Top 13 TV Shows of 2013 (Drama)

Published: December 5, 2013

This is a list of my picks for the top 13 drama shows that originally aired on TV in 2013. This list based 50% on how much I personally liked it (considering personal tastes and such) and 50% on the overall quality of the show.

  1. Game of Thrones (HBO)

    I finally jumped on the Game of Thrones train and binged on all the episodes while season 3 was airing. I am so glad I did. This show gets stronger and stronger with each passing season and season 3 was absolutely great. Even excluding The Redding Wedding (my favorite episode of any show this season), this is a great show that despite its very large cast, doesn't have any weak characters and has some of the best child actors this side of Shameless. Great plotting, great pacing, great characters, great landscapes, all-around fantastic.

  2. Bates Motel (A&E)

    If this list were based solely on quality, Bates Motel would place a couple ranks lower, but it's 50% on my personal liking and this show ticks off all the boxes of a show tailer-made towards my tastes: a mystery show set in a small town with a mysterious cast of characters. A modern-day prequel to Psycho from a channel best known for Duck Dynasty doesn't sound promising on paper, but damn this show exceeded my expecations and won me over from the get-go. Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, and Max Thieriot are fantastic as the leads, their acting is sublime (despite having to play well-known characters) and the relationships between each character is almost a character unto itself. Once it wraps up one plot around 3/4 through the show it meanders a little, but it had earned so much goodwill from me at that point I happily went with it.

  3. Southland (TNT)

    Poor Southland, this critically-acclaimed show never managed to find an audience on a network full of hit shows. That TNT kept Southland around for 4 seasons is a blessing, but I still wish for more. Beyond getting me to actually like the guy who played the lead in The OC, the all-around terrific cast bolsters a show shot in a way that throws the viewer into the middle of all of its many hectic, frantic action sequences. It's hard to find a show more consistently action-packed, yet still delving into and exploring these characters well.

  4. The Americans (FX)

    The best new drama show on FX since 2008 (Sons of Anarchy, Damages) and the best overall since 2009 (Archer), and that's saying something for a network full of fantastic, original shows. This show is a mishmash of genres: a family drama about a husband and wife with kids whose marriage is tearing at the seams, an espionage thriller filled with some good ol' fashion spy-on-spy buttkicking & fighting stuntwork, a Cold War historical political drama. Like a spy, The Americans wears many masks, and it does so well. It takes a couple episodes to get into the swing of things but once you're in, buckle up, you're in for a ride (Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich and frequent guest star Margo Martindale make for a great cast too).

  5. Broadchurch (ITV, British)

    Like Bates Motel, Broadchurch ticks off the qualities of a show that's almost sure to grab my attention: a murder mystery, mysterious small town, a dark, somber, moody tone, a large cast of characters with a whole lotta history, oh yeah, the best Doctor (#10) David Tennant leads the cast alongside an also-great Olivia Colman in trying to solve the mystery of a dead child. Tennant does a nearly 180 from his frenetic, quick-talking, bursting-with-energy Doctor to play a sullen, downbeat detective trying so hard to solve a mystery that rocks a small seaside town. Also a bonus for Doctor Who fans, Arthur Darvill (Rory) is also a part of the cast. Also worth mentioning, the gorgeous setting on the Dorset coast featuring steep limestone cliffs and beaches.

  6. House of Cards (Netflix)

    A moody political fiction based on a critically acclaimed British miniseries with the first 2 episodes directed by David Fincher? Well you've got my attention. Most of the attention has fallen on Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, and rightfully so as both play strong characters whose marriage is almost a character itself, a marriage based seemingly less on love than on mutual benefit, but the best part of the show for me (aside from the beautifully dark cinematography that sets the mood for the show) is supporting actor Corey Stoll, who really steals the show for me. His character, Pennsylvania Representative Peter Russo is one you don't immediately take a liking to, but grow more and more attached to, hoping that he'll eventually act on his good intentions to turn a new leaf all the while Spacey's Frank Underwood plays him as a pawn in his grand political chess game.

  7. Justified (FX)

    I never quite anticipate a new season of Justified as much as I do other shows, but it's a solid show with great characters that I always enjoy for the 13 weeks of the year it's on. The bromance-frenemy relationship between Timothy Olyphant's U.S. Marshal Raylans Givens and the always fantastic Walton Goggins's Boyd Crowder is always fun to watch in a show that skillfully combines cop procedural and season-long story archs set in the entertaining Appalachia.

  8. The Almighty Johnsons (TV3, New Zealand)

    I binged on the 3 seasons of this show in 3 weeks (its ranking is based on its 3rd season only though) and loved it. It's such a wholly original, fun show that apparently got a very minor audience in New Zealand, let alone across the world but it has such a magical spark in it. If you're a fan of the UK's Misfits (which has fallen so far from its impeccable first two seasons), I practically guarantee you'll like Almighty Johnsons. It has the same light drama tone, filled with laughs and and fun plotting built on a strong cast of characters (fans of Buffy might like it too). Anders Johnson as a cocky womanizer (yes, a stereotypical character, but a whole lotta fun in the hands of actor Dean O'Gorman), Ty Johnson as an unintentionally cold personality, Keisha Castle-Hughes (yes the Oscar-nominated one) as the quintessential girl-next-door character you immediately like, and Shane Cortese as the delightfully diabolical and constantly scheming Loki are stand-outs in a cast full of great characters. I can't overstate what a fun series this is with its playfully fun spin on Norse mythology that makes you forget Marvel's Thor movies. It hits the US in 2014 in SyFy (probably far exceeding any other programs on that channel).

  9. Homeland (Showtime)

     

    A lot of people had problems with this season. On my part, I've thoroughly been in the honeymoon phase with Homeland for the past 2 seasons (though, looking back), I can see that some parts of it stretched suspension of disbelief just a tad. And yes, I agree, the first 4 episodes overemphasized Dana's character. I've always had a far higher Dana tolerance than most people, but by episode 4 I was sick of her (thankfully they wrapped her storyline right about then). This season felt like an experimentation with how this show could survive without Brody (he was suppose to be killed off at the end of season 1), and it was a decent experiment (his performance in episode 9 made it all worth it). But the lack of other characters was so apparent in the nearly 20-30 minutes per episode the first 4 episodes spent on Dana's storyline. That Diego Klattenhoff booked a regular gig on NBC's The Blacklist and couldn't make Mike become a season regular also exacerbated the problem. Still, Homeland has never been a full-on kickass, action-filled spy drama (that would be 24). It built its plot slowly, stacking up all the pieces and I went with it. Homeland is not a 'let's give every episode a letter grade as it comes out' type of show, it's a season-long show and thusfar into the season, it's simmering and bubbling about to go into a full boil as the season heads towards its endgame. And as much as Claire Danes gets ragged on for her Carrie Mathison ugly cry-trembly chin sadface, her mentally-unstable intelligence officer is always a commanding prescence onscreen. Mandy Patinkin's Saul is also fantastic as is my personal favorite, Rupert Friend's mysterious Peter Quinn (someone give this character a spin-off PLEASE!)

  10. Sons of Anarchy (FX)

    The majority of this season's episodes were a full hour. For most shows that would be a disaster for me, a watering down of a show full of filler scenes. That I don't hate it is testament to this show (though whether or not 45-minute episodes would be better is up in the air). Season 6 didn't reach the highes of season 4 or 5, but that was a very, very high bar to reach (season 4 was my absolute favorite drama of 2011). But my jaw dropped enough times during this show to make it another funfilled season full of gripping scenes. With a show with as high a bodycount as Anarchy, at some point you'd grow numb to the characters getting killed off, right? Wrong, the deaths are built up (or blindside you) well enough to elicit a reaction from you, even if it's the 1056th death of the episode (slight exaggeration). Katey Sagal is great as always as the strong-willed Gemma and Maggie Siff pretty much went full Gemma this season (you never go full Gemma!). Also, I'm very greatful Charlie Hunnam left the '50 Shades of Grey' movie, I would've never been able to see Jax Teller in the same light after a deluge of 50 Shades commercials and ads.

  11. Downton Abbey (ITV, British)

    I binged on the first 3 seasons of Downton last winter and loved it, perhaps going to a week-by-week method of watching made it go from being my 2nd favorite drama last year to #11, but there wasn't a huge drop in quality of the show, and it's moreso due to the number of great drama shows this year edging it out. The absence of several characters is noticeable early on in the season but things eventually get going and it's business as usual at the Abbey. Though, be warned (minor spoiler alert), the show has one of its darkest plot points this season (yes, more so than any deaths in this show in my opinion) that slowly reverberates throughout the Abbey and leads to some fantastic performances.

  12. Black Mirror (Channel 4, British)

    Like The Almighty Johnsons, this show came from nowhere and I took a huge liking to it quickly. I decided to sample it after seeing a good review of it and it is the most unsettling show I've seen. It is a darkly satirical anthology series centered on technology, that might not sound like much but watch the premiere episode of the second season ("Be Right Back") and try to not feel anything. I've watched so much shows, and much of it being dark that I'm not usually affected emotionally by shows, but wow, that episode really hit me. With only 3 episodes in its second season, it earns its place on this list against shows with 4x as many episodes. At the end of every episode there was a pit in my stomach and a lingering unsettled feeling. Every episode has a new plot and a new cast, but the permeating dark tone of the show remains, and lingers with you after the credits roll.

  13. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

    Even though it's #13 on this list, it's probably #1 on the 'show with the highest number of creatively gruesome ways to kill off characters' list. This show chugs along, and as with prior seasons it sometimes gets a bit boring, but with characters like Richard Harrow and Gillian Darmody in addition to Steve Buschemi's Nucky Thompson keeping it interesting, it's still a damn fine show.

*Before anybody calls me out for their exclusion, despite my planning to watch it each of the past 4 summers, I STILL haven't watched Breaking Bad yet (next summer, really!), otherwise it most likely would have a very high ranking in this list. Other shows that stand a chance of making the list if I watched them include Mad Men (AMC) and Rectify (Sundance).

 

Shows that didn't quite make the cut: The White Queen (BBC), Masters of Sex (Showtime), The Escape Artist (BBC, another fine David Tennant show), American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

A special mention for Les Revenants (Canal+, French), while this show aired in the US, UK, and several other countries in 2013, it was originally shown in December 2012 in France, and because of that technicality, it doesn't make the list, though if it did qualify, it'd place #6. This dark, moody show has been called a French zombie show but that's a misnomer that leads to the wrong expectations about the show. There is no rotting flesh (well, probably), no eating of brains, nothing that is the hallmark of the typical zombie. Rather, this show centering among a group of people who re-enter life in a small, remote French village unaware that they've been dead for 10, 20, 30 years is a mystery show at its core, not a horror (though it has its scary moments now and then). If it must be called a zombie show, call it the unzombie zombie show. It's an engrossing, tantalizing show that ticks off the qualities of a show that'll draw me in (mystery, small remote town, large cast of characters each with their own backstory, moody dark atmosphere).

Shows I'm planning to watch this month that might displace Boardwalk Empire at #13 (or higher): Treme (HBO), Shameless season 3 (Showtime)