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The Best TV Shows of 2013

best tv shows
When it comes to defining television’s role in our lives, Homer Simpson said it best…

“Television! Teacher, mother…secret lover.”
The Simpsons, “Treehouse of Horror V” (#6.6) (1994)

…and few of TV’s recent years have earned these designations with as much verve and variety as 2013.
best tv shows
Nick DeLorenzo, Cat Edison, Kip Mooney, and I undertook the difficult task of selecting 2013’s best TV shows, starting by ranking our individual top 10 (or so…can you really blame us for wanting to include more?) TV shows of 2013. Collectively, our lists included 32 different TV/web series—from comedies, dramas, and dramedies, to mysteries, fantasies, and realities—with 7 shows showing up on two or more lists: Orange is the New Black (4), Breaking Bad (3), The Americans (2), House of Cards (2), Mad Men (2), The Mindy Project (2), and Orphan Black (2).
best tv shows
Our overall top 10 list was generated à la HitFix’s Second Annual Television Critics’ Poll—i.e., by awarding 10 points to each #1 rank, 9 points per #2, 8 points per #3, etc.

10 Best TV Shows of 2013

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1. Orange is the New Black (32 points)
2. Breaking Bad (29 points)
3. House of Cards (13 points)
4. The Americans (12 points)

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5. Psych (10 points)
6. The Americans, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, & House of Cards (9 points)
10. Hannibal & Justified (8 points)

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Scroll down to check out our individual 2013 best TV shows lists (with videos, images, and social media links)!
best tv shows

SARAH KATZ
Author Archive....Website....@sarahdkatz

1. Orange is the New Black
Netflix....July 11, 2013
CREATOR: Jenji Kohan
Taylor Schilling, Jason Biggs, Laura Prepon, Natasha Lyonne, Kate Mulgrew,
Michelle Hurst, Taryn Manning, Pablo Schrieber, Danielle Brooks, Laverne Cox
Website....Facebook....@OITNB....Instagram....Pinterest....Tumblr

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Until I joined Twitter—and fell deeper down the rabbit hole that is Internet film/TV criticism—I assumed that everyone knew, as I have always known, that women who are simultaneously funny, crazy, (melo-)dramatic, angry, endearing, and otherwise ‘real’ were 100% capable of leading and carrying a likable and successful movie or TV show. Apparently, I was wrong. Then Netflix brought Orange is the New Black into our lives…and I knew that any doubting Thomases who gave it a shot would quickly be set straight. OITNB‘s compelling story is rendered all the more emotionally complex by the show’s ensemble cast, whose impressive performances cause continual fluctuations in loyalty to and sympathy for particular characters. I laughed, I cried, and I immediately began counting the days until Season 2. Give OITNB a chance, and I guarantee you’ll do the same.

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2. Game of Thrones
HBO....SUN @ 9
Website....Facebook....@GameOfThrones

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There is an infinite amount to say about the mind-blowing third season of HBO‘s Game of Thrones. But to those of us in the know, it takes only a few words to encapsulate a great deal of GoT‘s brilliance: Red Wedding. Mother of Dragons. “You Know Nothing, Jon Snow.” “Dracarys.” That no character is ever safe, whether they find themselves in a majestic summery palace or a bone-chilling tundra, is GoT‘s primary genius. Even when you think you know what’s coming, you, like Jon Snow, probably know nothing. Each episode of GoT, one of the most extravagant and spectacular TV epics of all time, is sensational in its own right—and I can’t wait to see what new adventures Season 4 has in store.

Game of Thrones Week – Screen Invasion

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3. Orphan Black
BBC America....SAT @ 9
Website....Facebook....@OrphanBlack

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Playing one character well is rarely easy. To play seven distinct characters and nail each one was almost unheard of—until we all heard about Tatiana Maslany and her incredible work on BBC America‘s Orphan Black. Taking the doppelgänger concept to a whole new level, Orphan Black‘s world of human cloning and genetic enhancements—I’m talking to you, guy who has — well, had — a tail—manages to stay grounded thanks to the very human dramedy of Maslany’s seven clones, one’s hilarious step-brother/G.B.F. Felix (Jordan Gavaris), and the complications of relationships romantic and familial. Join the Clone Club and pick your fave ASAP. You won’t be disappointed. (P.S. Fans of Orphan Black, Alias, Nikita, and the like: Check out Syfy’s Continuum on Netflix. You can thank me later.)

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4. American Horror Story: Coven
FX....WED @ 10
Website....Facebook....@AHSFX

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American Horror Story: Coven holds a special place in my heart for being the AHS iteration most accessible to us non-‘horror’ fans. (I’ll own it: I made it through only one episode of AHS: Asylum before needing to sleep with the lights on.) Horrific things happen, but are so cinematographically interesting that fright is easily replaced by awe—ex. watching Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) rip a man’s heart out of his chest from within his body (“The Sacred Taking”). A weekly ode to complex-but-oh-so-likeable female characters, Coven boasts a cast that is without a weakest link—from Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, and Frances Conroy, to Sarah Paulson, Taissa Farmiga, Emma Roberts, Sidibe, Jamie Brewer, and Lily Rabe, no moment of screen time is ever wasted. Plus, mad props to Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and team for the most creative use of my least favorite plot device—rape—that I’ve seen in years (“Bitchcraft”).

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5. The Americans
FX....WED @ 10
Website....Facebook....@TheAmericansFX

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Rare is the spy fiction series that makes it so easy to root for a non-American hero/heroine—and even rarer one that makes it so easy to root against a U.S. victory. Yet The Americans does just that. Its Soviet spy protagonists Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) inspire so much sympathy that the FBI agent determined to protect America at any cost (Noah Emmerich) somehow becomes the ‘bad guy.’ With solid performances, well-written intrigue, and wigs galore, The Americans effortlessly transforms a hard sell into must-see TV.

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6. House of Cards
Netflix....February 1, 2013
Website....Facebook....@HouseofCards

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7. Mad Men
AMC....SUN @ 10
Website....Facebook....@MadMen_AMC

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8. Scandal
ABC....THU @ 10
Website....Facebook....@ScandalABC

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9. The Good Wife
CBS....SUN @ 9
Website....Facebook....@TheGoodWife_CBS

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10. The Mindy Project
Fox....TUE @ 9:30
Website....Facebook....@MindyProjectFOX

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10. Sleepy Hollow
Fox....MON @ 9
Website....Facebook....@SleepyHollowFOX

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KIP MOONEY
Author Archive....Website....@kipjmooney

1. Breaking Bad
AMC....SUN @ 9
CREATOR: Vince Gilligan
Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte,
Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo Esposito, Laura Fraser, Jesse Plemons
Website....Facebook....@BreakingBad_AMC....Instagram

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As if it could be anything else. Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) farewell brought him lower than he’d ever been, and dragged everyone he ever cared about along with him. Vince Gilligan gave us eight devastating hours that constantly had us second-guessing ourselves as we rooted for and against Walt to get out of the mess he made of his life. And it still found ways to be both thoroughly gripping and occasionally hilarious.

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2. The Newsroom
HBO....SUN @ 10
Website....Facebook....#TheNewsroom

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Sorry, haters. Aaron Sorkin’s idealistic journalism series got even better in Season 2, thanks to the addition of Hamish Linklater as unethical producer Jerry Dantana. It didn’t quite stick the landing as the finale indulged in the series’ worst impulses, but the eight episodes before that were some of the most intense and well-written on TV. Even when the show covered the Trayvon Martin shooting, it didn’t do so in a preachy way. The entire cast stepped up their game, and they were supported by Sorkin stepping up his as well.

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3. Hannibal
NBC....THU @ 10
Website....Facebook....@NBCHannibal

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By the time Hannibal premiered in April, we had been serial killer-ed out. There had been so many specials and series (including the wonderfully terrible The Following) that hadn’t done much of anything, there was little to expect from the world’s most famous cannibal. But Bryan Fuller turned the story into a psychological two-hander about an FBI agent standing on the edge and a psychiatrist pushing him off ever so subtly. Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen are simply astounding. Add to that the best cinematography television has ever seen, and you’ve got the year’s best new series.

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4. Orange is the New Black
Netflix....July 11, 2013
Website....Facebook....@OITNB

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Not far behind was Netflix’s unclassifiable hit. Yes it’s a prison drama, but it’s also a comedy about surrogate family. It’s a satire of institutional corruption, but also pokes fun at the upper class. Featuring a diverse cast that frankly would never be seen on network TV, there are far more interesting, fleshed out characters on this one show than on some network’s entire slate of programming. Even if Taylor Schilling’s Piper Chapman could be a little whiny, she was supported by the deepest bench of supporting characters assembled since Friday Night Lights. Even the most despicable or prickly people showed some empathy by the end of the season. I binged on the show not because Netflix designed it that way, but because it was just that good.

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5. The Americans
FX....WED @ 10
Website....Facebook....@TheAmericansFX

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A show with this many classic rock hits and bad wigs shouldn’t work. Yet The Americans was often the most thrilling show on TV. Allegiances were tested, no more thoroughly than the one between Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell & Matthew Rhys), the Soviet spies living undercover next door to an FBI agent. The ‘going AWOL’ option volleyed back and forth between the two parents, but both chose to stay the course, risking their lives, at least for another season. Like Breaking Bad, this is a show about liars, and how their lives are affected by each one, as they dig themselves deeper into a hole. But it sure is exhilarating to watch.

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6. Happy Endings
ABC....TUE @ 9
Facebook....@HappyEndingsABC

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7. Parks and Recreation
NBC....THU @ 8
Website....Facebook....@parksandrecnbc

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8. Key & Peele
Comedy Central....WED @ 10:30
Website....Facebook....@KeyAndPeele

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9. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Fox....TUE @ 8:30
Website....Facebook....@Brooklyn99FOX

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10. Modern Family
ABC....WED @ 9
Website....Facebook....@ModernFam

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NICHOLAS DeLORENZO
Author Archive....Website....@nick_delorenzo

1. Breaking Bad
AMC....SUN @ 9
CREATOR: Vince Gilligan
Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte,
Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo Esposito, Laura Fraser, Jesse Plemons
Website....Facebook....@BreakingBad_AMC....Instagram

best tv shows
© 2013 AMC

This is an unfair fight. Like Walt (Bryan Cranston) once said about his meth: it’s the New York Yankees versus the grade-school tee ball. Classic Coke compared to generic cola. The final installment of Breaking Bad was not only the best of TV in 2013, but one of the crowning achievements for the medium’s creative revolution. The finale may have tied up the loose ends a little too neatly for my taste, but the eight-episode stretch was about as suspenseful, mesmerizing and heartbreaking as television gets.

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2. Orange is the New Black
Netflix....July 11, 2013
Website....Facebook....@OITNB

best tv shows
© 2013 Netflix

It wasn’t Neflix’s first foray into original programming (House of Cards), and a revived Arrested Development grabbed most of the headlines, but the service’s biggest gift to TV viewers this year came from OITNB, a show that so seamlessly blends comedy and drama that executives keep flip-flopping what category they want it to compete in during awards season. A massive, diverse cast of talented actresses present deep and nuanced characters to a show that is impossible to turn away from, making it perfect for Netflix’s binge-watching clientele.

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3. Justified
FX....TUE @ 10
Website....Facebook....@JustifiedFX

best tv shows
© 2013 FX Network

Justified was always able to transcend the typical cop show cliches with an alluring Southern Gothic backdrop, quick-witted dialogue, and a fantastic central conflict between frienemies U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and charismatic criminal Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Even with some dark twists and turns, Justified never falls into the trap of taking itself too seriously, which is what makes it so inherently fun to watch unfold.

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4. Rectify
Sundance Channel....MON @ 10
Website....Facebook....@RectifySC

best tv shows
© 2013 Sundance Channel

In a banner debut year, Sundance added a few rich, thought-provoking dramas to the TV landscape with Top of the Lake and The Returned, but my favorite of the bunch was the quiet, atmospheric Rectify. A show about a released convict after 19 years in prison could have been a much more showy piece, but the small-town drama mixed with the inter-conflict of a recently reacclimated Daniel (portrayed beautifully by Aden Young) made for some riveting, emotional viewing.

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5. Enlightened
HBO....SUN @ 9:30
Website....Facebook....#Enlightened

best tv shows
© 2013 HBO

Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) can be a pretty unrelenting protagonist, which is why Season 1 was a bit too much for me to handle, but in pairing her with a bunch of interesting character foils, including Luke Wilson’s Levi and creator/star Mike White’s Tyler, Season 2 became a much more interesting character study of these broken people just looking for something, anything, to believe in.

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6. Mad Men
AMC....SUN @ 10
Website....Facebook....@MadMen_AMC

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7. New Girl
Fox....TUE @ 9
Website....Facebook....@NewGirlonFOX

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8. Masters of Sex
Showtime....SUN @ 10
Website....Facebook....@SHO_Masters

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9. Arrested Development
Netflix....May 26, 2013
Website....Facebook....@arresteddev

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10. Orphan Black
BBC America....SAT @ 9
Website....Facebook....@OrphanBlack

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CAT EDISON
Author Archive....@CatEdison

1. Psych
USA....WED @ 10
CREATOR: Steve Franks
James Roday, Dulé Hill, Maggie Lawson, Tim Omundson, Kirsten Nelson, Corbin Bernsen, Kurt Fuller
Website....Facebook....@Psych_USA....Instagram....Pinterest....Tumblr....YouTube

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There hasn’t been a better buddy “cop” show since…well I really just can’t think of any. Movies are one thing, but shows with good, funny officers who actually have a generous amount of chemistry are so rare as to be practically non-existent. This buddy cop relationship extends from the actual cops on the show to their detective agency counterparts of Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dulé Hill). This takes the show from double to quadruple threat, and seems to do so effortlessly. Psych is my proverbial happy place and manages to put me in a good mood no matter what mood I’m in when I start watching. I want everyone on the show to be my best friend, with the exception of Lassie (Tim Omundson), though I have a special affection for him. When it comes down to it, Psych feels like family. Perfectly dysfunctional.

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2. Breaking Bad
AMC....SUN @ 9
Website....Facebook....@BreakingBad_AMC

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Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) were to me a representation of what any of us could become when faced with extreme circumstances. The show served as an undeniable representation of this reality for so many. Those that looked beyond the entertainment to try to see the whole story understand the implications and grave risk associated with this possibility, which is all to real for someone who grew up in the city I did and watched many friends fall down the same rabbit hole. The writing on the show is superb and nary a twist or turn was misplaced throughout the seasons. Breaking Bad lived and breathed and stayed in tune with its audience and obsessives each and every episode, all the way to its glorious end.

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3. House of Cards
Netflix....February 1, 2013
Website....Facebook....@HouseofCards

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I was admittedly late to the game when it came to House of Cards. Every time I looked at the cover staring at me from my televisions screen in my Netflix queue it just seemed so HEAVY. I could feel the weight of it in the steely eyes of Kevin Spacey. Finally I succumbed to the beckon and wondered, the same way one does immediately after receiving an epidural, why the hell I waited so long. As evidenced by her Emmy and Golden Globe nods this year, Robin Wright has truly hit her stride in the character of Claire Underwood. Spacey has an uncanny ability to make the viewer believe they are in the room with him at any given moment. The initial narrative had me hooked and drawn in to a show like never before, making me feel as though I were a character in the fray. Spacey and the impeccable direction on House of Cards makes breaking the fourth wall not only a smart move, but also a genius play.

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4. Generation Cryo
MTV....MON @ 10
Website....Facebook....@GenerationCryo

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Though not the most dramatic of shows, I am fascinated with Generation Cryo. I think it is an idea whose time has certainly come and it make perfect sense that the generation coming up would fit in such a world in which a show like this exists. Maybe I’m fascinated because the subject matter is so far outside my own experience, or because I really (as far as I know) don’t know anyone directly affected by or involved in cryogenic birth or any kind of cryogenic anything. The open, honest and raw depiction of the struggle not only the children go through, but the parents as well is unlike anything I have ever seen and (maybe this is naiveté) doesn’t come across as exploitation so much as exploration. I can’t imagine how many kids out there can relate or how many parents will use this as a jumping off point to share their own child’s origins. For once, MTV is doing something right, besides Nikki & Sara Live!, which I am beyond disappointed to lose.

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5. Orange is the New Black
Netflix....July 11, 2013
Website....Facebook....@OITNB

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While I was admittedly surprised someone found a role that fit Jason Biggs so well, the biggest surprise in Orange is the New Black is how often the supporting cast steps in to the spotlight and steals the show. I am absolutely in love with these characters. Pablo Schreiber owns Pornstache like no one could; I have never been so happy to see someone I am so disgusted by on screen. Each character’s story is told expertly, sometimes hilariously, with others hitting right at the heart. The fact that there is such an allowance, nay respect for each character and the story they have to tell makes OITNB unique and compelling. Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning), Lorna (Yael Stone), Red (Kate Mulgrew), Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba), Poussey (Samira Wiley) and the rest elicit compassion, pity and demand respect throughout their time together. That amount of range among such a large cast of characters is unheard of. How many strong women on one show does it take to make people sit up and take notice? Apparently, this many.

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6. Misfits
Hulu — Watch Online
Website....Facebook....@E4Misfits

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7. Suburgatory
ABC....WED @ 8:30
Website....Facebook....@SuburgatoryABC

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8. The Mindy Project
Fox....TUE @ 9:30
Website....Facebook....@MindyProjectFOX

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9. The Writers’ Room
Sundance Channel....MON @ 10
Website....Facebook....#WritersRoom

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10. Parenthood
NBC....THU @ 10
Website....Facebook....@nbcparenthood

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10. Suits
USA....THU @ 10
Website....Facebook....@Suits_USA

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Stay tuned to Screen Invasion for more of the
Best of 2013

Featured Image: © 2013 Netflix / AMC / Netflix / FX Network / AMC / BBC America

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and her feature column This Chick’s Flicks for pieces on the chick flicks of now and then.

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The Author

Sarah Katz

Sarah Katz

Born-and-bred New Yorker. Lifelong film & TV lover—from chick flicks, rom-coms, rom-droms, rom-drams, and tweentertainment, to Shakespeare, period pieces, James Bond, fairy tales, and mafia movies.