9 Shows From The 2012/2013 TV Season That Are Better Than Most Movies

A few weeks ago, David Lynch lamented that it seemed like “the art-house has gone to cable.” And it’s true, The Sopranos was like TV’s Bonnie and Clyde, while The Wire its Godfather. The first time I acknowledged that TV was encroaching on film in terms of artistry was back in 2003 when I named the HBO miniseries Angels in America one of the best films of the year. I did it again in 2010 when put Carlos, a TV miniseries that was re-cut for cinemas, at the top of my best of the year list.

Since then dozens of TV shows have one-upped most everything we’ve seen in a movie theater, even the superhero movies. Well, with the 2012/2013 TV season in the books, I thought it a great time to take a look at some of the best TV shows that rival, even beat, many movies in terms of quality:

1. Top of the Lake, Mini-Series


Jane Campion is the single greatest example of a film artist who has thrived in the television medium. Her series (co-created with Gerard Lee and co-direct by Garth Davis) about the investigation surrounding the missing, pregnant 12-year-old daughter of a small town drug lord is one of the finest acted, directed, scripted, edited and shot series you’re ever likely to see. The plot is rather simple and the conclusion rather predictable. But the tangents this story takes make it as rich and character-driven a narrative as you’re likely to experience anywhere, let alone on television. Top of the Lake may also be Champion’s best work to date. Let’s see how Criterion handles that one.

Watch on Netflix

2. Hannibal, Season One


No one expected Hannibal to be good, let alone this good. But the lush, operatic visuals, the psychological intensity, and the sublime beauty of this series are all enough to make the show the best Hannibal Lecter adaptation yet. The only exception is of course Silence of the Lambs, but even this show comes close. (The influence of Lambs on the genre will always be tough to top.) Bryan Fuller’s miracle series was picked up for a second season despite the low rating. The reason goes far beyond just a loyal fan base: It’s a show that proves broadcast television can still compete with cable any day.

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3. Game of Thrones, Season Three


The first season of Game of Thrones was ambitious. The second season, epic. Now in it’s third season the show is flexing its genre muscles with a more fantastical adventure of conquest and consequence. The dragons are bigger, the white walkers an ominous threat, the dark magic a growing factor in the war and the wargs (people who can control animals) are making their presence felt. If that sounds too much like fantasy for your taste, then the continued gamesmanship between warring families, all vying for the Iron Throne. (And then there’s that “Red Wedding” episode. Wow.)

There are a lot of plots, subplots and subplots that will become plots interweaving at any given moment and involving any number of characters. But when there are too many characters to handle, the show bravely eliminates some of its leading ones to make room for others.

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4. Breaking Bad, Season Five


While not nearly on the level of Season 4, which will go down as the single greatest season of television ever, Breaking Bad’s fifth season logically continued the illogical journey of Walter White from man to monster. Now as we await the final eight episodes (premiering August 11 on AMC), we can only revel in just how consistently phenomenal this show has been since we first started watching it in 2008.

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5.  Girls, Season Two


Like it or not, Lena Dunham is, as her character stated while tripping, the voice of her generation. (I know these people. I can attest.) And in season 2, the break-ups and make-ups, interspersed with the usual highlights and lowlights of 20-something life, prove that Girls is more than just a Sex in the City redux.

The show is hopelessly superficial yet incredibly intelligent, and it’s genuinely insightful when it comes to the world of urban Millennials. Plus, the turn Adam’s character takes illustrates that this show understands the plight of modern young men as it does young women. This will be the work that, like Five Easy Pieces or Singles, captures a generation’s most definitive moments—only with someone as talented as Woody Allen behind it.

6. House of Cards, Season One


David Fincher’s adaptation of the British television series of the same name might not have changed television (yet), but there series is the perfect illustration of what TV can be when an auteur is given the reigns of a story that fits right in their wheelhouse. The cold, cynical nature of this political drama is so in tune with Fincher’s sensibility that it bests many of his cinematic works.

Watch on Netflix

7. Arrested Development, Season Four


While many people were disappointed with the new format, the fact that it made the show more convoluted actually made it better. Season four is like the television series they always wanted to make but could because, well, FOX, ya know. Watch it for a second, third and fourth time, and you see just how great this season really was.

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8. The Fall, Season One


When Gillian Anderson does TV people should pay attention. This serial killer drama, which follows a female detective who investigates a series of murders in Belfast, addresses male predatory sexuality in a less than subtle way. But it’s the comparison with female sexuality that really helps this show rise above so many similar series.

While serial killer dramas like The Following may be chic, The Fall overindulge in the actual murders. They serve the purpose of making the series into a psycho-sexual thriller that, I imagine, would even impress Hitchcock.

Watch on Netflix

9. Arrow, Season One

 arrow season one

Why in the world would a CW show be included on a list like this one? Well, after watching Man of Steel and The Dark Knight Rises, two movies that take all the fun out of DC superheroes, Arrow proves that you can be serious and gritty without getting lost in the inherent darkness of a character. And episode where Merlyn destroys the Glades is much more exciting, dramatic and cinematic than the overcooked faux-epics mentioned above. DC may not be able to make movies, but TV is a whole other story. Arrow is as good an adaptation of a DC Comics property we’re ever going to get in the post-Nolan era. And boy is it good.

Watch on Amazon

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