I watch many much lots TV.
Admittedly, it’s almost never the ONLY thing I’m doing at the time. The bulk of this list are programs I throw on while working out (don’t let the Christmas doughy me fool you, I do actually do exercise), doing other work (multitasking is the only way to consume all of the entertainment) or while catching up on correspondence (that’s a fancy way to say texting). That said, everything inside the top 25 is pretty much a “full attention” show for me. I don’t mean that I stand at “full attention” while watching them, just that I give them my full attention and…you know what? I don’t have to explain myself. I’m not the one on trial here! At any rate, with TV and movies now in a legit dogfight for creative supremacy, it would be wrong not to spend a bit of time considering what the boob tube gave unto me this year.
51 – Wayward Pines: This show betrayed all the good will its first few episodes garnered in unholy fashion. Avoid it like a nekkid grandpa.
50 – Ballers: We’ve wondered for years the limits of The Rock’s charisma. We found those limits.
49 – Fear the Walking Dead: If you’ve ever wondered if The Walking Dead could be slower and less interesting somehow, have I got a show for you!
48 – Helix: At its best, this show was batshit insane sci-fi. At its worst, it was batshit insane sci-fi.
47 – Defiance: See the entry above for Helix.
46 – Minority Report: Squandering an effortlessly diverse cast and a killer premise, this suffered from the network obsession with procedurals (Case of the Week shows) in an age when binge-watching and serialized storytelling is the desired norm.
45 – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: It wasn’t bad so much as it was British to the point of madness. Normally, I’m a fairly engaged Anglophile. But there were points during this show I wished everyone would choke on a biscuit.
44 – SNL: Feast and famine has always been the show’s milieu, and never more than this year. The only constant is Weekend Update being the opposite of comedy. It’s basically a eulogy for joy in the middle of every episode. But a few killer players (McKinnon in particular) keep it afloat-ish.
43 – Sens8: Boy did I want to love this show. I wound up only liking it, mostly as a side effect of the Wachowskis not really setting any kind of narrative into motion this first season. I love the characters, the lush visuals, the sensory nature of all of it. But give your characters something to do, please.
42 – Blindspot: Whatever they’re paying Jamie Alexander to act next to a supernaturally powered mannequin is not enough. Her spark and talent has buoyed a show way too enamored with its only-okay premise and weighed down by a male lead devoid of any semblance of talent.
41 – Gotham: That I’m still watching is a credit to the show’s surprising course correction. Focusing on good characters played by talented actors is always a good move. If the show could move away from itty bitty Bruce Wayne pubescently crapping on every scene and The Riddler, who flat out sucks, it could get even better.
40 – Supernatural: This show has officially entered Stockholm Syndrome territory. I don’t even know if I like it any more. I just know I MUST watch it. I no longer remember a time when I didn’t watch it. This season has had a couple more highlights than the end of last season, when they did the thing I’ll literally never forgive them for. And not because it was a stunning loss of a character but because it was so poorly written and conceived. Ugh. The show hurts me, but I can’t leave. I can’t!
39 – The Strain: I don’t typically cotton to horror stuff, especially TV shows, but this has been a fair bit of fun. The second season burned bright out of the gate before stalling for a long time. Honestly, if you forced me to, I couldn’t tell you how much of an epidemic is actually at work in this show. Sometimes it seems like everything’s pretty much okay, other times it feels like the end of the world. So long as people keep getting their guts sucked out by phallic worm tongues that emerge from a vaginal face opening, I’m probably sticking around.
38 – The Walking Dead: The first few episodes of the most recent season captured all of the promise and all of the things I love about the show. After that, they seemed determined to make me absolutely hate the shit out of it. The last 4-5 episodes weren’t just bad, they actively upset me with their shittiness. It’s only this high on the list because of Carol. I don’t want to piss her off.
37 – Star Wars: Rebels: If it were just a little less youth-skewed, this would be higher on the list. Fun characters populating a world I adore, this has the long dormant (but now “awakened”) sense of epic adventure and sci-fi fun that made Star Wars the best thing ever for a stretch.
36 – Agent Carter: Although nowhere near clever enough plotwise, this show is really just an excuse to enjoy Haley Atwell’s now iconic character. And to just enjoy Atwell, who is as immensely talented as she is powerfully likable. I’d probably tune into the first few episodes of “Haley Atwell’s Puppy Smothering Hour.”
35 – Agents of Shield: The Inhuman shit saved this once boring endeavor. We now have superpowers galore in a show about an agency designed to confront superpowers. You’d think it wouldn’t have taken two years, but it did. A few standout episodes in the most recent series, along with the potential for a bad guy that actually seems interesting, helped this stay on my DVR.
34 – House of Cards: For the first time, I started to see why everyone really loves this show. The second season was an improvement, but the third’s pivot to focusing more on Robin Wright elevated this from weird pseudo-Shakespearean political porn to something entirely more clever.
33 – The New Girl: I almost forgot this show existed, thanks to the weird hiatus. Every time I watch it, I find it so delightful and hilarious. But then I go right back to almost completely forgetting about it. It’s like TV junk food.
32 – Constantine: Killed before it had a chance to really settle in, the lead was so pitch perfect, that alone made me long for more. It could well have been a better version of Supernatural (you know, one where women survive), but instead, it was just pleasing and then gone forever.
31 – Arrow: Oddly, being paired so often with The Flash is a win/lose for this show. The crossovers are great, but mostly they remind you of all this show’s missed opportunities. Some fun stuff this year with the introduction of new heroes, but it’s like the show doesn’t understand fundamental parts of itself still. NOBODY LIKES THE FLASHBACKS, GUYS. NOBODY.
30 – Law and Order: SVU: Quietly, this show has had a rather clever reinvention. Taking on social issues more often than salacious crime issues, the show has done a fairly decent if sometimes uneven job of making fascinating cases livened with important real-world stuff. Also, Team Carisi all the way. That slick-headed semi-jerk with a heart of gold is one of the most invigorating characters that show has ever had.
29 – Into the Badlands: Silly, wild, random KUNG FU ON TELEVISION. It’s gloriously goofy and packed with such amazing action, I want more. I want more now, dammit. Specifically, bring back the Widow. She’s a goddess!
28 – 12 Monkeys: Every show from this point on is one I really, really like. This movie-based series started flat. That said, by the time it sank its teeth into its own new mythology, things got brilliant. Gloriously deployed sci-fi that plays footsie with the postapocalypse and now investigates a near Sound of My Voice-style quasi-religion emerged in the second half. If season 2 stays there, it will be much higher on next year’s list.
27 – Supergirl: Still finding its footing with only a little over a handful of episodes so far, this show does many, many things right. Most notably, its lead is fantastic, Callista Flockheart is actually trying (and is a better Perry White stand-in than any dude has ever been), and the effects are killer. It pulled off one of the bigger surprises of the year in any comic book TV show, which gets it points. If they can find a way to balance the camp and be a bit more sophisticated with their moralizing and storytelling, it’ll be killer. Oh, and bonus points for name dropping both Orphan Black and Margaret Atwood this year.
26 – Inside Amy Schumer: Do I have some problems with the human being that is Amy Schumer? Yup. From insulting racial jokes to disparaging comments she thinks are feminist, she’s a mess. Her show? Brilliant. From the rape culture-skewering Friday Night Lights spoof to “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” this season has had some of the most brilliant comedic moments in recent TV memory.
25 – Key and Peele: Man, I’m gonna miss this show so hard. Going out on top is always smart, but I feel like the duo were just finding their real stride these last couple years. I know they’re going to go on to do more stuff, and I’ll love that stuff. I’ll just miss this a lot.
24 – Silicon Valley: Unlike any other comedy on television, I’m not even sure how to process the ball of random awkwardness that is this show. Huge strides were made in characters this year, and the introduction of Alice Wetterlund brought some much needed female balance to this coding-humor sausage party. Biting, clever, and creative, the second season finally made me care what’s happening instead of just being amused.
23 – Blackish: Maybe the funniest ongoing show now, this comedy continues to find clever ways to explore racial issues in a sensible, hilarious way. It helps that the cast around Anthony Anderson, who can be a bit annoying, is STUNNINGLY good. Seriously, the young actors on this show are hands down the best I’ve seen in an ongoing comedy show ever, collectively.
22 – True Detective: Yeah, I liked it, okay?! The same things everyone loved the first season suddenly became super criticized in season 2. “It’s dark.” No shit. “Nobody talks like this.” Yeah, and we all heard people talking about how “Time is a flat circle” prior to season one, right? It wasn’t as good as the first season, but considering that may be one of the best seasons of anything ever, maybe that’s not the standard to use? I loved about 4-5 episodes of this 8 episode series and do not (and never will) understand everyone playing pinata with the show.
21 – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Not as consistently funny as Blackish, but when it hits, holy hell does it hit. I’m still singing the theme song, and Elle Kemper is just so much sweet fun. Honestly, this would have had a shot at being even higher if it didn’t get oddly bogged down with racist humor that never landed. Especially considering that Titus is one of the best supporting characters in any comedy played by a person of color, it’s that much sadder that they ended on an obsession with Asian jokes.
20 – The Muppets: THE MUPPETS ARE BACK ON MY TV EVERY WEEK AND THEY SAY FUNNY THINGS AND DO MUPPETY THINGS AND INTERACT WITH HUMANS LIKE THEY’RE NOT WEIRD CREATURES AND SCREW YOU IF YOU TRY TO CRAP ON MY JOY.
19 – At Midnight: Man, it’s hard to find a place on a ranked list for a show like this. It’s inarguably what I watch the most (as it’s on almost every night), and if you follow me on Twitter, you know how much I play their associated hashtag war game. Honestly, it’s just such a pleasant way to end the day, being introduced to young, new comedians and listening to clever known talents crack jokes. Plus, ageless funny cuddle-man Chris Hardwick is a goddamn national treasure.
18 – Justified: I loved this show from start to finish, even if I think it peaked a few years back. I didn’t care for Boyd shifting back and forth as much, and the final resolution felt more like a door slowly closing than the slam-bang wrap up I hoped for. Still, “because we dug coal together” was a hell of a nice moment for a show that never sucked.
17 – Game of Thrones: What a bounceback year for a show I almost ditched! No longer a gross rape-a-palooza, stuff actually happened this year! We saw a huge fight with the White Walkers! People died! It was really interesting! Now that the show isn’t forced to adhere to jugband cosplayer George R.R. Martin’s schedule, it’ll be interesting to see if things get even better going forward!
16 – Making a Murderer: A late year entry that captivated the shit out of me, this is basically Serial for your eyeballs. Only, while Serial was a slight condemnation of the criminal justice system, this show is basically a raving rant against the concept of what we call “legal.” Holy shit, I can’t believe the things that really happened in real life that are shown in this show. It’s Netflix, so they didn’t run commercials really. If they did, the tagline should be “Hey, you. Wanna feel sad?”
15 – The Jinx: The better of the two long-form, true-crime documentary shows, but only because demon-thing Robert Durst is a more compelling subject. Oh, and you know, they CAUGHT A MURDERER. One of the most singularly breathtaking moments in television history redeemed a show that suffered from structural issues.
14 – The Flash: You know this is a great year for TV if one of my favorite happy-time shows is this far down. I love this show. I love it so genuinely and hopefully. I love Cisco, my favorite supporting cast member on any show. I love the comic booky quality of everything. I love the new time-traveling sci-fi stuff. I love all of it.
13 – Daredevil: Honestly, if I could, I’d tie 12, 13, and 14 on this list, as they are the best comic book TV shows ever and all hit different aspects. Daredevil is the real, gritty, street-level character we haven’t seen in the Marvel live-action world. Slow at times, the series has unreal action and the best bad guy we’ve seen from the studio yet. Well, at least it did…
12 – Jessica Jones: David Tenant’s Killgrave is hands down the best baddie in live-action Marvel anything. This show isn’t a superhero show, but a somber, meditation on how survivors of rape/abuse/control must fight their way back. It’s thrilling, exceptionally well-acted, and a promise of amazing things to come.
11 – Parks and Rec: We’ll always have Little Sebastian, Mouse Rat, Ron Swanson, “Treat Yoself,” and collective anger that Amy Poehler somehow didn’t win an Emmy. Sophisticated writing, emotionally clever characters, and some of the flat-out funniest moments of the last decade. It will be missed.
10 – The Knick: I can’t believe a show this good is on the bottom of the top 10. Director Steven Soderbergh has directed a long-form tale I can’t stop thinking about. Somehow addressing all manner of modern social issues (from race relations to women’s health) in a show set in the early 1900s, this show has a killer score, perfect actors, and one of the most captivating thematic narratives. If you’re not watching, fix that.
9 – Mr. Robot: How is this not the best show of the year? How is this not the best NEW show of the year? This cinematic feeling, “Fight Club” riff features one of the best performances of the year. Like The Knick, it’s brought to life with a killer synth score and goes places you would NEVER expect given the show’s alleged premise. One of the most exhilarating discoveries of the year. And it’s on USA?! Wha?!?!
8 – Fargo: People have to be screaming right now reading this top 10. I get it. Season 2 of Fargo was damn near a miracle. After the first season had no business being as good as it was, the second season shouldn’t have even existed. And yet, it outdoes everything its predecessor did and resurrected Kirsten Dunst in my eyes. Gritty, darkly funny, super surprising, violent, and weird, this is a show I can’t wait to revisit.
7 – Master of None: Everything in this top 10 I could make a case for being number 1. Master of None is maybe the most original show of the year. Sure, it’s funny. Aziz Ansari can’t help but be funny. But the emotional sophistication, storytelling nuance, creativity, and groundbreaking approach makes this not just “funny” but important and, honestly, sometimes truly devastating. It’s Netflix’s best original show ever. Yeah, I said it.
6 – The Americans: I know. I hate me for having this outside my top 5 too. I promise to justify very hard what I chose. This season saw some of the most impossibly complex moralizing the show has ever explored. A mother torn between a love of country and love of family. A husband having a full crisis of conscience in his entire existence. Combine that with some of the best “spy” elements of the show’s run, and you have a season that deserved even more praise than it got.
5 – Last Week Tonight: Maybe the most important show on television right now, John Oliver has inherited the glorious burden of using humor to make us think about social stuff from John Stewart. From his skewering of for-profit evangelicals to helping kick off the war against Sepp Blatter and FIFA, Oliver takes on shit that matters, blows our minds, and makes us hurt from laughing so hard. Unlike Janis from accounting, he does give a fuck, and I love him for it.
4 – Hannibal: Any other year this is the top slot. Holy hell did this show stick the landing. I know people want more. I don’t. It ended on such a haunting, beautiful note. This is a show that shouldn’t appeal to me in any way, as I loathe horror, serial-killer movies, and programs with few “good” characters. But this was a glorious operatic love story, a tortured and sick psychological fever dream that ended as stunning as it began. I can’t imagine how satisfying it would be to have never watched any of it and then binge the whole perfect package. You lucky bastards who have that chance have to do so.
3 – The Leftovers: This is most likely, if I’m being objective, the “best” show of the year. What Damon Lindelof has done, capturing the themes from “Lost” in a purer way, is something truly special. Every performer is pitch perfect, the scope is ambitious as hell, the storytelling has brass balls, there’s just not a flaw in the second season, which contains one of the top 10 episodes of anything I have ever seen (“International Assassin”). I’m equally as glad that we get one more go next year as I am knowing that will be it.
2 – Orphan Black: I. Love. This. Show. As someone who spends a good portion of my life analyzing writing and studying/coaching performances, this show is a constant source of inspiration. Tatiana Maslany, the goddess, is maybe the most talented human performer alive. The show is a delicious buffet of feminism, sci-fi, and Helena, who I could watch eat things for an hour each week and would probably keep that show in this slot. I understand how others could argue shows should be higher than this on a “best of” list. But this list is mine. And two shows stood out above all others in my world this year.
1 – Doctor Who: Five years ago, suffering through some bad emotional juju, I broke down and FINALLY watched the new Doctor Who reboot after years of people begging me to. It wasn’t instant love, as I struggled through that first season. Fast forward, and I now have a Doctor Who forearm tattoo and a basement full of merchandise. This was the best season of my favorite show. It had to be number one. It simply had to. Peter Capaldi, the actor seemingly no one (including me) wanted, has taken this impossibly joyous and beloved show to heights I still can’t believe. Everything about this season worked to a degree that shouldn’t have been possible. Any time your favorite show has a year this good, you just say “thank you” and walk away smiling.