Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Attracting eyeballs

From The Good Wife to Breaking Bad, here's what kept us glued to our TVs -- and other assorted viewing devices -- in 2013

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Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, left, and Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, cook up some meth in Breaking Bad, which ended on a high note in 2013.


Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul, left, and Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, cook up some meth in Breaking Bad, which ended on a high note in 2013.

SOME things are simply not open to discussion.

Oh, sure the endless stream of top-10 lists and "Best of" compilations and "The year in (insert topic here)" reviews are intended as conversation starters, as shorthand distillations of opinion that invite readers to compare their preferences to those of the "experts" whose various subject areas are being addressed.

And what follows here, focused on the TV realm, is another such list, but this time with a bit of a twist: this time, No. 1 on the list is not debatable. You can try to argue, but you'd be wrong. No. 1 is numero uno, plain and simple. After that, we'll throw it open to free-for-all bickering and arguing about what belongs and what doesn't.

Here's our list of what was good, bad, weird, new and otherwise noteworthy on TV in 2013:


Breaking Bad

The betting here is that you won't find many (any?) year-end TV lists that don't name this AMC drama's amazing eight-episode stretch run as the best television of 2013. Grim, violent, starkly revealing and inspiringly dark, the final set of Breaking Bad instalments brought the story of teacher-turned-meth dealer Walter White to a perfect, just end. Bryan Cranston's work interpreting series creator Vince Gilligan's genius will stand forever as one of the medium's finest performances.

And after that, also memorable in 2013, in no particular order ...


Last Tango in Halifax

This unassuming Brit-import drama arrived on PBS with little fanfare and turned out to be one of the TV year's real treasures. Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid star as widowed 70-somethings who were once teenage sweethearts and might have fallen deeply in love if fate (and a meddlesome, jealous friend) hadn't intervened. Now, 60 years later, they're given a second chance at first love and are far too wise to let it slip away. Lovely, unique and charming.


The Netflix explosion

The online content provider's aggressive move into original programming forced everyone in the TV business to reconsider just what "television" means. The presences of such titles as House of Cards, Arrested Development and Orange Is the New Black -- which were distributed online and never aired on conventional broadcast or cable TV -- on various mainstream TV awards-show nominee lists signals a major shift in what the television business is and will be in the future. "TV" no longer refers just to that thing you watch; "TV" means programming content, on whichever platform delivers it.


The Blacklist

This NBC drama (which also airs on Global in Canada) quickly established itself as the best of the 2013-14 rookie crop, reinforcing the notion that James Spader is one of the most uniquely watchable actors working in TV these days.


His portrayal of former agent and current "most wanted" list entry Raymond (Red) Reddington, who makes a strange deal that finds him helping the FBI to hunt down other fugitives, is huge, creepy fun.


Miscellaneous misbehaviour

TV news had more of its share of distasteful antics to cover in 2013, from the political realm's still-deepening Senate expense-account scandal and the out-of-control Rob Ford soap opera to the pop-culture fusses caused by Miley Cyrus's twerk and Duck Dynasty's dad being a jerk. For news outlets and entertainment magazine shows, 2013 was a non-stop frenzy; for joke writers at TV's late-night talk shows, this was the easiest year ever.


The Amazing Race Canada

Thanks to Winnipeg's entry in this homegrown (and Canuck-border confined) spin on the popular reality/competition franchise, TV found a new inspiring hero in the person of Tim Hague Sr., who partnered with son Tim Jr. in the race and then relied on advice given by his wife (pay attention and take copious notes) to engineer a come-from-behind win in the series' first-season finale. Add in the fact that Hague endured the gruelling journey while dealing with early-onset Parkinson's disease, and you've got a winner whose triumph is hard not to celebrate.


Broadchurch/Top of the Lake

Two imported murder-mystery miniseries -- one from the U.K., the other from New Zealand -- deserved more acclaim and much bigger audiences than they received. Dark and bleak, sometimes to the point of being difficult to watch because they focused on murdered children, each did a masterful job of telling a very challenging story.


The continuing dominance of cable-channel dramas

There are still some solid, dependable, entertaining drama series on the major broadcast networks, from the aforementioned newcomer The Blacklist to the great (and still improving) veteran series The Good Wife, but TV's new golden age boasts a fast-growing population of outstanding shows on cable channels and premium pay-TV outlets. Returning series such as Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Justified and Sons of Anarchy continued to impress, and the addition of a new crop that includes Ray Donovan, Masters of Sex, The Americans and several titles mentioned above meant tough choices for viewers, as PVRs everywhere filled up far too quickly with must-see programming.


That girl from Saskatchewan

A year ago, no one had ever heard of Tatiana Maslany. But now, thanks to her role -- make that roles, as in at least 10 of them -- in the sci-fi thriller Orphan Black (which airs on Space), the Regina-born actress is the talk of the TV world. Her performance in Season 1 of Orphan Black, which concerns itself with a small-time con artist who discovers she's actually one of several products of an illegal human-cloning experiment, drew raves from critics everywhere and also sparked a minor wave of outrage when she was passed over by Emmy voters, who left her out of this year's best-actress bracket. She'll get another chance to be noticed, however -- Season 2 of Orphan Black premières in the spring.


The hockey deal

No one's sure yet exactly what it'll mean for hockey fans and their big-screen TV sets, but there's no question the recently announced 12-year, $5.2-billion deal that gives Rogers Communications exclusive national broadcast and digital-media rights to NHL games will bring major changes to the way Canadians watch hockey. TSN, perennially this country's pre-eminent sports network, loses the most important property in its roster. CBC will maintain Hockey Night in Canada for four more years, paying nothing for the sublet rights but reaping none of the advertising revenue generated by the Saturday-night institution. Hockey will reside mostly on Citytv and Rogers Sportsnet, and will likely be made available on numerous digital platforms as modes of delivering TV content continue to evolve. The big question, of course, is how much it's going to cost at-home fans to access hockey on what's sure to be a multi-tiered array of pay-to-watch-'em-play options.

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 G1

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