There’s too much TV out there. It’s become almost comically ridiculous that there are so many great shows on TV right now, far too many for any person to watch, even if they did nothing else. There are obviously many benefits to this, an increase in representation and a willingness to cater for specific, weird tastes. It’s rare for a show now to get cancelled without at least one more season to wrap up its story. But that means there is so much to love.
Throughout the year, I grow obsessed with my end of year list, and the cuts to an eventual 25 become more painful, as I want to spotlight more, to recommend more. There’s so much on TV that it’s easy for a show to fall through the cracks. I didn’t want to let that happen this year. So, instead of just doing my usual 25 and a handful of recommendations, I have done this post, a spotlight to some of the other memorable shows of the year. The shows that I love that had less than stellar years, the new shows I adored, my goodbyes, the shows which most hurt to leave off my top 25. I like to think of this as more conversational than my upcoming top 25, but maybe your next favourite show is here. Who knows?
But even this list is not complete. There was more I watched, but couldn’t think of what to say. Or the shows I wanted to watch but just didn’t get around to. Shows like Alias Grace, American Vandal, Atlanta, Better Things, Big Little Lies, Big Mouth, Crashing, Dear White People, The Deuce, The Exorcist, The Expanse, Feud, Fleabag, The Girlfriend Experience, Grace And Frankie, Harlots, Master Of None, Mindhunter, One Mississippi, Mom, Review, The Sinner, Star Trek: Discovery, Transparent, Twin Peaks and Westworld. We live in a golden age of TV, and it shows no signs of slowing. How glorious.
13 Reasons Why season 1: One of the most heavy-handed, depressing and dangerous shows I’ve ever seen, with a simplistic treatment of mental illness and sexual abuse that does far more harm than good. Some strong performances can’t overcome how bleak this show is, and my viewing of it seemed to coincide perfectly with the recurrence of my depression. Television has become so good at depicting mental illness, so why in God’s name was one of the worst such a cultural phenomenon?
American Horror Story seasons 4-6: It was catch-up time with American Horror Story forme. I liked Freak Show more than everyone else seems to, as I was drawn in by its cast of freaks, caring more about them than I have any other set of AHS characters. The problem with that season is the show is called American Horror Story not American Human Story, so there was always a frustrating push-pull between the show’s two sides. Jessica Lange was stunning in her final AHS appearance though.
Hotel bored me, and I struggled to get through it. The crap with the Vampire kids and the ‘mystery’ surrounding the main character annoyed me and the season never really kicked into high gear like I wanted it to. Denis O’Hare’s Liz is probably the best AHS character ever though.
Roanoke is interesting, because there are things it does REALLY well. It takes a while to get going, especially with a weird new format, but that pays off spectacularly well as we get a tense, terrifying three-episode arc in the middle. Those three episodes are so good, some of the most legitimately unsettling, addictive things AHS has ever done, but then the final stretch lands with a thud. What a disappointment. Strongest performer: Adina Porter. Yet to complete Season 7: Election at time of writing.
Archer seasons 7-8: This spy spoof remains one of my favourite, most entertaining comedies to watch. While neither of the seasons I did this year were standouts, season 8’s unusual decision to transplant the entire cast into 40s noir made for a curious season. While I appreciated the chance to see these characters in a new setting, a big part of what makes Archer so funny is the chaotic interactions between the cast, which was notably absent. However, still worth a watch even if it is just for Pam (who gets a screamingly funny side-story of her own).
Doctor Who season 10: Peter Capaldi’s last season as the Doctor was a reminder of how much he’ll be missed. Freed from Clara (a boring companion who somehow managed to stay on for two doctors and three seasons), the new companion Bill was a stunning breath of fresh air. She was resourceful, wounded and fun, the best companion the series’ has had since Donna and with Nardole also making a fine addition to the TARDIS team, we’ve got the strongest key cast the series has probably ever had. Their chemistry got the series through some duds, but this season also saw some of the strongest episodes since Steven Moffat took over. ‘Extremis’ was a shocking, clever and downright thrilling episode that promised great things for a trilogy of episodes in the middle of the season (it’s not this episode’s fault that the rest were utterly terrible) and the epic, deeply moving two part finale was one of the biggest gambles this series has taken in a while. The final episode in particular is a goddamn masterpiece, filled with dark, beautiful imagery and exceptionally poignant moments of hope in the face of utter hopelessness. Everything seems primed for a truly excellent Christmas special, and my excitement is high, especially seeing it will bring forth a series of sweeping changes for the series, not least, the first ever female Doctor. I can’t wait.
Game Of Thrones seasons 6-7: If I’d only watched season 6 of Game Of Thrones this year, it would’ve made it onto my awards list, and pretty high too. After a couple of disappointing seasons, the show’s sixth season seemed to kick things into high gear, especially with that finale which was non-stop twists and turns, artfully done to compress dozens of different storylines into one almighty battle with two clear sides. It was jaw-dropping, audacious and storytelling 101. It was genius. And then season 7 happened and it was... fine, I guess. It was a season of popcorn, things we’ve wanted to happen for years but which were way less satisfying in reality. It could be a lack of danger (not a single major character died!) or the fact that the plotting is all wonky, but the seventh season’s deliberate showy nature was frustrating. That’s not to say there weren’t good moments (the dragon attack on the caravans is one of the most awe-inspiring things I saw all year), but it felt like that this was all placeholder until the show’s eighth and final season. It’s now a waiting game to see if it was worth all the effort.
Grey’s Anatomy seasons 12-14, part 1: What a rollercoaster time I had with Grey’s this year! My perennial favourite guilty pleasure had one of its strongest years in season 12 as Meredith tried to move on following the death of her one true love Derek Shepherd. It was a season marked by hope and clever, experimental episodes (the dinner party which becomes a complex examination of grief and forgiveness and the episode where Meredith is attacked and becomes the patient for a change, which may be one of the best Grey’s episodes of all time). But then, season 13 was a real struggle, focussing on all the wrong things (a stupid Meredith/Riggs/Maggie love triangle, Amelia being childish). It was one of the few times I’d wondered if the show had run out of ideas. The just finished airing first half of season 14 has reinvigorated my faith, giving characters some much-deserved happy endings and generally being a lighter, more enjoyable show. More of this please.
Jane The Virgin seasons 2-3: A show that had a really strong first season, but which couldn’t keep up the momentum. It remains a clever marriage between high-drama telenovela plotting and more subdued, pleasant family stuff, but their dichotomy became ever more separated these last two seasons. It doesn’t help that the telenovela plot keeps going round and round in circles and that the domestic drama killed off one of the show’s most beloved characters. Still, I always look forward to the time I spend with the Villenauevas.
Mr. Robot season 2: The second season of this hacker drama was just as frustrating as the first, but without the necessary OMG moment at the climax that brought everything together. Mr. Robot frequently made me feel lost and frustrated, and it’s attempts to be clever and ambiguous seemed overly attention-seeking without the emotional undercarriage that had carried the first season through some of its weaker moments. However, there were still some tremendous rug-pull moments, especially in the strange episode where Alf makes a cameo. While I have yet to catch up on season 3, I’ve heard reports that it has overcome its sophomore slump, so I am looking forward to that.
Nowhere Boys season 3: Introducing a brand new cast was the shot in the arm this show needed, fixing many of the problems I had with season 2. It is now one of the more diverse casts on Australian TV, and delivered some great, sustained mystery plotting and enough character dynamics that I’m eager to see what happens to them next. The best local show you’re not watching.
Outlander season 2: Oh, Outlander, how could you? Your first season was so good, an intoxicating mix of feminism, romance and the Scottish highlands that was one of my favourite shows last year. And then you did season 2, which had the France detour? You’re killing me; just like that French stuff killed the momentum on the season. It may have looked pretty, but everything I cared about was back in Scotland. Everything just seemed a little off in season 2. I did do the first few episodes of season 3, but an early plot twist seemed.. odd, and I have heard that there are some more strange detours. How could you, Outlander? Yet to complete Season 3 at time of writing.
Robot Chicken season 8: I always say that Grey’s is my biggest guilty pleasure, but in truth, it’s probably Robot Chicken. As you can see from this list, I watch a LOT of TV, but I actually binge very little. I prefer to savour, spread a little of a few things over a couple of days. Not with Robot Chicken. I binge, and I binge hard. The other day, I did seven episodes in one sitting, when I had only planned to do one. At the time of writing, I’ve still got a few to go, but I know that if I watch one now, I won’t get to bed until late. I can’t do just one. I don’t know why, but it’s my weirdest TV truth. Also, Robot Chicken is sort of stealth great anyway (this latest season had a Fifty Shades of Grey parody with the Monopoly guy. C’mon, that’s amazing).
RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9: The first season of RuPaul’s Finn and I have done on a weekly basis was such a strange viewing experience. The season began without clear, likable queens to root for and the show’s trademark bitchiness was nowhere in sight, making for a bit of a slog at times. But then, the reunion episode revealed that one of the show’s seemingly nicest queens had been a two-faced villain in what was a stunning episode, packing the entire season’s worth of drama into a single hour. The finale episode was jaw-dropping and is already iconic. Go, Sasha!
Stranger Things 2: I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of Stranger Things and its second season did nothing to really change that. For every strong decision (the buildup of horror, the expansion of the first season’s threat), there were several weaker ones that pulled the series down. Will becoming part of the monster means we never really get to know Will, despite Noah Schnapp’s excellent acting. The character interactions which had been one of the very strongest parts of the first season were gone, as they were all thematically and literally apart. But the biggest problem is also one of its most analysed: ‘The Lost Sister’ is just as bad as you’ve heard. It kills the momentum flat (the previous episode had been terrifying and intense, ending on a brilliant cliffhanger), relies on stereotypical characterisation and doesn’t tell us anything new. It’s horrible. While the series does gain a little momentum later on, the threat never really comes together in a satisfying way. I want to like Stranger Things, I really do, but when there are so many good shows on TV that aren’t being watched, this one feels pleasant but dispensable.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt seasons 2-3: While still one of the funniest shows on TV, Kimmy Schmidt has become harder to swallow. Instead of responding to criticisms of Jane Krakowski’s character, Jacqueline being revealed to be part Native American, it doubled down in an offensive, frustrating episode that missed the point entirely and left a bitter taste. While it’s a comparatively little thing, it showed that the creators of the show weren’t willing to engage in a thoughtful, mature conversation about what was clearly a sensitive issue. There was still a lot to love, especially in the third season, which saw a move away from Kimmy and a focus on Titus (always a plus) and Jacqueline (less so). His pitch perfect parody of Lemonade was one of the funniest things I saw all year.
Vikings season 4, part 2: Vikings remains one of those strange oddities that I started watching ages ago and have just kinda stuck with ever since. It’s capable of great things, but also does some very frustrating things. The second half of season four was a good example of that, as it saw Ragnar Lothbrook removed from his position of power, but also saw the series lose its lead character. It was a brave decision as Travis Fimmel’s unexpected charisma had been one of the main reasons for watching the series and the rest of the season had suffered from the loss of such a powerful performance. I’ve heard that the currently airing season five does fix some of these problems, so I’ll probably get around to that sometime next year.
Will & Grace season 9, part 1: I was excited for the revival as the original (for all it’s weird choices) was one of the most influential and important shows in my life. It was the first gay show I ever showed to my parents and they loved it. The revival isn’t exactly world-changing, but is consistently funny, and it’s incredibly nice to have the gang back. Best episode? Toss-up between the gay conversion camp episode (which features a tear-jerking speech from Jack of all people) and the funeral episode (Karen grieving, Karen reuniting with Smitty, lots of Karen).
Farewell Old Friend
Girls seasons 5-6: Lena Dunham’s frustrating, controversial and entertaining series came to an end this year after six divisive seasons. As one of the first shows I watched ‘as live’ (a season a year), it will always hold a special place in my heart, but the show has often been overshadowed by Dunham’s questionable antics outside of the show. Girls was always inventive (most clearly shown in its exceptional stand-alone episodes like The Panic In Central Park, One Man’s Trash or the most recent American Bitch) and able to hit complex emotions in a nuanced way. I will miss Hannah, Shosh, Jessa and even Marnie, because in their struggle to grow into less terrible people, I saw myself.
Orphan Black season 5: Orphan Black was unable to overcome its worst tendencies (its constant widening of the conspiracy and focus on scientific twists over character interaction and development) in this disappointing final season. However, I will miss Orphan Black for the gift that was Tatiana Maslaney and all the Clone Sestras. May she soon have another worthy showcase for her incredible talents.
Penny Dreadful season 3: After an excellent second season which married gothic horror to personal pain, I had extremely high hopes for this third season, especially seeing it would have the chance to wrap up the series. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. The season felt rushed and conflicts introduced early on were never cleared up. Worse than that though, this was an unglorious end to some of the most beautifully complex, broken characters I’ve ever seen. Although it seems that it had always been the plan to end the series like this, it has more of a flavour of being cancelled before it’s time. This will always seem like a terrible missed opportunity, but almost all is forgiven because we get an episode as beautiful and sob-inducing as ‘A Blade Of Grass’, a bottle episode about finding hope in the absolute worst of times. Masterful.
Rectify season 4: The final season of one of my favourite shows should be an automatic guarantee to my end of list, especially one that has had such a strong showing on these lists. However, try as I might, I can’t bring myself to remember what happened in the final season. This is one of those rare cases where I need a re-watch before deciding on a final opinion. Until I do, this series’ beautiful, upsetting, hopeful rhythms and characters will stay with me forever.
Adam Ruins Everything season 1-2: My family was obsessed with this show this year, with my parents eager to see what Adam would ruin next. Conover’s comedic delivery helps the bitter pill go down, especially because a lot of basic stuff we take for granted is terrible and usually associated with power imbalances (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.). In this age of misinformation, it seems more essential than ever. Also, Adam’s character struck me as a weirdly great metaphor for life with Asperger’s (socially inept guy tries to make friends by teaching them stuff, is usually more ostracized as a result).
At Home With Amy Sedaris: The voice of BoJack’s Princess Carolyn gets her own show! And it’s kinda great! This clever, deeply bonkers spoof of home-making shows is wonderfully entertaining and gleefully surreal. Not everything works (not the biggest fan of Sedaris’ other characters), but when it’s on top form, it’s breathtakingly impressive. Episode 6 set in Nature is one of the best episodes of the year.
Bob’s Burgers season 1-3: I’m finally onboard with the Bob’s Burgers train after hearing about it for many years and I’m loving it. It took a while to kick into high gear, but working my way through the third season at the moment is so much fun, as there’s always at least one laugh-out-loud, great moment per episode. Memorable highlights: Tina’s first drive (“TURN ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, TINA! TURN, TINA!”), Bob’s Thanksgiving Totoro-inspired dream, the Mad Pooper (and the song), Gene’s weird-crush on a Manatee puppet and every insane, glorious moment of the fake shark episode.
The Crown season 1: A show that bathes in prestige drama. A fascinating look at a turbulent time for the royal family, it’s gifted with a strong cast and intriguing characters, but sometimes is a bit too stiff upper-lip for its own good. John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill is wonderful and Claire Foy shows Queen Elizabeth’s transformation wonderfully. Prince Philip is the worst, and I hate him. Yet to view season two at the time of writing.
GLOW season 1: I wanted to like this series so much more than I did. The trials and tribulations of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling had moments of greatness, but overall, I found my attention wandering and had to struggle to complete the series (I know many other people that didn’t get that far). The performances of all the women are wonderful though, and this is the series I find myself recommending to people more than any other. TV viewing is so strange.
Superstore seasons 1-3, part 1: If consistency is the truest form of success for a comedy, then Superstore is on track to become one of the greats. While its first season took a while to get going, seasons two and three packed on the character development and silliness to make for one of the most reliably funny comedies currently airing, with an absolute killer cast including America Ferrara and Mark McKinney. Most Valuable Performer? Lauren Ash’s Dina looks to be the Ron Swanson of the series, but I’d argue that Nichole Bloom’s young mum Cheyenne is a more reliably funny character.
Tales From The Tour Bus: This weird animated documentary series from the creator of Beavis And Butthead and King Of The Hill centers on the lives of country singers. It argues that their lives were just as dangerous as that of rock and rollers. The style takes some getting used to, but it’s worth the effort for some insane stories and beautiful music. My favorite episode was the two-parter centered on the tumultuous love affair between Tammy Wynette (‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’, ‘Stand By Your Man’) and George Jones, which starts out funny and romantic before turning gut-punch devastating as she is forced to face her delusions as Jones spirals into addiction. It’s a painful reminder that some of the best art comes from the most painful of places.
The Just Missed Out
Baskets season 1: Zach Galifanikis’ sad clown show would probably have made my top 25 if I had done season 2 in time. As it was, the first season was a gorgeous, heart-wrenching dramedy about family and the struggle to achieve one’s dreams. Supporting character Martha is great (where did the cast come from?) but its Lindsay Anderson’s brave, moving performance as Chip Basket’s mother that is the real reason to watch this. He disappears into the character, never for any second do we think this is a man in a dress, such is the strength of his portrayal. Masterful and sometimes downright devastating. Expect a probable appearance on next year’s list.
Downward Dog: This show was too beautiful for this world. Cancelled after one season, this show was a stunning, lovely examination of love told through the dog Martin’s relationship with his owner. What should’ve been silly and stupid became something much more heartfelt and pure, filled with understanding that even the most perfect love is about trying to understand and accommodate one another’s needs, no matter how different they are. If this was going to have a second season, this would’ve made it onto my list. As it was cancelled after 8 perfect episodes, it will remain one of the great one-season wonders.
F Is For Family seasons 1-2: Bill Burr’s dark animated family sitcom was addictive, disturbing fare. At first, it seemed to glamourise Frank’s racist, sexist diatribe that he spouted so frequently as part of the era in which it was set, but as the show went on and the messed up family dynamics become more complex and depressing, F Is For Family became much more. It became an examination of toxic masculinity, how sexist, racist attitudes infest every aspect of the family and how parents’ own failings can be transferred to their children. The fights between Frank and his wife Sue (voiced with weary frustration by the always excellent Laura Dern) were some of the most painfully real that I’ve ever seen, while the kids’ own attempts to act out often resulted in more pain. It wasn’t always an easy, or very funny watch, but at its best, F Is For Family was an extremely insightful watch.
Orange Is The New Black season 4: To be honest, Orange Is The New Black’s fourth season was one of the best things I watched this year. Taking hold of the great season 3 cliff-hanger, the show used the opportunity to go even darker, more stressful and thematically insightful. The show had always seemed to be about prison dynamics within the prison, but season four argued that the greatest threat to the prisoners was an uncaring system focused on profits over humanity. The show became extremely addictive as the feeling grew that something had to break, and it wasn’t going to be good. That break came late in the season, an immensely devastating casualty that promised to cause even bigger chaos in season five. The only reason this show isn’t on my top 25 is because I didn’t catch up with that finals season before the end of the year. If I had, this probably would’ve been top 10.
Regular Show seasons 6-7: What a strange series Regular Show is. It could so easily been a show about two slackers doing stupid things which cause them strange, interdimensional problems. And for the majority of it’s tenure, it was, but over the last few seasons it had also become something more. Slowly, Mordecai and Rigby learned to grow up, but it did so in a surprising, natural way. Mordecai had a relationship with Margaret and Cloudy Jay, both of which ended badly, due to his immaturity. Meanwhile, Rigby found a relationship with Eileen that made him strive to be a better person. Rigby, stupid, childish, annoying Rigby, suddenly became the more mature, responsible one. It was a twist I would never have seen coming, but one that was incredibly welcome. The show itself also matured into a series with a strange arc throughout its seventh season, before it married it’s strangeness with its focus on maturity in a wonderful season finale. The eighth season will be its last, but I have yet to catch up on that. For years, this series languished behind Adventure Time and Steven Universe as the best Cartoon Network has to offer. Not anymore.
Part 2 of my TV reviews will (hopefully) be published Thursday or Friday. My Top 10 Anime will go up either Saturday or Sunday. The film roundup will go up Wednesday next week, while my top 20 films will go up the Thursday or Friday after that. Hope to see you then.