These were my 10 favorite shows of 2013:
1. “Bunheads” (Season 1, ABC Family) — I know “Bunheads” was the best show on TV in 2013 because it appealed to both the heart and the mind. And also because — with its dance numbers that attempted to illustrate the mood of the story — it was a daring work of art unlike anything else. Even Amy-Sherman Palladino’s trademark show, “Gilmore Girls” — to which “Bunheads’ ” quirky small town and obscure references owe a debt — wasn’t this ambitious. I also know “Bunheads” was the best show of the year because it hurts like hell that we aren’t getting new episodes or even a DVD release.
2. “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” (Season 5, Cartoon Network) — Speaking of cruelly canceled-too-soon shows, “The Clone Wars” didn’t get to wrap up all of its storylines, but it certainly went out on top. Highlights include the awesome Darth Maul four-parter and the powerfully constructed moment where Ahsoka chooses to leave the Jedi Order. A prime example of the love the showmakers poured into “Clone Wars”: Composer Kevin Kiner traveled on his own dime to conduct an orchestra for the final episode’s music.
3. “The Mindy Project” (Season 1-2, Fox) — There’s nothing sexier than a sense of humor, which is why Mindy Kaling is the hottest woman on TV thanks to scenes such as her character shaving her forearms in preparation for a date or random dialog asides such as Mindy being called “sir.” “The Mindy Project” really started to click this year, with the predictably unpredictable nurse Morgan leading the way among the supporting cast.
4. “The Bridge” (Season 1, FX) — Marco dealing with the murder of his son was the most devastating hour of TV this year, but every episode of this twisty-turny series is great. While Demian Bachir provides international sex appeal as the lead, Diane Kruger’s Asperger’s-afflicted Sonya becomes increasingly likable, “Monk” veteran Ted Levine delivers gravitas as the police captain and Matthew Lillard completes his transition from Freddie Prinze Jr.’s crappy-movie sidekick to first-rate character actor. Through the Juarez crime syndicate and its creepy kingpin, “The Bridge” viscerally illustrates why fighting crime (or even solving one crime) in this border town is darn near impossible.
5. “The Killing” (Season 3, AMC) — Speaking of devastating hours of TV, the execution of Ray Seward as our hopes of seeing him freed finally peter out is about as brutal as it gets. But that’s just the appetizer leading to the main course of the surprising yet plausible revelation of the real killer in the finale, plus that shocking ending that will likely have major repercussions for Linden in Season 4 on Netflix.
6. “The Walking Dead” (Season 3-4, AMC) — It’s a turn-the-lights-out-and-the-TV-on must-watch because no matter what direction the writers choose, they never run out of juicy character stuff. Even the paths not taken are fascinating; for example, I enjoyed it when it seemed — for two episodes — that the Governor has reformed. Even when he reverts to form and makes war on the prison camp, that blockbuster episode becomes a springboard for more character-centered questions. How will the girl deal with killing a person? How will Hershel’s daughters cope? What happened to the Governor’s camp’s survivors — and baby Judith for that matter?
7. “Parenthood” (Season 4-5, NBC) — Kristina shows how to take on a slimeball politician in the Berkeley governor’s race — and true to life, she loses the election anyway. “Parenthood” doesn’t always nail reality, but when it does, it’s gripping stuff, from Max’s socially awkward life lessons to Drew navigating the minefield of freshman dorm romances. Even the soapier stuff is hard to turn away from, including Amber’s human land mine of a boyfriend and Julia’s completely insane kissage with Roy from “The Office.”
8. “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23” (Season 2, ABC) — Much like “This Is the End” did for movies this year, “Apt. 23” takes a meta, anything-goes approach to situational comedy. Like “Parks and Recreation’s” Aubrey Plaza times 10, Krysten Ritter perfects her “Who cares?” performance even as James Van Der Beek (as “himself”) achieves a hilarious nadir of self-centeredness. I never trusted ABC to keep something this original on the air for long, but at least we got (almost) two seasons.
9. “Bates Motel” (Season 1, A&E) — In general, I oppose remakes and reboots of classics. I make room for one exception, though: If it’s really good. That’s the case in this “Psycho” update thanks to Freddie Highmore’s turn as the iconically troubled Norman Bates. On top of that are all kinds of oddities distinct to this California coastal town, such as the seemingly corrupt sheriff, the guy who regularly books the hotel and pays in cash, the cute girl with the oxygen tank, and the marijuana field that’s never talked about but seems central to everything.
10. “Super Fun Night” (Season 1, ABC) — In some ways, it’s a quirky sitcom like any other. But what makes “SFN” different is that the three female leads are relatably uncool and normal-looking. (Rebel Wilson trying to pull on a pair of Spanx pretty much sums up the show’s lack of self-consciousness in one scene.) Three equivalent guys in a nearby apartment balance out the gender roles, while Kimmie’s never-to-be-requited crush on Richard gives the various super fun nights a foundation of melancholy.
What were your 10 favorite shows of 2013? Share your list in the comment thread.