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:
63. The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
What started as the most insanely original sitcom on television has gradually lapsed into something not unlike a typical sitcom, albeit one with unusually heightened stakes. While it remains worth tuning in for the talented cast and to see how the premise impacts the typical sitcom plots in any given week, this show no longer really needs to be a priority.
62. Community (Yahoo! Screen)
Dan Harmon’s one great stab at normality finally collapsed under its own weight. After several season’s worth of jettisoning cast members (and it’s entire home network) the show finally stopped feeling like the Community I knew and loved. Although this new show sitting in its place wasn’t bad by any means, by season six I was ready to move on. I’d be excited to watch an original show with this season’s cast and writers, but as a continuation of Community this just felt weird.
61. Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz)
Starz jumps onto the reboot/sequel (“Rebootquel”) bandwagon with this revival of the Evil Dead franchise (the original one, not the 2013 reboot – note the lack of “-quel”). By all accounts they’re really attempting to do this thing right, bringing creator Sam Raimi on as a producer and to direct the first episode, getting original star Bruce Campbell back in the role that made him kinda/sorta famous.
While the writing occasionally suffers from tonal whiplash (a characters parents die early in the show, which takes place over only a couple of days, and by what should be less than a few hours later she’s already moved on with a simple explanation that she’s angry and ready for revenge rather than sad and/or traumatized) and the show sometimes feels like an uncomfortable cross between a goofy action show and a genuine horror show, the amount of times it nails the horror-comedy hybrid the original series patented is downright incredible – especially when you consider that the last installment in this continuity was way back in 1992.
60. Documentary Now! (IFC)
This oddball from Bill Hader and Fred Armisen is better at mimicking documentary styles than it is at making jokes, but the dedication they put into it is mind-boggling. In the cases where I’d seen specific documentaries they were imitating the series worked like gangbusters, but it was very dependent on viewers having that context.
59. Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter ([Adult Swim])
John Glaser is a comedic genius. While this miniseries didn’t live up to the heights of his previous masterpiece Delocated, any new Glaser is good Glaser.
58. The Spoils Before Dying (IFC)
IFC’s sequel to its miniseries-parodying-miniseries The Spoils of Babylon is superior to its predecessor in nearly every way. Most notably, while the laughs still aren’t nearly as frequent as one might expect from a show of this pedigree, the overall quality is actually so high that this practically works as a straight drama.
57. Brooklyn 99 (Fox)
The best sitcom on network television. A fantastic ensemble cast does the workplace comedy thing about as perfectly as it can be done. Andre Braugher is a standout as Captain Holt and Terry Crews/Joe Lo Truglio are workhorses. Samberg is in entertaining “Hot Rod” mode rather than annoying “That’s My Boy” mode.
56. Other Space (Yahoo! Screen)
The best thing to come out of failed online network Yahoo! Screen was Paul Feig’s (Spy, Bridesmaids, Freaks & Geeks) science fiction sitcom Other Space. Basically a comedy version of Star Trek (or Galaxy Quest), this show had already established a fantastic comedic voice and memorable characters by the end of its abbreviated first season. A true loss.
One bonus to that loss, though: apparently every single episode is up on YouTube. So there’s that.
55. Supergirl (CBS)
54. Marvel’s Daredevil (Netflix)
53. Bates Motel (A&E)
52. Drunk History (Comedy Central)
Derek Waters struck gold when he came up with the formula for this show: get funny people, get them totally blitzed, have them expound on a serious subject, have a team of professionals recreate their rambling narratives down to the most irrelevant detail. It might not be rocket science but this show acts like a warm, comforting blanket for me in a way that almost no shows ever do without the help of nostalgia and having seen them a thousand times.
51. The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central)
50. Girls (HBO)
While Girls has occasionally been infuriatingly unclear as to whether the audience is supposed to empathize with the often unlikable leads of the show, the fourth season distilled the show more clearly into what I think its always been: a damned sitcom. Like Seinfeld or Always Sunny, these characters aren’t supposed to be easily likable. Yes, they’re entitled. Yes, they’re narcissistic. Yes, they’re naive, and don’t know it, and are frequently fucking up. And yes, that’s the joke. Maybe I’m thick, or maybe there was something a little different this season, but this is the one where I was finally totally sure I was in on the joke. This show has always been extremely well-made and acted, but this is the most consistent its ever been.
49. Nathan for You (Comedy Central)
If there’s anyone on TV who might be an actual, literal, capital-G “Genius”, it’s Nathan Fielder. The premise of this show is so Machiavellian it’s actually painful to watch. The show is ostensibly a “Kitchen Nightmares”/“Bar Rescue” type of reality show hosted by Nathan Fielder as an expert in turning businesses around with one genius idea. They seek out real businesses and get them to go along with incredibly ludicrous ideas that often get right at the heart of why similar business tactics are outright evil. When the ideas can’t do that they either poke fun at the business owner themselves and/or the character of “Nathan Fielder” as an incredibly socially awkward and lonely guy who is looking for any way to use his show to make a human connection. The first season’s segment called “Gas Station” is one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in my entire life.
48. With Bob and David (Netflix)
That this was a worthy continuation of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ legendary HBO sketch comedy “Mr. Show” is just about the highest praise it’s possible to give. This really feels less like a revival than like the uncovering of three lost episodes in an HD remaster. While they sometimes showed real improvement with the way sketch has evolved in the years since the original “Mr. Show” in segments like “Salesmen”, there’s occasionally a little creakiness as one would expect from a sketch comedy show from the 1990s. The only other negative thing I can say is that there were only three episodes.
47. Justified (FX)
FX’s redheaded stepchild of a crime drama ended this year with far too little fanfare. This is hardly unexpected for a little-seen show that was consistently underrated by the critical community, but it’s an injustice all the same. The second season of this show was one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen, and while the show never quite reached those same heights again it remained consistently great at the things it did well. Season- and show-length arcs sometimes varied in quality and consistency, but no show on TV could hold a candle to Justified’s ability to create unique and compelling characters. It wasn’t uncommon for unnamed characters established in a single scene to be more interesting than the entire cast of – to pick a show at random – Chicago Fire.
46. Louie (FX)
45. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Similarly, what is there to say about Inside Amy Schumer that hasn’t been debated to death in a million thinkpieces? With another excellent season of her show and the movie Trainwreck putting her in the spotlight of mainstream culture, for whatever it’s worth this was the year of Amy Schumer. This season deserves a spot on this list for the episode “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” alone. Hell, it deserves it for that title alone.
44. The Eric Andre Show ([Adult Swim])
I once heard Punk defined not as a countercultural movement, since counterculture implies a functional culture being offered as an alternative to mainstream culture, but as the only example of an anti-culture movement. The definitive punk rock documentary is called The Decline of Western Civilization, after all. To reference the main movement one thinks of when they think of counterculture, there are hippie communes. That’s a culture. They still exist as a functional alternative culture within the mainstream culture to this day. There are no punk communes. Punk doesn’t offer a functional alternative, it only seeks to destroy other cultures. It’s a cultural cancer.
With that in mind, The Eric Andre Show is the most punk rock show on TV. I can’t possibly write a better review than Brandon Nowalk’s at The A.V. Club, so here’s a shortened version: “The Eric Andre Show is a testament to television’s gaping maw, an act of creation driven by destruction. The show typically begins with Eric André rushing onto his set and tearing it apart. He tackles the drummer and they fall through the backdrop, he pile-drives his desk, and he stomps around in his birthday suit kicking whatever remains. Stagehands replace the furniture as he goes, and the band plays on regardless of his tantrum. Exhausted, André slumps onto his chair, a new curtain falls down to disguise as much detritus as possible, a new set squeaks across the floor, and the show begins. The irony at the heart of The Eric Andre Show is that he’s feeding the beast even when he’s fighting it… The audience used to be in on the joke as André and his guests would parody the form. Now, from the conspiratorial energy when André pranks a guest to the confusion of sequences like the Balfour interview, the show is really baring its teeth. There’s no superior vantage point anymore.
Every segment maintains the aggression of the intro and the interviews. André rants in his monologue. When he cares enough to pay attention, sidekick Hannibal Buress is all criticism and dead-end hype… Man-on-the-street bits are basically André getting someone’s attention and then throwing up in front of him. This is a showcase of self-destruction more than anything—stagehands can replace the set, but there’s nobody to the rescue when a clump of André’s hair falls out—and André has no qualms about spreading his misery… Eric Andre is positively apocalyptic. It can be hilarious, whether in rib-tickling absurdism, head-scratching surrender to its antics, or good, old-fashioned condescension to André’s character. But the tension that rips it apart and replaces it proves this isn’t just another talk-show satire. The Eric Andre Show has become a true anti-talk-show…”
43. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX)
No show has any right to be this good when entering its eleventh season. If you somehow haven’t heard of this FX juggernaut, it’s basically the show Seinfeld would’ve had to be in order to justify a finale that famously concluded that Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer were the “worst people in New York.”
Sunny mixed up its character combinations, examined its formal structure, and reached new levels of technical accomplishments this year with standout episodes like “The Gang Misses the Boat”, “Psycho Pete Returns”, and possible series best “Charlie Work”.
42. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (BBC)
A seven-episode adaptation of a seven-hundred-page epic fantasy book set in England during the Napoleonic wars, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell moves fast. Mr. Norrell is a bookish nobleman who has spent his entire life collecting books of magic, and although real magic hasn’t been performed in England for hundreds of years he manages to put the pieces together and become the first English magician in living memory. Jonathan Strange is a cad who takes up magic by chance – or perhaps destiny – and proves a natural at it. He becomes Mr. Norrell’s apprentice, leading Norrell to fear Strange will surpass him after years of hard work and take steps to slow his progress. In time, both are tempted to summon the extreme magical power of the duplicitous faerie race to reach their goals, to strange and terrible ends.
41. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS)