Disclaimer: I only rank shows that I watch (and I did not watch Breaking Bad or Orange is the New Black, etc.). Also, there are some spoilers. Read at your own risk…
I say, “there’s nothing like it on television” about a lot of shows–and it’s usually true–but there is really nothing in this world like Enlightened, which was cancelled this year after two seasons. It was a portrait of a woman trying (and often failing) to be a good person in a world that rejects her, but she perseveres and succeeds in her goal of bringing down the company that treats her so badly. Laura Dern is magical as Amy Jellico, and I will appeal to you all again and again to watch this beautiful show. It’s only 18 half hour episodes! Everything I have to say about this show, I’ve already said here.
This cancellation also stung. The first episode back from the season one break had the former Vegas dancer Michelle (Sutton Foster) in exile. With the help of her mother-in-law and a never-before-seen wedding video, she returns to the dance studio and the four ballerinas who love her. And those ballerinas came into their own this season as well–Sasha lived on her own, Mel found a new activity, Boo a boyfriend, and Ginny a crush. Full of dance sequences and Amy Sherman-Palladino’s signature rapid-fire dialogue, Bunheads was a welcome departure from the usual TV-fare, and it will be terribly missed.
3. Parks and Recreation
For the past two years, Parks and Recreation was my number one program, and while it’s still a great show it’s just not the only great women-led show this year (though maybe it will be number one again next year with Enlightened and Bunheads being cancelled). Leslie (Amy Poehler) is still one of my favorite women on TV, and all the characters had great arcs. I appreciate the gradual goodbye to Ann and Chris, who are moving to Michigan to start their family, and April has really taken the reins this year as a formidable force in the Parks office. Even Jerry/Larry is back! The writers seem to always find ways to keep these characters interesting, even with Leslie and Ben together.
4. Mad Men
Many anticipated the sixth season because it dealt with the year 1968, a historical turning point, and I don’t know that anyone could have been completely satisfied with the result. I am just happy to be along for the ride, however, and there were many high points in the season, particularly the ending with Don and his kids at his childhood home. I loved the increasing threats of danger in the city and the lure of the west coast for all the characters. The end is near (but not TOO near since AMC is breaking up the final season over two years), and season six’s 1968 led to that ending nicely.
5. The Middle
Last year I said, “Two words: Sue Heck,” and that statement still stands. Sue Heck (played by Eden Sher) is my favorite high school-er on television. This year, however, Brick and Axl, her two brothers, really stepped up. Axl got into college and has to deal with the consequences, and Brick now in middle school, is growing up while remaining the odd kid he’s always been. In the vein of Roseanne, The Middle is one of the few shows to depict a family dealing with lower-middle class problems, and as such the Hecks seem to be the most real family on television.
6. The Mindy Project
The Mindy Project got off to a rocky start in season one, but I gave the show a second chance at the beginning of the year. The show had improved and won me over. Mindy Kaling is delightful as Mindy Lahiri, an OBGYN at an NYC practice who wants to fall in love, and Chris Messina is hilariously cynical as her fellow doctor and potential love interest. The show loves playing with the tropes of the romantic comedy genre, but it’s still a workplace comedy, and all the characters at the practice play their parts in making the show gel. Since Mindy’s end-of-season-one-into-season-two engagement has ended, the show has been on a roll.
7. The Carrie Diaries
New in 2013, The Carrie Diaries quickly distinguished itself as its own show, even though it’s a prequel to the famous Sex and the City. After Carrie’s mother dies, Carrie’s father lets Carrie do a once-a-week law internship in New York City as long as she’s able to keep up with her high school work. Carrie soon finds herself an intern at Interview magazine with exciting friends and a glamorous NYC social life. While the writers can sometimes slip into CW silliness, they portray Carrie as smart, ambitious, and caring, and they do a nice job handling Carrie’s friend Walt’s coming out in 1980s NYC (whether they’ll deal with AIDS remains to be seen). And while the women on the show aren’t perfect, more often than not they break up with their boyfriends for the right reasons, making me want to see more of how they handle the transition from high school to college to working women to the adults we know and love.
Nashville can sometimes feel like it’s swinging from drama to melodrama, but it’s always smart and entertaining, and a great look at the country music industry. Juliet Barnes and Rayna James are great characters, especially when they butt heads (which they haven’t done quite enough of this season), but I’d like to draw attention to Scarlett O’ Connor who manages to be an interesting character while still being a good person (no small feat). It helps that she has the best voice on the show. I’ve also enjoyed seeing Deacon branch out to other performance opportunities after his accident, and Avery finally become a good person again.
I didn’t love Girls as much this season, but it was still an enjoyable and poignant look at early 20-somethings navigating New York City and their relationships. I loved the divisive “Another Man’s Trash” episode, which had Hannah living out a dream weekend in a beautiful Brooklyn house with a nice older guy. Adam and Ray continued to fascinate as they tried to bounce back from their relationships with Hannah and Shoshanna, respectively. Season two ended with most of the characters in happy romantic places, so it will be interesting to see how season deals with the reality of that.
10. Once Upon a Time
I’m happy to finally put Once Upon a Time on my top ten because I’ve enjoyed the show in the past but it never quite made it on. This year, however, the show has been tighter, and even though new characters constantly appear, they’ve all been central to the main story. The outcome of the first half of this season seems like it will spin the show in a new direction, and I’m hopeful it will continue its smart yet complex storytelling.
11. Raising Hope
Raising Hope continues to be unexpectedly hilarious. I know only a few people who watch it, yet no show has made me laugh out loud more, and it stars the fantastic Martha Plimpton as baby Hope’s grandmother, as well as former terminator Garret Dillahunt as her husband and TV legend Cloris Leachman as Maw Maw. Perhaps it’s because this show appeals to my love of physical comedy and clownish behavior. Whether the Chance family is trying to better themselves through education or preparing for the end of the world, they’re doing it in crazy ways I’ve never seen before on television.
While I still love Parenthood, it’s been a little clunky this season. Christina is a great character, but her campaign took up too much story time when it didn’t involve much of her family. Still, the other stories have been good–Joel and Julia’s problems with Victor and their marriage, Crosby and Jasmine’s difficulty with their newborn, and Sarah’s conflict with Amber over Amber’s wedding. I’m looking forward to the new stories next year, now that the campaign is over.
30 Rock only had a few episodes into this year, so I didn’t want to put it on the list. However, it must be mentioned because it is one of the few shows that ended on such a high note after a dip in quality in the middle seasons. I’ll miss this show, but I’m glad it ended the way it did.
Other Shows I Watch(ed)
Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23
Ben and Kate
TV on DVD/Streaming I Watched This Year
The Good Wife season 2
Dexter season 7