This was one of the best years for TV in a long time--and thus, one of the hardest years to narrow down a list.

TIME’s annual collection of top-10 lists of everything is up, including my Top 10 TV Shows of 2013. (Also up is my list of Top 10 TV Episodes, which I’ll cover in a separate post.)

Some of you will hate my choices–let’s hope so, because let’s be honest, that’s half the reason top-10 lists exist at all. Others will have questions, and some of the same ones come up every year, so here’s a short FAQ:

* Why did you leave off ____? Don’t you like it? This is not the Top 10 and Everything Else Sucks list. I liked far more than 10 shows on TV this year; these ones were tops. It’s not a matter of what was wrong with the shows I left off, but what was right with the shows I put on.

* Don’t you like ____ anymore? Last year, Parks and Recreation was my #1 series. This year it’s not on my list. I still love it! But this list is only about 2013: it didn’t have as strong a year, and more important, the competition was just much tougher.

* How is _____ better than _____? Beyond the first few, honestly, the rank order is fairly arbitrary and apples-to-oranges. I didn’t measure these shows with a nuclear qualitometer. Think the #9 show (Mad Men, in which Jon Hamm played Don Draper) should be #6 (Bob’s Burgers, in which Jon Hamm played a talking toilet)? Sure, fine. Print it out and rearrange them. For that matter, there are probably 20 shows that I could just as easily put in the bottom 5 of this list.

* Aren’t top 10 lists just shameless trolling for readers? Sure! Also, they’re sort of a lie. Yes, this is, more or less, list of what I thought were the 10 best shows of the year. But I also think a list should be a document in itself–a statement, as a whole, of what I value in TV and what TV did best this year. So it’s, sort of, a list of the 10 best shows of the year and, sort of, a list of the 10 shows that represented the best in TV this year–which are related, but not exactly the same thing.

* Um, it’s not the end of 2013 yet. Thanks for pointing that out! I had to finalize this list in November. They still kept making TV, though! I may thus be regretting some choices already, but at some point you just have to let it go.

* You forgot _____. Probably not. I keep a running list of potential shows starting in January, and revise it throughout the year. (My top-10 episodes list, about which I’ll post separately, is a different story–I can’t watch everything, and I almost certainly I did forget things.)

Apologia out of the way, here’s my list (but read the full writeup to see what I thought of each show):

1. Enlightened
2. Breaking Bad
3. Orange Is the New Black
4. Game of Thrones
5. The Good Wife
6. Bob’s Burgers
7. Rectify
8. The Americans
9. Mad Men
10. Orphan Black


Tatiana Maslany played the role — or rather roles —of the year as a series of far-flung clones who discover they’re connected by genetic material and a dark conspiracy. Often playing opposite herself, she executed a range of characters — and characters pretending to be other characters — while capturing a commonality that was more than skin-deep. This was not just a one-woman show, though: stylish, relentless, tense, and twistily plotted, it was the smartest and freshest new work of TV sci-fi since Battlestar Galactica. This kind of ingenuity you can’t just clone in a test tube.