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The 10 best TV shows from the first half of 2013
From an absolutely stellar pool of both new and returning TV shows, we pick the 10 best
 
The Fall, starring Gillian Anderson, may be the strongest British TV import yet. 
The Fall, starring Gillian Anderson, may be the strongest British TV import yet.  Facebook.com/TheFallTV

It's a very, very good time to be a TV fan. We're only halfway through 2013, but there have already been a number of excellent TV shows to devour this year — so many, in fact, that even the most ardent viewer probably couldn't keep track of them all.

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Looking back at the past six months, which TV shows have truly proven themselves to be can't-miss? Here, a rundown of the 10 best TV shows from the first half of 2013 — and information on how you can watch them if you were unlucky enough to miss them the first time around:

10. Mad Men (AMC)

How good is Mad Men? Despite delivering what was easily its weakest season ever, it's still one of the best shows on TV. The AMC drama's sixth season saw Don Draper returning to his hard-drinking, philandering status quo against the tumultuous political backdrop of 1968. Though the season reserved much of its forward momentum for its game-changing final episode — which laid plenty of groundwork for next year's seventh and final season — Mad Men remained gorgeous, impeccably acted appointment television throughout the entirety of its sixth season.

Where you can watch it: Individual episodes can be bought for $1.99 on Amazon; a seventh season has been ordered.

9. Hannibal (NBC)

After appearances in four novels and five feature films — with ever-diminishing returns — one might have thought that audiences had grown tired of digesting stories about the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter. But showrunner Bryan Fuller has improbably managed to breathe new life into the franchise with Hannibal, a prequel following FBI Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who bonds with Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) before he's been caught and arrested for his crimes. Pay attention, Hollywood: This is how you make a tired old franchise feel new again.

Where you can watch it: Individual episodes can be bought for $1.99 on Amazon; a second season will premiere in 2014.

8. Top of the Lake

AMC and HBO are widely regarded as the two primary networks for top-tier TV dramas — but between the terrific miniseries Top of the Lake and another new series that will appear later in this list, Sundance Channel is quickly gaining. Top of the Lake stars Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss as she investigates the disappearance of a 12-year-old pregnant girl in New Zealand. At just seven episodes, the series maintains a narrative focus that eludes many of its open-ended small-screen counterparts — and because it's a one-shot miniseries, viewers tired of dragged-out mysteries like AMC's The Killing can take pleasure in knowing that this mystery reaches a final and definitive ending.

Where you can watch it: The entire series can be streamed on Netflix.

7. Justified (FX)

In its fourth season, FX's Justified eschewed its traditional format in favor of a season-long mystery that saw series protagonist Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) digging deeper into the troubled criminal history of his own family in Harlan County. But even as it stretched its creative wings, Justified delivered on the same virtues that have earned it both critical acclaim and a legion of loyal fans: Crackling dialogue, terrific action, and one of the best supporting casts on television — including a terrific subplot for fan-favorite antihero Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).

Where you can watch it: Individual episodes can be bought for $1.99 on Amazon; a fifth season will premiere in 2014.

6. Parks & Recreation (NBC)

Though it premiered in 2012, many of the best episodes in Parks & Recreation's fifth season — including "Leslie & Ben," "Article Two," and the season-ending "Are You Better Off?" — aired in 2013. The fourth season ended triumphantly as protagonist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) earned a seat on the city council after a hard-fought election, but the fifth season complicated that narrative — and challenged Leslie's eternal optimism — by exposing her to the unpleasant gridlock of politics. But through it all, Parks & Recreation also managed to retain the core qualities that make it the best sitcom on television: Clever writing, genuine dramatic stakes, and an enormously talented, versatile ensemble cast.

Where you can watch it: The entire fifth season can be streamed on Hulu Plus; a sixth season has been ordered.

5. The Americans (FX)

Here is your mission, comrade: Catch up on FX's The Americans in time for next year's second season premiere. Though the drama's ratings are a touch below what FX would like, the ambitious drama — which follows two Russian spies (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) posing as an American couple during the Cold War — is a must-see for anyone looking for the next prestige-quality drama. In its first year, this twisty series managed to out-Homeland Showtime's Homeland — so imagine what they'll be able to do next year.

Where you can watch it: Individual episodes can be bought for $1.99 on Amazon; a second season has been ordered.

4. The Fall (Netflix)

Over the past few years, British TV imports like Downton Abbey and Luther have attracted plenty of American viewers — but BBC Two's The Fall, which premiered in its entirety on Netflix in the United States, may be the strongest yet. The five-episode season splits its time between Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a killer who's preying on women in Belfast, and Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), who's been dispatched to catch him. The Fall's first season may be brief, but its unique quality, intelligence, and tension will stick with you long after it's over.

Where you can watch it: The entire first season can be streamed on Netflix; a second season has been ordered.

3. Arrested Development (Netflix)

Despite my love for the first three seasons of the cult favorite Fox sitcom, I was always skeptical about a fourth season of Arrested Development — and like many, my fears weren't assuaged by the first few episodes of the revived series. But the deeper I got into the darker, stranger fourth season, the more I appreciated the longer game the show was playing by embedding clues and twists in early episodes that wouldn't pay off until many hours later. Arrested Development's fourth season can't be judged like its first three seasons, which were satisfying on an episode-by-episode basis; think of this as a 500-plus-minute, tightly interwoven single episode, and you'll be in a better frame of mind to enjoy its distinct pleasures. It requires a lot of patience, and not everyone will want to invest the time and effort — but love it or hate it, it's an undeniably bold and fascinating experiment that pushes the boundaries of conventional television.

Where you can watch it: The entire fourth season can be streamed on Netflix.

2. Rectify (Sundance Channel)

Like its sister show Top of the Lake, Rectify is an unconventional spin on the crime drama — but where Top of the Lake is an intriguing tweak on the genre, Rectify is a near-total rewrite. At first glance, the premise may sound derivative: 19 years after being imprisoned for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend, death-row inmate Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is freed on a technicality. But where most shows would focus on the mystery of whether Daniel was really guilty of the crime in the first place, Rectify pivots in favor of exploring the psychological toll of imprisonment on Daniel, his family, and the greater community — regardless of whether he committed the crime. It's a quiet, genre-bending character study, and a would-be "crime drama" that's completely unlike any crime drama you've ever seen on television.

Where you can watch it: Individual episodes can be bought for $1.99 on Amazon; a second season will premiere in 2014.

1. Game of Thrones (HBO)

It almost feels unfair to include Game of Thrones on a list of the year's best TV shows. The HBO fantasy drama is simply playing on a different level: A bigger budget, a bigger cast, more locations, and higher ambitions than anything else on television. In its third season, Game of Thrones was better than ever, successfully juggling dozens of compelling characters and stories. And when you factor in the season's ninth episode — which culminated in the instantly legendary Red Wedding, a scene that launched a thousand memes — there's no question that Game of Thrones is the current king of the TV landscape.

Where you can watch it: The entire third season can be streamed on HBO Go; a fourth season has been ordered.

 
Scott Meslow is the entertainment editor and film and television critic for TheWeek.com. He has written about film and television at publications including The AtlanticPOLITICO Magazine, and Vulture.

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