Blue Glow Awards 2013: Salon's TV Critics' Poll

From Walter White to "Walking Dead," top critics weigh in on the best of a groundbreaking year in TV


Jen Chaney
December 30, 2013 5:45PM (UTC)

For the second consecutive year, Salon polled some of the best TV critics working online and in print to compile a list of the top 10 television shows of the past 365 days. We then scored all their top 10 lists, did a little math, and voilà! With all the sorting and calculating now complete, here is the definitive Salon list of the top 10 shows of 2013.

10. "The Walking Dead" (AMC)

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9. "Masters of Sex" (Showtime)

8. "Mad Men" (AMC)

7. "Top of the Lake" (Sundance)

6. "Broadchurch" (BBC America)

5. "Game of Thrones" (HBO)

4. "Enlightened" (HBO)

3. "The Good Wife" (CBS)

2. "Orange Is the New Black" (Netflix)

1. "Breaking Bad" (AMC)

In addition to gathering their favorite shows, Salon also asked the critics a few questions about the year in TV -- its laughs, its best scenes, its duds. Read how they all responded:

Blue Glow TV Awards: Neil Drumming 

Neil Drumming is Salon’s TV critic.

Neil’s top 10 shows:

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Mad Men” (AMC)

“Boardwalk Empire” (HBO)

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

“The Walking Dead” (AMC)

“Parenthood” (NBC)

“American Horror Story: Coven” (FX)

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“The Big Bang Theory” (CBS)

“The Blacklist” (NBC)

“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year?

Or at least most improved. In terms of style and plotting, "The Good Wife" has been incredibly fun and thrilling.

2. What was the scene of the year?

Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) arranging to purchase heroin from Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) on "Boardwalk Empire."

3. What was the laugh of the year?

Dr. Valentin Narcisse arranging to purchase heroin from Arnold Rothstein on "Boardwalk Empire." Or just about anything Ray Romano said on "Parenthood" this season.

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4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over?

"Sons of Anarchy" has been in a downward spiral for at least two seasons, but this season is where I had to climb off the bike. "SOA" is possibly tied with "How I Met Your Mother."

 

Blue Glow TV Awards:  Jen Chaney

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Jen Chaney writes about TV and film for Salon, Vulture, Esquire and elsewhere.

Jen’s top 10 shows:

“Enlightened” (HBO)

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Top of the Lake” (Sundance Channel)

“Masters of Sex” (Showtime)

“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)

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“Mad Men” (AMC)

“Veep” (HBO)

“Game of Thrones” (HBO)

“Parenthood” (NBC)

“The Bridge” (FX)

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year?

In keeping with my the No. 1 choice on my list, I have to say: “Enlightened.” More than any other series I watched this year, it felt like it was capturing the national mood at this moment, that digital-era, post-recession mixture of outrage tinged with hopefulness and a desire for connection. If “Breaking Bad” was a show about a man whose misfortune turned him toward darkness, “Enlightened” was a show about a woman whose misfortune never stopped her from turning toward the light.

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2. What was the scene of the year?

The phone call between Skyler and Walt in “Breaking Bad’s” “Ozymandias”; specifically, the moment when you see Walt’s hardened expression crack. You know then that he’s completely saying goodbye to his family, as well as the man he once was and long ago ceased to be.

3. What was the laugh of the year?

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on the Golden Globes. Award show hosts rarely hit all the right notes, or even half the right notes. Fey and Poehler were 100% on; with them back on board this year, it doesn’t sound weird at all to hear people say, “I can’t wait to watch the Golden Globes.”

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4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over?

I wasn’t as compelled by “American Horror Story: Coven” as I was by “Asylum” and the Murder House season. Fortunately, as always, the pseudo-miniseries reboots next year, so it’s not necessarily over-over. (Note: I reserve the right to retract this statement when the Stevie Nicks episode airs.)

 

Blue Glow TV Awards: Eric Deggans

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Eric Deggans is NPR’s TV critic.

Eric’s top 10 shows:

“The Walking Dead” (AMC)

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Broadchurch”  (BBC)

“House of Cards” (Netflix)

“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)

“John Oliver’s The Daily Show” (Comedy Central)

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“The Good Wife” (CBS)

“Scandal” (ABC)

“The Bridge” (FX)

“Game of Thrones” (HBO)

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year?

Show of the year was “Breaking Bad.” Not just because it’s the most finely-crafted drama on television or because every single actor gave the performance of their career on it. It’s because it managed the near-impossible feat of closing a popular show so completely, none but the most nitpicky of fanboys (or girls) could quibble with it. Walter White died after admitting he’d become Heisenberg because he loved the power and achievement, hinting that all of us just might have a world-dominating drug lord lurking inside of us, sometime.

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2. What was the scene of the year?

Scene of the year is split for me, evenly divided between two “Breaking Bad” moments. The first is the moment Dean Norris’ Hank Schrader is killed, spitting his DEA agent title at a man he knows wants him to beg for his life. “He made up his mind 10 minutes ago,” Hank says to Walt just before getting clipped. That ties with the moment Walt pays his final visit to now-ex-wife Skyler, telling her where to find Hank’s body and admitting he became Heisenberg because “I liked it… I was good at it.” Others will choose the more showy scene where Jesse Pinkman threatens Walt with a pistol, sees he’s mortally wounded and then tells him to kill himself. But I think the core of “Breaking Bad’s” story arc was revealed in the two other moments, requiring more sophisticated acting chops to pull off.

3. What was the laugh of the year?

Laugh of the year was Jimmy Kimmel’s twerking girl on fire video clip. Not only was Kimmel able to fool the world by recording a video that made it look as if an athletic young girl fell into a table full of candles and set herself on fire while twerking upside down – huh? – he taped several clueless news shows, which aired the footage without verifying it. In one prank, he offered a blistering critique of every morning show, cable news program and blog that featured the images with no real knowledge of where they came from or who made them. As media outlets lay off more staff and force those who remain to work harder, Kimmel provided jarring, side-splitting proof of how vulnerable journalists can be when they are desperate for material and are handed a story too good to check out.

4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over?

For this fortysomething guy, HBO’s “Girls” feels like the most overrated show on television right now. Part of my reaction, I admit, is because I lived through this stage of life a long time ago, and I don’t find revisiting it particularly compelling. But it also seems each person portrayed here -- except perhaps for star Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath -- feels more character type than character, reflecting a collection of plot points and opportunities for friction. It didn’t help that Dunham responded to legitimate criticisms about the show’s lack of ethnic diversity by casting a black actor for all of two episodes – passing up an opportunity to mine new storylines and character types for a half-hearted effort that only revealed how truly narrow the program’s vision has become.

 

Blue Glow TV Awards: Tim Goodman

Tim Goodman is chief TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter.

Tim’s top 10 shows:

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

No brainer.

“Broadchurch” (BBC America)

Just gutting, great television.

“The Returned” (Sundance Channel)

Mesmerizing, wholly original.

“Game Of Thrones” (HBO)

Yet another great season.

“The Walking Dead” (AMC)

One of the very few shows I watch the minute it's on.

“The Americans” (FX)

Well written, well conceived and fresh.

“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)

Addicted from the start.

“Rectify” (Sundance Channel)

Beautiful, secretive and heartbreaking.

“Mad Men” (AMC)

Still exceptional. Now easy to fault because of its exceptionalism.

“Southland” (TNT)

The last great cop show.

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year?

“Breaking Bad.” Hall of Fame, first ballot.

2. What was the scene of the year?

The "tread lightly" scene in "Breaking Bad" with Walt and Hank.

3. What was the laugh of the year?

Almost anything on “30 Rock.” Farewell.

4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over?

“Homeland.” What a waste.

 

Blue Glow TV Awards: Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is the TV critic for Slate.

Willa’s top 10 shows:

Borgen” (Link TV, KCET)

“Top of the Lake” (Sundance Channel)

“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

“The Americans” (FX)

“The Returned” (Sundance Channel)

“Bunheads” (ABC Family)

“American Horror Story: Asylum” (FX)

“Mad Men” (AMC)

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year?

“Borgen” was the show I loved most this year. It aired its (slightly lesser) third season in its native Denmark, but I got to start from the beginning, with the fantastic seasons 1 and 2, when the PBS affiliate in L.A. — KCET — started to air them for American audiences this year as well. But “Borgen,” hard to find in addition to being subtitled, was not quite a "phenomenon" and neither was Sundance and Jane Campion's awesome mini-series "Top of the Lake," even though they both deserved to be. But Netflix's great, addictive, delicious "Orange Is the New Black" really was: for a month or two after its premiere it was the only show anyone could talk about (until "Breaking Bad" returned, anyway), and rightfully so. It's a show that encapsulates what was best about TV this year, while also throwing shade at what was the worst: it took all the hackneyed violent, macho, anti-hero tropes and put them in the service of something fresh, funny, female and diverse.

2. What was the scene of the year?

This scene aired on the second day of 2013. In the 363 days that followed, nothing beat it.

 

 

3. What was the laugh of the year?

I am sure I am forgetting tons of specifics, but this doesn't feel like it was a particularly uproarious year for television. Cable may be the best place for dramas, but comedies have long belonged to the networks, and the networks really fell down on the job this fall. I can't remember one particularly profound laugh, but I'm sure if I could it would have come in “New Girl,” in which, yes, everyone screams all the time and, which, yes, is not having as strong a season 3 as it did a season 2 — but it still makes me laugh harder than anything else.

4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over?

I suspect this one will be nearly unanimous, and so I will refrain from going full throttle, lest the piling on get too brutal, but, obviously, indubitably, disappointingly, sometimes horrifically, sometimes just stupidly: “Homeland.”

 

Blue Glow TV Awards: Alyssa Rosenberg

Alyssa Rosenberg is an editor and critic at ThinkProgress and television columnist at Women and Hollywood.

Alyssa’s top 10 shows:

In no particular order:

“Orange Is The New Black” (Netflix)

“The Americans” (FX)

“Game of Thrones” (HBO)

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

“Bunheads” (ABC Family)

“Scandal” (ABC)

“Call The Midwife” (PBS)

“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)

“Trophy Wife” (ABC)

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year?

This question is completely impossible to answer, so I'm copping out and saying “Orange Is the New Black” and “Game of Thrones” are a tie. Both shows have ludicrously deep casts composed of actors who were (mostly) previously unknown to American television audiences. Both are deeply engaged with social issues, from the ugliness of torture and the challenge of ruling in “Game of Thrones,” to the racial disparities of the prison system and white misappropriation of the stories of people of color in “Orange Is the New Black.” And though both shows are technically dramas, they can be among the funniest shows on television, especially when Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is in a tart mood or Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) and Taystee Jefferson (Danielle Brooks) are together on screen.

2. What was the scene of the year?

I think “Breaking Bad's” "Ozymandias" is probably the best episode of television of the year, and had it been the finale of the show, it might have been a contender for Greatest Of All Time. And no scene in that episode was more powerful, or provoked more important conversations, than Walter White's phone call to his wife Skyler after his violent, traumatic, final departure from their home. Was he play-acting for the cops? Was he giving voice to all the ugly things he -- and some of “Breaking Bad's” fans -- have ever thought about Skyler? Or both? We'll never reach a consensus on the answer, but it was a tremendous moment of television, and a tremendous moment of discussion about television.

3. What was the laugh of the year?

There are so many things I mourn about the loss of “Bunheads. But one of the jewels the gone-too-soon show left behind is the sequence in which Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles) throws a freakishly mature housewarming party that totally overwhelms her ballet teacher, Michelle (Sutton Foster). The jokes just keep coming, and the gag goes on for far longer than it ought to be sustainable. It's one of the funniest riffs on femininity and maturity I've seen on TV in a long, long time.

4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over?

I've written any number of love letters to “Homeland” in years past, but for me, this was the season when the silly overwhelmed the work that Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin always turn in. It didn't help that Meredith Stiehm, one of the show's best writers, was off launching the uneven “The Bridge” for FX. When she returns next year, it'll be to a show that's taken an awful long fall from a searching intellectual and psychological examination of the War on Terror to a muddled action procedural.

 

Blue Glow TV Awards: Matt Roush

Matt Roush is a senior critic for TV Guide magazine.

Matt’s top 10 shows:

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

The new standard-bearer for how to end a series in the most satisfying fashion.

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

Blew up the show in its fifth season, making a great show even better, elevating it back to the top rank of weekly drama.

“Broadchurch” (BBC America)

A British mystery as heartbreaking as it was suspenseful; I worry that there's a sequel, also that Fox feels it necessary to make a U.S. version.

“Masters of Sex” (Showtime)

The new “Mad Men”; fascinating period piece examining attitudes about sex, sexuality and love; clinical, kinky and emotionally affecting.

“Game of Thrones” (HBO)

The Red Wedding!

“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)

Women-in-prison dramas will never be the same.

“Rectify”-“Top of the Lake”-“The Returned” (Sundance Channel)

Sundance had an incredible year.

“Orphan Black” (BBC America)

Tatiana Maslany is 2013's breakout performer; what a find; what range!

“The Americans” (FX)

Taut period spy drama filtered through a study of a troubled marriage built on a rather major lie.

“Person of Interest” (CBS)

Guilty pleasure, nearly as insane as “Scandal” but way more thrilling.

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year?

Unquestionably “Breaking Bad,” with a gripping final run of episodes that exceeded high expectations.

2. What was the scene of the year?

On “Breaking Bad,” Walt's phone call to Skyler, on the surface excoriating her while actually exonerating her for his heinous crimes, an act of selfless subterfuge that was brilliantly acted and written ... Close runner-up: “Game of Thrones'” devastating "Red Wedding."

3. What was the laugh of the year?

Bob Newhart guesting on “The Big Bang Theory” and finally winning the Emmy that had eluded him all of his career; a dazzlingly deadpan pro showing how it's done on TV's hottest comedy

4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over?

“Boardwalk Empire.”

 

Blue Glow TV Awards: Mo Ryan

Mo Ryan is the television critic for The Huffington Post.

Mo’s top 10 shows:

My answers are in alphabetical order (I don't order my Top 10 list):

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Broadchurch” (BBC America)

“Enlightened” (HBO)

“Game of Thrones” (HBO)

“Mad Men” (AMC)

“Masters of Sex” (Showtime)

“Orphan Black” (BBC America)

Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)

“The Returned” (Sundance Channel)

“Top of the Lake” (Sundance Channel)

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year?

“Orange Is the New Black.”

2. What was the scene of the year?

The scene of the year was the phone call between Walt and Skyler in "Ozymandias," an exceptional “Breaking Bad” episode that was as transfixing as it was excruciating to watch. That scene -- and the episode as a whole -- featured “Breaking Bad” doing what it does best: Offering up competing character studies that could be (and were) read any number of ways, thanks to intelligent writing, extraordinary performances and the show's almost unequaled command of atmosphere. Only the “Girls” episode featuring Patrick Wilson launched more heated blog posts and contentious (yet productive) debates.

3. What was the laugh of the year?

The “Ray Donovan” pilot.

4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over?

“Homeland.” The show itself is more erratic than Carrie Mathison, who used to at least be good at her job but is now a loose cannon whose fixations appear to revolve around saving an ex-lover, not necessarily preventing terrorist attacks. There have been some compelling moments in the third year of “Homeland,” but in general, it lurches more than it should, and almost every episode features plot holes and logic gaps you could drive Brody's unfortunate car through. The cast is still aces, but “Homeland” is not what it was in season 1 or in the first half of season 2, in large part because the plot now appears to be driving the characters rather than the other way around. Ah well. We'll always have “The Weekend” and “Q&A.”

 

Blue Glow TV Awards: Alan Sepinwall

Alan Sepinwall is the TV critic for HitFix and author of the book “The Revolution Was Televised.”

Alan’s top 10 shows:

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)

“Enlightened” (HBO)

“Top of the Lake” (Sundance Channel)

“Masters of Sex” (Showtime)

“Mad Men” (AMC)

“Boardwalk Empire” (HBO)

“Southland” (TNT)

“Hannibal” (NBC)

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year?

What else could it be but “Breaking Bad”? That final season chewed me up, spit me out and left me feeling like a complete wreck, even as I was in awe of so much of it.

2. What was the scene of the year?

“Breaking Bad” was the best show of the year, “Ozymandias” was the best episode of the year, and the scene where Walt comes home to pack his family up and leave town forever. Skyler is, of course, having none of this, and having failed at every other method of getting this monster out of their lives, she grabs a carving knife, orders him to leave, then begins brawling with him when he won't. Walter Jr. understandably defends his mother, and as Walt glares at the two of them, he bellows, “What the hell is wrong with you? We're a family!” This has been the bullshit justification for every horrible thing he's done in the series, and as he sees his wife and son looking at him with abject terror, his self-delusion crumbles and he whispers, with utter defeat, “We're a family.” The entire arc of the series has been building to this moment, and that's before we even get to Walt stealing baby Holly and driving away while a horrified Skyler wails in the street.

3. What was the laugh of the year? 

“New Girl” had an amazing first half of the year before a frustrating second half, and “Parks and Rec” has had some fantastic episodes, but the most I laughed at anything on TV this year was in a drama: specifically, the moment in the “Mad Men” season finale when Bob Benson asks a distraught Pete Campbell how he's doing, and Pete replies, “Not great, Bob!

4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over?
“House of Cards.” Got all the hype because it had Spacey and Wright and Fincher, because it was Netflix's first, and because everyone got competitive to see who could finish it first. But it was, outside of Corey Stoll's performance, largely forgettable.

 

Blue Glow TV Awards: Ken Tucker

Ken Tucker is a cultural critic who can be heard and read on NPR, Grantland and elsewhere; he spent more than two decades at Entertainment Weekly.

Ken’s top 10 shows:

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Justified” (FX)

“American Horror Story: Coven” (FX)

“Enlightened” (HBO)

“Eastbound & Down” (HBO)

“Banshee” (Cinemax)

“Veep” (HBO)

“The Returned” (Sundance)

“Broadchurch” (BBC America)

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year? 

No show made a stronger resurgence in quality and confidence, nor was more purely pleasurable for so long a season streak, as “The Good Wife.” That it was on a broadcast network like CBS made its achievement all the more remarkable: To be as smart or smarter, more surprising, more artfully constructed, than any other show this year is exhilarating.

2. What was the scene of the year? 

“Enlightened’s” series finale “Agent of Change” built to the confrontation between Laura Dern’s Amy and the top execs of Abbadon Industries. The dialogue between Dern and James Rebhorn was a great, tragi-comic example of an ordinary citizen articulating a humanistic argument that a creature of big business cannot comprehend, and therefore dismisses as crazy. The scene worked on many levels — as performance, as feminist critique, as a statement about the current economy — and was at once stirring, funny and disturbing.

3. What was the laugh of the year? 

David Letterman’s weeks-long “Stooge of the Night” post-monologue bit. In the weeks following the Newtown school massacre and subsequent failure in Congress to pass even the most mild of gun control measures, Letterman started holding up a picture, one a night, of every member of Congress who’d voted against, say, increased background checks. What began as Letterman sarcasm and performance-art — “Let’s leave the picture up there until it becomes really uncomfortable,” he'd instruct his producers, as audience laughs curdled — became a long, deeply angry, pointed and personal response from Letterman, himself a Connecticut resident. As strong a piece of political humor as anything Jon Stewart or the continually great Stephen Colbert did this year.

4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over? 

“Orange Is the New Black” was howlingly overrated. Not bad, mind you, just average-to-mediocre out of all proportion to reviewer praise. I found the protagonist’s reactions constantly not believable, and she was surrounded by a group of excellent actresses trying valiantly to bring verisimilitude to a succession of quality-drama clichés and ethnic stereotypes.

 

Blue Glow TV Awards: Todd VanDerWerff

Todd VanDerWerff is the TV editor for The A.V. Club.

Todd’s top 10 shows:

“Enlightened” (HBO)

“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)

“Rectify” (Sundance Channel)

“New Girl” (Fox)

“Game of Thrones” (HBO)

“Justified” (FX)

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

“Bob's Burgers” (Fox)

“The Americans” (FX)

“Hannibal” (NBC)

Special categories:

1. What was the show of the year? 

“Enlightened” was not just the best show of the year but a necessary antidote to the last 15 years of television, a time period that has created many of the best shows in the medium's history but also eaten its own tail (anybody see “Ray Donovan”?). It was a beautiful show about what it means to try to make the world a better place, wrapped in an antihero show, and that made for one of the best TV seasons I've ever seen.

2. What was the scene of the year? 

It's pretty hard to go against the Red Wedding in “Game of Thrones,” which was as brutal as we book fans would have wanted it to be. But I'm throwing some props to the confrontation between Walt and his family on “Breaking Bad” and that last look shared between Don and Sally on “Mad Men.”

3. What was the laugh of the year? 

All of my laughs come from “New Girl” now, seemingly, but I'm not sure I laughed at anything more than the reveal of "Michael Keaton's" email address in the Halloween episode.

4. What show this year was overrated, or just plain over? 

By far the most overrated TV show of the year was Netflix's “House of Cards,” a bland drudge through as many dark drama clichés as it could stir up. Then it was nominated for a bunch of awards mostly for coloring within the lines as well as it possibly could. The only thing novel about “House of Cards” was the distribution system, and it didn't do anything with that distribution system. At least “Arrested Development,” season 4, which had problems of its own, and “Orange Is the New Black” took that ball and ran with it. “House of Cards” was the sort of self-congratulatory, “smart” TV that made you feel good about yourself for watching it, and that's the sort of thing I abhor. It didn't challenge; it anesthetized.


Jen Chaney

Jen Chaney is a pop culture writer whose work appears regularly in The Washington Post, New York Magazine’s Vulture and The Dissolve. She’s currently working on a book about the movie “Clueless,” to be published next year by Touchstone.

MORE FROM Jen Chaney

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