The 20 Best TV Shows of 2013 (So Far)

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The 20 Best TV Shows of 2013 (So Far)

Summer provides a lull in the TV season and a good time to look back (and catch up) on the year’s best shows so far. Several of our entries are brand new in 2013, but a couple wrapped their series finales already this year. While HBO and AMC continue their critical reign, Netflix, FX, BBC America and even The Sundance Channel have entered the mix. And while NBC flounders commercially, they still have the best showing among the networks when it comes to our critics. Here are the 20 Best TV Shows of 2013 (So Far).

20. Bob’s Burgers

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Creator: Loren Bouchard
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, John Roberts, Kristen Schaal, Larry Murphy
Network: FOX
The foul-mouthed, sexually confused and socially disastrous members of the Beelcher family from Bob’s Burgers are so compelling not because of their flaws but because they actually care for each other. That real affection is also what makes it the best family comedy on television, and developing the show around this has led Bob’s Burgers to a unique sense of humor that, unlike every other animated comedy, isn’t just derivative of The Simpsons. The show’s third, and first full, season was great because its characters, for all their eccentricities, never stopped feeling real, their constant worries about money and status making them more than just a set of gag-generating machines. That its stories could be as weird as “O.T.: The Outside Toilet” or “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal” while pulling off such a feat is even more admirable.—Sean Gandert

19. Family Tree

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Creators:
Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Michael McKean, Nina Conti, Christopher Guest, Ed Begley Jr., Lisa Palfrey, Tom Bennett
Network: HBO
With a television landscape that embraces auteurist series and documentary-style comedy, it’s sort of surprising it took this long for Christopher Guest to make the jump to TV. On Family Tree, Guest’s repertoire of great improvisers is joined by Chris O’Dowd’s Tom Chadwick, a Brit trying to find a future for himself by digging into his family’s past, a search that eventually leads him to America. The deeper Chadwick goes into learning about his family, the weirder and more entertaining it gets. O’Dowd, Nina Conti as his puppeteer sister Bea and Tom Bennett as his best friend Pete, are excellent additions to the expected Guest cast. Guest has been one of the biggest influences to television comedies in the last decade, and his first series shows he is still one of the comedy greats.—Ross Bonaime

18. Archer

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Creator: Adam Reed
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin
Judy Greer, Amber Nash, Chris Parnell, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, George Coe, Adam Reed, Lucky Yates
Network: FX
Since its 2010 debut on the FX network, Adam Reed’s Archer has provided some of the funniest, raunchiest moments on television delivered by the best ensemble of voice actors found this side of Springfield and New New York. This year’s fourth season was no exception, as Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), his psychologically damaging mother/boss, Mallory (Jessica Walters) and fellow agents (Aisha Taylor, Chris Parnell, Reed) and support staff (Amber Nash, Judy Greer, Lucky Yates, George Coe) continued to make the world a more dangerous, yet hilarity-filled place.—Michael Burgin

17. Hannibal

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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

16. Community

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Creator: Dan Harmon
Stars: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, Chevy Chase
Network: NBC
No, Community hasn’t been the same without Dan Harmon, but it’s a tribute to the show’s creator that his DNA will always be found in Abed, Troy, Annie, Jeff, Britta, Shirley, Pierce, Chang and the Dean. Temporary stewards David Guarascio and Moses Port did a yeoman’s job of paying meta-tribute to Harmon with an alternate sitcom reality, a Troy-Abed Freaky Friday switch and a return to the darkest timeline. Still, it’ll be good to have Dan Harmon back at the helm for Season 5.—Josh Jackson

15. Southland

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Creator: Ann Biderman
Stars: Kevin Alejandro
Arija Bareikis
Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Regina King, Michael McGrady, Benjamin McKenzie, Tom Everett Scott, C. Thomas Howell
Network: TNT
Southland was canceled by TNT in May. The DVR half-full way of looking at it is that the series, which was abruptly canceled by NBC in 2009, got four additional glorious seasons after being revived by TNT. But I’m selfish, and five seasons of this brilliant cop drama is not enough. The final season showcased Michael Cudlitz, whose troubled and stoic Officer John Cooper is one of the best television characters. Ever. Cudlitz’ tour-de-force performance, which deserves an Emmy nomination later this month, was devastating and brilliant. The final shot may have been a fitting end, but it was an emotionally shattering one for the viewer. TV shows don’t really get more than two lives, so Southland is gone for good. All that’s left to do is feel sorry for the people who missed out on this tremendous series.—Amy Amatangelo

14. The Americans

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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

13. Girls

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Creator: Lena Dunham
Stars: Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky
Network: HBO
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Girls, and this season continued to give us plenty to talk about. Girls’ characters are distinctly unlikeable and self-absorbed, but it’s their familiar flaws that make them relatable. We saw the complexities in characters’ personalities mostly through the way that they handled relationships, as friendships suffered and romantic relationships became blurry in that on-again, off-again, are-they-even-something kind of way. Dunham repeatedly juxtaposed characters’ actions, however pitiful, with the way that they spun events into an image they projected to others. Whether Hannah’s exagerating a book deal or Marnie is fudging the details on her break-up with Booth, the emphasis on our image-conscious generation made Hannah’s deterioration in the finale all the more powerful. —Dacey Orr

12. Rectify

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Creator: Ray McKinnon
Stars: Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, J. Smith-Cameron, Adelaide Clemens, Clayne Crawford, Luke Kirby
Network: Sundance Channel
Rectify has a simple enough premise: A man sent to rot on Death Row is released from prison after 19 years. Sure, the big and small screens have seen their fair share of crime dramas, but Rectify’s plot isn’t what sets it apart: It’s the rest of it. Daniel Holden, arrested for the rape and murder of his girlfriend, finds himself back in his hometown, greeted by constant life-threatening hostility. The show explores the bonds between Daniel (played to perfection by Aden Young), his family and his enemies as they struggle to deal with Daniel’s homecoming. Superbly acted, the program successfully meshes the best bits of a TV show together, managing to be at times heartbreaking and suspenseful, while also beautifully incorporating moments of effortless humor. Rectify is thought-provoking and will make you care about the future of its characters—like all the best shows do.—Rachel Haas

11. Doctor Who

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Creators: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Stars: Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman
Network: BBC/BBC America
This year, the 50th of Doctor Who’s existence, brought eight new episodes with Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. His companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) is the impossible girl, an enthusiastic foil to the Doctor’s recent brooding. She’s at the heart of this season’s main arc, a puzzle that the Doctor can’t figure out until another grand finale. Along the way are the kinds of villains and horrors (one penned by Neil Gaiman) that have made the series’ 21st-century revival so much silly fun.—Josh Jackson

Summer provides a lull in the TV season and a good time to look back (and catch up) on the year’s best shows so far. Several of our entries are brand new in 2013, but a couple wrapped their series finales already this year. While HBO and AMC continue their critical reign, Netflix, FX, BBC America and even The Sundance Channel have entered the mix. And while NBC flounders commercially, they still have the best showing among the networks when it comes to our critics. Here are the 20 Best TV Shows of 2013 (So Far).

10. New Girl

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Creator: Elizabeth Meriwether
Stars: Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris, Hannah Simone
Network: Fox
Back in 2011, New Girl entered Fox’s primetime slot in the wake of several well-founded concerns, chief among them that the show would exploit star Zooey Deschanel’s quirky, “adorkable” persona to nauseating extremes. By the first season’s end, however, the show had quickly grown into one of TV’s sharpest ensemble comedies. Apparently fueled by the momentum of that season, creator/showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether and her writing staff promptly stepped up their game for this year, constructing what amounts to a near-perfect season of primetime comedy. While even the best network programs are susceptible to lulls in quality due to the demanding 20-plus-episode order, almost every one of this season’s 25 episodes plays like a spirited, comedic gem, with Meriwether and Co. expertly navigating the line between absurd silliness and heartfelt sentimentality. Never was this more apparent than in the season’s latter half, which saw the long-awaited coupling of Deschanel’s Jess and Nick, her lovable, hard-drinking grump of a roommate (played with great gusto by the fantastic Jake Johnson). Not since Jim and Pam in the early seasons of The Office has there been a sitcom relationship as endearing and emotionally engaging as this odd-couple pairing. Add in memorable turns from supporting players Lamorne Morris and Hannah Simone as well as the hilarious antics of Max Greenfield as breakout character Schmidt, and New Girl has officially become a new standard for excellence in the sitcom community.—Mark Rozeman

9. The Walking Dead

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Creator: Frank Darabont
Stars: Andrew Lincoln
Jon Bernthal
Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Michael Rooker, David Morrissey, Melissa McBride, Scott Wilson
Network: AMC
If Season 1 was about staying alive and Season 2 was about adjusting to this new world, Season 3 of The Walking Dead has been about keeping sane in the zombie apocalypse without losing your humanity. Rick and The Governor have been the primary subjects dealing with post-traumatic stress, but mental and emotional stability has been an issue for Michonne, Glenn, Maggie and others, and just about everyone’s goodness has been tested. A show that’s adapted from a comic book about zombies has become a surprising source of television’s deepest moral examinations, always buried in a tense and engaging plot.—Josh Jackson

8. Justified

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Creator: Graham Yost
Stars: Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Walton Goggins, Joelle Carter
Network: FX
Following a solid third season, the gritty crime-drama’s fourth year may prove to be its best yet. Excising its standard formula, the show hitches its bets on a complex, season-long mystery involving an on-the-run mob fugitive. It’s a gamble that ultimately pays off in spades. What starts as a seemingly mundane case for grizzled lawman Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, still in great form) quickly becomes an ever-deepening journey into the rabbit hole that is his troubled family history. Besides Olyphant’s Raylan, who has by now earned his spot alongside the likes of Walter White and Don Draper in the distinguished pantheon of contemporary TV anti-heroes, this season features a predictably excellent cavalcade of great character actors who finally get the chance to flex their acting muscles (most notably, perhaps, being a frightening turn from Yes Dear’s Mike O’Malley). Equal parts engaging serialized mystery and in-depth character drama, Justified’s fourth season continues to boast some of TV’s most wonderfully textured visual stylings along with the kind of crisp, western noir dialogue exchanges that give the more high-minded Mad Men a run for its money.—Mark Rozeman

7. Parks & Recreation

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Creators: Greg Daniels, Michael Schur
Stars: Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Paul Schneider, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O’Heir, Retta
Network: NBC
While its big sibling The Office always suffered from repetition, Parks and Recreation always strives ahead to try out new ideas even when they’re difficult for the show’s format to sustain. 2013 featured Parks’ biggest moment ever, Leslie and Ben’s wedding, not to mention numerous new stories focused around Leslie’s job on the Pawnee city council that would’ve been impossible if the show weren’t willing to let her out of the parks department. While the slowdown following their wedding was a bit divisive, the season finale “Are You Better Off?” showed that there was a careful construction to these seemingly smaller episodes, and made the second half of the season just as significant as the first. Throughout this, Parks has maintained its standard repertoire of heart and humor, taking us in new places but with the same joy and humanity that’s made it the best comedy on television.—Sean Gandert

6. Enlightened

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Creators: Mike White and Laura Dern
Stars: Laura Dern, Mike White, Luke Wilson, Diane Ladd, Sarah Burns, Timm Sharp
Network: HBO
Much like its volatile lead heroine, the first season of HBO’s Enlightened demonstrated a disorientating oscillation between intensely emotional naval-gazing and abrasive, cringe-worthy comedy. Having found the proper balance approximately halfway through the first year, showrunner/co-star Mike White found a groove with the show’s final few episodes. After spending much of the first season attempting to reconstruct both her professional and personal lives following a psychotic breakdown, former company woman Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) decides to chuck any notions of diplomacy and bring down the corrupt Abaddon company from within. This new job as a wannabe whistleblower, however, proves to be a far more complex task than Amy initially realized. Perhaps more so than any show on TV, Enlightened’s episodes were driven less by plot and more by character’s interior lives. With its sunny, colorful visual palate masking an undeniable undercurrent of melancholy, the show was certainly never afraid to wear its heart (painfully) on its sleeve. Led by a career-defining performance from Laura Dern as the troubled protagonist, the show also milked great work from other series regulars, including White, Luke Wilson and Dern’s real-life mother Diane Ladd as Amy’s own long-suffering mother. And while one can mourn the episodes and story arcs that will never be, the show’s finale gives the entire series the poignant and conclusive crescendo it deserves. Look forward to the show joining the ranks of Firefly and Freaks and Geeks in future lists of great TV programs cut down in their prime.—Mark Rozeman

5. House of Cards

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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

4. Orphan Black

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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 or movie is nothing new. Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers made careers out of it. But nothing compares to 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 small-time con artist 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. The intrigue ratchets up with each of the 10 episodes in a show that’s as much about identity and motherhood as it is the consequences of technology.—Josh Jackson

3. Arrested Development

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Creators: Mitchell Hurwitz
Stars: Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat, Tony Hale, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter
Network: Netflix
The rumored return of the Bluths always felt too good to be true, and when it became apparent that the best sitcom of all time was actually back in production, we all feared it wouldn’t be the same. And it wasn’t. What the mind of Mitch Hurwitz wrought this time around wasn’t the tight, breezy, whip-lash-inducing humor of Seasons 1 through 3. It was both darker and slower, but it was just as densely packed with even more complex in-jokes, an intricate web of quadruply connected storylines that felt like a gift to the die-hardest of fans. All I really want to say is thank you.—Josh Jackson

2. Mad Men

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Creator: Matthew Weiner
Stars: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Jessica Paré, John Slattery, James Wolk, Kiernan Shipka
Network: AMC
Season Six of Mad Men turned out to be its weirdest yet, prompting fans to go berserk on the Internet and spout out Lost-esque conspiracy theories about Megan dying, new accounts man Bob Benson secretly being a spy, a cop or—my personal favorite—Peggy and Pete’s time-traveling illegitimate son. None of that turned out to be true, of course, but the touching way this penultimate season wrapped up was just as shocking after the characters at the newly named Sterling Cooper & Partners experienced a year filled with darkness and violence. What’ll happen if Don’s completely removed from his work life? Is the baby step he took towards reconnecting with his kids a sign of what’s to come? What’ll happen to Pete and Ted in California? Is Sally Draper in for an insane, rocky adolescence (it’s probably safe to assume she is)? We’ll have to wait till this excellent series returns to take its final bow in 1969 to find out.—Bonnie Stiernberg

1. Game of Thrones

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Creators: David Benioff, D. B. Weiss
Stars: Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Rose Leslie, Richard Madden, Michelle Fairley, Alfie Allen
Network: HBO
Something as sprawling and epic as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series should be nearly impossible to adapt to television. But David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have seemingly been given the patience, understanding and budget to pull it off with an exceptional cast and production locations ranging from Morocco to Northern Ireland to Iceland. But none of that would matter without the characters and stories at its heart. Martin can seem cruel and callous towards his characters, and there were plenty of horrific examples of that this season from Jaime’s hand to The Red Wedding. But rather than shocking viewers just to shock (okay there was some of that—looking at you, Theon Greyjoy), these elements raise the stakes for the many protagonists left to us. And in a world dominated by cruel patriarchs, the heroes aren’t conquering kings, but a little girl on the run, a bastard and his fat friend, an honest smuggler, a disfigured dwarf and an orphan who’s already become a widow in her teens. Our hope is that the meek will inherent the land of Westeros.—Josh Jackson

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