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