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Monday, December 30, 2013

Many surprises for TV viewers in 2013

Breaking Bad retired undefeated as television’s best drama ever.
By Frazier Moore
AP television writer

A colourful year, from record-breaking series to history-flopping news programmes

Even after all these years, TV in 2013 continued to surprise us. What a fine surprise was The Returned, a French-language zombie series aired by Sundance Channel. And Tatiana Maslany was startling in BBC America’s eerie Orphan Black, a miniseries in which she played nearly a dozen varied clones of her main character.

It was a year that shocked Glee fans with the death of cast favourite Cory Monteith, whose passing was marked in a surprisingly sappy memorial episode of the Fox series that, in the words of one character, aimed to avoid making “a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness” — then went on to do just that.

It was a year that saw once hard-hitting 60 Minutes go soft, and worse, get sloppy, with a story on last year’s attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, based on a professed witness whose account soon came unravelled. The story’s collapse led to CBS ordering 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan and her producer to take a leave of absence, and left the newsmagazine’s glorious reputation besmirched.

In February, ABC’s Robin Roberts returned to the Good Morning America anchor desk amid unseemly ceremony after her courageous but much-exploited battle with cancer.

AMC’s The Walking Dead continued to defy all expectations, averaging 13 million viewers this fall as the highest-rated scripted series in cable TV history.

It’s difficult, perhaps even a fool’s mission, to isolate the Top 10 (well, actually 11) programmes from the rest that aired during 2013. But, in the order of their airdates, here’s trying ...

Downton Abbey (PBS). It was reliably delicious and also pretty deadly in its third season, which began last January. Hankies were sopping as viewers faced a long wait for Season 4 (starting next month).

House of Cards (Netflix). This Beltway adaptation of the 1990s British political thriller, with Kevin Spacey as its slithery pol, would have been good viewing on any network. But the fact that its outlet was Netflix, which last February posted the entire first season online in one gulp, proved to be the wild card for House of Cards, which instantly made Netflix a TV game changer.

Behind the Candelabra (HBO). This splashy portrait of “Mr. Showmanship,” Liberace, proved a dual career triumph for Michael Douglas, who portrayed him, and Matt Damon, who was no less impressive as the Vegas superstar’s tempestuous lover.

Breaking Bad (AMC). This drama series retired undefeated as TV’s best ever. And in the final dose of eight episodes, it was never better, concluding the five-season-long saga with near-perfection.

Sons of Anarchy (FX). If there’s anything darker than black, this motorcycle drama remained hell-bent on finding it. In its sixth season, Sons was as gory, complex and absorbing as ever, populated with characters who were brutish, bloodthirsty and yet somehow commanded our respect and affection.

The Good Wife (CBS). Last season, it seemed to be losing its way. But with its fall return, this brainy, sexy legal drama roared back to life with the latest twist of its recombinant recipe. On Wife, there’s no reliance on car chases, gun play, salaciousness or even crime. If only network copycats could figure how to crib this unique show!

Alpha House and Betas (Amazon). Sure, this duo seized attention just for being on Amazon, an online site best known for selling books, overcoats and power drills. Just a few months after Netflix’s entry into original content, Amazon emerged as the latest new outlet for what used to be “TV.” Alpha House (a Capital City romp created by Garry Trudeau and starring John Goodman) and Betas (with its Silicon Valley antics) were chosen by Amazon viewers to become series. The series that resulted are both fresh and funny.

Mob City (TNT). Here’s a sassy, two-fisted show inspired by love: creator Frank Darabont’s love for the grand film-noir tradition, which he honours impeccably in this crime drama set in 1940s L.A. Beautiful look. Snappy, smart dialogue. Terrific cast. In the lingo of its era, everything about this show is Jake with me.

Sound of Music Live! (NBC). Sure, it was easy to fault Carrie Underwood for her shallow (if full-throated) portrayal of Maria. Stephen Moyer as the sailor-patriarch seemed lost at sea. Still, this holiday production had much to recommend it — splendid production values and supporting players, a beloved story, incomparable Rodgers and Hammerstein score. It made history — the first such full-scale musical staged live by a network in more than a half-century.

Six by Sondheim (HBO). A portrait of the legendary Broadway composer-lyricist whose works include Company, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George, it not only explored such creations but, through dozens of interviews with Stephen Sondheim himself as well as scores of other voices, it also shined a light on how a genius creates.

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