Here are the ten best series of 2013.
“The Good Wife” (CBS) – I noted in this column several weeks ago that I considered “The Good Wife” to be the Program of the Year for 2013. There was some aftermath carping that “Breaking Bad” deserved that distinction. I certainly won’t argue the point with anyone who wants to honor the singular brilliance of that show. But I feel “Good Wife” is somewhat more deserving because it has ferociously caught fire in its fifth season in a way few, if any, long-running broadcast dramas have ever managed to do. It has remained consistently bold and provocative despite the restrictions imposed on broadcast television content; it has done this without any depictions of extreme gore and violence; it is arguably the smartest show on television right now; it is unashamedly targeted to thinking grown-up viewers; it has a better handle on the harsh realities of digital media than any other current television show, and it has maintained this level of excellence while producing 22 original episodes per season. But don't fret: I loved “Breaking Bad.”
“Breaking Bad” (AMC) – All that's left to say about the one of a kind experience that was “Breaking Bad” is this: I am awfully glad I began watching it when it premiered in January 2008 and that I got to live with it and think about it and eagerly anticipate it and discuss it over a six-year period. Binging on a show is one thing; savoring one over the long haul is quite another. I will admit I'm still a little skeptical about the likelihood that Walter White's “killing machine” would work as well as it did and with such deadly accurate detail in the final episode's climactic sequence, given the uncertain and dangerously crazy circumstances of the situation, which wouldn't matter except that it allowed the series to end exactly as it did and in just the right way. In other words, I thought it was a stretch. Before that moment I don't think a single scene in the show's half-decade history even came close to hitting a wrong note. “Breaking Bad” belongs on the shelf next to the other two great television achievements of recent vintage -- HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” I wonder when the next irrefutably great series will make itself known.
“Downton Abbey” (PBS) – “Downton Abbey” is still television's most delightful escape from modern life even when it veers into dark territory. (If you thought the two big deaths in Season 3 were dark, wait until you see what happens in this Sunday's episode.) And it is still a grand showcase for one of the finest and most appealing ensembles in TV today. Critics may have begun their inevitable sniffing, having moaned that Season 3 wasn't as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious as Seasons 1 and 2. Hogwash! I believe that “Downton” still brings more simple pleasure to more people than any other scripted series on television, here and in many other countries. And Maggie Smith is still the bomb. The characters on this show are for the most part people we genuinely enjoy spending time with and the world they inhabit is as inviting as any other. Here's hoping we get to hang with the Crawleys and their employees and further experience the political, societal and cultural upheavals of the 20th century with them for years to come.
To be continued in tomorrow’s TV Blog.