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Popculturology's Top TV Shows of 2013

The past year was a busy one for TV. We said goodbye to shows like Breaking Bad and Dexter (of course, as those shows taught us, not all goodbyes are created equally). We saw Netflix change what TV even meant with House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and Arrested Development. We were surprised when sophomore shows took creative leaps (The Mindy Project) and crushed when old favorites fell apart (Community).

With 2013 almost behind us, Popculturology is ready to offer our Top TV Shows of 2013.

Our writing staff nominated a bunch of TV shows (which is really easy when everyone watches too much TV) and voted on our favorites. Settling on 14 shows to represent the best that television had to offer for the past year wasn't the easiest task, so let us know what you think. Did we miss anything? Are we completely wrong on a selection? (Probably not.)

14. Parenthood
Parenthood is a show that has gone under the radar for far too long. Every episode impresses with strong storylines and stronger characters. Throughout the past four seasons (not including this year), we’ve seen these characters mature as they grow into who they are as individuals, couples, siblings and an overall family. I’m not sure if it’s the experienced cast or the show’s powerhouse team of producers (who also brought us Friday Night Lights) or the writing team that continuously delivers emotional storylines, but Parenthood always delivers strong episodes. Rarely are we left with an episode that was only kind of “meh.”

Last year, fans were concerned that the network wouldn’t bring the show back for another season, but NBC surprised us all when it announced Parenthood would indeed be back for their fifth season. With the threat of not returning, the cast and crew have only increased their game and people started to notice. Monica Potter was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as Kristina Braverman. It wasn’t a surprise to avid fans of the show who watched her battle and overcome breast cancer (a storyline the writers considered after Potter herself faced a small scare) while trying to keep her family intact and afloat. It’s storylines like these that keep Parenthood moving upward rather than hitting that fourth-season plateau that many series struggle with. With the fourth season ending so strongly and the fifth season bringing heart wrenching lines to each episode, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that Parenthood made it on this year’s Popculturology’s Top TV Shows of 2013 list.
— Lindsay Campbell, Popculturology columnist

13. New Girl
New Girl, you've come so far. When Zooey Deschanel's show began in September 2011, New Girl had a ton of promise, but just couldn't seem to get everything clicking at the same time. About halfway through its first season, though, New Girl found its footing. Since then, New Girl has been quite possibly the best sitcom on network TV. (Which is an even easier title to claim now that Happy Endings is gone. Never forget.)

During the parts of Season 2 and Season 3 that aired in 2013, New Girl took some huge steps, the biggest being the (kind of) resolution of the will-they-or-won't-they tension between Deschanel's Jess and Jake Johnson's Nick. Spoiler alert: The shippers got their way. Navigating an era of New Girl where Jess and Nick are together hasn't always been easy for the show, but New Girl seems to be figuring things out. With both of these kids stuck in some kind of arrested development, we may never see them in a completely mature relationship, but at least they're not fighting over the merits of trusting banks anymore.

Partway through Season 3, New Girl tackled another challenge, bringing back Damon Wayans Jr. as Coach. Wayans' character was in the New Girl pilot, but after Happy Endings got a surprise renewal, Wayans left the show, and was replaced by Lamorne Morris' Winston. With Wayans now free, New Girl tossed Coach back into the mix, having him move back into the gang's apartment. For some shows, one more principle character could be too many, but New Girl instantly figured out how to use Coach, pitting him against Schmidt for Cece's attention.
— Bill Kuchman, Popculturology editor in chief

12. House of Cards
If shows like Breaking Bad made binge-watching a sport, House of Cards was the Olympics of binge-watching. When Netflix released the entire 13-episode first season of House of Cards at once, pop culture addicts when crazy. Did you stay up until 3 a.m. to watch House of Cards? How many hours straight did you watch? Could you finish the entire season in less than a day?

House of Cards turned binge-watcing into a national conversation. In our world of social media, some simple rules of spoilers have been decided on. Everyone gets 24 hours after a show to be protected against spoilers in real conversation, but if you're dumb enough to go on Twitter or Facebook, all bets are off. How did these rules work in a world where House of Cards wasn't doled out week by week?

At least we've been having this debate over a quality program. House of Cards wasn't just something Netflix slapped together and dumped online. Nope. Thanks to a cast made up of Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and Kate Mara with directors including David Fincher, House of Cards became the first online-only series to win an Emmy.
— Kuchman

11. Modern Family
For someone like me, who feels sitcoms start to lose their punch after the third or fourth season (cough cough, The Office, cough cough), Modern Family keeps on delivering. Granted the brainchild of Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan, two TV comedy titans, help keep the show fresh. By setting up a cornucopia of characters and applying them into the maladies of modern living, you still have quality product.

Season 4 of the program gave us some groundbreaking moments: A new kid was added, Haley got arrested, Rob Riggle made some appearances, Mitchell and Cam met their worst enemies (lesbians). This show hasn't failed me yet. Whether it's Ty Burrell's Phil living in his own hell with a family RV trip or Claire and Cam's house flipping project to one up Gil Thorpe or telling someone in college their VW Rabbit convertible made them bourgeoisie, Modern Family keeps on delivering.

When you have an ensemble set up like this show, you can write and design so many situations for them to run into. The show's creators were smart to factor in the aging of the family in real time, which has helped to establish a great relationship with the audience without jumping the shark.
— Seth Pohorence, senior Popculturology writer

10. Mad Men
I'm a 1980s kid, far beyond the time-frame of Mad Men, but the meticulous nature of the show, created by Matthew Weiner, really makes the audience believe they're taking a step back in time — whether they lived through it or not.

There's no big mystery in Mad Men that gets solved within the roughly hour-long period drama. Rather, Weiner focuses on building entire seasons for key events that happen towards the end of the run. It's a bold concept for a show that only has 13 episodes every season. I could tell you to start watching the show now, but I urge you to binge-watch first. Each character has been constructed over the course of six seasons.

Such is the case with Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, a heavy-drinking, womanizing advertising executive that we know very little about in the beginning of the series. Although it's difficult to root for this guy sometimes, later seasons start to show the back story behind the man who's no longer able to run away from his past history he so desperately wanted no association with. The pace might seem slow, but we as the audience know the writers have something big in store for those who wait until the end of the season.
— Anton Ali, Popculturology staff writer

9. The Newsroom
HBO and Aaron Sorkin have not yet made an official announcement about the third season of The Newsroom at this point. A tweet from Jeff Daniels is the only indication that the show will be returning in 2014.

Sorkin added a few actors to the already crowded cast this season. Constance Zimmer, who was spectacular opposite Jeremy Piven on Entourage, was introduced as a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign. Grace Gummer, who was playing a reporter embedded with the campaign, joined her. In addition Marcia Gay Harden portrayed the lead lawyer of the legal team representing ACN in the lawsuit that is introduced in the opening episode and provides the central storyline for the season.

If we never get to see what happens to Will, Mac and the rest of the fictional Atlantic Cable News staff after the events of the Operation Genoa investigation and election night 2012, I will be forever satisfied knowing that the second season of the show served as a wonderful end to the series. However, if the show doesn’t return, Olivia Munn needs to find a spot on a weekly show immediately. After her takedown of the obnoxious ex-boyfriend, I believe she could have a future as an agent of SHIELD.
— Charlie Bielinski, Popculturology columnist

8. The Mindy Project
I'll be the first to admit, I thought a Mindy Kaling show would be held to such a high standard it would fail. I'm not saying that because she is a woman — that's sexist. In The Mindy Project, Kaling takes her natural feminine tone of comedy and really opens up the comedic floodgate to make it acceptable for even men to love the show. Nothing makes dudes watch Fox Tuesday comedies better than one about an OB/GYN office.

By programming this show with New Girl, Fox reminds young people that they know a little something about comedy. In the first year, Kaling's success is furthered by having a fast-paced, pop cult-reference-loaded script that suits the type of people who should be reading this website. It's a great replacement for so many of us who lost our 30 Rock fix.

With the great writing on The Mindy Project plus a great cast of funny people (Adam Pally, Glenn Howerton, Ike Barinholtz) and some great special guest appearances from James Franco and Seth Rogan, it makes me wonder how I didn't jump on this bandwagon earlier.
— Pohorence

7. Girls
When Girls first starting airing in 2012, I hated it. I watched every single episode of that first season, and I should’ve given up before a second season even started. Lena Dunham’s show felt self-important. I stuck with the show, because, quite honestly, I enjoyed hate-watching it. I thought the characters were simple caricatures. Shoshanna, Hannah, Marnie and Jessa felt one-dimensional. I didn’t think there was anything there. The first season of this show felt like a show for the hipster generation, where even if the show was utter bullshit and everyone hated it, no one would admit that it was crap. The men on the show were merely there as set pieces for the women.

I was wrong. (And I can’t believe I am admitting this.) The second season displayed impressive and moving growth for each of the characters. From Hannah’s struggles with mental illness and self-doubt to Marnie’s career roller coaster, the show felt more mature and more fully realized. I felt like the biggest area of growth for the show could be seen in the characterization of the male characters, especially Adam and Ray. I am excited for the third season (which debuts on Jan. 12, 2014).
— Will Cleveland, Popculturology columnist

6. Orange Is the New Black
It’s a rare feat that a show can take a character named Crazy Eyes, and transform her from a cartoonish punchline to someone that an audience will care about on an emotional level. That’s exactly what happens with the character played by Uzo Aduba in Netflix’s binge-worthy Orange Is the New Black. She evolves from someone who's basically just a horny Wiley Coyote trying to seduce Piper’s elusive Roadrunner, into a real person — one that could realistically exist in a women’s prison.

And that’s one of the key strengths in a very strong show. Yes, this is the story of Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) — sentenced to 15 months in prison for a drug-related crime she committed years ago — it’s also the story about her relationships with her fiancé Larry (played by Jason Biggs, a performance that comes with some fantastic American Pie shoutouts), her former lover Alex (Laura Prepon), and prison alpha dog, Red. But it’s also about the other inmates, the guards and prison life itself. This makes for a tough balancing act, but the primarily female cast nails every beat.

Like creator Jenji Kohan’s previous series, Weeds, Orange Is the New Black takes a dark subject and adds a welcome dose of charm and whimsy to it. Piper’s jail time — based on the very real sentence of Piper Kerman — is only 15 months, but as a viewer, I say throw away the key. We don’t want to leave this place.
— Scott Pukos, Popculturology columnist

5. Justified
These days, it's hard not to find a good show on FX. I watched Justified from the beginning and was immediately hooked. Timothy Olyphant plays U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens. The show takes place around Lexington, Ky., in present day, but Raylan is as far west as you can get.

What's good about this show is there isn't a lot of work involved. Although there is a new running theme every season, each episode usually pits Raylan against a bad guy who usually forces himself to use his gun. It's no wonder why Raylan's the marksman that he is with the amount of practicing he's getting. The quality of the show is such to the point where it plays like a movie. Both the writing and directing are far beyond the caliber of most other TV shows out there. More importantly, there's hardly a weak cast member to be found. Both Olyphant and Walton Goggins are fantastic in the main cast, but the supporting cast certainly holds their own, with both Margo Martindale (now of The Millers) and Jeremy Davies (former Lost player) both winning Emmy's for their performances on the show. With Justified, we're guaranteed to see something new every episode. It's a show so action-packed, you'll loathe the last minute of the show only because you have to wait another week to watch what happens next.
— Ali

4. Game of Thrones
"Blackwater" is one of my favorite hours of television of all time. Coming as the penultimate episode of the second season of Game of Thrones, the episode depicts the epic battle for King’s Landing. It’s explosive and completely badass, and it’s made even more awesome by the 18-episode build-up to that hour of television. It’s the ultimate pay-off and the amazing part is that it completely lives up to the insane hype.

When Season 3 of Game of Thrones premiered earlier this year, I was really concerned. I didn’t know if the show could build off the momentum created by “Blackwater.” It did. The beautifully weird relationship between Jamie Lannister and Brienne of Tarth is highlighted. We get more awesomeness and sass from Lord Tyrion. Daenerys continues her march toward her throne. (And I can keep going on and on and on. I'm not even going to mention the grotesqueness of the Red Wedding — possibly the most shocking hour of television of the past year.) I am in constant awe at the manner in which showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss juggle the competing storylines and manage to give every character just the right amount of love and screen time. Season 4 can’t start soon enough. I miss Westeros.
— Cleveland

3. Parks and Recreation
A good running gag on a sitcom can be difficult to pull off. Basically, it’s the same joke over and over again, so it needs a semblance of freshness — along with talented writing and acting — to make it work. One of the best running gags on television is the Pawnee Parks Department's use of the — now retired — Jerry Gergich (Jerry!) as punching bag. It slays me. Every time. Even this always hilarious joke was refreshed this year — there was the shocking revelation that his name is actually Gary, and Season 6 turned the clumsy, polite office foil into Larry Gergich.

On a larger scale, Parks and Recreation has managed to stay fresh in 2013, even as it entered its sixth season — a time when a lot of sitcoms begin to dip in quality. Its demonstrated that change is good. Like the best seasons of The Office, Parks and Rec has not been afraid to waver away from the status quo, try something new, and they definitely know how to throw an awesome wedding party. Yes, the show's batch of 2013 episodes began with Leslie and Ben's wedding, and it ends with some major moves for a number of characters. And while change is good, NBC's best show still managed to give us a healthy does of Ron Swanson awesomeness, April Ludgate's quirky charm, Mouse Rat, Jean-Ralphio (and his sister!), and everything else that has made this show great over the years.

Also, I would totally play Cones of Dunshire. Pass me the ledgerman's hat!
— Pukos

2. Happy Endings
It’s beyond disappointing that Happy Endings is no longer on the air. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, the plot centered around six friends — Jane, Brad, Penny, Dave, Alex and Max — who always found themselves in hilarious situations. The cast had a rare chemistry that brought punchy storylines to life and a rapport that allowed for a fast-paced dialogue full of memorable comebacks.

A lot of critics and viewers initially dismissed the show given the concept vaguely reflected Friends. Yes, there were six main characters living in a city, but Happy Endings pushed the limits that Friends didn’t even touch. The characters weren’t always someone you loved. In fact, I was often mad at Penny for dating idiots but I loved her for trying. Dave was running his food truck into the ground with bad ideas but at least he was following his dream. And Max was just gay, flamboyant Max, trying to find love in a pool of emotionally unavailable men. These were characters that you rooted for and sided with even though you didn’t always agree with what they were doing.

The best characters of the show just might be Jane and Brad as a duo. They were the couple everyone wanted to be and were just as much husband and wife as they were best friends. Call me crazy but you don’t see many young married couples on screen anymore that aren’t constantly bickering. They actually liked each other and liked being married.

So why did it get cancelled? Sometimes shows just don’t stick with a larger audience for long and instead they get a cult-like following that stands by their side through thick and thin. Remember Arrested Development? It wasn’t until after it was cancelled that critics started to like it.

There are so many uncharted storylines we could have seen in the seasons to come but until someone gets a Kickstarter to give these guys the final season devout fans deserve, we just have to assume that Jane and Brad are brunching in color-coordinated outfits, Alex is probably into something bizarre like martial arts, Dave and Penny are slowly falling in love and Max is just wandering about Chicago like the disaster that he is. Here’s to hoping we get a finale we deserve and until then, all the Happy Endings haters can “shut your whore mouth.” (That’s a Max quote I say far too often.)
— Campbell

1. Breaking Bad
At the start of “Blood Money,” the first episode of the final season of Breaking Bad, viewers watch as Bryan Cranston's Walter White, looking very different from when we last saw him, retrieves the unused ricin from the wall outlet where he had hidden it in earlier. Walt has clearly not been home in a long time. From that point the story picks back up from the cliffhanger of the previous year, Hank’s discovery that Walt is the master criminal Heisenberg.

The rest of the season built on the already established legacy of the show ensuring that it will be forever considered one of, if not the best, broadcast television programs ever produced. Creator Vince Gilligan never forgot a plot element or character reference no matter how minor it seemed to the audience. In addition, any remaining elements that appeared at the end of the series to be unresolved didn’t really matter to the understanding of the story. For example viewers know, if they consider that the show was fiction but not a fantasy, what ultimately happened to Jesse Pinkman and little Brock. As the inevitable confrontation, which surprisingly was not the confrontation between Walt and Hank, built to a climax we wanted to know what would happen to the characters, yet didn’t want the show to come to an end.
— Bielinski
Popculturology's Top TV Shows of 2013 Reviewed by Popculturology on 12/26/2013 Rating: 5

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