I did my Top 20 movies, so I decided to do the same with TV. Lot’s of good stuff this year, and a lot of the stuff that just missed the list is as good as the bottom quarter of this list. A lot of it has the problem of not being recent, so I don’t remember it that well. Here is the list:
20. The Boys – This show is dark and cynical and gory, descriptors that would normally kill any interest I have in a work of fiction. However, while The Boys is all of that, there is a surprising amount of heart hidden underneath that. The show, at least in the first season, is ultimately less cynical that it wants the viewer to believe it is. What made the show work for me is the surprisingly heartfelt romance between Hughie and Annie, showing that there are also good and human people in this show, along with all the cartoon monsters.
19. Dear White People – I loved the first two seasons of Dear White People; this third season is still good, but it feels a little more scattered than the previous two. The show has always been an ensemble that alternated viewpoint characters from episode to episode, but Samantha has largely been the axis the show has turned on. This season made a conscious effort to turn the focus elsewhere, and it destabilizes the show somewhat. It is still good, and I am looking forward to the fourth season, but this one was a step down from the previous two.
18. Carnival Row – First of all, and this goes for the next show on this list as well, I am already completely annoyed that any show that is even remotely fantasy is going to be reviewed as though it was trying to be Game of Thrones, even if it shares as little with that show as, for example, Carnival Row does. Carnival Row, with its fantasy Victorian setting and murder mystery set up, is almost perfectly crafted to be something I love. And I did love it, I think. I greatly enjoyed watching the show, I am just not sure if it is actually any good. Still, I enjoyed it enough to put it on the list. I might rewatch it to see if that enjoyment holds up.
17. The Witcher – This is the most recent show on the list, and after I sit with it for a while it might go up or down on this list. Right now, it is resting in a pleasant afterglow. I don’t know that this show made the best use of its eight episodes, taking a little too long to get to what it is setting up as the main plot. However, I was much less interested in that plot than I was in Geralt going around fighting monsters and learning that man is the real monster. I would be into this show if it was just a big budget Hercules The Legendary Journeys, but it is more than that. I am really looking forward to more of this.
16. Santa Clarita Diet – The third and final season of this show continued to be excellent. That excellence was in large part due to the performances of Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant especially. The rest of the cast is good, and there are a lot of solid guest appearances, mostly from stars of other excellent TV comedies, like creator Victor Fresco’s underrated previous show Better Off Ted. I am really sad to see this show go, especially as it didn’t quite appear to be finished. I don’t know that they could have found a satisfying ending to it, but at least it left off at the end of a section of the story, and not a complete cliffhanger.
15. Brooklyn 99 – I really enjoyed the first season of this show on NBC. It is in that solidly comfortable part of the lifetime of a show. Other than Chelsea Peretti, who is both great and whose character was kind of an odd fit for the show, the cast does not seem interested in moving on. The show just continues a string of routine excellence.
14. GLOW – This show has done an amazing job of building up its cast. This season has the crew doing the show as a nightly Vegas show, with the cast getting a little stir crazy stuck in Las Vegas for the time their contract runs, with many of them finding interests outside of show. It is just really entertaining television.
13. Bob’s Burgers – See what I said above about Brooklyn 99. Bob’s Burgers is also routinely excellent. Just shockingly few misses. Each episode adds something or someone new to the show. One offs become recurring characters, one episode obsessions become part of characters. None of it feels like they are doing anything but growing organically. I hope this show runs forever and I hope
12. Unbelievable – I know a lot of people who have this show much higher, and I can’t say they are wrong. This is the lowest it appeared on any draft of this list. This show does a great job of centering a police procedural show around a different kind of detective. It does a great job showing what would cause a rape victim would recant a true account. Great work from Merritt Weaver, Kaitlyn Dever and Toni Collette. Just a great show.
11. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – Season 4 almost lives up to the excellence of Season 3. This one starts with the team tracking down magical creatures that have been strewn throughout time. As they collect them, someone comes up with a plan to use them for no good. Added to the team this season is Constantine, whose expertise with magic is needed. The show is wild and silly and possible the most entertaining thing on TV when it comes to just pure enjoyability.
10. Stranger Things – I know some people are down on Season 3 of this show, but I think it works. It turns more to echoing action movies and TV shows of the 80s now; there is a character that is essentially a terminator running around and Hopper expressly dresses like Thomas Magnum for most of the season. It is louder and broader. But the characters remain true. I think I might be more into and more investing in this show than any other currently running series. I recognize some faults, but I just love to immerse myself in this world when I get the chance. I love how the cast just keeps expanding, and somehow each new addition just fits right in.
9. What We Do in the Shadows – What We Do in the Shadows was one of the best comedies of the last ten years. Somehow it seems to work even better as a series. This show takes the set up and the sense of humor of the movie, but leaves the characters. Now it is just a comedy about a group of vampires, living in New York, living their lives. The new characters are great, and the show goes some new and interesting places. It is just a lot of fun.
8. Good Omens – I haven’t read the book this mini-series is based on. I do, however, love Michael Sheen and David Tennant. I like Jon Hamm. I like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. This show is a lot of fun; lots of irreverent humor and strong performances. The show really sings when it focuses on Tennant and Sheen; they have wonderful chemistry together. It if was just the continuing adventures of Crowley and Aziraphale it would likely have still made this list. This is just a really entertaining show.
7. Documentary Now! – If it were just the first two episodes of Season 3, I think Documentary Now Season 3 would have a strong case to make this list. I am not sure those are the best episodes of the season. The last episode, Any Given Saturday Afternoon, is delightful. Original Cast Album: Co-op is wonderful. There are no bad episodes. The show breaks from the first two seasons, which largely focused on Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, to feature a lot more guest performances. It is just great.
6. Fleabag – I always feel like I should have more to say about this show. It is excellent from start to finish. Well acted, well written, funny and affecting. It is basically everything you could want out of a half hour comedy. It’s on Amazon Prime; you should go watch it.
5. Doom Patrol – There was a lot of great superhero TV this year. But nothing tapped into the fun and weirdness that I love comics for better than Doom Patrol on DC Universe. While the aggressive weirdness brings a lot of entertainment, it is built on a solid foundation of some wonderfully realized, human characters. It is great to watch this found family come together and solve problems even weirder than they are.
4. When They See Us – Amazing, powerful and heartbreaking. When They See Us tells the story of Central Park 5, a group of young boys who were railroaded and sent to jail for a crime they didn’t commit. Their story highlights some flaws in the criminal justice system. The show is just amazingly composed and acted, and while it ultimately ends on a somewhat optimistic note, is completely devastating. This is the show on my list that feels the most important, everything above it is fun.
3. Russian Doll – This show came out long enough ago that I don’t remember all of the finer details. I remember the feel of the show and the concept, but I am completely unable to bring any details to mind. Natasha Lyonne is stuck in a recurring loop, living the same day over and over. She is trying desperately to find a way out, and eventually finds another person caught in a similar loop. I remember the show being funny and interesting and thoughtful. I need to watch it again.
2. The Good Place – Whether this is Season 3, or the second half of Season 3 and the first half of Season 4, The Good Place deserves this place on the list. It has the tone and jokes of some of my favorite comedies of the last few years, also created by Michael Schur, but also tells a strong serialized story. It frequently strays into schmaltz, but it all works for me anyway. It is unique among sitcoms as a show that completely changes the premise every three or four episodes. Season 3 did this several times, settling into a concept for three or four episodes before shaking everything up. I love this show.
1. I Think You Should Leave – The whole season of this show is less than two hours long. I think I spent more time watching this than any other show on this list. Sketch shows and be hit or miss, but this one cranked out hit after hit. It is aggressively weird on a frequency that just resonates with me. I absolutely love this show. The Baby of the Year sketch, Fenton’s Stable and Horse Ranch, The Night Scrooge Saved Christmas, the car focus group, I could literally go on all day. I am apparently a huge Tim Robinson fan and I can’t wait for more of this.