TV's best of the rest

Posted: December 31, 2013

I START OUT nearly every December vowing not to make a Top 10 list. And then some publication or website comes calling, eager to aggregate and quantify the numbered opinions of the critical masses, and the next thing I know, I'm jotting down titles.

You can check out my 2013 choices at Hitfix.com (or at the end of this column), but this year the winnowing was harder than usual. And the list I produced, while entirely defensible, didn't so much reflect my love of television as it did how much television I get to see.

Not only was it practically humorless - dramas 10, comedies 0 (though it's a rare top drama that doesn't have flashes of humor) - but it was dominated by shows, including two from the Sundance Channel, that relatively few people saw.

And then there's the ranking, which, frankly, gets pretty random after the first two or three. I've been doing this job nearly 20 years and I still don't know exactly how to decide that "The Good Wife" is just that much better than "Masters of Sex," except perhaps on degree of difficulty, because making (and keeping) a show as smart and adult as "The Good Wife" on CBS is never going to be as easy as making a show about sex on Showtime.

So bear the randomness in mind as we look at 11 through 20 (and if I've left off your personal Best Show on TV, remember this: It's probably 21).

11. ABC's "Scandal."

There are at least three - and when "Covert Affairs" is on, four - shows at 10 p.m. Thursdays that I try not to miss, but this is the one I almost always watch in real time. Art it's not, but it's nearly always great, did-you-see-what-they-did? television.

12. NBC's "The Blacklist," Netflix's "House of Cards," HBO's "Veep," Showtime's "Homeland" and Amazon's "Alpha House."

Yep, I'm cheating, but it's not just "Scandal": As much as I once loved "The West Wing," I've fallen for most of the cynical Washington, D.C., shows. (I even watch CBS' "Hostages," though it's not making any lists.) I only wish that the actual news out of Washington didn't make these shows seem less far-fetched by the day.

13. Fox's "Sleepy Hollow."

Hats (and heads) off to the craziest drama on network TV, which gets better every week, even as it races through plotlines as if a headless horseman were after its writers.

14. BBC America's "Broadchurch."

Fox is importing "Broadchurch" star David Tennant to star opposite Anna Gunn ("Breaking Bad") in its retitled remake, "Gracepoint," but it's hard to imagine a more perfectly executed tragedy than this murder mystery in a British seaside town.

15. ABC's "The Neighbors."

Not only is this the best comedy about extraterrestrials living in New Jersey that you're probably not watching, it's actually one of the smartest, sweetest comedies on the air right now. And, yet, unlike, say, NBC's "Parks and Recreation" or "Community," you don't need to have been watching for years to know what's going on.

16. CBS' "The Big Bang Theory."

Even when Bob Newhart's not guest-starring, this remains one of the most dependably funny shows on TV. So what if everyone else in America is watching, too?

17. ABC's "Trophy Wife."

Maybe it's here because it's just so much better, and funnier, than it sounded on paper, but this sitcom about the family that's grown up around a guy (Bradley Whitford) who's been married to three women (Marcia Gay Harden, Michaela Watkins and Malin Akerman) has become one of my favorite new shows.

It's practically a tie, though, with other comedies I love: Fox's "The Mindy Project" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," ABC's "The Goldbergs," "The Middle" and, yeah, "Modern Family."

18. FX's "Sons of Anarchy."

I can't believe I watched the whole season, because usually my nerves are shot a few episodes in. After that put-a-fork-in-it finale, I may be done, but no one forced me to stay up each week, as one episode after another ran long past the hour, so "Sons" must have been doing something right. Or many, many things wrong.

19. Showtime's "Ray Donovan."

It says something about how high the bar's been raised in premium cable that this show about a Hollywood fixer, which featured some truly electric moments between stars Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight, received not a single vote in the Hitfix critics' poll.

20. Sundance's "The Returned."

I continue to have trouble with AMC's "The Walking Dead," but this haunting French series about a town whose dead start returning did wonders for my zombie fatigue.

Oh, and here, in case you're still wondering, are my Top 10:

1. AMC's "Breaking Bad."

2. HBO's "Game of Thrones."

3. Sundance's "Top of the Lake."

4. CBS' "The Good Wife."

5. Showtime's "Masters of Sex."

6. Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black."

7. Sundance's "Rectify."

8. FX's "The Americans."

9. HBO's "Treme."

10. Showtime's "Shameless."


Phone: 215-854-5950

Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray

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