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totally top five 2k13: tv

I watched a lot of television this year. Like, a lot. Like, probably way way more than I have ever watched in my entire life before. I have a tendency to watch tv when I’m in bad or weird emotional places or when my anxiety is really bad or basically all the time. I like tv better than movies partially because it just keeps going. I love the moviegoing experience and I think it can be one of the most genuinely fun and satisfying experiences of human life, but because we live in a place that’s two hours from a decent theater but have an awesome television, tv won out hardcore this year.

My rules from last year still apply and, like last year, these aren’t all new shows. What can I say, I love having a complete story to mainline and talk incessantly about. Or at least one that I know won’t get cancelled in the middle of its first season.*

5. The Carrie Diaries [amazon | netflix | netflixt | the cw]

I hated Sex and the City. Like, a lot. I don’t like the narrow view of acceptable womanhood it offers or the way it handles queerness. I’m not a particularly fashionable person and I am too flat-footed to wear heels unless I’m just sitting down the entire time. I wasn’t at all interested in New York when it was airing and I thought the sex was boring and gratuitous. I’ve seen both movies in theaters — and enjoyed them enough, I’ve relaxed a lot as I’ve gotten older, to be honest — but it’s just never been a thing for me. I am not Sex and the City‘s target audience. Because of all this history with the canon, I didn’t think The Carrie Diaries would be for me either, but I was so, so wrong.

It’s true that I’m still not in their demo — I’m old! And uncool! — but the stories offered up by Carrie Bradshaw’s early years appeal to me on a lot of levels. I twitter about the show a lot because it’s a show that makes me feel good. It makes me remember what it was like to be young and learning and innately, simultaneously frightened and excited by everything at the same time. Honestly, that’s still how I feel most of the time, so maybe that’s why I like it so much. Young Carrie Bradshaw is a good person and even as she struggles to find her way and makes mistakes, she learns and grows and owns up to them. She’s smart and charismatic and gentle and naive in a way that’s never presented as mocking or cruel. I sometimes find it kind of impossible to understand how she grows up into the woman she does.

The people that surround her only make the show better. Walt and Mouse and Larissa and Maggie and Sebastian and West and, well, basically everyone. Season two also brought us the introduction of Samantha Jones who is great. Lindsey Gort’s got Kim Cattrall’s mannerisms and character and spunk down pat, even down to the inflections of her speech. I mean, it’s kind of unbelievable how good she is at embodying a character who has such a big history — well, future — already.

The thing I love most about The Carrie Diaries aside from all of the wonderful friendships and relationships that develop and change with each episode is that all of these characters are good people, not just Carrie. They care about each other, they support each other, and they don’t hurt each other intentionally. It’s maybe the one thing I ever liked about Sex and the City, that those women loved each other and put each other first because of it and you can see where that comes from in these early incarnations. Wonderful, really. Plus it’s got a bomb as hell soundtrack.

4. Brooklyn Nine-Nine [amazon | hulu | fox]

I wasn’t going to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I wasn’t going to give Fox the opportunity to burn me with another mid-first season cancellation and I wasn’t even all that interested in it anyway. I’m not big on Andy Samberg and even though I love Andre Braugher, I thought his character would be the flat straight-man and he’d be wasted on it. But then people I like and trust kept talking about it on Twitter and I had kind of run out of anything else to watch — I’d just finished watching through all of Raising Hope and had kind of burned out on The X-Files — and all the eps were on Hulu and, well, I’m super glad it had already been picked up for a full season before I got hooked.

When you look at the elements of Brooklyn Nine-Nine on their own, it doesn’t seem like it’s really going to be anything interesting. Cop sitcom, hard-nosed straight-man captain, and a cast of varying levels of goofy, but somehow when it’s all put together it really, really works. I particularly love the friendship between hard-as-hell Diaz and overachieving Santiago and how Diaz basically had to point out that they’re friends and don’t have to be antagonistic or competitive. Braugher’s Captain is so, so much funnier than I expected. He plays his lines so straight and so emotionlessly that it sometimes veers into this weird, but great surreality that I love and then, you know, sometimes he throws himself into Peralta’s goofiness unexpectedly and it’s so pitch-perfect it just kills. Andy Samberg isn’t nearly as obnoxious as the pilot might suggest and Terry Crews is, well, he’s Terry Crews so he’s obviously amazing. My only complaint is that I think Chelsea Peretti is being wasted on an annoying, one-note character, but you can’t have everything and the show kind of needs her? It’s a foil-ish thing. Maybe.

This is also a cast of characters that care about each other — found families! — and try to be good people. Plus it’s funny, sometimes painfully so.

3. My Mad Fat Diary [hulu]

First of all, I have to apologize because if you’re not in the UK, you can’t access this show. I would link you to the shady site where I watched it way back in February, but it was a site so shady that it was removed from the internet.

My Mad Fat Diary is absolutely the show that I wish had been on tv when I was a teenager. A smart, funny, engaging, honest show about a fat girl who is experiencing the real pains and issues that real young, fat women experience? It is, at times, so painful that I had to pause and put my head down on my desk and cry. This show understands what it is to be young and fat and scared and convinced of your worthlessness and those are hard, hard things to experience and particularly re-experience. But it’s also really life-affirming and positive at its heart. Rae’s life is hard and she is in a really hard place, but she is also surrounded by people who love her — even when they’re bad at it — who give her the support and the space to really figure shit out. She makes a lot of mistakes and there are times when it seems almost impossible for her to rebound from them, but she does and it’s wonderful.

Sharon Rooney is incredible, glittering amongst an equally stellar cast. I particularly love Ian Hart as Rae’s therapist who is dealing with his own strifes in the midst of Rae’s pain. Their connection and relationship is just super refreshing to see on television. The other kids in Rae’s group are also phenomenal. Well-drawn and complex characters of their own who often surprise and delight in unexpected ways. Also a killer soundtrack.

I won’t encourage or condone anything illegal, but you’re smart, capable people and if you can find this one, I promise it’ll be worth the effort. But maybe not incarceration.

2. The West Wing [amazon | netflix]

Aaron Sorkin is kind of a dick. You probably all know that, I mean, the whole internet knows it. He’s very, very bad at writing more than one type of woman. He often mines the same material from one show to the next and every episode of television he’s ever written drips with self-righteous smugness. That said, he writes shows that are compelling and engaging and enjoyable. I hate him for it.

I have sort of a weird Sorkin history. I watched Sports Night a long time ago, in 2005 or so? I watched Studio 60 when it aired on tv (It’s still in my top five favorite shows of all time and I think about it daily) and I liked The Newsroom from the jump as well. For whatever reason, I just never watched The West Wing. I didn’t really watch TV when it originally started airing — and I was 14, not exactly prime viewership for it — and when it popped up on Netflix I sort of shrugged and thought, “I’ll get there eventually.” Well, this year, I got there and I am so, so glad that I did. I started the show on August 7 and finished on September 17th and the only reason I didn’t watch it faster was because I tried to force myself to slow down because I didn’t want it to end.

There are too many good things to tell you about with The West Wing and there’s a good chance you’ve already watched it and know all of them, but what an incredibly satisfying and emotionally devastating experience. Nothing has ever made me cry harder than the season two finale of Veronica Mars — I literally sobbed so loudly that my mother came into my room from the other side of the house to make sure I was okay — but there are at least three episodes of The West Wing that came awfully close to dethroning it.

The characters are rich and interesting and complex — even the women, though it often feels that is the work of the incredible cast instead of their creator — and though the plots can sometimes be obvious, the character interactions and relationships make it all work. These people are coworkers and friends and family and watching those relationships grow is so, so special. I am particularly fond of the development of the relationship between Charlie and President Bartlet and how valuable it is to each of them. I also love the depth of friendship between Leo McGarry and President Bartlet and sometimes I just think about The Napkin and just get choked up. Also, I wish I was CJ Cregg. Or her best friend.

Watching The West Wing was like watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know that doesn’t sound like a likely statement, but it really is. The delight of watching those two shows for the first time is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced media-wise and it’s something I’d pretty much give anything to get to do again. You can rewatch and you can love enthusiastically, but you can never have that unforgettable first-time again.

1. Breaking Bad [amazon | netflix]

I watched the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad in 124 hours. I watched the last half of the fifth season of Breaking Bad as it aired in marathon in the eight hours leading up to the premiere of the series finale. I watched all of Breaking Bad in 132 hours. No one should have that many emotions in that short of a period of time. I mean, really. I talked about watching all of Breaking Bad in 132 hours so much that someone drew me a crying Jesse Pinkman Emmy for my efforts.

Anyway, I could talk all day about how I didn’t want to watch Breaking Bad, but how I ended up deciding to do it because 1. I didn’t want to be spoiled in case I ever did decide to watch it and there was not going to be a chance in hell of avoiding spoilers, and 2. because I love a big television event. The Friends finale took place during my first year of college and I ditched classes and came home for the weekend to watch it with my parents. I’ve watched the finales of a bunch of shows just because they were Events and I knew it’d be fun and exciting on Twitter and stuff. I could talk for weeks about how much I loved it and what an incredibly well-done masterpiece of television it is and how satisfying it was and how I cried and cried (which is like, you know, one of my very favorite things about experiencing media) and how it was so worth 132 hours of agony to get to experience it with what felt like the rest of the world.

But you already watched it, didn’t you? And you know exactly how phenomenal it is. And you’ve probably read one million people talking about how good it is one million times over and you’re probably just like, “Yeah, yeah, we know, it’s great.” And I am truly happy to just be part of the chorus on this one. Thanks, Breaking Bad. It was a trip.

Honorable Mentions

Previously: 2K12 | JAMZ | MOVIES | ALBUMS

*: RIP Ben & Kate. I’ll mourn you forever.