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Two Tivos To Paradise 01.03.14: Top 10 TV Shows of 2013
Posted by Al Norton on 01.03.2014

Hello friends. What's good? I hope everyone had a happy and safe New Year's celebration and that the year is off to a great start! Those of you who follow our Facebook page saw my post on Wednesday but obviously I wanted to present the update to the much wider audience the column reaches; 2014 will be the last year I write Two Tivos To Paradise here at 411mania.com. This isn't to say I plan on giving up writing the column in general, just that after 7+ years (will be 8+ by December) I feel like I have taken this as far as it can go here and my goal for the next 12 months is to find TTTP a new home where we can go to even greater heights. If it's not meant to be, I am ok with the idea that it's time to hang up the keyboard.

This is going to be a text heavy column, so we'll try to give you a few videos here in the cold open, starting with Google's fantastic look back at the last 12 months…

This is the start of our two week look back at the best that TV had to offer in 2013, with today being the Best Shows of the Year and next week being our 2013 TV Entertainers of the Year. As always I welcome and encourage your comments below about what shows you think should have made it but please keep in mind that just because we disagree doesn't make either of our opinions less valid. I love and respect everyone's passion for TV but my goal is for the level of discourse to rise about "epic fail" and "you lost all credibility when…" types of posts. One of the reasons I am so happy and proud of the TTTP Facebook page is that I think it's one of the best places on the web for folks to come and chat about TV in an intelligent and constructive manner. I am not saying you shouldn't feel free to tear me a new one if you think it's deserved but at least be creative about it!

Because these are different than regular columns I am not doing a TV Pick of the Week but if I were, this would most certainly be it…

And in case you didn't see this making its rounds across the interweb these past two weeks…(the look on the guy's face when his co-anchor is mimicking the electric toothbrush is funny EVERY TIME)…

It's the circle of news.

(This category highlights shows that aren't necessarily at a quality level to be considered the Best-of-the-Best but still bring the entertainment week in, week out.)

Honorable Mention: Diners Drive-In's & Dives, The Fosters, The Following

10) Baby Daddy (ABC Family)
If ABC were still doing it's TGIF lineup than Baby Daddy would be a perfect fit; yes, it's silly and any impression the jokes make are usually gone quite fast, except that smile that stays on my face, and that's why it's more than earned its season pass.

9) Men at Work (TBS)
The set up's may not be anything close to original but the way the four friends interact with each other is spot-on, usually leading to me actually laughing out loud several times an episode. Particular kudos to Michael Cassidy, who's Tyler has become a very funny character as he has become more defined (and by that I mean even more idiosyncratic).

8) Nashville (ABC)
Nashville would make this list for the music alone, which each week is better than the dialogue/plot of most network TV shows. Also noteworthy is Jonathan Jackson's Avery, one of my favorite characters on all of TV right now. The rest of the show is decent – it has its moments of quality soapy drama and it's moments of over-the-top-in-a-bad-way drama – but it's one I look forward to every week.

7) The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
I dare you to watch for 20 minutes and not be left wanting to know what the hell is going on with all these beautiful people; the pace the show sets is amazing, with lots of cryptic comments, longing looks, moody ballads in the background, and a ton of expository dialogue delivered by a cast that knows exactly how straight to play it. Yes, it's all quite ludicrous but it's also quite fun.

6) House of Lies (Showtime)
Instead of focusing on the fact that House of Lies really should be better, I choose to be happy with what he actually see, a darkly funny look at the world of consulting that gives us 10 – 12 weeks a year of Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell on my screen. The show has moments of real brilliance but others of sheer averageness, which is why it's on this list and not the Top 10 Comedies.

5) Community (NBC)
Was season four even close to the standards set by seasons 1 – 3? No, which is why the show makes this list instead of the Top Comedies list; even mediocre Community is better than most shows, and while the edge was gone, there were still enough moments of comedy (the cast can virtually do no wrong) to make it must-see.

4) Once Upon a Time (ABC)
I was on board with what OUAT was doing with its famous characters from the outset but this year it did it one better, making Peter Pan a villain and creating lines on family trees the audience had no idea existed. It's too bad the show isn't taken particularly seriously because Robert Carlyle is turning in what may join the list of great TV performances never to be nominated for a major award.

3) Scandal (ABC)
This was a tough decision for me, whether or not to put Scandal on this list of the Top Dramas list, but the soapier aspects of the show as well as the quite boring spy plane story made the choice for me; Kerry Washington brings it every week as well as anyone out there, perhaps the best example on network TV of a show that wouldn't work if you recast the lead, and there is no question that Scandal is highly addictive TV.

2) The Blacklist (NBC)
They had me at James Spader, really had me after the pilot, and then almost lost me a few weeks in when it seemed like they were falling in to the habit of putting Agent Keen in danger so Red could rescue her, not to mention having law enforcement trained by the gang from The Following, but in the last few episodes of the year it all came together, with part one of Anslo Garrick being one of the best hours of network TV this fall. The show has way too many conspiracy threads going on for me to buy into it as a serious drama, but for now it's a great way to spend an hour; Spader continues to be the man.

1) Arrow (The CW)
I know others think this show is among the best dramas on TV and while I am not ready to put it on that list yet – the pacing could use some work, for sure – there is no doubt that Arrow is one of the most fun hours on TV right now, with a great mix of action, human drama, and even some quality comedy as well. Felicity is on most people's list of 2013 break-out characters, and the way the show winks at its fans without putting its tongue in its cheek is a model for all superhero shows to come.


Honorable Mention: Flipping Out, Dancing with the Stars, Restaurant Impossible

10) Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis (Bravo)
For the second season of this Flipping Out spinoff they went with much more clearly dysfunctional couples and the shock here was at just how good Jeff Lewis was at figuring out what the issues were and being straight with them about it. Yes, Jeff and Jenni are always great and the actual home improvement work was excellent (as usual) but Interior Therapy was also the best relationship show of 2013.

9) The Voice (NBC)
I could watch the Blind Audition rounds all year long; no regular segment of TV brought me as much joy, nor did TV offer up any better vision of people's dreams starting to come true. People think the spinning chairs (i.e. the gimmick of not being able to see the performers) is what makes these so good but to me it's that they never go with jokey, untalented singers, the rare TV experience where a show actually seems to value your time.

8) Chopped (Food)
Whether it's Chopped All-Stars, the i>Chopped Tournament of Champions, or just regular Chopped, it's always a guaranteed hour of entertainment. I love the way they are constantly adding new wrinkles/themes to the mix, whether it's teen chefs or themed ingredient baskets or bringing back folks who lost in the appetizer round.

7) So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
I appreciate any show that gives talented people a spotlight they would not otherwise receive, and I love that each week of the summer I know I am in for some high quality dancing I wouldn't get to see on TV without SYTYCD. Also of note is that the show uses guest judges as well as any reality competition series; not all are hits but for the most part the celebs bring their A game to the desk.

6) Comic Book Men (AMC)
Ranking even higher on my "guaranteed good mood" list than on this one, Comic Book Men is the reality concept in its most simple form; plop a camera down in an interesting setting where there are colorful characters coming and going on a regular basis and see what happens. It's fun and there's also a respect for what they do – their love of comics and superheroes is real and clear – that is rare.

5) Shark Tank (ABC)
That Shark Tank isn't number one on this list is a testament to how strong this category is this year. The Tank is one of my favorite hours of TV every week, eliciting from me laughter, yelling at the screen ("take the deal!!!", "shut up, Kevin; enough with the royalties!", "you tell ‘em, Mark!!!), and even a few tears.

4) Top Chef Masters (Bravo)
The single best season of any cooking competition show on TV, EVER; when you mix extreme knowledge of culinary arts, a group of fun & confident personalities, and challenges designed to actually test their skills, what else would you expect?

3) Burger Land (Travel)
Burger Land was my favorite new food show since Crave and that made sense as they both featured very smart, passionate people talking things they loved in ways the audience could relate to. George Motz is a burger person as well as a people person, and his interest in the history of the restaurants and the lives of their owners made the show tasty in a multitude of ways.

2) Inside Comedy with David Steinberg (Showtime)
The best show that no one seems to know about and one of the best I've ever seen where folks talk about what they do (comedy or otherwise). The key here is that host David Steinberg is an equal to the guests, so they feel comfortable talking with him and using their own language (as in the language of comedians). I'd love to see a DVD release with extended interviews.

1) Time of Death (Showtime)
I've written extensively on Time of Death over the past few months so I may be quoting myself a bit here but the truth is I've never had a stronger and more genuine emotional response to a TV show in my life. I get if the subject matter is not of interest to everyone but for me, I want to know as much as I can about a situation that I know someday I will face, and this show provided as in-depth and diverse a look at life's end as I have ever witnessed and I feel I am better prepared to deal with life as a whole because I watched.


Honorable Mentions: Deon Cole's Black Box, The Jeselnik Offensive

10) The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
I have never been a huge fan of The Colbert Report – I respect what he does, just never was my thing – but this year it seemed every week there was a new moment/clip that the show just nailed. It's obviously quite funny but I don't think Stephen Colbert's performance gets the credit it deserves; what he is doing with the character he is playing is as good if not better than anything someone has done on a sitcom in the last decade.

9) Outside the Lines (ESPN)
The best analysis of sports news there is, and their longer, news magazine style pieces are 60 Minutes quality (which I mean as high praise). ESPN may be guilty of overhyping people/events on a regular basis but I'll put up with/ignore that part of their coverage because the tradeoff is more than worth it.

8) Inside Man (CNN)
So very happy to have Morgan Spurlock back on TV, telling stories and explaining issues in the even handed, diving right into the story way that he does. While I wish he had a larger platform than CNN for his work, this is the kind of thing TV needs more of; as a country I think we all understand things much better when we get to know the people behind the views instead of simply hearing the views shouted loudly.

7) The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS)
Not just the smartest man in late night but frankly one of the smartest on all of TV, Craig Ferguson continues to deliver the best monologue in the business, one that makes you feel smarter for watching it. His rapport with guests is a wonderful combination of not really caring about their current project while at the same time still engaging them in a real conversation. And, of course, there's Geoff Peterson, the best skeleton robot in late night TV history.

6) Nine for IX (ESPN)
ESPN programming shows up three times on this list, all well-deserved, and Nine for IX was a fantastic addition to their documentary programming, using the 40th anniversary of Title IX as a diving in point to tell stories of women in sports. Venus Vs., Pat XO, and Swoops were my three favorites but all were high quality and, much like the 30 for 30 series, all would be entertaining and enlightening regardless of the viewer's interest in sports. I'd love to see them turn this into a larger project, or perhaps just do several a year under the 30 for 30 umbrella.

5) American Masters (PBS)
Year in and year out the best biography series on TV; the highest praise I can give is that if there was anyone I was a fan of and I got to pick one series to do an episode about them, I'd pick American Masters hands down no matter what they did for work/were known for.

4) Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC)
Jimmy Fallon seems to continue to be a bit of a polarizing fellow, and his interviews are still a bit too "you are great, this is great", but there is no denying the energy and passion he brings to the job, and also that his comedy sketches are the best in late night. Throw in Steve Higgins – the best sidekick of my adult lifetime - and The Roots – hands down the best band in late night TV history – and you've got a consistently entertaining hour of TV each and every weeknight.

3) @ Midnight (Comedy Central)
Talk about making a good impression; @ Midnight was on for less than a month and it got to # 3 on this list, so it's looking like the favorite for the Best of 2014 column, that's for sure. It's a simple formula – three very funny people riff on pop culture, with an emphasis on the interweb, and host Chris Hardwick doles out random amounts of points. There is no doubt that based on a laughs-per-minute ratio, @ Midnight was far and away the funniest show of 2013.

2) 30 for 30 (ESPN)
While there have been a couple where the director's made style choices I wasn't crazy about, I have yet to see a single 30 for 30 documentary that didn't 100% hold my interest, including plenty on subject matter I wouldn't have called myself interested in going in. 30 for 30 is Hall of Fame worthy TV and I would urge all viewers – sports fans or otherwise – to season pass the series. Survive and Advance, about Jim Valvano's nation champion NC State team, was easily on the list of the best TV of 2013, regardless of genre.

1) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
Week in, week out, the most entertaining and informative show on all of television. Yes, it's laugh out loud funny but it's obviously more than that in that there's a lot of people who watch the show for current events purposes as well. While I would not recommend you watch The Daily Show as your only source of news, it can be used as a way for folks to hear about things that they then decide they want to go and find out more about. It's also continues to offer one of the best – and most fair and balanced – critiques of the media available right now. And I can't write about The Daily Show in 2013 without mentioning how fantastic a job John Oliver did at the host desk while Jon Stewart was off directing a movie; while the show will miss him greatly, Oliver getting his own HBO series is a blessing as it means we'll get one more hour a week of political, media, and pop culture skewering in 2014.


Honorable Mentions: New Girl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Cougar Town, Key & Peele, Happy Endings, Real Husbands of Hollywood

10) The Crazy Ones (HBO)
The pilot was a bit shaky, really more a commercial for McDonalds than anything else, but it gave us a tease of what was to come in the scenes with James Wolk and Robin Williams, the former going on to prove he can hold his own with the comedy legend. The show is flat out funny, with a great ensemble cast and writers that make great use of the world of advertising. Also noteworthy is how the show deals with adult sexuality in a way that is funny without being overly silly/dirty. Brad Garrett's recent recurring role cemented the show's place on this list.

9) Girls (HBO)
Girls wears the label of "one of the more polarizing shows on TV' as a badge of honor, not caring in the slightest that some people hate it because Lena Dunham has a clear point of view in which she uses to tell these stories, second only to Louis C.K. in terms of giving clear voice to a creative vision; every second of film we see is exactly what she wants us to, and I love that. I also love how well this cast knows their roles. This show feels different – it's almost a texture – than anything else on TV, and to me that's a big time compliment.

8) Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
A highly entertaining new sketch comedy show that took advantage of its creator's smarts and point of view to provide wonderful comedic insight into the minds of (some) women, although what made Inside Amy Schumer so good is that it was still very funny when it went beyond that wheelhouse, with Cat Park being among my favorite sketches on all of TV for 2013.

7) Bunheads (ABC Family)
The cancellation of 2013 that I both lamented the most and thought was the most short sighted; ABC Family clearly had no idea how to market this comedy (really a dramedy, I suppose) and should have realized how good a fit it would have been with something like The Fosters (as opposed to a drama about pretty, lying teens). Bunheads had fantastic dialogue delivered at a breakneck pace, with more pop culture references then Dennis Miller on speed. It also had heart.

6) Psych (USA)
The start of a run of three shows in a row on this list that all can lay claim to being "the most underappreciated comedy on TV". Psych had a very strong year, including some of James Roday's best work as Sean dealt with the fallout of telling Juliet the truth, and of course the marvelous two hour musical episode. I am not sure there is a television duo with better timing than Roday and Dule Hill. In fact, I am sure there is not.

5) The Middle (ABC)
There is nothing flashy about The Middle, which makes sense because it's as true a depiction of lower middle class as there is on TV right now, but it's that lack of flash that makes the show so funny; sometimes we like to laugh at others, but with The Middle we (or at least many of us) are laughing at the things we recognize about our own families. The Mike – Frankie marriage is one of my favorites in the way they know each other so well, and Eden Sher's Sue is a genuine force of nature.

4) Archer (FX)
I feel like I could just cut and paste my previous posts about Archer because they all still apply; it's the James Bond parody Hollywood has never been able to pull off, as laugh out loud funny as any live action sitcom, with some of the best voice work I've ever heard, and yet it still never gets mentioned in the same breath with the The Simpsons, Family Guy, and the like. If someone said to me, "hey, what comedy should I binge watch this weekend?", my first, second, and third answers are Archer.

3) Modern Family (ABC)
It's hip to bash Modern Family, and at this point they are not changing a formula that clearly works, which means things may not seem as fresh now but that doesn't mean it's still not among the best comedies on TV, with a cast that never shows the slightest trace of acting. Ed O'Neill continues to give a master class on playing "gruff but loveable", and Ty Burrell somehow manages to live up to expectations. Lily is the show's secret weapon this season, with her acid sharp tongue providing many a highlight.

2) Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
There was no question Orange was going to make this column, it was just a matter of what category; I went with comedy because, well, that's what everybody else seemed to do and I understand the thought process. The most eye opening – in SO many ways – new show of 2013, one that hooked me totally by the end of episode one. To create such extreme situations – at times giving "over the top" a good name – and still have the audience get emotionally invested in the characters is very tough to pull off but Orange has done it brilliantly. I may say something along the lines of "like no other show on TV" on a somewhat frequent basis but in this case it is far and away the most fitting description.

1) Parks and Recreation (NBC)
There's something to be said for consistency, for doing your thing week in, week out, always satisfying your fans, and that's exactly what Parks and Recreation has done since about halfway through season two. Balancing an uber-talented ensemble cast while at the same time showing genuine growth in the characters AND maintaining its wonderfully jaded-with-heart perspective on the world. Parks and Recreation is literally the best comedy on TV.


Honorable Mentions: Rectify, Longmire, The Walking Dead, House of Cards

10) The Good Wife (CBS)
It's pretty rare for an already very good show to take a step up in quality in season 5 but that's the case with The Good Wife, which has ratcheted up the tension – both personal and professional – in ways that have led to some of the best hours TV has had to offer this fall. This ensemble cast has no weak links, and its casting for guest spots is unrivaled on network TV.

9) Homeland (Showtime)
While the events in the season finale were in many ways inevitable, the path to get there took a route few could have expected. Damian Lewis' Brody played a smaller part but when he was on screen, he commanded it, and the inner peace he found in the final hours of the season were well earned and honestly portrayed. Claire Danes continues to give the best/most consistent performance on TV by someone not named Bryan Cranston; while the writers may at times let Carrie down a bit, Danes is always true to her, and it's amazing to watch. In many ways this was the Season of Saul, and any show that gives Mandy Patinkin the room to flex his acting muscles will always have a place on this list.

8) Mad Men (AMC)
I know it's cool to knock Mad Men, say it's lost its mojo, but the truth is the when you've been just about the best show on TV for your first few seasons and then you drop down to simply being in the handful of best shows, folks see that as an opportunity to bash. We got to see an even darker side of Don Draper, with him hitting what may finally be rock bottom during the Hershey pitch, which was followed by the remarkable scene of him bringing his kids to where he grew up. All of the characters continued along their journeys this past season, and while there might be some frustration from viewers who don't like that they can't see where things are going, that just makes it more like real life.

7) Masters of Sex (Showtime)
In some ways I was sold on this show before it started because of the two leads – Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan have long been TTTP faves – but in other ways I had no idea how the story of Masters & Johnson could be dramatized as a series, so I was both thrilled and surprised in how great a show Masters of Sex is, one that while showing ample amount of nudity and sexual activity, excels in getting the emotional motivation behind the action dead solid perfect. There's a great supporting cast here as well, with Allison Janney in particular doing brilliant work.

6) Sons of Anarchy (FX)
Yes, the season started dark and just got darker, with twists and turns that were both shocking and foreseeable, but in the end Sons of Anarchy demonstrated it was still among the best series on TV in terms of long term storytelling, proving it understood that to be true to itself and the world it had created, the blood indeed had to flow. Jimmy Smits' Nero stood out in his first year as a full time character, at times providing the eyes and voice of the audience as he questioned the actions and motivations of some of Charming's residents. Also worthy of mention was Ron Perlman's work as Clay became more sure of – and comfortable with – his role in the future of SAMRCO.

5) Justified (FX)
Doomed to never get enough love on end of year lists because its new seasons begin in January, Justified has been one of TV's best since it began but season four was even better than usual, thanks in large part to what may be the single best group of guest performances a show has had in one season; Jim Beaver, Mike O'Malley, Jere Burns, and Patton Oswalt all did truly eye opening work, an accomplishment that much more impressive when you think about how strong the regular cast is, making it that much harder to stand out.

4) Parenthood (NBC)
The best drama on network TV by a wide margin – and I don't mean that to sound like the backhanded compliment that it could be construed as – Parenthood understands and portrays real life better than any show on TV right now, period.

3) Ray Donovan (Showtime)
The best first season of a show since Mad Men, hands down. It's rare where I watch a show and have no idea where it's going to go next but that was the case with Ray Donovan, and while all the stories didn't fit together perfectly, anytime two or more of the Donovan men were on screen together, the show was hypnotizing. Lots has been written about Jon Voight's work as Mickey, all of it deserved; his was the single best performance of 2013. I love that the season finale was not a cliff hanger but more a rare quiet and serene moment for the Donovans.

2) Suits (USA)
If Suits were on ABC or NBC it would get significantly more mainstream media coverage but because it's on USA, a network many associate more with fun shows than with high quality series, the buzz is left up to the actual viewers, and I can tell you that the audience for this legal drama is out there and growing fast. An excellent cast and sharp writing have helped move the show past the gimmick/hook of the pilot (and much of season one) and into the world of adult drama, with interpersonal relationship where the stakes are way higher than those in the court cases. This first half of the current season they tried a different form of storytelling, with one case arcing throughout (as opposed to the case-of-the-week they went with for the most part during the show's first two seasons) and it went well, giving them lots of different story options for the future.

1) Breaking Bad (AMC)
Was there really any other possible choice? When the best drama of the TTTP era – perhaps, when all is said and done and the perspective of time is added in, the best drama series of all time – closes out it's run with an incredible flurry of episodes, how could it not be tops on the list? If you found a flaw in second half of the final season of Breaking Bad, it's only because you were looking with a microscope, and even then I'd still have to agree to disagree.

And there you have it, 50 shows on 19 networks; you might not agree with all of my choices but no one can question the breadth of programming we sampled to come up with this list! Hop on down to the comments section below and share your picks for the best of 2013!

Two Tivos To Paradise
@Midnight, After the Catch, American Idol, Antiques Roadshow, Archer, Arrow, Around the World in 80 Plates, Auction Hunters, Baby Daddy, Back in the Game, Boardwalk Empire, Being Human, Bones, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Burger Land, Cake Boss, Cake Boss: Next Great Baker, Chicago Fire, Chopped, Comic Book Men, Community, Cougar Town, Counting Cars, The Crazy Ones, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Dancing with the Stars, The Deadliest Catch, Deon Cole's Black Box, Destination Truth, Falling Skies, Family Guy, Feed the Beast, Flipping Out, Food Network Challenge, Food Network Star, The Fosters, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Lab, Ghost Mine, Glee, Graceland, Great Food Truck Race, Grey's Anatomy, Haunted Collector. Haunted Highway, Haunted Treasure, Hawaii 5-0, Hostages, House of Lies, How I Met Your Mother, Inside Comedy with David Steinberg, Inside Amy Schumer, Iron Chef America, Justified, Key & Peele, Killer Contact, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Law And Order: Special Victims Unit, The League, Longmire, Lost Girl, Louie, Mad Men, Major Crimes, Masters of Sex, Men at Work, The Michael J Fox Show, The Middle, Mike and Molly, The Mindy Project, Modern Family, Monster Man, Nashville, Necessary Roughness, New Girl, The New Normal, Next Iron Chef, The Originals, Outside the Lines, Parks & Recreation, Project Runway, Psych, Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook Off, Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook Off, Raising Hope, Ray Donovan, Real Time With Bill Maher, Rectify, Restaurant Impossible, Revenge, Revolution, Royal Pains, Saturday Night Live, Shark Wranglers, So You Think You Can Dance?, Sons of Anarchy, The Soup, Suits, Suburgatory, Supernatural, Top Chef, Top Chef Just Desserts, Top Chef: Masters, Tosh.0, Trophy Wife, The Vampire Diaries, The Voice, The Walking Dead, Warehouse 13, Worst Cooks In America,

People Love You When They Know You're Leaving Soon
Here ends another Two Tivos To Paradise.

We'll be back next week with our 2013 TTTP TV Entertainers of the Year!

Sources for this week's column include Daily Variety, Entertainment Weekly, TV Guide, and Hollywood Reporter (plus the web sites for those publications) as well as Aintit.cool.com, TVline.com & Deadline.com.


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