Over the course of the last few weeks, we have celebrated the best commercials, the best TV quotes of the year, the best in GIFs, and generally, the best things that happened in TV this year. But I also wanted to show some respect, love, and admiration for a few great television series that haven’t gotten a lot of attention in the year-end lists around the Internet, what with everyone so focussed on Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones, etc. These were not obviously the best shows of 2013, but they were good to very good, and definitely deserve some end-of-year love, if only so more people will be encouraged to check them out.
The Bridge — The FX series didn’t get as much attention as it deserved over the summer, perhaps owing to a comparison to The Killing, but The Bridge turned out to be a much better and different series, even if it did preoccupy itself with tracking down yet another serial killer. It hit a narrative lull early on for a few episodes and lost a lot of viewers, but it flowered into a really compelling, intricate, and powerful drama that not only provided a great mystery, but deftly explored the cross-cultural issues between America and Mexico. He won’t be, but Demian Bichir should be recognized for one of the best performances of 2013.
The Americans — Another mostly overlooked FX series, The Americans takes us back to the Cold War in the early 80s and follows two Russian spies who have been posing as a normal American suburban family for years. The series is slowly paced, with sporadic action sequences throughout, but it really does capture the culture and paranoia of the times. By the end of the first season, it’s created an intricate maze of lies that threatens to tear the family apart and destroy the lives of many others who got caught in the Cold War’s wake. It may be a slow burn, but the payoff is completely worth it, and the strong first season set up what looks to be an ever better second season.
The Wrong Mans — The six-part Hulu series (co-produced with the BBC) is essentially a television version of an Edgar Wright thriller-satire starring James Corden and Mathew Baynton (who co-wrote the series) in the Nick Frost and Simon Pegg roles. The buddy chemistry between the nerdy and neurotic Sam and the schlubby earnestness of Sam is what fuels the entire show, as it subverts its way through dozens of thriller tropes. It’s basically the “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” scene in Office Space blown up into a three-hour series with a massive governmental conspiracy, lots of gun play, and an amusing romantic side-plot. It’s a seriously fun show that can be finished over the course of an afternoon.
In the Flesh — The British series, which aired over here on BBC America, is yet another zombie show, but this one has a compelling twist: It takes place after a cure has been found for the zombie virus, although it’s not a complete cure: It simply rids the walking dead of their thirst for brains and restores their thinking ability. The series, which acts as a clever analogy for the immigration problem in the UK, tracks a re-animated teenager as he attempts to assimilate back into his home town, where the small-town citizens are bigoted against former zombies. But it’s more than just a clever premise; it’s a powerful three-episode drama that culminates with one of the best, most heartbreaking episodes of the year.
Mob City — Not an outstanding drama or anything, but the reunion of Frank Darabont and his The Walking Dead star, Jon Bernthal (not to mention, his frequently cast buddy Jeffrey DeMunn) was an enjoyable six-hour noir that felt like Ellroy light. If you’re a Boardwalk Empire fan, it’s neat to see sort of the next generation of mobsters, and Mob City offers an amusing alternate story to the mysterious death of Bugsy Siegel. Unfortunately, God help us all, Milo Ventimiglia still can’t act to save his damn life.