Dec. 21, 2013 at 4:32 AM ET
From the jaw-dropping Red Wedding on "Game of Thrones" to the clone-tastic performance of Tatiana Maslany on BBC America's "Orphan Black" (which you should watch that if you haven't already -- trust us), there was some serious water-cooler fodder to be had. However, there were some other more subtle breakout hits this fall TV season that deserve some love. And with the holidays upon us (and maybe some extra time to catch up on TV), there's no better time to appreciate some of the best themes and characters the small screen had to offer last fall.
Who knew history could be so hot? Fox made a major gamble, betting on a revamp of "Sleepy Hollow" that includes supernatural elements and a time-traveling twist, and they won. Big time. "Sleepy Hollow's" ratings have been so strong, the network has already given the show a second season. In the current network ratings apocalypse, "Sleepy Hollow" is a completely bonkers fallout shelter worth hiding out in. And its star Ichabod Crane (played be the impossibly suave Tom Mison) is one of the most transfixing characters on television right now.
NBC's "The Blacklist" is captivating, and James Spader is giving the performance of his creep-filled career, but we bet he never thought he'd be sharing headlines with a hairpiece. Star Megan Boone's wig has been a hot topic for many reasons: It's ill fitting, awkwardly styled and nowhere near as cute as her pixie 'do they're trying to cover up. But it got people talking -- and tuning in -- and for that, we raise a can of super-hold hairspray.
It was a banner year for women in leading roles, but no series dominated that trend quite like Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black." Set in an all-female prison, the show is a kaleidoscope of dysfunction with a cast of characters that's as diverse as they are hilariously tragic and self-sabotaging. It's a very real, very funny look at what happens when the walls we put up in society disappear and women of all races, religions, sexual orientations and (criminal) backgrounds realize they're not that different.
Major character deaths made a big splash this fall, with -- spoiler alert! -- fan favorites like Clay (Ron Perlman) and Tara (Maggie Siff) from "Sons of Anarchy," Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) from "Dexter," and "Person of Interest's" Det. Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson) all kicking the can. The twists garnered big time attention for those returning shows, though not all positive. But as the expression goes, any press is good press.
If a picture is worth a thousand words then video of Chris Messina dancing to Aaliyah's "Try Again" on Fox's "The Mindy Project" could fill up several phone books full of praise. As a Secret Santa gift to Mindy (Mindy Kaling), coworker Danny Castellano (Messina) learned the hip-hop choreography to the late songstress' motivational song. If you've gotten frustrated trying to dance along after watching 52 times (ahem!), you're not alone -- just dust yourself off and try again like the song says.
"Breaking Bad's" final season was everything we needed it to be, with enough shocking moments to make jaws drop on even the most nitpicky conspiracy theorists. But it was Walter White's series finale invention -- a self-firing machine gun hidden in the trunk of a car -- that left all other endgame ideas in the dust of the Nazi clubhouse. No matter how spot-on your predictions were, no one saw that coming!
ABC's "The Goldbergs" is not exactly a mega-hit, but it should be. Inspired by creator Adam F. Goldberg's childhood, the sitcom, led by "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Jeff Garlin and "Bridesmaids'" Wendi McLendon-Covey, takes us back to the '80s every single week with a bitchin' soundtrack, big hair, hideous fashion and enough flashback pop culture references to make us happy we have iTunes now so we can download old Starship jams.
If you're not watching "Masters of Sex," you're missing out on what will be the career-catapulting role for Lizzy Caplan, who's endeared herself to fans on "Party Down" and stints on "New Girl" and "True Blood" but truly shines as sexpert-in-training Virginia Johnson. The Showtime drama started with a slow burn and a few exciting teases, but has shown impressive stamina -- all puns intended -- thanks in large part to Caplan's sharp timing and familiar ease. Don't be surprised when she starts getting award nominations for this ...
ABC's "Scandal" has set a new bar for what TV dramas can and should be, with twists at every turn, complicated and compelling characters and more tweet-worthy shockers than any other show on TV. If only other network dramas could hire Olivia Pope to fix their slow story pacing and lagging ratings.
Let FX's "American Horror Story" be a lesson to all networks: Big risks have the potential for big rewards. Revamping the cast, setting and storylines each season is actually a genius way to build a brand -- if you're not feeling a particular season of the show, just wait a few months until the next season and it'll change. This year's "Coven" has made a cast of witchy women the most vicious, vindictive and stylish ladies on TV.
"The Sound of Music Live!" on NBC was an expensive endeavor -- clocking in around $9 million -- but it paid off for the network with huge ratings, and now they're already planning more live holiday TV events. We'd love to see "Wicked" on the small screen, and would crack up if producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, formerly of "Smash," did something stage-worthy on Marilyn Monroe, but if they try to touch "Wizards of Oz," all bets are off.