble under the weight of its overstuffed plot, you'd get a Wall-climb or Daenerys being awesome or a (ugh) Red Wedding to jolt you back in.
IMDB synopsis: “Seven noble families fight for control of the mythical land of Westeros.”
6. “New Girl”
This show's grown by leaps and bounds since its first season. It may have started as a showcase for the comic adorbz of Zooey Deschanel, but it's evolved into TV's funniest ensemble comedy. The mix and match of roommates Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris (and now Damon Wayans Jr.) is a constant delight. And it's even kind of useful as an exploration of the fears and insecurities of early 30-somethings who have no idea what they're doing. This show speaks to me.
IMDB synopsis: “After a bad break-up, Jess, an offbeat young woman, moves into an apartment loft with three single men. Although they find her behavior very unusual, the men support her - most of the time.”
5. “Orphan Black”
Tatiana Maslany gave the best performance(s) of the year (in TV or film). Playing half a dozen different versions of herself in this clone conspiracy sci-fi thriller, Maslany juggles the accents and personalities (a street punk, a soccer mom, a Russian murderess) so seamlessly it's kind of scary. Her achievement takes the pulpy material to a higher level.
IMDB synopsis: “A streetwise hustler is pulled into a compelling conspiracy after witnessing the suicide of a girl who looks just like her.”
I was lukewarm on the show's dopey-but-fun pilot in fall 2012 and didn't even bother with the second episode. But then the full first season popped up on Netflix streaming and the rest of my favorites were on break and I got an itch to give the CW show another shot. Very happy with my decision.
Now, “Arrow” is far from an original show. It's based on a DC Comics series, and it's probably best described as a pair of hot abs, Robin Hood, Batman, ABC's “Revenge” and “Lost” put in a sexy blender. It always teeters right on the brink of the silly abyss but never quite falls in, thanks to its engaging structure, likable characters and particularly its leading man, future star Stephen Amell.
IMDB synopsis: “Spoiled billionaire playboy Oliver Queen, is missing and presumed dead when his yacht is lost at sea. He returns five years later a changed man, determined to clean up the city as a hooded vigilante armed with a bow."
3. "The Good Wife"
“The Good Wife” had such a wobbly fourth season that I took a break from it. This once hyper-focused show was spinning too many plates in the air, and most of them weren't that interesting. One of those spinning plates, Kalinda's thing with her psycho husband, was so frustratingly worthless that it threatened to derail the show entirely.
But "Good Wife" got a second wind near the end of its fourth season, introducing a plot point that Alicia and Cary would leave Lockhart/Gardner (or LG, as we're calling it now) and start their own firm. After a little build-up in this fall's season five, the show actually delivered on the tease (They really left the firm!), and the fallout made for some of the most suspenseful, horrifying and emotionally rich episodes of the show's run. It's the same show fans have always loved but also something completely different.
IMDB synopsis: “Alicia has been a good wife to her husband, a former state attorney. After a very humiliating sex and corruption scandal, he is behind bars. She must now provide for her family and returns to work as a litigator in a law firm.”
Speaking of already great shows reaching even higher peaks, how about that “Justified”? What started earlier this year as several scattered plot threads shaped up to the show's strongest season yet, even better than season 2's Bennett clan dealings. Raylan and Boyd remain the coolest lawman and outlaw on TV, and the season gave them all sorts of trouble to get up to and painful family matters to endure.
“Justified's” greatest moment this season, though, that belongs to Patton Oswalt. In the first part of the season, Oswalt's Constable Bob character was little more than a punchline, a befuddled goofball who meant well but always screwed things up. But in the episode “Decoy,” Bob got to save the day, taking a brutal beating from a mafia thug and eventually turning the tables on him. It was the only time this year I jumped out of my seat and pumped my fist in the air.
IMDB synopsis: “Old-school U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is reassigned from Miami to his childhood home in the poor, rural coal-mining towns in Eastern Kentucky.”
1. “Breaking Bad”
I mean, c'mon. What else was it going to be?
“Breaking Bad” stuck its perfect landing with these final eight episodes and took Walter's journey to its logical conclusion. Everything, from the writing to the filmmaking to the flawless performances, made every passing second of the show a devastating reminder that this great, panic-attack-inducing series would soon be gone forever.
IMDB synopsis: “To provide for his family's future after he is diagnosed with lung cancer, a chemistry genius turned high school teacher teams up with an ex-student to cook and sell the world's purest crystal meth.”
Runners-up: “The Returned” on Sundance Channel, "Rick and Morty" on Adult Swim, “Archer” on FX, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” on FOX, “Mad Men” on AMC, “Girls” on HBO, “Veep” on HBO, “Happy Endings” on ABC, “Gravity Falls” on Disney Channel, “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix, “Bob's Burgers” on FOX, the British import “Black Mirror,” “Elementary” on CBS and “Spartacus: War of the Damned” on STARZ.