The Biggest TV Moments Of 2013

From epic finales to Yorkshire classrooms: the TV that made the year

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'Staying in with for a night in front of the box' was long code for being a boring old sod, but not in recent years – and less than ever in 2013.

Forget the much-discussed 'Golden Era' of TV ushered in by American HBO epics – typified this year as Breaking Bad concluded in the Autumn, scaling new heights of small screen drama in the process – we're talking about British TV too, from mind-bending sci-fi satire like Black Mirror to geniunely affecting, traditional documentary making like Educating Yorkshire.

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Not only that, but 2013 was the year that TV finally embraced the internet, as NetFlix empowered viewers to gorge on shows like House Of Cards ten at a time if they wanted to.

Here, we round up the 10 biggest moments from the small screen. Let's hope 2014 is even better.
 

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That the final series of Vince Gilligan’s morally corrupt drama was available exclusively on Netflix speaks volumes in itself – but more importantly, in 2013 one of the finest TV shows made in the last decade wound to an extremely tense finish.

With Netflix putting new episodes up at 8am every Monday, for eight weeks the internet became a terrifying, hostile space, with spoilers, plot-laden think pieces and reviews emerging each morning before you’d even got into the office.

It was a minefield of explosive information, where exiting unscathed and spoiler-free became an Olympic feat.

The final pieces of Walter White’s steady descent into power-lust and madness made for some of the most compelling TV of the year, culminating in a bittersweet finale that resolved character and plot developments in a neat (if not a little bloody) package.

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Part of the appeal of Game Of Thrones among fans is that no character is safe  – like the brutal and shocking decapitation of Ned Stark at the end of the first series.

The penultimate episode of series 3 focused on Ned’s remaining family trying to forge an alliance with the powerful (if creepy) House Frey via an arranged marriage.

But they were betrayed; as it was revealed the Frey’s were in alliance with the equally sinister Lannister family. Catelyn, Rob, his pregnant wife and all the Stark supporters proceeded to be brutally slaughtered in an event that came to be known as the Red Wedding.

Not only were the throat-slitting, knife-plunging, pregnant-lady-butchering scenes a complete shock to viewers, but the near extinction of the Stark family in this episode spelled out a particularly bleak future for Westeros.

They were the moral backbone of the show, begrudgingly dragged into the war to avenge Ned and rescue the two Stark daughters, who were believed held captive in the capital city.

With them killed, and so deceptively at that, the show’s moral compass span wildly in the wrong direction. If characters with the purest intentions aren’t safe, then nobody is, as viewers will no doubt find out when Series 4 begins next year.



Netflix’s foray into original programming took off in 2013, grasping the binge-watching potential of web-only TV by making entire series available in full.

The two shows were radically different – House Of Cards was a US political drama starring Kevin Spacey who, after missing out on a coveted cabinet position in the White House, exacts a slow-burning plot to gain power via manipulation and dishonesty.

Meanwhile, Orange Is The New Black is a drama/comedy set in a women’s federal prison, adapted from a real-life story and produced by the creator of cult drama Weeds. It features Piper Chapman, a comfortable, well-adjusted middle class women being sent to prison after a decade-old drug trafficking offence resurfaces.

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While Netflix doesn’t reveal viewing data for its shows, House Of Cards triumphed at the Emmy’s this year, beating competition from Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad and Homeland and showing that web-exclusive shows can fight their corner against bigger-budget rivals.

The even better news: both House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black have been confirmed for second series’ next year, and Netflix are planning more original dramas.
 

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Airing at the very start of the year, Utopia was a six-part series exploring global conspiracies from the perspective of a group of comic-book fans, who agree to meet after the author of their favourite graphic novel is mysteriously killed.

From the first episode it was praised for having a distinct tone -- playing up to its graphic novel roots to juggle deadpan humour, extreme graphic violence and grand ideas seamlessly.

The show received a number of complaints for the overwhelming violence, including someone being beaten with an iron pipe, a school shooting, gassings and a particularly grim torture scene involving a spoon, but it became a cult hit, and a second series is on its way.


It’s no coincidence that those who grew up watching Skins may feel an affinity to Dates, as it was written by Bryan Elsley, who co-created the show about tear-away kids doing drugs between studying for A-levels.

Whereas Skins was about wreckless teenagers, Dates captured the attention of that same generation who grew up, moved to the big city and found having a love life completely baffling.

Each half-hour episode takes place as two characters meet for a first date. Some dates go badly (the gay woman going on a date with a man to appease her brother), others go worse (the banker shagging a waiter in the toilets during his date), but all have an undoubtedly British charm to them.

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There’s nothing pretentious about these dates; nothing as slick and rose-tinted as US shows tend to depict. In fact every date involves some form of disaster and chaos. If Skins made being uninhibited look wearisome, then Dates makes the carefree single lift look preposterous and flat-out terrifying.

 

Blame Big Brother for first turning the fly on the wall documentary into a freak show.

Since then, cynically manipulating members of the public (or celebrity D-listers) has been falsely passed off a chance to witness 'real life' in action.

Thankfully this year, Channel 4’s Educating Yorkshire brought restraint and honesty back to the format, offering a glimpse into the lives of teachers and misunderstood teenagers at Thornbury Community Academy in West Yorkshire.

The show was particularly poignant in the final episode. Student Musharaf Asghar suffered from an extreme stutter, making him unable to communicate verbally with his classmates or teachers.

His English teacher Mr Burton suggests speaking in time with music, after seeing the technique used on The King’s Speech.

At the end of year leaver’s assembly, Musharaf takes to a podium to deliver a farewell speech to his classmates. Just try to watch it without feeling a bit emotional. And by a bit, we mean a lot.


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When it first aired two years ago, critics praised Top Boy for its realistic depiction of gang culture and life working on the streets.

And though the show seemed to want to do to East London what The Wire did to Baltimore, the second four-part season of Top Boy proved that it can step away from the HBO series’ grand ideas and do things on its own terms.

For all the double-crossing, lying, intimidation and drug dealing, it is the show’s more tender moments that are most powerful, like the tense, aching silence between best friends Gem and Ra’Nell as the former prepared to leave for a life in Ramsgate.

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Or the terrifying implications when young Michael is arrested for shoplifting and starts to talk – threatening Dushane’s empire by implicating him in a murder.

The striking cinematography and the expansion from pure crime to exploring wider societal issues made Top Boy’s second season even more compelling than the first, and did more in its four episodes than some shows achieve in a full season.


You know you’re onto something big when someone creates a parody account of your show on Twitter, which is exactly what happened to Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror this year.

@IdeasBlack took a stab at Brooker’s modernised Twilight Zone-style storytelling with plot ideas such as ‘2017: tweets start to become sentient. A stolen joke passed off as his own by Keith Chegwin kills a child and goes on the run’.

Spoof account aside, there was nothing to suggest Black Mirror was getting predictable or stale – series two built upon the bleak comic foundations in its initial run of episodes to tell captivating stories stuffed with satirical observations about technology and modern life.

The second episode in particular, White Bear, managed to play out like a psychological thriller, a horror film and a withering parody of contemporary, internet-driven moral outrage in one go.


An eleven year old boy is murdered in the quiet seaside town of Broadchurch, and the investigation draws up a number of suspects in the local community. Sound familiar?

It’s the plot of almost every murder mystery ever, but Broadchurch broadened its appeal by taking lessons from shows like The Killing and The Bridge in suspense and slow-burning storytelling.

The suspense throughout the eight weeks was heavy and brooding, and when the killer was unmasked in the final it still came as a huge surprise.

Proof that among the modern shows in 2013, there’s still room for a old-school twist.

 

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