2013 Favorites — Television

It’s a hard thing, you know, reflecting on favorite television shows in a Sherlock-less year, but I suppose there were still some pretty good offerings in 2013, tube-wise.

Sort of a surprise hit to me, I thought The Americans (FX) was the strongest show of the year. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys portray Elizabeth and Philip Jennings — Soviet moles playing as Americans in Washington DC in Cold War era of Reagan’s early days in office. Just the sort of things our nuns warned us about. The show balances character, relationships, family, and action in a way that confuses whether you should be rooting for the “bad guys” (the Soviet moles) or the “good guys” (the FBI). The show constantly kept you guessing and it was fun to relive the “period piece” aspects of my teenage years.

original

We’ve had an onslaught of “dead-kid” murder mysteries in recent years, but none to me has nailed it as well as Broadchurch (BBCA). David Tennant shed his Doctor Who persona to play a prickish Detective brought into solve a murder in a small coastal town. Olivia Colman plays his resentful local partner. Together, they navigate the town’s secrets and suspects to find the killer. The pacing was always crisp, and the writing intertwined the detectives’ relationships, the family’s grief, the town’s fear and anger expertly.

broadchurch_ep1_39

Netflix ventured into premiere programming big-time in 2013 and while its reboot of Arrested Development didn’t quite fire on all cylinders, I thought its political drama House of Cards was a barnburner. This deeply cynical and riveting political drama (based on a BBC original) revolved around Kevin Spacey as Representative Frank Underwood. Brutal and ugly beneath its veneer of pomp and power, the show never let up. I mean, how else can a show that starts with its lead putting down an injured dog with his bare hands turn out? While occasionally veering close to the edge all season, House of Cards was held together by Spacey and the icy Robin Wright as the ultimate power couple.

house-of-cards-lineup

I will add though, that if you’re looking for a still cynical, but not nearly as tough Washington power show, watch HBO’s Veep — easily my favorite comedy of the past couple of years. I was never that much of a Julia Louis-Dreyfus fan, but this show about a vapid but ambitious Vice President hammers all the things we hate about Washington relentlessly. Excellent cast that was great together in Season 2. Fun whether you lean Red or Blue.

veep_season_2_trailer

And as we were Sherlock-less this year, I thought I would mention my favorite mini-series of the year, which was the HBO-BBC production of the Ford Maddox Ford novel Parade’s End. Set amidst the profound societal change during and following The Great War, the now-seemingly ubiquitous Cumberbatch plays the upper crust Christopher Tietjens, who must reconcile his war experience with the shifting concerns of a post-war society and loveless marriage to his mean-spirited wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall, who steals the show), all while being attracted to the young suffragette Valentine. If you’re into how powerful restrained acting and great writing can be, go get it.

Parade's End

Those were my favorites — what were yours? What are you looking forward most to in 2014?

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23 thoughts on “2013 Favorites — Television

  1. I need to go back to Parade’s End. I don’t know if I watched the whole thing. And the Tennant show…. I’ll be looking for that one.
    I am hoping The Americans makes it to Netflix. We’ll see.
    You have good taste, Steve.

    #Sherlock #Cumberbatch #Hubbahubba

  2. Broadchurch and Parades End are on my list to watch ASAP. Love Tennant and Cumberbatch!

    We just finished watching season one of Orphan Black another BBC drama. It was fascinating! Tatiana Maslany is an incredible actress and the science aspect of the show was really intriguing. S2 starts in April. You should check it out!

    • Hey Steph! Good choices both! I’ve heard a lot of good things about Orphan Black — I missed out on it during its first go-round here. I will have to get that on my watchlist.

  3. I don’t have a TV (gasp), but I follow certain shows online. I agree that the Arrested Development reboot was a stain on how good the original was. “House of Cards” was brilliant, especially when Kevin Spacey destroyed people. (I should note that I have seen that “peach” water tower, and it totally looks like an anatomically correct vagina) The only one I would add was “Orange is the New Black.” That show hooked me, and never let go. Great list. Now I wish I had HBO. (Bonus points for the name Ford Maddox Ford)

    • Tom — I didn’t mind the Arrested Development S4 — it had some inspired moments and several “off” ones, but I don’t think anything could have really lived up to the hype of it.

      I’ve driven past that water tower too, and always thought more butt-cheeky about it, but there you go. The Beloved watched Orange Is The New Black all the way through in a few days when she was home sick a couple of months ago and really liked it.

  4. Sorry. I forgot to add, “Great list! I liked your choices and explanations.” I shall attempt to do better with the “Best of 2014” selections.

  5. Like tom, I’m presently TV-less, though I did see a couple of episodes of House of Cards. (The scene where the dog is killed was really. HARD. to watch.) I wish I had seen Parade’s End, not only because I am a Cumberbatch fan, but also because I’ve always liked Ford Maddox Ford’s novels.

    After reading your top-notch list, I cringe to mention that I have a guilty liking for NBC’s supernatural series Grimm and Fox TV’s Sleepy Hollow. The premise that European werefolk and the Headless Horseman still walk among us is just too irresistible for me, especially in a Sherlock-less fall season.

    • HG — I’m sure Parade’s End will be available to stream before too long. It didn’t get as much buzz as I thought it would when it came out (probably because it relied too much on plot, dialog and acting as opposed to sex and violence), but I thought it was excellent.

      And no need to apologize for “guilty” pleasures. I loved the premiere of Sleepy Hollow and plan to go back to it (not enough hours in the week). And I got a kick out of FX’s American Horror Story — both Season 2 and the current Season 3. And the USA spy show Covert Affairs!

  6. Beautiful post, Steve! I want to watch ‘House of Cards’ – I love Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and after reading your thoughts on it, I think I will like this. I also want to watch ‘Parade’s End’. It looks like Cumberbatch has become a superstar, hasn’t he? He seems to be everywhere. Your phrase ‘the now-seemingly ubiquitous Cumberbatch’ says it all. I love Rebecca Hall and no wonder she steals the show. Thanks for introducing me to these beautiful TV series, Steve.

  7. Wow, what a great list!
    I plan to watch The Americans when the DVDs come out next month. It looked really good last year but (say it with me), “I was already watching enough TV.”
    I have been circling the other shows for awhile now. I just watched the first 2 eps of Veep the other night & enjoyed them. If/when I get to your other shows, I’ll let you know. :)

    • Val — thanks! There were a few shows (Sleepy Hollow probably the best) that I just couldn’t carve time out for. But that’s what rainy weekends and sick days are for! :)

  8. Yes, a year without Sherlock is a year of dead air. But I whole-heartedly agree with your take on Parade’s End. Holy crap! Cumberbatch just keeps pulling out those stops. Would like to see Broadchurch, but since I don’t have cable any more (or a TV) will watch for it online. It’s all part of the game now, how to watch Agents of SHIELD on Hulu for free and to stream what I want from the stations websites.

  9. Tennant was in a political miniseries this year as well, The Politicians Husband. It was harsh too. I liked it, and it was well written, but again he played a horses ass. I love Tennant, and would really like to see him in more likable characters again.
    Most of what you liked were ones I loved this year too. I have found that most comedies have fallen flat this year.

  10. No T.V. So I may be way behind schedule here. I have been following The Big Bang Theory. The first three seasons were awesome. Now it is down the drain. I wish they had held on to the science end of the first seasons, and not moved into the sex end.
    The Sherlock Holmes is pretty good too (although I don’t believe any other actor could compete with Jeremy Brett).
    There ends my sum total of all series watched!

  11. My favorites are Sons of Anarchy and Once Upon a Time. I’m a diehard SOA fan! I am really looking forward to the season finale September 2014. I am also looking forward to Kurt Sutter’s new show.
    I love Netflix, by the way! I just started watching Damages. I know it’s an old show, off-air, but I love that with Netflix you can watch old shows and complete the entire series commercial-free! And you don’t have to wait a year for a new season!

    I have yet to watch House of Cards, but I heard it’s really good. It’s on my list to watch next!

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