Clearly, both Ana and Thea are bananas, and in addition to reading and reviewing obscene amounts of books, we also obsess over multiple television shows, movies, video games, and all other manner of geekery. With that in mind, we needed to create ANOTHER list (we are list makers, yes we are) for our end of the year celebration. We give you our very own BEST OF THE REST (everything that isn’t a book).
Every year I find that when the time comes to write about my Best of the Rest, I am left with nothing but TV shows to talk about – I fear that in between reading a lot, working a lot (boo) and watching gazillion hours of TV/week, I don’t really have much time to watch movies and to be completely honest, I don’t really miss watching movies. So this year, apart from the obligatory Superhero/Scifi movies – Iron Man 3 (great), Thor 2 (awesome), Man of Steel (BLEEEERGH), Pacific Rim (AWESOME) and Gravity (probably my favourite of the bunch) – and a couple of other movies (loved Before Midnight, enjoyed Much Ado About Nothing and thought The Heat was super funny), I haven’t watched a lot of movies at all.
But TV? I watched a LOT of TV. A.LOT.OF.TV. And in between my regular shows and the new shows I started watching this year, I had little extra time to do anything else.
Thinking about the ongoing shows I watch: Castle continues to amuse, Modern Family is still good, The Big Bang Theory still makes me mad because they stopped laughing with us geek to start making fun of us. I truly believe The Mentalist completely jumped the shark – seriously, what in the WORLD are they doing??? I keep waiting for them to go GOTCHA on me but so far…no. I might stop watching it next year but we shall see.
I caught up and fell in love with season 1 of Elementary only to completely fall out of love with it during season 2 (it’s like it’s not even the same show). I watched the first season of The Bridge (US) which was surprisingly good and turned out to be very different from the Swedish/Danish version by adding really interesting and specific-to-Mexico/America storylines. I know I loved the latest seasons of Mad Men and Game of Thrones but it’s been such a long time now I can barely remember them apart from GoT’s Red Wedding I am behind on watching the latest of The Walking Dead and Homeland but plan on catching up soon. The last season of Dexter was utter shit (but that is a matter for the Airing of Grievances) (as is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, actually) (oh, and don’t even get me started on the shitshow that Downton Abbey has become). I was so looking forward to the return of Arrested Development to Netflix and it was a really interesting season in terms of both narrative and story (oh George Michael, you really ARE a Bluth, aren’t you?) and I was pleased with it. Speaking of Netflix, I also really liked the wtfuckery of House of Cards and am looking forward to season 2. The Returned is a French TV Show that aired on Channel 4 here in the UK and it’s about this small town where the dead start to come back and….you have to watch it. It’s unsettling and freaking scary and despite some parts that were not as good (like the medium that communicates with the dead only when she is having sex, wait a minute what?), I can’t wait to see what happens on season 2.
Now for the creme de la creme of what I watched in 2013:
The Fall is an Irish-British TV show whose season 1 aired on BBC 2. It features the amazing Gillian Anderson as senior investigator Stella Gibson tasked with catching a serial killer who attacks only women. Her viewpoint is shared with that of the killer who, when not committing cold-blooded, graphic murders, tries to be a family man. This uncomfortable shift between the two faces the killer dons is one of the things that makes the show so good. The other one is how feminist the show is, starting with the incredible female lead that Anderson plays: she is a competent, collected detective who is friends with other women in the force and who is unapologetic about being sexually active and who calls out misogyny whenever she sees it. When questioned about a one-night stand (initiated by her) by a fellow officer she says, point blank:
“That’s what really bothers you, isn’t it? The one night stand. Man fucks woman. Subject man, verb fucks, object woman. That’s ok. Woman fucks man, woman subject, man object. That’s not so comfortable for you, is it?”
Needless to say, I will be back when season 2 airs.
Band of Brothers
I am over a decade late with this HBO miniseries that aired in 2001 about a real-life group of parachutists that fought in Normandy in WWII. It hasn’t been until recently that I became interested in WWII stories and I am so glad I finally watched this amazing show. From production values to the acting, it is all incredibly gripping and poignant. The show follows the “Easy Company” from training till the end of the War following them through key moments of their fight and participation in the liberation of France and it is nary impossible to watch this show and not become attached to the characters and worry sick about their fate. [1. or to ship Winters and Nixon, amiright? Anyone?]
New TV Shows
US Fall TV always brings a bunch of new TV shows to my attention. This year only two made the cut for me: Sleepy Hollow and Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
Ah, Sleepy Hollow, you are tremendously fun. The show, in which an out-of-time Revolutionary War soldier Ichabod Crane wakes up in modern day Sleepy Hollow to find himself fighting the headless horseman (who turns out to be one of the horsemen of the apocalypse) side by side with female lieutenant Abbie Mills is one where the worldbuilding matters way less than the pair of protagonists. I will confess I am not that big of a fan of biblical apocalypse stories anyways and a lot of the worldbuilding is so outlandish I can’t take it seriously but I don’t eve care because the show’s biggest strengths are the Mills-Crane dynamics and chemistry as well as the jokes around Crane’s attempts to understand present day America. Bonus points for a secondary cast made of awesome PoC actors including Orlando Jones who can often be seen on Twitter and Tumblr winning the Internet.
Brooklyn Nine Nine is my favourite show that debuted in 2013. It’s a sitcom about a police precinct in Brooklyn and it’s beyond funny. More importantly, it is a show that features a diverse cast of characters (the majority of them are PoC) as well as: a gay Black chief of police; the toughest police officer who happens to be a girl; there is a tall, strong, muscular African American guy who is the most traditionally maternal figure around; the girls are all friends with each other and not in direct competition. It is not perfect: to begin with they did have a few fat shaming jokes but the show is still finding its footing – I have high hopes it will go on for a long time. Plus, Chelsea Peretti’s Gina might be the funniest character on TV right now.
A Young Doctor’s Notebook
This is a British show based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s diary when he was a young doctor in a small country hospital in Russia in the early 20s. The show is a balance of dark humour and drama and stars Daniel Radcliffe as the young doctor and Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm as his older self and this pairing is AWESOME. The two often interact as the show appears to be the old doctor’s memories playing in his mind as he deals with a morphine addiction that started in his younger years. It is here that I noticed how good of an actor Daniel Radcliffe is, especially when it comes to comedic timing. His chemistry with Jon Hamm is astonishing and the late episodes of season 2 are incredible as it becomes clear that the whole show is about the older doctor confronting his memories and realising how callous and self-absorbed his younger self was. Season 2 just finished in the UK and I hope they will make a third season.
A cool (and scientifically viable) SciFi premise, a suspenseful plot, and excellent acting from actress Tatiana Maslany who plays no less than 7 different and very distinctive characters (Cosima!!!!) make this little known Canadian show a winner. I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t watched it yet but suffice it to say that the many twists and turns made me binge watch this in one sitting until I was done with its 10 episodes.
Orange is the New Black
What a surprise this show was – it’s another Netflix production (will Netflix make all the best damn TV shows in the future?) based on a true story following Piper, a privileged white girl who is sent to prison for dealing drugs years before. In there, she meets all sorts of amazingly portrayed characters who all get episodes (or moments) from their viewpoint including a trans woman (played by trans actress and transgender advocate Laverne Cox) and several non-white characters. AND Piper herself turns out to be bi. What surprised me the most is that every time I thought the show was going down a stereotypical route it kept subverting all of my expectations with thoughtful explorations of internalised and institutionalised racism, homophobia, mental health issues and more. Not to mention all the beautiful, difficult, ever-developing relationships between all sorts of ladies.
My Mad Fat Diary
Another fabulous British comedy-drama based on real-life diaries of Rae Earl. It features a boy and sex-mad teenage girl who just left a psychiatric hospital and is back home trying to fit in. It is a beautiful understated portrayal of a young girl dealing with mental issues as well as body image issues and who develops a new sense of self-acceptance over the course of the season. And there is so much to it, the show really impressed me: Rae’s sense of humour; Rae’s empowered boy-mad dreams which are never showed in a negative way; her difficult relationship with her mother; the heartbreaking moments of self-harm and her relationship with other patients from the hospital. It is also a show that excels at showing teenage life and how difficult it can be and I love how Rae forms really cool relationships with boys and girls who are all portrayed in a positive light. Bonus points for featuring a gay boy dealing with coming out, for having Ian Hart playing Rae’s therapist and for featuring Rae falling in love with the coolest young boy on TV, who loves her back: just the way she is.
Parks and Recreation
I had tried watching it when it first aired, but season one of Parks and Recreation is admittedly not that good so this is why I am so thankful to Thea for making me sit down and watch a few season 3 episodes when I visited last year. The show won me over then and I fell in love with Leslie Knope and all of her friends (or should I say, her family?). I love the way the show portrays female ambition and I have no doubt Leslie will one day be President of the United States. Bonus points for showcasing awesome female friendships as well as awesome romantic relationships and golden comedy moments courtesy of one Ron Swanson. Also, Rob Lowe in his best role in the history of always. This is LITERALLY the best sitcom of ALL TIME.
Borgen Season 3
Oh man, what will I do now that Borgen is over? Season 3 of this Danish political drama was the last one and it closed the show perfectly. This last season saw Birgitte Nyborg, the former prime minister of Denmark returning to the political sphere after a short break working for the private sector, dealing with her private life issues as well as building a new romantic relationship. This is a show that has two leading ladies – the aforementioned Birgitte and the journalist Katrine – trying to handle very public positions of power and their private lives. I love how they are both unapologetically ambitious and smart and how the narrative never frames that in a negative way. I loved this show, it was very near perfect from start to finish, clever and thought-provoking.
My partner and I binge watched the five seasons of Breaking Bad – a show about a chemistry teacher who becomes a Meth cook and dealer once he discovers he has terminal cancer – in just under three weeks and were impressed so much with the show, especially with the acting.
Breaking Bad is a show that even though it had incredible female characters (oh, Skyler), the male characters were really the frontrunners. And it’s interesting too because an important part of their arcs – Jesse’s, Walt’s or Hank’s – is the fact that they are men: Breaking Bad examines really well the concepts of masculinity and patriarchy and what the ideal of male power and ownership can do to men. I think this is why I loved the show so much. This is all the more true when it comes to its protagonist, Walter White. Thinking about it, I can honestly say I was NEVER Team Walt: from episode one I absolutely hated him, abhorred by his actions and just waiting to see how the show would undo his character. And it was done SO beautifully that by the time the ending rolled, I was deeply satisfied. Breaking Bad is a dark, heavy, violent show that never pulls its punches and episode 14 of season 5 – “Ozymandias” – encapsulates this really well. That episode is when shit hits the fan big time for all characters and the writing as well as the acting ensure that this is one of the best TV hours I have ever watched. By the end of it, I was literally on the floor, drowning in my own tears. Hank forever.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Where do I even start? How does one define PERFECTION? Avatar: The Last Airbender blew my mind away. In an unprecedented move I watched it TWICE in one year and it only got better the second time around. I am considering a third viewing as I write this post. I was doubtful to begin with because: cartoon. But after being told by multiple trusted sources how good it was, I sat down to watch and OH MY GOOD. Starting with the stunning animation to include an incredibly well-told EPIC storyline over three seasons, about a 12 year-old boy who has to save the world or ELSE, featuring a whole group of characters to fall in love with and root for, well-written and diverse female characters, an anti-hero with a redeeming arc which might well be my favourite thing about the show in the way that his story connects to that of the hero. Plus romance, friendships, people making mistakes and learning from them and a bunch of older characters being completely badasses. There is so much about it that is good: the hardships that the main characters endure, the growth they experience, the fact that almost every character is a PoC. Heck, I even like the pets and I am not a huge pet person. But Appa the sky bison and Momo, the flying lemur are super important characters too and this goes to show the level of detailed, intricate, thoughtful writing that went into the show.
If you haven’t watched it yet because like me, you think a cartoon show for children might not have anything for you, I urge you to reconsider. You will not regret it.
Avatar: The Last Airbender might well be my favourite TV Show of ALL TIME.
Bonus: Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary episode: The Day of the Doctor
At the time of writing this, I have yet to watch the Christmas special so I don’t know how that will pan out but the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who was kind of everything I was hoping it would be – the chemistry between Tennant, Smith and Hurt was amazing and more than made up for the weird retcon introduced. It was sentimental, cheesy, funny, sad and despite some moments of WAIT WHAT, I loved it. My only wish is that we had gotten a whole season of the Hurt!Doctor because boy, was he amazing.
SO that’s it! My favorite TV shows of 2013. What were yours?