(* – According to a guy who didn’t watch Breaking Bad)

2013 was an excellent year for television. In terms of the depth and diversity of the quality, it may have been the best year ever. Because there were so many good shows and so many different kinds of good shows, it was an unusually difficult task to rank the very best. That is, until I hit upon the idea of breaking up my choices into categories. This organization has allowed me to give a fuller appreciation of every standout show in all their particularities. I did manage to pick a top five overall, while the rest are all arranged by category.

Top 5 Overall

1. Comedy Bang! Bang! – The first season of Comedy Bang! Bang! was a pleasant enough diversion, a little too arch to be embraced with all your soul. In Year 2, though, it realized the fullness of its calling: a winking and loving deconstruction and reconstruction of every piece of television that has a host. In a time when comedy has been trending toward the meta, CB!B! managed to take on everything (or nearly so.) This is the show about comedy, the show about putting on a show.
2. Billy on the Street – Generally, I don’t think that laughter or lack thereof is strong enough evidence for a show’s merits, but Billy on the Street makes me laugh unlike anything else so much that it is sublime. Few people get to do what they really love to do, so it is a joy to behold when it happens, such as in the case of Billy Eichner, who loves to run up to people and scream his very unique questions about pop culture at them.
3. Bob’s Burgers – Whether inspired by E.T. (in which a boy shows his love and devotion to a talking toilet), Broadcast News (in which a middle school TV station covers the story of “The Mad Pooper”), or Spielberg’s Duel (in which the duel is set during the hunt for a Christmas tree), Bob’s Burgers found beauty, often with the aid of pop culture homages, in the endearing weirdness of the Belcher family. With an open and curious attitude toward sexuality, gender identity, and human relationships in general, B’s Bs may just be the most progressive show of 2013.
4. Orphan Black – Anchored by the year-best performance of Tatiana Maslany (at least seven times over), Orphan Black was an exciting, frenetic blend of sci-fi, mystery, and cultural satire. Above all, this truly surprising concoction favored imagination. It didn’t always (or usually) make sense (human tails, anyone?), but it’s m.o. was committing to its experimentalism. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the craziness (and there’s enough of a variety to it that you’re bound to like something), it was worth watching for Maslany’s clinic in acting opposite herself.
key and peele les mis miserables
5. Key & Peele – Comedy is often cited as an editor’s medium, but Key & Peele proved that it is also a cinematographer’s medium, as well as a lighting technician’s, and a sound mixer’s. Just check out the gorgeous sports footage of the “Excessive Celebration,” sketch, featuring some of the best camerawork of any TV show or film of 2013. Or “Continental Breakfast,” which brings in a patented Key & Peele-style twist with the aid of a haunting score and deceptive brightness. This comedy pair understands the language of comedy and television in a way unlike most others, allowing them to fully convey their worldview to the public.

Sketch/Variety/Other Comedy

1. Comedy Bang! Bang!
2. Billy on the Street
3. Key & Peele
4. The Chris Gethard Show – A haven for comedy experimentalism and general acceptance, currently on New York City public access and possibly headed to Comedy Central.
5. Portlandia – Season 3 made “Portland” a fully realized fictional setting, while expanding the show’s serial ambitions and satirical reach.
6. The Eric André Show – A bleak apocalypse of destructo-comedy that is actually quite charming once you get on its wavelength.
7. The Birthday Boys – Good, clean, strange, earnest, whimsical fun from a Bob Odenkirk-approved band of merry men.
8. The Jeselnik Offensive – Any topics that comedy should have avoided in 2013 were doubly tackled by The Jeselnik Offensive. But really, it was just shtick done right.
9. Saturday Night Live – The dilemma of SNL when it comes to best-of’s: it’s inconsistent, but how can you not include it when it produces a total amount of classics on par with the total of more consistent sketch shows?
10. Childrens Hospital – Changes in setting are invigorating more often than not, as Childrens showed by adjusting its parody starting point from Grey’s Anatomy/ER to M*A*S*H.
11. Kroll Show – A fake reality show mish-mash world of its own that’s fun to check in on once a week.
12. Inside Amy Schumer – A realist feminine perspective, with a wink and a pinch, on life, love, and whatever else in 2013.
13. Conan – Coco has plenty of notable recurring bits and memorable interviews, but he earns his spot on the 2013 list based entirely on Alex Trebek going insane.


1. Bob’s Burgers
2. Arrested Development – Instead of the fast and furious guffaws of AD’s original run, the laughs came sideways and diagonally in this byzantine experiment.
3. 30 Rock – A love letter to what’s on TV and those who make it was wrapped up in one of the most poignant finales of all time.
4. The Middle – The low-key family sitcom that every household should be spending the evening watching together.
5. Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 – Perhaps the best “live-action cartoon” of all time, or at least the most fully realized one; also my choice for the most sexually progressive show of the year.
6. High School USA! – An insane, straight-faced, necessary satire masquerading as a simple Archie parody.
7. New Girl – At its best, a prime example of allowing character dynamics to dictate plot machinations.
8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine – An endorsement of teamwork from a unit of kooky characters.
9. The Neighbors – The most surprisingly on-point meta satire on TV right now, and also a showcase for truly committed gonzo comedic acting.
10. American Dad! – Still the most consistently satisfying shapeshifter on the TV dial.
11. Gravity Falls – Imbued with an exploratory delight of life’s oddities, Gravity Falls found a way to sneak monstrous sci-fi and fantasy onto the Disney Channel.


1. Orphan Black
2. Hannibal – Finding beauty in the darkest corners of humankind, Hannibal was a triumph of atmosphere and unsettling psychology.
3. Mad Men – Despite a (typical) slow start, followed by a mix of stimulants, hallucinations, more affairs, and Bob Benson, Mad Men ultimately suggested the possibility of a light at the end of a very long tunnel.
4. Masters of Sex – Moving the sexual conversation forward while also anchoring it to its (modern) roots, Masters of Sex found danger and personal revelations in an oft-unexplored topic of everyday life.
5. Justified – A full set of Kentuckians on every side of the law provide the pieces for the most reliable pulp thrills on TV.
6. Scandal – An operatic display of the biggest bursts of emotion in the biggest halls of power provides easy thrills that still strike deep.
7. Rectify – A contemplative mystery paced unlike any other show I watch, Rectify investigates the awkwardness of a small town rocked by big drama.
8. ArrowArrow is melodramatic superhero fare typical of The CW, but it is the epitome of melodrama done right.
9. The Americans – A tangled mess of morality in which Soviet deep spies pose as an American family – viewers are invited to make their own conclusions about right and wrong, and it is guaranteed that none of them will be right.
Honorable Mention: FringeFringe’s 2013 output wasn’t multiplicitous enough to merit year-end inclusion, but it deserves mention for an emotionally satisfying conclusion to one of the 21st century’s best sci-fi.

Game Shows

1. Jeopardy! – Still the best.
2. Hollywood Game Night – Game nights are a lot of fun to participate in, but watching them? Trust me, it gets your blood boiling.

Shows I Didn’t Watch

1. Breaking Bad
2. Enlightened
3. Orange is the New Black
4. Game of Thrones
5. Nathan for You
6. The Good Wife
7. House of Cards