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.