While the biggest TV news of 2013 was about the end of a beloved show (Breaking Bad), plenty of excellent series also had their debuts. Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) made its first foray into original programming and changed the television landscape as a whole in the process. Two shows on this list were produced by Netflix. Here’s a list of seven shows that debuted in 2013 to much critical acclaim.
1. House of Cards, Netflix
A lot of ink was spilled over House of Cards in 2013. Not only is the show a high-quality political drama directed by none other than David Fincher, it was also the show that proved Netflix is capable of producing original programming so good that it’s worth getting a Netflix subscription to see.
The show was nominated for nine Emmys and took home three, including a Best Director of a Drama Series win for Fincher. Robin Wright won the Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama award at the Golden Globes for her portrayal of Claire Underwood. These accolades show that the television community at large is ready to take Netflix seriously.
The show’s star, Kevin Spacey, has been vocal about the advantages Netflix has over networks in terms of producing original programming, and it seems as though the online streaming service will keep the ball rolling, with several new shows set to debut in 2014, as well as a new season of House of Cards.
2. Orange is the New Black, Netflix
Another new show from Netflix: Weeds writer Jenji Kohan pulled together an incredible ensemble cast to portray the trials and tribulations of Piper Chapman, an upper-middle class woman who is sent to prison for a crime she committed 10 years prior during a period she thinks of as her misguided youth, rather than time spent smuggling drug money for her heroin-dealing girlfriend.
The show has been heralded by critics for providing one of the best portrayals of LGBT characters on television. Sexism, race, immigration, poverty, and privilege are explored through the back stories of the various characters, which are slowly unraveled throughout the series. “Watching the show, one begins to realize that all the good parts for women truly have been kept locked up somewhere; now, here they all are, free (in at least one sense) to be portrayed,” raved Hank Stuever, a critic from the Washington Post.
The show didn’t win any Emmys or Golden Globes this year, but with a new season coming in 2014, you can expect those institutions won’t be able to ignore it.
3. Masters of Sex, Showtime
This Showtime period drama tells the true story of sex researchers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, played by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, respectively, who pioneered research into human sexuality at the University of Washington in St. Louis during the 1950s. The show was nominated for Best Drama Series at the Golden Globes, and Michael Sheen was nominated for Best Drama Actor. Caplan’s performance as the sexually liberated Johnson has also received high praise.
“The lead actors are excellent. The writing has a confident pace and expert touch when it comes to balancing its more emotional moments with a refined wit. The setting and period details — the 1950s American Midwest — reflect just how high viewers now set the bar when it comes to not only the right furniture and fashion but also the right feel,” said Washington Post critic Hank Stuever. Rolling Stone said it was “easily the year’s best new show.”
4. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC
This continuation of the Marvel Avengers series, also directed by Joss Whedon, follows some of the less well-known Marvel superheroes in the wake of the battle of New York, which took place at the end of The Avengers movie. Clark Gregg is back playing Agent Phil Colson, and there’s a whole new team of heroes and a new threat to humanity known as The Rising Tide.
Reviews have said the series appeals mostly to Marvel fans, but given the amounts of money pulled in by the films in the series, there seem to be plenty of fans out there. “As with The Avengers, Whedon’s ear and sensibilities match the material perfectly — that high-velocity back-and-forth snark that illuminates character and motive, even when you don’t always know exactly what someone just said,” says Newsday critic Verne Gay.
5. Hannibal, NBC
This psychological horror-thriller is based on the earlier, pre-Silence of the Lambs days of Hannibal Lector, played by Mads Mikkelsen. The show focuses on FBI Special Agent Will Graham, a gifted criminologist and serial killer tracker. Graham is investigating the disappearance of eight young girls in Minnesota, and the case weighs heavily on his psyche. Graham is sent to see psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lector, who is, of course, a serial killer and cannibal himself.
“Bloody and twisted, Hannibal may be one of the goriest programs on broadcast television. It’s also extremely well executed, from the artistic visuals and haunting soundtrack to the stellar cast and sharp scripts peppered with the perfect amount of gallows humor. Deliciously disturbing, Hannibal is bound to leave viewers hungry for more,” writes Chicago Sun-Times critic Lori Rackl.
6. Bates Motel, A&E
Bates Motel from A&E is another prequel to a classic film, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller Psycho, though it’s set in modern-day Oregon rather than 1950s California, as a true-to-canon prequel would have to be. Vera Fermiga was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Norma Bates.
The series explores the relationship between Norman Bates and his mother, Norma, as she purchases a motel so that she and Norman can start a new life together. The show follows the events that will lead Norman to become a murderous psycho following orders coming from the voice of his long-dead mother. “Bates Motel … turns out to be a worthy reimagining of the Norman Bates story,” said Washington Post critic Hank Stuever.
7. Orphan Black, BBC America
This quirky sci-fi series from BBC America tells the story of several women who are revealed to be clones, all played by Tatiana Maslany, who has received strong reviews for her performance. When a homeless gutter punk witnesses a woman who looks so similar to her that they could be twins throw herself in front of a subway train, she steals the woman’s purse and decides to assume her identity, which turns out to be a more complicated endeavor than she bargained for.
“This is a series that feels as confident as any you’ll see on TV right now, and it has the added benefit of being a sci-fi show without much heavy sci-fi, broadening its appeal. The story moves quickly, is thrilling at every turn and has surprisingly solid acting on every level,” said Hollywood Reporter critic Tim Goodman.
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