By Chuck Barney
Contra Costa Times
The year brought us more superlative television than usual, from a lot more sources than usual.
There were standout offerings from traditional broadcast networks, from cable and online channels (Welcome to the party, Netflix), and from foreign countries. In fact, it was more difficult than ever to keep up with the barrage and pare it all down to 10 standouts.
But someone had to do it, so here we go:
1. “Breaking Bad” (AMC): It was tempting not to place “Breaking Bad” in the top spot because, well, that’s just too bloody obvious. But its hall-of-fame greatness cannot be denied. The sad, twisted and insanely mesmerizing tale of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), prime time’s biggest baddie, kept us on the edge of our armchairs right up through the brutal end. And during a rock ’em-sock-’em farewell run, creator Vince Gilligan and company delivered one genuinely heart-pounding twist after another. As usual, the series was a marvel of clever plotting, sharp writing and extraordinary acting. Just thinking about it all over again makes for an A-1 day.
2. “Masters of Sex” (Showtime): The pay-cable nudity, kinky carnal gymnastics and glass vibrators naturally aroused our curiosity. But this period drama about William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzie Caplan), the researchers who helped Americans unlock the mysteries of the bedroom, had more than sex on the brain. The first-year show provided viewers with a fascinating examination of social change in the 1950s, while also delving into matters of human intimacy and connection, and the inner emotions that make us tick. Oh, and at times, it just made us laugh.
3. “Game of Thrones” (HBO): This epic fantasy continued to meet television’s most daunting challenge: To wrap its arms around George R.R. Martin’s sprawling saga and bring a big, imaginary world full of mystery, mysticism, spectacle and visual majesty to the small screen. In Season 3, “Thrones” did it better than ever, while still managing to tell intimate, character-based stories and occasionally making our jaws hit the floor with shockers like the brutal “Red Wedding” scene: or even a wild fight between a woman warrior and a bear.