TV Top 10 for 2013: ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Boardwalk Empire’ & more

2013 was The Year of Too Much Good TV. “Breaking Bad” ended in spectacular fashion. “The Good Wife” found another level. “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire” made various tweaks to already successful formulas. Netflix started premiering original series. Sundance did, too. Suddenly, there were so many great shows in so many places – and even more very good shows – that it became impossible for even a professional TV watcher to keep up.

Over the course of each year, I keep a running tally of contenders for my top 10 list, just so I don’t forget something great that aired back in January or February. Some years, that list may number only 15, and be easily cut down to size. This year, I had over 40 shows on my initial “at least think about it” list, and over 20 on the list of shows I seriously considered for the top 10. I’ve looked at my list of shows through 11-20 – which will appear, as usual, as part of a written list, including blurbs for the top 10 shows described in the above video (here’s last year’s) – and think that would be an amazing top 10 in many other years. There are at least a couple of shows whose absence from the top 10 will raise eyebrows, and which made me not especially happy to exclude, but 10 is the number of the game and these were ultimately the 10 I felt most comfortable including.

A few trends from the year that are reflected in this list:

* You’ll note that there isn’t a single show that could unequivocally be called a comedy in this grouping, though a few have been submitted for awards considerations as comedies. That’s because I felt it was a stronger overall year for drama than comedy, especially since we’re judging based on the calendar year. (If “New Girl,” for instance, hadn’t aired an episode after May, it would be on this list, but the fall episodes brought the average down too much.)

* It was a hell of a year for women. Three of my top 5 shows have female leads (one of them with a predominantly female cast), a fourth out of the top 5 has a female co-lead, and the fifth show, while male-skewing, offered tremendous sympathy for its female characters and tremendous opportunities for its actresses to shine. This golden age of drama has been very male-centric, but shows in recent years (including “Girls” and “Homeland,” both of which were on last year’s list, and one of which was in serious consideration for this year’s) have done a much better job of presenting female protagonists every bit as complicated as the men.

* Foreign, foreign, foreign. The top 10 features a pair of international co-productions, one of which was set on another continent, and I also gave a lot of thought to other shows from the UK, France and Canada. With so many distributors looking for content (including Hulu, which has established a strong niche as a place to find foreign shows like “Misfits” and “Prisoners of War”), it’s becoming easier and easier for Americans to see the best TV that the whole world has to offer.

* It’s a period of transition. Three of the shows on my list aired their final seasons this year, a fourth was a miniseries, and a fifth is getting close to the end of its run (even if the channel it’s on keeps trying to prolong the end). Even if every returning show on this list has a strong year in 2014, there will still be a lot of changes.

So we’ll talk about the top 20 (or possibly 25), along with a discussion of the best new shows – and 2013 was a vastly better year for new shows than 2012 – some great episodes, and more superlatives later in the month. Watch the video, and then commence to yelling at me about the omission of Show X or Y.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at