The Year-End TV Power Rankings

Grantland Ilustration The Year in Review

These are the Year-End Power Rankings for 2013.

Some simple guidelines before we begin.

1. The Year-End Power Rankings operate under the same rules as the Mad Men Power Rankings, but are expanded to the entire universe of 2013 television.

2. The “entire universe of 2013 television” actually means “the parts of the entire universe of 2013 television we actually watched, which, while a LOT OF TELEVISION because it’s pretty much our job to watch an inhuman amount of television, was still not all of the television.”

3. The rules of the Mad Men Power Rankings are only known to us and are subject to change at any time.

4. We will leave out a vast number of things that will enrage the people who love them to the point of spittle-flecked apoplexy, with optional seizures of disdain. Sometimes this will be intentional. You’ll never know. You’ll be tempted to go into the comments and write something like, “No [character or thing from that show you love]?” Realize that you have been intentionally lured into that action by a maniac driven insane by year-end lists who’s nevertheless still thinking two steps ahead. He is invincible because of this disclaimer.

5. Some of these entries may contain spoilers. Hopefully they’ll be labeled as such. But if you see an entry from a show you haven’t watched, well, prepare for your life to be ruined. Hurry back home, it’s on fire.

6. This is an impossible task. We are screwed. We’re all screwed. Hurry back home, it’s on fire.

7. Oops, that’s our home that’s on fire. BRB. Still not sorry about the spoilers.

8. Let’s do this.

9. 2013!

1. Tywin Lannister, Game of Thrones

One could quite reasonably refer to this as The Year of Walter White, or, if you’d rather tout the black-hatted sizzle than the sun-cracked, tighty-whitied-swaddled steak, The Year of Heisenberg. Or was it actually the Year of Tywin? One of these men is the antihero you’re supposed to feel guilty about rooting for as he digs a deeper and deeper hole out in the middle of the desert, ready to throw everything he loves into it just so people will finally recognize his power. The other one sits patiently at the end of a long table, fingers lightly brushing the stem of a bottomless goblet of wine, glaring at the idiots surrounding him with tractor-beam eyes that force them to feel the undeniable gravity of his power, occasionally writing things on a scroll that cause someone three kingdoms away to die. Both built empires; only one of those empires was built to last.

But if you still find the relative placements of no. 1 and no. 2 on this list a controversial choice, there’s one simple question to ask yourself:

Which of these dudes is dead?

It’s not Tywin.

It might be splitting hairs (fine: Let’s do the pun! Splitting heirs! That did not feel good!) to consider the Red Wedding a greater triumph of fatal plotting than the synchronized, multi-prison murder-ballet that silenced a potential witness every few sweeps of the second hand on the death clock. But the jail hits didn’t hurt us, except in the abstract. Lure the cherished sons — born and unborn — of your greatest rivals to a banquet ambush, pull closed the doors, and wipe out an entire generation of enemies before they realize the wedding band’s crossbow player hasn’t hit an in-tune note all night, and, well, that is some next-level villainy.

Let us bow before Tywin Lannister, obsessive repayer of debts. Order up an express raven to deliver a “That’s how it’s done, motherfuckers” scroll to your vanquished foes, then send the demented, inbred boy-king to his chambers without supper. He’ll just have to occupy himself with his Fisher Price My First Severed Genitals of My Enemies play set while grandpa’s doing the dirty work of saving the family business.

2. Walter White, Breaking Bad

None of this is to say that Walter White didn’t have a great year! He had a totally great year, once you subtract the part where he bled out on the floor of the superlab after petting a stainless steel tank with the gentle affection usually reserved for a cherished pony you’ve just fed with a handful of baby carrots. These are the wildly arbitrary distinctions that separate the top two slots in the Power Rankings.

At least Walt died doing what he loved most: hanging around in a room full of equipment for cooking the most chemically pure methamphetamine known to humankind. Sure, he enjoyed all those pancake breakfasts in the dark with Junior, but no mundane father-son bonding moment could ever hope to equal the rush of pride from hoisting a bag of perfectly blue crystals onto a table and pausing to take in your own artistry. And you hardly ever get to do something cool like throw an exploding chunk of rock salt when you’re whipping up some Mrs. Butterworth’s for the rugrats. Unfair but true.

Let it be enough that Walter White aced a bunker’s dozen of filthy Nazis with a remote-controlled vengeance cannon, then, almost as an afterthought, rescued his old partner from a wretched lifetime as some white supremacists’ meth-cooking tetherball. Walt can’t win them all. Eventually Junior’s going to figure out that it’s possible to eat French toast with the lights on.

3. Don Draper, Mad Men

This was never going to be Don Draper’s year. The competition was too intense, the stakes too high elsewhere. You could almost dismiss his mostly self-inflicted suffering as quaint, especially when you consider the other TV families more spectacularly ruined by murderous treachery and blind hubris. Boo-hoo, you grew up in a whorehouse and you not-so-secretly hate your hot wife. Writing emotionally manipulative slogans for nice cars is so hard! Poor you! They keep replacing your middle child with a new kid, like you’re not even gonna notice!

[Takes deep breath. Reassesses the unfortunate direction this entry is going. Pours glass of scotch. Lazily stirs drink with finger.]

We don’t like where this is going. Rank your darlings, they tell you. But they don’t tell you how hard it’s going to be. How personal it’s going to get.

Don Draper is one of the finest, most complex characters in television history. We have dedicated a perhaps-unhealthy chunk of our professional lives to Don Draper. It’s not his fault there was no briefcase in 2013, no carousel. It will have to be enough that he didn’t wind up a tragic inkblot on the Madison Avenue sidewalk. We may still get there. And that will probably be enough to top these crossover Power Rankings in late 2014. But not this year.

4. Liberace, Behind the Candelabra

Never forget that Liberace convinced his much more handsome lover to get plastic surgery to look more like him. Don Draper may have tap-danced through the spiritual wreckage of a number of vulnerable sexual partners in his day, but none of them ever agreed to let a plastic surgeon who looks like a frightened tiger in a wind tunnel install a lantern jaw and a permanent, Brylcreemed side part. Not even Miss Farrell, and she was kind of a mess.

Shout-out to Big Lee, the Rasputin of classical piano. Scott Thorson never knew what hit him until he woke up with half a pound of unnecessary silicone in his face.

5. Elizabeth Jennings, The Americans

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to pack a decent brown-bag lunch for the kids, run a successful fake travel agency, manage the emotional roller coaster of a petulant cover-spouse who can’t shut up about how genuine he finds his affection for you and your sham marriage, and then still find time to seduce and murder the agents of the Capitalist Pig Empire in the name of the Motherland?

We don’t know how she does it. You almost expect to see her on the hot-pink cover of a chick-lit spy novel, juggling a wig, a bag of overflowing groceries, and a pistol with a silencer on it. Except that she would strangle you to death with a Slinky if you ever dared mention such a thing to her. Put Phillip on that book. Sounds like the kind of thing he’d read while watching his soap operas.

6. Kenny Fucking Powers, Eastbound & Down

An end. But also a beginning, a Batmanesque origin story for a post-April third act born in comic-book tragedy. A descent into the shitty-sorrow-blunting underworld of heroin. Hard-won sobriety and rebirth, with promises made to the remaining family. A jet-cycle trip to Africa in search of a new love, another true love. A second life lived, a second family raised. A long-delayed appointment with Old Man Reaper to reclaim an elusive soul. A funeral pyre, burning bright with the essence of a true hero, ready to be judged by the harvest of the seeds he left behind. Ashes scattered into the universe like the most magnificent pile of blow ever imagined committed back to the skies of Colombia.

To quote the legend himself: “Cut to black. Audience goes fucking apeshit.”

It’s the best fake ending a guy could ever ask for.

7. Selina Meyer, Veep

Finally: a play for the White House. You’ve come a long way from explosively pooping yourself in the vice-presidential limo because you ate some rancid fro-yo at a hilariously misbegotten photo op, baby.

Maybe that’s a little long to fit on the campaign poster, but the sentiment stands. Or squats uncomfortably under the protective umbrella of its hapless staff. God bless America and God bless the future president of these United States.

8. Prime Minister Michael Callow, Black Mirror

“There is only one demand, and it is a simple one. At 4 p.m. this afternoon, Prime Minster Michael Callow must appear on live British television on all networks, terrestrial and satellite, and have full, unsimulated sexual intercourse with a pig.”

The Prime Minister Michael Callow Pigfucking Threat Level: Back Bacon
Prime Minister Michael Callow performed unsimulated sexual intercourse on that pig at 4 p.m. in the afternoon, on live British television on all networks, terrestrial and satellite. The pig did not seem to be having a great time with it, either. But sometimes you have to take one for the Queen.

Thus ends the “humiliated public servants” run of these Power Rankings.

9. The Clones, Orphan Black

Factually correct clones power rankings:

1. Helena (crazy Urkanian assassin clone)
2. Sarah (main clone)
3. Cosima (PhD clone)
4. Alison (soccer mom clone)
5. Beth (suicidal detective clone)
6. Katja (red-shirt clone)
7. Rachel (sell-out clone)

Let’s not get cute and argue about the other known clones. Life’s too short, 2013 is almost over, and there’s like a hundred new clones in Season 2. We’re going to be lousy with clones. Clones will be coming out of our ears. This clone-ranking exercise will be a lot harder next time. Let’s not beat ourselves up over this one. This one’s pretty good.

10. Robin Griffin, Top of the Lake

Calling Robin the “Peggy Olson of lake-adjacent policewomen” feels in some way dismissive, because she’s her own person. But it’s too much fun to imagine Peggy chucking it all, spending up to 15 minutes practicing a barely passable Kiwi accent, and beginning a second life as a detective down in New Zealand. Don’t tell me that the timelines don’t match up. Why are you always trying to place limits on Peggy’s ambition? If she wants to hole up inside a shipping container with her sisters, that’s her business. Not yours.

11. Sterling Archer and Raylan Givens (tie), Archer and Justified

You get the feeling they would be fast pals. Sitting around the bar, shootin’ the shit about the largely unnecessary carnage they’ve caused, the women they’ve loved and lost. Then Cyril wanders in, Archer plugs him in the left leg because he rejected his ISIS expense report from Sarajevo, and Raylan can’t stop laughing because he almost never shoots one of his coworkers over an expense report, there’s too much extra paperwork and Art’s always such a gigantic pain in the ass about it.

Cyril offers to buy everybody a round. Archer caps him in the other leg. Oops, he thought Cyril was asking him to get the next round. Honest mistake.

12. Jack Donaghy and Liz Lemon (tie), 30 Rock

God, we miss them so much. Just close your eyes for a second and think about what we’ve lost. Crying yet? We are. Fourteen seasons, a movie, a Broadway musical, and a spin-off about the bed-and-breakfast Jack and Liz open in Upper Westchester. It’s nice to have dreams. Sometimes they’re all we have. Sometimes Tracy drops by because he forgets he’s their full-time butler. Ssssh. Kenneth got his hand stuck in the butter churn again.

13. Sergeant Nicholas Brody, R.I.P., Homeland

Wait! Let us finish!

[Chases you out into the parking lot, grabs your car keys, throws them in the gutter.]

You ready to listen now? He survived the (OK, fair enough, botched) first-season assassination attempt in the bunker, narrowly averting the greatest finale in TV history. He survived any number of second-season brushes with death that might have quickly righted a lost, flailing show. He survived a globe-trotting journey as the world’s most-wanted terrorist, only to wind up a captive heroin addict in the crumbling Venezuelan skyscraper that was on the cover of September’s Breathtaking Urban Decay magazine. He survived capture by the Iranian intelligence agency he was sent to infiltrate, and lived long enough to murder its leader in an unguarded office that immediately called to mind the unguarded office in which he murdered the vice-president of the United States. He sneaked an unwanted baby into the womb of the only person on earth trying to clear his name, the only person who truly loved him, the only person willing to scramble up a chain-link fence and scream his name at his public execution in a country that would be dangerously suspicious of a bereft, fence-climbing, condemned-assassin-name-screamer who looked like that lady from the Senate hearings on Al-Jazeera. He survived, again and again.

And it often felt like Sergeant Nicholas Brody would never be brought to television justice.

But we got him. It took three whole seasons, but we finally got him and his tiny, tiny mouth.

Mission accomplished.

14. Bob Benson, Mad Men

Alum of Beloit. Master of Wharton. Man of Accounts. Carrier of coffee (two cups). Supplier of toilet paper. Carver of turkey. Procurer of male nurses. Wearer of bathing suits. Seducer of partners. Toucher of knees. Representante de le española. Resident of Detroit. Seller of Chevys. Occupier of stairways. Tab-settler of brothels. Teller of lies. Spy of governments. Traveler of time. Keeper of secrets. Dreamer of dreams. Smiler of smiles.

Mystery of mysteries. Now and forever.

15. A Shortness of Breath and Tightening in the Chest When You Feel Like There Is Far Too Much Television Out There to Watch, Much Less Condense Into a Ranked List That Contains Fewer Than 200 Items, How Much Time Do You Think We Have to Spend on This, Here Comes the Wave of Nausea Again

There was a lot of TV this year, you guys.

Good thing next year’s looking pretty light.

Not ranked: Virginia Johnson; Bill Masters; Ulysses; Tyrion Lannister; Pete Campbell’s hairline; Schmidt; Nick; Ferguson the cat; Stefon; Will McAvoy; the News; Lord Grantham; Carson the Butler; Daniel Holden; Amantha Holden; CJ; Tui; Carrie Mathison; the crane of justice; Baby Brody; Dar Adal; the Iranian security team; Hannibal; Constable Bob; Ichabod’s old clothes; Amy Jellicoe; Chalky White; Jack Harrow; the Cones of Dunsmore; Jonah Ryan; Theon Greyjoy’s penis; DS Ellie Miller; the Minotaur; the corpse-boyfriend who looks like somebody hacked up Harry Styles and sewed him back together with the loose string from a bakery box; the Grain; Weird Carl; the entrail-bungee-jump zombie; Fin Shepard; David Blaine; Carrie Underwood’s acting coach; Quackadilly Blip; Harvard University; Victor; Simon; Adele; the animals in the lake; the Lick Poob; the guy from Banshee who crushed the head of the enormous albino prisoner with a weight; Claire Underwood’s alluring neck-divot; Steven Linder’s muttonchops; Raffi’s hot dogs; Stevie Janikowski’s chin; Vinnie Chase’s movie; Bunheads.

Filed Under: 30 Rock, Behind the Candelabra, Breaking Bad, Don Draper, Eastbound & Down, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Justified, Mad Men, Power Rankings, The Americans, TV, Veep

Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

Archive @ marklisanti