This is an absurdly long list so let’s make the intro really short! I saw arguably too much TV this year, but when TV is this good, it’s almost best to always keep the DVR rolling. Just because this list is so big, doesn’t mean that any of the lower entries on this list are bad shows. I ended up picking 50 out of the many more that I watched because these were all shows that made me excited to watch and talk about. I highly recommend all of them.
But of course I didn’t see everything. I’m either behind or haven’t started the following shows: Banshee, The Fall, Flesh and Bone, Getting On, The Knick, Luther, Making a Murderer, Manhattan, Mozart in the Jungle, Penny Dreadful, Red Oaks, Strike Back or Survivor’s Remorse. I hope you forgive me. Let start this!
The Carmichael Show
“So you really think protesting makes people accountable for their actions?”
“Okay, then why did I see George Zimmerman at a Dave and Busters, Maxine?”
I have only seen the first season of All in the Family and I was immediately thrown off by the fact that this could never play on TV today. The main character is a likable bigot and they used that to inspire really important and difficult conversations. Jerrod Carmichael, the comedian who created The Carmichael Show, is not a bigot. In fact, he tries to play the part of the neutral ringleader in order to let his girlfriend and opinionated parents play out similar conversations to All in the Family. In six episodes, they gave it their all as they addressed the confusing complications of Black Lives Matter and transgender kids all in the format of a studio audience sitcom on network television. All bumps in its first season were forgiven for its impressive ambition.
“Look, you know, as far as those humans are concerned, robots are only good for three things: cheap labor, remote bombings, and off the beaten path sex stuff.”
Star Wars and Star Trek have inspired millions of people to dream of flying their own spaceship into the far reaches of space to discover something grand. Despite how much fun those franchises are, they are worlds run by adults who know what they’re doing. Other Space works as a great comedy because they are the twenty-something often-incompetent misfits up against all sorts of clever science-fiction plots. The low-budget feel of the show only adds to the fun and imagination of the scripts while it lets a cast of new talents prove they’re all bound to be stars.
The Man in the High Castle
One of the strangest things about this alternative history show is to see Nazis in peace-time. This series is based off the beloved Philip K. Dick book—that I now intend to read—is about what would have happened if America lost World War II. Years after the war, the states are divided between Germany and Japan with only a few neutral states separating them. A few rebels are trying to get mysterious films that show promise of a better life to an unknown ally while Germany and Japan are on the brink of another war. The show has some kinks to work out with some of its characters, but the richness of the world and the promise of its mysteries make this a very exciting watch.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
“What I do is I block the vents to the furnace and that fills the basement with dangerous gases. Drives the rodents away. I always do it leading up to an inspection.”
“Is that safe?”
“No. No. It’s incredibly unsafe.”
How many comedies are still good in their tenth season? It’s true that Always Sunny doesn’t have as many episodes per season as long-running network shows. Yet in another really funny season, they had three fantastic episodes, one of which (“Charlie Work”) is one of their greatest achievements to date. The team keeps discovering new horrifying aspects to these characters that feels consistent to the messes we met in Season One. The enthusiasm and innovation from everyone involved makes this a gem every year. Just happens to be a gem that tries to drink 70 beers on a flight to Los Angeles.
Adam Ruins Everything / Going Deep with David Rees
(TruTV / Esquire)
“Don’t worry about dropping your toothbrush in the toilet since keeping it in the bathroom means it’s already covered in fecal matter.”
“I’m about to rock this protractor to the edge of destruction.”
Growing up, whenever we had a substitute that meant it’s time to throw on an educational video. They were consistently terrible because even if the facts were good, the presentation was so condescending and the humor was terrible. Now that I’m older, I actually want more videos to teach me something new and exciting and these shows know exactly how to do that.
Adam Ruins Everything serves as a light fact-based dissection of a topic, much like Last Week Tonight, but also works as a wonderful meta-parody of shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy. As Adam magically teaches people about problems with the TCA or voting or sex myths, the people he’s educating hate him and wish they would stop teleporting to different times and places. Going Deep with David Rees is less fantastical but also equally funny as David spends each episode over-analyzing simple tasks like “How to Pet a Dog” or “How to Sign Your Name”. David is a fantastic host with a genuine passion for what he’s doing. Every reaction he has when he learns something new from the greatest collection of obscure experts. Both are really fun shows that know how to make educational programming as funny as a sitcom.
Inside No. 9
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Mum. I’m getting everything jumbled up…”
Last year, writer and actors Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton made a really clever anthology series that always took place in one different location, always a room/house numbered 9. They made a perfect episode, which was a silent hilarious art thief break-in. With Season Two, I assumed I had cracked their format but instead they fooled me with their brilliant twists for another six episodes. They now have a very impressive set of funny and tragic stories, each as something I’ve never seen before. Their ability to successfully depict a traincar farce, a literal witch trial and a boldly inventive story about a woman haunted by nightmares is impressive on every level. Each one is so well realized with these characters, especially in my favorite one “Cold Comfort” which shows the CCTV footage of a man working at a crisis support line. That episode punched me in the gut in expected and then every unexpected ways.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day at Camp / With Bob and David
“I can’t be your buddy. Go ask one of the inhaler kids if you can’t find anyone.”
“I’m not joking and this ain’t no show, mister.”
Yes! Another tie so early in this list! These work as an excellent pairing because I laughed so much during these episodes and I wasn’t sure if I was going to. Wet Hot is a prequel to a great cult comedy from 2001 and With Bob and David is a spiritual sequel to their great cult comedy series Mr. Show. The magic was back for both shows thanks to the amazingly silly writing from both of them. The inventiveness in plotting First Day of Camp to make everything smoothly tie into their absurd movie was a blast to witness plus hundreds of new jokes and gags. With Bob and David was the joy of watching master sketch artists surprise and delight you. These are the only two Netflix shows I truly binged because it was just wall-to-wall funny.
“Why did you invite her? She hates me. I stole her boyfriend.”
“Sorry, but when I was doing the invites, it became clear that you’ve betrayed everyone you’ve ever been close to.”
Oh man. This will go down as one of the all-time great sitcoms and in its final season it didn’t disappoint. To watch Mark and Jez continue to make horribly uncomfortable decisions all while (literally) putting the audience through their POV has made for nine seasons of classic comedy. Saying good-bye to them didn’t mean they finally learned something or even became better friends. They just endured through the latest romantic complications and workplace catastrophes. It remains a delight to put Robert Webb and David Mitchell in the same room because they play off each other so well with a perfect amount of give and take. I hope they revisit these two idiots sometime in the future because nine seasons just wasn’t enough.
“But just because I can appreciate something on two levels doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to have my phone.”
This show is like having a really comfy blanket. I just watch it and feel warm and safe and, oddly, calm. This season was just eight episodes and, once again, I just found it to be a fascinating insight into the articulate mind of Louis C.K. This time I was even more engaged into Louie’s relationship with Pamela, who remains one of the most complex characters on TV. There was this incredible cold open when he takes his daughter to a play and after trying to berate her for using her phone during the show, gained more appreciation for her as a person and the younger generation. There was more internal complication as he delved into the evolution of stand-up comedy. Even for the smallest of stories, like him trying to take part in a pot-luck, was something special.
Fresh Off the Boat
“Why can’t we stay on the couch?”
“Because then your aunt and uncle will know that we don’t have enough bedrooms and they must never know that.”
While FOX tries to be edgier with their sitcoms and NBC seems to prefer to have their sitcoms have terrible ratings, ABC recognizes its success with family based sitcoms. They have found a new wave of success by extending this subgenre to more unique stories. This is based off Eddie Huang’s memoir about his childhood where his Taiwanese family moved to Orlando, Florida in the early 90s to open a steak family restaurant. Every sitcom plotline has a new sense of surprise and personality thanks to have very new sitcom characters live through them. Constance Wu’s performance as Jessica is a revelation; I want her to be in every scene in every show dismissing everything.
Parks and Recreation
“Not to say that public service isn’t sexy because it definitely is, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because we get the chance to work hard at work worth doing, alongside a team of people who we love. So I thank those people who walked with me and I thank you for this honor. Now, go find your team and get to work.”
This is a show that probably lasted a season or two too long, but once they knew it was ending, it made the ending count. The show recognized what’s the most important thing, more than Pawnee more than anything, was how much these characters loved each other. It was shocking to start this season with a time jump to a time where Ron and Leslie hate each other. Over the course of 12 episodes, they allowed these characters to reinforce their relationships and to give them the finales each of them deserved. It was the sweet sincerity that this show will always be remembered for.
“Online dating is dishonest. You put up your best pictures and personality traits. You lie about how much money you make, how many partners you’ve had…”
Casual understands something specific about family in that the ones who are that close to you also need to be your friends. Family is something that serve as a good source of conflict within TV shows and a source of love, With Casual, the focus is on a brother and sister and the sister’s daughter who all live in a house in LA. As they struggle with the complications of dating in a world where everything has a new label and new technology, they still find themselves painfully alone and unhappy. The show seems to be inspired by Six Feet Under especially with the casting of Frances Conroy. It uses that connection to make its own dark comedy that’s grounded in a new voice.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
“Health care is like a pair of gym shorts. Even if it covers nearly all of what it’s supposed to, there are still some problematic gaps.”
The show has only been on for two years, but it already feels like it has the legacy and respect of something like the entire Jon Stewart run on The Daily Show. Every week, it doesn’t matter the topic, I trust John Oliver to inform me about something wrong with the world. There’s anger, but it’s not just there for the sake of outrage; he really wants these systems to change. He’s going to go after them with a well-researched argument and lovably crass jokes. He has no interest in abiding by a two-party narrative or even the idea of making majority of these topics political. Perhaps, that’s the greatest irony; this is the show fighting to make America great again…
Orange is the New Black
“But no one gets the privilege of being themselves all the time, Carrie.”
Season Two was about dividing up all of the inmates thanks to people wanting to create power, by lessening others. In Season Three, it’s about what it’s like to come together more. While having an actual villain like Vee makes for some exciting television, this season reminded us about the inherent strength of these characters. The season explores the communities that bind them like their relationships with their mothers in the opening episode, their positions in their faith and communities formed through their sexuality. By the end, it’s clear which people understand the importance of what they have in these connections and which people still don’t understand. All while in the background, a bureaucracy is forming to serve no actual community but its own illogical goals…
“God, I’m so funny when I write mean things about TV shows.”
I think you can tell how much you’ll like the show in that how much you want to hang out with the main characters. That’s true for so many “hang-out” comedies like Friends or How I Met Your Mother. I don’t mean that for this show because it’s more about if you can actually tolerate these two. Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner play less successful versions of themselves as they exist in a haze of sarcasm and pop culture references. They demand fame, but don’t really want to be nice to people to make it happen. Part of the reason why the show works is that there is a strange sympathy to these two. The show has a lot of soul to it even if these two don’t want to admit it. They just masquerade it through really funny PBS plotlines and inserting Capturing the Friedmans into the holiday festivities.
“I literally give no fucks.”
“I hate fucks. They’re the worst.”
I loved Season One of Broad City, but I recognized that Ilana was often making me laugh more than Abbi. This season, it was completely flipped. Ilana still had some amazing moments like her epic twerking and her narcissist affair with Alia Shawkat. But this was Abbi’s year to shine. She got to dance naked in her apartment, become a black-out drunk lounge singer, have a dangerous night with Kelly Ripa and took the lead of the definitive sitcom episode of pegging. Everything felt more confident in this season and the results were awesome.
“Can we just watch the sunrise and pretend that everything is going to work out fine.”
This is one of the biggest improvements from last year and it instantly became the show I was really hoping for last year. Season One had only a plotline or two I was really invested in, but this one had all of them working on a new emotional level. The complicated relationship between Lynn and Dom, the often sad friendship between Dom and Doris and the brilliantly realized relationship between Patrick and Kevin. It captures the difficulty of what it means to have two fully realized people have any sort of connection over time. This is definitely a show that is ending too soon, but I know they’re going to nail the final episode in 2016.
“I think the only way to get out of our town alive is to never been born there.”
It’s time. After many bullets blasted in Kentucky (and a couple more locales), the sun is setting for Raylan, Boyd and Ava. Like so many great final seasons, from the first episode there is a fear from all the characters that this is the end. That means there is more trouble than usual in Harlan especially with the fantastically threatening Mary Steenburgen, Sam Elliott and Jonathan Tucker. The twists are explosive, the dialog remains some of the best on TV and boy they nailed the ending. (Highly recommend rewatching the pilot before you watch the series finale.)
“Camus says knowin’ we’re gonna die makes life absurd.”
“Well, I don’t know who that is. But I’m guessing he doesn’t have a 6-year-old girl.”
It feels dumb to compare Fargo to an avalanche when it’s a show (and movie) so defined by its wintering setting. But it’s all I can think about. This season was filled with decisions that can’t seem to stop a horrific violent inevitability. Logic, reason and compassion were weak tools towards everyone’s inner determinism. Once again, Fargo is fortunate to have such an incredible cast to fill out its story, especially Kirsten Dunst and Jean Smart. The inventiveness in its presentation makes this such a fascinating watch. Bring on its next all-new story.
“I had a bad experience at Red Lobster, and if the people don’t know about it, they could to. Folks deserve to know where to eat, Mitch.”
“But does anyone even thank you for it?”
“I don’t need them to. I know they need me and that’s enough.”
“God bless you, sir.”
South Park is always one to be quick on commentary on the current headlines. They write the episodes just a few days before they air. While they’re famous for skewering both sides of any argument or political party, this may go down as their greatest victory. Outrage culture sometimes is a source of good and has lead to a lot of progressive changes in today’s society. But it can just as easily be an empty outcry. This is a season that for the first time in its long running success centered an entire season around a whole story that challenged PC culture while also brilliantly going after guns, journalism, gentrification and even made it a rather fun science-fiction story as well.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
“A female dog? The thing that makes puppies? Nice compliment!”
I think 30 Rock is one of the most consistently funny shows ever made with so many gags per minute. They had a loose structure so they can tell any sort of story they want. With Kimmy Schmidt, they took all the satirical and silly humor sensibilities and put it into a really impressive character study about an optimistic girl who was trapped in an underground cult for 15 years. This is a powerful story about trauma and near the end, it was as tense as any drama on TV. What makes this show really stand out is the genius of Kimmy’s character; she’s strong as hell and inspirational because of how happy she wants to live her life despite all that has happened to her.
Nathan For You
“Read the writing on the wall. Alligators, little doors. I’m seeing psychosis.”
I love watching just how crazy any episode of this show can go. Nathan Fielder is now giving terrible advice to real people for three years now and each episode is a strange test of endurance. Everyone participating in his weird plans has always been skeptical but they keep going often because they’re too nice to say no. This season Nathan is really questioning how far people will go. It turns out the only convoluted obstacle to stop people from buying a $1 flatscreen is an actual crocodile blocking their way. This is after they had to rent a tux, crawl through a tiny door and wait for hours. Parents are weirdly game to test a soundproof box for their child while a porn orgy is happening in the same room. While these people are being tested, the emotions are put through the ringer for Nathan. They are taking this simple comedy character and adding so much depth as he asks an actress to tell him she loves him over and over again to the point of tears and the strange final moments of the finale. There’s nothing on TV like this show.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones
“Would you put day drinking under experience or special abilities?’
This is one of the best things that Marvel Studios has produced. They have made a lot of fun things, but Jessica Jones has a depth in it that makes this a much richer show. Jessica Jones, as a character, does not have an easy cause and effect to make her a hero. By the end of the series, there can be an argument that maybe she isn’t. While Iron Man and Captain America want to save the innocent, Jessica is doing good things in order to stop one man. One sadistic man. The greatest villain Marvel has produced. She’s afraid to fully be a hero because of all that has happened the last time she tried that. Nothing progresses in the way of a typical superhero story because everything is so emotionally messy and the writers are so astute about how to address it. This is something devastating and impressive.
“Peace and harmony is just hippie talk for lazy.”
If you keep reading, you’ll see that I like good old-fashioned spy stories. This is an excellent one that takes place in East and West Germany where a young soldier is forced against his will to be an undercover spy in the West. He has to stand as a man apart with his life threatened by both sides. It’s a very tense eight episodes that is very clever about how to move forward with so many pieces in play. I like spy stories without a lot of gadgets because when you’re sneaking into a general’s office, all you have is luck that you will get out in time. Since this is a German TV series, there is a lot of brilliantly actualized nuances about the philosophies of the two halves of the country. One of the best aspects of the series was to see how each group treats their peers and what they are saying about their enemies. It’s scary how little things have changed.
Cucumber / Banana
“The trouble is it makes me think that sex is for sexy people. And the rest of us can just…give up.”
Before this little thing called Doctor Who, Russell T. Davies was best known for the groundbreaking drama Queer Like Me. This year he made a really ambitious return to what it’s like to be British and gay in today’s world. The ambition is from the structure because he made three shows that all run at the same time. Cucumber is eight episodes all telling one story about an older man whose life falls apart after he rejects his boyfriend’s marriage proposal. He moves in with some younger kids and tries to figure out what he actually wants. Banana is an anthology show that runs concurrently with Cucumber focusing on a different twenty-something that briefly connected with someone on screen in Cucumber. Throughout these seasons so many incredible and emotional stories were told about death, anger, transexuality, love, sex and so much more. It’s heartbreaking and sweet and very funny. This is Davies at his best.
“And speaking of presidents, Bill Clinton probably shouldn’t use [the n-word], neither.”
“But I wouldn’t’ be crazy-mad if he did.”
Something that ABC does so well with its family comedies in recent years is nailing the casting of all the young actors. It gets scary when you have multiple kids in a show because they often start to blend together. Not the Johnsons. All four kids are brilliantly realized and have proven they each have the skills to carry all of their own storylines. It just took a little bit of Season One to really figure out the comedy barometer for every aspect of the show. Since then it has been on fire with a great collection of small and inventive episodes. There’s not a weak link of the show. Every time they cut to the kids or the office with the Greek chorus of horrible advice or the grandparents, it’s an absolute delight.
“You were born broken, that’s your birthright. And now you can fill your life with projects. Your books and your movies and y our little girlfriends but it won’t make you whole. You’re BoJack Horseman. There’s no cure for that.”
Damn. I mean, yes of course this is a comedy. This season had Todd create his own make-shift version of DisneyLand because BoJack once lied to him and said there was no such place. Mr. Peanutbutter gets to host a game show with Daniel Radcliffe has a contestant. There are a ton of clever jokes and animal puns in every episode. That said, this may be the hardest show to binge on Netflix because of how unbelievably sad it is. Season One was always about what a failure of a horse BoJack is and how his depression is holding him back. Now this season he is able to have success and he’s still so emotionally miserable. It’s so painful to watch because of how empathetic the show is for BoJack and all of the other characters who want so desperately to be at peace but can’t find a single path to take them there. It’s a raw and very well-realized show. That happens to star an animated horse.
“It’s TV. It’s comfort. It’s a friend you’ve known so well, and for so long you just let it be with you. And it needs to be okay for it to have a bad day, or phone in a day. And it needs to be okay for it to get on a boat with Levar Burton and never come back. Because eventually, it all will.”
Ah, Community. This will be one of my favorite shows for a long time and partly because of how insane it has been. After Season Five, NBC randomly canceled them before they could complete their destined “Six seasons and a movie!” They were picked up at the zero hour by Yahoo who thought picking up this cult series will bring attention to their new streaming site. (It didn’t. Yahoo Screen now appears to be dead.) Once again, they are down a main character with Yvette Nicole Brown needing to spend more time with her sick father. Jonathan Banks left to do Better Call Saul. So what happens next? Community survives. The arrival of Paget Brewster and Keith David to the group added a new sense of fun and conflict for their characters. To the bitter end, the show was determined to do right by the characters and to make a sitcom worthy of the genre. As they say goodbye, they revisited some of their classic episodes with new twists on them. They gave each character a stand-out episode (especially Ken Jeong’s subplot about The Karate Kid) and they ended it in the most Community episode ever. After all that this has gone through, I’m glad it was able to end on such a strong season. Now it’s time for that film.
Better Call Saul
“I know what stopped me. And you know what? It’s never stopping me again.”
If Breaking Bad was about watching a seemingly good guy evolve into a monster, this prequel is taking the character we know as a sleezeball and digging for his soul. The show still looks like it takes place in the Breaking Bad world but everything feels a little different. The show is allowed to be a little more secretive with how everything will tie together. We know the end points, but the whole ride to getting there is emotionally wrecking and something new.
“Can we go again?”
This was one of the strangest seasons of Project Greenlight. Every year, they are actively on-screen trying to correct the mistakes they made in the past. Now after a long hiatus, they’re back with the attempt to finally make a successful movie. Of course, what happens next is several different levels of crazy. I don’t know if this is because I’m getting older or this was just a specific example, but this was my first time in these types of stories to side with the producers over the auteur. With so many examples of privilege out of control and a refusal to compromise, it really all came down to if the movie was a masterpiece that would make all of this worth it. Well….
“I’d pack my bags if I were you. Meat’s back on the menu.”
For the first two seasons, majority of the characters were hidden from the truth of how insane their world is. And now they all know and there is no normal to hide in. So if you thought the show was already too artsy-fartsy, you haven’t seen anything yet. As the show eases us into more fantastical elements of the show’s voyage into hell (and Europe), what sticks with me more than its nightmarish images is how the characters react to them. How Hannibal concludes the first half of the season and how Will concludes the season/series are fascinating because of how consistent their arc has been and how psychologically complex they are as character. Even in its weakest season, this show is something astounding week to week.
“The destruction of my life was anything but pointless.”
Speaking of descents to hell! At the end of Season One, Forrest McNeil appeared to be free from the insane confines of the review show where he reviews life itself. This season he thinks he can use the premise of the show to his advantage to get back his family. What happens next is mesmerizing. The dedication Forrest has to his craft is traps him into these situations. Everything that happens can be stopped, if he just stops doing the show. And yet, Andy Daly’s perfect performance creates an environment where the greatest stakes are how far Forrest is willing to go for the sake of an accurate review. Oh man…
“Who do you think you are? Judging from this tape, you seem like one of our self-destructive, brainwashed contestants than somebody who knows how to get what they want. The choice is yours—kind of.”
Here is the show I told so many people to watch and I believe none of them actually did. WATCH THIS SHOW. I don’t care that it’s on Lifetime, I don’t care that the premise sounds like it’s not for you. This is something addictive and awesome. It’s set backstage of a dating reality show like The Bachelor and it centers around the producers who make all the drama happen. This is basically psychological warfare as they use the most upsetting techniques to manipulate these women into making an exciting episode of television. The 10 episodes are very well structured as it leads to some great twists and messed up conclusions. Watch this!
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
(BBC One / BBC America)
“He’s coming you know. The Raven is coming.”
I remember reading the books when it came out and I was impressed by the extreme level of detail that went into this book. Every aspect of a 19th century England where magic was slowly starting to return was fully realized from an anthropology and mythology level. This miniseries is able to honor that great achievement and brings more excitement to the fated rivalry in the center. The cast is wonderful, the direction is very tight and the script never feels rushed. This was an underseen gem from this year.
(BBC One / BBC America)
“Can’t I just lose? Just this once? Easy…It would be easy…It would be so easy…”
Now this is the Twelfth Doctor. Last year put him through a very well needed arc where The Doctor questioned all of his decisions and came to terms with who he is as a Time War survivor. Now it’s time to be a hero in a season full of fresh and innovative stories. Having the entire season (except for one dud) be two or three parters made for a very fresh season that felt big every week. The political importance of the Zygon stories worked just as well as the character introspection of the Maisie Williams stories. Then it all culminated with, possibly, the best ever episode of Doctor Who and a very satisfying conclusion. There may not be a better acted season of Doctor Who than what Peter Capaldi did this season.
Jane the Virgin
“I never thought I’d feel anything but #blessed to be famous but now I’m feeling #cursed.”
Jane the Virgin has yet to mess up. And that’s insane. This is one of the craziest plotted shows on TV with a large ensemble and a ridiculously playful meta-commentary. There are serial killers, kidnappings, grenades, Britney Spears, Mad Men, accidental artificial insemination, imagined luchadora fights, and plenty of secrets and surprises. The speed of which they go through these plots is impressive because it all happens without every losing focus of the characters. The way this show approaches family is so endearing and with every scene, it’s revolutionary how important they all are to each other.
Game of Thrones
“Why did you travel to the far side of the world to meet someone terrible?”
“To see if you were the right kind of terrible.”
“What kind is that?”
“The kind that prevents your people from being more so.”
I was a bit worried about this show because I liked last season but it seemed to have lost the importance of its smaller scenes between the characters. Partly because they were adapting the second half of a book when it’s all big things coming to a head. With this season they were adapting from a book that I’m not as big of a fan of and a book I haven’t read yet. What resulted was, surprisingly, one of their best seasons. This was the one where they really cemented themselves as its own entity and made smart changes from the source material. After so much death, there is the illusion that Westeros is calming down. The weak go forward towards their final strike and the ruthless continue to rise, possibly with complete destruction as the only inevitability. It’s unclear how many more seasons they are going to make of this, but this seems like a very confident march towards the end. All the mistakes have clear consequences by the end of this season and winter is coming.
(Channel 4 / Amazon Prime)
“And independent of that, can you for a second accept that I like you and want to be with you, you fucking idiot.”
I never would have thought of pairing absurdist Twitter comedian Rob Delaney and Irish TV star Sharon Horgan together. But now I want them to only work together in every movie and show. With Catastrophe, they created their own sitcom about two strangers who hook-up for a weekend and then decide to stay together once she’s pregnant. In two short seasons, there is so much truth about the difficulty of a relationship especially when starting in such an unlikely place. They both get to be very funny but what’s even more impressive is their fights. This goes further than any sitcom I’ve seen to a place of real pain and frustration. Every episode I admire where they are willing to explore and what it means when they go there.
“I don’t want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place.”
I love to watch comedies, but I’m never in actual suspense about any episode. This incredible season of Silicon Valley changed that by making a very tightly-plotted season filled with amazing cliffhangers after each episode. Not only do I want to keep seeing what these weirdos are up to, but I really want Pied Piper to succeed as a company. Mike Judge and the rest of his team had so many elements in play from other people wanting to bring them down, moments of fate and “justice, baby.” With a comedy, you expect little jokes just to be little jokes, but Silicon Valley was so sneaky this year they used those to set-up a huge plot moment in its back half. I’m now in as much suspense about what happens next for this show as I am for most dramas.
Master of None
“What’s wrong with Short Circuit 2?”
“That’s a white actor. They used brownface makeup.”
“Like the Popchips commercial? Is Mindy Kaling real?”
Aziz Anzari has a lot of things to say. There has been a considerable shift in his stand-up where he has delved further into modern habits. His book this year, Modern Romance, is equally a sociology book as it is a comedy book. Now with this show, he wants to talk more about the things that confound him. In 10 beautifully shot episodes, he tells a simple story about a working actor in a new relationship but uses each one to dive further into something personal. He addresses rather expertly the difficulties about representation in the media, the connections the youth have with the elderly and what it’s like to have immigrant parents. Every episode is emotional, sweet and unresolved. The show is able to capture a moment of learning and there is a true need to keep learning more.
“This isn’t normal. I’ve felt it for a long time now. I thought it was me. I thought I was crazy. But it’s not me. It’s you.”
One of the most consistently bad parts of great dramas are subplots involving the kids. That’s usually because what the parents are doing is more exciting and was why the show was created. You tune into The Good Wife to see law firms battling, not to see what’s going on with the kid’s clingy high-school girlfriend. The Americans is different because, perhaps, the whole show is about Paige and Henry. After three years of watching sleeper Russian spies in Cold War America, we’ve watched nobody win. It’s barely a cat and mouse, it’s just two sets of people always losing but they keep going because they want a world their kids will feel safe in. Every week as Elizabeth and Philip become more compromised in their ideals and their devotion, they care more and more about what will happen to the minds and souls of their children. The stakes feel like they’ve never been higher.
Please Like Me
(Pivot / ABC2)
“Do you want to be a sad, lazy dope your whole life?”
“I’m just so good at it.”
I love basically everything about this show. It’s how I want to live my life because it’s just so joyful and caring. It started out mostly about twenty-somethings in a rut but has evolved to something wonderful where it’s about them addressing more complicated situations. The characters have some of their biggest trials this season, but they’ve developed more emotional maturity to know how to handle it. Maturity may be the wrong word because they solve issues by building miniature towns so their dog can trample through it like a monster, singing an Adele song in tribute to their lost chicken and play the brilliant game “Penis or No Penis”. Every episode is a delight in the strength of its writing and the love of its characters. Bravo to their best season yet.
“None of these words end in a smile.”
I didn’t realize until I was halfway through this season that Season One really was an origin story. Obviously, it was the official coming out of Maura, but it also allowed each of the other Pfeffermans to have their own storyline to introduce who they are. In this season, there is a richness that pays off because of how well we know everyone. This leads to one of the most painful reveals of television this year, but it also allowed comfort and support to come from different sources. Siblings were able to bond with connecting issues and secondary characters can become important allies. There’s no need for a villain for this show, but everyone is their worst enemy. Yet unlike other shows of very dysfunctional families, you really want them to be okay, not just to keep messing up for our own amusement.
“There’s more to live than work.”
Who is Don Draper? In 92 episodes, I’m not entirely sure that we have a definitive answer. But the same goes for Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, Joan Harris, Roger Sterling and all the rest of them. To the end, they were fascinatingly complex characters who sometimes knew how to stay with the times and some who were left behind. This isn’t a show like Justified or Breaking Bad where it’s all leading to a bloody finale. These characters will live on through the 70s and 80s. The advertising for this show didn’t lie; this was the end of an era. This was the end of a very impressive story around very impressive characters. This was one of the best.
You’re the Worst
Last year I called You’re the Worst the best romantic comedy I’ve seen in years. The second season didn’t disappoint because it added a new element that puts a greater context into the whole series. Fully embracing that Gretchen has clinical depression and what’s it’s like to be in a relationship in this environment. Every episode is an incredible creation where it’s still able to be really funny as they go for a hard-to-address topic. Aya Cash and Chris Geere deserve all the praise and awards for what they did in this season.
Rick and Morty
“The first rule of space travel, kids, is always check out distress beacons. 9 out of 10 times it’s a ship full of dead aliens and a bunch of free shit!”
Halfway through Season One of Rick and Morty, the show discovered that it could have really effective pathos while having very funny science fiction zaniness. In their second season, they boldly went further with everything. They had an incredible episode filled with multiple timelines, a romantic episode involving a planet-wide hivemind and an adventure with a contagious creature that keeps generating characters you think have always been in your life. But then it went further into the damage of a broken relationship, the political corruption of smaller agencies and the psychology of why hurt people hurt people. In every aspect, the show just keeps getting more personal and weirder with great results.
Show Me a Hero
“Show me a hero and I’ll show you a tragedy.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Yes, a miniseries about city council debates in Yonkers, New York about public housing is the fourth best TV show of the year. This story was so fascinating, It’s such a difficult story because you’re begging for a clearer path into a right answer. Yet you watch a political system use inaction as a campaign for more inaction and then so many people are hurt by the process. Hollywood rarely address racism so close to the present; it felt so uncomfortable to see such a hateful story that took primarily during years when I was alive. Then to have the day the first episode aired, a This American Life story came out showing all of this is still happening. If the incredible cast can’t convince you (Oscar Issac, Catherine Keener, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder, Bob Balaban, Clark Peters), how about this: Paul Haggis did a great job with this.
“What the hell did I do?”
It begins with a beheading in Galvaston, Texas where all the evidence points to a little old lady who was the neighbor. Then it gets way crazier than that. In six perfect episodes, documentarian Andrew Jarecki takes a golden opportunity and makes television history as he learns everything possible about Robert Durst. The show is strange, upsetting and darkly funny. It has some of the most effective uses of recreation in a documentary, even more than Errol Morris. The Jinx is an excellent type of chilling where you have to keep watching to figure out exactly how this is going to end.
“I don’t really have context yet, Jon. Would this be considered a shitty view?”
To say this is Rectify’s best season is to say that this should be considered one of the best seasons of television I have ever seen. After the shocking conclusion of Season Two, everything rushes at the beginning to know what’s going to happen next. Then it’s time to end an important chapter in all of their lives. This season was the one that really put into context how long Daniel’s imprisonment has been part of their lives and how little time this series has taken place in their world. They all so desperately wanted to accomplish a goal. Now what does the rest of their lives look like? Everyone is starting a new life in a world where everything has changed. The only way to find out if they can is if they take the first step.
“I don’t understand what’s happening.”
I liked the first season of The Leftovers; I thought it was a great world with only three really excellent episodes that really knew how to focus on the characters and put them into context of specific one-hour stories. Damon Lindelof must have been a fan of those episodes as well so he transformed the second season into a perfectly plotted story that focused on a character or two’s POV for each episode. I loved the premiere. Then I loved the next episode. Then the next. It was like watching a special sports game where you were just watching home run after home run. Every character was improved and refined. The show was sprinkled with strange little mysteries that all were solved in unique paths. In many ways, this is Lindelof’s magnum opus. This conveys all the themes and structures that have been present in his best work and put together in one bold, ambitious, emotional story equipped with a worldly blend of spirituality with new mythology and tragically flawed characters. This was something special.