NEW YORK (AP) — Even after all these years, TV in 2013 continued to surprise us.
What a fine surprise was "The Returned," a French-language zombie series aired by Sundance Channel. And Tatiana Maslany was startling in BBC America's eerie series "Orphan Black," in which she played nearly a dozen varied clones of her main character.
It was a year that shocked "Glee" fans with the death of cast favorite Cory Monteith, whose passing was marked in a surprisingly sappy memorial episode of the Fox series that, in the words of one character, aimed to avoid making "a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness" — then went on to do just that.
It was a year that saw once hard-hitting "60 Minutes" go soft, and worse, get sloppy, with a story on last year's attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, based on a professed witness whose account soon came unraveled. The story's collapse led to CBS ordering "60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan and her producer to take a leave of absence, and left the newsmagazine's glorious reputation besmirched.
In February, ABC's Robin Roberts returned to the "Good Morning America" anchor desk amid unseemly ceremony after her courageous but much-exploited battle with cancer.
Syfy's silly horror spoof "Sharknado" triggered a Twitter phenomenon last summer. AMC's "The Walking Dead" continued to defy all expectations, averaging 13 million viewers this fall as the highest-rated scripted series in cable TV history. And "The Bible" miniseries on the History channel demonstrated anew there's a TV audience for the Good Book. Surprise!
No surprise: It's difficult, perhaps even a fool's mission, to isolate the Top 10 (well, actually 11) programs from the rest that aired during 2013. But, in the order of their airdates, here's trying ...
— "Downton Abbey" (PBS). It was reliably delicious and also pretty deadly in its third season, which began last January. Lovely Lady Sybil died in childbirth. Then, in the season conclusion, Matthew Crawley, heir to Downton and Lady Mary's beloved, perished in a car crash, leaving her a widowed mother. Hankies were sopping as viewers faced a long wait for Season 4 (starting next month).
— "House of Cards" (Netflix). This Beltway adaptation of the 1990s British political thriller, with Kevin Spacey as its slithery pol, would have been good viewing on any network. But the fact that its outlet was Netflix, which last February posted the entire first season online in one gulp, proved to be the wild card for "House of Cards," which instantly made Netflix a TV game changer.
— "Behind the Candelabra" (HBO). This splashy and poignant portrait of "Mr. Showmanship," Liberace, proved a dual career triumph for Michael Douglas, who portrayed him, and Matt Damon, who was no less impressive as the Vegas superstar's tempestuous lover.
— "Breaking Bad" (AMC). This drama series retired undefeated as TV's best ever. And in the final dose of eight episodes, it was never better, concluding the five-season-long saga with near-perfection. From start to finish, was there ever a more unlikely series, more successfully executed? How long must viewers wait for anything that rivals it?
— "Sons of Anarchy" (FX). If there's anything darker than black, this motorcycle drama remained hell-bent on finding it. In its sixth season, "Sons" was as gory, complex and absorbing as ever, populated with characters who were brutish, bloodthirsty and yet somehow commanded our respect and affection. It made crime seem thrilling but never, ever, worthwhile (a neat trick). And it featured an ensemble of actors unexcelled on any other series. (Any wonder Emmy gives it the cold shoulder this and every year?)