my favorite tv shows of 2013

Confession: television is my opiate of choice. So I had five favorite albums, five favorite movies, and... ten favorite shows, plus three more.

But television is really coming into its own as an art form, it's practically the new Charles Dickens serial novel, and netflix and hulu making their own shows, and blah blah blah 


It's just that after a day of teaching and grading and writing and talking to little people and potty training little people and cooking and cleaning, I have very little energy, mental or otherwise, to do more after 7:30 pm. (Or that's what I tell myself.)

So, yeah, tv.

Seriously, there is no better show on television right now, and Sidse Babet Knudsen has overtaken Connie Britton as my main girl crush. Let one of my favorite critics, Willa Paskin, convince you:

“Borgen” stars the amazing Sidse Babett Knudsen as Birgitte Nyborg, who begins the series as the head of the lefty Moderate party, a mother of two, and one half of the sexiest, most functional TV marriages this side of Eric and Tami Taylor. (This is not an exaggeration. If I had led with that, you’d probably already be watching.) In the Danish parliamentary system, eight political parties align in various ways to form coalition governments. In the first episode of the series, through various political missteps, the largest liberal and conservative parties rough each other up, giving Nyborg’s Moderates a huge boost and herself the unexpected opportunity to head up a liberal coalition as prime minister.

Though “Borgen” was influenced by “The West Wing” (Nyborg, like Josiah Bartlet, has a knack for giving the honest speech),  it makes “The West Wing” look sentimental, and not because “Borgen” has some ultra-dark view of politics. (In a great New Yorker piece about DR, the broadcaster who makes all these Danish masterpieces, Lauren Collins quoted DR as saying it wanted its series to have messages. “Borgen’s” is, “Can you be in power and remain yourself?” and for the answer, they “want to say yes.”) Rather, compared to American political dramas — “West Wing,” “Scandal,” “Homeland,” “House of Cards” — “Borgen” feels grounded. It is not puffed up with an American sense of grandiosity and world historical import. Each episode contains intricate twists and turns, but is focused on the human-size, psychological aspects of politics, of how Nyborg learns to be effective and at what cost.

The cost ends up being high. Nyborg is decent, well-meaning, sexy, funny, steely. (I dare you to watch her and not develop a crush.) She belongs on any political fantasy team alongside Shepherd, Bartlet and “Battlestar Galactica’s” Laura Roslin. But over the course of “Borgen’s” first two seasons —  the third and final season has aired in Denmark, but won’t air in America until October — Nyborg learns how to navigate and wield her power, an experience that is taxing, isolating and difficult. As time passes, she becomes savvier and more decisive, increasingly comfortable making decisions, an authoritarian knack she starts to take home with her. Knudsen has an infectious, crinkly-nosed smile, but Nyborg has less and less occasion to use it. As she becomes better at her job, her personal life falls apart. (“Borgen” does some heartbreaking things to her adorable marriage it’s hard to imagine any American show daring.) (Read the rest at Salon.)

2. Top of the Lake
A beautiful, haunting story that shows how sexual abuse harms generations of women. Elizabeth Moss - just nominated for a golden globe for her performance - is fantastic.

3. House of Cards
An addictive parable about power and the ubermensch.  (Full review here.)

4. Bunheads
The quirky, fast-talking ballerinas of Amy Sherman Palladino deserved more than just one season. (Full review here.) 

5. Parks and Rec
Yes, this is the third show about government to make my list, and I don't even like politics. It had some ups and downs this season, but I always looked forward to it.
6. The Mindy Project.
Danny Castellano is the new Luke Danes.  Usually funny, sweet, and satisfying, The Mindy Project is like When Harry Met Sally as a sitcom.

7. Switched at Birth
Emily Nussbaum, another of my favorite tv critics, kept singing this show's praises on twitter, and that's how I ended up watching my first ABCFamily show.  Hokey premise, great execution.  I love the way this show deals with class, ethnicity, and deafness (or, as I should probably say, being hard of hearing). Really well-executed and fun to watch.

8. Orphan Black
Tatiana Maslany.  That is all.  That is enough.

9. Orange is the New Black...or maybe Nashville

10. Mad Men... or maybe Parenthood

Non-current shows I loved this year:

Foyle’s War S1-7 (full review here)
Detective Chief Superintendent (or DCS) Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), a policeman in the quaint village of Hastings, England during World War 2, solves the cases, small and large, in his coastal town.
The show explores the question of why petty crimes are worth investigating during a time of great crisis. Who cares that your sheep were stolen when the Nazis are dropping bombs on all of us? Foyle shows us that if justice and the rule of law are meaningful in peaceful times, they are equally meaningful in times of war. 

Veronica Mars S1-3 
We re-watched this in preparation for the movie (!) and enjoyed them just as much as the first time around, which is to say, immensely. 

Mary Tyler Moore S1-2 
Just classic. The pilot episode is perfect in every way. I re-watched this around the same time as I read  Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic by Jennifer Armstrong.  Lots of fun.

Previously: my favorite movies of 2013 
and my favorite albums of 2013