This has been a great year for television. There’s so much high quality TV out there right now that you’d have to be a full-time TV critic to see it all (or be our buddy JoJo). So I had to compile my list with apologies to a number of shows I would have liked to get to but didn’t have the time: Boardwalk Empire; Broadchurch; Rectify; Justified; Black Mirror; and others I was less interested in watching but were still highly regarded (Southland; The Good Wife; Enlightened; Orphan Black). Without further ado:
#10) Masters of Sex
This show is definitely a different speed from the normal shows I like. The characters Michelle Ashford has brought to screen take time to get to know, but once you do, they effectively invoke feelings whether they be good or bad. I can tell you I really don’t like Bill Masters or Ethan Haas, while Dr. Langham is my boy. And you gotta love the sweet, doe-eyed, naive Jane. This was far from my favorite show this year, but it gave me enough that I’m sticking around for year 2.
#9) House of Cards
This was the perfect show for Netflix. It was soooo bingewatchable. That format also allows you to gloss over the show’s flaws, such as why there’s only one lobbyist in all of DC (Remy). I found the show to be very entertaining, if somewhat ridiculous, and I think Corey Stoll’s performance at Pete Russo deserves recognition.
#8) Eastbound & Down
This show sits in a unique place genre-wise. Ostensibly a comedy, as I said in my review it really deals with a number of serious themes in legitimate ways. While Kenny fuckin Powers may get into more drug-infused hijinks than the average bear, he also handles emotions like a real person. He is sometimes blinded by his own ambition, he deals with the fallout from hurting his friends, he discovers what it takes to be a good man, and so on. Kenny rightly deserves to be discussed with the other great shows this year.
Archer has the best inside joke comedy on TV. It’s the kind of comedy where the writers decide they’re gonna put these jokes in whether or not people get them, but for the people who do they will be hilarious. They just assume that their brand of humor will be liked by the audience, and they are right on. Fortunately, in addition to all the Burt Reynolds references the show very consistently self references as well, and as a loyal fan I’m always laughing at that stuff (sidenote: DANGERZONE). It’s kinda carrying on the mantle of Arrested Development, and I bet it’s no coincidence that a ton of the voices come from that show. This past season kicked off with an Archer-Bob’s Burgers crossover (H. Jon Benjamin plays the lead voice in both shows), and even though I don’t watch Bob’s Burgers I still found it hilarious. I find myself watching reruns of this show all the time, and I’m happy to put it at #7 on my list this year.
This is the other show I am constantly watching reruns of. While Archer has the best inside joke humor, Veep has the best insult humor. Whether it’s someone making fun of Jonah for being a giant, Mike about his boat, Dan about being a networker, or Chuck Furlong insulting his pushover chief of staff, the one-liners in this show consistently have me laughing out loud. I can’t underscore enough how happy I was for Tony Hale to win an Emmy this year, and I look forward to watching Gary whispering sweet nothings into Selina’s ear for many more years.
#5) South Park
Yes, I know I put the comedies back to back to back, but that’s because they helped divide the real heavy hitters from the other dramas I still liked. I’m giving the nod to South Park in the #5 slot partly because it was a hilarious season, and partly because the show has been so depressingly weak recently that it was surprising and uplifting to see that Matt and Trey still have this kind of work in them. The 3 part Game of Thrones spoof was obviously the highlight, with the ‘brack box bunduru’ probably being my favorite line, although all the Japanese stuff with princess Kenny was great as well. They didn’t end on a bad note either though, as the Butters centric finale had great lines as well. Butters said a girl was too fat for him, Kanye West kept making sure his wife wasn’t a hobbit, and so on. I’m really happy to see this show still has its fastball.
#4) Game of Thrones
Without a doubt, Thrones is the hour I look forward to every week when it’s on TV. I was a big LOTR fan and I loved the original 3 Star Wars movies. I just really enjoy getting absorbed in a new world. This season was definitely stronger than season 2 (aside from the whole stupid Theon plot), as Benioff and Weiss clearly learned better how to balance the large cast of characters they hold. Charles Dance as Tywin delivered the performance of a lifetime as he ruled like the cold-hearted patriarch he is. Of course there was the Red Wedding, which was both shocking and significant in removing some pieces from the chess board. Daenarys also wasn’t as whiny as she was last season. She has built up confidence and ruthlessness as her army grows. I feel very confident in saying this show will remain a top 5 staple as long as it’s on the air.
#3) The Americans
Rookie of the year! The Americans came out of nowhere to snatch the #3 spot on my list, led by the brilliant work of Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich. Both the Russians and Americans were played so well that I wasn’t sure which side I was rooting for. Obviously I didn’t want Philip and Elizabeth to succeed in bringing down America, but I also didn’t want them to be caught. The show does a great job of using one side’s story to thematically parallel the other (starting with the opening credits), and after only 14 episodes I already have an emotional attachment to these characters. Now I just have to pray they don’t go the way of Homeland and have a sophomore slump…
#2) Breaking Bad
All the praise about this show has already been given, and I don’t need to rehash it here. Likely the best show on television until it ended, the final 8 episodes were still incredibly strong. If the show had ended with Ozymandias, it probably ends up as #1 on my list. However, there were still 2 more episodes to go, and the ending ultimately disappointed me. Now when we look back on this show, those will only be 2 of the 62 episodes that are brilliant as a whole, but as I sit here today I still have the ending on my mind. Everything just felt too tidied up for a show that consistently relied on the unforeseen consequences of part of a Walter White plan backfiring. It felt a little tonally off, and I still lament over what they could have done in the New Hampshire wilderness if they didn’t need to compact all the story into only 8 episodes.
#1) Mad Men
I fucking love Mad Men. As the seasons have worn on and the show has turned from being about Don Draper’s secret identity to character studies of all the people in the SCDP (and now Sterling Cooper & Partners) office, I have grown to love it even more. I thought Betty had perhaps her strongest season, insightfully observing how Don easily falls in love but then falls away. Ted Chaough was an interesting addition as both a love interest for Peggy and a foil for Don. Pete has a year where nothing seems to go his way, and somehow the guy everyone has hated for years finally garners sympathy. Joan makes some business moves. BOB BENSON. And this. It was a very good year to be Matthew Weiner.
Others receiving consideration: 30 Rock; Orange is the New Black; The Daily Show; Top of The Lake; Shameless