This down and out, low-rent series on Showtime is often difficult viewing. It’s raw and base and has one of the most unlikable characters at its core, but it does so much else so wonderfully well and with great originality that you can’t ignore it. The series pushes you down on the sidewalk and makes you pay attention.
14: Homeland (Showtime)
Last season’s impeccable, start-to-finish unpredictability gave way, all-too-quickly, to style over substance in Season 2. Implausibility replaced surprise. Taut writing unraveled. Homeland can be maddeningly erratic and the signs this season indicate that something is amiss (though the show is still riveting) and it’s unlikely to get fixed, thus a tumble down from previously lofty heights.
13. Boss (Starz)
Hey, look, it’s another ignored series on Starz. Yes, the formula from the network seems to be focused on sex and nudity to attract eyeballs to high quality fare. Not exactly how you’d normally draw it up, but these are competitive times. Boss was not renewed by Starz after two strong, completely ignored seasons, but it was well-crafted and Kelsey Grammer delivered a virtuoso performance that was unmatched.
12: Magic City (Starz)
Sure, it seemed like Starz was mixing Mad Men with The Sopranos as it told the tale of a hotel on the beach in Miami – with mob ties, sex and swanky outfits – but this series slowly earned its own achievements of character, place and story. Too bad so many people are unaware of it.
11. The Hour (BBC America)
This British series really soared in Season 1 and because of that reaps hard-earned dramatic benefits in Season 2. A costume drama about journalism, class structure, the changing times in England and the cost of celebrity. In fact, you can add three or four more strands to that. The writing is impeccable and the acting always fantastic.
10 - 'Treme' (HBO)
It's not so big on plot or movement. It goes at its own odd pace. But if you want to get to know people and music and place, then this is your show. Watching Treme makes you feel like you're soaking in New Orleans and that brings a better understanding of the story structure.
9 - 'Dexter' (Showtime)
Holy comeback, Batman. I had seriously left this show for dead. Season six was an embarrassment -- far past its sell-by date. But tightening the noose on Dex was absolutely what was needed and this season proved they should have started earlier. It also proved that really good series sometimes get a second chance.
8 - 'Sherlock' (PBS)
Great acting, taut writing, suspense, humor, intrigue -- this modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes is pitch perfect. They just need to make more.
7 - 'Sons of Anarchy' (FX)
Moving forward to bring out the Hamlet elements inherent in the premise was essential. A heightened drama like this can go sideways pretty quick, but SOA course-corrected any worries right from the start and stayed hyper-focused to the split of the infrastructure -- and that was bloody good.
Photo by: HBO
6 - 'Boardwalk Empire' (HBO)
While I wish Boardwalk Empire were as addictive and compelling as, say, The Walking Dead, you can’t ignore the studied brilliance. There’s a classicism to the look and feel of it, and the dense storytelling that seems to move slowly at the beginning of the season often pays off remarkably well at the end.
5 - 'Justified' (FX)
Talk about a series lacking respect. Timothy Olyphant is fantastic as Raylan Givens and the fact that he hasn’t gotten attention in the acting categories is all kinds of wrong. Though the series does have some difficulty spreading the wealth among its other characters, it completely nails the season-long guest appearances. It’s smart, different and entertaining.
4 - 'The Walking Dead' (AMC)
Season three firmly elevated this series to the upper tier of television. Massively popular and acclaimed, it is hitting its creative stride. A series you should not miss.
Photo by: HBO
3 - 'Game of Thrones' (HBO)
It's very rare when you can call a series "epic" anymore, but it fits here. So would dense, smart, addictive and wholly original. And the best of Game of Thrones could be ahead of it, which is inspiring and impressive.
2 - 'Mad Men' (AMC)
Season five was more creatively erratic than the series' other stellar seasons, but it was inherently more ambitious, elliptical and challenging as well. It’s hard to depict 1965 without falling into rote imagery and concerns, and this series deftly avoided those pitfalls.
1 - 'Breaking Bad' (AMC)
What stands out about this series and its legacy is that it has almost never stumbled. It is by far the most consistently great drama, episode-to-episode, season-to-season, of any show on television. Nothing in the final eight episodes could ever change that.