In the Golden Age of TV, it's important not just to analyze what's good and what isn't but to analyze the people making such judgments. Hitfix has an annual poll that collectively pools from all the Top Ten Lists of the TV critics. I doubt I'll get a chance to participate in it but I thought it might be fun to predict what they came up with based on my impression of the critical temperature of TV. Note that the list is already out and I'm writing this from imperfect knowledge:
1. Breaking Bad, AMC-The show has been the recipient of so much hyperbole and had an agreeable enough ending that I'm pretty sure nothing else will take its mojo at this point. Like an Olympic diver who racks up 10's early in the competition, it was pretty much guaranteed high placement in its last season as long as it didn't flub the landing.
2. Mad Men, AMC-A show that was the MVP of the airwaves somewhere around 07-09 and hasn't had any major fall from grace, it should place pretty high based on plurality, particularly with some of the game changers this season.
3. Game of Thrones, HBO-The way this relatively nerdy show is crossing over into the mainstream and getting water cooler talk is going to bode well.
4. Good Wife, ABC-Steadily winning over critics over the years, I think this year will be a tipping point where the show finally hits big. I expect it will get a lot of votes in the 3-6 range
5. Enlightened, HBO-Whether critics will remember this monumental hit from way back in January-March or whether they'll be moved to reserve a slot for a TV show that's been cancelled is up for debate, but this was a truly special TV show and a lot of critics felt that way.
6. Broadchurch, BBC-I know very little about this show but like Downtown Abbey, BBC is crossing over very well into the US right now and I'm predicting this as the new critical darling
7. Orange is the New Black, Netflix- Somewhat of a sleeper hit (considering it debuted in the shadow of House of Cards and Arrested Development) I'm seeing enough buzz for it
8. Americans, FX-I have some personal issues with the way it stretches credibility, but I'm seeing a lot of potential for it among critics as the hot new show and in terms of creating genuine suspense (both multi-episode arc and in-episode), there's few shows that have done as well
9. Scandal, ABC-Quite possibly the most buzzed-about show this year (even more impressive considering we saw the back half of the second season and the top half of the third.
10. Homeland, Showtime-Some people haven't liked the third season as much but this show's a game changer and still very high quality. Even on an off-year, it will probably get enough praise to make the top ten.
11. Parks and Recreation, NBC- Critics will feel the need to balance out all the great drama with a comedy or two and this long-time critical favorite which has consistently placed on top ten lists throughout will likely be touted especially as an indirect way of honoring Greg Daniels' original vision of The Office which departed the airwaves this year and most agree has gone way too far off the rails to be honored in any way.
12. House of Cards, Netflix- Most of the feedback I heard was disappointment over the first couple episodes (I'm in that category) and then high praise from those who stuck with it and thought it came back around to brilliance. Even for TV critics, there aren't enough hours in the day to watch the 100+ programs that populate the airwaves every week and have to make decisions to optimize their TV watching, so I wouldn't be surprised if a number of TV critics didn't get to that point.
13. Arrested Development, Netflix-This show is hailed as the high water of the first decade of the 21st century in TV comedy, but it will be interesting to see where it places here as it existed before the Golden Age of TV and existed before episode-by-episode online scrutiny. The show has largely been seen as different yet still satisfying with a fair share of those saying the show lived up to or fell below the ridiculously high expectations
14. Masters of Sex, Showtime-The hype for the show was high and, by and large, it lived up to. The risque topic will earn the show bravery points and doing it tastefully will earn it quality points
15. Boardwalk Empire, HBO-A show that's been seen one of the most ambitious on TV for the past four years that has never got the love of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or Homeland, but is never one to count out either. The season two back-half in which Nucky Thompson and protege Jimmy Darmody got engaged in a power struggle earned praise and critics appear to be even happier about this season with the show. Even if critics have already come to terms with this show not becoming the next big thing, it will likely get votes at the bottom of tens.
16. Orphan Black, BBC-A show I'm not familiar with but one that I have seen generating a lot of buzz
17. American Horror Story, FX-The show is clearly all over the place but several critics have latched onto the stuff that works and repackaged the parts that don't work as part of Murphy and Falchuk's vision worthy of celebration for its unique bizarreness. Last time, I intensely delved into this show's reviews (around 2011), it was a highly polarizing show but in a system of tallying up top tens, the haters won't have any sort of veto power. Besides, since 2012, the show has become more decisive about what it wants to be.
18. New Girl, Fox-As in "Parks and Recreation" critics will need to put some simple comedies on their lists to show that they're capable of enjoying light-hearted lists and with "30 Rock" offering too short of a sample to really be called a 2013 show, "Louie" out of the running, "Girls" having an off-year and "Community" losing even some of it's strongest fans, I'm going to predict this show. It will likely earn extra points for writing its characters into an unenviable shipping and navigating its way out of that disaster.
19. Hannibal, NBC-With "The Americans," "Bates Motel," and "Hannibal" there's been a lot of great TV that came about this Spring and I've seen this show pick up a lot of notice.
20. Bob's Burgers, FOX-I firmly believe that if you're putting this on your year-end list you're doing a disservice since I don't see it as ambitious and one thing that most shows in the Golden Age have in common is ambition. Still, I'm seeing a lot of people think it's great
21. Walking Dead, AMC-A show that earned most of its praise when it debuted in late 2010, but it's consistently been must-see TV year in and year out, that captures the attention of the populance and critics alike.
22. Sleepy Hollow, NBC-Among new prime time dramas, this one seems the only one worthy of attention and buzz. I haven't followed the reviews too closely so I don't have that good of a grasp on it
23. Archer, FX-I'm not sure if this is the year in which "Archer" goes from underrated to getting top 10 recognition but most people who are familiar with the show now that brilliant and the chemistry between the cast keeps getting better and better.
24. Top of the Lake, Sundance Channel-This is the first year in which Sundance Channel has had some programs of note and some critics might not have even made it there. This could work in the show's favor for critics who want to show they're ahead of the curve. Also working in its favor is Elizabeth Moss's unjust loss at the Emmys.
25. Sherlock, BBC-Benedict Cumberbatch's high profile this year could work in this show's favor.
26. Downtown Abbey, PBS-I see no reason why this critical favorite shouldn't at least siphon a few votes even if it hasn't been as visible as previous shows
27. Veep, HBO-It now has two Emmy-winning actresses and it earned high praises last year so I don't see the show going anywhere
28. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fox-Although it's not amazing or even good by many standards, it's probably the only new Fall comedy that has any ambition and some might like its idiosyncrasies.
29. The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin-Sorkin is a crowd favorite and this didn't have the water cooler buzz of "West Wing" but it's certainly better than "Studio 60"
30. Key and Peele, Comedy Central-These two comedians are certainly getting more notable for their innovative brand of comedy and no one's saying this show is subpar for sketch comedy. It's just not notable that even good sketch comedy makes it on these sorts of lists. They are game changers