in Television

The Good, The Bad, The Middling: TV Shows We Watched in 2013

So many TV shows, so little time. Here’s a rundown of the TV shows we’ve seen this year – everything from the good, the bad, and the middling.

The Good

We wrote about “Breaking Bad,” The Good Wife, Scandal, Orange Is the New Black, Enlightened, Orphan Black, Hannibal, Elementary, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Sleepy Hollow in our post about the Top 10 TV Shows of 2013. These are the shows we enjoyed watching this year, but didn’t include on that list.

The Americans

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell play KGB agents locked in the ultimate arranged marriage. At times emotional, brutal, savage, and simultaneously thrilling, The Americans is anchored by fantastic performances, stellar writing, and beautiful shots. Noah Emmerich and Margo Martindale are perfectly cast, as well.

Black Mirror

The follow up to Charlie Brooker’s devastating first series, this year’s Black Mirror gave us three episodes – “Be Right Back,” “White Bear,” and “The Waldo Effect” – each with their own unique universe, characters, and story lines. They’re all thought provoking and devastating in their own ways, offering wry commentary on modern society, technology, social media, politics, and love, all set against futuristic backdrops. The first season of Black Mirror aired on DirecTV this year, and it’s most definitely worth a look-see.

Dates

There are both hits and misses in this British romantic drama, which if you think about it, is actually pretty telling of how some of the poor characters must have felt. Dates shows us the sometimes tumultuous, sometimes sexy, and oftentimes really awkward first dates between people who meet on an online dating service. For the most part, each episode focuses on a different couple with their own sets of baggage which helps to keep the first-date format fresh. By the end of the show, you’ll have been introduced to a lot of colorful characters – so chances are, you’ll find someone you can identify with. If not, well, we can all sympathize with the awkwardness of talking to some random for an hour, right?

Key and Peele

The best sketch comedy show on TV right now is Key and Peele, which just wrapped up its third season on Comedy Central and has been renewed for a fourth season. Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele are the biggest comedic duo right now à la Abbott and Costello or the Smothers Brothers. Their show has delivered some of the biggest laughs for us, this year, thanks to some brilliant and memorable characters, excellent writing, and perfect comedic timing. Watching Key and Peele’s natural chemistry, you’d think the next logical step for them would be to host the Academy Awards or some other big variety show. Someone, make it happen!

Masters of Sex

This new Showtime period drama stars Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen as Virginia Johnson and Dr. William Masters, two scientific researchers who made groundbreaking discoveries about human sexuality and sexual response. While the series is largely centered around Masters and Johnson’s study, Masters of Sex is also a character study into the lives of all the people that the research impacts. In addition to Masters and Johnson, you have the dean of the university and his wife who are struggling with their own sexual needs and preferences, which is capped by wonderful performances by Beau Bridges and Allison Janney.

Some Girls

British sitcom Some Girls is adorable and hilarious and we love the girls – Viva (Adelayo Adedayo), Amber (Alice Felgate), Holli (Natasha Jonas), and Saz (Mandeep Dhillon) – so, so much. For a bunch of misfit schoolgirls, they get into a lot of rather interesting situations, such as babysitting a demon child, being absolutely terrible at soccer, or dating teenage mobsters. Some girls just have all the fun.

A Touch of Cloth

Charlie Brooker’s A Touch of Cloth satirizes TV’s favorite genre – the gritty police drama. It’s absolutely hilarious and hits every single mark. There are repeating gags that are still hysterical after seeing them for the second or third time. John Hannah, Suranne Jones, Navin Chowdhry, Julian Rhind-Tutt, and Anna Chancellor give terrific dry, deadpan comedic performances, as well.

Veep

Season one of Veep was already pretty good, but this spring’s second season cemented it as one of our favorite comedies of the year. With Julia Louis-Dreyfus starring as the foul-mouthed U.S. Vice President trying her damnedest to stay in the political limelight, and the constantly bickering team behind her, there’s a lot to love about this satire.

The Bad

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

If it weren’t for its association with the Marvel cinematic universe, we’re not sure Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would even be getting a full season order. Remember No Ordinary Family? Yeah. Exactly. While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t nearly as forgettable as the aforementioned family superhero drama, it certainly doesn’t live up to the expectations of the Marvel brand. It’s far too procedural, relying on fancy gadgets and science jargon to wrap up its substandard weekly storylines, and the characters, with their flimsy back-stories and one-dimensional personalities, fail to keep our interest.

Big Brother

Big Brother made national headlines in its 15th season after contestants were caught spewing racist and homophobic vitriol on the show’s 24-hour Internet broadcast. Production never stepped in to resolve the issue like when a similar controversy erupted on the set of Big Brother‘s British counterpart. Instead, they allowed these contestants to go far into the game, continue to spout their hateful remarks, and even claim a $50,000 cash reward. All in all, it left a bad taste in our mouths.

Dads

Racist, trashy, and just plain unfunny, Dads was one of the worst – if not the absolute worst – new offerings of the fall 2013 season. And did we mention there’s a laugh track? We expect nothing less from Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, but Brenda Song? Can’t Shonda Rhimes make her character a regular on Scandal? We could definitely use more scenes of Alissa and David Rosen bantering whilst uncovering political conspiracies.

Hemlock Grove

No one was really expecting Hemlock Grove to be an award-winning piece of television, but we thought it would at least be entertaining in a fun, campy sort of way. Alas, most of the episodes were a yawn fest, and the awkward dialogue and often stilted performances made us laugh at the show rather than with it. There also wasn’t nearly enough gore or horror involved – which for a show that billed itself as being both gory and horrifying, is obviously not a good thing.

Low Winter Sun

Oh, Low Winter Sun. What a gigantic disappointment you were. With a cast consisting of Mark Strong and Lennie James, and a mini Generation Kill reunion of Billy Lush and James Ransone, we were hoping this police drama would be good – but nope. It was just way too gritty, grim, predictable, and boring, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to care about any of the characters. It probably didn’t help that AMC kept desperately pushing it as the next Breaking Bad, which only further highlighted Low Winter Sun‘s shortcomings. AMC officially canceled the series shortly after the season finale.

The Middling

Almost Human

Set in a future Los Angeles where cops are partnered up with androids, Almost Human has some of the best world-building we’ve seen on network TV. The chemistry between Karl Urban and Michael Ealy is another selling point. But the show is also riddled with all-too-familiar tropes (see: A Touch of Cloth for a more detailed analysis) and a less-than-interesting supporting cast with paper thin characterization.

The Blacklist

We’re still not sure how to feel about The Blacklist. On the one hand, the performances are consistent, the two-part season finale was surprisingly fantastic, and even when an episode is bad it’s still not particularly difficult to watch. On the other hand, are we seriously meant to believe Red’s that much of a criminal mastermind? He’s on a first name basis with practically every other Big Bad in the world and is able to manipulate a bunch of them into getting caught by the police. That level of disbelief takes a couple of tries to choke down (though it makes for good drama, so we’re willing to look past the contrivances if we get more episodes like “Anslo Garrick” and “The Stewmaker”.)

The Mindy Project

We wouldn’t go so far as to say that The Mindy Project is outright bad, because there are plenty of comedy gems to be found in an otherwise lackluster sitcom. Although some people might disagree, we think this show has yet to find its groove. With its low ratings and an extended hiatus, we fear it might be too late for the Mindy Kaling vehicle.

Teen Wolf

Season 3A wasn’t Teen Wolf‘s best. The show seemed to have thrown together more characters than it knew what to do with, leading to overcrowded storylines and episodes. Its solution was to kill off practically every other character who was female or a person of color, while yet again letting the white male Big Bad breathe another day. Besides that, the whole thing with the Darach and the Alpha pack and that huge ass tree was way more complicated than it needed to be. Here’s hoping the upcoming 3B season redeems the show a bit.

The Walking Dead

For all its death defying, terror inducing, and zombie bludgeoning moments, The Walking Dead focuses a little too much on characterization and dialogue, without any substantial payoff. Take those two Governor-centric episodes, for example. Did we really need all that screen-time devoted to the Governor’s so-called character journey, especially with the conclusion we ended up getting?

  • interesting, varied choices on your “good” list. nice to give some lesser known shows the spotlight. I’d rate “The Mindy Project” as Good at this point and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as middling…although it does kind of suck so maybe I’m just being too generous.

    Top Episodes of 2013: http://www.untemperedtv.com/?p=65