I’ve never done a best-of list before, and I suppose technically I’m not doing one now. In order to get around the pain of winnowing down a list I’ve decided to rank every TV show I’ve completed watching to date. I recommend everything on this list. In my opinion, it’s all worth watching or else I would’ve stopped watching it.
In retrospect I may have simply replaced the pain of narrowing down a list to a a top ten or twenty with the pain of writing a really damned long list. Anyways, here it goes:
40. Making a Murderer (Netflix)
Before reading that I may have ranked the show higher, a problem fictional series don’t tend to run into. Roman Polanski may be a criminal, but that can’t make Rosemary’s Baby any less of a masterpiece. A documentary like this isn’t so cut and dry. The issue for me is that it’s clear that there was criminal conduct on the part of the police and well-documented incompetence on the part of Brenden Dassey’s defense team. That should be more than enough to make an interesting documentary series, but if the article above is true the filmmakers got a bit greedy. They wanted to simplify things, making the police into clear villains and Avery into a pure victim. Ironically, a more complex narrative with shades of grey to its morality would’ve made for a more mature, equally compelling series that would appear to have more accurately reflected reality.
39. Gravity Falls (Disney XD)
Alex Hirsch’s sporadically airing tale of twins Dipper and Mabel’s summer visiting their great-uncle at his home/tourist trap is finally drawing to a close. The final episode will air in February. While these final episodes have leaned heavier and heavier on Gravity Falls’ increasingly dense mythology, what keeps me coming back is the show’s sheer hilarity. The joke-per-minute rate of this show is fantastic and it remains the second-best showcase for Kristin Schaal’s considerable voice talent (after Bob’s Burgers, of course).
38. Married (FX)
This dramedy from Judd Apatow is part of a recent spate of shows that seem inspired more by independent cinema than previous sitcoms. This is evident in its visual style which is all handheld cameras, shallow depth-of-field, and washed out colors indicating that the show is attempting to show an unsentimental, gritty view of marriage; what life is actually like rather than the idealized version posted to Instagram. More than just deal with the tedious bits of maintaining a long-term relationship and raising kids, the Married even ventures into moments of existential melancholy.
If there’s one bad thing to say about Married it’s that the show hews a bit closer to the traditional sitcom formula than some of its indie-inspired brethren, potentially causing some confusion as to whether the show is trying to be funnier than it is and failing or more interested in drama for the moment.
37. Review (Comedy Central)
As a result, the show becomes an intense study of a character so blindingly afraid of making a decision for himself that he’s willing to turn responsibility for his actions over to an uncaring public. In Forrest’s eyes, anything he does in service of a review isn’t really his fault. He’s merely the vessel providing a service so that other people can better live their own lives. The show gives Daly’s character an excuse to do things he’d never admit to himself he secretly desires, and in turn forces him to do things he’s genuinely terrified of. This becomes an addiction, and like any addiction cycle it drives away every other good thing in his life until Review is all Forrest MacNeil has left. It’s a slow motion tragedy that’s impossible to look away from.
Oh, and it’s also really funny.
36. Key and Peele (Comedy Central)
Key and Peele is more than just the best traditional sketch show on TV, it raised the bar on what a sketch show could be. Not only did the show exemplify everything that the ideal sketch show should do: create memorable recurring characters, feature excellent verbal chemistry between its actors, entirely visual gags, refer to current events in a timeless way, and exemplify sketch writing structure in both short and long forms – this little Comedy Central show had the highest apparent production value of any sketch show I’ve ever seen! Every episode was a chameleon that could look like any other show on TV, Hollywood blockbuster, music video, or anything in between.
After five seasons, the titular creators have decided to go out on their own terms. While I hate to see them go I’m happy they went out on top, and hopefully this means we’ll se a revival season or two sooner rather than later. In the meantime they seem to be blowing up with guest spots on everything from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp to Fargo, so that’s always nice.
35. Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories ([Adult Swim])
Speaking of comedians putting together extremely polished work, anti-comedy duo Tim and Eric have finally gotten a budget. After producing cheap and intentionally terrible-looking shows ranging from Tom Goes to the Mayor to Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories looks like a million bucks. While previous shows often used their bad production quality as a way to create a sense of the uncanny in the viewer, Bedtime Stories uses a different tactic to produce the same effect. An anthology series, Bedtime Stories is like Black Mirror by way of David Lynch: absurdist stories that could seem funny on paper subtly tweaked until they become terrifying fever dreams. They’re deeply unsettling in a way that’s difficult to explain.
I can’t wait for the next episode.
34. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
Though Noah had an impossible act to follow the show itself has done a tremendous job taking the regime change as an opportunity to update the overall show’s style and format to fit better as part of a whole with The Nightly Show. The new correspondents work well with the new tone and the show’s pre-taped segments are sharp as ever.
33. Bloodline (Netflix)
Jeff Cannata on the /Film Podcast described Bloodline as “If Batman and the Joker were brothers,” and I guess that’s the best way to describe it. While Chandler gets a little more history and internal conflict than most Batmen, Mendelsohn gets that in addition to the license to chew scenery that comes with the best Joker performances.
32. Difficult People (Hulu)
Julie Klausner follows in the tradition of Seinfeld and Louie before her in making a NYC-set show where she plays a lightly fictionalized, less successful version of herself. She’s a TV recapper and stand-up alongside Billy Eichner’s character, a stand-up/struggling actor/waiter. In their spare time – and their work time, to be fair – they enjoy making fun of everything and everyone around them.
Come for the hyper-specific celebrity bashing, stay for the surprising amount of heart.
31. Game of Thrones (HBO)
This was the season that Game of Thrones surpassed the books, plot-wise, and I couldn’t be happier. As someone who stopped reading the series because I DON’T CARE HOW DELICIOUS THE FOOD LOOKED, GEORGE! JUST GET ON WITH THE FREAKING STORY! I generally find the ways the show has amended story elements from the books to be improvements. Now that the writers are free to write the best show they possibly can within the general framework of the continuing plot provided by Martin I think the show has taken on a sense of anything-can-happen freedom that’s permeated even the portions of the story that have already been published. So if you’ve somehow missed it, now’s not a bad time to start watching.
30. Last Week Tonight (HBO)
The major difference between LWT and Oliver’s old stomping grounds at The Daily Show is that TDS gives over a third of its runtime to commercials and an interview segment. Last Week Tonight gives at least half of its runtime to an in-depth examination of a more evergreen topic, such as court fines. In a year where Anchorman director Adam McKay has received a lot of attention for using his comedy skills to shed light on a topic that would otherwise be so boring that the public would ignore its vast importance with The Big Short, we should acknowledge that Last Week Tonight has already perfected the technique.
29. Togetherness (HBO)
This show from mumblecore darlings the Duplass brothers has the slightest of “high concept” premises: a married couple with a new baby allow both an old high school friend and the wife’s sister to crash at their place indefinitely. While that could easily spill out into a broad sitcom premise along the lines of Three’s Company or whatever, this lands significantly closer to the “drama” side of “dramedy”. Togetherness offers a fairly serious examination of the failures that have led aspiring actor Alex and former(-ish) party girl Tina to sleep on couches, as well as the stresses that might lead a functional married couple to seek the distraction of a few long-term houseguests. The writing and the acting from all four leads is phenomenal in its focus on the small details and the little moments of life that many other shows would either gloss over or exaggerate for comedic effect.
28. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
While Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has been criticized for showing its network roots in a few of its early episodes, I can’t hold that against it because it would’ve been my favorite show on network TV. Ellie Kemper is perfectly cast as the girl who never lost her positivity in more than a decade held captive by the insane “Reverend” Richard Wayne Gary Wayne – in the best comedic performance Jon Hamm has yet had a chance to give. She’s able to convey both the arrested development of someone literally trapped in adolescence and the incredible personal growth that enduring that kind of hardship could cause. This is Tina Fey at her darkest, yet the humor is as sharp as the best seasons of 30 Rock – which is an enormous achievement.
27. Kroll Show (Comedy Central)
No show has done as much to parody the way the entire TMZ/Reality show celebrity culture eats itself, and before Kroll Show I would’ve doubted it was even possible to do. That’s innovation.
Check back soon for the final countdown!