Amy Poehler, Archer, Behind the Candelabra, Best of 2013, Best Shows of 2013, Best TV of 2013, Best TV Shows of 2013, Boardwalk Empire, Golden Globes, Great Performances, Live From Lincoln Center, Masters of Sex, Scandal, Shameless, Survivor, Television, The 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Tina Fey, Top 20 Shows of 2013, Top of the Lake
Best Shows of 2013: Honorable Mention
There was a lot of fantastic programming that aired on television this past year. These are the shows that would make a Top 20 list, but these are ranked alphabetically.
Even in its fourth season Archer is still one of the most consistently funny shows. Not only does it function as a workplace comedy, featuring a cast of barely competent employees, but the action sequences are same of the most inventive and exciting things on television. The car chase in “The Papal Chase” episode was one of the most thrilling sequences on television last year. The voice cast also does terrific work every week. Amber Nash, as Pam, had a particularly standout season and H. Jon Benjamin (who also voices the lead on Bob’s Burgers) is always reliable as our arrogant lead character Sterling Archer.
Behind the Candelabra
I expected this made-for-television film to be very campy and would get enjoyment out of the trashiness of it. I didn’t expect to be a very humanizing portrayal of entertainer Liberace and his love affair with Scott Thorson. Steven Soderbergh’s direction and Richard LaGravenese’s script did an excellent job of making Liberace feel like a real person. Not to mention the unforgettable performance from Michael Douglas as Liberace himself. Douglas completely brought him to life in probably his performance to date. Matt Damon also gave his best performance in years as his lover Scott. Not to mention the colorful cast of supporting characters played by Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe and Scott Bakula. The one person who didn’t get credit was Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother. She didn’t have a big role, but she made a big impact in her few small scenes.
I’ve been a strong supporter of this show from the first season. This is the first time it hasn’t made my Top 10 list. The season started off a little weaker than usual. It took a couple of episodes for the plot to get going. But once it did, it became the show that I loved again. The plot involving the rivalry between Chalky White and Dr. Narcisse was one of the most compelling story lines the show has ever done. It helped that actors Michael K. Williams and Jeffrey Wright were giving tremendous performances every week. Margot Bingham, as Daughter Maitland (the female who comes between them), had a breakout year as well. My only major complaint was the lack of Kelly Macdonald’s character Margaret this season. She’s been the most accessible character to the audience and that was missing this year. Macdonald was pregnant during the filming of most of the season, so I hope her role is back to what we expected from previous years.
The 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards
As much as I love discussing and covering awards shows, the ceremonies themselves are rarely anything to write home about and mostly terrible. The Globes themselves have been a completely forgettable ceremony. Ricky Gervais’ mean-spirited hosting didn’t help the matters either. But this year Tina Fey & Amy Poehler took over the hosting duties and made it one of the best awards ceremonies in recent memories. Their opening monologue was basically a Weekend Update segment without the desks, which completely worked for this show. The jokes were relevant and sassy without being cruel. (Easily the best joke: “I haven’t been following the controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty, but when it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron.”) Also memorable: Kristen Wiig & Will Ferrell’s presentation of Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical Picture. And Jodie Foster’s Cecil B. DeMille speech was absolutely fascinating. Fey & Poehler are back to host again for the next two years and I can’t wait to see what they have in store.
Great Performances and Live From Lincoln Center
While NBC has garnered a lot of attention this year for their live production of The Sound of Music, PBS has been airing live theatrical productions for years now. And this year was a particularly bountiful year. Live From Lincoln Center had quite a few high quality shows that aired this year. Broadway divas Audra McDonald and Kristin Chenoweth both had terrific hour-long concerts. One Singular Sensation! Celebrating Marvin Hamlisch aired on December 31st last year, but I watched it on January 1st so I’m including it because it was an amazing concert featuring Broadway veterans honoring the late composer. And not to mention their airing of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, anchored by two heavyweight performances by Nathan Gunn & Kelli O’Hara. And I haven’t even started talking about Great Performances yet. They aired an amazing Barbra Streisand concert and a broadcast of a filmed concert version of Company with Neil Patrick Harris leading an all-star concert. Great Performances also aired the BBC miniseries The Hollow Crown which aired a fantastic film version of Richard II starring Ben Whishaw. Not to mention the documentaries focusing on The Raisin Cycle and the Jewish legacy of Broadway. Anybody that’s interested in theater of any type should keep an eye on these two programs consistently airing on PBS.
Masters of Sex
Another terrific new series that debuted during 2013. Masters of Sex follows the sexual study explorations of Dr. Bill Masters and his partner Virginia Johnson. The series is anchored by two amazing performances from Michael Sheen & Lizzy Caplan. Their chemistry together is absolutely perfect. But the show has also filled out the rest of the cast with colorful characters. Beau Bridges as the provost of the university and Allison Janney as his wife were absolutely heartbreaking in a storyline involving his hidden homosexuality. Janney gave one of the best performances of the year and is almost guaranteed a fifth Emmy win in the Guest Actress category next year. Ann Dowd was another standout guest performer as Dr. Masters’ mother. The show has a bit of improvement to do, like raising the stakes of the story lines a tiny bit, but their strongest episodes came in the back half of the season so I’m confident that they realized what has worked on the series so far and continue to do that.
This show came very close to making my Top 10. The back half of the second season that aired in early 2013 was absolutely fantastic. The story lines came together in a very smart and interesting way and it had one of the best ensembles on television. Kerry Washington gave one of her performances in “Truth or Consequences”, which should’ve been her Emmy tape. However I thought the show slipped a little bit in the third season so far. The season premiere was one of the best episodes of the series. The scene in the bunker between Olivia, Fitz & Mellie was dramatic television at its best. But the storylines didn’t seem to grow from there. The plot involving Khandi Alexander as Olivia’s mother is a complete rip-off/take-off on Alias‘ second season storyline with Lena Olin. It’s still an entertaining show but the third season hasn’t been a complete success so far.
This is still one of television’s most criminally under-recognized shows. It’s obviously on Emmy’s radar because Joan Cusack has received three consecutive nominations in the Guest category, but it’s still ignored everywhere else. That’s a huge crime this year, especially with Emmy Rossum’s amazing performance as Fiona. Her courtroom monologue in “A Long Way From Home” was one of the most heartbreaking moments of television this year and it was Rossum’s performance that made it so memorable. The show also took a different approach with Frank this season and put him on a more redeeming path at the end of the season. Frank is still a despicable character, but he seems to be on a new path. The rest of the ensemble was also terrific as always. Jeremy Allen White as Lip is one of the show’s strong points and he had another strong season of performances. The show returns for its fourth season on January 12th. I have to imagine that the show will continue its upward climb in quality.
Back in the year 2000, Survivor kicked off the reality-competition craze on network television. Now in 2013 it’s still going strong and still showing other reality shows how to keep the same format but making occasional changes that don’t betray the essence of the show. The 26th season of the show in the Spring brought back the Fans vs. Favorites twist and provided an extremely entertaining season, ultimately ending in the nerdy law student Cochran dominating the game and winning the $1 million dollar prize. The 27th season airing in the fall brought in a new twist: Blood vs. Water. It featured 10 returning players and 10 of their loved ones competing against each other. It completely raised the stakes of the game from the first minute. Not to mention the loved ones were just as entertaining and cutthroat as their veteran loved ones. This season also featured only the second instance in the show’s history of the tribe being completely deadlocked that they had to resort to drawing rocks.
Top of the Lake
Sundance made a big mark on television this year with a 6-part miniseries from filmmaker Jane Campion. This miniseries focused on police detective Robin being brought back to her hometown to investigate the disappearance of a pregnant 12 year-old girl. That’s only the basic plot and things get more complicated as the series goes on. The series was anchored by a terrific performance from Elisabeth Moss. We’ve known Moss as the quiet but determined Peggy Olson from Mad Men, but here she showed what a powerhouse she can be when given different material. Her performance was tough and vulnerable at the same time. It’s a shame she didn’t win the Emmy this year. The supporting cast was just as strong too, featuring interesting and strong performances from Peter Mullan, Thomas M. Wright and Holly Hunter. The conclusion of the main storyline was slightly less than satisfying, but it didn’t negate the intense and emotional hours that came before it.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Eastbound & Down, Hannibal, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Shark Tank, Southland, 30 Rock, Top Chef, Treme