It's the most wonderful time of the year, the time for pontificating, the time when critics and pundits weigh in on what was the best of the year - in films, television, bikinis, popes, news stories and non-news stories, which there seem to be more of nowadays.
Come on! As if any of us can remember even half of what we saw, what screen we were looking at as life roared by. There is simply too much stuff out there for anyone to take in.
Hollywood has its own theory: Everything can be turned into entertainment. And it seems everything will. Who saw "Duck Dynasty" being a massive hit?
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and now even Xbox have TV shows. Meanwhile, more and more independent films have gone straight to video on demand, so no one has to leave the couch. Ever.
I can only assume we all soon will be watching each other, or maybe we already are. There are tons of channels I haven't checked out. We know the NSA is watching us. When is it going to start its own original programming? It must have plenty of material.
So what does this all mean? Let's start with what I watched last night. What was it? Oh, yeah, the finale of the third season of Showtime's "Homeland" and somebody died. I won't tell you who. I recorded it, and by the time I watched it three days later, everybody, including New York Times political columnist Maureen Dowd, had posted their take on it. Not surprising; every week, commentators were fretting about the direction the show was taking.
Sure, it was incredibly uneven, but usually viewers either stick with a show or don't for much the same reasons reviewers do. They like a character. They think some actor is hot. They can't be bothered switching channels. Reviewers often like to feel they have the last word on something, but in the end it's often merely personal preferences, which is what I'm about to give.
Earlier this month, New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum wrote how she tries to sidestep top 10 lists, considering them "simultaneously reductive and boring," but then to fulfill her duty, she offered up some 20 shows she "enjoyed most" and added a few more she just likes to watch. Judging by what she likes, if we had one remote between us, there would be blood.
But while I may not agree with her on certain shows, I do about lists. For the most part, top 10 lists try to compare apples to oranges to grapes to pomegranates. However, as a writer who covers both film and television, there is something to pointing out what I think others may like. I have seen more quality stuff than I could contain in a couple of top 10 lists. So with the caveat that there were shows and movies I missed, and in no order, here are 20 TV shows I think were worth a look in 2013.
"The Daily Show"/"The Colbert Report" (Comedy Central): This pair of shows takes the news/absurdities of the day and turns them into laughs. There is also a constant parade of interesting guests from both the political and entertainment worlds, and the hosts, John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, are as insightful in what they ask as they are funny.
"Masters of Sex" (Showtime): This smartly written series that tells the story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson deals with more than their hands-on research into sex. It chronicles a changing world and changing mores that are still being felt today. Meanwhile, its 1950s soap-opera veneer keeps it constantly entertaining.
"The Americans" (FX): Set in the early 1980s, this well-written Cold War spy thriller cleverly combines family drama and questions of identity with espionage derring-do.
"Orange Is the New Black" (Netflix): Showrunner Jenji Kohan has taken this true story of a upper-middle-class white woman serving time in prison and focuses it on a diverse, and often sad and funny, collection of inmates.
"Broadchurch" (BBC America): This murder mystery, which uncoiled deliciously slow but with impact, was so good that now American television has a chance to mess it up. The great David Tennant will again star, but he gets a new name, as does the show, which Fox is calling "Gracepoint.
"Justified" (FX): The best cop show on television with Timothy Olyphant as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the coolest man with a badge. A testament to the great Elmore Leonard, who passed away this year.
"The Hollow Crown" (PBS): Yes, yes, I know it's Shakespeare, but he was the man. These are exciting adaptations of four of the Bard's historical plays. Tom Hiddleston (Loki for you "Thor" fans) as British monarch Henry V and Ben Whishaw (the new M in the Bond films) as Richard II are marvelous.
"Breaking Bad" (AMC): I admit having grown tired over the years of Walter and his problems, but the final season powered its way to its dark inexorable conclusion.
"Game of Thrones" (HBO): Big and broad, like the swords, this is well-done and fun storytelling on a grand scale.
"Orphan Black" (BBC America): While Tatiana Maslany's brilliant performances as seven clones would be fascinating enough to watch, the sci-fi series soon begins to take some neat, unexpected turns.
"House of Cards" (Netflix): As a political drama with a web of Washington, D.C., intrigue, it's pretty entertaining. The juicy performances by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright make it a must-watch show.
"The Returned" (Sundance Channel): A French mystery that has a creepily compelling premise of dead people visiting those who are grieving for them.
"Top of the Lake" (Sundance Channel): Jane Campion's strange and disturbing series gets under your skin. Elisabeth Moss stars as a detective trying to solve the disappearance of a child in the misogynistic, backward town where she grew up.
"Boardwalk Empire" (HBO): The perfect example of a great HBO show: well written, grand production values, top-notch performances. Its fourth season still has a kick.
"Elementary" (CBS): As the modern-day Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson, Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have one of network TV's truly interesting developing relationships, which raises the show above the many crime procedurals littering the airwaves. Not a substitute for "Sherlock," which returns to PBS for three episodes in January, but "Elementary" will do.
"The Blacklist" (NBC): This show is here for one reason: James Spader, who is simply fascinating as mysterious criminal Raymond "Red" Reddington. Without him I would probably lose interest in this high-concept series.
"Sleepy Hollow" (Fox): When I tell people I like this, I get incredulous looks. I know, it's loopy - a Revolutionary War soldier revived from the dead to be paired up with an African-American female detective to stop the apocalypse. But the show is like a drunken tightrope walker somehow able to stay upright with the right amount of humor and action.
"Veep" (HBO): The second season of this comedy series about an ambitious vice president is hilarious, and no one is funnier than Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
"Black Mirror" (DirecTV's Audience): A bizarre but compelling British anthology based around technology's effect on people's lives. Plots involve the prime minister posting a pornographic Internet video as ransom for the life of a princess, what happens when people can replay their memories, and a lonely woman chatting with the uploaded consciousness of her dead boyfriend.
"The Newsroom" (HBO): Yeah, yeah, I know most critics hate Aaron Sorkin's drama for any of a million reasons, mostly, I think, because it isn't "The West Wing." While "The Newsroom" can be preachy and overwritten, it has substance, wit and great performers, unlike the many frothy dramas that populate TV. In the end, I'd rather watch something that is less than perfect but somewhat challenging than drift through perfect nothingness.