Top 20 Shows of 2015, Vol. 10: #11

I don’t want to get maudlin or anything, but can you believe that this past summer, America’s favorite television series, The Bachelorette, celebrated its eleventh birthday by giving us a gift: grown men lamenting the fact that certain contestants were — get ready for it — not on a reality dating show “for the right reasons.”  Tears were spilled; latent misogynies were uncovered; uncomfortably frank discussions were held.  In short, season 11 of The Bachelorette proved the apex of the medium, so all other shows should fold up their tents and shuffle down the ol’ dirt trail to TV oblivion.  Seriously, America, where else is there to go?  Also, the answer is to Chris Harrison’s house because obviously.

But while we all recover from the mind-blowing brilliance of Kaitlyn’s “journey to find love” (ha!  I typed that with a straight face, I swear), what do you say we carry on with #top20in20.  Shall we?  We shall!


#11: Bloodline

While critics and viewers alike laud the quality of Netflix dramas Daredevil (good but overrated), Jessica Jones (I’ll get to it eventually), and House of Cards (running on fumes for a while now), they have no problem deriding this star-studded Southern gothic potboiler.  That backlash boggles my mind: this is the best Netflix drama out there.  From the creators of  DamagesBloodline distinguishes itself from its predecessor by concentrating on character over plot, supplementing wtf-plot twists with genuine character-based surprises.

I won’t spoil the story here, but suffice it to say that the slow unspooling of the Rayburn’s family secrets makes for spellbinding television for those with a modicum of patience.  By the time you reach the pivotal final stretch of episodes, you won’t believe you’re watching the same show.  The opening episodes, languidly paced with deliberate intent, give way to heart-pounding suspense and gut-wrenching reveals.  You ever want to experience a show as you would a novel?  Well, good news: with Bloodline, you can.


The cast is, in a word, incendiary.  Kyle Chandler, Norbert Leo Butz, and Linda Cardellini pin us to our seats, but Ben Mendelsohn as prodigal son and perennial screw-up Danny Rayburn — whose return to the family’s Florida Keys hotel lights the fuse of the slow-burning but crackerjack plot — absolutely explodes off the screen.  His is a performance that should have swept the awards season; if more people had given the show a chance, he likely would have.

From the stunning Floridian locale (treated throughout with the respect of a well-drawn character) to the dynamite performances and gripping story, Bloodline commands your attention and rewards it in huge and surprising ways.  Don’t miss it.


Tomorrow’s the big day, folks: cracking into the top ten!  Any thoughts on what might kick off the second half of my list?  Thanks for playing along so far!

Top 20 Shows of 2015, Vol. 9: #12

So much to celebrate with the number twelve, isn’t there?  It’s the number of seasons NYPD Blue aired, the number of episodes per year we get hypnotized by Mandy Patinkin’s beard in Homeland, the approximate number of drinks required for a contestant to blunder her way through a rose ceremony in The Bachelor.  Television loves the number twelve so much, you guys.  Twelve and TV sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g…

Thanks for letting me get that out of my system.  I’m not much of a romantic, but we need to ‘ship twelve and TV so hard this year.  They deserve each other!


#12: Shameless

While virtually every drama to appear on Showtime has seen a steady decline in its quality the longer it’s on the air, Shameless emerges as the network’s only show to improve with each passing year.  As Masters of SexHomeland, and dear old Dexter tumbled down the rabbit hole of mediocrity, the Gallagher clan continued to enthrall.


There is so much to enjoy in the show’s outstanding fifth season, from Fiona’s desperate attempts to straighten her life out in the face of Jimmy’s return to Frank’s genuine connection with a terminal cancer patient named Bianca.  Lip’s college struggles compounded, ahem, dramatically this year while Deb experienced the pangs of adolescence and Carl the clangs of slamming prison doors.  But amidst it all, Ian’s struggle with bipolar disorder formed the emotional core of the season, and who couldn’t help but feel all the feels upon seeing street-toughened Mickey, powerless to help his boyfriend, realize how Ian’s diagnosis will affect their relationship moving forward?  Gut-wrenching stuff.

Forget about the best show on Showtime (it is, without debate): this emerges as one of my favorite “dramedies” on all of television, defying categorization by refusing to flinch in the face of these character’s tragedies or to push its humor as far as needed.  Is it consistently outlandish and over-the-top?  You bet it is.  Will it offend the more timid television viewer?  Oh, most definitely.  But for me, television needs Shameless to keep pushing the boundaries of storytelling and characterization because, as long as it’s on the air, we know that TV still has a live-wire pulse.


That’s it for now!  Until tomorrow!

Top 20 Shows in 2015, Vol. 8: #13

Remember that time you were really sick but felt beholden to complete a task despite feeling, if you were being honest with yourself (which you always tried to be), resoundingly not up to it?  Me too!

We’re twins!  Twins, I say!


#13: Togetherness

I’d hazard to guess that your enjoyment and appreciation of HBO’s Togetherness depends upon your enjoyment and appreciation of indie cinema.  You needn’t be a fan of the Duplass Brothers and their brand of wry humor, but that would help, too.  Fortunately for me, I love a good indie comedy and Duplass films like Cyrus and Jeff Who Lives At Home tickle me in particular, so I feel like I’ve been treated to an eight-hour indie flick, which is more than all right by me.

It’s a show that tackles the no-man’s land of life in your late thirties, when dreams seem on the verge of death and life has settled into its comfortable groove.  Struggling to make meaning out of it all are married couple Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle Pierson (Melanie Lynskey) trying to make it work, Michelle’s sister Tina (Amanda Peet) attempting to figure out what’s next, and Brett’s best friend Alex (an absolutely revelatory Steve Zissis) still toiling to make it as an actor.  But what makes Togetherness succeed is its effortless depiction of life’s triumphs and failures, brilliantly emblematized by Steve Zissis’s Alex.  A character for the ages, Alex typifies the endearing, sad-sack everyman we can all root for even as he disappoints us and himself.


Of the comedies on my list thus far, this one doesn’t have the laugh out loud moments of the others; instead, Togetherness mines humor in the mundanity of daily life, replete with its absurdity and unpredictability.  Tina, her face pressed into a smile, hunkers down next to the driver’s side window of her brother-in-law’s car to deliver the most telling line of the season: “Just fake it.  I mean, see this smile? I’m dead inside.”  See what I mean? Togetherness feels so real it hurts, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Same time, same channel tomorrow?  See you then!

Top 20 Shows in 2015, Vol. 7: #14

I’ve done the research, you guys, and it turns out that fourteen is the average number of STIs contracted over the course of a single season of Bachelor in Paradise, or the exact number of times per episode Chris Harrison has to remind himself that, yes, this is what his life has become.

What do you say we get on with it?  Let’s do this one for Chris Harrison, okay?  He needs our support now more than ever.


#14: You’re the Worst

In its first season, You’re the Worst proved itself a hilarious and razor-sharp examination of dating in the modern age of narcissism.  I mean, seriously, it’s a fun game to rotate through the cast and determine, in any given episode, which character deserves the title most.  However, in its second year, the show transformed into one of the best and most honest comedies on all of television, and chances are you aren’t even watching it. #nojudgement #plentyofjudgement

What took Worst‘s second year to another level is that, once Gretchen and Jimmy become a couple, the show uses their relationship to further characterize them rather than to undo all we’d learned.  Gretchen’s erstwhile hidden depression manifests mid-way through the season, allowing Aya Cash to hit new acting heights and the show to explore a topic in such real and raw ways.  Even more impressive?  It never loses its caustic, biting humor.


That’s to say nothing of the outstanding supporting cast, including Kether Donahue’s Lindsay — maybe one of my favorite characters on television — who gets to bust out lines like this: “I thought all English people were fancy, but these are like Alabama English people.”  Seriously, great stuff.

Assuredly but without much fanfare, You’re the Worst has entered the upper echelon of comedy series; it’s a show with a distinct voice and point of view, as well as something to say about modern love.  I’d have to have been absolutely snozzled not to include it amongst the very best of the year.


Ooh!  Looks like thirteen’s up next, though somehow Monday the 13th just doesn’t have the same ring to it…#top20in20

Top 20 Shows of 2015, Vol. 6: #15

Lucky number 15, folks!  “Why lucky?” you ask.  Well, that’s simple: Kevin Bacon.  That’s right, each season of the departed series The Following clocked in at fifteen episodes per, and I think we can all agree how lucky we are that that show is no longer spouting off its brand of cult-flavored nonsense despite the fact that we all secretly hate-watched the bejesus out of it.

Don’t worry, my fifteenth favorite show of 2015 is not The Following.  But Ryan Hardy, am I right?  If I were handing out an award for Best Cop (Whose Incompetence Would Have Assured His Termination) of the Year, then The Following would have topped the list.  But, unfortunately, the Creative Emmys aren’t for several months yet.

Shall we continue?


#15: Hannibal

When you weren’t looking, Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal became the most romantic series on television.  Sure, the romantic leads at the heart of it were troubled empath Will Graham (an outstanding Hugh Dancy) and brilliant psychopath Hannibal Lecter (an all-time classic performance from Mads Mikkelsen), but in its third and final season, we finally realized just how much these two meant to each other.  Neither Will nor Hannibal would ever find someone else who could love them for who they were, and yet in each other, they found just that.  It was beautiful, violent, and deeply, deeply disturbing, but dammit it all felt — from its rich color palette to its surrealistic dream imagery — so incredibly romantic.

The show was always at its best when it used Thomas Harris’s novels as the springboard to its story rather than adhering to them as a strict adaptation, and that riffing reached new heights in its third season, inverting the order of the novels Hannibal and Red Dragon to tell a story of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham gravitating toward one another once again — as if they ever had a choice.  All it took was Francis Dolarhyde to bring them together.

Hannibal - Season 3

I still say that Hannibal will go down as the most violent series I’ve ever watched — either on network or cable — so we’ve got to give credit to NBC for allowing Fuller to do his twisted thing.  Never has horrific violence been depicted with such an eye for the beauty within it, the balletic tango between life and death so artfully displayed week in and week out.  Sure, it’s not for everyone, but for those of us trapped under its spell, there was nothing like it.  Dare I say, we won’t see anything like it for quite some time.


Hey, what’re you doing tomorrow?  Jk, I already know: waiting on tenterhooks until I post the fourteenth best show of 2015.  #top20in20

Top 20 Shows of 2015, Vol. 5: #16

Did you happen to get the invite to my #top20in20 project’s Sweet Sixteen party?  The one with the picture of Chris Harrison’s face on it because he is America’s treasure?  It’s cool if you didn’t…I guess it’s up to me to eat the two hundred English Muffin pizzas I made.  No biggie.  Shut up, you’re crying.

Oh, you made it?  That’s great.  Would you like two half-eaten English muffin pizzas?  I can pop them in the microwave if you’d like.

Yup, that happened.


#16: Community

This was one hotly contested slot on my list.  I went back and forth amongst four contenders, ultimately choosing Dan Harmon’s gut-busting sitcom over The Mindy ProjectiZombie, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine not because I don’t adore those shows (I do) or they couldn’t have been on this list (they absolutely could have) but because, for me, the sixth and final season of Community harkened back to the inspired lunacy of its earlier years, and that nostalgia wrapped me in a warm hug for thirteen episodes and refused to let me go.

Whether it was Chang auditioning for a stage adaptation of The Karate Kid, the gang learning how to grift, a menacing prisoner ineffectively terrorizing Greendale students via telerobot, an underground paintball game, or Dean Pelton’s obsession with virtual reality, season six consistently brought the funny.  Throw in new characters played by Paget Brewster and an immediately-perfect Keith David, and the show was firing on all comedic cylinders.


But it was the finale episode “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television” — which, due to Yahoo’s recent announcement of its intention to discontinue the Screen project, serves as a series finale — that landed this show on the list.  When it was at its best, Community relied on the emotional truths of its characters.  With Abed asking his friends to imagine pitching a TV show about what a seventh season of their lives would look like, the show’s meta-commentary dovetailed beautifully with the dreams and aspirations of this motley crew we’ve grown to love.  We couldn’t have asked for a better send-off for Jeff, Annie, Britta, Abed, Pelton, Chang, or Shirley.  And that’s canon.


I received your RSVP to #top20in20’s quinceanera tomorrow, so I hope you show up because, frankly, that would be pretty inconsiderate to back out on such short notice.  But no pressure!  See you then!

Top 20 Shows of 2015, Vol. 4: #17

Yesterday, I posted the eighteenth best show of 2015.  That ring any bells?  The answer is obvi yes because, to my knowledge, you are not Guy Pearce from Memento, and, even if you were Guy Pearce from Memento, you would have had the forethought to tattoo that information on your body somewhere, so we’re back to the same answer: yes, you do remember.  Wasn’t that fun? #timelyreference

All this talk of number eighteen has made me eager for seventeen.  What say you, fellow TV-aholics, shall we?  We shall!

Nailed it.


#17: The Good Wife

There are those detractors out there who decry the fact that The Good Wife hasn’t been able to recapture the creative surge it experienced in its fifth season, and to those people I say…fair enough.  But setting that aside, Michelle and Robert King continue to churn out spellbinding television that, even if it’s not on par with season five, remains quintessential viewing and one of the very best shows — dramatic or otherwise — on network television.


It’s been fascinating, particularly during the front half of the currently-airing seventh season, to watch Alicia Florrick rebuild herself and her reputation in the wake of  last year’s scandalous State’s Attorney run.  A once-revered figure, Alicia must rely on the help of plucky attorney Lucca Quinn and enigmatic investigator Jason Crouse as she toils to make yet another law firm start-up a success.  Throw into the mix Peter’s bid for the White House, Alicia’s continued conflict with Agos/Lockhart/Lee, and begrudging partnerships with the likes of Louis Canning, and the Kings prove that serialized drama can work within a twenty-two episode framework when handled with this level of skill.

Sure, veteran dramas like The Good Wife settle into a narrative groove after this long on the air, but this show can still surprise, too. Eli’s truthbomb of a confession in the winter finale promises to blow up the show yet again, proving that the most predictable thing about this wonderful drama is its guarantee of unpredictability.  That a show can manage this in its seventh year is, in my mind, revelatory.


Well, there you have it.  Come back tomorrow when I get your weekend started off right with the next entry in my #top20in20 series!

Top 20 Shows of 2015, Vol. 3: #18

So, math is pretty cool, am I right?  Turns out if you’re counting down from 19, the next number is 18, or the approximate number of times the average American buries his or her face into a pillow out of sheer vicarious embarrassment while watching any given episode of The Bachelor.  #themoreyouknow

Don’t worry, the eighteenth best show of last year isn’t The Bachelor because if I picked any show for “best of” status from that particular trainwreck of a franchise it would obvi be Bachelor in Paradise due to reasons.

Anywho…onto the third entry in #top20in20!


#18: Wet Hot American Summer – First Day of Camp

As a love letter to fans, this wackadoodle Netflix mini-series allows us another welcome opportunity to visit Camp Firewood’s staff of lovable goofballs: Katie, Andy, Coop, Susie, Gail, Gene, and all the rest.  Even more impressive are the new editions (including Josh Charles, Jon Hamm, Kristin Wiig, H. John Benjamin, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Cera, and John Slattery) who make a phenomenal cast even better.  As a companion piece to the film, the continuity holds up surprisingly well.  As a pure comedic experience, the hijinx and utter wtf-ery prove difficult to beat.


While the self-awareness of some shows can come across as wink-at-the-camera BS, Wet Hot uses it brilliantly to its advantage to create a hyperbolic pastiche of so many genres — from political thriller to teen “drama.”  The resulting world that gets so lovingly created is one where anything can happen and probably will, including but not limited to toxic waste spills, warring camp feuds, government hit man, reclusive musicians, puka shell necklaces, burp fights, and “Weird” Al Yankovic.

Plus, we can thank this show (and Paul Rudd) for one of my favorite TV lines of the year: “I’ll fart my way into that snatch, just you watch.”  See?  Chivalry isn’t dead!


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in #17.  How have I been doing so far?

Top 20 Shows of 2015, Vol. 2: #19

Quick question: do you remember when I posted the twentieth best show of 2015 right on this very spot just yesterday?  And you furrowed your brow because I actually dedicated a portion of my blog post to describing tentacled sex aliens?  Well, guess what? Now it’s time for #19.

Gird your loins, ladies and gents, as volume 2 of #top20in20 heads directly your way.


#19: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Leave it to Tina Fey and Robert Carlock to devise a comedy series around a downright grim conceit: a plucky young woman, recently rescued from a doomsday cult, starts her life over in New York City.  As they did in 30 Rock, the jokes — fired at such lightning speed — range from quippy one-liners to sophomoric scatological humor, so you’re bound to find something to laugh about even if the scattershot style of comedy promises that not everything lands for every viewer.  But let’s be clear on two things.  One, this is the unquestionable spiritual successor to 30 Rock, and, two, NBC wouldn’t have had a clue what to do with this oddball series.  So let’s raise our glasses of pinot noir to Netflix for letting Kimmy’s freak flag fly.  Exhibit A: that autotuned ear worm of a theme song.


Ellie Kemper’s effervescent turn as the titular Kimmy might ground the series with her misguided optimism (those light-up sneaks kill me), but it’s Tituss Burgess’s Titus Andromedon who emerges as the shining star.  Whether lampooning the entertainment industry, gay culture, or life in the Big Apple, Burgess tiptoes to the line of caricature but wisely pulls back when required.  With its heart on its weirdo sleeve, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt proved to us that original ideas are still out there, even in 2015.  They just might be held captive in a subterranean fall out shelter is all.


Until tomorrow, friends!  Any guesses on #18?

Top 20 Shows of 2015, Vol. 1: #20

It’s been a while since we’ve spoken, hasn’t it, friends?  Sorry about that, but rest assured: my DVR has not enjoyed the respite.  It’s as overstuffed as ever, but now that 2015 lies in our collective rearview mirror, it seems as good a time as any to take stock of the best in TV, wouldn’t you say?

Around this time of year, top 10 lists are like dead Starks: throw a rock in any given direction, and you’ll hit one.  Many television critics lament the inevitable subjectivity that creeps into such lists, as well as the gaps that invariably appear since there is no conceivable way to watch every show available.  However, neither of those issues bother me, but I’ll tell you what does: ten isn’t a large enough a number to list the best in television.

In planning for this post, I said to myself, Why not expand my list into a top twenty?  But even with so many slots available, I found myself still leaving off excellent television series.  Penny Dreadful improved exponentially in its rollicking second season, turning in a carnival funhouse of Victorian horror.  It’s not in my top twenty.  Few shows delighted me as pure entertainment like The Flash, and Veep produces one belly laugh after another, but you won’t find either here.  For crying out loud, American Horror Story: Hotel might be my favorite season of the anthology series, but nope, not gonna do it.  Netflix’s W/Bob and David brought me back to the glory days of Mr. Show, and yet I couldn’t find a place for it.  How To Get a Way With Murder is pure pulpy perfection, but…You get the point, right?

Here’s the deal.  You’re going to roll your eyes at some of these, but that’s okay; you’ll get the next number on the list the following day.  That’s right, for the next 20 days, I will unveil one show at a time, culminating in what is — in my estimation — the best show of 2015.  Care to take any guesses?

Without further delay, let’s get to it, the inaugural post of my #top20in20 series!  Enjoy!


#20: Man Seeking Woman

Jay Baruchel stars as hopeful romantic Josh Greenberg, attempting to recover from a breakup with his longtime girlfriend, in Simon Rich’s wonderfully subversive comedy.  The brilliance of Man Seeking Woman lies in its ability to plumb the depths of male insecurity and extrapolate them to the point of surrealistic farce, as in the show’s must-watch second episode “Traib,” in which Josh’s agonizing over the phrasing of a text message devolves into a full-blown war-room strategy session.


But keeping the surrealism grounded is Josh’s very relatable journey back from heartbreak, even if that means putting up with his crush’s “friend” — a tentacled sex alien named Tanaka — and his ex’s rebound beau, a  very frisky Adolf Hitler.  Few shows embrace this level of zaniness with such zeal, and even fewer prove as successful at striking that tone as Man Seeking Woman.  


Thanks for reading!  Same time, same place for #19 tomorrow.  Any guesses?