It was a mixed bag for TV generally in 2013, but not a bad year for TV promos—in fact, some of the most inventive ads on the dial (or the Web) were from folks promoting new or returning shows.
For the most part, good marketers eschewed parades of "Our show is so great!" quotes, cliffhangery snippets of dialogue and trying to unironically mimic movie trailers—and just let a few powerful images, or sometimes a single powerful image, speak to the viewer. Sometimes it was a clever in-joke, sometimes a stylish montage, sometimes the sheer chutzpah of the idea. But we picked 10 of the promos that wowed us the most from a surprisingly large pool of good creative.
From edgy cable fare like Archer to a broad network series like Community, there was plenty to love before the show even started. Tell us what you think (and what we missed) in the comments.
Archer ‘Danger Zone’
FX killed it with this one. Archer has been falsettoing "Danger zone!" at any fool who will listen to him for years; the network finally capitalized on it with this hilarious send-up of Kenny Loggins' sellout-tastic music video for the theme from Top Gun.
Mob City ‘So Damn Beautiful’
All right, so the TNT series itself didn't exactly set the world alight. But the James Ellroy-meets-Baz Luhrmann promo sure is pretty. Broads, bullets, booze ... other things that begin with B, I guess ... you get hung over just from watching the preview.
Community ‘Beyond the Darkest Timeline’
Full disclosure: I'm pretty stoked about Dan Harmon returning to his quirky NBC sitcom, which for three seasons was my favorite thing on television. So maybe I'm biased. But I really love this spot, which captures much of what makes the series brilliant. It's a riff on the kinds of dark, too-serious sci-fi and fantasy movies we're seeing in theaters, but of course, set in a community college among people without superpowers. Rather than rip off movie trailers, NBC is making fun of them, and perfectly. Also, "The Asscrack Bandit"? C'mon, that's funny.
House of Cards ‘Smoking’
When your themes are as grand as freedom, tyranny and the heights (or depths, if you prefer) or human ambition, you can either go big or go home. Netflix chose to go home with this incredibly ballsy, understated trailer showing Robin Wright taking a deep drag off a cigarette, holding it and then letting it out. Somehow it manages to encapsulate the show's own ambition even better than the self-consciously blockbustery trailer that came out a few days later.
American Horror Story: Coven ‘Pins’
Part of the reason this is such an effective spot is that it looks like a still of a poster with the show's creepy-ass theme playing over it. Then you hit play and ... well, you know what, go ahead and hit play. It'll be fun.
Game of Thrones ‘Chaos’
For its third season, HBO stuck with what works: lines of dialogue from the snappiest repartee ever attempted in fantasy TV, this time with the inimitable Aiden Gillen (that's Littlefinger to you) musing on power in much the same way Conleth Hill (Varys) articulated his less gleeful philosophy on the same topic last season. Now that the cast is established, HBO has opted for simple portraiture, showing off the faces of the characters who may or may not live through the next season.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘Level 7’
All right, this was a disappointing series after the slam-bang pilot, and since his brother ended up literally running the show, it was "from Joss Whedon" in the same way that komedy klassic K-9 was "from John Belushi." But man, that brief, shining moment when ABC had us all convinced this was going to be The Avengers every week. Let's remember that moment when we all wanted to get to Level 7, shall we?
The Black Mirror ‘More’
You still can't see this one on U.S. television, unfortunately, but I don't care: These are terrific promos for Channel 4's The Black Mirror—mad, ad-hating genius Charlie Brooker's R-rated take on an Outer Limits-style sci-fi anthology series. Its motto? "The future is broken." If you find yourself in the U.K. or have a multiregion DVD player, the show's pretty great, too.
Breaking Bad ‘Ozymandias’
Turns out all you really need to make everything work is Bryan Cranston and Percy Shelley and some scenic shots of the desert (also some really boss sound editing). Cranston just reads the entire poem, for godsakes, over these beautiful pictures of the wreckage of his character's life, and it's showstopping.
Masters of Sex ‘Fool for You’
It's amazing how long this goes on—watch it without looking at the running time and then look down at the counter. It's more than three minutes! It's hard to market a brand-new show stylishly, but Showtime pulls it off with this spot for its new Mad Men killer, Masters of Sex. The lengthy trailer perfectly lays out the come-for-the-intercourse-stay-for-the-discourse appeal of the series, which by most accounts lives up to the hype. A lot of these spots are good on an artistic level, but this may be the one that most made me want to watch a series I wasn't already sold on.