2013 has been a good year for pop culture, with Netflix redefining the limits of television, Beyonce shattering the music industry's ideas about advertising, and a slew of surprisingly good sequels blowing up the box office. Sadly, between work, school, and moving out, I've missed a lot of the best pop cultural events of the year. Of course, that won't stop me from offering my two cents with my own "top 10" lists.
Upcoming lists will feature my favorite books, music, films, and TV of the year. The television and music lists include only content from this year, but the film and book categories include anything I've watched or read this year, regardless of its original release date. Check out the trailers and songs I've linked, and let me know what you think was the best of this year!
BEST TELEVISION OF 2013:
1. : TV's most complicated chess game upped the stakes this year by taking several important players of the board. In the third season of this faux-medieval fantasy, performances became more lived-in, twists left more at stake than ever, and characters whose sagas so far unfolded on different sides of Westeros begin crossing paths in exciting ways.
BEST EPISODE: "KISSED BY FIRE," in which Jaime Lannister begins his transformation from heartless betrayer to misunderstood hero, Robb considers an alliance with Walder Frey, Jon has an opportunity to break his Night's Watch vows, and Cersei and Tyrion receive a command that could change the game forever.
2. : This twice-resurrected adaptation of a successful Danish procedural follows two Seattle detectives through a new case each season. This year's case, which included a charismatic street punk named Bullet (Bex-Taylor Klaus) and a poker-faced death row inmate who might be innocent (Peter Sarsgaard), is devastating, dark, and impossible to look away from.
BEST EPISODE: "SIX MINUTES," in which Peter Sarsgaard gives an Emmy-worthy performance as Ray Seward, an inmate who helplessly goes through standard pre-execution procedures while waiting on detectives to prove his innocence. In one of the many details that makes this an original and chilling take on death row, the episode title references the amount of time a person can remain alive after being hung.
3. : If not for its too-pat ending, I would consider the final season of Breaking Bad a cinematic masterpiece. Its a show that holds several opposing ideas at once, and does so with aplomb. Creator Vince Gilligan not only sets Walter White up as both a supervillain meth dealer and a family man, but also juxtaposes stunning cinematography with off-putting images of violence and desperation, and mixes lazily paced scenes with jarring, sudden actions. The result is a monster all its own, one that has never been seen before on television.
BEST EPISODE: "CONFESSIONS," in which Walt finds a predictably unpredictable way to keep Hank and Marie off his tracks, and Jesse has a pivotal realization as he's about to leave town. "Felina" and "Ozymandias" are two more critically beloved episodes among the final eight, but when it comes to BB, I tend to correlate my love for an episode with the number of times I gasp throughout, and by that measure, this was a doozy.
4. : How do you reboot a cult favorite TV show without losing the zaniness that made it original? According to the long-awaited fourth season of this madcap comedy, which follows the wealthy and incompetent Bluth family through the cancellation years to present day, don't try to mimic the original. Non-linear episodes about each character divided fans, but a slew of cameos, new inside jokes (Same!) and complicated misunderstandingsadded well to the wacky foundation of the original.
BEST EPISODE: "COLONY COLLAPSE," in which new season standout Gob (Will Arnett) accidentally marries Ann (her?), fails to recognize his own poorly aging son (Steve Holt!), and joins an Entourage-like group whose passive-aggressive hit single "Getaway" is probably now the ringtone of a million comedy nerds.
5. : FX's modern-day cowboy story is the most criminally overlooked drama on the channel, and this season was no exception. Justified is drenched in Southern sensibilities, with Timothy Olyphant as the weary but confident US Marshal Raylan Givens. The show's usually comfortable exploration of what makes justice and goodness just and good is kicked into high gear by season four's subplots involving a shady travelling church, ruthless Mafia leaders, a cold case about a parachuter with a bag of money, a prostitute looking for redemption, and a cooler-than-thou modern-day Bonnie and Clyde romance.
BEST EPISODE: "DECOY," in which the Marshals seek out a long-lost fugitive named Drew Thompson. During the suspenseful hour, helicopters circle, cars explode, and series frenemies Boyd and Raylan reminisce about high school during the climactic shootout.
6. PARKS AND RECREATION: This giddy ensemble comedy about small town government proves each season that Pawnee is the happiest place on earth. Cast changes and buzz behind the scenes indicate that this may be the show's final season, and if so, it will leave a legacy of impressive sitcom character development and unmatched winsome wit. The tail end of last season, which ended in June, included landmark moments like Leslie and Ben's wedding, potential pregnancies, and an imminent recall vote.
BEST EPISODE: "PARTRIDGE," the season five episode surrounding Ben Wyatt's return to his hometown, which he ran into bankruptcy as a teenager through a venture called Ice Town. The episode is most memorable for Ron Swanson's trial over punching a city councilmen, and Ben's drugged attempts to feed a statue of an eagle, because, "it's starving!"
7.(NSFW): This Netflix original, based on a true story, follows a straight arrow woman, Piper Chapman, as she navigates the world of women's prison after a past mistake lands her a fifteen month sentence. Created by Weeds mastermind Jenji Kohan, whose trademark dark humor and eccentric characters abound, the show initially leaves viewers feeling much like Piper: uncomfortable. Through strange circumstances, Piper learns to relate, and the diverse group of rowdy inmates begin to feel like a scary, desperate, funny family.
BEST EPISODE: "F***SGIVING," in which Piper (unfairly) lands a stay in solitary confinement on Thanksgiving. Before this episode, the show was shocking and sometime touching, but during Piper's slow and totally unwarranted descent into despair, it became clear to me that this show wasn't just about Piper. It's about all the worst things women--and people in general--are put through, and all the ways they are broken, and all the ways they're still strong.
8. THE MINDY PROJECT: Imagine taking a Twitter stream that puts all the weirdest and funniest thoughts of the Twitter generation in one place, and turning it into a script. Then, imagine adding in the hottest actors and comedians in guest roles that make them both likable and completely different than their real selves. Finally, pepper in a perfectly ship-worthy couple straight out of When Harry Met Sally. This is the winning formula that infuses the second season of The Mindy Project, which follows the dating and workplace mishaps of doctor Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling).
BEST EPISODE: "THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY," in which Mindy spends the day with her childhood sweetheart (Seth Rogen) before he is deployed to Afghanistan. Like every episode of TMP, this sounds cute but turns out strange and hilarious.
9. : Like the amoral senator at its core (Kevin Spacey), House of Cards is cold, deliberate, and powerful. Ethical and political questions are made more propulsive by David Fincher's luxurious direction, and masterfully controlled performances by a stellar cast that also includes Robin Wright, Corey Stoll, and Kate Mara.
BEST EPISODE: Undecided, since I still have a few left to watch before the series returns early in 2014.
10. : Fans are divided over the final season of "the new Friends," which takes place almost exclusively over one long weekend leading up to an important wedding. Yet the ninth season find several ways to remain fresh, heralding back to popular in-jokes, creating new running gags, and offering adorable flashforward glimpses of Ted and "the mother" that were well worth the wait.
BEST EPISODE: "THE LIGHTHOUSE," which includes callbacks to "500 Miles," Robin's mysterious Canadian past, and Ted's mom jokes. Most importantly, it features the ultimate payoff: Ted's proposal scene, which is scientifically proven to not leave a dry eye in the house.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: HEMLOCK GROVE and TOP OF THE LAKE, two shows featuring well-known film industry execs (Eli Roth and Jane Campion, respectively), both of which are wholeheartedly creepy in very different ways. Also, I'm very late to the party on already-ended shows like THE SHIELD and DOLLHOUSE, but those are worth your time, too. Finally, have you seen JIMMY FALLON AND JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE'S EPISODE OF SNL? If not, go watch that right now. Trust me, it'll get you in the holiday spirit.