Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 8-5

10 Feb

Three dramas and an 11 minute comedy, one of the dramas a debut, and the other two a couple of veterans of the top of these rankings. 8-5 coming up.

8. The Americans

They're really Soviet!

The incredibly strong freshman drama crop of spring 2013 strikes again on this list. The Americans was a revelation, a show that was a must watch almost right out of the gate. The way Hannibal belied my tiredness of cop-genius shows, The Americans belied my tiredness of shows set in the past. Two deep cover Soviet spies conduct missions while living a life as an ordinary family with kids who know nothing of who their parents really are. Their neighbor is an FBI agent working to expose Soviet deep cover spies with no idea that a pair of spies live next door. There’s so many layers of subterfuge, both literally and figuratively; it almost seems like it could be too much and too on the nose, but it works. There are great and sometimes funny action spy set pieces which bring you in but underneath it’s a show about identity and relationships and truth and lies and the wide ground between. Get on the bandwagon now.

7. Mad Men

Don Draper, Rainy Day

This was probably the weakest season for Mad Men, at least in a while, but that being said, it’s still Mad Men, and it’s still pretty great. The weakness was largely the fault of Don’s plotlines, which felt repetitive, treading ground we’ve tread before, but slightly worse, and Matt Weiner seemed hell-bent on sending him lower than he had ever been before, which would be fine if it wasn’t simply not particularly gripping. Luckily, everyone else’s plots were there to pick us up. Peggy had a fantastic season, Betty actually became a real, interesting character, rather than a caricature, and Sally continued to develop, and had a couple of really powerful moments to shine in the second half of the sesaon. Likewise Roger and Pete, who I felt bad for for the fist time in the series, which is an impressive achievement. New characters Ted and Jim were welcome additions. An absolutely surreal episode broke up the season, and while I’m not sure how I feel about it overall it contained a Ken Cosgrove tap dance which made the episode worthwhile in and of itself. I say it again. Even non-vintage Mad Men is very excellent TV.

6. Eagleheart

Marhsal Chris Monsanto

The weirdest and almost certainly least watched show on my list, Eagleheart is a show I’ve desperately tried to convince every single person I run into to watch. Like Venture Bros., it’s absolutely not for everyone, but anyone who has any taste for absurdist humor should get on board immediately. Eagleheart is far an away the most absurd non-animated show on TV, making something like Childrens Hospital seem like The Wire in terms of reality in comparison. Chris Elliott plays US Marshal Chris Monsanto, and well, it’s just nuts, trying to attempt to explain any of the best episodes might take more than the 11 minutes the episodes take to watch. The best Eagleheart episodes change plots three or four times per episode. While normally Eagleheart episodes are disconnected, the third season was loosely strung together in an arc called Paradise Rising. The first two seasons were great, but this may be the best yet. My favorite episode Spatz, is mind-bogglingly ridiculous and equally wonderful and hilarious.

5. Justified

Raylan Givens

If it’s not already obvious, we’re getting to the crème de la crème here. Justified warmed up in its first season, hit some serious heights in its second, suffered a small comedown with its third season and followed that with an absolutely exemplary fourth season. Everything that makes Justfied work was present in the season; Timothy Olyphant’s suburb portrayal of Marshal Raylan Givens, a character that could easily become an anti-hero caricature if not played and written exactly right. The season features fantastic Elmore Leonard-inspired settings and crackling dialogue; Justified is a funny show, and a hit parade of idiot criminals and witty retorts by the more competent among them keep it crackling. The season long plot was compelling and fascinating and guest stars were spot on, including dramatic turns for comedians, which Justified does better than anyone, including Patton Oswalt and Mike O’Malley and stellar work from underrated character actor Jim Beaver. That fourth season for me elevated Justified to a near-certain TV hall of famer in my mind.

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