Daybreak's Best of 2013: Television

Kevin Spacey as U.S. Congressman Frank Underwood, left, and Robin Wright as Claire Underwood in the Netflix original series, "House of Cards."
Kevin Spacey as U.S. Congressman Frank Underwood, left, and Robin Wright as Claire Underwood in the Netflix original series, "House of Cards." Melinda Sue Gordon/AP Photo/Netflix/AP Photo

BREAKING BAD

AMC

Let's say his name one more time, with feeling: Heisenberg. Beyond serving as Walter White's drug-kingpin alias, the moniker is now part of pop culture legend. The image of a shriveled man in a porkpie hat conveys brooding danger in an unexpected package. It stands for the folly of ambition and the consequences of ill-gotten power. It is the danger that knocks and nearly misses out on redemption.

"Breaking Bad" succeeded for many reasons: it presented a story-arc that regularly shocked viewers; it set the story against stunning backdrops in New Mexico; and it delivered unforgettable characters; beyond the Whites: the ambulance chaser lawyer Saul; poor tortured Jesse; his ridiculous friends Badger and Skinny Pete; Mike the most professional gangster on the planet; Gus Fring and his chicken shack.

"Breaking Bad" ended its run this year with one of television's great finales. You'll never listen to Badfinger's "Baby Blue" the same way again and BB's music supervisor deserves an award for such a great series-ending tune, which in an instant reminds viewers of who Walter White once was: a teacher with true respect for his craft and a father who wanted to take care of his family.

- Marisa Nadolny

BROADCHURCH

BBC America

This was my favorite show of the year, the one that I watched live because I couldn't wait. It's a whodunnit, but one that's not wrapped up in an hour but more realisically takes weeks to solve. After a young boy is found dead on the beach, Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) investigate.

Was it the father, who was having an affair? The reverend, a reformed problem drinker? The owner of the newsstand, who had a previous conviction related to a minor? Or the plumber who carries a crossbow in his van? As they fall under suspicion, one by one, the town begins to turn on itself.

It's what you'd expect from BBC - great characters, dialogue and setting.

- Tim Cotter

HOUSE OF CARDS

Netflix

You might consider the 13-episode "House of Cards" as a sort of vampire story, because only ice runs through the veins of every single character in this political thriller based in Washington, D.C. Kevin Spacey is the smooth-talking Congressman Francis Underwood from South Carolina, who spends every waking moment conniving and contriving to get power and keep it. His wife Claire, the ever-so svelte Robin Wright, is so cold I can feel the temperature drop in my living room when she walks into a scene. And Zoe Barnes, the up-and-coming, inquisitive young reporter who I want to cheer for ... ah, no way. And yet I can't look away. As Congressman Underwood says, "The road to power is paved with hypocrisy. And casualties." Season two starts Feb. 14. I just got goose bumps thinking about it.

- Kathleen Edgecomb

JUSTIFIED

FX

The coolest good guy on TV? That would be U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant. Givens, with cowboy hat and attitude, is a throwback Wild West lawman, who gets the job done but doesn't always follow the rules. He rounds up bad guys in his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, which has provided the show with great storylines and characters for four seasons. Season 5 starts next month.

- Tim Cotter

THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON; INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN FRY; MAY 24

CBS

For as much fun as they are and for as much space they occupy in our popular culture, the term "late night talk show" is a misnomer. They are primarily comedy shows, and in most cases the yakking is in service of the yuks. But on this episode Ferguson and English actor, comedian and raconteur Stephen Fry spend about 25 minutes in an engaging (and funny) conversation about death, atheism, Bertrand Russell, Richard Wagner and the Holocaust. And this was on a network television show in America in 2013. Fancy that.

- Stephen Chupaska

LEAGUE OF DENIAL: THE NFL'S CONCUSSION CRISIS

PBS

Based on the book by investigative journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, the "Frontline" documentary uncovers the lengths the NFL went to discredit medical findings that link concussions sustained by players over the course of their careers to severe brain disorders such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It must be noted that one of the league's broadcast partners, ESPN, citing "a lack of editorial control" pulled out of a partnership with Frontline shortly after the trailer was screened for the NFL's brass. Fox, NBC and CBS also have contracts with the NFL, so PBS did football fans and parents of future football players a solid by airing it.

- Stephen Chupaska

MAD MEN

AMC

Once again "Mad Men" distinguishes itself in a year of tough competition. Aside from its great writing and stunning production values, this series about a man who is his own best ad campaign surprised us once again: main character Don Draper finally hit bottom - right in the middle of a major client meeting. We knew something had to give - Don's lies upon lies was too precarious a house of cards - but I was still surprised when Don was cast from the garden of Sterling Cooper Blah Blah Blah. And as he stands among the ashes of his career and childhood - just about literally - and levels with his children about his real identity? Gorgeous. Poignant. Fabulous. I smell redemption here, because if we know anything about Don, we know that he's very good at "changing the conversation." And this time, he knows exactly the man he wants to be.

- Marisa Nadolny

MASTERS OF SEX

Showtime

After watching the premier, I was convinced this show was just a way for Showtime to get as much sex into an hour as possible. But this is kind of like Playboy - there really is interesting information among the nudity. In this case, the story is about Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who watched people have sex as part of their groundbreaking research. Masters is played brilliantly as a guy with a lot of hang-ups by Michael Sheen. The strong cast also includes Lizzy Caplan as Johnson, Beau Bridges as the university provost and the always great Allison Janney as his wife. The show is often funny, right from the hilarious opening credits.

- Tim Cotter

THE PARADISE

PBS

Oh how the Brits woo me with their period dramas - the clothes, the class system, the accents. I'm a sucker for all of it. So I was delighted to happen upon "The Paradise," an eight-episode story of the lowly Moray, who sometime in the late 19th century works his way up from nothing to become the owner of the first department store in northern London. But just because Moray has money now does not mean he will be accepted by the elite or will get them to shop in his store. Why buy a dress that is mass produced? Or a butter dish that will break too easily? Moray finds himself tangling with the upper class for money and marriage, reining in his working-class clerks, and falling for his equal - a shop girl who has her own ideas on how to get ahead. It's an adaptation of the French novel "Au Bonheur des Dames" by Emile Zola.

It's class warfare at its best, and everyone has an English accent.

- Kathleen Edgecomb

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

Netflix

Netflix scored another hit this year with "Orange is the New Black," a dark comedy based on a true story. At first glance, viewers might not identify much with main character Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a bourgeois New Yorker who gets 15 months in jail for accidental drug-trafficking. When we first meet her, she's reading a self-help book on making a successful transition into prison life on the eve of her surrender to the authorities; meanwhile her perfect fiance (a fabulous Jason Biggs) cooks her a last decent pre-prison meal. In truth, you kind of hate her a bit - she's blonde, young, wants to launch a vanity soap-making business because she's well off enough to do so - but as soon as the slammer door clinks shut behind her, viewers like me immediately cut her some slack ... and then some more as her new life behind bars unfolds and drug addicts, gangsters and murderers descend on the new girl. We fear for Piper - and then we don't as she and we learn the tragic back-stories of Piper's fellow inmates, regular women, who made mistakes, often driven by poverty, mental illness or just dumb luck. Prison creates an odd common ground in this series that is at once hilarious and touching; poignant and absurd - just the sort of stuff you'd expect from series creator Jenji Kohan, the mastermind behind Showtime's long-lived comedy series "Weeds."

- Marisa Nadolny

PERSONS OF INTEREST

CBS

I was drawn to this show by Michael Emerson, who played one of the creepiest bad guys in TV history - Ben Linus on "Lost." In his latest role, as Harold Finch, he creates The Machine, which spits out the names of people who are about to meet an untimely end. The government, however, doesn't care about most of these people, so Finch teams up with former CIA agent John Reese, as played by cool guy Jim Caviezel, to save lots of lives. Between season 2 and 3, the NSA story broke and The Machine didn't seem so farfetched any more. PRISM anyone? Now, The Machine is talking to Root, a computer hacker, instead of Finch and things are getting very interesting.

- Tim Cotter

RAY DONOVAN

Showtime

Jon Voight should pick up the first of many awards at the Jan. 12 Golden Globes. The veteran actor steals the show as the just-out-of-prison father of Ray Donovan. Donovan, a celebrity "fixer" in L.A., is played by Liev Schreiber, also nominated for a Golden Globe. The first season of this dark drama was often like taking a punch to the gut as we follow the anti-hero Donovan as he tries to keep his family together and stay out of jail.

- Tim Cotter

CBS SUPER BOWL XLVII COVERAGE WITH STEVE TASKER

In his playing days with the Buffalo Bills, CBS football analyst and Super Bowl sideline reporter Steve Tasker was known for his versatility as he played both wide receiver and on special teams. It turns out he still has some of those chops. With the Baltimore Ravens leading the San Francisco 49ers 28-6 in the third quarter, New Orleans' Superdome suffered a power outage. It also knocked CBS' broadcast of the most-watched TV broadcast of the year off the air for a time. When it returned, millions around the country were then greeted by Tasker, who did an admirable job of straight reporting and explaining to a confused nation just what was going on.

- Stephen Chupaska

TREME

HBO

For all of the plaudits we in the media game heaped on David Simon's "The Wire," not that many people watched it live on HBO. It grew in stature one DVD at a time. Perhaps a similar fate will await Simon's superbly written and acted New Orleans drama "Treme," which will, this Sunday, conclude after four seasons in obscurity. The show, which followed the lives of musicians, restaurant workers, politicians, Mardi Gras chiefs and politicians as they put their lives and their city back together in the aftermath of Katrina, is not an easy watch. The show meanders like the Mississippi through plots, and there are long, immersive takes of musical performances. "Treme" might not be for everyone, but as it is with such things, that's a sure sign that it might be for you.

- Stephen Chupaska

WALKING DEAD

AMC

Yes, bodies keep piling up. And I know once they killed off Shane there was no going forward for some of you. Plus, it's starting to get a little annoying that in the zombie apocalypse, where it must be so quiet, no one in the prison or its environs ever hears gunshots or speeding cars, or sees smoke rising from what have to be nearby campfires. And yet, I keep coming back. Now in mid-season four, I still want to know how it will all turn out. Will Carl always and forever wear that hat? Will Daryl and his crossbow reach old age? Will we ever see Carol again? Will Glenn and Maggie procreate? Will Rick Grimes become the president of the new America? Will the group run into that dad and his son from the Cormac McCarthty book "The Road" or Denzel Washington's character from "The Book of Eli"?

- Kathleen Edgecomb

Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters, left, and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson from
Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters, left, and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson from "Masters of Sex" on Showtime. Showtime, Craig Blankenhorn/AP Photo
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in the series finale of
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in the series finale of "Breaking Bad. AMC, Ursula Coyote/AP Photo
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