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With the proliferation of television programming it seems like a good time to split my annual list of favorite shows in three. Let’s face it, most network television works within some pretty specific limitations while cable gets to ignore most of them the result being two different types of programming that probably should no longer be compared by the same criteria (other than whether they’re good enough – that will always apply). And then there’s genre – sci-fi, fantasy, horror and comic book shows – to further complicate things.
It’s been a bumper year for television on both platforms and in all genres, so bear in mind that these are my favorites – your mileage may (and probably will) differ.
15. Manhattan (WGN America) – the series about the instant town that sprang up around the Manhattan Project and the men who worked to beat Germany to the atom bomb is a surprising amount of fun – and is consistently excellent from episode to episode. It’s one of the best shows that next to no one is watching. Do something about that!
14. Bosch (Amazon) – Michael Connelly’s hard-boiled cop is as close to perfectly realized as it’s possible to get, with Titus Welliver bringing all the savvy, deeply disturbing wit and world weariness to the character that he deserves.
13. Black Sails (Starz) – season two of Black Sails took us backwards in time (to when Captain Flint was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy) and forward to a point when enemies Flint and Vane discover they need to become allies. We’re still a long way from Robert Louis Stevenson territory, but it’s been a fine, swashbuckling ride, thus far.
12. Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll (FX) – best rock & roll series ever! Denis Leary’s tale of unsuccessful legend Johnny Rock getting a chance to achieve success – albeit as the writer for his reformed band, which is now fronted by the daughter he never knew he had – is headbangingly superb.
11. Archer (FX) – still the best animated series on television, Archer reinvents itself every so often to keep fresh. Meanwhile, the characters grow only in the teensiest of increments (who would carry a baby on a mission requiring deadly force? Stirling Archer, that’s who!)
10. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) – John Oliver does – in thirty minutes – what most major news outlets don’t do in a month. And he makes it funny. Oliver’s scathing blasts at all sorts of targets never miss and have even effected actual change in real world – mulitple times. Gotta love that.
9. Justified (FX) – the final season of Justified ranks right up there with season two as thirteen episodes of riveting television. Elmore would have loved it – and I think he would have heartily endorsed the finale as perfect. ‘We dug coal together.’
8. Mr. Robot (USA Network) – welcome to the world’s most unreliable narrator and a series that reinvented itself at least twice over the course of its ten episode first season. What started out as a tale of a cyber-vigilante being recruited into a group of super hackers bent on bringing down and Enron-like Evil Corp (as they called), swiftly became something else entirely – without ever feeling like it was any other than itself at any point. Miraculous.
7. Rectify (SundanceTV) – this year, Rectify moved into even more dramatic waters as the investigation into Daniel Holden’s case (he was released on a technicality after almost two decades of being imprisoned for murder) took another turn. Adding to the show’s many strengths, Abigail Spencer’s Amanda Holden was given some lighter moments and Teddy Jr. (Clayne Crawford) finally became something more than just a dimwitted stooge – something much more… complicated.
6. Transparent (Amazon) – nothing to add here except that the series gives the term dysfunctional family several new levels of shading. Once again, brilliant!
5. Longmire (Netflix) – the best ongoing mystery series on TV. Longmire takes the mysteries by Craig Johnson’s atmospheric tales of Abrasoka County Sheriff Walt Longmire and turned them into an intelligent, equally atmospheric series.
4. Mad Men – second best series finale after Justified, capping a final season that was mostly beyond brilliant. Don Draper goes on a quest to discover that he was already at home…
3. The Americans – this season they went there – Russian sleeper cell spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings told their eldest, 14-year old Paige, that they were Soviet spies. Even if that episode was the only brilliant one in the season, it would be enough to the show on this list. But it wasn’t – and here they are.
2. Better Call Saul (AMC) – the story of how Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman. Prequels almost never work, but most don’t have Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould (creator of the Goodman character) working on them.
- Fargo – better than season one. How’d he do that? (Personally, I think it was the UFO…)
Honorable Mention: Da Vinci’s Demons (Starz) – even without the swashbuckling, the series was still imaginative and entertaining.
Bottom Feeders: Happyish (Showtime), Hand of God (Amazon), Hell on Wheels (AMC), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) (this is a love it or hate it show – I hate it), everything Kardashians.
Photos courtesy of Amazon, AMC, FX, HBO, Netflix, Starz, SundanceTV, USA Network and WGN America