My Top 50 TV Shows of 2013

1. The Venture Bros. (Cartoon Network)
2. Breaking Bad (AMC)
3. Sons Of Anarchy (FX)
4. Bob's Burgers (FOX)
5. 30 Rock (NBC)
6. Masters of Sex (Showtime)
7. Happy Endings (ABC)
8. The Mindy Project (FOX)
9. New Girl (FOX)
10. Veep (HBO)
11. Suits (USA)
12. The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
13. Drunk History (Comedy Central)
14. Newsreaders (Cartoon Network)
15. Childrens Hospital (Cartoon Network)
16. Saturday Night Live (NBC)
17. Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
18. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
19. The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC)
20. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
21. Parks & Recreation (NBC)
22. Mom (CBS)
23. The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
24. The Pete Holmes Show (TBS)
25. Alpha House (Amazon Prime)
26. Parenthood (NBC)
27. Burning Love (E!)
28. Episodes (Showtime)
29. Shameless (Showtime)
30. Suburgatory (ABC)
31. Eagleheart (Cartoon Network)
32. Justified (FX)
33. The Americans (FX)
34. The Newsroom (HBO)
35. Girls (HBO)
36. Workaholics (Comedy Central)
37. Haven (SyFy)
38. The Soup (E!)
39. Community (NBC)
40. Futurama (Comedy Central)
41. True Blood (HBO)
42. Rizzoli & Isles (TNT)
43. The Blacklist (NBC)
44. Funny Or Die presents Billy On The Street (Fuse)
45. Ray Donovan (Showtime)
46. The Voice (NBC)
47. Hello Ladies (HBO)
48. American Horror Story: Coven (FX)
49. Catfish: The TV Show (MTV)
50. The Eric Andre Show (Cartoon Network)

Last year I adopted this pared down format, after years of doing more long-winded year-end TV lists like my various music lists. And it suited me well, especially these days as I tend to just kind of put my favorite shows on while I'm writing or thinking about something else and don't necessarily have a lot to say about why I enjoy or don't enjoy certain shows, beyond saying what I enjoy. In any event, a few scattered thoughts:

* The Venture Bros. aired its first season in 2004, and aired its fifth season in 2013. Through it all, it's been one of the funniest, most densely and smartly written shows on TV, to the point that I don't even mind that it's taken a decade for them to rack up five seasons, the latest of which was the shortest yet. I'll have to rewatch the latest episodes on DVD to really have an idea of how it measures up to past seasons, but it feels like they've finally stopped exploring the characters' backstories and are just having fun with the world they've created, and the season premiere was one of the show's all-time greatest episodes.

* I've always been pretty critical of Breaking Bad, for some reason it's a show you're not supposed to just like but think it's a flawless artistic achievement, but I've always thought it had a lot of hacky contrivances and storytelling issues. I thought it ended strong with the last season, though -- there were things about the finale that bothered me on a thematic level, but I respected how they pulled it off, since it's the kind of show where a really bad finale could've soured the whole thing.

* Sons Of Anarchy only has one season left, and I hope it ends satisfyingly, but it feels like it'll be impossible for the show to be any more gripping than it was this year. For a show full of macho fantasies about biker dudes, it's always had compelling, fleshed out female characters who are as flawed and volatile as the men, going against the "male anti-hero acts, women around them react" pattern of a lot of cable dramas these days. The Tara/Gemma relationship came to a head this year in a really horrifying, unanticipated way, the biggest punch to the gut in a show that's been full of shocking, emotionally draining moments.

* I started doing year-end TV lists in 2006, the year 30 Rock premiered, and the show has been in my top 5 every single year since then, so it seemed right to let it keep that honor for its final year, even though it aired only 5 episodes in 2013. They never fell off, and they went out on top. I worked at the Kennedy Center one day a few weeks ago when they were shooting Carol Burnett's Mark Twain Prize special, and I got to sneak into the theater during Tina Fey's rehearsal and watch her work on her speech, and she is just a genius to me, it was amazing just to see her improvise and try out ideas and toss out and reject lines that were hilarious.

* Masters Of Sex was easily my favorite new show of the year, the rare respectable Showtime drama coming along just when Homeland had finally become unwatchable for me. Lizzy Caplan, my biggest crush in show business for several years running now, has such a contemporary sense of humor and sarcasm in most of her performances that I worried she'd be a sore thumb in a period piece, but her performance has been an exercise in restraint, and although the show often uses a heavy hand to work out its themes, I think it pulled off its first season incredibly well.

* While I will miss 30 Rock and Breaking Bad and Futurama, they all got to stay on the air a good long while, and the show I am really annoyed about getting canceled this year was Happy Endings, which still had a lot of gas in the tank. Still, it was comforting that almost immediately in the following fall, some of its stars had become regulars in two of its closest cousins on network primetime: Adam Pally to the rapidly improving The Mindy Project, and Damon Wayans, Jr. back to New Girl, which he'd appeared in the pilot of before jumping ship to Happy Endings. All I know is this USA pilot Eliza Couple is starring in better be worth her time.

* I have no regrets on giving up on Homeland, but I have fallen behind on a lot of shows I liked and may catch up on someday, like How I Met Your Mother. I kinda wish I was watching Nashville or Scandal or The Good Wife, but it increasingly feels impossible to keep up with network dramas who put 20-something hours of programming on the air every year, compared to the shorter orders for cable dramas, or the comedies that are a half hour and don't necessarily need to be viewed in sequence. These days the domestic comfort food of Parenthood is the only network drama I can keep up with, partly because it comes on Thursdays after the NBC comedies I'm already watching (my interest is already waning in The Blacklist).

* After years of thinking Parks & Recreation was vastly overrated, I think the show is now funnier than ever, although Rob Lowe leaving doesn't seem like a good thing (he'd been underused lately anyway). Still in the middle tier of NBC comedies, though, especially with The Michael J. Fox Show being one of my favorite new shows. Community's Dan Harmon-less 4th season was not great, but not as huge a drop from its middling 3rd season as some would have you believe, but I am looking forward to some improvement, any improvement at all, with Harmon's return in the upcoming episodes.

* NBC is still the most represented network on this list, as it usually is, with 8 series. Behind it Comedy Central has 7, HBO has 5, and FOX and Showtime and FX have 4 each. After years of being notorious for canceling promising shows after one season, Comedy Central finally seems to have some momentum with its primetime programming - Drunk History is hysterical, Key & Peele is kind of a one trick pony, but it's hitting its peak right now, and my old college acquaintance Amy Schumer has really impressed me with her show.

* Newsroom continues to annoy me greatly as distinctly as Sorkin's diminishing returns, but the second season was much more enjoyable than the first, as I got used to what irritated me and was able to just enjoy the isolated scenes that were really well written and performed.
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