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.
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.
|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.
|1||Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D||Action/Drama||74|
|3||Once Upon a Time in Wonderland||Drama/Fantasy||60|
|4||Back in the Game||Comedy||59|
|5||The Taste||Reality competition||54|
|10||How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)||Comedy||48|
|11||Super Fun Night||Comedy||46|
|1||Under the Dome||Drama/Sci-fi||72|
|6||The Crazy Ones||Comedy||58|
|7||The Job||Reality competition||51|
|9||We Are Men||Comedy||33|
|1||The Carrie Diaries||Drama||57|
|4||The Tomorrow People||Drama/Sci-fi||50|
|6||The Goodwin Games||Comedy||57|
|7||High School USA!||Animation/Comedy||48|
|8||Does Someone Have To Go||Reality||27|
|3||The Michael J. Fox Show||Comedy||64|
|10||Welcome to the Family||Comedy||46|
|12||Sean Saves the World||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.