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The 15 Best New TV Shows of 2013

December 20, 2013  |  10:20am
The 15 Best New TV Shows of 2013

It takes a lot for a show to make it through those first pitch meetings, development and pilot season, but these 15 TV shows did way more than that. They got us hooked. And with the exception of Top of the Lake, which was designed as a miniseries, it looks like these new shows are in it for the long haul. It was a particularly good year for suspenseful thrillers and dark comedy. But there’s also political drama, sketch comedy, sci-fi, sitcoms and the gripping tales of women in prison. The new class of 2013 had a little bit for everyone. Here are our favorite new TV shows of 2013:

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15. The Following
Creators: Kevin Williamson
Stars: Kevin Bacon, Natalie Zea, Annie Parisse, Shawn Ashmore, Valorie Curry, Nico Tortorella, Adan Canto, Kyle Catlett, James Purefoy
Network: FOX
There have been a lot of serial-killer shows cropping up in 2013, and the first to hit the airwaves remains one of the best. The Following had a lot of anticipation surrounding it ever since creator Kevin Williamson () announced he nabbed Kevin Bacon for the actor’s first starring role on television. The series is certainly about death, but it’s about more than murder. Bacon’s Ryan Hardy is a broken former FBI agent who is forever linked with the sociopath Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). Years ago Hardy captured Carroll after the professor killed 14 of his coed students. Now the killer has escaped thanks to his loyal followers. Carroll’s cult follows his off-kilter ideology, which is based off of his obsession with Edgar Allen Poe. The gothic overtones allow for crafty and omniscient cinematography coupled with a killer soundtrack. While all of those are undeniably on point, it’s really Bacon and Purefoy, along with a superb supporting cast including Natalie Zea, Shawn Ashmore. These stars are joined by a slew of newcomers playing cult members that force viewers to sympathize with them one second, before realizing how grotesque their actions are. This show certainly has the entire package and has already built a loyal fan-base almost as dedicated as Carroll’s followers.—Adam Vitcavage

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14. Kroll Show
Creators: Nick Kroll, Jonathan Krisel, John Levenstein
Stars: Nick Kroll
Network: Comedy Central
For years Nick Kroll has been perfecting characters like Spanish radio DJ El Chupacabra and guido Bobby Bottleservice through his stand-up and podcast appearances, but on Kroll Show, he brings these and many other characters to television. What transpires is almost like SCTV by way of Tim and Eric, as Kroll has his hilarious characters grow, change and intermingle throughout the first season in a sketch show unlike any other on TV. It’s a flurry of great ideas, brilliant comedians like John Mulaney and Jon Daly, and parody that is so busy and insane it probably shouldn’t work. But all these puzzle pieces fit together perfectly in a way that makes Kroll Show one of the most unique shows of 2013.—Ross Bonaime

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13. Hello Ladies
Creators: Stephen Merchant, Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky
Stars: Stephen Merchant, Christine Woods, Nate Torrence, Kevin Weisman, Kyle Mooney
Network: HBO
The first seven episodes of Stephen Merchent’s sitcom were an excellent series of dark, deeply felt comedic stories that almost never pulled their punches. Time after time they showed Stuart Pritchard and his friends at their absolute worst as they searched for love and happiness in Los Angeles and failed to find it. Like the British Office, it warded off sentimentalism in a way that few shows on television have ever done, let alone few sitcoms. It had the bracing vision of a masterful independent film, casually flouting conventions not for the sake of it but simply because it was trying to tell a more truthful story. So we’ll forgive the oddly warm and fuzzy finale.—Sean Gandert

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12. The Returned
Creator: Fabrice Gobert
Stars: Anne Consigny, Clotilde Hesme, Guillaume Gouix
Network: Sundance
The Walking Dead isn’t the only TV show to raise the dead; The Returned (originally Les Revenants in France), is a spacious, strange, subtitled exploration of what it might look like if the dead began to return unchanged from the day they first departed. Set in a small village nestled in the Alps with a soundtrack from Mogwai, reanimation can feel just as creepy when the undead have brains of their owns and don’t need to eat yours.—Josh Jackson

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11. Hannibal
Creators: Bryan Fuller
Stars: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park, Laurence Fishburne
Network: NBC
Bryan Fuller has created several cult shows that surround around death, with Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, but never to the level where every minute drips doom in the way that Hannibal does. Unlike most recreations of popular characters, Fuller’s Hannibal is as dark and fascinating as any prior adaptations of Thomas Harris’ dark character Hannibal Lecter. Mads Mikkelsen as the title character has a silent terror and confidence to him, while Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham is empathetic to the murderers he searches for and often bordering on too intense. Hannibal is not only one of the most beautifully shot and eerie shows to air on a major network in years, but also a phenomenal retelling of the origin of characters that have already been told before in a fresh and impressive new way.—Ross Bonaime

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10. The Goldbergs
Creator: Adam F. Goldberg
Stars: Wendi McLendon-Covey, Sean Giambrone, Troy Gentile, Hayley Orrantia, George Segal, Jeff Garlin
Network: ABC
With narration by Patton Oswalt and one of the funniest dysfunctional TV couples since Bryan Cranston had hair, The Goldbergs is an often hilarious look back at the 1980s. Maybe it’s because, like creator Adam Goldberg, I was the third child of a fiercely protective mother, and I was equally in love with the new pop culture. My wife even grew up in Goldberg’s Philadelphia and can identify the shops in the neighborhood. While keeping the timeline somewhat nebulous, he gets so much right because so many of the ideas come directly from the handheld videocamera he was obsessed with as a kid.—Josh Jackson

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9. Family Tree
Creator: Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Nina Conti, Michael McKean, Lisa Pelfrey
Network: HBO
If you’re a Christopher Guest fan, you probably think you know what you’re in for with Family Tree, his new eight-episode series for HBO. He’s a comic auteur if ever there was one, and his films always take place in clearly defined worlds. But Family Tree is different. Yes, many of Guest’s usual actors turn up—though most don’t until the second half of the season—but the formula’s shaken up a bit this time around. His characters have always existed in very distinct communities, but Family Tree’s main character is trying to find his. The show follows Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd, who Americans will probably recognize best from Bridesmaids, This is 40, Girls or The IT Crowd) as he attempts to trace his genealogy after inheriting a box of his recently deceased great-aunt Victoria’s old family mementos. Tom’s got the “lovable loser” thing on lock—he’s reeling from a recent breakup with his girlfriend, and he’s jobless after being fired from his risk-assessment gig. O’Dowd brings just the right amount of sadness to the role, but he’s also extremely quick, reacting to the zany characters who surround him much in the same way Jason Bateman did in Arrested Development. Like anything Guest does, the show expertly blends pathos into its comedy.—Bonnie Stiernberg

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8. The Americans
Creator: Joe Weisberg
Stars: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Maximiliano Hernández, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Noah Emmerich
Network: FX
With the unlikely backdrop of the Cold War, the first season of The Americans deftly explored marriage and loyalty while taking viewers on a thrilling weekly ride of high-stakes espionage and shocking plot twists. The performances on the FX series, which will return for a second season early next year, were phenomenal. Stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell surprised as the show’s central couple while Noah Emmerich’s unstable FBI agent Stan Beeman was fascinating to watch. Somehow we always found ourselves rooting for the murderous spies out to destroy America. In the nail-biting finale, no one wanted Elizabeth (Russell) and Philip (Matthew) to be caught. Not because if they were caught, there would be no show, but because Russell and Rhys have made us not only care about their duplicitous characters but also understand their plight. The final moments of the first seaon found Elizabeth and Phillip this close to being caught and this close to getting back together. Bring on Season Two.—Amy Amatangelo

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7. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Creators: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Stars: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge
Network: ABC
When Joss Whedon was handed the Marvel universe for the The Avengers, he was like a kid who turned the candy store into something Willy Wonka couldn’t dream of. The TV version might not have the star power (in terms of either actors or superheroes), but in just 10 episodes, he’s built the kind of Scooby team that we fell in love with in his past shows like Buffy and Firefly. Clark Gregg has transformed Phil Coulson from a minor character in Ironman to the surprising heart of The Avengers to the kind of leader we’d take a bullet for. And Chloe Bennet’s Skye, a hacktivist who wants information to be free, is our everywoman entry into the secretive world of the men in black. It’s silly and a little broader than Whedon’s past series, but it’s a tremendous amount of fun.—Josh Jackson

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6. Nathan For You
Creators: Nathan Fielder, Michael Koman
Stars: Nathan Fielder
Network: Comedy Central
Nathan For You is a show that has a simple premise, star Nathan Fielder goes to various businesses and helps them improve in any way he can, but it’s the level of intricacy and shock that makes Nathan For You one of the funniest new shows this year. Nathan’s ideas are both brilliant and stupid at the same time, and Nathan is incredible at utilizing real-world reactions to fit into whatever story and scheme he is going for and evolving it to a much funnier premise than he even began with. An idea for discount gas can lead to Nathan on top of a mountain learning the health benefits of drinking your own pee, or a “8 Minutes or Less” pizza guarantee leaves Nathan bonding with a pizza delivery guy over their poor success with women. Nathan For You is ridiculously hilarious, always surprising and one of the most enjoyable and original shows in years.—Ross Bonaime

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5. Top of the Lake
Creator: Jane Campion
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, David Wenham, Peter Mullan, Thomas M. Wright, Holly Hunter
Network: Sundance Channel
It’s hard to think of Elisabeth Moss outside the context of Mad Men’s Peggy Olson, which is why her complete transformation into New Zealand detective Robin Griffin for the Sundance Channel’s seven-part miniseries Top of the Lake was so impressive. She sank fully into the role of a smart, troubled wanderer returning to her hometown to solve the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old girl, and despite the fact that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation pulled funding when she was cast (a financial gap later filled by BBC-owned UKTV), director Jane Campion absolutely made the right call. As Griffin, Moss is vulnerable and tough all at once, and the show’s brooding pace suits the slow emergence of her own submerged demons. And that’s what sets Top of the Lake apart; this is a rare modern show that dares you to experience the story on their time, complete with meaningful digressions and patient character studies. The lake itself is a symbolic character, with an alpine surface beauty that belies the secrets beneath. As Griffin approaches the truth of the pregnant girl’s fate, she’s forced to uncover the trauma of her past and the darkness of everything she escaped. Holly Hunter is delightful as CJ, a plain-speaking guru at the head of a caravan of bruised older women, and Peter Mullan often steals the show as the gruff white trash patriarch—and lifelong criminal—Matt Mitcham. But it’s Moss, resilient and damaged, who gives the show its simmering energy.—Shane Ryan

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4. Orphan Black
Creators: Graeme Manson, John Fawcett
Stars: Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Network: Space/BBC America
Having one actor play several characters in a single show is nothing new. But that doesn’t take away from what Tatiana Maslany accomplished in the first season of BBC America’s Orphan Black. Maslany plays a host of clones on a sci-fi show that’s not just for sci-fi fans. Her main character, Sarah Manning, is a young British mother living in Canada. A small-time con artist, she’s trying and failing to get her life together when she sees her doppelgänger commit suicide by stepping in front of a train. After stealing the woman’s purse—and identity—Sarah the con artist becomes Beth the cop, scrambling to fool her partner and discovering more women who look just like her. Each one she comes across—the uptight suburban mom, the gay hipster scientist, the Ukrainian religious fanatic—feels like such a different character that it’s easy to forget that the same actress is behind them all. And though there are elements of sci-fi—human cloning and the Neolutionists who believe in scientifically improving themselves (one character has a tail)—most of the characters aren’t the type who would even watch sci-fi. The show is as much about identity and motherhood as it is the consequences of technology. But none of it would work without the humanity Maslany brings to each of the clones she portrays in the show.—Josh Jackson

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3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Creators: Daniel J. Goor, Michael Schur
Stars: Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, Chelsea Peretti
Network: NBC
Created by Parks & Rec showrunner Michael Schur and his fellow Parks writer Dan Goor, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is populated with the same kind of hilarious and lovable characters as the Pawnee Parks Department. It all starts with the unexpected chemistry between Andy Samberg as the wise-cracking detective and his all-business chief played by Homicide’s Andre Braugher. There’s misantrhopic Gina (Chelsea Peretti), food-blogging Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), street-tough Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz), brown-nosing Santiago and gun-shy hulk Terry (Terry Crews), but after just a handful of episodes, they’re already characters you want to pull for. Schur never wants to sacrifice heart for humor, and his shows have plenty of both.—Josh Jackson

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2. House of Cards
Creators: Beau Willimon
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll, Michael Kelly, Sakina Jaffrey, Kristen Connolly, Constance Zimmer
Network: Netflix
Instead of examining ideology or party definitions, House of Cards is a political drama about the thirst for power. David Fincher (executive producer and director of the first two episodes) loves to explore the darker sides of his movie subjects, and he’s got more time to let those unravel on TV. Kevin Spacey could carry the whole show on his shoulders as Francis Underwood, but he’s surrounded by talent. Robin Wright, who plays his wife, is a force of nature. Claire Underwood is almost as ruthless as her husband, but Wright manages to bring a sense of vulnerability to the dynamic character. And I’ve never found myself rooting for a drunk, cocaine-snorting politician more than Corey Stoll’s Peter Russo.—Krystle Drew

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1. Orange is the New Black
Creator: Jenji Kohan
Stars: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Michael J. Harney, Michelle Hurst, Kate Mulgrew, Jason Biggs
Network: Netflix
The Netflix mode of releasing entire seasons at once is all the rage, and as a unrepentant binge-viewer, count me among the grateful. But it’s worth remembering that before July, when Orange is the New Black debuted, the company’s dramatic output was spotty at best. There was the forgettable Lilyhammer, the poorly received Hemlock Grove, and the compelling-but-ultimately-just-a-guilty-pleasure political thriller House of Cards. That all changed with OITNB, a stunning women’s prison drama that earned the top spot on my personal list and that goes down as one of my favorite viewing experiences in years. This was a show perfectly suited for the Netflix delivery system, if only because it would have been agonizing to wait a week for a new episode. But there’s more; the construct felt cinematic and compared to your average show, and I couldn’t help but feel that the all-at-once release plane freed the creators to make something less episodic and more free-flowing. Taylor Schilling stars as Piper Chapman, a woman living a content modern life when her past rears up suddenly to tackle her from behind; a decade earlier, she was briefly a drug mule for her lover Alex Vause (the excellent Laura Prepon), and when Vause needed to plea her sentence down, she gave up Piper. The story is based on the real-life events of Piper Kerman, whose book of the same title was the inspiration, but the truth is that the screen version is miles better. Schilling is the engine that drives the plot, and her odd combination of natural serenity mixed with the increasing anger and desperation at the late turn her life has taken strikes the perfect tone for life inside the women’s prison. Over the first few episodes, prison is treated like an almost-quirky novelty she’ll have to experience for 15 months, and the wisest choice director Jenji Kohan made (and there are many) was to heighten the stakes so that what begins as an off-kilter adventure soon takes on the serious proportions prison life demands. And as great as Schilling and Prepon are together, the supporting cast is so universally excellent that it almost beggars belief. (A highlight for me—any time an auxiliary character gets the “how they got to prison” backstory treatment.) There are too many characters who make gold with their limited screen time to mention individually, but suffice it to say that there’s enough comedy, pathos and tragedy here for a dozen shows. The fact that they fit so successfully into one makes OITNB a defining triumph for Netflix.—Shane Ryan

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