Watching TV is hard. I swear that once I used to just turn on a box, but now I have to navigate dozens of platforms across multiple devices to sit through hundreds of old episodes of 17 seasons of a show to understand what’s happening in the one on Sunday so I can decide that I don’t like it. These 10 shows were worth all that.
Most comedies have lazed out of being funny, original, and sincere and just go for two out of three. Baskets hits the trifecta. Everyone rightly talks about Zach Galifianakis’s and Louie Anderson’s performances, but its Martha Kelly’s deadpan guilelessness that holds the show together.
Beyond the Walls (Shudder)
A French miniseries about a woman who inexplicably inherits a Parisian townhouse and then disappears into it. I was lucky enough to watch Beyond the Walls in a theater, and the world of the house expanded to envelop the room. Turn off the lights and turn on your big-screen TV and you’ll come close enough.
Sure, Daredevil occasionally feels like a made-for-Cinemax movie, but it’s also the one superhero show that knows that fight scenes require creativity and that character development requires more than just piling on backstory. And it’s the one that my wife will watch with me (because she thinks Charlie Cox is hot).
Documentary Now! (IFC)
The second season of Documentary Now! sacrificed some laughs for ambition, which is a trade-off I’ll allow. Most TV creators don’t have the discipline required to make even one episode of DN!, but even if they had it they still wouldn’t have Bill Hader, who’s effortlessness hides the fact that he’s the most versatile actor on TV.
Good Behavior (TNT)
The Golden Age of Television really sucks for those of us who don’t like serialized drama. I’ll take a complete hourlong experience over episode after episode of endlessly going nowhere. Good Behavior delivers that experience every week without sacrificing an ongoing story, and it throws in an engaging performance by Michelle Dockery and an F-bomb per minute pace not seen since the Jerry Springer era.
The Great American Baking Show (ABC)
I was certain that The Great British Baking Show would suffer death by Americanization, but luckily the producers were either smart enough or lazy enough to not change a single thing. That makes TGABS the rare American cooking reality show that’s actually about cooking. Even better, it’s the only one to set the appropriate tone, ratcheting down to the the manufactured tension to a level appropriate for baking meringues rather than storming the beach at Normandy.
The Night Manager (AMC)
Here’s how serialized drama should happen–a compelling story packed tight into six tight episodes, then out. The Night Manager topped every other drama I watched in all aspects: acting, directing, writing, and glass-walled Mallorcan mansions populated by the well tanned.
Silicon Valley (HBO)
TV comedy writers like to talk about Modern Family as the savior of the classic sitcom, but for me that title goes to Silicon Valley. The luxury of producing only 10 episodes a season instead of 26 lets the creators craft the show so finely that its easy to miss that they’re working in the form of a traditional workplace sitcom.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Kimmy’s second season didn’t match the first, but only because the first season was the best new comedy debut in years. I can’t remember any other recent series with episodes I watched twice just because I enjoy them so much. There might be “better” shows, but none of them make me feel as good.
Veep pulled off the impossible this year. A great show inextricably linked to the voice of its creator lost its creator and got better. New showrunner David Mandel worked a miracle by keeping everything that made Veep work while deepening the narrative comedy and created a historically good season of TV. Seriously: The Simpsons season three, Seinfeld season nine, and now Veep season four.