Extra long post! My personal TV Highlights of 2013, which isn’t really a best/worst list (or maybe it should be) and it doesn’t help that I’ve really cut back on tv viewing (shocking, I know), I don’t have Showtime and HBO (so, no Damian Lewis and Homeland or Boardwalk Empire or Games of Thrones), and I have not pursued the streaming trend (so, no House of Cards, no Orange is the New Black, and no Alpha House, which I’d really like to check out, since it’s the Garry Trudeau project inspired by the trivia that a bunch of real US Senators and Congressmen are roommates). And I’m not still on the Downton Abbey bandwagon (still shocking).
In no particular order:
1. Fringe (FOX) – the series finale in January 2013 was sad, yet resolved stuff to some extent. See here on my commentary/analysis on that series finale.
2. Elementary (CBS) – Jonny Lee Miller as the tragic, flawed, brilliant man (who is ridiculously that resistant to acknowledging how human he is). Yes, a show about Holmes will be predominantly be a Holmes and Watson show, but I wish the show would be more of an ensemble – why waste Aidan Quinn by not giving us more Capt. Gregson? And, when Detective Bell (Jon Michael Hill) has his sarcastic moments, he’s hilarious (that moment when Holmes gave his backhanded compliment about the NYPD, Bell was drily along the lines of “We were all going to quit because we couldn’t make arrests until you came along” – the deadpan look was probably the best one could do with Holmes).
Watson is also turning out to be more enjoyable than I’d ever expected; even if she isn’t the army medical doctor returning from Afghanistan in this version, that she’s so strong as Holmes’ partner in detecting is great (Joan Watson is no buffoon and will NOT be treated that way).
I enjoyed the fall season premiere in 2013, when it introduced Inspector Lestrade (played by Sean Pertwee, in fine wacky grim form, and clearly not the humbler version of Lestrade played by Rupert Graves from the BBC’s “Sherlock”) and Mycroft Holmes (played by Rhys Ifans). Mycroft finally appeared! And, I hope he comes back, but please, gods of tv, don’t make him evil.
In a triscribe relevant item: they filmed an episode at our alma mater law school, Brooklyn Law School, as a stand in for One Police Plaza, and used the Moot Court Room as a hearing room for One Police Plaza (I can’t believe that real One Police Plaza has that nice a hearing room, but it is tv). The episode aired the same night as the Sound of Music Live! on NBC.
Caveat: don’t ask me to choose between “Elementary” and BBC’s “Sherlock.” They’re two very different shows about the brilliant Sherlock Holmes. On the other hand, I will admit that, in 2013, I was pretty very fond of Jonny Lee Miller Holmes, since there was so much more of him (American tv gives us many more episodes) and I preferred Holmes in the version who’s a drug addict, since canonic Holmes was indeed a druggie (even if it wasn’t that obvious; but an addict who is a mess makes for gripping tv (ex., Jeremy Brett as Holmes, Hugh Laurie as Dr. House (who really was Holmes as a doctor)).
3. Community (NBC) – that season 4 of 2013 was uneven and while I didn’t totally hate it, I can’t even remember if I watched the season finale (I think I did). But, I did like the Halloween and Thanksgiving episodes (which NBC aired in the spring because NBC is cruel). The Halloween episode was where actor Giancarlo Esposito reappeared as Gilbert, Pierce’s half-brother, and the jokes were funny. The Thanksgiving episode had Shirley trying to have her Thanksgiving with her two divergent families (her community college gang and her husband, kids, and that extended lot) and Britta making sure that Jeff goes through with meeting his long-lost dad (played by James Brolin). Jeff was finally dealing with his daddy issues! I’m not sure how 2014 will be for “Community,” but I can keep hoping that it won’t be a total disaster. I just want some laughs and character moments.
4. PBS’ Masterpiece – no, I’m still not on the Downton Abbey bandwagon (gasp!). But, if Series 6 of Lewis is indeed the last season, I’m glad that Inspector Lewis and Dr. Hobson finally got together as a romantic couple, but was sad that Lewis and his sergeant, Hathaway, were giving up as police detectives (while not giving up their friendship). And, in a way, “Lewis” ended where the old Inspector Morse series ended too – with the background of Oxford, England.
I’m also getting on board with the prequel series, Endeavour (Series 1), even though I still quibble that anyone would ever dare call Endeavour Morse by his first name (it’s just… not the way it was in the old Morse tv series or in the books). Detective Constable Morse had that too-book-smart and tragic quality that Hathaway had (well, Hathaway had it some 50 years later), and yet Morse clearly couldn’t figure out what good policing meant (totally what his future self, Detective Chief Inspector Morse in the book version, never really figured out either). Young Morse clearly needed the mentoring of his boss, Detective Inspector Thursday (much as Hathaway needed from Lewis; all Lewis had to do, when he was Morse’s sidekick, was keep doing the legwork and maybe get the killer for Morse – Lewis probably would’ve gotten along fine with Inspector Thursday). Series 1 of “Endeavour” also brought Police Constable Strange, the younger version of Superintendent Strange of the Morse tv series – finally bringing context for why or how on earth did Strange put up with Morse in their old man years (their friendship of bailing each other out when they were young policemen – awww…).
Caveat: none of the above about Morse-Lewis-Hathaway probably made a lot of sense unless you followed the shows and the original Morse book series by Colin Dexter. But, check them out, if you like British mysteries.
5. Broadchurch (BBC America) – actor David Tennant (the ex-10th Doctor of “Doctor Who”), as flawed and tragic Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (in Scottish accent glory), would seem to be the protagonist, but this series is really about Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller and her realizations about her town of Broadchurch. Brutal and beautiful series, with acting powerhouses and so much tragedy. It’s also not the usual British mystery, taking a more sociological/community approach, especially following the storylines of the victim’s family, the Latimers (honestly, the usual British mysteries would have solved this one far faster; then again, Inspector Lewis might have been no less hard on the Latimers and the crazy journalists). Ridiculously good tv of 2013. I’m impressed that BBC America outbid PBS for this series.
6. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN) – I really liked this series in 2013. It’s probably the only thing I watch on CNN (no offense, Anderson Cooper). Bourdain’s storytelling, food, and travels – just great tv. The season finale episode on Detroit – that was powerful stuff.
7. Doctor Who (link to BBC America’s site)- I watched a bunch of episodes on BBC America in 2013 and I’m still behind (like with everything else I watch on tv). But, there was a real thrill in watching “The Day of the Doctor,” the 50th anniversary episode, on same time simulcast as the rest of the world (breaking records!). The 50th anniversary episode was such a powerful heartbreaker, as John Hurt played the War Doctor, the incarnation who dared not use the name of “the Doctor” as he considered the ultimate scenario to end the Time War – the annihilation of his own kind, the Time Lords, and their home planet. David Tennant returned as the 10th Doctor, and Matt Smith was in his next to last episode as the 11th Doctor. 10 and 11 were cute together, as they try to face the soon-to-be and already done sin of the War Doctor. I actually got all teary when the three Doctors joined together and pondered pressing the button of the Moment, the device of mass destruction and consciousness.
And, the Christmas 2013 episode, “The Time of the Doctor,” was a bittersweet farewell of Matt Smith as 11. Putting aside any and all confusion and plotholes (all of which are many in “Doctor Who,” I’ve noticed), I thought both episodes were worth watching and pretty enjoyable. Also: time traveling is nuts, I tell you.
By the way, the webisode of the 8th Doctor (on the BBC website or YouTube), played by Paul McGann, was terrific transition to “The Day of the Doctor” (I believe people blame BBC for the lack of opportunity with the 8th Doctor, but I blame it on FOX – and I actually did watch that McGann movie when it was on, years ago; it was fine, really, just not what either FOX or BBC probably really wanted and with no real (American) ratings).
8. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart / Colbert Report (Comedy Central) – summer 2013, Jon Stewart was substituted by John Oliver, who brought a twisty British thing behind that desk. Hilarious, especially as New York City was in the ridiculous mayoral primary election. Overall, both Stewart and Colbert gave us good tv in 2013.
9. The Americans (FX) – actress Kerri Russell is as far from her old character Felicity (from the old WB’s “Felicity”) as she can be, in this spy series. Matthew Rhys as Philip and Russell as Elizabeth, as sleeper Soviet agents during the early 1980’s – boy, that was one powerful series premiere, more striking than I’ve ever seen.
10. The Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon) – the Avatar universe continues. Korra had to tap into her spiritual powers as the multi-reincarnated Avatar. Some episodes were a little uneven (plotholes galore, also). But, the episode where Korra visited the 1st life as Avatar, Wan (voiced by Steve Yuen), was just amazing art on television. Also, teenagers with superpowers (or without powers) and having a hard time growing up and being in love – they can be a problem – a moral we must learn every single time.
11. Dancing With the Stars (ABC) – this Season 17 was one of those “I can’t stop watching” – but it was fun to watch Corbin Bleu (a borderline ringer, along with Elizabeth Berkley Lauren (who even had to bring back a little “Saved By the Bell”)). Great that Amber Riley (“Glee”) won with pro dancer Derek Hough. Bill Engvall and Jack Osbourne brought great enthusiasm. Valerie Harper was also inspirational to watch, just for trying.
12. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (ABC) – not terrific, but one of those “Okay, it’s harmless, but when is it going to get good?” – Agent Coulson is alive, but so far, SHIELD has not yet lived up to expectations as the “what goes on behind the superheroes,” considering that SHIELD is supposed to be the guys behind the Avengers. But, Joss Whedon’s production people ought to keep at it; it is only season 1… I mean, really, who expected that “Arrow” turned out to be so much fun by season 2? (and, no, I’m not yet on the Arrow bandwagon).
13. PBS Newshour – made history in 2013 with officially making Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff the full-time anchors, making them the first pair of women to be anchoring. Also, by expanding to PBS Newshour weekend, we have an Asian anchor (surely that’s historical?!) with Hari Sreenivasan manning the desk on weekend nights.
14. Sound of Music LIVE! (NBC) – was it great? No. Carrie Underwood sang fine as Maria, but she couldn’t act. Stephen Moyer (“True Blood”) had a decent voice as Capt. Von Trapp, but he was not Christopher Plummer in the smoldering level. And, when you have such experienced Broadway people as Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, and Christian Borle – well, the differences of quality were noticeable. And, I didn’t realize that they were using the original musical as the adaptation to follow, because I knew the movie so well, and just about everybody online was comparing it to the movie, and really, Underwood can’t live up to Julie Andrews. I kept wondering what if Kellie O’Hara or Sutton Foster had been given a shot at the Maria role, but I understand that NBC wanted a big star.
But, having a musical on television was great and it got everybody watching (especially because it was live tv). PBS is just about the only avenue for musicals on tv, so maybe the broadcast networks might want to consider musicals to bring the audience out there together, more than cable can.
15. Last but not least: Breaking Bad (AMC). What a final bunch of episodes! I obviously have to go back to the beginning to get the full “Breaking Bad” experience, but that was excellent and depressing as hell stuff. But, for Walt and Jesse – fate is a weird thing and can you really beat fate?
The Walking Dead (is everyone but Rick going to die on this show? And, Steve Yuen – thank you for representing Asian Americans in the zombie apocalypse on this series, and for so far not dying (yet)).
Archer (ridiculous as ever).
South Park (Comedy Central) – yeah, usually not one I’d pick for any list, but that season finale, where poor Wendy learned a hard lesson on the female body image was just heart breaking.
Key and Peele (Comedy Central). They go where no one has gone before, as I would like to think…
Nova Science Now (David Pogue as host still isn’t quite Neil deGrasse Tyson, but still science on PBS continues well and alive).
Shakespeare Uncovered (PBS) – wow. I watched this back in January/February 2013. A great way to get the flavor of Shakespeare.
On a last but not least honorable mention item: Ken Tucker moved on from Entertainment Weekly, both on the tv blog and in the dead tree magazine since 2/13, but he was a great read. I missed reading his writings on television stuff in 2013.
I’m probably forgetting other notable stuff of 2013, but I never promise to be comprehensive!