Alternative take on the best of TV in 2013

22:42, Dec 26 2013
Breaking Bad
ENOUGH ALREADY: We all know how good Breaking Bad was. But what about those television shows that might have flown under the radar a bit?

It's been a pretty good 12 months for television - although any year in which we're forced to farewell James Gandolfini is never going to be a classic.

Along with the giant figure of the former Tony Soprano we also farewelled the likes of Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Office and 30 Rock - and some will be missed more than others.

But which shows impressed and which should be consigned to the dustbin of failure?

I've decided to take a slightly less-than-conventional look at the year because, if you're anything like me, you're probably bored about reading how good Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Homeland are.

So here are my alternative rankings based on what I enjoyed watching the most and ignoring those shows that are on just about everyone's list.

(Beware, spoilers abound for shows that may not have aired in New Zealand yet...)


10. Scandal

Sure, it's largely a bit of fluff, but after avoiding this Shonda Rhimes-created show (she also did the awful Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice) for too long I finally succumbed and I was hooked.

Yes, it's unrealistic (both the President and Vice-President have murdered people) but it also delivered one of the truly memorable moments of television this season.

When Huck had Quinn all bound up and ready to torture to find out who she's working for, the former B613 agent leaned in and licked her face. Creepy, gross, disturbing and so over-the-top it made me laugh out loud the second time I watched it.

9. Almost Human

Karl Urban was excellent in both Star Trek films and as Judge Dredd in the under-appreciated big-screen thriller so it's great to see him get the lead in a television show.

Almost Human is set in a future where policemen and women are partnered with androids, but because Urban's character, Detective John Kennex, is so screwed up he gets partnered with Dorian (Michael Ealy), who was a defective android because he actually had emotions.

The two make a great buddy cop pair and Mackenzie Crook (The Office, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights) make good additions to the cast.

Unfortunately this excellent show isn't rating well in the US so may not be around too long. What is wrong with viewers over there?

8. Graceland

Chances are you've never heard of this Jeff Eastin (White Collar) show - but it had one of the best pilots of the year.

The cast isn't household names (yet) but all of the main characters work well together.

Graceland is a house which hosts agents from all different law enforcement agencies and, as you might imagine, the plots intertwine.

The first season of 12 episodes flew by, had some of the best bad guys of the year and set up nicely for a second season. Great stuff.

7. Hello Ladies

Ricky Gervais' long-time collaborator Stephen Merchant takes centre-stage for the first time in this HBO show.

And, unsurprisingly, there is a very Office-vibe about the story of a dorky Englishman heading to Los Angeles to find love.

It's uncomfortable to watch at times, the characters can't be universally loved or hated but it has way more depth than most comedies from the States.

It also had, hands down, the funniest line I've heard on television in many years. 

Unfortunately there's no way I can repeat it without being sacked so do yourself a favour and watch the show - and when you get to the wedding scene with the little kid get the tissues ready for the tears from laughing so hard.

6. The Moaning of Life

Karl Pilkington is a comedy genius. He first came to the fore as the aforementioned Gervais and Merchant's sidekick in a wildly successful series of podcasts a few years back.

Since then the droll northerner was featured in his own show, An Idiot Abroad, in which he visited important places around the world and was singularly unimpressed.

This follow-up, when he travels again but focuses on life's biggest issues like marriage, kids and death instead of the places themselves, is equally inspired.

There's nothing funnier than watching Karl being told to do something excruciating - particularly when he can't disguise the fact.

5. Les Revenants (The Returned)

It's in French. It's about zombies. On first glance it's just about everything  I hate (zombies were over after 'Sean of the Dead' in my opinion).

But this show had friends in the UK telling me it was a must-watch, and they weren't wrong.

I binge-watched this show and didn't regret it for a second. Do yourself a favour and seek it out.

Thankfully we'll have a second season in 2014 to enjoy.

4. Luther

The Brits have the best system when it comes to television shows - it's all about the quality and not the quantity.

Seasons are short and almost always leave you yearning for more - and Luther is a prime example of that.

Idris Elba (The Wire, A Long Walk to Freedom) is exceptional as DCI John Luther, who walks a fine line between brilliance and corruption.

The final episodes were heartbreaking, shocking and brilliant - and left this amazing show as just about every fan wanted.

The superb Ruth Wilson, as Alice Morgan, was the actress of the year for me. We shouldn't like her character, but we end up loving her.

3. Orange Is the New Black

Netflix has turned the television world on its head by not only streaming old television shows in their entirety, but by also creating its own shows.

And the majority, so far, have been superb, with Orange as the best of the lot.

Taylor Schilling is exceptional as Piper Chapman, a middle-class woman thrown into prison for something she did a decade before.

She has to deal with racial tensions, lesbian proposals and corrupt prison guards (like the brilliant Pablo Schreiber as Pornstache) while trying to keep control of her live outside prison too.

Even the uber-annoying Laura Prepon can't spoil this show and there are new stars who will use this as a springboard to bigger and better things too, particularly Taryn Manning who plays Pennsatucky.

2. The Almighty Johnsons

We're too quick to run down our own shows in New Zealand and I strongly believe if the Johnsons was a US or UK show it would be getting praised by all.

The acting was exceptional this season and it went from the truly hearfelt (Axl standing on the roof of a carpark threatening suicide) to the insane (Axl and Derek wearing wedding dresses) to the emotional (Michele's death) and everywhere in between.

Head honcho James Griffin did an amazing job in rounding off the story in a way which allowed fans to get a decent payoff if the show was cancelled (as it has been) and which offered a glimmer of hope for the future.

When the dust has settled The Almighty Johnsons will go down as one of the very best shows ever produced in New Zealand.

It's fan base keeps growing in both Europe and in North America. I still have hopes for a Kickstarter-supported final film to round it off perfectly.

1. Arrested Development

It took Netflix to give Mitch Hurwitz's genre-defining comedy a fourth season seven years after it had been cancelled.

With a rabid fan base there was always a hope that it could rise again but with many of the stars having gone on to bigger and brighter things it was way more complicated than previously.

The fourth season took a little while to get going, but when the whole thing was said and done it sat together as a perfect companion piece to the first three seasons.

Shooting and plot lines were complicated because of the availability of cast and some of the special effects were downright lousy.

But there was more than enough magic in there to make any fan of the Bluths happy and eager for more.

There still may be a season five, and a feature film to finish the story.

Given how this outshines every single comedy on the box, neither can come quick enough.

Other great shows this year which didn't make it into my top 10 include The League, Masters of Sex, Southland and House of Cards - and all are well worthy of your viewing too.

I'll be back soon with the worst shows I watched in 2013 - and boy, were there plenty of them!

In the meantime, outside of the big shows, which television shows most impressed you this year?