It was an exceptional year for TV, and that extended to the types of series that have a unique appeal to the nerdy brood. Some shows got better and some shows did actually lose a bit of quality. Some new shows dazzled out of the gate, and some shows disappointed despite our greatest hopes. But for the discerning viewer there was more to get excited about then there was to watch begrudgingly, and as we look to the year 2014, we are reaffirmed in our faith that there’s never been a better time to be nerdy. Submitted for your approval, the Top 10 Nerdy TV shows of 2013 from Nerd Bastards.
10) Doctor Who
Threatening to collapse under the weight of another companion mystery box, this time in the form of Clara Oswald, it seemed as though the seminal 50th anniversary year of Doctor Who would be a rocky one. And then something great happened: the awesomeness of the “The Day of the Doctor” managed to retroactively make the sometime slog of the back-end of series 7 better, and helped set a course for The Doctor that will carry him on through his next generation and beyond. Not only did “Day” find the fun, but it managed to do so while paying major fan service to not just Tennant acolytes, but fans of all Who lore, from Hartnell to Smith. The biggest news though is the regeneration of The Doctor into a form resembling Scottish actor Peter Capaldi. Although Capaldi is yet another white male Time Lord, the reconfiguration to an older, more mature Doctor is a welcome shift of emphasis. Doctor Who has never been as popular, and the possibilities have never been so endless, so has there ever been a better time to be a “Whovian?” Time will tell.
9) Sleepy Hollow
It was an idea so ridiculous it had to be cancelled quickly, right? Washington Irving’s classic about a school teacher scared out of town by the legend of decapitated specter turned into a National Treasure-esque MacGuffin hunt where Revolutionary War soldier Ichabod Crane is a awoken in modern times to stop the apocalypse led by the Headless Horseman, AKA: The Angel of Death. Naturally, it’s become the most popular new network show of the year, and despite the inherent silliness of the set-up, I think it’s the fact that the show and its creators embraced that silliness is what makes it so winning. That and the central performances by Tom Mison as Crane, Nicole Beharie as his co-witness to the apocalypse Mills and Orlando Jones as Mills’ formally disbelieving police captain Irving help make Sleepy Hollow a rollicking and engaging adventure from week-to-week. You can watch it for the Mulder and Scully-esque chemistry between Crane and Mills, or you can watch it for the mystic bric-a-brac and formally unknown American Revolution lore like Washington’s Bible and Jefferson’s demon prison. Either way, Sleepy Hollow’s kitchen sink approach to TV has secured it a place as the breakout hit of the year.
8) The Big Bang Theory
The juggernaut continues, but with some stylistic changes that show that the writers are well aware that they need to keep the show fresh, while not screwing around too much with the formula that made Big Bang the biggest comedy on TV. So what’s worked? There was “The Scavenger Hunt Vortex” where Raj set up a game that rearranged the core couples in strange new pairings. In “The Workplace Proximity,” cracks appeared in the happy relations of both “Shamy” and “Howardette.” Then there was also Sheldon’s discovery of a new element, which angered him due to his accidentally discovering it, and then humiliated him when Leonard proved the new element didn’t actually exist. The biggest change though is that Raj can now talk to women without the aid of alcohol, a development that was long overdue as that particular personality quirk strained credulity. Through it all, Big Bang still delivers the one thing any comedy has to deliver consistently: laughs. And as a bonus it allows we the nerdy to revel in our own nerdiness, for the most part laughing with the characters, even if that character unintentionally ruins Raiders of the Lost Ark for everyone, forever.
As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. flounders under the weight of nerd expectations and its own inability to seal the deal, fans started to look to the other superhero show on TV and found it regularly kicking butt in both a literal and creative sense. What is Arrow doing that S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t? Well it does nerd-service better for one thing, of course the fact that Arrow doesn’t have to tie itself into a pre-existing movie universe helps a lot. Essentially though, Arrow takes to heart the genre it plays, while S.H.I.E.L.D. sometimes feels like NCIS: Avengers. In other words, Arrow feels more like a superhero show. Further evidence is the recent two-parter introducing Barry Allen, AKA: The Flash, a proverbial double play as it’s the first time the series introduced another hero, and the first time the series dabbled in the area of super-powers. To the show’s credit it worked well, and all systems seem go for a Flash TV show next fall, but what about the mothership series? Well, there’s still issues with finding something interesting to do with Laurel and Thea, and for some reason the show feels like they have to play the “Olicity” card in order to pander to the ‘shippers, but when we see Black Canary in action, get a tease about Ra’s al Ghul, or have it revealed that Slade is alive and well, wearing an eye-patch and operating in Starling City, we remember why we tune in and geek out every week.
6) Lost Girl
The second season of Lost Girl was pretty epic with Bo taking up the challenge of being a chosen one to lead the light and the dark Fae in a battle against the ancient evil of the Garuda. So what does an unaligned succubus do for an encore? If you’re Bo, you toy with your dark side, officially start a romance with the hot human doctor, find yourself flung into the ancient Fae right of the Dawning, and then deal with a group of humans who are experimenting on Fae to get Fae powers. And then there’s this Wanderer… Certainly Dion themselves would be surprised at the eerie and sinister connotations that Lost Girl brought to their 1961 hit, but the recurring theme was effective as the audience, more than Bo herself, struggled with the question of who is The Wanderer? Is he Bo’s dad? And what connection does new Fae on the block Tamsin have to him? Season three left the fans on a very uncertain note with Lauren and Trick on the run, Bo vanished and Dyson and Tasmin engaging in a literal kind of cliffhanger. Season four’s already bowed in Canada, and so far things are only getting murkier for our Fae-riends. Through it all though, Lost Girl remains an emotionally complex and rewarding series that balances its soapy inclinations with a richly detailed mythology that remains one of the most original in genre television.
Another series that was doomed to failure, right? I mean, who would possibly want to tune into a weekly series about Hannibal Lecter after the character was used up in a series of films with dwindling returns? Not helping is TV’s current romance with serial killers, from the ongoing adventures of the Criminal Minds gang to new kids on the block like The Fall and The Following. But like Sleepy Hollow, Hannibal surprises by taking a familiar story in strange new directions. Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is understated and disturbing, which could just as well describe Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham too. The series’ meditation on what makes a monster, and the toll it takes to understand monsters and not become monstrous ourselves is almost as compelling as Hannibal’s various gruesome killers. Where as other shows try to ground themselves in reality, Hannibal realizes an almost hyper-real world of outlandish violence, which is beautifully realized by the production’s stunning cinematography, outstanding art direction and meticulous sound design. With a near universally-acclaimed first season under it’s belt, including a delicious reversal of the Hannibal/Graham roles in Red Dragon, season two is one of the most hotly anticipated premieres of the winter.
4) Person of Interest
The series once cynically labelled as “Jesus and Ben Linus do The Equalizer” has emerged as a brazenly complex serial that sometimes masquerades as a procedural about a rogue CIA agent who saves everyday average New Yorkers with the help of the reclusive genius inventor of a machine that sees all the world’s dangers. Creator Jonathan Nolan has built a complex world where allegiances constantly shift, and nothing is immediately what it seems. From crime boss Elias becoming a key factor in the elimination of the corrupt cops of HR, to Root becoming co-admin of The Machine with Finch, pushed by the evolving A.I. to work together to fight a bigger threat. But what is that bigger threat? The “privacy terrorists” known as Vigilance? The head of the government’s threat elimination wing called Control? Or maybe this is all about the recently revealed possible existence of a second all-knowing Machine code-named “Samaritan” that our heroes have to be enguard for? That’s all pretty heady mythology for something on CBS and labelled as a “procedural,” but as a recent three-part arc that culminated in the death of a beloved character proved, the people are very interested in Person of Interest.
Continuum’s first season did a good job of laying the groundwork: evil corporate future, time travelling terrorists, and the one cop in an Iron Man-esque suit trying to stop them and get home to her family. In the second season, the writers took the whole thing up a notch by doubling-down on not just the timey-whimey premise of the show, but by developing the character drama by having future cop Kiera Cameron come to some kind of acceptance about her predicament and even come out as a time-traveller to her 2013 Vancouver PD partner Carlos. Meanwhile, on the Liber8 end, the united front shattered as Sonya seized the core group, but Travis wouldn’t go down without a fight and gathered his own force by basically becoming Vancouver’s Kingpin. But the post provocative developments have to do with Alec, both old and young. Are Old Alec’s motives truly altruistic in seeking to undo the future he helped create, or does he want his cake and eat it too? And what about Young Alec, what’s his goal going back in time: business or personal? (And on a side note, who would have guessed that Crazy Jason was Alec’s future son and not his dad from the future?) The ongoing greatness of the show will depend on how the writers follow-up on The Freelancers, their mission to preserve the future, and how this common enemy might change the game for Kiera and Liber8.
2) Orphan Black
When Orphan Black was scheduled to premiere this past spring, it wasn’t exactly a heavily hyped entry into the crowded TV market. Then we were introduced to a young woman from Regina, Saskatchewan named Tatiana Maslany, and she made us believe that one actress could play nearly a dozen distinctive characters who all happen to be clones. Criminally overlooked by the Emmys, although recently rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination, Maslany’s acting ability was the gamble Orphan Black put all its money on, and it left the game flush. Although the show is built on the themes of identity and wears well the cloak of the paranoid conspiracy thriller, the real draw is the clones themselves. To Maslany’s credit, each character is so meticulously drawn that you forget for a minute that you’re watching the same actress have a conversation with four or five different versions of herself. And not to put all the chips on Maslany, because she’s given great support by Jordan Gavaris as lead clone Sarah’s partner in crime and Dylan Bruce as the man married to one of Sarah’s fellow clones before flirting with romance with Sarah herself. Also, wasn’t it awesome to see Matt Frewer as the villainous Dr. Leekie? Where the hell has he been? Anyway, as we leave 2013, Orphan Black is one of the hottest shows on TV, and one that a lot of people are struggling to play catch-up with as we enter 2014. Here’s hoping Maslany has many years (and characters) ahead of her.
1) Game of Thrones
It’s to the credit of the writers of Game of Thrones that having based their series on a well-known and loved series of books that they were able to reveal the climactic event of the penultimate episode and still take people by surprise. In season three, it wasn’t a nice day for a white wedding, but the time was right for the Red Wedding, a literal blood bath for half the clan Stark. But lest you think family moments turned family massacre was all that season three had to offer, there were honest to God giants, the perfectly creepy army known as the Unsullied, Jaime and Brienne’s awesome sword fight on the bridge, Jaime and Brienne’s awesome fight against a bear, Daenerys’ growing megalomania, Theon losing something very – um – important, and British acting royalty in the person of Diana Rigg putting on a clinic with every appearance. You might sometimes need a scorecard to keep up with all the characters – even in this day and age, TV shows don’t require this much attention to detail just to make sure you know what’s going on – but Game is emblematic of the very best of what TV can do as medium: epic, expansive storytelling that’s rich in detail and emotionally complex. The biggest challenge moving forward for the series now is that they may run out of material to adapt before the show wanes in popularity on TV, but at this point it’s hard to imagine Game of Thrones ever running on fumes creatively.