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
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.
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.
“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.
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