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) kept us on the edge of our armchairs right up through the brutal end.
2. “Masters of Sex” (Showtime): 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 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.
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.
4. “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix): A show about a women’s prison? Wow, tough sell. Fortunately, this sharp dramedy defied the genre’s stereotypes (and our expectations) with a highly original voice and vividly drawn characters.
5. “The Good Wife” (CBS): Generally regarded by critics to be the best drama on broadcast television, this legal series boldly reinvented itself in Season 5 with a plot line that had Alicia (Julianna Margulies) asserting her independence and starting her own firm with Cary (Matt Czuchry).
6. “House of Cards” (Netflix): It’s the show that announced to the world that Netflix was a major player. Slick, sumptuous and oh so seductive, it sucked us into the tale of a Machiavellian Washington, D.C., power broker (Kevin Spacey) and the ruthless political game of thrones he plays.
7. “Mad Men” (AMC): As Season 6 unfolded, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) found himself in a melancholy mood, pondering his own mortality. This late in the game, “Mad Men” can feel repetitive, but it still manages to find interesting ways to explore Don’s psyche and his tumultuous era.
8. “The Americans” (FX): Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys were relentlessly compelling as Russian sleeper agents posing as a married couple in suburban Virginia and making us wonder: Can you find true love in a fake marriage? Toss in plenty of suspenseful nail-biting moments, along with several crazy wigs, and you’ve got a wildly entertaining show we can’t say “neyt” to.
9. “Broadchurch” (BBC America): Several shows in recent years have attempted to dissect a single murder case over multiple episodes (“The Killing”; “The Bridge”). But none has done it as superbly as this dark British whodunit that explored how a quiet coastal town is put through an emotional wringer by the death of a young boy.
10. “The Returned” (Sundance): Zombies are all the rage these days, but this creepy French import brought a whole new look and vibe to a surreal tale in which the walking dead come back to a mountain village to visit the people who grieve for them.