5. Hannibal (NBC)
Simply put, this show should not have been good. The umpteenth iteration of a horror icon who had descended to the point of self-parody, done in prequel style, on primetime network television? How could that have gone right? But Bryan Fuller and his team delivered a show that consistently doused ice water down the back of the audience’s neck with baroque, grisly images that were unlike anything else on TV. Though the show flirted with a traditional procedural structure, the imagery elevated the format to something akin to a waking dream, where even the most gruesome images took on a strange beauty. Mishandled, ideas like bodies being “planted” in the ground to cultivate a mushroom farm could have been laughable; instead, they were unforgettable.
But the show couldn’t have survived on looks alone, and luckily it didn’t have to. Hugh Dancy’s take on Will Graham gave William Peterson a run for his money, creating a fragile but brilliant mind that empathizes in all the most unfortunate ways, always on the verge of a quivering meltdown. Mads Mikkelsen gave the chilliest portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lector yet, using his profession as a psychiatrist as a distancing technique that allows him to hide his darker tendencies in plain sight. His season-long “gas lighting” of Graham was a brilliant, character motivated touch that never veered into winking camp and made for some of the season’s best moments. Lawrence Fishburne also turned out to be an inspired Jack Crawford, lending the role more than just his natural gravitas, always taking the time to remind us of the hard-lined warmth and care that the character had for the people he put into harm’s way.
The season built to a fever pitch (Editor’s Note: Chud.com, your one stop shop for encephalitis puns!), leaving us on a role reversing cliffhanger that, to my mind, opens up the possibility of next season in truly unexpected ways. That final moment is a familiar image for fans of the franchise, but the simple subversion suggests we’re about to see a second season completely unlike the first. Let’s just hope it’s as good.
Defining Moment: Pick a darkly gorgeous murder tableau – The totem pole? The mushroom farm? The human cello? The “angels”?
– Miles Lemaire
4. Justified (FX)
Rest in Peace Elmore Leonard. Rest in peace knowing that you capped a transcendent career with possibly the most enduring and profound weapon in your arsenal.
Despite unfair ratings, Justified is one of the best shows on television year in and year out, despite rarely delivering a knockout twist, watercooler moment, or spiritually lifting episode. It’s messy, dirty, raw, and intoxicating like the most arcane and magical moonshine. Raylan Givens is Timothy Olyphant’s lucky star, allowing him to deliver swagger and backwoods charm like no other role ever could. He owns it too. Each season allows for the actor and his character to fall deeper into sync and he’s become so much more than a “shoot first, don’t even ask questions” cowboy. Walton Goggins is even better as Boyd Crowder, a character who has been so engaging that it’s now impossible to think about Justified without him.
It was a weird but terrific year for the show with its decades-old mystery, the death of an important character who had outstayed his welcome, and a catalyst that will inevitably lead to much more dangerous interaction between the show’s leading men. It’s delicious and I cannot figure out why this doesn’t have Sons of Anarchy cred considering that this lives in a corner of the same dramatic action universe. Except it’s better (Editor’s Note: Waaaaay better).
Defining Moment: Boyd Crowder flirts with a new life only see it drift away. He then truly knows who he is and what kind of man he’ll always be.
– Nick Nunziata
3. BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO)
Boardwalk Empire has always had problems. Chief among them has been that its main character is not one of its more interesting, and that the incredibly sprawling scope of the narrative made it damn near impossible to balance and service storylines spread out over dozens of characters and half of North America. What’s surprising is that this year the show managed to produce its strongest season yet by opting to basically ignore these sizeable issues rather than fixing them.
This worked very well, by shifting the focus to the show’s considerable strengths (one of which is always ending with the season with a bang, and in December, which no doubt gave it a leg up on the competition when it was time to compile this list). That meant letting formerly major characters fall almost completely off the show, and moving supporting players like Nucky’s brother Eli and his African-American counterpart Chalky to de facto co-leads. Shea Wigham and Michael K. Williams stepped up their already-impressive games and carried the season magnificently, with the latter getting sequences of action badassery to rival anything he did as Omar on The Wire (Editor’s Note: Bullshit. The King stay the King), as his feud with oily newcomer Jeffrey Wright escalated and took a devastating toll. That there was another great mob war popping off in Chicago with Stephen Graham’s Al Capone and the ever-unhinged Michael Shannon was just icing on the cake.
The show also closed the book on its greatest and most original creation in Richard Harrow. Jack Huston’s remarkable performance was a work of riveting, unsettling minimalism, and the show is going to have its work cut out for it going forward after writing him out. But it was an appropriate, sadly beatiful send-off. And the show has a lot of decadent, bloody history left to mine before the end of Prohibition. Bring it on.
Defining Moment – The brutal, harrowing brawl at the end of “Old Ship Of Zion”
– Al Schwartz
2. Game of Thrones (HBO)
The elephant in the room is shot through with arrows, staring at us with two dark pools, drinking all the light in the room, all the light in your heart. And then someone dispassionately walks up behind it, opening a clean, delicate line across its neck. And then it’s over.
The series’ best season is not the result of a single episode, but of the many hours of thoughtful, exceptionally executed moments throughout. Jamie and Brienne’s hopeless journey back to Kings’ Landing gave me an appreciation I hadn’t had for either character, opening the emotional landscape of each as their power dynamic teetered. Jamie’s excoriating monologue about the single most important moment in his life matched the intensity of anything else that happened the year, including [redacted].
This was a great year for odd couples in general. Arya and The Hound always seemed seconds away from shattering the other’s skull with a rock. Jon Snow navigated The North with the Wildlings based on a volatile but passionate relationship with Ygritte. Theon and Roose Bolton’s bastard son got intimate in the worst ways possible. And of course, Tyrion and Sansa. Peter Dinklage killed it yet again, as the humiliated and unrecognized hero of the Blackwater. His marriage to Sansa, aside from giving us yet another wedding fraught with kinetic, anxious tension, further deconstructed the Disney Princess myth with one cruel turn after another. I could go on.
(Editor’s Note: G’head)
Okay! Dany and her dragons, followed by the religious ecstasy of her ascension to a true leader. Bran’s storyline finally becoming interesting. The Brotherhood Without Banners’ blend of derring do and necromancy. Every interaction Tywin Lannister had with anyone. Dianna Effing Rigg. There was just too much incredible stuff happening this season to pin it all on [seriously, if you’ve somehow remained unspoiled so far, we’re not gonna be the ones to do it]. But goddamn, that was pretty incredible too. Valar morghulis, indeed.
Defining Moment – Brienne’s showdown against a bear with a wooden sword was a fantastic action set piece directed by Michelle MacLaren, made all the better when the physically and emotionally maimed Jamie jumps in to help.
– Miles Lemaire
1. BREAKING BAD (AMC)
Endings have never come easily to American TV shows. As advances in distribution technology have led audiences to increasingly embrace and even expect heavier degrees of serialization, even series of modest ambition find themselves with an accumulated epic when it’s time to wrap up. Fans demand a thorough, airtight payoff for years of storylines. Most shows struggle to pull this off, because it is very difficult.
You wouldn’t know that from watching the final stretch of Breaking Bad, though. The show’s consistent laser focus on the journey of Walter White meant that it had relatively few balls in the air this year, and it knocked pretty much all of them out of the park in typically intense, queasily funny, gorgeously shot fashion. The finale itself will be guaranteed to be part of the “best finale ever” conversation for years to come (qualms about how it goes easier on Walt than the rest of the series be damned), and the climactic “Ozymandias” was hands down the best hour of drama produced in 2013, big screen or small.
Breaking Bad will be missed. It raised the bar in many ways – writing, cinematography, performance, and with its 2013 performance, it also set a new standard for going out at the top of your game and crafting a wholly satisfying capper that pleases just about everyone. Well, except maybe other showrunners who now have to measure up their own finales against this one.
Defining Moment: The utter gutpunch of “Ozymandias”’s first act. (Editor’s Note: Also Walt’s call home at the end of the episode)
(Also the confrontation in the garage at the end of the premiere)
(Also the reveal of Walt’s DVD)
(Also the shootout in the desert)
(Also the two best hitmen west of the Mississippi)
Fuck it, just watch damn show.
I don’t care if you’ve seen it already. WATCH AGAIN.
Oh, and Happy Holidays from all the Humanoid Underground Dwellers!