2013 was a beauty. While some may claim that television is a dying medium in a digital age, I say that couldn’t be less true. In 1970, at the time considered the peak of television, Americans spent 1,226 hours a year watching television. By 2009, it had jumped to 1,774 hours. Our online habits do not necessarily replace television watching, but supplement them, much like how the film industry remained strong after televisions became a staple of the family living room. TV is still a hearth, a central medium. I still remember coming home from school the day of the Boston Bombings to find my roommates staring at the television, not at their laptops.
But TV isn’t just a medium that unites us in real-world events; it also unites us in our entertainment. And with that, here are the top 10 TV stories from the past year.
10. “Family Guy”: The Life and Death of Brian Griffin
Whether you love it or hate it, “Family Guy” has made its mark on pop culture since it came back on the airwaves in 2005. When the “Family Guy” panelists at Comic-Con this year revealed that they were planning to kill off a main family member, theories were rampant. Was Seth Green tiring of the show? Or perhaps Mila Kunis was finally moving on? When the time came, however, the family dog Brian was killed and replaced with the irksome, necklace-clad, stereotypically Italian pussyhound Vinny- only to come back two episodes later. Some of us fell for it, others refused to believe the scheme. The fans who campaigned for the show to bring Brian back may feel like the won, but in reality the “Family Guy” creators are the real winners, receiving a boost in ratings for their efforts. As creator Seth MacFarlane posted on Twitter, “I mean, you didn’t really think we’d kill of Brian, did you? Jesus, we’d have to be fucking high.”
On a related note, animated series “Futurama” came to a close this year to the disappointment of many fans. The comedy from “The Simpsons” creators may not have had as much longevity as its sister series, but it’s not necessarily over and done with; the upcoming “Simpsons” season finale will reportedly be a “Futurama” crossover.
9. Chaos at NBC: Comedy Done Right?
NBC will always be the king of sitcoms in my mind: “Friends”, “Seinfeld”, “Fraser”, “Will & Grace”, and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” dominated the genre, and the NBC comedy lineup simply could not be beat. Now, however, the dwindling network is in dire straights. NBC’s most well-known sitcoms, “The Office” and “30 Rock”, both closed shop this year, leaving the network with a situation. Try as they might, NBC has not been able to recapture their glory days, constantly throwing shows into their lineup only to pull them out by the end of the year. Last season, the network gutted nearly their entire comedy lineup, including the bland “Whitney” and messy “Up All Night”. Much to everyone’s surprise, the only two comedies kept by NBC were critical darlings Community and Parks and Recreation, both of which have been on thin ice for years due to low viewership. NBC seems desperate enough to rely on a small but loyal fanbase while they keep on trying find a hit. Despite desperate promotion and strong leads anchoring their newest attempts, Sean Saves the World and The Michael J. Fox Show, both shows have floundered. One can only hope that if they stop trying so hard, the peacock network can soon find success that both executives and audiences can enjoy.
8. Netflix Emerges: “House of Cards” holds strong, “Arrested Development” lives up to its name
Just when you thought you were spending too much of your life on Netflix, the company dipped their toes in the pool of original programming. And by dipped their toes, I mean jumped in and made a splash. Leading the charge was hit political thriller “House of Cards” (prospective USC candidates might want to take note of how Kevin Spacey’s ruthless character gets what he wants in the political sphere). “Orange is the New Black” and “Hemlock Grove” garnered decisive responses, but it was the way-way-way-highly-anticipated fourth season of “Arrested Development” that had viewers scratching their heads. With intersecting plotlines that make “Lost” looks like a children’s book, the season divided critics and audiences like no other. Was the show edging towards a brave new world, had the comedy lost its sparkle in the gaping years, or had the writers just gone mental? No matter what, it’s a guarantee that Netflix profited – there’s always money in the banana stand.
7. Late Night Shuffling: So long Leno, meet Seth Myers!
One of America’s most recognizable chins – I mean, faces – is retreating from his nightly spot. For good, this time (supposedly). Jay Leno announced his retirement from NBC’s “The Tonight Show” this year, ending his run as a well-known but controversial talk show host. Leno may have allegedly “stolen” “The Tonight Show” from David Letterman in 1992 (previous host Johnny Carson had wanted Letterman to be his successor), but there’s no question that Leno has done a great job since. Of course, controversy arose again during the whole Leno vs. Conan debacle, where Leno left “The Tonight Show”, was replaced by Conan O’Brien, and then returned to take his spot when ratings faltered.
With Letterman at CBS and O’Brien at TBS, the reshuffling after Leno’s retirement is straightforward. Leno will hand “The Tonight Show” over to Jimmy Fallon, and Fallon will in turn pass his later timeslot to “Saturday Night Live” headwriter Seth Myers. Fallon has already proved his competence as a host for many years, and I’m looking very forward to seeing Myers on his own show after 7 years as “SNL”’s “Weekend Update” host. Leno’s departure indicates the end of an era, but be sure to check out the premieres of “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” on February 17th and “Late Night with Seth Myers” on February 24th.
6. Unexpected Losses: Corey Monteith and James Gandolfini
Two tragedies made headlines this year, with the deaths of Glee star Corey Monteith and “The Sopranos”’ very own James Gandolfini. On July 13th, Monteith was found in a Vancouver hotel room after dying of an overdose of heroin and alcohol, at age 31. Monteith was known as the quarterback Finn Hudson on “Glee”, and the third episode of the most recent season paid tribute to the loss of the character. Gandolfini, famous for his Emmy-winning portrayal of mafia boss and family man Tony Soprano, died of a heart attack at age 51 June 19th while on vacation in Rome. Both actors were featured in the 65th Primetime Emmy Award’s “In Memoriam” tribute alongside Jonathan Winters, Jean Stapleton, and Gary David Goldberg.
5. The Golden Age of TV: The Best of Premium Cable and Broadcast Networks
For the second year, the Emmy category for Outstanding Drama Series only included shows from premium networks such as HBO and Showtime, as were half the nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series. While this may symbolize the decline of major networks like NBC and CBS, others suggest that we’re entering a golden age in television. CBS may be able to offer us light-hearted, low-brow comedies with more mass appeal such as “The Big Bang Theory” or “How I Met Your Mother”, but giants like HBO and AMC have the means to create lavish stories like “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad”, with the types of production value that were previously reserved for big screen films. TV comedy’s range has never been larger: the easiest-to-please viewers can kick back with some “Two and Half Men”, others can enjoy the smart comedy of “Modern Family”, and those looking for something more thought-provoking can tune in to “Louie” or “Girls”. The spectrum of television programming is astonishing: we have dozens of crime procedural dramas, reality-competition shows, thrilling miniseries, intense dramas, laugh-out-loud sitcoms, and everything in between. TV isn’t dying; it’s thriving.
4. Reality Transcended: Celebrity Dynasties, both Kardashian and Duck
2013 was a big year for me: I watched my first episode of “Storage Wars”. I was at a Comfort Inn at 10 o’clock in Hamilton, and I stumbled across the show while flicking through the channels. There wasn’t anything particularly enticing about the show, but I ended up watching about an hour and a half of strangers bidding for the contents of storage units and then selling them at a higher value. Though “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” may not have made as much of a stir this year, lots of vastly different reality shows have come up in recent headlines, including “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, “Duck Dynasty”, “Breaking Amish”, “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”, “Ice Road Truckers”, and “Swamp People”. I’m not sure if all of these are real things, if I’m mistaken please let me know in the comment section. In any case, clearly all of our lives are not nearly as interesting as those who exist in the little boxes in our living rooms, so carry on with the reality TV!
3. “Game of Thrones”: The Lannisters Always Pay their Debts
There’s no possible way to not discuss season 3 of “Game of Thrones” when recounting the year in TV, so beware spoilers from here on out. If it weren’t for Walder Frey, it’d be hard to choose the year’s most gripping moment of the rule-breaking, swords and sorcery, fantasy drama. One plotline included a season-long torture session that ends with an ambitious young man’s dick in a box – and no, the box isn’t attached to his body. From the tales of lost love from beyond the wall to the adventures of our favorite Stark child, Arya, it was impossible to predict where in the realm we’d end up next (unless you read the book of course). But of course, if you watched this year’s season you know why “Game of Thrones” is on this list: the brutal, bloody, and shocking massacre in the penultimate episode that we know as the Red Wedding. The surprise bridal festivities, bringing about a sudden end to the show’s Stark/Lannister conflict as well as a few major characters, were so abrupt and graphic that it has taken a long time for many viewers to shake off the feeling. But never fear, season 4 returns in just a few short months!
2. Back from the Dead: “Sherlock” Returns
Okay, it’s a little bit of a cheat in a 2013 list, but the detective’s much-anticipated return on January 1st of the New Year has been two years in the making. Benedict Cumberbatch – the only person in the world with a sillier, more ludicrously-British name than Sherlock Holmes himself – reprises the role after a shocking cliffhanger and a faked suicide that led to a worldwide cry of “how did he do it?” The Sheldon Cooper/Dr. House-like character may have been popular when the show first premiered in 2010, but the star power of the BBC series has exploded since then. Cumberbatch has since starred in Hollywood films such as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, “Star Trek Into Darkness”, “The Fourth Estate”, and “12 Years a Slave”. His companion John Watson, who Martin Freeman portrays perfectly with the best qualities of an ordinary everyman, has had his face plastered across the world under the guise of Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit” trilogy, in which Cumberbatch also lends his voice-acting and motion-capture talents as two different antagonists. While their feature film flights have been enjoyable, what many of us have been salivating over has been the opportunity to see Cumberbatch as Sherlock on the small screen again.
1. Nothing Beside Remains: “Breaking Bad”’s Monumental Departure
Was there any way that “Breaking Bad” wouldn’t top the list? Vince Gilligan’s drama about a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher transforming in the drug kingpin of the Southwest will go down in history as one of the greatest shows of all time, and I don’t say that lightly. What can I say that hasn’t already been said in nearly every Top 10 TV list online? The show stuck the landing, ending the series with such heart-stopping finality that the last eight episodes caused Twitter to explode, critics to swoon, and audiences to wring their hands with frightened faces but satisfied smiles. “Breaking Bad” was everywhere this year, a pop culture phenomenon. Guinness World Records called the show the highest-rated TV series of all time, and the third-to-last episode “Ozymandias” was so heart-wrenchingly remarkable that it received a perfect 10 score on IMDb. Hank’s series-long journey from bone-head brother to bona fide hero; Walt Jr.’s reaction to the man behind the curtain; Skyler’s and Jesse’s lives, both tortured by a monster they only scratched the surface; and Walter White’s tale ending with what can only be called a hint of redemption and nothing more. This is the show of 2013, no question.
Of course, this top 10 list is only my personal opinion. Do you have a reason to believe that “Bob’s Burgers” was so amazing this year that it deserved the number one spot? Upset that I didn’t mention “Archer”, “Suits”, or “The Walking Dead” once? Were you one of the few people who actually watched “Low Winter Sun” after each “Breaking Bad” episode? Please, voice your thoughts below, I love suggestions for shows I should be watching.