For fans of animation, reading year-end lists is maddening. Of the 22 shows on Metacritic’s best shows of TV list, only one is drawn: Bob’s Burgers. Not only is that a total f-you to the equally fantastic Archer, it’s also yet another reminder that animation will never be taken as seriously as live-action comedies, let alone dramas. And that’s why The Simpsons never won Outstanding Comedy Series during its golden-era run.
But even without the current-day Simpsons at its peak, the number of superb animated shows is unprecedented. Here are 10 of 2013’s finest animated episodes, ranked in ascending order. But seriously, no Archer?
#8. “Lawnmower Dog” — Rick and Morty
Only three episodes of Rick and Morty have aired so far, meaning it’s way too early to make a definitive judgement on Dan Harmon’s OTHER show. But it’s looking like Adult Swim has found yet another animated gem, and this one is very good right from the get go. The pilot did what it had to do, establish the characters and give a sense of what to except, plot-wise, but episode two, “Lawnmower Dog,” wasted no time in getting into science fiction complexities like time travel, Inception-like dream jumping, and dogs taking over the world, with enough pop culture characters to make Community fans happy. Rick and Morty is if Abed rewrote Back to the Future while tripping on acid.
#7. “Meanwhile” — Futurama
Futurama owns the distinction of being the only show in TV history with two classic series finales: season four’s “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” and season seven’s “Meanwhile,” hopefully the ACTUAL last episode. There were some excellent episodes during the show’s Comedy Central run, most memorably “The Late Philip J. Fry,” but it doesn’t have to come back again, not with the bow on the gift that is “Meanwhile.” Everything that should be resolved is resolved, especially Fry and Leela’s oft-disregarded relationship. It’s to the writers’ credit that they could push aside the will they, won’t they for so long, and still come up with something as thoughtfully romantic as Fry and Leela exploring the literally frozen in time world around them. And when the Professor appears in the final minutes, revealing that he fixed the Time Button Fry broke, they decide to “go around again.” This time without us.
#6. “Momma’s Boys” — The Venture Bros.
The Venture Bros. packs more plot into one episode than a Sundance Channel series does in an entire season. In “Momma’s Boys” alone, Hank and Dermott use a teddy bear to distract Dr. Venture, who thinks Teddy is a real person, except it turns out he is, kind of, when the boys discover Teddy’s voice actor locked up in a mental asylum, the same mental asylum that holds Myra Brandish, the woman who Dean thinks is his mom. And that’s only about half of what happens. No show on TV not named after a cocky super spy is better at cramming great jokes in-between legitimately exciting plots.
#5. “Beginnings, Part 1″/”Beginnings, Part 2″ — The Legend of Korra
Nickelodeon doesn’t deserve The Legend of Korra. The sort-of sequel to the even-more-brilliant Avatar: The Last Airbender is often fantastic, while the rest of Nick is clogged with the insulting likes of T.U.F.F. Puppy. I can’t imagine being seven years old and watching something like the two-part “Beginnings” epic, which tackles spirituality, morality, and mythology that stretches back thousands of years. Basically, it’s too damn good for dumb weiner kids, who can’t appreciate Studio Mir’s impeccably vivid animation. “Beginnings” is a Spirited Away surrounded by Planes.
#4. “Simon & Marcy” — Adventure Time
Nope, not gonna do it. I’m gonna sit here, think about “Simon & Marcy,” and not cry when recalling Marceline the Vampire Queen and the Ice King bonding over both being gross and keeping each other company in the fallout of the Mushroom War and the Cheers theme song and the goofy, candy-colored emotional complexity that Adventure Time pulls off so well. Nope, no tears at all. “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got…” *single tear drops* “Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot…” *begins sobbing*
#3. “Lost in Space” — American Dad!
I’ve already wasted hundreds of words and thousands of exclamation points on how much I love this episode (and fellow season eight stroke of genius, “Blood Crieth Unto Heaven”), so read this, then go eat some Shawarma.
#2. “Live and Let Dine” — Archer
There’s no such thing as a bad episode of Archer. Even the weakest ones still fall into the B, B- range, so picking only a single episode out of thirteen possible season four choices is a fool’s game. “The Wind Cries Mary” had Timothy Olyphant, making it automatically awesome, but both “Sea Tunt” episodes were just as good, and they had Jon Hamm AND Sealab references. Oh, and don’t forget about Decoy Woodhouse in “The Papal Chase.” But ultimately, I went with “Live and Let Dine,” because one of my favorite versions of Archer is Awed Archer. The ISIS gang go undercover at 16, a restaurant lorded over by the Bastard Chef (a very game Anthony Bourdain). He’s a gigantic, cruel asshole, which naturally endears him to Archer, er, Randy Randerson. I find this part of Archer’s personality endlessly amusing, and when coupled with Ron Cadillac’s jelly and cracker snack and the format tweak to make “Live and Let Dine” look like a cooking reality show, it’s a nearly perfect episode of TV.
#1. “O.T.: The Outside Toilet” — Bob’s Burgers
Animation allows writers to get away with plots they wouldn’t be able to if they were working for a live-action show. For instance, if, let’s say, Modern Family tried to do an episode about Manny befriending a talking toilet, it would be the worst thing imaginable. But when Bob’s Burgers does the same plot, with impassioned Gene instead of smug Manny, it’s not only oddly endearing, embracing its weirdness rather than mocking it, it’s also the best animated episode of 2013. It certainly helps when the synopsis includes the words “villainous toilet hunter,” and the entire thing’s a clever homage to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Jon Hamm’s the voice of said talking toilet.
If Bob’s Burgers is the heir apparent to The Simpsons, “O.T.: The Outside Toilet” is its “Rosebud.”