Pop-Ed: The Best New Shows of 2013

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The 2013 television season has come and gone, so our regular television writers look at their favorite new shows of the year.

Luke Kalamar (TV Editor, Columnist – The Walking Dead, The Following, Game of Thrones, Falling Skies, Saturday Night Live, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD)

Sleepy Hollow (FOX): Everyone knows the now classic American legend of Sleepy Hollow. The pumpkin carrying headless horseman who loves chopping off heads, Ichabod Crane racing him to the covered bridge and surviving, you know the deal. It’s a timeless tale that has spanned generations and mediums. In 2013, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Watchmen, Star Trek, Alias, Fringe) decided to give this classic myth a modern reboot by bringing Ichabod and the Horseman to the present day.

Sleepy Hollow could have failed in so many different ways and yet it fires on all cylinders every week. The previously unknown Tom Mison absolutely dominates as Ichabod Crane by effortlessly portraying both his inner and outer turmoil as he combats the apocalypse. The rapport Mison has with co-star Nicole Beharie (Lt. Abbie Mills) makes their pairing feel completely natural. Making the Headless Horsemen into the Horsemen of Death that heralds the apocalypse was a wise decision as well as it makes the conflict that much more dire. Sleepy Hollow is also sufficiently creepy, humorous, and has excellent CGI. There are only three episodes left of the first season, but with a second one coming next year I highly recommend tuning in.

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Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC): The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has collectively grossed over five billion dollars worldwide. It is simultaneously the 3rd highest grossing movie franchise and has the 3rd highest grossing film with The Avengers. Marvel is ripe with material to be reimagined on screen, so it made complete sense when a television series was announced that would fit into this universe. Fast forward to December 2013 and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has received its fair share of criticism. Many are just straight up sick of it by this point.

So why is it one of my recommended shows? Despite all of the issues, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still a highly entertaining program. It’s action packed, filled with the classic movie humor, and truly looks great. Most importantly though is that the show still has a lot of promise behind it. It’s connection to the MCU is nothing to shrug off and it has highly talented people like Joss Whedon behind it. Television history is filled with programs that have stumbled in their first outings only to become smash hits later on. It’s too late to fix the errors of the first season but there’s no reason to believe those can’t go away should a second season come into fruition. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has what it needs to succeed, it just has to execute it better, and I still believe that can happen. Let’s see how I feel about it next year.

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Marla Pachter (Senior Editor, Television Columnist – True Blood, Scandal)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX): It’s been a rough year for comedy lovers. 30 Rock and Happy Endings went to Great TV Comedy Heaven, Suburgatory and Cougar Town were put on the back burner, waiting as mid-season replacements. New Girl took this incredible downfall to the point where watching it now makes me want to vomit a little. And my love Parks and Recreation has simply had fewer episodes than every other show, which is infuriating. There’s just been this really strange turnover from what I started to consider to be a golden age of TV comedies (earlier this year, by the end of the Spring season I could barely believe there were so many gut-wrenchingly funny shows to watch on TV week after week) to a lackluster supply of non-funny mainstream comedies with blaring laugh tracks.

In steps Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a breath of very fresh air. I was in love from the very first episode, and three episodes in I was in awe of how it already felt like a well-seasoned comedy. The cast is phenomenal, each one bringing to the table something unique to be obsessed about. Gina (Chelsea Peretti) is my personal favorite, but they all deserve a ton of recognition. I even have two friends who were hesitant to watch it because they “don’t like Andy Samburg,” and they both ended up loving the show anyway. It’s really no surprise that this followup from Parks and Rec creator Michael Schur is a home run.

Photo Credit: FOX
Photo Credit: FOX

Hannibal (NBC): As a ridiculous scaredy cat who won’t go anywhere near the horror genre or anything remotely resembling scary or gory, I can say with confidence that the last show I ever thought I’d be obsessed with is Hannibal. But the allure of a brand new Bryan Fuller (creator of Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, and Dead Like Me) show starring Hugh Dancy (yum) and Caroline Dhavernas was too strong so I decided to check it out. What I got was, truly, what Bryan Fuller does best: a completely unique world, with amazing visuals and a strong pull that will make you never want to let go.

Simply put, Hannibal is storytelling at its best. Will Graham (Dancy) is the most tragic character I’ve ever seen in TV history, and Mads Mikkelsen reaches new heights with his sincerely creepy portrayal of Hannibal Lector. Complex plots and even more complex characters, a tone that will pull you in while giving you nightmares, and a completely original visual style make Hannibal a must-see show. And for the feint of heart, I promise you if I can sit through it, you can too.

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Jason Stives (Music Editor, TV Columnist – The Americans, Mad Men, The Michael J. Fox Show, Dr. Who, New Girl, South Park)

Orphan Black (BBC America): When I reviewed the pilot of Orphan Black back in the spring I saw potential and over the following 9 weeks it was clear that this was something special in the realms of modern sci-fi television. The strange drama about a group of clones being picked off one by one by a secret organization proved to be better than most science fiction this year and yes, this is coming from the Doctor Who reviewer of the site. While the show’s themes of identity choices and the ethical implications of cloning make the show compelling enough it would not have been as strong as it was without its star, Tatiana Maslaney.

As her recent Golden Globe nomination proves she is quite an impressive young talent. Playing no less than 6 characters, her ability to place herself firmly in each role and giving it dimension with so little backstory says a lot. Each character is distinct and each one helps move the narrative in so many different directions revealing a possible twist each week. The center of the show is Sarah though as she represents the moral clause of the show and having the most to lose by having her daughter act as her deepest connection with the past she has tried to distance herself from.

The show has its share of strange happenings and rather emotionally involved moments but it never slows down its constantly running pace alongside the rather fast moving score. While you are viewing a great balance of action, drama, and even humor you are receiving a new sliver of info that allows the narrative to progress without overdoing the element of surprise. It’s a must watch if you love science fiction or drama or, well, anything that is just plain awesome.

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Masters of Sex (Showtime): Trouble early on could have easily followed Masters of Sex when it premiered back in September. Being based on the lives and work of real people all you had to do was Wikipedia the history of the two main characters to know where they ended up. But as films like Argo have shown, even if you know the outcome the build to that point, if done right, can have someone second guessing it. That’s why Masters of Sex works as well as it does because you know where they end up but question the journey along the way. The story of researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson is an engaging drama that follows the hardships of bringing the study of human sexuality to life as well as the emotional and intimate toll taken on the people involved in the research.

This is a show that doesn’t shy away from displaying in full the awkward nature of sexuality and intimacy. None of this would be pulled off convincingly if it wasn’t for the cast; Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan have a truly captivating relationship as Masters and Johnson built around a lot of sexual tension and muddled emotions. Anyone familiar with Sheen’s work already knows what he is capable of but Caplan is the one who gets the Gold Medal in balancing a vulnerable single mother with a learning, hardworking student of science. Everyone deserves recognition here but it’s Allison Janney who gives a beautiful and heartfelt performance as Margaret Scully, the wife of university provost Barton (Beau Bridges) who has never experienced true pleasure and is unaware that her husband and father of their daughter is in fact gay. Everyone pulls at the heart strings with their struggles but there is a sense of triumph every time something good happens to each character no matter how small or temporary it may be. Even at the end of the season there is a triumph out of the difficult nature of this season long excursion. To be rather cliché, fall 2014 can’t get here any sooner.

Photo: Erwin Olaf/SHOWTIME
Photo: Erwin Olaf/SHOWTIME

Logan J. Fowler (Video Game Editor, TV Columnist – The Michael J. Fox Show, Community)

Naked Vegas (Syfy): The world of body painting has gained a lot of momentum, capitalized on by shows like Face Off. Syfy continued exploring the “taboo” subject with Naked Vegas. Featuring a talented crew of artists, the show took the topic of painting skin and made it more unique than it has been seen in the mainstream. Not only did the employees featured create fantastic body art, but showed off special effect skills and projects that would make any Hollywood exec sit up and take notice. Doing work for Penn and Teller, alcohol distributors, and pin up burlesque shows may not exactly help the show get beyond being taboo, but watching the work unfold before your very eyes makes Naked Vegas really fascinating. It was one of my favorite shows that really just went against the grain, and more power to it. Hopefully it returns for another season.

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Lauren Stern (Assignment Editor, TV Columnist – Community, The Newsroom, Dexter, Law & Order: SVU)

Orange is the New Black (Netflix): In 2010, Piper Kerman released her best selling novel Orange is the New Black to share her stories from her year in a women’s correctional facility in Danbury, CT and to raise awareness about justice reform. This year, Netflix took her story and her underlying goal a step further by turning her experience into one of their original series. Netflix’s Orange is the New Black was the most ground-breaking series of the year and it wasn’t only because of a compelling storyline and an off-beat setting. It was primarily the characters (and the phenomenal cast who portrayed them) that really made this show one of the most talked about of the year. Never has a television show had such a diverse set of complex characters, and their backgrounds and the vulnerabilities are what’s going to keep viewers coming back for seasons to come. I personally can’t wait to see what the next season brings for Piper Chapman and the rest of the women in Litchfield next year.

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Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.