Bullz-Eye’s 2013 TV Power Rankings

When we published our first TV Power Rankings in 2005 listing the best shows on television, the revolution in TV viewing habits was well underway with cable shows like “The Sopranos” raising the bar for TV dramas. Meanwhile, DVDs and on-demand viewing started to change the way we watched our favorite programs and discovered new ones. Since then, the changes have only accelerated, and now many teenagers and people of all ages are addicted to streaming TV, watching everything by their own schedules. Many have even “cut the cord” and eliminated their cable TV subscriptions altogether. Water-cooler discussions about “must-see TV” have given way to shows aimed at niche audiences.

With these developments, the quality of the shows has improved dramatically. That may not be true for sitcoms and most of the stuff on network TV, but many have called this the new “golden era of television,” as the cable networks in particular have given talented writers and directors the freedom to create masterpieces like “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad.” Now with Netflix triumphantly entering the fray with the excellent “House of Cards,” the bar keeps getting raised even higher. I watch fewer movies these days as the quality rarely matches that of the best TV shows, which also have the advantage of developing characters over a much longer time period.

“Breaking Bad” has been one of our favorites for years, and it tops our list again as it completes its final season. When it’s all said and done, it will be part of every conversation of the best TV shows ever. Our list is dominated by cable TV dramas and we’ve left off reality shows. Some are entertaining, but none match the quality of the programs on our list.

We’ve kept spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to avoid some of the write-ups if you want to avoid learning about plot developments.

1. Breaking Bad

Expectations for the fifth season of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” would’ve been running high anyway, given that Season 4 concluded with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) bringing an explosive end to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) while also revealing just how far he was willing to sink to get things his way. It doesn’t get much lower than poisoning a child to trick your former partner into working for you again, but the knowledge that it truly was the beginning of the end (i.e. the final season) really amped up the adrenaline. With posters for Season 5 showing Walt surrounded by stacks of cash and emblazoned with the tagline “Hail to the King,” the question at hand was whether or not Mr. White would be able to keep his ego in check successfully enough to take over Gus’s meth empire. The answer: not entirely. Although Mike (Jonathan Banks) agreed to join the operation more out of an attempt to help keep Jesse (Aaron Paul) safe, he quickly grew frustrated and tried to bail out, only to end up in a terminal tussle with Walt. Meanwhile, the domestic situation in the White house has reached all new levels of tension, thanks to a power struggle of sorts between Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn). As the first half of Season 5 wrapped up, however, the biggest reveal of all took place, with Walt’s DEA-agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), finally discovering that he’s the infamous Heisenberg. This show has yet to disappoint, and there’s no reason to think it’s going to start now. – Will Harris. Check out our “Breaking Bad” blog here and our Fan Hub page here.

Breaking Bad Mike and Jesse

2. Homeland

I’ve had my share of “binge TV” watching with all the new platforms at our disposal, and so I wasn’t surprised when I blew through the first season and a half of “Homeland” over a long weekend. I’d heard all the buzz but had missed out on Season 1, but like most viewers, I was hooked after the first episode. The power of the cliffhanger at the end of the first season was blunted a bit, however, as I quickly hit the button to start the first episode of Season 2. When you power your way through a series like this, sometimes the impact of a single episode isn’t felt as deeply, as you quickly move on to the resolution. On the other hand, immersing yourself in a show over a short period of time also has its rewards. With Season 2, we’re left with another mind-blowing finale after more twists and turns for Carrie’s unlikely relationship with Brodie. Some have argued that the events have gotten too unbelievable, but given the topic of terrorism and the CIA, little seems too far-fetched these days. With Carrie, Claire Danes has created a character that we’ll remember for a long time, and I suspect this show will be near the top of our list for years to come.

Homeland Cast season 2

3. The Walking Dead

Fans of Robert Kirkman’s comic book series have been patiently awaiting the arrival of The Governor ever since it was announced that AMC was adapting “The Walking Dead” for TV, and if you were unfamiliar with the source material prior to Season Three, then you probably know by now why it was such a big deal. Though the new season has been plagued by many of the same problems as previous years (namely, dragging out subplots longer than necessary), the addition of David Morrissey as The Governor has made for some great television. And while you can’t say the same about Rick and Andrea’s respective character arcs, others have stepped up in their place, including Norman Reedus as fan favorite Daryl and Chandler Riggs as the rapidly maturing Carl. The zombie quota has also been increased exponentially, which is never a bad thing, and now that Danai Gurira has joined the cast as sword-carrying Michonne, the zombie kills have become more inventive by the week. It hasn’t quite lived up to its excellent debut season, but “The Walking Dead” is still one of the best things on TV. – Jason Zingale

The Governor on The Walking Dead

4. Game of Thrones

Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” may have been HBO’s best freshman series of last year, but “Game of Thrones” is still king of the premium channel. There’s nothing else quite like it on television, and though Season Two wasn’t as good as its debut season on a purely episode-to-episode basis, the payoff was arguably better, showing the full complexity and richness of the universe that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss inherited from George R.R. Martin. The third season expanded that scope even further, with several new characters quickly making their mark, and old ones (like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Jamie Lannister) continuing to evolve within that moral gray area where “Game of Thrones” thrives. It also featured some of the most shocking story developments to date, perhaps none more so than Episode 9’s infamous Red Wedding, which made Ned Stark’s beheading look like child’s play in comparison and will likely go down as one of the biggest television events of the year. The audience reaction to that episode is very telling of the show’s pop cultural footprint, and when the writing and acting is this good, it’s no surprise why its popularity continues to grow. – JZ. Check out our “Games of Thrones” blog here.

The Red Wedding on Game of Thrones

5. The Newsroom

Along with “Girls,” this HBO drama probably received more negative criticism and mockery that any other show on our list. Anything produced by Aaron Sorkin will bring out plenty of haters given the political topics he often chooses, but many journalists weren’t too happy to have Sorkin shine a critical light on their industry. But we all know that cable news sucks with its emphasis on ratings and manufactured controversy, so Sorkin had a target worthy of his scorn. Anyone who is tired of the dumbing down of debate and those who make money exploiting the divisions in our country in the name of delivering the “news” will love the tone of “The Newsroom.” Yes, it’s preachy at times and many of the characters are oh so earnest, but you’ll find yourself rooting for them. Sorkin has created another set of fascinating but flawed characters, with Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) as the perfect vehicle to shake up the cable news business after his epic rant that goes viral, and MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) as his ex-girlfriend and producer who pushes him to take a stand. The romantic tension between them is very intense and it seems Sorkin will milk that for all its worth. The lovely Olivia Munn also shows she has some serious acting chops as the brilliant but socially awkward Sloan Sabbith.

Olivia Munn and Alison Pill in The Newsroom

6. House of Cards

Regardless of how you feel about Netflix’s decision to release the entire 13-episode first season of “House of Cards” all at once, it’s hard to deny that the company’s first real attempt at original programming (not counting the Norwegian co-production of “Lilyhammer”) has been nothing short of a homerun. Based on the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, “House of Cards” boasts the kind of top-shelf quality we’ve come to expect from networks like HBO and AMC, and in addition to being produced by David Fincher (who also directed the first two episodes), there’s not a single weak link in the cast. Kevin Spacey delivers his best performance since “American Beauty” as the calculating Democratic congressman and House Majority Whip, while Robin Wright is the perfect complement as his stone-cold marriage partner in crime. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the series is partly based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “Richard III,” because there are so many political power plays in each episode that it has the Bard’s fingerprints all over it. If you still don’t have Netflix, it’s worth subscribing to for this enthralling and immensely addicting series alone. – JZ

House of Cards Kevin Spacey

7. Mad Men

As Season 6 wrapped up, Don Draper seemed to be ready to finally confront his past. He was up to his old tricks again with other women, but everything came crashing down at the end of the season. Whether he follows through in the seventh and final season is anyone’s guess. We were happy to see skinny Betty return this season, and the writers have smoothed some of the edges off this lovely ice queen. Her scene in the motel with Don was pretty revealing, and we’ll see if Don learns anything from it. Meanwhile, the smartly packaged and manicured world of the late ‘50s/early ‘60s from the early seasons of “Mad Men” has given way to the chaos of 1968, with growing menace of violence seeping into their lives along with groovier haircuts and funkier clothes for many of the characters. Of course, that doesn’t apply to Don, who seems as stuck on the more classic styles as his destructive behavior. “Mad Men” remains one of the best character dramas on television, so get your hands on Season 1 if you haven’t jumped on board yet.

Don Draper Mad Men season 6

8. The Americans

You know you’re getting older when a new period drama comes out and all of the music, clothes and cars seem familiar because you were 16 at that time. “The Americans” is set in 1981, just after Ronald Reagan is elected, and Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” is in the background during the first action sequence in the pilot. The show follows two KGB spies living in Washington D.C. as sleeper agents for the Soviet Union. They’ve trained for years for this mission and speak perfect English. But their arranged marriage is very complicated as Philip (Matthew Rhys) flirts with the idea of defecting, while Elizabeth (Keri Russell) remains blindly loyal to the homeland. They also have two kids who have been born in America, and an FBI counter-intelligence agent has just moved across the street. The stories are intense and the acting is brilliant, with everything revolving around the intense relationship between the two agents. If you haven’t seen it, catch up on Season 1 before it returns for a second season.

The Americans poster

9. Justified

“Justified” is one of those shows that you wish more people watched; it’s that good. Though it started out as a more formulaic crime of the week-type drama, the series has evolved into something much more substantial over the years, and this season, creator Graham Yost has really turned it on its head. That’s not to say that U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (a role Timothy Olyphant was born to play) still hasn’t had his hands full with the usual rotating platter of backcountry criminals, but there’s been more of a noir-like detective feel to Season Four’s story as Givens worked to uncover the secret behind a decades-old mystery involving a man named Drew Thompson. Unfortunately, that’s resulted in less face time between Givens and his nemesis Boyd Crowder (an outstanding Walton Goggins), but the two men have been on similar paths all season, finally converging in the February 19th episode “Decoy,” which was not only one of the finest hours of “Justified” to date, but one of the best episodes of TV in recent memory. – JZ

10. The Big Bang Theory

With its seventh season about to begin, “The Big Bang Theory” continues to grow in popularity with the reruns on TBS introducing million of new viewers to Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, Raj, Penny, Bernadette, and Amy. Howard is now married to Bernadette, and he began the latest season on the International Space Station, while Stuart joined the gang as a regular character and Raj’s new sidekick. This show has always been hilarious, and it stands out in an era where most sitcoms are terrible.

11. New Girl

If you like Zooey Deschanel, chances are you’ll love “New Girl.” The comedy series is so perfectly suited to the adorkable actress’ eccentric personality that it’s really fun watching her let loose with some of the zany stuff she’s asked to do. No matter how you feel about the recent will-they-won’t-they plotline between Jess and Nick, it’s hard to deny the fantastic chemistry between Deschanel and standout Jake Johnson, although all five main cast members form a pretty great team. Though the show hasn’t been quite as consistent in its sophomore season, it’s still one of the funniest comedies on TV, thanks to memorable bits like “Gave me cookie, got you cookie” and the return of the hilariously indecipherable True American drinking game. The show’s success relies more on these smaller moments than the episodes as a whole, and while that’s a dangerous tightrope to walk, there’s no point in changing a winning formula. – JZ

12. Parks and Recreation

There are a number of reasons why “Parks and Recreation” belongs on the Power Rankings, but at the top of that list is the cast, which is arguably the best comedy ensemble on TV. Amy Poehler has transformed Leslie Knope from a Michael Scott wannabe into an incredibly loveable and realistic character capable of making us laugh and breaking out hearts in the same episode, and the actress has delivered such consistently great work that it’s hard to believe she still hasn’t won an Emmy for the role. It’s also no surprise that the show started to really hit its groove once Adam Scott and Rob Lowe joined the cast, although the latter hasn’t been quite as entertaining this season. Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza’s quirky relationship continues to earn big laughs, and in Ron Swanson, Nick Offerman has created a truly hilarious, one-of-a-kind TV personality. Even glorified background players Retta and Jim O’Heir have been upping their game this year, and with this much talent at their disposal, the writers have been having an absolute field day. – JZ

13. Arrested Development

Throughout its all-too-brief three-season run on FOX, “Arrested Development” received more critical acclaim than any sitcom ought to be allowed to earn, but after sadly proving the theorem that rave reviews don’t always equal huge ratings, the series was given the heave-ho into oblivion. Except it wasn’t, as it turned out, since the show’s cast and creators desperately wanted to revisit the exceptionally dysfunctional Bluth family so badly that they managed to broker a deal with Netflix to produce a fourth season. While opinions have varied wildly between “it’s even better than before” and “it should’ve stayed dead,” we’re of the mind that, just as long as you keep your expectations realistic and remember that the only way to bring back the series was to adapt the show’s structure to accommodate the lower budget and insane scheduling of the different cast members, Season Four of “Arrested Development” has proven to be well worth the wait. There are countless callbacks to past episodes, lots of well-utilized guest stars, and at least as many laughs as before. Is it the same “Arrested Development” that you remember from FOX? Not completely. But it’s still pretty darned funny, and that’s all we really wanted, anyway. – WH

14. Sons of Anarchy

The fifth season of FX’s insanely popular motorcycle drama wasn’t the show’s best year, but it did deliver some of the most harrowing and gut-wrenching moments to date, including the fiery death of Tig’s youngest daughter, and of course, the death-by-pipe sacrifice of fan favorite Opie. We’d be lying if we said that Ryan Hurst’s absence didn’t leave a gaping hole for the remainder of the season, but that was sort of the point, as it played a pivotal role in the way that Charlie Hunnam’s Jax evolved in his new position as club president. The addition of Jimmy Smits to the cast also added a nice dynamic to the Teller-Morrow family drama, and though Damon Pope didn’t prove to be nearly as menacing as expected, it was interesting watching SAMCRO deal with a different kind of threat for once. We still can’t believe that Ron Perlman’s Clay managed to make it out of yet another season alive, but let’s be honest, “Sons of Anarchy” wouldn’t be nearly as captivating without him. – JZ

15. Dexter

Now in its eighth and final season, this unlikely drama about a “sympathetic” serial killer has been able to maintain its status as one of the best shows on television. Dexter (Michael C. Hall) has always tried to channel his impulse to kill towards “deserving” victims, but now things are much more complicated, as people close to him learned about his secret, leading to real collateral damage. Fans will soon find out who survives the final season. This is a great example of a show that never would have seen the light of day on network television. If you haven’t given it a try yet, put it in your queue and you won’t be disappointed.

16. Californication

Hank Moody is the man. Sure, he’s an irresponsible drunk with a knack for finding trouble in crazy LA, but he knows how to enjoy himself, and it’s fun as hell going along for the ride. Every season brings another sexy love interest and a slew of hookups. This season featured Maggie Grace, while recent seasons featured Meagan Goode, Addison Timlin and Carla Cugino. Unfortunately, characters like wild rocker Atticus Fetch in Season 6 and rapper Samurai Apocalypse in Season 5 aren’t nearly as fun or interesting. After six seasons, the drama with Karen and his daughter is getting a little old, though in Season 6, we finally saw Becca becoming a little more interesting and a less annoying as she experimented with booze, drugs and a new, goofy boyfriend who looks like a troll. The storylines push the envelope of absurdity each year, but there are enough wildly entertaining scenes to keep us coming back for more.

17. Family Guy

We’ll never get tired of the Griffins or the sick and twisted humor of Seth MacFarlane as he continues to push the envelope of good taste. Like “The Simpsons” and “South Park,” “Family Guy” has had a great run, and it’s still one of the funniest shows on television. This past season included a spoof of “Twelve Angry Men” as Mayor West goes on trial for a murder that takes place in the mayor’s mansion.

18. The Daily Show/The Colbert Report

With the election over, many of us are sick of politics these days, yet there’s plenty of stupidity coming from politicians and the cable news outlets to keep Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at the top of their games. “The Daily Show” hasn’t missed a beat, even with John Oliver subbing in for Jon Stewart in recent months.

19. Shameless

When you give a brilliant character actor like William H. Macy a role as rich as that of drunkard Frank Gallagher, you’re definitely off to a good start in putting together a new TV show. Add in the beautiful and talented Emmy Rossum as his eldest daughter Fiona, and some impressive younger actors to play his children, and now you’re onto something. With the Gallaghers, we get a hilarious peek into the lives of Americans struggling at the lower rungs of the economic ladder in the poor areas of Chicago. I’m tempted to call them a dysfunctional family, but the resourceful kids function pretty well considering they were stuck with a drunk like Frank as their father.

20. Key and Peele

When done well, the sketch comedy format can be a real winner, as we’ve seen from the best years on “SNL” and shows like “In Living Color.” Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele combine filmed sketches and live stage segments on “Key & Peele.” The duo offers up an interesting perspective on many issues given their biracial heritage, which seems to give them license to make fun of everybody.

21. Hannibal

It’s always challenging to build a television show around an iconic movie character, but the creators of “Hannibal” seem to have succeeded. Gifted criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) enlists the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to help him catch a twisted serial killer. Of course, he has no clue that Lecter is much more than just a brilliant psychiatrist, and that sets the stage for this psychological thriller.

22. Veep

It’s easy to make fun of politicians these days, but the writers and stars of this show are particularly good at it. The show captures the futility of the office of the Vice President with the nakedly ambitious and utterly incompetent Selina Meyer as the VP. She’s played brilliantly by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who easily belongs in the sitcom Hall of Fame (does one exist?). Selina is surrounded by an equally ambitious and incompetent staff that will do almost anything to curry favor and further their own careers.

23. Louie

Stand-up comedian Louis C.K.’s second stab at a television series has been more successful, with “Louie” receiving rave reviews from numerous critics. He stars as a fictionalized version of himself as a divorcee raising two daughters in New York City. The show isn’t very structured, consisting of short scenes and standup bits thrown together. Some are hilarious, while others will just make you feel uncomfortable.

24. Magic City

With the popularity of “Mad Men,” it was only a matter of time before we saw more shows set in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. “Magic City” is set in Miami Beach starting on the eve of 1959 and centers around Ike Evans and his Miramar Playa Hotel. There’s plenty of drama involving the mob and the local D.A., and there’s also plenty of eye candy (including Bond babe Olga Kurylenko) to go along with the great clothes and beautiful cars of the era, as well as the South Beach locations.

Elena Satine in Magic City Starz

25. The League

Guys love mercilessly abusing their friends, and that’s all you need to know if you’ve ever pondered the popularity of fantasy football. For some guys, fantasy football also offers an outlet from a life filled with work, wives and kids, while for many, it’s a way to keep in touch with old friends. Many women don’t get it, as the fun goes well beyond the game itself. Now, ratchet up all the fun, competition, idiocy and juvenile behavior you’ve experienced in your own league and you have “The League” on FX. The show has been described as a “semi-improvised” comedy, and it follows a group of six goofball friends as they battle from draft day throughout the season and deal with their everyday lives. No topic is taboo on this show, so the audience gets an endless stream of silly but hilarious situations.


Orange is the New Black

Netflix has another hit with this new original series, and Taylor Schilling is excellent in the lead role as Taylor Schilling, a pretty New England blonde who finds herself going off to federal prison. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, with Jason Biggs and Laura Prepon in supporting roles. The show has some promise, but we’ll see if it’s ever good enough to crack the Power Rankings.


Opinions vary wildly on this show, but Jason Zingale’s recent review sums up our thoughts: “I had a very love-hate relationship with the first season of “Girls,” but Season Two is such a complete train wreck that it made me want to stop watching the show altogether. Dunham has created one of the most unlikable protagonists on TV (between her coke-fueled meltdown and the Patrick Wilson episode, she hits an all-time low), and Williams’ laughably insecure Marnie isn’t too far behind. In fact, the female characters have so few redeeming qualities – even Mamet’s lively Shoshanna resorts to some bad behavior this season – that it’s a wonder how the audience is supposed to keep rooting for them.”

Boardwalk Empire

This show began with so much promise, but everything stated to go downhill once they killed off Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) near the end of Season 2. Season 3 was a mess with new villain Gyp Rosetti, who comes across a clumsy caricature of a violent Italian mobster. Some characters, like the young Al Capone, are worth watching (can we get a spinoff?), and the show is still beautifully produced with the period costumes and music, but it no longer deserves to be on our list.

True Blood

The bar has been set very high for cable TV shows, and in its first several seasons, “True Blood” easily met that standard. Yet it’s hard to keep things compelling as the years go by, and “True Blood” has slipped a bit over the years as practically every kind of creature from werewolves, to shape shifters, to fairies and more have been introduced with every kind of magic imaginable. Viewers can’t be surprised anymore as something strange and bizarre emerges with every character. Some storylines are great, while others just take up time and keep some of the characters occupied. Fortunately, many of the characters remain compelling, and the show hasn’t lost its sense of humor or sex appeal.

The Killing

We jumped the gun several years ago when we put “The Killing” at the top of our Spring 2011 power rankings. By the end of Season 1, we were disappointed like everyone else when the killer wasn’t revealed as promised. Even worse, an annoying pattern had developed during that season with each episode implying that a different killer could have been responsible for Rosie Larson’s death. Still, Mireille Enos was brilliant as Detective Sarah Lindon, though the storyline about her son was a useless distraction. Season 2 played out the string on the Rosie Larson murder with mediocre results, and it looked like we’d seen the end of this show. But surprisingly, AMC brought it back with a new case for Lindon and her partner Stephen Holder. Season 3 was much better, but unfortunately, the ending wasn’t worth all the trouble.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

We’re hoping Larry David comes back for another season, and if he does, this show will easily make our list again.