This is it, everyone! We've basically arrived at TV.com's Top 10 Everything of 2013 even though we're still on numbers 11 through 20; deciding what would take spot number 19 versus spot number 18 came down to a battle of wills, a one-decibel difference in a shouting match, and death by combat. Number 14 on the list may as well be number 4, number 6 could've been number 13, etc, etc, etc. That's how close it came. And if our intern had survived that fight with Tim over where 30 Rock belonged, the show may have ended up a little higher. But sadly he's dead and Tim is in jail, Hannibal is one item above 30 Rock, and Tim wouldn't have it any other way because sometimes, end-of-the-year lists about television are totally worth a life sentence in prison. Just one more installment to go, guys. Come back tomorrow for the final round!
20. And the Mother is...
After years of fake-outs and near misses, How I Met Your Mother fans had grown accustomed to the idea that they'd probably only meet the woman at the center of Ted's long-winded and often inappropriate story in the last few minutes of the series finale. Knowing that the show had already been renewed for Season 9, fans were shocked when the Mother quietly arrived at the train station and asked for a ticket to Farhampton in the closing moments of Season 8. There was no build-up, or even a hint that that such a major reveal was coming. It just happened, and it was perfect.
19. Scandal's always-speeding crazy train
A rigged election. A super-secret, super-evil spy agency. Conspiracies spinning out conspiracies. Reforming (and relapsing) sadists. Presidents and vice presidents straight-up murdering people with their own hands. Self-cannibalism. Sex. Power. Red wine. More sex. More red wine. Father issues. Mother issues. A bracing look at racial and sexual politics in early 21st century America. More red wine. This year, Scandal became the show your entire Twitter timeline talked about by burning through plot like high-octane fuel. Its gleeful embrace of crazypants twists made it that rarest of TV specimens: a show people make a point of watching live. Even when the narrative wavers, the characters keep the energy pulsing—from the savvy, steely center of gravity that is Olivia Pope to the sentient heart attack that is Cyrus Beene, from the polarizing potency of Mellie Grant to the overdrive oratory of Rowan Pope. We don’t know how long any series can keep up this kind of cuckoo intensity, but at least in 2013, Scandal brought a welcome dose of pulp to primetime.
18. The humanization of Katherine Pierce
While The Vampire Diaries remains as consistently entertaining as always, several of its big mythology plotlines in Seasons 4 and 5 crumbled and sputtered faster than those in seasons past. Ugh, Silas. Ugh, the doppelgängers. But one side-plot has been so genius and rewarding that it has essentially kept Season 5 afloat singlehandedly. We're talking, of course, about the humanization of Katherine Pierce. The humbling transformation from devious Big Bad to sad hobo has brought out Nina Dobrev's next-level acting as well as TVD's most poignant portrayal of the fragility of being mortal. Plus, you know, it's been so hilarious. Katherine has always been the queen of this show, but now her majesty is realer than ever.
17. Enlightened gets into character
Let's get this out of the way up front: Enlightened's entire second season was fantastic. But two tangent episodes that burrowed into the heads of characters who weren't part of the crazy cobwebs in Amy Jellicoe's brain showed off just how amazing the show's writing really was. "Higher Power" followed Levi to rehab, where he realized the f*cked-up nature of his life, and "The Ghost is Seen" examined Tyler's lonely existence and watched it blossom into something beautiful. Season 2 earned lots of praise for focused more on plot, but these excursions into character spotlighted Enlightened's skill at just hanging out with its players.
PREVIOUSLY: The 20 Best Episodes of the 2012-2013 TV Season
16. Boardwalk Empire gives its best character a beautiful send-off
It'll never be quite what HBO and Sopranos fans hoped it would be, but Boardwalk Empire is
one of the best dramas on TV, and it just keeps getting better. Although
Season 4's finale made a number of smart moves, none was better—and
also the worst—than the way it said goodbye to Richard Harrow.
Long the show's best character, it was pretty clear throughout Season 4 that
Richard had run his course on a show. No longer the expert killer and
with a possible real family ahead of him, the writers had two options for Richard: a happily ever after, or something much worse. Ultimately, the show went
with the latter, and managed to make the best of it. The events that led
to his death—ones that he's partially the blame for—not only set the
stage for future Boardwalk bloodbaths, but also gave the character a moving, contemplative final moment that few shows could've pulled off.
15. 30 Rock out!
30 Rock thought and felt about TV the same way that we think and feel about TV—with love and irreverence, respect, and an arched, knowing eyebrow—and its final season hit all the right notes. Though detractors will say that the series' later seasons weren't as strong as its early ones, we thoroughly enjoyed its final run, and we're grateful it got to end on its own terms, thanks to Tracy Jordan's ridiculous 150-episode contract or whatever else. Liz Lemon marrying Crisstopher Rick Chros while dressed as Princess Leia, and eventually adopting mini versions of Tracy and Jenna! A series finale featuring heartfelt conversations between Liz and both Jack and Tracy, on a dock and at a strip-club, respectively! Jack's clear-dishwasher epiphany! That St. Elsewhere-in-the-future gag in the final moments that saw Kenneth still at the helm of a somehow-still-standing NBC! Plus all the amazing little bits in between. It was a lovely and meta and bizarre happy ending for a lovely and meta and bizarre gem of a TV show. We'll never forget you, and we'll always be glad we met you, 30 Rock.
PREVIOUSLY: 30 Rock Series Finale Review: One Last Show
14. Hannibal's gorgeous murder art
To say that Hannibal is one of TV's most visually
stunning shows is an understatement. Few shows are this lush, or have
such a consistent execution in their style. And that style is one involving bodies mounted on antlers or turned into cellos, and arranged with the care of a high-priced interior designer. Fungus growing from corpses as part of a sick Zen garden. Immaculately prepared human lungs, and backs splayed open into angel wings. Lingering shots on sausage in a
protein scramble that is, of course, made of people. These perverse and
abject uses of the organic would be enough for most other shows, but Hannibal isn't the type to let the devil in the
details go unappreciated. The story's familiar characters and setting are all put through series creator Bryan Fuller's beautiful and demented filter, as rote establishing shots uproot our sense of place and time through
time-lapse photography, shooting into the sun undermines our
well-trained sense of how cinematography is
supposed to work, and plaid and paisley clothing patterns pop against solid, dimly lit backgrounds. And then there's Hannibal himself. He pulls focus away
from others whenever he's on the screen, and yet he's often there just to observe,
hardly revealing anything about what he's thinking, or what his motives might be.
Whenever we think he's giving something away, we're reading it into him because we've had the
privilege of seeing—something that's denied to every other character. While there's plenty to like about Hannibal, its imagery is the visual treat that has defined the series.
13. The manhunt in Harlan County
Asking us to pick a single favorite moment from a full season of FX's Justified is like asking a dog to chase just one thing in a room full of bouncing tennis balls and flying sticks. Each episode oozes with wit, and the actors who massage the dialogue could beat those of nearly any other show on television. But our general consensus was that "Decoy" was the peak of Season 4, and with feds and mobsters all racing to find one Drew Thompson while he was in Raylan's custody, the hour crackled with all of the signature Justified trademarks we love.
12. Orange Is the New Black's inmates
You know a show is good when you change your mind about which character is your favorite 57 times over the course of a single season, and that's Orange Is the New Black in a nutshell. Supposedly about a privileged white woman who goes to prison for a crime she committed over a decade ago, the series is actually about every woman's experience in the big house; the ensemble cast is a sprawling vista of character that spans race, culture, and age. Whether your current favorite is Miss Claudette, Taystee, Crazy Eyes, Pennsatucky, Red, Nicky, Sophia, Daya, Morello, Janae, Yoga Jones, Poussey, Boo, or Pornstache, chances are they were also your second, third, and fourth favorite character at some point, too.
11. The Walking Dead calls on the doctor
The Walking Dead thrives on "oh shit oh shit oh shit" moments, and no episode called out for excrement more than "Internment," the thrilling Season 4 installment that saw everything go wrong for the survivors. The prison that had long been a safe haven was weakened both inside and out, as those affected by the virus began dropping dead (and then rising up again) and that chain-link fence collapsed, resulting in one of television's most unsettling hours of the year. And the unlikely hero of it all was a crippled old man: At the center of the mess on the inside was Hershel Green, who handled the situation like a badass and saved lives as though he was the lead of the show. Plus, he did it all on one leg.