It seems that every magazine and newspaper likes to publish their top 10 or 20 lists of TV shows, albums, and books around this time of year. I’ve always been perplexed with this process because they make it seem so objective, they give no criteria for what makes a good show or album or book, and they don’t let us know what they didn’t read, watch, or listen to.
For me, I have watched
too many a lot of TV shows this year. I am a person who constantly wants to be submerged in stories. I love a well-told story, and television is my favorite medium for which stories are told. TV isn’t something that I just put on in the background and go about my day. I’m a studious watcher and student of the medium.
Over time I have learned what I like in a show, and it’s mostly great character development that I’m interested in rather than a complex plot. But if you can manage both, then that’s a rare show. That’s a great show. I want to connect with the characters of a story. I want to love them, hate them, root for them or against them. I don’t usually want a storyline to be predicable. I want to be kept on my heels. I want to cry, laugh, get mad, etc. Get me emotional. And generally speaking, that means that I’ll enjoy dramas more often than comedies.
There are so many great shows right now that it’s hard to have time to watch them all. And people get extremely passionate about why they love or a hate a show. I have a hard time hating a show. If I don’t like a show, I just stop watching it. Ain’t nobody got time for that! There’s too many great shows out there!
Here are my favorite shows of the year:
1. The Leftovers, Season 2 (HBO)
There’s probably not a more polarizing show on TV. Either you love it or hate it. That is very clear from any comment section you read of a review of this show. But put me in the love column. Season 1 was just intriguing enough for me to keep watching, and it was mostly just so I could try and figure out what the heck was going on. But they stepped it up in season 2 – a lot. I know it (rightfully) gets compared to Lost all the time because of writer Damon Lindelof, but it takes the best elements of Lost and intertwines it into a fascinating and mesmerizing show if its own. There’s really nothing about this show that I don’t like. I love that it has huge nagging questions. That it plays with our understanding of what is real and what is imagined. And I don’t think it is fair to criticize it for diving into the more mystical. I mean, the whole show is built upon the premise that 2% of the world’s population just disappeared! This show also had one of my favorite episodes of the year. I wrote about it here. Really hoping HBO renews this show despite how low the viewer count has been.
[UPDATE:] The show got renewed! (Unless we’re seeing things…)
2. Fargo, Season 2 (Fx)
Season 1 of this show was probably my favorite show of last year. It is hard to find a show with more consistent writing and an excellent cast of both actors you know and love and actors you’ve never seen before.
I’m pretty sure there was only supposed to be one season of this show. It was simply going to be a one season mini-series. But fans loved season one so much that it was obvious that there needed to be a second season. And man, I am so glad. They scrapped the entire cast of the first season, bumped the timeline back to 1979, and changed the location a bit.
The cast in this season is incredible. The storyline and the subtle Coen Brothers’ humor are second to none. It’s just about as perfect of a show that you can watch. It also contains one of my favorite unexpected LOL moments of any show that I’ve seen.
3. Mr. Robot, Season 1 (USA Network)
USA Network? Really? That was my thought when a friend told me to check out Mr. Robot and I asked him what channel it was on. This show is towards the top of my list because it too is just not like anything else I’ve seen on TV. It’s trippy, kind of dark, and keeps you guessing. There are definitely moments when you realize that your guesses about what was going on were right, and usually I’d say that’s a disappointment when watching a show, but for some reason it really just works in this show. And its cinematography makes it one of the most oddly beautiful shows on television. And how about a shoutout to Rami Malek’s mesmerizing eyes.
4. Louie, Season 5 (Fx)
Louis C.K. is the man. Seriously. His show these last few seasons have been so, so good. No one really matches his ability to seriously tackle real life issues with humor. The awkwardness is perfect. The storylines The way he has been stretching out his story arcs has been a lot more fun and interesting than his first couple seasons. And his girls on the show are the cutest kids in TV.
5. The Affair, Season 2 (Showtime)
I’m sure this show is polarizing too, but I don’t care. I think people who have a beef with this show just don’t appreciate great TV when they see it. The show’s device of telling the story from the different perspectives is done incredibly well. I especially love when we see the timeline overlap between two of the characters. As time has gone on, there has been less and less overlap, and that’s probably understandable. But this show has really tried to walk the line between character development and plot progression. Like the other shows at the top of this list, it’s a unique show. I haven’t seen anything quite like this show, and that makes this show that much more interesting because of it. But it’s hard to have characters that are not incredibly likable. It’s hard to root for an affair, broken relationships, drama. But that tension is what makes this show what it is.
6. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 1 (Netflix)
This show was so hilarious I ended up watching it one day. Tina Fey is such a great writer. As a fan of 30 Rock, my love for this show may be a bit wrapped up in some nostalgia. But it’s a great show in and of itself. This show definitely gave me more laughs than anything I’ve seen in a long time. Who would have thought that an escapee from an apocalyptic cult could be so hilarious? And this show wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for Ellie Kemper. She’s the only one that could pull off that role.
7. Mad Men, Season 7b (AMC)
Bittersweet. “The End of an Era” was its tagline. And indeed it was. Ending shows well is very difficult, but this last part of the seventh season was done very well. It was sad to see the gang broken up, but it made for some great storytelling. We were able to say goodbye to some of our favorite fictional characters on television in a way that was satisfying. Plus, the shot of Peggy walking into her new office is one of my favorite images of a show of all time. (See above.)
8. Rectify, Season 3 (SundanceTV)
Slow. Steady. Beautiful. Wrenching. Powerful. Challenging. Awkward. Thoughtful. Gripping. These are just a few words that come to mind when I think of this show.
Rectify is the slowest paced and most beautiful show on television. It’s first two seasons were mesmerizing. Aden Young might be the most mysterious actor on TV, pulling us into the world of what it looks like to be freed from jail after spending 20 years on death-row. The family drama. The emotional turmoil. The unclear truth about what all has really happened. What a story, and what a show. It’s got to be one of the most under appreciated shows on television. Being on SundanceTV probably doesn’t help it out much.
9. Game of Thrones, Season 5 (HBO)
Game of Thrones is such a cultural phenomenon that it probably is in most top 10 lists. There’s probably not a more complex storyline to have to follow on television that I know about. So many characters. So many plot lines. But by this point in the show we basically know everyone that is still around quite well. There were the moments that were very satisfying as a viewer, for instance we finally got to see Tyrion and Daenerys meet each other. And, well, dragons. We got to see Cercie experience some justice for all her evil plotting. There was also the outrage for going off script from the books, especially when it included an “unnecessary” rape scene. (That’s the episode that won an Emmy, though.)
Jon Snow. He’s dead though. Like, really. He’s dead. But will he come back as Ghost? As a White Walker? If Bran can do it, why not Jon Snow, too? We’ll find out in late April I’m sure.
10. Homeland, Season 5 (Showtime)
I’m guessing a lot of people gave up on Homeland by now. The last couple seasons were, hmm, not all that good. But this season has been much better. Carrie can’t escape the CIA or her former life as much as she’d like to. ISIS and Syria now play a part in the show, keeping up with current events. And there’s a mole that’s been a part of the CIA for 20 years that puts Carrie on the run, makes Saul suspect, and Quinn assigned to assassinate Carrie. It’s a little messy of a storyline, but it is captivating and its seeming plausibility keeps things interesting.
11. Master of None, Season 1 (Netflix)
I’m a huge fan of Aziz Ansari in general, and when I heard he was making his own show I immediately had the release date on my calendar. Like Louis C.K., Aziz tackles serious topics with mastery, blending the seriousness of the topic with humor, allowing for his audiences to empathize with his character. The fact that he has his real parents be his parents on the show is so great. Clearly not the best actors, but it makes it that much sweeter of a show knowing that is actually his mom and dad. The individual episodes are great in and of themselves, but when the ten episodes are put together you see an incredible accomplishment of a well told story challenging the status quo in what we’ve understood TV to look and sound like up to this point.
12. 12 Monkeys, Season 1 (SyFy)
I’m a sucker for anything dealing with time travel. And this show is almost entirely about time travel. It gets complicated, for better and worse, but it’s got to be the best thing SyFy has ever put out, right? This show definitely doesn’t have the best cast of all time, or the cleanest writing. But the premise is just so darn interesting it carries it a long way for me. Every episode made me want to see what would happen next. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the movie though, I can’t remember if it even really connects in any way. But the show stands on its own for me. It ended very strangely, and I’m curious how things will pick up in season 2.
13. Jessica Jones, Season 1 (Netflix)
Even though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every superhero movie, I’m just not really into them. They’re usually pretty flat, way too much action and not enough character development. I haven’t seen Netflix’s Daredevil, so maybe that’s good too, but Jessica Jones seems to depart from what we’ve come to expect from Marvel in some really great ways. Darker doesn’t automatically equal better, but in the case of this show it does. It’s raw. It’s diverse. It’s feminist. It’s great TV, and hopefully representative of what Netflix will continue to produce.
14. Masters of Sex, Season 3 (Showtime)
Time has passed. The book is published. Now what? Well, things slow down for one in this season. And it starts off with a real focus on the family lives of Masters and Johnson. This got scoffs from the viewers as being too boring, but in my opinion, it’s the best this show has been since the very beginning. This show made such a splash when it landed, probably because of the premise of the show, and maybe people have grown tired with it as it has aged passed its hot and spicy beginnings and into the complexities of long term relationships, babies, and family messes. It’s still a big win of a show with some great performances, especially by Lizzie Caplan.
15. Getting On, Season 3 (HBO)
My dad always told me he didn’t like the cartoon strip Dilbert because it was just too much like real life. My wife is a nurse, and she’s said the same thing about Getting On. I can understand that. This show is definitely awesomely awkward. The cast is great and their acting just about perfect. It’s weird because every time I watch an episode I squirm a bit, but I love it nonetheless. The characters are so consistent and believable that sometimes I think this is a documentary.
16. Silicon Valley, Season 2 (HBO)
I have absolutely no idea how accurate this shows portrayal of what life is like for developers and startups in Silicon Valley. But Mike Judge does a great job of making it seem believable and funny at the same time. You feel pity mixed with sympathy for these characters as they limp their way to hopefully creating a successful app of their own. A bunch of geeks trying to make it as a business in the cutthroat startup world makes for an entertaining show.
17. Better Call Saul, Season 1
There was so much buildup to this show after Breaking Bad ended I didn’t know if it could live up to the hype. It did and it didn’t. If you were hoping for this to be a continuation of the Breaking Bad formula, you were probably disappointed. But if you were hoping to get a closer look at one of Breaking Bad‘s best characters, then you got everything you were hoping for. The paced slowed way down for this show, and that was totally ok. I just wasn’t expecting it. It is very character centric and we got to see into the lives of proto-Saul and his extremely intelligent yet paranoid lawyer brother. We also got to see that overall, people don’t change. Saul here is the Saul we’ve always known, but just in his beginnings. We even learn the origin of Slipping Jimmy, a somewhat cheesy backstory to Saul’s con man way of life. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more interested in Mike’s backstory than I am Jimmy’s, but having these two characters in this show is definitely entertaining.
18. Veep, Season 3 (HBO)
There’s not a more quick witted and fast paced show on television. Veep may very well be one of the cleverest shows too. And probably the best executed show on TV as well, with maybe the exception of Fargo. It finally won the Emmy for Best Comedy, dethroning Modern Family after something like five years running. It was well-deserved. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is perfect, and as her character has gone from Veep to President, we see how the pressures of the office continue to grow stronger and stronger. The show is ridiculous, hilarious, inappropriate, and absurd. And yet, at the end of the day you wonder just how accurate this show may actually be.
19. Togetherness, Season 1 (HBO)
There’s just so much I love about this show. First of all the cast is great. Mark Duplass is a convincingly sad and sometimes pathetic father and husband. The rest of the cast is tremendous, and I love the synergy they have as a whole. It really makes the way they interact as friends and family hilarious and believable. The situations they encounter – the struggles of trying to make it in Hollywood, dealing with emotional baggage, sexual tension/boredom, and the complexities that come with a growing family are all so well written and performed on the show. And the Kick the Can episode is one of the best episodes of TV this year in my opinion. The show ended with a cliffhanger, one where I really found myself rooting for a certain result against all odds. Hopefully here in a month or so we’ll find out exactly what happened. Fingers crossed!
20. Bloodline, Season 1 (Netflix)
This show definitely had its ups and downs. The last four episodes were the best of the show by far, and it’s frustrating that it took that long to get there. This show has one of the most chilling murder scenes that I’ve ever seen on television. The cast is good overall, but there was always something about it that just felt a little off. I’m not sure why, and honestly it’s been a while since I watched the show, but the cast didn’t gel together in a way that really made them feel like they were truly a family. Bloodline barely makes it into my list, but the story was interesting overall and makes me think that Netflix is on the right path, but still needs to work on a few things if it plans to make more shows like this in the future.
Shows I watched that ended up being disappointing:
Girls, Season 4
I know that people love this show. I appreciate it for what it is. But with each season, I have liked it less. The writing is too obvious (and yes, it is is still much better than 90% of network TV shows). I find myself the most interested in Adam and Ray’s characters, which I feel bad for because this show is about the four girls, primarily Hannah. But I’ve grown to be more and more disinterested in Hannah and just really don’t care for her at all anymore. Maybe we’re not supposed to, I don’t know. But it doesn’t really make me want to watch it.
True Detective, Season 2
I can’t really call this show polarizing because most people seem to hate it. There was such a buildup of hype for this show after season one’s existential and nihilistic character driven series. This season was inconsistent. It had more lows than highs. The writing was sometimes uncomfortably cheesy for a show of this kind. Devices were a bit overused, and Vince Vaughn was not a good casting choice. He has like two facial expressions. The story was interesting overall, and even though it doesn’t make my top 20, I think it deserves more respect than what it got.
Orange is the New Black, Season 3
I know, I know. I didn’t like Girls and I didn’t like this season of Orange is the New Black. I swear it’s not because of the female casts. It’s just not that great of writing. I appreciate the boundaries they push. I appreciate the characters and the cast. But the writing is sometimes annoyingly obvious that I find myself rolling my eyes. I still watched it, and it wasn’t hate-watching either. I just was expecting more from it this season than what I got. But it is a wildly popular show, and overall I can see why. There’s really nothing like it on TV.
Quantico, Season 1 (ABC)
Watching this show has made me realize how much of a TV snob I am these days. I haven’t watched a network television show in a while. I mean, I watched the first two seasons of Hannibal which were incredible, and yet received some of the worst ratings. But other than that show, I pretty much stick to cable television. Quantico’s premise was intriguing enough for me to check it out. And as soon as I started watching it I realized that this was just an FBI soap opera where everyone is sleeping with everyone. The characters are surprisingly one dimensional despite them being FBI recruits. The acting on this show is sometimes downright bad, and other times kind of laughable. The plot has twisted and turned in ways that don’t really make sense. The jumping back and forth in time is simply a tool that has been used too often. Each episode’s flashback of challenges and lessons directly relate to the present day’s situation. Maybe some people like that, but I think it’s getting a bit tiring and overused.
Minority Report, Season 1
I remember when the movie Minority Report came out I loved it. I probably have watched it 10 times. So I was anxious and skeptical about this show. But, I remained hopeful. I watched the first few episodes and was pretty disappointed. I was really hoping for more. I like the backstory. I like how the characters are used, but the writing just seems sloppy. I am not caught up on the most recent episodes and they still remain towards the bottom of my list.
Heroes Reborn, Season 1
The first season of Heroes was so fun. I know that it wasn’t the best television, but it was fun. All the characters. All the different powers. “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” It was going somewhere. It was exciting. Then it went off the rails. The writers strike happened, and then it never really recovered. The last season had its moments, but it was pretty underwhelming.
I was excited about the idea of Heroes coming back. Especially with so many of the original cast members (Hiro Nakamura especially). The lack of Hayden Panettiere is painfully felt. It has been a long time since I last watched Heroes. And it is only now that I realize that Jack Coleman, the actor who plays Noah, is really not a good actor by any means and it’s unfortunate that he basically has the lead role in the show.
I only continue to watch this show out of loyalty to a show that I once loved, not because it’s actually a good show. I like the elements of time travel that have been used thus far. I’m hoping Hiro and his “son” will be featured more as time goes on.
Fear the Walking Dead, Season 1
I am not a big fan of The Walking Dead. I stopped watching it a season and a half ago. I mostly only watched it because of how wildly popular it was. But I just never really connected with the characters or thought it was all that great of a show. But I thought I’d give this one a shot. I was interested in the origin story.
But they didn’t really show exactly how it started. It already exists when the show starts, and then it quickly escalates. That surprised me, and was a bit disappointing. Now it just feels similar to the original show.
Critically acclaimed shows I didn’t get the chance to watch:
This show is at the top of my list to watch because the first two seasons were some of the best seasons of television that I’ve seen. I’m not one to enjoy gore or violence, but the show is so masterfully done that I feel like I can’t turn my eyes away.
I didn’t have a subscription to Fx when the first season came out, and I’ve always lamented the fact that I’ve never had the opportunity to watch this show. I hear nothing but awesome things about it, and it is constantly ranked as one of the best shows on TV.
I don’t get Cinemax, so I feel like I’m missing out on a great show.
You’re the Worst
Once again, missed the first season on Fx, and haven’t had the ability to watch the first season. I don’t want to just jump into the second.
I started to watch the first episode and got sidetracked somehow. I’ll definitely come back around to it. Especially after how much I enjoyed Jessica Jones.
Halt and Catch Fire
I didn’t think the show looked all the interesting to me when it first aired, but people seem to like it. Maybe I’ll catch up on it sometime now that it’s on Netflix.
The Walking Dead
I have my doubts that I’ll catch up on this show. I lost interest in last season and I think I finally gave up on it.
Another show on the top of my list. I’ve heard nothing but good things. But is it a comedy or a drama?
I love Bill Hader and Fred Armisen. I just don’t watch enough documentaries for me to feel like I’d get a lot of the jokes.
The CW, really? Apparently so. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this show, and it’s on Netflix now, so…
A Netflix show that I’ll probably get around to watching next summer during the lull of good shows.
Jane the Virgin, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat
I love that shows are directly countering what has been an obvious lack of diversity on television. I don’t get around to watching many network TV shows, but these three are definitely on the list.