The best TV episodes of 2013: 'Breaking Bad's' incredible run, plus 'Justified,' 'Frontline' and more

best-tv-episodes-of-2013-breaking-bad-frontline-raising-hope-justified-trophy-wife.jpgAs we've noted elsewhere, 2013 offered a depth and breadth of quality TV that we've never seen before -- there were more good shows in more places than at anytime in the medium's history.

So Zap2it's annual rundown of the best episodes of the year is going to be a sizable one. Over the next couple of weeks, each member of the staff will present his or her favorites. Expect the first show on the list below to show up more than once.

'Breaking Bad' - 'To'hajiilee,' 'Ozymandias' and 'Granite State'

It wouldn't be hard to make an argument for almost any -- or all of -- "Breaking Bad's" final eight episodes to be included on a list of the year's best episodes, but the three that immediately precede the series finale are the best of the best. Walter White's ( Bryan Cranston) began crumbling the moment Hank ( Dean Norris) made the connection that Walt was Heisenberg. By the time "To'hajiilee" begins, though, the formerly deliberate, meticulous Walt is in panic mode, and his jitters unleash the terrible string of events that cause his brother-in-law's death, Jesse's ( Aaron Paul) enslavement by Uncle Jack and Co. and his own exile to New Hampshire.

The three episodes delivered some of the tensest, most gut-wrenching and outright cruelest moments of the series -- and made for utterly riveting television. The measure of redemption that Walt achieved in the finale has divided critics, but almost no one would say the hours that came before it weren't some of the best storytelling on TV in this or any other year in recent memory.

'Frontline' - 'League of Denial'

PBS' formidable documentary series leveled its cameras at the NFL in this two-hour installment on the league's concussion crisis, and the results were not pretty. Combining the deep reporting work of brothers Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada with remarkable testimony from former players, their loved ones and brain researchers, it paints a damning picture of the league's cavalier attitude about brain injuries even as the evidence continued to build. ESPN was initially a partner in the project but dropped out after hearing from the NFL -- leaving both organizations looking bad but in turn helping raise the profile for one of the best TV documentaries of the year.

'Raising Hope' - 'Burt Mitzvah: The Musical'

Entirely at the other end of the TV spectrum was this wonderful half-hour that helped close out "Hope's" third season. After Burt's ( Garret Dillahunt) parents tell him he's Jewish, he goes on a tune-filled crash course in Judaism, culminating in the rock anthem "Rock the Torah," which is both ludicrously staged (why make it look like a bad music video circa 1987? Why not?) and unbelievably catchy. Take a look:


'Justified' - 'Decoy'

Season 4 of "Justified" made a switch from focusing on a central adversary to a season-long mystery, and it worked out wonderfully for the show. The high point of an excellent season was episode 11, "Decoy," which showcased a precise caper plot -- Raylan ( Timothy Olyphant) and Constable Bob ( Patton Oswalt) hatch a plan to get Shelby/Drew ( Jim Beaver) out of Harlan and out of the Detroit mob's reach -- and a host of amazing character beats: Bob enduring a beating at the hand of a Detroit enforcer (and confounding the guy in the process); Raylan, Boyd ( Walton Goggins) and Ava ( Joelle Carter) using their shared history to speak in a sort of code; Nicky Augustine ( Mike O'Malley) taking perverse joy in getting under everyone's skin. The episode was a big part of the season's larger story, yet it played nearly perfectly as a stand-alone hour of TV.

'Trophy Wife' - 'Twas the Night Before Christmas ... or Twas It?'

The closing tag alone (see below) may have made this episode of ABC's criminally under-watched comedy worthy of inclusion. But the 20 or so minutes that preceded it featured a show that has great confidence in itself and its characters and a cast that works together extremely well to deliver the funniest Christmas episode of 2013. The episode is structured essentially the same way as "The Hangover" movies, but it's incredibly light on its feet and features a great mix of verbal and physical comedy. Plus this:


Look for more of Zap2it's favorite TV episodes of the year in the coming days. What tops your list for 2013?
Photo/Video credit: AMC, PBS, FOX, FX, ABC