The Best New TV Shows of 2013

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  • Publish Date: December 11, 2013

This year's best-reviewed new series, ranked by Metascore

Below, we list the 10 highest-scoring new TV shows to debut in the U.S. during the 2013 calendar year. Shows must have at least 15 reviews from professional critics to qualify for the list. TV movies, specials, and one-off miniseries are excluded from this list (though they are ranked in a separate list further below). Note that Metascores are based on reviews at the time of each show's debut, which generally reflect just the pilot and perhaps a few subsequent episodes (though cable networks generally provide more episodes in advance to critics).

1. The Returned 92 Supernatural drama | Sundance

"Defying expectations while rewiring what a 'zombie' series can be, The Returned is one of the most intriguing, utterly original offerings of the year."

—Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter

The year's best-reviewed new series offers a non-traditional take on the overdone zombie genre, with subtitles and an eerie soundtrack by the band Mogwai. Here, when the dead return to life in a small French town, they don't behave like zombies (or even know that they're dead, for that matter), but there's still plenty of creepiness and suspense as they struggle to fit in to their past lives. Known (like the 2004 film that preceded it) as Les Revenants when it aired in late 2012 on French television, the eight-episode first season of The Returned debuted on Sundance this fall, where it continues to run on Thursdays at 9pm. A second season is due in 2014.

2. Broadchurch 91 Drama | BBC America

"It's among the best detective shows--and perhaps even among the best dramas--in several years. It will break your heart and keep you guessing all the way through."

—Hank Stuever, Washington Post

A season-long exploration of a murder investigation that rips apart a peaceful seaside town in Britain, the ITV-produced Broadchurch might be be among the year's bleakest TV offerings (and that's saying something), but it features strong performances throughout, especially from leads David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Olivia Colman (Peep Show), and it was Britain's most-watched new show this year, before coming to the States via BBC America. A second season has been ordered, and Fox has also picked up an American remake for its 2014-15 season (with Tennant reprising his role, joined by Anna Gunn and Jacki Weaver).

3. Masters of Sex 85 Drama | Showtime

"Masters of Sex is the best new show of the fall by a very long stretch. It's also a refreshing anomaly: a prestige cable drama that doesn't feel like a recombination of elements from 15 shows that came before it."

—Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

Showtime's answer to Mad Men goes back a bit further in time—the late 1950s—to depict the birth of the working (and otherwise) relationship between pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. The debut season concludes Sunday night at 10p (by which time it may have picked up some Golden Globe nominations for stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan), and the series has been renewed for a second season.

4. Rectify 81 Drama | Sundance

"It isn't just good TV, it's revelatory TV. The genre's biggest potential game changer since AMC debuted the one-two punch of 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad.'"

—Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

In addition to picking up imports like Top of the Lake (which it co-produced) and The Returned, the Sundance Channel also produced its first original dramatic series, and the results were equally strong; critics eagerly took to this tale of a wrongly convicted prisoner set free after two decades on death row. Sundance ordered just six episodes for last spring's debut, but the network has made a larger commitment for the second season, with 10 new episodes arriving at some point in 2014.

5. Orange Is the New Black 79 Drama/Comedy | Netflix

"Netflix finally achieves its eureka moment with a terrifically entertaining piece of original programming that's truly and bracingly original."

—Matt Roush, TV Guide

Currently trailing only Breaking Bad in appearances on critic best-of-2013 top-10 lists, Netflix's prison dramedy had an even better freshman season than its Metascore (based on just the first six episodes) indicates. And reports suggest that it was Netflix's most-watched original show this year, ahead of the more-publicized House of Cards and Arrested Development. Based on Piper Kerman's memoir of the same name, Orange Is the New Black was created by Jenji Kohan, but seemed to have an easier time straddling the dark comedy/drama divide than her previous series, Weeds. A second season is in production and its 13 episodes will stream at some point in 2014, while a third season is also highly likely.

6. The Americans 77 Drama | FX

"The Americans isn't just a heart-pounding action drama; by presenting heroes who are also villains, it also confronts viewers with TV's deepest moral dilemma since 'The Sopranos.'"

—Gail Pennington, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Also showing up on numerous critic top 10 lists, this 1980s-set drama stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as a pair of Soviet spies living undercover in the Washington D.C. area as married American parents. Though the series failed to secure Emmy nominations in any of the major categories, it was honored as the year's best new program by the Television Critics Association. Season 2 doesn't have a premiere date yet, but it is expected to launch in February.

7. The Bridge 77 Drama | FX

"The show unfolds like a rich, gritty, and addictive novel, with some surprising detours and lots of transporting, grainy imagery."

—Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe

Though FX's other new hour—based, like so many series these days, on a Scandinavian crime drama—hasn't received the same level of critic enthusiasm as The Americans, it did score strong reviews at the time of its debut, before stumbling near the finish line. The Bridge stars Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir as a pair of police detectives from opposite sides of the USA-Mexico border who collaborate to solve a series of murders. A second season is due in 2014, though the show will be without the services of co-creator Meredith Stiehm, who is returning to Homeland instead.

8. House of Cards 76 Drama | Netflix

"Deeply cynical about human beings as well as politics and almost gleeful in its portrayal of limitless ambition, House of Cards is a wonderfully sour take on power and corruption."

—Joanne Ostrow, Denver Post

Though Netflix did experiment with original programming in 2012 with the under-the-radar dramedy Lilyhammer (which returns for a second season on Friday), it was the high-profile House of Cards that established the streaming service as a major "TV" player early this year. Boasting a huge budget and Oscar-nominated talent on both sides of the camera (including producer/director David Fincher, writer Beau Willimon, and star Kevin Spacey), this adaptation of the UK political thriller of the same name scored an unprecedented nine Emmy nominations for Netflix. A second season will stream on Netflix on February 14, 2014, and negotiations for a third season are ongoing.

9. Ray Donovan 75 Drama | Showtime

"[A] captivating series ... sharply written, sophisticated even at its most melodramatic, with first-class performances throughout."

—Dorothy Rabinowitz, Wall Street Journal

Reviewers mostly liked the pilot for this Showtime drama series from Southland creator Ann Biderman, but it was all downhill from there, with critics abandoning the series as early promise turned to muddled storytelling. Still, strong performances from Liev Schreiber as a Los Angeles fixer and Jon Voight as his father (just released from two decades in prison) suggest that there is some hope for improvement when the series returns for a second season in 2014.

10. Family Tree 74 Comedy | HBO

"Family Tree doesn't have the gut-busting, excruciatingly funny moments of Guest's movies--no Stonehenge here--but it adds a warmth to the usual pathos of his characters, and O'Dowd's hangdog charm is a good match for the story."

—James Poniewozik, Time

A co-production between HBO and BBC Two (with locations split between the UK and Los Angeles), this mockumentary series comes from the master of the form: Christopher Guest (Best in Show). Guest has but a small role, with the low-key story revolving instead around a recently unemployed man (the great Chris O'Dowd) investigating his lineage. It was a bit too low-key for some reviewers, but American critics found it charming enough even when it lacked major laughs. There is no word yet on whether Family Tree will return for a second season.

Honorable mention

High-scoring shows without enough reviews to qualify for the above list include Adult Swim newcomer Rick & Morty, Showtime documentary series Time of Death, Hulu's The Wrong Mans, British import Last Tango in Halifax, IFC sketch series The Birthday Boys, and BBC America's In the Flesh.

2013's best miniseries, specials, and TV movies

Here are the year's best one-off programs (including miniseries that will not return), based on a minimum of 7 reviews from TV critics.

  Title Network Metascore
1 Top of the Lake Sundance 86
2 Six by Sondheim HBO 85
3 Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley HBO 83
4 Behind the Candelabra HBO 82
5 Burton and Taylor BBC America 81
6 All The President's Men Revisited Discovery 80
7 The Challenger Disaster Discovery/Science 80
8 Toy Story of Terror ABC 79
9 The Ghost Army PBS 79
10 An Adventure in Space and Time BBC America 77

All new series ranked by network

Below are all of 2013's first-year series (with Metascores) for the five broadcast networks.

ABCABC

  Title Type Metascore
1 Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Action/Drama 74
2 Trophy Wife Comedy 63
3 Once Upon a Time in Wonderland Drama/Fantasy 60
4 Back in the Game Comedy 59
5 The Taste Reality competition 54
6 The Goldbergs Comedy 52
7 Motive Drama 50
8 Lucky 7 Drama 49
9 Red Widow Drama 48
10 How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) Comedy 48
11 Super Fun Night Comedy 46
12 Whodunnit? Reality competition 43
13 Mistresses Drama 41
14 Family Tools Comedy 41
15 Zero Hour Drama 38
16 Betrayal Drama 38

CBSCBS

  Title Type Metascore
1 Under the Dome Drama/Sci-fi 72
2 Mom Comedy 65
3 Brooklyn DA Documentary 65
4 Hostages Drama 64
5 Golden Boy Drama 63
6 The Crazy Ones Comedy 58
7 The Job Reality competition 51
8 The Millers Comedy 50
9 We Are Men Comedy 33

CWCW

  Title Type Metascore
1 The Carrie Diaries Drama 57
2 Reign Drama 53
3 The Originals Drama/Fantasy 52
4 The Tomorrow People Drama/Sci-fi 50
5 Cult Drama 46

FoxFox

  Title Type Metascore
1 Axe Cop Animation/Comedy 73
2 Brooklyn Nine-Nine Comedy 70
3 Sleepy Hollow Drama/Sci-fi 65
4 The Following Drama 62
5 Almost Human Drama/Sci-fi 61
6 The Goodwin Games Comedy 57
7 High School USA! Animation/Comedy 48
8 Does Someone Have To Go Reality 27
9 Dads Comedy 15

NBCNBC

  Title Type Metascore
1 The Blacklist Drama 74
2 Hannibal Drama 69
3 The Michael J. Fox Show Comedy 64
4 Siberia Drama 63
5 Crossing Lines Drama 59
6 1600 Penn Comedy 55
7 Dracula Drama/Fantasy 55
8 Deception Drama 52
9 Camp Comedy/Drama 50
10 Welcome to the Family Comedy 46
11 Ironside (2013) Drama 44
12 Sean Saves the World Comedy 43
13 Save Me Comedy 43
14 Do No Harm Drama 38

What do you think?

What are your favorite new TV shows of 2013? Let us know in the comments section below. And check out our roundup of TV critic top 10 lists for more best TV of 2013 coverage.

Comments (4)

  • RedsBlacklister  

    Kinda sad none of my new faves are here. I am obsessed with The Blacklist, and also greatly enjoy Sleepy Hollow, and Hannibal was fantastic as well. Maybe i'll have to try some of these out, but i already watch so many...lol

  • bertbondy  

    Good list! I was looking for "The Fall" (BBC,Gillian Anderson) but did not see it. I guess it did not meet the criteria of being broadcast in the US despite being on the BBC and Netflix. IIRC Metacritic scored it in the 90s. It's definitely one of my top 5 shows this year, much better than Rectify.

  • LamontRaymond  

    @seanhorgan2 Yeah, but Orphan Black has a 72 score, so it didn't make the Top 10 on this page. Quick ups to Rectify. Yeah, one of the main characters' name is Amantha, but it worked for me. That, Top of the Lake, Broadchurch, and The Bridge are fantastic. Masters of Sex started off with a bang, but it's been barely hanging on. Family Tree is treeing out of its mind to make this list.

  • seanhorgan2  

    You really should of found a way to combine this with the critic's list to get an accurate representation of the ten new best shows, that way the whole season is taken into account rather than just the pilot. Using different methods to rank the top TV shows of 2013 & the best NEW TV shows of 2013 make the lists contradict each other.For example, 'Orphan Black' is listed among the topTV shows of the year in the the critic's list while it is nowhere to be seen in the list for the ten best New TV shows of 2013. Not to mention that 'OITNB' is listed by critics as the 2nd best TV show this year, yet according to this list, it is only the 6th best new show of 2013.

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