Tag Archives: Ranking The Shows That I Watch 2014

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2014 Edition: Recap

15 Apr

The Americans

Here’s the final list. Take a good look, memorize it, and watch some more TV.

  1. The Americans
  2. Hannibal
  3. Transparent
  4. Mad Men
  5. Rick and Morty
  6. Game of thrones
  7. The Honourable Woman
  8. Broad City
  9. Olive Kitteridge
  10. Community
  11. New Girl
  12. Rectify
  13. Parks and Recreation
  14. Orange is the New Black
  15. Bob’s Burgers
  16. Veep
  17. Fargo
  18. Silicon Valley
  19. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
  20. Nathan for You
  21. True Detective
  22. Doctor Who
  23. Girls
  24. Sherlock
  25. Orphan Black
  26. Sons of Anarchy
  27. Louie
  28. The Bridge
  29. Justified
  30. The Mindy Project
  31. Jane the Virgin
  32. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  33. The Affair
  34. AMC’s The Walking Dead
  35. Masters of Sex
  36. Workaholics
  37. Boardwalk Empire
  38. 24: Live Another Day
  39. Archer
  40. Wilfred
  41. Downton Abbey
  42. House of Cards
  43. Helix

Also, just in case you want to read more about some or all of these shows, links:

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here and 23-20 here and 19-16 here and one-offs/shows ineligible for the list here and 15-12 here and 11-8 here and 7-4 here and 3-1 here.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 3-1

10 Apr

Finally, we’re here. The top three. All entering these heights for the first time, all in their second seasons or earlier. One on broadcast, one on basic cable, and one on amazon. Let’s do this.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here and 23-20 here and 19-16 here and one-offs/shows ineligible for the list here and 15-12 here and 11-8 here and 7-4 here.

3. Transparent – 2013: Not Eligible


I watch a lot of pilots. Most I dismiss out of hand. Some I consider, but eventually decide another episode isn’t worth my time. Some are borderline. Some I choose to watch another episode based on one or two aspects that strike my fancy. Some are solid. And very, very few inspire me, after simply one episode, to feel like I absolutely know I’m starting on a great show. Obviously you can only put so much material in one episode, so there’s at least a little bit of feeling and hunch that goes along with that distinction above and beyond what’s actually in the episode. Transparent had it though. Immediately, I know there was something there, and I hungrily devoured the remaining episodes in the course of a weekend. It’s a truly great show, and a great show in an area that hasn’t been covered much on TV lately. It’s about a family, and the hook is that the patriarch is coming out to his children as a self-identified female. That’s important, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Transparent is simply a transcendent family dramedy that makes you immediately want to watch the next episode regardless of any big plot points. The actors are great, the story is great, the characters are great.

2. Hannibal – 2013: 8


Hannibal has absolutely no right to be as good as it is. More or less, on paper, it’s a cop show, about an FBI agent who chases serial killers, often for an episode at a time, but sometimes over the course of several episodes. Hannibal is his mentor slash nemesis, manipulating him and befriending him at the same time. And yet Hannibal is so much more than that. The depth of Hannibal and Will’s relationship defies easy categorization. No show delves deeper into the depths of the human mind than Hannibal. Crimes, murder, in Hannibal, are about understanding, yearning for someone to figure out if anybody really knows anyone else. No show is more visually stunning than Hannibal; taking place as if in a dream world, which disturbingly blood and visceral displays of dead bodies that are troublingly startlingly beautiful. Hannibal’s cooking looks so delicious I want to eat it even knowing what went into it. The world of Hannibal is so much more than the sum of its parts, and there is no other experience like it on TV.

1. The Americans – 2013: 9

The Americans

When everything is working, everything is working, and The Americans was simply on fire in its second season. When The Americans started, I worried I’d tire quickly of its high concept premise, and get frustrated in particular having to root for monstrous characters who kill and maim and torture all in the service of an ultimately fickle and pointless cause. And on paper that still sounds right. But that’s not at all how it feels watching the show. The Americans is dynamic, and for all the killing and wigs and spy missions, the show is about family at least as much as it is about spies. The complicated cold war premise is a brilliant mechanism for discussing issues of secrets and lies, family and love, togetherness and loneliness. The layers of secrets and lies that run through The Americans is staggering. The season long plot unfolded brilliantly – and while the show can admittedly be somewhat on the nose, it’s so well done, and the characters are so fully formed that it entirely doesn’t matter. The Americans does something great shows do; it takes what start as side characters, and quickly makes them fully evolved; look at the FBI, or the Russian Rezidentura, which have become rich settings of their own right, not just merely in relationship to Elizabeth and Philip. A stunning finale capped off the season, with a twist that felt surprising but also well-earned and dealt with the season’s concerns while moving right into next season’s.

And there we are. Congrats, The Americans, congrats 2014. I’ll have a recap of the list up shortly.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 7-4

6 Apr

Second to last entry. We’re getting close to the top. One cartoon, one miniseries, and two familiar fixtures in the top 10 of these lists. Let’s do it.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here and 23-20 here and 19-16 here and one-offs/shows ineligible for the list here and 15-12 here and 11-8 here.

7. The Honourable Woman – 2013: Not Eligible

The Honourable Woman

If it’s a little hard to explain how a slow, deliberately paced character sketch like Olive Kitteridge hooks viewers, it’s incredibly easy to explain how British miniseries The Honourable Woman gets viewers on board. It’s a taut, suspenseful British spy thriller in a classic John le Carre vein. The Honourable Woman follows the ex-Israeli Jewish British brother and sister executives running a company that used to make weapons but now is attempting to install infrastructure in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Buried within their personal histories, their company’s history, and espionage agencies in the UK, US, Israel, and Palestine, are mounds of secrets and lies. Each episode slowly pulls off another layer of the onion that is the story, getting closer and closer to the truth. Every major character holds the truth close to the vest and knows more than some people but less than others. Moreover, The Hounrable Women, perhaps because of its miniseries format, has that very rare attribute: the truly satisfying ending. That is so hard to pull off but so beneficial, leaving a wonderful taste in my mouth as I think about the show months after watching.

6. Game of Thrones – 2013: 2

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is the best epic on TV, spanning dozens of characters and several far-flung locations. The sheer scope of the show in an incredible achievement that no mega-budget series can match, and the show constantly manages to smartly marry very human ideas with blockbuster spectacle. The series impressively avoids getting out of hand despite its breadth, cross-cutting and presenting coherent narratives within episodes in interesting ways, and honing themes about leadership, government, and power, among many others. While some of the fight scenes seem a tad long for a show that needs to squeeze hundreds and hundreds of pages into a ten episode season, they are never anything less than brilliantly directed and choreographed, the biggest this season being the battle at the wall. Admittedly, I’m biased by having read the books, and while I try to be self-aware of that bias, it seeps into my opinions on the show, sometimes favorably, and sometimes less so. Every episode a couple of changes bother me, and most I can put aside due to time constraints or other tv limitations, but occasionally there’s a glaring mess up. This season, the biggest was the Jaime – Cersei rape scene, which came off very differently than in the book, and the biggest problem may have been that the creators didn’t realize that what they put on screen was clearly rape. Still, there’s no show that feels like week-to-week event viewing more than Game of Thrones, no show that makes you look forward to every Sunday as if anything could happen.

5. Rick and Morty – 2013: Not Eligible

Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty debuted in 2013, but aired only three episodes. The out-of-nowhere-jump-to-the-top-ten pick of this year (the honorary Eagleheart slot), Rick and Morty is the story of the travels through time and space of Rick, a slightly behind-the-eight-ball teen and Morty, his alcoholic mad scientist grandfather. The characters are bizarro riffs on Doc and Marty from Back to the Future and the plots can get both insanely complicated and hysterically funny. Rick and Morty is hilarious but also engrossing science-fiction, rolling through tropes and homages both generic and specific, and mind-fuckingly confusing plots which reward repeated viewing and stand up as entertaining outside of the laughs. Multiple episodes heavily involve recursion, and the penultimate Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind posits an infinite number of dimensions with an infinite number of Ricks and Mortys. Rixty Minutes, on the other hand, featuring a series of interdimensional television programs was only funny, rather than plotty, but worked incredibly well anyway. Rick and Morty, for a series this off the wall, had a surprisingly high hit rate, and I can’t wait for it to come back.

4. Mad Men – 2013: 7

Mad Men

Mad Men has never had a bad season, but season 6 may have been its weakest. No more though, as the first half of season 7 sees the show back in top form, full of classic moments and episodes, that continue to pad the numbers on an already established inner circle hall of fame case. Only the annals of all-time lists await Mad Men. The season is much more dynamic than the prior season, which felt limited by its dreary Don-Sylvia romance and the didn’t-quite-deliver-on-the-amount-of-attention-paid-to-him Bob Benson. Pete, Peggy, and Don, were all in different places this year, but bonded for the Burger Chef account, which drove much of the middle of the season, with Peggy stepping in as troubled Don’s superior who, because he was still a partner, had only limited power over him, making their already complex relationship increasingly awkward. Roger gets his mojo back (remember when we all thought he was on the brink of a possible suicide attempt?) by assembling a deal to sell SC&P to McCann, overriding Jim Cutler, who eventually joins the unanimous vote to take the deal, because, well, it’s a lot of money. Don’s marriage with Meghan disintegrated, which had seemed inevitable for some time, after both made one more effort to keep something together that clearly wasn’t working any longer. The season went out in style, with an inspired tribute to the great Bert Cooper, which I really wanted to say should have felt totally out of place, but I can’t.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 11-8

27 Mar

We move into the top ten. Three comedies and an HBO miniseries. Moving on along…

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here and 23-20 here and 19-16 here and one-offs/shows ineligible for the list here and 15-12 here.

11. New Girl

New Girl

No show has had more ups and downs than New Girl. New Girl has for periods of times, in the 2nd season particularly, hovered among my favorites shows on TV, only to, after a stretch of great episodes, like a cartoon character, look down, realize there was nothing below it, and come back down to its frequent inconsistency. New Girl four seasons in still hasn’t quite figured out how to be at its best for any length of time and part of the reason is because the cast is so damn good that it keeps the quality of the show always one level above the writing, helping to downplay shoddily written episodes and not forcing the writers to dig deep and focus on what works. New Girl does get on these streaks of brilliance though, and one of these streaks was the first half of the fourth season, which made me temporarily forget about my frustration with the extremely up and down third season, as the show banged out classic episodes one after another, with two of the biggest winners being Landline and Background Check New Girl may never put together a whole season this great, but the fact that this streak has the show ranked this well tells you how high New Girl flies when all is well.

10. Community


I’ll make a comparison I’ve made many times before but still continues to stand. Community will never and has never enjoyed the startling consistency of former NBC-mate Parks and Recreation, but the show has moments where every aspect comes together and makes an entire season worthwhile in one episode. The fifth season was not the show’s strongest, though upon looking back at the episode list, it was much better than I remembered offhand. More episodes were hits than misses, and some of the hits were very good. Best, unquestionably, was Cooperative Polygraphy, where the group receives their bequeathments from Pierce’s will, and was the kind of episode that explains why people are fanaticall about Community. The writing and acting are both on fire and in sync; the show deals with Pierce, the lack thereof, the characters, their relationship, and the world, all while being very funny. Community has its problems, but it also explores areas few comedies do, which buys it some purchase on its shortcomings. It will never be a perfect show and its best days are likely behind, but it is singular and that characteristic in and of itself can be underrated.

9. Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge

I put off HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge for months, knowing little about its premise other than it was based on a book. Based on the name, I assumed the source material was from the late 1800s rather than 2008, and that it would be, even if eventually proven worthwhile, a slog to get through. And on paper, it seems like it should be. It’s depressing as hell and Kitteridge, played by the brilliant Frances McDormand, is frequently a miserable person, tearing down her less intelligent happy-go-lucky husband and son as she lashes out from her own serious depression. The miniseries follows her over a nearly 30-year period, as she and her family grow old. It accomplishes the impressively saddening double as you squirm in your seat at her behavior while feeling awful for her at the same time. Against all odds though, it’s actually incredibly riveting stuff. Watching is compelling, even without any obvious narrative hook (there’s no natural beginning, middle, or ending). Kitteridge is simply a deeply complex character, endlessly frustrating, and endlessly heartbreaking as well, from a place and a time where she didn’t have the proper outlets to help herself. Watch, and while during the first 20 minutes, you may feel like it’ll be hard to get through the whole thing, a short couple of hours later you’ll be wondering how you thought that before.

8. Broad City

Broad City

I knew Broad City existed, and I knew it was going to be good, but for some reason I can’t explain in hindsight it took me a few months to catch on with and one drunken evening to dive in and watch the first six in a row on demand. By year two, I was heavily anticipating each episode, watching it live, and sometimes watching it again soon after. Broad City for a time this year became the buzziest television half hour since Girls, and although the plaudits for best comedy on TV may have initially seemed to come too soon, they may just as well have been on the money. Broad City, more than any other show, takes place in my New York City, neighborhoods and places I know and recognize and speaks to my generation. Broad City doesn’t simply buck TV conventions by consciously doing the opposite. Rather it ignores those conventions completely, making the show as creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer see fit, entirely peripheral to when and where it fits in with conventions or avoids them. The show succeeds both in more sitcom-y episodes and in wacky gimmick episodes, such as Destination: Wedding, when Abbi and Ilana are rushing to get to a wedding on time by whatever mode of transportation gets them there. The side characters (Lincoln, Jaimé, Tre, etc.) are great and not to be underestimated, but the core friendship of Abbi and Ilana is even through just a single season one of the strongest on TV, and the center of everything the show builds around.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 15-12

18 Mar

Two comedies, one drama, and one Netflix show that straddles both worlds. Here comes 15 through 12.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here and 23-20 here and 19-16 here and one-offs/shows ineligible for the list here.

15. Bob’s Burgers – 2013: 14

Bob's Burgers

Parks and Recreation, which we’ll get to shortly, has often been hailed for being a comedy of nice; people generally like each other and want to help, rather than hurt one another, despite their differences, and it shows. Bob’s Burgers, an animated family show, rather than a workplace live-action comedy, embodies that same concept; the love between the family members runs deep, and no matter the fights and scuffles that occur over the course of an episode, at the end the Belcher family stands by one another. There’s an underlying warmth beneath Bob’s Burgers that never feels forced. Even Louise (the April of the show, though I like Louise much better than April, which is a completely separate issue that I’m not sure I know how to explain offhand) comes around to sticking with her family in the end. Bob’s Burgers is funny, which is important, because it’s a comedy, but even more than funny, Bob’s Burger’s is fun. No current show is more guaranteed to put me in a good mood, or turn my frown upside down, than Bob’s Burgers. I like to watch episodes right before I go to sleep in the hopes that they will transfer to good dreams.

14. Orange is the New Black – 2013: 19

Orange is the New Black

What was once a dirty little secret is now party line; as far as breakout Netflix shows go, Orange is the New Black is better than House of Cards. The second season served up more of what made the first so loveable, women of all stripes and colors and classes, struggling to make it in a prison system that continually beats them down (figuratively always and occasionally literally). The women manage to find ways to work together more than seems possible considering how often the system tries to pit them against one another. This season featured a big bad who was pretty much unredeemable – Vee, who started running heroin into Litchfield. Just about every character outside of Vee, however, is shown from all sides, complex and nuanced, and unlike the first season, even the prison employees get to be shown as not all bad. It’s impressive how many characters Orange is the New Black juggles, making minor characters feel worthy in small but important ways. Pathos is a specialty of Orange is the New Black, and no show vacillates between comedy and drama better, with hilarious moments followed by heart wrenching emotion.

13. Parks and Recreation – 2013: 11

Parks and Recreation

The sixth season was not the best season of Parks and Recreation. It was probably the weakest outside of the first when the show didn’t really know what it was and who its characters were (and maybe parts of the second, where it was still figuring itself out). That said, the fact that even a weaker season of Parks and Recreation can finish this high speaks to the sheer base levels the writers and actors have reached on this show on a season-to-season, episode-to-episode basis. Parks and Recreation is a first-ballot TV Hall-of-Famer. There were certainly signs this season of a show ready for the end, with some plots that felt like retreads of earlier plots (Tom’s Bistro was a poor man’s Rent-a-Swag) and I was ridiculously frustrated with the way the season ended, with Leslie bailed out from making a difficult decision that had been the focus of much of the season. Still, the show is always funny and the characters are so deeply developed by now that the gears move pretty well even when they’re not at their best. The creators and writers know their characters and actors so well that even when I think the plots are a little off, the emotions and the humor aren’t. This isn’t Parks and Recreation’s finest hour, but there’s a reason why Parks & Rec will go down as one of the best sitcoms of all time.

12. Rectify – 2013: 3


Rectify’s main contribution to television may be its ability to take slow, deliberate pacing, which is oft cited as a negative for many a show by myself and others, and ingeniously turn it into an asset. Rectify takes its own time and uses it to flesh out how protagonist Daniel Holden, recently released from death row after 20 years in a cell with little human contact, sees his family and the world anew. Daniel struggles to readjust, even as he still faces potential murder charges – the technicality on which he was set free only means the state will have to retry him from scratch. His family struggles equally, welcoming him home, as they want to be there for him, but aren’t sure how, and his return upends their lives. His sister played the most energetic role in freeing him, but is frustrated by her difficulties in getting him out of his shell. His youngest brother barely knew him at all. His stepbrother remains bitter towards him, resentful of how everyone treats a convicted murder as a returning prodigal son, but Rectify even makes sure to show him with humanity. Rectify tells a tale about a subject, and with a view, like no other show on TV, and while that in and of itself doesn’t make a show good, it remains a rare quality and impressive with a show that happens to be as good as Rectify.

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2014 edition: One-offs and Otherwise Ineligible Shows

11 Mar

Halftime, more or less. Time to comment on four TV shows and one-offs which for various reasons aren’t eligible for this list.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here and 23-20 here and 19-16 here.

Last Week Tonight

Last Week Tonight

John Oliver’s tenure as Jon Stewart’s fill-in during the summer of 2013 was nothing less than an unqualified success. John Oliver performed the impressive feat of keeping the format and sensibility the same while also imprinting the show with his own particular personality and brand of humor. After receiving universal praise for his run, the television world was his oyster. Would he hang on as the frontrunner to replace Stewart or Colbert should they leave? Before either announced they were stepping down, which seemed like it could have taken years at the time, HBO offered him a weekly show, and while he’d have been great at either the Stewart or Colbert slot, we should all be glad he took HBO up on their offer. He brought the finely honed sense of humor he had at The Daily Show but tweaked the format to do a deep dive into a big story every week, spending fifteen minutes on a topic which couldn’t be adequately covered in three, rather than simply going through a roundup of the biggest current news topics and Fox News buffoonery. He took the next logical step from The Daily show in really educating millennial viewers and impressively made a legitimate mark in the policy arena with his stories, having a noticeable impact on the net neutrality debate. The only thing more I can ask for from Last Week Tonight is for fewer weeks off a year.

Too Many Cooks

Too Many Cooks

A twelve-minute viral video that took the Internet by storm, Too Many Cooks first debuted late, late, at night (or, conversely, early, early in the morning) on Adult Swim, with no promotion, only to prove that viral culture is at least somewhat meritorious by naturally finding its way into a swarm of blogs and Facebook posts and tweets by way of the five viewers who probably actually saw it as it originally ran. Too Many Cooks was altogether fantastic, working, as the best comedy does, on multiple levels. First, it’s a spot-on send up of ‘80s and early ‘90s TV theme sequences, which it handled perfectly, shifting through sitcoms first, but then police dramas, and later primetime soaps. Secondly, it ventures into a sillier vein, with more ridiculous characters and strange and unlikely situations. Next, it moves into more absurdist mode as a serial killer ventures through the different worlds and the sequences collide and run into one another. Everyone has a favorite name and favorite entrance, and while I wasn’t (and probably still am not) as in love with the creepy murderer part of the short, I am in love with about everything else, and particularly the sci-fi Star Trek/BattleStar Galactica pastiche. Enough words have been written about Too Many Cooks that I doubt I can add anything new, but I’d be remiss if I talked about 2014 in television without giving it a mention.

The Ending of The Colbert Report

The Colbert Report

Everyone who knows me knows that Stephen Colbert is my absolute favorite and that The Colbert Report was thus my absolute favorite. My love of the Report is an accepted part of my personality. Even before he received his own show, I loved Stephen Colbert, as my favorite correspondent on The Daily Show. When he got his own show, I loved everything about it almost from day one, and as it slowly figured out what worked best and really grew into itself, it was a four-time weekly treat. I consistently called it a contender for the funniest show on TV, even as it aired many, many more episodes than half hour scripted show, which appeared at most 22 times a year. I was obsessed with many a Colbert bit. Stephen Colbert’s Alpha Squad 7: Lady Nocturne: A Tek Jansen Adventure. Formidable Opponent, in which he argued against himself, his hatred of bears, and the On Notice and Dead to Me lists, three wonderful bits which all disappeared about halfway through the show’s run. Better Know a District. The Atone Phone. Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A, my favorite recurring segment, which became more prominent later in the show. There are so many moments, and bits, and video clips, and examples of Stephen breaking that send me into fits no matter how many times I watch them. While I’m still devastated by the show’s end, I wish Colbert nothing but the best, and hope that I’ll form some attachment to his Late Show run, though I have my doubts. I’ll always have those ten years though.

Black Mirror Christmas Special

Black Mirror

The British are big believers in the Christmas special, a once a year extra long event episode whose events are entirely separate from the most recent season of the show. These Christmas specials can exist even when the show hasn’t aired otherwise for a year, as in the case of Black Mirror, and the Black Mirror Christmas special was a knockout, possibly the best episode of the series yet. There were three interlocking plots that each hits Black Mirror’s sweet spot, dystopian future technology that’s both far enough out of reach to feel like mild science fiction but close enough for the potential ramifications to feel very real. The special was enthralling, chilling, and as silly and pretentious as this sounds, did actually make you think; my friends and I chatted about it eagerly for a while after. Thinking be damned, though, it was an excellent hour and a half or so of entertainment. If you are at all interested in starting the series but are on the fence, this would be a great episode to reel you in.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 19-16

4 Mar

We’re halfway there. Four more. Young series all. Two debuts, a second year, and a third year, three comedies, and a drama. Let’s go.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here and 23-20 here.

19. Brooklyn Nine-Nine – 2013: 16

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Co-created by Parks and Recreation creator Michael Schur and writer Dan Goor, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was more fully formed out of the box than Parks and Rec. While Paks and Rec modeled itself after the Office, Brooklyn Nine-Nine modeled itself after Parks and Rec. Parks and Rec took itself from a shaky at best first season to an excellent second season, and while Brooklyn Nine-Nine started higher, and has remained up to first season standards, it hasn’t quite made that jump. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, no matter what else, a very solid, funny, and enjoyable show, and I look forward to watching it every week. Andre Braugher is a national treasure who should be kept in a museum when not filming the show for preservation purposes. I mean it as a sign of my high expectations for the show rather than an insult to say that Brooklyn Nine-Niane, while continuing to be good, hasn’t quite become transcendent the way recent similar network comedies The Office, 30 Rock, and Parks & Recreation did at points relatively early in their run. Brooklyn Nine-Nine always has some laughs, but it can be a little inconsistent, it hasn’t always found its own tone, and most of the characters are still working towards really being fully formed. Parks didn’t really hits its heights until the third season though, so I haven’t lost hope for this jump yet, and I’ll continue to laugh away in the meantime.

18. Silicon Valley – 2013: Not Eligible

Silicon ValleyA new entrant on this list, Silicon Valley is a spot on satire of the tech sector and is laugh-out-loud funny to boot. Only in actually watching Silicon Valley did I realize how shocking it was that there hasn’t been a well-regarded satirical take on such an easily parodied industry that has played such an important role in the American cultural landscape for nearly two decades. Silicon Valley takes advantage of this lapse and mines the industry for all its worth. It seems (from external sources including my brother who worked there) that there is lots of truth to Silicon Valley’s portrayal, even if gets some details wrong or exaggerates for comedic purposes. The show definitely has a bit of a woman problem; and while some of that is endemic to the premise of the show (it would be more dishonest realistically to have a group of programmers as split evenly between male and female), dragging the one female character into a romance with the protagonist that doesn’t really fit on screen is forced at best. The characters can on occasion be a little cartoonishly nerd-like, and though the touch is gentle and loving, the nerds-can’t-function-in-society button is hit one too many times. Still, Silicon Valley delivered an extremely promising and funny first season, which gives me great anticipation for the second. Lastly, a moment for the late Christopher Evan Welch who may well have been the break out performer if he wasn’t tragically felled by lung cancer; his venture capitalist Peter Gregory was a delightful weirdo.

17. Fargo – 2013: Not Eligible


Fargo began from an unusual idea; creator Noah Hawley didn’t want to remake, or make a sequel or prequel to the much-lauded 1996 Coen brothers movie Fargo. Rather, he wanted to set a similar story in the world of Fargo, keeping the tone and atmosphere that make that film so successful. It was an unusual idea and a bold one (the closest I can think of offhand is Ron Moore’s BattleStar Galactica remake – but that was almost the reverse – the new show appropriated characters and concepts, but changed the tone completely). For the very most part, it worked, and was one of the best new shows of the year. The show deftly married dark humor and riveting drama, created similar analogues to the movie’s characters that were different enough to stand up to the rigor of a TV season where characters have to develop and grow. The four major characters were each entertaining and brought something different to the show, and many of the secondary characters were treats as well, as Fargo made good use of playing comedic actors in more dramatic roles. A couple of plotlines seemed out of nowhere, weaving in and out with no real purpose or resolution, and a couple of the characters felt oddly used, sometimes under, and sometimes over. Still, overall, Fargo brought the most important ingredient to its success consistently; its tone; dark, comedic, with an underlying small town warmth.

16. Veep – 2013: 27


Veep has been a steady climber in these rankings. I watched its first season, finding it amusing enough to keep up with, but not to make it a must watch immediately – it frequently got pushed below the hoard of other Sunday shows, and was eventually viewed later in the week. The second season was better. All of a sudden, I made more of an effort to watch sooner. The dialogue crackled a little more. The cast seemed to be more familiar with one another’s timing and comic beats – the chemistry between nearly every two-person pair was sparkling. The third season ramped it up another level. It’s easy to see why Veep, a modest comedy which doesn’t go for the loud humor of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the high-concepts of Community, or the emotional depths of Parks and Recreation, hides under the radar, but it’s snuck its way to being one of the best comedies on television. Veep simply put together a season of being consistently minute-by-minute funny.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 23-20

25 Feb

Four more on the docket – a first year show, a second year show, a third year show, and an eight year going on 35th year show.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here.

23. Girls – 2013: 26


As Girls moves firmly into its fourth season, the great hype and controversy that accompanied its start have mostly fallen away in favor of the meat-and-potatoes business of making television, one season at a time. Here, Girls has a mixed record. Girls remains constantly interesting TV even when it struggles. Almost every Girls episode contains bits of strong material, and every season contains a couple of really strong episodes where the show forgets its shortcomings for a half hour and puts it all together. “Beach House,” the seemingly annual episode that really brings the four titular girls together for 30 minutes was one, and “Flo” which featured Hannah saying goodbye to her dying grandmother was another. Girls always seems to have a hard time giving its four primary characters the screen time and arcs they need to really dig in to their characters in depth and propel their storylines forward. Hannah is consistently the most fleshed out, and though the character can drive me crazy sometimes, she’s generally well-built. As for Shoshanna, Marnie, and Jessa, well, not as much; Girls’ boys Ray and Adam are often more interesting. Sometimes it doesn’t quite make sense why they’re all friends, although I vacillate on how much of a problem that actually is. As frustrating as Girls can be though, I’ve never considered stopping watching, and while some of that is because it’s so easy (a mere 12 half hour episodes a season) some is because no matter what I at least count on Girls to offer up something interesting which in and of itself raises it above many other shows.

22. Doctor Who – 2013: Not eligible

Doctor Who

I completed a years-long catch up of the new Doctor Who (meaning starting with the 2005 ninth doctor Russell T. Davies edition) last year, and while I’ll never be a true obsessive, I grew to really enjoy the show. Relative expectations were key to enjoyment. Breaking Bad or Mad Men Doctor Who isn’t. Doctor Who is pure fun at its best, all about the journey rather than destination. There’s always a deus ex machine coming in the nick of time to solve whatever convoluted crisis the doctor has got himself into and there are no long-held rules that can’t be broken on a whim because the Doctor says so. While technically a science fiction show, it’s as soft as science fiction can get, sometimes, at its best, sharing a sensibility with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Doctor Who has done an excellent job casting Doctors, which has been essential to really making the show work, and the 12th doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, is no exception. A crankier, older, slightly more cynical doctor is an excellent contrast to the past few Doctors to keep the show interesting. Doctor Who is definitely not for everyone, and the lack of serial-ness makes it stand out in an increasingly serial world television world, making it feel less like essential viewing. Still, during its best episodes Doctor Who cleverly blends a combination of sci-fi, fantasy, action, and horror tropes with witty banter, a silly irreverent tone, and memorable antagonists, and can be a whole lot of fun.

21. True Detective – 2013: Not eligible

True Detective

True Detective absolutely took over the internet for eight weeks last winter, and was hailed as the second coming, before a slow, slight backlash put the promising HBO debut back where it belonged to be all along, as a very good, very solid debut season, but one that was not truly transcendent. The appeals of True Detective are obvious and plentiful. The direction is brilliant, as is the cinematography; the one-take ending the fourth episode may not entirely all come together from a plot perspective, but it’s a startling and visually stunning technical achievement. The acting is excellent. The story, well, it’s definitely good, and I found the mystery satisfying all the way through, though some did not – anyone who expected a major victory rather than a minor one wanted a different show. True Detective was definitely a bit exploitative, on top of merely the lack of strong female characters, which plagues many television shows, including many good television shows, the depiction of female nudity often felt gratuitous and added little to nothing to the show. The layers of myth and aura and the general Rust Cohle-ness which provided the show with much of its tone could be ham-handed sometimes and a bit much, but at the same time was essential to the very core of the show. On the whole, I don’t want to be down on the show; I merely want to tamper down the initial euphoria, though time has probably done that. True Detective, despite dealing in the most trod over profession in all of TV, was interesting because of its direction and because of its tone, and I look forward to the second season.

20. Nathan for You – 2013: Not eligible

Nathan for You

A show unlike any other show on this list, Nathan for You involves enough unscripted interaction with real people that I almost deemed it ineligible for this list. But I didn’t, so here it is. Nathan for You’s high-concept is that comedian Nathan Fielder is a business expert who is looking to help struggling small businesses with new innovative strategies. Of course, these strategies are silly, absurd, and sometimes downright asinine, and watching the process is frequently hilarious. There are several different types of stories within this range on the show. Sometimes the idea is out there but oddly clever, sometimes it’s too stupid for words. Sometimes Nathan gets along well with the business owner and other characters and they seem to be on the same page, sometimes he has antagonistic relationships, and sometimes the awkwardness borders on the most awkward that British comedy has to offer. Some segments are short and sweet, some spin out of control and take up a entire episodes. Nathan for You can be hit and miss, but when it hits, it is laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes even offers oddly poignant social commentary to boot. The defining episodes of last season were “”Souvenir Shop / E.L.A.I.F.F.” and “Dumb Starbucks,” both full episode tour de forces that saw Nathan taking his ideas to extremes in order to comply with contract and parody law.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 27-24

20 Feb

Onwards to 27-24. Two shows coming off a rest year, one drama in its last season, and one sci-fi drama.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here.

27. Louie – 2013: Not eligible


Louie took me a long while to really sink firstmy teeth into, longer than most. By the end of the two seasons, I more or less recognized its general excellence and groundbreaking features even while I would never quite have ranked it as highly as many TV fans and critics. Still, Louie, by refusing to confine to TV norms, has continued to put out an excellent product. Louie, understandably, took off a year between the third and fourth seasons to take the time to come up with new ideas. Unfortunately, in this past fourth season, the show made its first prolonged missteps. There were strong moments to be found; the mini-movie, “In the Woods” which harkened back to Louie’s childhood was charming, sweet, and affecting, if not groundbreaking, and the episode in which Louie dated an overweight woman, portrayed by Sarah Baker, set the internet afire, stroking up worthy conversations which didn’t necessarily have obvious answers. The second half of the season, though, the Pamela episodes in particular, stopped being charming and instead because occasionally troubling, sometimes unfunny, and for once, what Louie never was: TV. At its absolute worst was a scene in which Louie clearly sexually assaulted Pamela, which the show didn’t seem to get, but that troubling scene aside, dating Pamela brought out Louie’s worst wish-fulfillment wanting-to-love-being-in-love qualities, with Pamela as the demonic manic pixie dream girl. If the show used this to continue to show how poor a match Pamela and Louie were, this would be understandable, but it seemed to keep trying to bring them together against the objections of sense and logic.  Louie has earned enough leeway to continue to be must-see television, but last season it seemed to finally lose a little steam.

26. Sons of Anarchy – 2013: 29

Sons of Anarchy

A member of FX’s breakthrough generation of dramas, alongside Justified, Sons of Anarchy’s last season was fairly emblematic with its entire run, filled with strong points, continually struggling to figure out who its best antagonists are, and dropping the ball occasionally in critical situations. About half of the episodes were really strong and packed with plot which really brought the season into motion, with a powerful sense of forward momentum. The other half felt like filler episodes indicating there was enough plot movement for an 8 episode final season stuffed into 13 episodes. The penultimate episode was the true finale; momentous and moving, though many of the plot developments which occurred had become inevitable, they still packed weight. The actually finale was not bad as much as anticlimactic; everything had been determined the episode before and there were no surprises. The show successfully developed a second wave of strong secondary characters like Wendy and Nero in the second half of the show’s run which led to a late renaissance, but the unrelenting meaningless cycles of violence and two gangs squaring against the others while Sons utter “no more bloodshed” could get tiring and repetitive. Sons of Anarchy’s place in the TV canon may take time to settle, but for now, I’m putting it firmly in the grade B second tier, with shows like Dexter and Battlestar Galactica.

25. Orphan Black – 2013: 20

Orphan Black

I’m going to come right out and say what anybody watching both seasons of Orphan Black is thinking. Orphan Black’s plot is pretty stupid. At best, it feels like a giant MacGuffin for the character interaction between clones which is the beating heart of the show, whuile at worst, it feels like a stuttered descent into science fiction nonsense. The creators have no real plot goal, and simply must dig a deeper and more techno-bio-babble ditch every season to keep going. Why do I keep watching and why is it not ranked lower? Well, in short, Tatiana Maslany, who does an acting job unlike any other in TV. She’s brilliant as every clone and most of the best and most important characters, and when the show is on, it’s extremely fun to watch. Like watching 24 at its best, the lack of ongoing plot coherence matters less because you’re enjoying yourself in the here-and-now. Alison is the obvious hilarious highlight character, but Maslany is a delight whenever on screen, even when just about nothing makes sense around her. Her banter with Felix is a treat, as he is the one non-Maslany character worth caring about in the entire show. Orphan Black definitely risks going off a cliff if it sucks the fun out with meaningless plot, which it hinted out at the end of the last season, but I still believe there’s a path there for its success.

24. Sherlock – 2013: Not eligible


Sherlock is another show, like Orphan Black above, that hinges on the delightful and joyous interaction between the primary characters. Sherlock’s third season was overall not as strong as either of the first two, but the obvious chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Martin Freeman’s Watson make the show fun even when the plot isn’t, as in the third episode, which promises big things, only to be somewhat disappointing and anticlimactic. Unlike the first two seasons, whose middle episodes were their respective seasons’ weakest, the middle here is the clear winner, as it places even more emphasis than usual on the comedy of the Sherlock-Watson interaction, with the two going on a bachelor party (or stag night, as the Brits call it) for John, bonding, and making wonderful idiots out of themselves. The plotting was not as tight as the first two seasons, but because of Freeman and Cumberbatch if nothing else, I’ll continue to watch Sherlock as long as they make it.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 edition: 31-28

13 Feb

Four more shows on my list. A great show coming off its worst season, a cancelled show coming of its best, a new show, and a consistently good but not great sitcom.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here.

31. Jane the Virgin – 2013: Ineligible

Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin is an excellent new entrant to the TV sphere. The first word that comes to mind as emblematic of the show is delightful. Jane is more than that – it’s funny, clever, heartwarming, and emotion-packed, but on the whole, in the wake of so much heavy, humorless, prestige television, like the recently covered AMC’s The Walking Dead, Jane the Virgin is a real pleasure to watch. The writers traipse across the world of telenovelas and soaps with a winking meta-eye, but in the course of that wondering, develop a world of characters we care about. The best of these are Jane and her family, including her mother, grandmother, and recently discovered father, all of whom (except occasionally Jane, who is occasionally a little too sainted) are riddled with believable flaws, and then strung together by love and the ability to see past these flaws for the bigger picture. Gina Rodriguez delivers an absolute breakout performance as Jane who centers the show. The overall vision is occasionally muddled; from episode to episode, the tone can be inconsistent, veering more serious, or more humorous, more real, or more absurd, but on the whole, Jane the Virgin is a treat.

30. The Mindy Project – 2013: 30

The Mindy Project

The Mindy Project has struggled to find itself, with many minor problems over its first couple of seasons. The one major problem was the show’s utter inability to develop solid supporting characters, which continues to this day. The show got one thing really, really right though, and it had the smarts, like The Bridge which I wrote about earlier, to recognize what the core of the show should be when it appeared even if it wasn’t part of the initial plan. In the first two seasons, Mindy went through a series of love interests, several which were more appealing than most of the other regular characters on the show, until she finally started dating Danny. While I’ve often complained about the cheap and unsatisfying strategy of going to the main-characters-dating-each-other well, Mindy is an example of a show in which that trope simply works. Mindy and Danny as the core of the show are strong, both as individual characters and in their relationship. The show is still constantly struggling to work around them. Side characters are in and out, the show has struggled to make meaningful plots using Jeremy, the only other remaining character from the premiere, while Adam Pally, who had been the best tertiary character outside of Morgan, is leaving. The Mindy Project has the Mindy and Danny relationship, however, despite all that, and that counts for a lot.

29. Justified – 2013: 5


Justified has been, over the course of its life, a great, not good, show, and it pains me to put it so low. Unfortunately, in this golden age of television, one slip, like this past weakest season of Justified had, and so many other show are ready to jump right ahead. The fifth season, after a promising start, was largely a disappointment. The writers didn’t really know where they wanted to go, and it showed. Justified relies on its antagonists to provide a strong contrast for our heroes; like the better seasons of Dexter, the antagonist is in some part, a vehicle against which Raylan Givens measures himself. The rival Crowe family, led by Wendy, a lawyer trying to go legit, and her brother, Darryl, part somewhat competent and somewhat incompetent crime boss, and the Kendal, a boy torn in the middle. Justified specializes in both competent and incompetent criminals, and it seemed as if it couldn’t make up its mind about which one Darryl, the lead antagonist should be. Eva’s prison side plot had potential but felt disjointed throughout. While even this inferior season had occasional highlights, including the performance of surprisingly excellent kid actor Jacob Lofland of Mud as Kendal, the season on the whole was a letdown.

28. The Bridge – 2013: 40

The Bridge

The first season of The Bridge was a mess. There was potential, and some things worked, but it never quite came together. The two main actors were fine, and the idea of exploring the border between Mexico and Texas and the drug trade which overwhelms everything else in the area was promising. That exploration though seemed to just be a stalking horse for a psychopathic serial killer with a personal vendetta against one of the protagonists, which was a disappointment. The second season, though, exhibited a rare quality. The creators clearly went back, saw plainly what worked and what didn’t, and doubled down on what worked, while slowly peeling away what didn’t. This seems like an obvious approach, but it’s shocking how infrequently it happens, either because writers don’t see what’s wrong with their shows, don’t want to see, don’t want to risk messing up what they have, or feel unable to improve it. The reporter side characters, a highlight of the first season, had much larger parts, while Charlotte and creepy Linder, obvious weak points, were slowly written out. Rather than one freak serial killer, the season dived into the murky corruption and government rivalries and tensions at the heart of the Mexican-American relationship. Because of this stark improvement, I was particularly saddened that The Bridge was cancelled. It’s sad to see a show really finding its feet only to have its head chopped off.