The television landscape is better than its ever been and narrowing down all the amazing individual episodes of 2013 to a handful of favorites a tough job — but Zap2it is doing it. Check out other staff members’ picks here, here and here.
But here are my choices for the past year of TV (though since “Breaking Bad” is receiving love in so many places, I’m highlighting other strong shows. It’s not because I don’t love “Breaking Bad.”)
‘Downton Abbey’ – Season 3, episode 5
This PBS period drama had a lot of strong offerings in Season 3 — a nice bounce-back from an uneven Season 2 — but the death of Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) was perhaps the highest-caliber television this show has ever done. There was much arguing over Sybil needing to go to the hospital and in the end, Dr. Clarkson was right. She has eclampsia and died in the night after giving birth just hours before to a healthy baby girl.
To paraphrase the Dowager Countess, the show did not go the way of Greek drama and have the action happen off-screen. The entire family was present as Sybil slipped away, with her mother Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and husband Tom (Allen Leech) grasping her hands and willing her to stay with them. It was not only stellar acting all the way around, from the Crawley family to Thomas and the rest of the servants, but it set in motion a very well-done storyline of Robert and Cora trying to survive as husband and wife after the death of a child.
‘Psych’ – ‘100 Clues’
On the other end of the TV spectrum was the 100th episode of “Psych.” The show has done many parody episodes over the years, but “100 Clues” was a tour de force. It was a murder mystery a la the 1985 movie “Clue” and packed in dozens of references, a choose-your-own-ending for the audience and three stars of the original movie in Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren and Christopher Lloyd. Amazing hijinks ensued.
‘The Good Wife’ – ‘The Decision Tree’
A lot was made of “The Good Wife’s” earlier offering in Season 5 called “Hitting the Fan,” where Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and the associates’ plan to leave Lockhart/Gardner was uncovered — and that episode was indeed outstanding. But an even stronger episode was “The Decision Tree,” which featured the return of John Noble as Matthew Ashbaugh and what was Josh Charles‘ finest work of the series. It was a much quieter episode of the show than “Hitting the Fan,” but that’s why it packed more of a punch.
‘Mad Men’ – ‘In Care Of’
All of Season 6 seemed to be leading up to Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) eventual breakdown, which he had right in the middle of the meeting with Hershey. He had already lost so much — Sally, Peggy, Megan — but now he’s on a temporary leave of absence from the firm. Is this the rock bottom Don must hit in order to finally become a better man? Add in Peggy’s (Elisabeth Moss) heartbreak at the loss of Ted to California and her subsequent Draper-like tableau at the end and you’ve got one heck of an episode.
‘House of Cards’ – ‘Chapter 11’
Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is a ruthless political schemer for all of “House of Cards” first season, but it’s not until “Chapter 11” that one truly sees how far he is willing to go. I’ll admit my jaw dropped a little when Frank left a passed-out Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) in his still-running car and then closed the garage door. It was a piece of the puzzle that put Frank well on his way to the vice president’s office and revealed a darker side than perhaps anyone had suspected was there.
‘Trophy Wife’ – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas .. Or Twas It?’
This highly underrated comedy has put forth several excellent episodes in its freshman season, but, like any strong ensemble show, it is at its best when all the players are emersed in one storyline. Such was the case with the Christmas episode that saw the adults piecing back together their Christmas Eve, “Hangover”-style. A hilarious half-hour of television that is re-running on ABC on Dec. 25, in case you missed it the first time around.
What are some of your favorite episodes of 2013?