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The 5 Best New Dramas of the Last Year

By Dustin Rowles | Seriously Random Lists | May 14, 2013 | Comments ()


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As the networks unveil their new fall schedules, it's a good time to take a look back at all the dramas that they released over the last year, and see how few still remain -- or matter. The most promising one, at the time, was "Nashville," and it's barely relevant now, and was only renewed by the skin of its teeth. Meanwhile, practically every other drama on network television didn't receive a second season, save for the awful "Revolution" and the even worse "The Following," neither of which merited a second season. You can sense that the networks are trying harder to emulate cable dramas (at least, when they're not procedurals), but they're not quite there yet. Some of the elements are in place, but the writing -- for the most part -- is not.

As one would expect in looking back at the best new dramas in the 2012-2013 television season, four of the five are on cable, while the one from network television is very iffy on a second season. Here are the five best new dramas of the last year, with honorable mentions going to "Defiance" on SyFy, another network drama, "Elementary," and especially History's "Vikings," which narrowly missed the cut.

The Americans -- The FX drama started strong out of the gate, introducing fascinating KGB spies working undercover as an average American suburban family. While the drama remained compelling, the series did slow down considerably as the season wore on and the writers to bring any levity to the series, which kept us from emotionally investing in many of the characters . The season finale was not a satisfying one, but it did do a very successful job of setting up season two, and with a few tweaks, "The Americans" could rebound enough to be a better version of "Homeland."

Hannibal -- The NBC midseason drama has already won lots of love on the site, including mention as one of the most beautiful shows on television right now. I find that it lumbers a bit, and the grimness can bog it down from time to time, but I do not disagree with any of these six reasons you should be watching "Hannibal." It's a gruesome delight to watch, and outside of Silence of the Lambs, better than the all the other cinematic interpretations of these characters.

Top of the Lake -- The Elisabeth Moss New Zealand drama, which aired on the Sundance channel and is available now on Netflix, is a contemplative and engrossing mystery series from Jane Campion about the investigation of a lost girl. It was a strong, and intelligent drama with fine performances and a slew of quirky characters (in the "Twin Peaks" sense, and not the "New Girl" sense), that ended with an icky, icky what-the-hell conclusion that more people should've been talking about. It's only drawback, however, is that the seven-hour series could've easily been whittled down to four of five hours, if only Campion had wanted to give up some of the lingering vista shots.

Orphan Black -- The BBC America sci-fi drama, which follows "Doctor Who," is a recurring title on our top five episodes of the week on our podcast, "The Station Agents" , especially frequent on Joanna's list, and deservedly so. It began as a compelling Alias-like drama about a series of clones being killed off under mysterious circumstances, and lately, it's developed a playful sense of humor, which has made it not only compelling and intense television, but fun to watch, too. There are also not enough superlatives to describe Tatiana Maslany's amazing weekly performances as one of several different, completely distinct characters.

Rectify -- "Rectify," which aired the fourth episode of its six-episode season (which has already been picked up for a second season) last night, is not just the best new drama of the last year, but one of the best dramas on television.. While it's still too early to put it in the same company as "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," and "Game of Thrones," it has that potential, and in four episodes, has developed a character better than most do with 22. It is an astoundingly soulful show, like nothing else on television, that crackles with weightiness, that seeps in to your bones, grabs and then envelopes us like few shows before it.



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  • Mariazinha

    About Rectfy, I just finished the sixth episode last night, and is it reeeeally a mini-series, or will it have another season??
    Tell me it'll have another season!!!!!

  • BooRadley

    There will be a 2nd season and it will have 10 episodes instead of 6 sometime in 2014. I watched the first episode after Mad Men on AMC and was so totally hooked I immediately bought all 6 episodes.

    Unlike The Killing or Rubicon where I felt used and duped for being led around by the nose waiting for a resolution, with Rectify I was just grateful for the journey. The lead actor, Aden Young, was unknown to me before this. I heard that Ray McKinnon the writer originally wanted Walton Goggins (Justified) to play the lead but that didn't work out. I love Goggins but I think Young is a perfect choice. All the actors are excellent but Young is so understated but visually eloquent.

    There are many literary references mentioned in Rectify that shaped the thinking of the imprisoned lead character but Southern writer Flannery O'Connor was the one that resonated most with me. Flannery O'Connor said, “Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences that precede and follow them.”

    I think Ray McKinnon and the actors in Rectify have that "sharp eye" and so much feeling--can't wait to see where these people go next season.

  • John W

    All good shows, although Rectify is a bit slow paced. I'm actually surprised at how good Hannibal is.

  • toblerone

    “The Americans” could rebound enough to be a better version of “Homeland.”

    NOPE. And considering the two shows have nothing in common how would it be a better version of Homeland?

    Huge +1 for Orphan Black, Hannibal. Rectify and Top of the Lake.

    Swap The Muricans for Elementary and this list is perfect.

  • I'm old enough to remember when every show on TV was a Western. I never want to see another Western.

    I feel the same way now about procedurals/serial killers.

  • Melina

    Ophan Black is amazing! I never want an episode to end and I'm constanly engrossed.

  • Leland Eidson

    I have to agree with Top of the Lake, which I finally started watching after hearing about it for several weeks on the Station Agents. The series was flat out brilliant, though I have to say it was at times hard to watch. I don't think it's right to say I enjoyed the experience, and I may never want to watch it again. That being said I am glad I watched this show, and more people should watch it. If for no other reason that I need someone to talk to so I can work through the sick.

  • cruzzercruz

    I've been trying to turn anyone who will listen onto Hannibal. It may have some procedural elements, but they're mostly there to house the intense character development of these characters who fans know from the films, but they're presented in much more gripping ways. They've also subverted the "freak of the week" serial killers once in six (technically seven) episodes by sidestepping the need to "capture" him, and had two full episodes devoid of the whole formula. Everything important carries over from episode to episode and it's showing a really good sign for a more serialized future. I can't believe some of the things, be it gore or psychological torment, that they're getting away with on this show.

  • I enjoy the show too, but there is something that is kind of lacking and I can't put my finger on it. I watch every week, but I am not sure if it was gone, that I would miss it. Everyone raves about the actor playing Hannibal but I am just not that impressed. The Will Graham character is an interesting twist with social disorders but even his constant whining and droopy, eye rubbing melancholy is starting to rub me the wrong way.

  • cruzzercruz

    I enjoy the way Mads Mikkelson portrays Hannibal as a very subtle and controlled character. He conveys pride in his work when watching Graham lecture about it with very slight lip curls, and his changes in tone when he begins to manipulate people are interesting to me. I can see how people might find him mundane or overly stoic, but I find him charismatic in a really unusual way. I think it's how he's able to hide amongst everyone and tug at their strings without them ever getting too suspicious.

    I also see how Will can be tiring. He developed and changed really quickly but has remained somewhat stagnant, though I imagine that he will become more interesting as begins to chase Lector. Probably toward the end of season two.

  • I have been perplexed by will Graham's character/ the show's inconsistency. I think it was the first or second episode when he killed the father/killer he had a gun. He's not with the FBI and yet why did he have a gun? Why would anyone give this guy who is constantly unraveling a gun? I am not sure the producers know how to best handle him. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, but I have a feeling it will be a bit Dexter-esque, where Will can figure out the exact motives of a killer within seconds of being at a crime scene but can't see Hannibal is a killer while spending countless hours with him (see Deb on Dexter to see similarities)

  • cruzzercruz

    I really hope it doesn't go that route although this week they showed the first sign of Will finding Hannibal off when he performs emergency surgery in the ambulance. They hold that linger for a while, and he's already aware that Hannibal is trying to drive a wedge between him and Jack Crawford. Since its all a reimagining, we don't know exactly when Will might become aware of Hannibal fully, but if season four is Red Dragon, then he'll be hunted and captured by at least season three. I'd guess that their relationship is strained next season and by the third it's a full chase.

    And I can't come up with an explanation for why Will has a gun other than he used to be a cop and as an FBI consultant actively investigating for them, maybe he was allowed to use one. Couldn't tell you. Although, killing he Dobbs character is something from the novels, so they would definitely have led off with it, lapse in logic aside.

  • ViciousTrollop

    I must be the only person who can't stand Orphan Black. They've got some awful British accents going on there. I can't watch Canadian shows. They're all so terrible. I say this as a Canadian.

  • opiejuankenopie

    Your self loathing is showing.

  • googergieger

    Naaaaaaa

  • Wednesday

    Maybe because I was a young adult during the 80's, but I'm completely on board with The Americans. I think there's plenty of tension and I am very invested in the characters and want to see how it plays out.

    I'm of two minds about Rectify. It's good...often it's very good...but it's such a slow story. The character of the sister drives me batty (seriously, her hair and the boots with sundresses just is seventy-eight kinds of wrong) but I think because that person would drive me nuts in real life, too. Top of the Lake was wonderful, though also slow, and I wouldn't want a single shot cut.

    That leaves Orphan Black. I appreciate the humor, especially in the form of Felix the Stereotype, but I don't find the various clones to be so incredibly distinct. They're pretty broad caricatures. The sex scenes feel obligatory, like there's a schedule to keep, dammit, and we're going to miss the sex scene window if we don't squeeze one in. And some of the plot points are simply laughable. The tail? Why an underground club?

  • lowercase_ryan

    Give the guy that plays Matt Mitchum in Top of the Lake some credit for being absolutely terrifying.

  • rio

    You mean MOTHERFUCKING PETER MULLAN???

  • Leland Eidson

    Absolutely.

  • lauwer

    I am crazy for Orphan Black. Tatiana Maslany is nothing short of amazing. How she can pull off to believably play a number of characters is beyond me. She is so good I simply forget that she is Sarah and Allison when they are in the same scene! And I totally have the hots for Cosima...

  • The way she was able to pull off Sarah playing Allison was particularly remarkable. Apparently this is the comment thread where I just gush over my total love for Tatiana Maslany.

  • Artemis

    I realize this isn't a popular opinion, but I really think Elementary is better than The Americans (I haven't seen the others on this list, though I've heard good things about all of them). The Americans has a great premise and had a very good pilot, but after that I found myself struggling a little more each week to care about what was happening or might happen next and I still don't feel a real connection to any of the characters. I can't really pinpoint why--on paper it sounds like it's got everything in place to be phenomenal--but this is a show I could easily see myself forgetting to pick up again when season 2 rolls around.
    By contrast, Elementary--a CBS procedural--has got me deeply invested in its two main characters and their larger arcs. Jonny Lee Miller is absolutely KILLING that role, he's created such a fully-realized character (his MANNERISMS) even in episodes that are strictly procedural without much in the way of character development. And he has fantastic chemistry (platonic, hopefully always platonic) with Lucy Liu, who is doing a great if slightly less impressive job as the straight woman (and I appreciate that the show is also developing her backstory, and not playing things as though everyone else is subordinate to Sherlock's genius, a la House). The episodic mysteries haven't always been strong (though they've improved over the course of the season), but even during the weaker ones the character stuff has kept me very much on board.

  • Three_nineteen

    It's better than Orphan Black, which is so committed to comedy and breakneck pacing that's it's always thisclose to devolving into a slapstick farce.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I haven't really thought to compare the two, but I'm enjoying them both. I find Miller and Liu to have pretty great chemistry as well (although while I agree with your hopes, I'm almost certain it won't remain platonic), whereas I find "The Americans" to have more solid performances by the whole cast (rather than just the leads).

    Digressing on "Elementary" though - is it too early to start speculating who's going to play Moriarty? I figure it's got to be a pretty big-name actor. Maybe someone who might be up for a fun project with an old friend? Someone who'd bring in tons of buzz as a TV guest star?

    Someone like, say, Ewan McGregor?

  • DataAngel

    Ewan McGregor would make my head explode. Jude Law is also a great choice.

  • cruzzercruz

    I like how we immediately got to BBC Sherlock and Guy Ritchie's Watson as candidates for Moriarty. Great actors, though.

  • DataAngel

    Well that's part of the joke! Also, Jude Law's like total besties with Jonny Lee Miller.

  • koko temur

    or, even cooler - benedict cumberbatch. The two acted together beore on stage and have the chemistry, it will be surpring, funny AND solidify cumberbatch once and for all as class act and good sport.

  • DataAngel

    Watching Jonny Lee Miller is really the biggest draw of the show. He's such an amazing subliminal physical actor. The end of last week's episode nearly broke my heart. I love the "moments" between Sherlock and Joan. I love the diversity of the cast.

    I was glad it's been given a second season. I hope they keep getting better.

  • RilesSD

    With you on The Americans. I think the missing piece is tension. There is no tension in the show, and as a result I found it incredibly boring. This is the first series in maybe ever that I didn't complete. I deleted the last four eps last night, without regret.

  • Christian

    totally agree with the lack of tension, i love the show, but i wouldn't have cared if i missed an episode

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Agreed, this show doesn't get any respect at all and I think it's excellent.

  • I'll add to the Orphan Black love. Once it found its feet, it took off running. Tatiana Maslany is a wonder, and I always want the next episode immediately. My husband asked what I was watching a couple weeks back. An hour later, he was firing up the DVR to watch the previous episodes.

  • prestocaro

    Mine did the same thing! And he is not normally a scifi fan at all. It is a testament to how well Ms. Maslany sells it, I think.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    I just discovered Orphan Black last week and it's my new favorite show. Ms Maslany is probably one of the best actors working on TV right now.

  • the chaplain

    I'm still watching Nashville! My love for Connie Britton knows no bounds. It's pretty uneven, but has actually gotten wildly better since the beginning episodes. The music is still great too.

  • It's a solid primetime soap. The music is usually pretty good, although Connie Britton's vocals are probably the weakest (sorry!). As long as Scarlett is making awesome music, I'm good.
    And is it okay to admit that Hayden Panetierre is killing it on that show?

  • Connie Britton's vocals are the weakest. I struggled in the beginning, wondering whether we were supposed to believe that Britton was a better singer than Panetierre. I think they've found a good way to use Britton's voice and to show that while Juliette has talent, her troubles come from a much different place.

  • The music is the main thing keeping me in. That, Connie Britton, and a certain affection for the sexy duck.

  • So glad to see your love for Orphan Black. I completely lose myself in Maslany's performance, usually forgetting that all of these very different characters are coming from the same actress while I'm watching the show. The costuming and styling helps but she really breathes life into each of them.

  • prestocaro

    She is amazing. There is never any confusion about who she's playing... even when she's playing one character playing another!

  • You need to add the Following on this list,

  • koko temur

    no.

  • Django

    You jokester.

  • Tinkerville

    Tatiana Maslany is absolutely mesmerizing. The Orphan Black pilot was a bit rough but I stuck with it for her performance and I'm really glad I did. They're definitely finding the right voice for the show now.

  • The Kilted Yaksman

    I have no problem with Maslany, but the rest of the show is kind of a boring mess. I have come to the conclusion that I don't care if I see it or not. Maybe if she were naked more often...

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    Are you sure you're on the right site, mate?

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    Adding to the Maslany love. Seriously, how has she not been in more things? She's magical. I love all the characters, I'm not really sold on the Dr Leek dude though. I hope they don't turn him into a cartoon villain.

  • I really enjoy "Hannibal", but am I the only one who can't seem to understand what the hell Hannibal is saying half the time? Also, is Lawrence Fishburne's Jack Crawford the most useless FBI profiler/Department head ever? I have yet to see him contribute to anything involving solving a crime. He seems to only be there to usher Will Graham into crime scenes and act morose.

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