Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doctor Who Review: "The Time of The Doctor" - Smoke and Mirrors

Matt Smith made his swan song and Jenna-Louise Coleman wore a funny hat in "Doctor Who"

Steven Moffat writes Doctor Who like a magician performs an illusion.  He generally spends a great deal of time setting things up, posing the questions he wants to answer, and slowly drawing the viewer in until he reaches the climax and, with a flash of light, a puff of smoke, and a little bit of sleight of hand, everything pops into place and The Doctor (and by extension Moffat), jumps to his feet, raises his hands in the air and shouts “Ta-da!”

Moffat’s storytelling style isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it’s not like his predecessor Russell T Davies didn’t have some of the same quirks.  But last night’s swan song for Matt Smith, “The Time of The Doctor,” was like an illusion gone horribly wrong.  The trap door didn’t open.  The smoke bomb didn’t go off.  The assistant missed her cue.  All the whizzing and banging and lights and pomp were unable to conceal the stagehands working behind the curtain.  The entire thing didn’t make a damn lick of sense.  And yet there, at the end, were Matt Smith and Steven Moffat raising their hands in triumph, yelling “Ta-da!” and hoping beyond hope that we’ll applaud even in spite of the mess we’ve just seen.

I’ll be the first to admit that I can make the occasional misread of an episode of Doctor Who.  I had an extremely negative initial reaction to the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of The Doctor,” but I realized fairly quickly that that reaction was a result of my own expectations going into the episode as opposed to anything the episode actually did.  Here, however, I don’t think that it was my expectations causing problems.  This was after all, a fairly straightforward episode of Doctor Who.  The Doctor shows up to a place where mysterious things are happening, investigates, determines the problem, and saves the day.  The problem here is that the “mysterious things” are so convoluted and so obviously an attempt to wrap up four years' worth of story with a neat little bow that the result is more confusing than intriguing.  And The Doctor’s “solution” is basically to do nothing for 500 years until he’s saved by a Deus ex Machina (see also: “Parting of the Ways, The,” “Last of the Time Lords,” “Big Bang, The,” and “Wedding of River Song, The”).  It’s easily the most common way that Davies and Moffat have wrapped up their respective Doctor Who seasons but it often comes across as a cheat.  And the worst part is that here, again, it doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s see if I can understandably summarize the plot for “The Time of The Doctor” in a single paragraph.  The entire universe is being drawn to a planet by an undecipherable signal.  The Doctor investigates the planet, finds a lonely town called Christmas that’s surrounded by a truth field (preventing anybody from lying) and inhabited by maybe a couple hundred people, and discovers another rip in time (previously seen in season five).  It turns out the Time Lords are on the other side of this rip anxious to get back to our universe so they’re broadcasting a signal to get The Doctor’s attention.  That signal?  The question that must never be answered: Doctor Who?  That’s right.  This planet is Trenzalore.  And The Doctor’s greatest foes have gathered to keep him from saying his name and releasing the Time Lords on this universe once again.  At this point, “The Time of the Doctor” decides to “yada yada”* five centuries' worth of attacks and war as The Doctor decides to sit on his arse “protecting” the people of Christmas as he slowly dies of old age, having run out of regenerations.**  In the end, Clara (yes she’s still around, sort of) begs the Time Lords to help The Doctor.  They do…something, giving him a new set of regenerations, and letting him blast the hell out of the Daleks, who became the big bad about three-quarters of the way through the episode.  And did I mention that Madam Kovarian’s church and the Silence are the good guys now?  Yeah, that happened to.

* “Then the doctor said "No," yada, yada, yada.  Then the Sontarans and Cybermen attacked, yada, yada, yada.  Then there was a war, yada, yada, yada.”

** And let's not forget that "The Day of The Doctor" was an entire episode built around The Doctor(s) tricking the humans and the Zygons into negotiating a peace treaty.  He couldn't do the same with the church in 500 years?

Where do even begin?  Setting aside the small plot holes, let’s look at the big picture.  What does this all mean?  It sounds like a trite question, but “The Time of The Doctor” is the culmination of four years of the show and The Doctor’s adventures.  Is it too unreasonable to expect this episode to put a definitive stamp on who, exactly, the Eleventh Doctor is?  Instead, Moffat seems less concerned with whom The Doctor is and more concerned with what The Doctor did, eschewing any attempt at actual character development in favor of explaining long forgotten bits of plots like how the Silence blew up the TARDIS and Manchurian Candidated River Song in desperate attempts to change The Doctor’s timeline and prevent him from coming to Trenzalore. 

So who was The Doctor in this, his final episode?  The only thing you can really say about him is that he was the Man Who Waited.  Waited for what?  I don’t know.  But there’s no indication given at any point during the half-millennium Siege and Battle of Trenzalore that The Doctor did anything but wait for the next thing to happen.  But maybe that’s a fitting end to the Eleventh Doctor.  After all, throughout his run, Matt Smith’s Doctor has been defined not by himself but by the people (women really) with whom he has surrounded himself.  First with Amy, then River, and finally with Clara, no attempt has been made during Moffat’s tenure to really explore who The Doctor is.  Rather, it’s his companions who have been the mysteries in need of solving whether it was The Girl Who Waited, the sweetie with spoilers, or The Impossible Girl.  The Doctor has always had companions but never before has he been defined by them, as opposed to giving them definition.

This is a serious problem for Doctor Who because, while the show may get a bit of a reboot with the transition to Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, the same man is still behind the curtain pulling the strings.  Moffat has had four years to put his stamp on The Doctor and what has he shown the character to be?  “The Day of The Doctor” called the Eleventh Doctor “the one who forgets.”  But he could just as easily be called “the one who wants to be forgotten…except when he doesn’t.”  Nine was defined by The Time War, a manic figure clearly, in retrospect, suffering from PTSD.  Ten kept a bit of that mania, still regretting his actions, but capable of forging real, human connections and, in his final moments, showing how human he had become, begging and yearning for just a little more time.  Eleven?  I just don’t know.  He was an egomaniacal madman, utterly convinced of his own brilliance and invulnerability (especially remarkable given his admission last night that this was his final form) until he wanted to be forgotten, which he was, until he wasn’t anymore.  “The Time of The Doctor” was Moffat’s chance to define the meaning of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor and he failed.

It really is a shame.  I first started watching Doctor Who weekly with “The Eleventh Hour” after binge-watching the first four seasons (and specials) over a couple of months.  I do consider Matt Smith, more than anybody else anyway, to be “my Doctor.”  And yet I can’t help but think that he was let down by Moffat.  The first season and a half of Smith’s tenure were amazing, with Moffat and Smith seemingly perfecting the nature of an 1100-year-old man in a young man’s body.  But the last two years have seen the story spiral out of control as Moffat has lost his focus on The Doctor in favor of spinning more and more intricate plot webs every year.  A new Doctor is here, but the same showrunner remains.  Hopefully, Capaldi’s iteration allows Moffat to focus on his characters, rather than his illusions.

A couple of spare thoughts –

I think it says a lot about Moffat that, of all the ways he could end Smith’s tenure and of all the people he could have paired him with, it’s Amy who gets the last goodbye and not Clara or, you know, The Doctor’s WIFE, River.

Clara also gets sidelined for pretty much the entire episode, serving only to delay the return of the TARDIS to The Doctor and as the jumpstart to the Time Lords’ Deus ex Machina.  She’s mostly served as a puzzle to be solved thus far but hopefully, with a new Doctor, whom SHE PLEASE WON’T FANCY (because dear God we don’t need another companion in love with The Doctor), she’ll be developed more as a character.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Best of Television 2013, pt. 2: Those Continuing On

Jim Caviezel will make you hurt in "Person of Interest"

As I mentioned in my introductory post, there’s just too much good television today.  So apart from my Top Ten list, which should post next week, I figured I would highlight the other shows that, while not at the top of the medium, are nonetheless worthy of praise.  Last week, I looked at shows either making their debuts in 2013 or that ended their runs in 2013.  Today, I’ll be looking at shows that were airing before 2013 and which are going to continue airing into the future.

The Big Bang Theory (CBS) -
In doing some research recently I came across a number of reviews for the pilot of The Big Bang Theory and the universal opinion was that it was terrible.  And the amazing thing, watching it again six years later, is that that first episode really was awful, full of lame jokes and quite a bit of laughing at rather than laughing with its characters.  But over the years The Big Bang Theory has evolved into a completely different show, largely thanks to the introduction of additional female characters in Bernadette and Amy. 

While it’s difficult to pick out many amazing moments in the past year of The Big Bang Theory, it’s impossible not to see what attracts this show to such a large audience (the largest demo audience in the country).  This year’s episodes have really highlighted the women as Howard and Bernadette settled into married life, Kate Micucci’s Lucy made a huge impact on Raj, and Amy brought Sheldon to a new level of intimacy.  The latter’s pairing is not the most conventional, granted, but it’s tough not to tear up at the idea of them simulating sex in Dungeons and Dragons.

Only the last two episodes of The Big Bang Theory are available to stream on though reruns play several times each week on TBS.

Boardwalk Empire (HBO) –
Boardwalk Empire is a show that commands attention.  By that, I don’t mean to say that it’s so much a “must-watch” show as that it requires a close watch to really understand and enjoy.  Boardwalk Empire is a show that takes its time developing a story, with everything coming together in the end.  It's also a show that's not afraid to take chances, whether that's killing the co-lead or, for example, this past season when the show sidelined its traditional Atlantic City locale and led character Nucky for prominent stories following Al Capone and Van Alden in Chicago and Chalky White and newcomer Dr. Valentin Narcisse in New York City.

The fourth season of Boardwalk Empire was a season of big plays as Capone worked to take over Chicago, heroin made its way into New York City, and the FBI took an interest in everybody.  It all wraps up, not with a tidy little bow, but with the requisite hail of gunfire, betrayals, and deaths.  This is a show that really demands multiple viewings, because it is just as fun watching the pieces fall into place while knowing the outcome as it is to see the series play out the first time.

The first four seasons of Boardwalk Empire are available on HBO Go.  The series will likely return in the fall of 2014.

Downton Abbey (PBS) –
I don’t think that Downton Abbey is a great show but, at times, it is able to merge its melodrama and soap opera elements to produce great drama, and it did so twice in 2013 with the deaths of Sybil and Michael Crawley.  While the latter’s death is more shocking, coming in a car accident after the birth of his son, it is the former that is granted an entire episode and which has the greatest emotional impact on the rest of the series. 

What surprised me most about these two momentous events on Downton this past year was how willing the show was to truly delve into their consequences.  The full cost of Michael’s death has yet to be seen (at least by American viewers), but Sybil’s death leads to her husband Tom’s full integration into the family and really casts a pall over the second half of the third season.  Additionally, while I occasionally struggle with Julian Fellowes’s obvious love for the British aristocracy, season three of Downton Abbey often delved into the problems that arise when the family tries too hard to adhere too closely to the old ways of doing things, most notably in Robert’s insistence on trusting a famous, aristocratic doctor over the local doctor with more experience.

Like I said, Downton Abbey isn’t a great show, but it knows how to create great moments, and that’s why I highlight it here.

Season three of Downton Abbey is currently re-airing on PBS and is also available to stream through Amazon Prime.  Season four airs in the United States on PBS beginning January 5th.

Girls (HBO) –
Girls is a tough show for me.  I’m not a huge fan if only because the plight of twenty-something white girls in Brooklyn just doesn’t much intrigue me.  I put off watching the first season until long after it aired and watched the first several episodes of season two pile up on my DVR before finally powering through.  And what I saw was actually really good. 

Girls is at its best when it splits up its titular characters and lets them interact with others.  Arguably the best episode of season two was “One Man’s Trash” which spends the bulk of its time with only Lena Dunham’s Hannah and Patrick Wilson’s Joshua, whom we’ve never seen before and will never seen again.  Watching Hannah get to reflect off of one relatively sane character for an entire episode gave us (and her) a lot of insight into the character and showed what the show can really do when it takes the time to really explore the depths of its characters.  Season two was full of exploration and was all the better for it.

The first two seasons of Girls are available through HBO Go.  Season three premieres on HBO on January 12th.

Justified (FX) –
I’ve been sitting here for 15 minutes trying to think of what to say about Justified.  I want to say that it’s deep and complex.  I want to see that it’s a probing look at criminal life in rural Kentucky.  I want to say that it’s an inside take on what law enforcement agents must do to keep the peace.  But it’s not any of those things.  What it is instead is a fabulously fun show done extremely well.

Season four of Justified started off a little slow as the mystery of Drew Thompson unfolded.  But once that mystery was solved and the resulting story spooled out, the show may have had its best run of episodes ever, beginning with one of the tightest, tensest hours of television in 2013, “Decoy.”  Even beyond the story, however, this last season saw Justified expand beyond its core cast and bring out bigger performances by regulars Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel as the Deputy US Marshals while also featuring its requisite amazing guest stars, most notably Patton Oswalt and Jere Burns, who’s getting upgraded to the main cast for season five.

Justified might be the most fun show on television.  I’m not sure that it’s aspiring to be anything revolutionary, but sometimes great performances in service of a good show are all you need.

The first three seasons of Justified are available to stream through Amazon Prime, with season four likely available there shortly.  Season five is set to debut on FX on January 7th.

New Girl (Fox) –
Six months ago I suggested that New Girl would be my choice to win the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy.  I stand by that pick as the second season found the show really hitting its stride and figuring out how to bring Nick and Jess together as a couple without upsetting the show’s dynamics.  Unfortunately, the first half of the show’s third season has not been as strong, resulting in it falling outside of my Top Ten and dropping behind two other comedies in the process.

That’s not to say New Girl has been bad, mind you.  It’s just that the show has struggled this season to keep the characters’ relationships interesting, with many episodes devolving into a bunch of people yelling at each other for only vaguely articulated reasons.  The resolution of Schmidt’s love triangle and the reintroduction of Damon Wayans, Jr. as Coach have helped some of that, but Winston is little more than a crazy person at this point and Nick and Jess’s relationship continues to have issues.  Still, few shows’ jokes are funnier at this point and when New Girl is at the top of its game, it is the best comedy on television.

The first two seasons of New Girl are available on Netflix while the last five episodes are available on Hulu+.  New Girl returns to Fox with new episodes on January 7th.

Person of Interest (CBS) –
I wrote a few weeks ago about Person of Interest’s big turning point episode and while I thought they had made some big-picture mistakes, the execution of the episode in particular and the storyline in general were fantastic, if only because it led to this. 

What’s been most surprising is the show’s willingness to get deep into the meaning of artificial intelligence and an all-seeing, all-knowing program placed in the hands of both the good and bad guys.  Season two ends with the realization that The Machine is actually alive and capable of controlling itself while season three continues the NSA allegory with multiple groups fighting over multiple computers capable of watching and recording our every move.  Obviously this is a CBS show, so they can’t really deal with the big ideas very often.  But when they can, it makes for some really great television that’s unlike anything else currently on broadcast television.

The previous two episodes of Person of Interest are available at  New episodes return January 7th.

Well that rounds out my “Next Best” of 2013.  I’ll be back in a few days with my Top Ten shows of 2013.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Best of Television 2013, pt. 1: The Newcomers and The Dearly Departed

Olivia Colman and David Tennant in "Broadchurch

As I mentioned last week, there’s just too much good television today.  So apart from my Top Ten list, which should post next week, I figured I would highlight the other shows that, while not at the top of the medium, are nonetheless worthy of praise.  Today, I’ll be looking at shows that debuted in 2013 as well as those shows that finished their runs this past year.

The Newcomers –
Malin Akerman is great and so is "Trophy Wife"
Banshee (Cinemax) –
Cinemax has a rather lurid programming history, but in 2011 the network decided to rebrand itself as something of an R-rated Spike TV, with original programming focused on action and sex, targeting men in the 18-49 demographic.  Their first two series, Strike Back and Hunted, were British co-productions.  But last January they launched their first home-grown original series, Banshee, starring Anthony Starr as an ex-con who steals the identity of a small-town sheriff in order to hide from his former employer.

The setup sounds ridiculous, but the execution is fantastic in a ridiculous, pulpy, over the top way.  The action is brutally violent with fight scenes occasionally extending for several minutes and even over multiple acts.  And the season-long storyline, which involves a local mob, the Amish community, and a drug kingpin straddling both, is tight and twisty, putting Starr’s Lucas Hood in constant danger while creating inventive ways to get him out of trouble.  Banshee isn’t going to win many Emmys (though the pilot won for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role this year), but it’s a fun show that knows what it wants to do and does it well.

Season one of Banshee is available on Max Go, Cinemax’s streaming service.  The show has been renewed for a second season, which will debut on Cinemax on January 10, 2014.

Broadchurch (BBC America) -
I’ve been holding off on publishing my Best of 2013 articles because I wanted to get through BBC America’s Broadchurch.  Well, I’ve made it through seven of the eight first season episodes and I feel comfortable saying that, while the show is a gripping, emotional drama, it’s not quite good enough to crack my ten.  It is, however, more than good enough for me to include in a list of the best new shows of 2013. 

Imported from Britain, Broadchurch is a crime drama set in a gorgeous seaside town in south England.  David Tennant and Olivia Colman spend the series investigating the murder of a young boy, Danny.  But the actual crime is often the least interesting part of the show as Broadchurch delves into the lives of the townspeople and the wake left behind by Danny’s death.  This isn’t a whodunit mystery, so much as a complex character piece that is framed by the investigation.  The acting is phenomenal, as you would expect from leads with the pedigree of Tennant and Colman, but Jodie Whittaker is the real star here as Danny’s grieving mother.  The rest of the town is populated by a who’s who of British character actors, most prominently Arthur Darvill as the town Priest and David Bradley as a local shop owner, each with a complicated, mysterious past of their own.

Like I said, I haven’t yet seen the final episode and so I don’t know who the killer actually is.  But, really, it seems almost beside the point because the journey thus far has been so wonderful. 

Broadchurch is currently available through BBC America On Demand.  The show has been renewed for a second series which should air in 2014, though it may not air in the United States until 2015.  Additionally, Fox is developing an American version also starring David Tennant scheduled to air during the 2014-15 season.

The Bridge (FX) –
It’s possible to interpret The Bridge as an experiment in meta-textual storytelling.  Like its characters, whose lives straddle the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, The Bridge is a show living in two worlds.  The first is a police procedural focusing on a string of heinous murders that force officers from each country to collaborate.  The second is a psychological thriller in which an aggrieved father commits a string of heinous murders in an elaborate attempt to enact revenge on the police officers whom he blames for the deaths of his wife and child. 

That first show is amazing.  Diane Kruger and Demi├ín Bichir play the mismatched detectives with great dexterity.  They could make even a standard CBS procedural interesting.  But here, given the ability to flesh out juicy back stories and family lives, Kruger and Bichir shine.  Unfortunately, the show’s season-long storyline was too over-the-top, representing perhaps the nadir of what Alyssa Rosenberg called “TV’s mastermind problem.”  Still, despite the problems that story caused, the rest of the show was amazing and I’m really looking forward to seeing what it’s capable of now that it’s able to get out from under its Danish inspiration’s story.

Season one of The Bridge is currently not available to stream, though it has been renewed for a second season likely to air in the summer of 2014.

Derek (Netflix) –
Derek is by no means a perfect show.  I think it wants to be warm-hearted and feel-good television but doesn’t really know how to make us like its characters.  It also has to straddle a dangerous line to create comedic situations with a mentally handicapped lead and a background full of elderly people without making the audience laugh at those characters.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always land on the right side of that line.  Ricky Gervais is an abrasive comic known for his ability to offend and, while he manages to mostly bury his more offensive instincts here, he’s not always completely successful.

But sometimes the right show will hit you in the right emotional spot at the right time and Derek did that to me.  I watched the season finale (in which Gervais’s Derek reunites with his estranged father) not too long after my own father’s passing and it just wrecked me.  I’ve never cried that hard at any piece of media, television or film.  Granted, most of the tears were borne of grief, but isn’t that the point of television: to reach us emotionally?  Well that’s exactly what Derek did for me, which is why it was one of my favorite new shows of the year.

Season one of Derek is available on Netflix.  The show has been renewed for a second season and will likely be available some time in 2014.

Sleepy Hollow (Fox) –
Sleepy Hollow shouldn’t be good.  The story is ludicrous.  I mean, Ichabod Crane worked for George Washington during the Revolutionary War before killing, and being killed by, the Headless Horseman, who is also Death, one of the Four Horsemen.  He then awakens in 2013, where the Headless Horseman is riding again, with myriad monsters joining him. 

Just reading that makes me laugh at the craziness at it all.  But Sleepy Hollow figured something out that more genre shows, and television shows in general, could stand to learn: if you get your characters right, viewers will forgive a lot of craziness.  And this show gets its characters right.  Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie play Crane and his police officer companion Abbie Mills.  They have amazing, platonic chemistry that allows them each to recite absolutely ridiculous dialogue but to sell it to each other in a way that helps the viewer buy in as well.

And while the overall story is crazy, the individual plot elements progress logically and the show doesn’t feel the need to hold back on plot or draw things out.  There’s no way of knowing if Sleepy Hollow will be able to keep the crazy train on track, but for now it’s a hell of a ride.

The last eight episodes of Sleepy Hollow (all but the first two) are currently available to stream on Hulu+.  A new episode will air on Fox on January 13th, prior to the two-hour season finale on January 20th.

Trophy Wife (ABC) –
I was very favorable toward Trophy Wife in my review of the pilot back in September and the show has only improved from there.  It’s no longer a Malin Ackerman star vehicle, instead falling into a nice routine of crazy family hijinks comedy, much like the first couple seasons of Modern Family.  Where the show really shines is in its ability to mix and match its cast to tell different stories.  Putting Kate and Bert together makes for comedic gold, but Warren and his mom Diane make for delightfully neurotic pairing as well.  And for as funny as the kids on Trophy Wife are, the show may have been at its best in its Christmas episode when they were largely sidelined as the adults tried to reconstruct the events of their alcohol and absinthe-fueled Christmas party.

Trophy Wife isn’t perfect by any means.  The show still struggles to integrate Natalie Morales’s character Meg.  But everything involving the extended family is just great, and it’s a shame that the show hasn’t garnered a bigger audience.  I would highly suggest you hop on board now because, unless ABC changes its tune soon and decides to air Trophy Wife after mega-hit Modern Family (the show’s seemingly natural pairing), it likely won’t be renewed for next season.

All ten episodes of Trophy Wife are currently available on Hulu+.  New episodes will air beginning January 7th.

Vikings (History) -
I wasn’t sure what to make of Vikings when it first premiered last spring.  I wasn’t extremely intrigued by the pilot or even the second episode, but one thing kept me coming back and that was the performances of Travis Fimmel and Katheryn Winnick as the main character Ragnar and his wife Lagertha.  I even went so far as to nominate Winnick for an Emmy in my dream ballot.  It’s a difficult thing to portray a fully-developed, meaningful relationship between two characters who spend a good chunk of their time apart, but these two pull it off, while also delivering some bad-ass fight scenes to boot.

The other bit that impressed me about Vikings was that, like Sleepy Hollow, it’s not a show that hesitates to burn through plot points when the story demands it.  You’ll often see, especially on network television, shows hesitate to kill a character or introduce a story because they know they need to fill out what Christine Becker has called “the indefinite middle,” wherein a network show is forced to stall their storylines to fill out a never-ending run of 22 episode seasons.  Hell, the most prominent example is actually a cable show, Sons of Anarchy, which refused to kill off one of its main characters long after he reached the point of no return on the show, instead introducing multiple deus ex machina to keep him alive, until most viewers no longer cared when he actually did die.  Vikings suffers from no such faults.  Characters die when the story says they should die and plot points are introduced and retired as the story demands.  And the show is all the better for it.

Season one of Vikings is available to stream through Amazon Prime.  Season two debuts in February 2014.

The Dearly Departed –
Elisha Cuthbert was amazing in "Happy Endings"
30 Rock (NBC) –
I spent a great deal of time debating whether or not 30 Rock would earn a spot on my overall Top Ten.  After all, every episode the show aired in 2013 was a legitimately great episode and it culminated in what was, to me, perhaps the most satisfying series finale in recent history.  Yes, Breaking Bad included.  But, ultimately, I decided that I couldn’t include it because 30 Rock only aired five episodes this year out of its 13 episode final season.  Maybe that’s not fair, especially given that two of the shows on my final list aired eight and seven episodes respectively, but I felt that I couldn’t properly evaluate the 2013 portions of 30 Rock apart from the episodes that aired in 2012.

But that doesn’t mean the final season, final episodes, and even the entirety of 30 Rock weren’t great television.  They were.  For seven years the show was a joke machine, cranking out punch line after punch line.  They may have had an occasional down period now and then, especially during the fifth and sixth seasons, but it’s no accident that the show was nominated for an Outstanding Comedy Emmy for each of its seven seasons and walked away with three of them.  I don’t know that 30 Rock ever infiltrated the cultural consciousness the way The Office or The Big Bang Theory did, but it stayed far funnier for far longer than either and, had it aired more than five episodes in 2013, would easily have ended up in my Top Ten.

All seven seasons of 30 Rock are available on Netflix.

Bunheads (ABC Family) –
On paper, I shouldn’t have like Bunheads.  I’m not a fan of ballet.  I don’t particularly care for stories focused on teenaged girls.  And while the show had a fine pedigree (creator and executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino), I hadn’t really watched her best-known work, Gilmore Girls.  I also thought the title was stupid.  But my wife wanted to see it and it got a reasonable recommendation from a handful of television critics whom I trust, so I gave it a shot. 

And here’s the thing: I loved it.  Bunheads was a legitimately good family comedy.  It was funny when it needed to be funny.  It was dramatic when it needed to be dramatic.  It was heartfelt and touching when it needed to be heartfelt and touching.  It was a versatile show that could really do everything well, accompanied by the characteristic patter that Sherman-Palladino has made her trademark.  What surprised me, given that the show aired on ABC Family, was how little it focused on the girls, instead making Sutton Foster’s Michelle the focus of the story with recurring star Kelly Bishop’s fanny as her regular antagonist.

But when Bunheads came back in January to air the second half of its first and only season, the girls came into focus and really began to establish themselves as the co-leads of the show.  Sasha had to work through her parents’ divorce while Boo and Ginny explored the world of dating and presented one of the most honest looks at virginity that I’ve seen on television recently.  Bunheads only got better throughout its first season as it found its feet and its characters.  Unfortunately, it never found an audience, so these 16 episodes are all we’ll ever get.

Bunheads is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Happy Endings (ABC) –
I want to say that ABC’s scheduling killed Happy Endings.  I really do.  In the fall of 2012, the network delayed the show’s premiere into October and aired two episodes before taking a week off for the Election Night.  They then aired two more episodes before taking a week off for Thanksgiving.  Then, after airing three episodes in December, the show took off two weeks for the holidays.  Not satisfied with those scheduling shenanigans, ABC decided to start doubling up by airing episodes at 9:00 on Sunday nights during January before finally shuffling the show off to die on Fridays.

The fact is, though, that Happy Endings got to spend a year airing after ABC’s top show, Modern Family, and for whatever reason, just never caught on.  And it’s really a shame because Happy Endings was one of the funniest comedies on television during its three year run.  It managed to perfectly blend the joke-a-minute pace of shows like 30 Rock with the sitcom setups of a Modern Family while still showing a little heart like Parks and Recreation.  This show also introduced us to the delightful comedic timing of Elisha Cuthbert, who I wouldhave nominated for an Emmy in 2013. 

While Happy Endings’s final season may not have been as funny as its second, the back-loaded schedule still gave us 16 great episodes in 2013 including a food truck war, “Black Plague: A Love Story,” and Max blowing up his limo in the glorious climax of a prank war.  Like Bunheads, Happy Endings was taken from us too soon.

Happy Endings is not currently available for streaming, but expect it to pop up somewhere soon.

So those are my picks for the best new shows of 2013 (to not make my Top Ten) and the best shows to end their runs.  Coming soon, the (almost) best returning shows of 2013.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.