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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ranking the Television Shows I Watched from the 2014-15 Season

I agree with every critic who believes that television is in some sort of Renaissance or golden age right now. It's better than it's ever been and it's so hard to keep up. As it is, I have thirty-four shows to rank right now and, honestly, I love every single one in the top thirty or so. Any one of those could have been in the top five and it would have been perfectly fine. They're all just so good! It's impossible to put greatness over greatness, but in this, I did try. Do keep in mind that some shows will be missing, simply because I haven't watched them yet or they did not have a season from September of 2014 to August of 2015. This includes The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Portlandia, Girls, Veep, Narcos, Nathan for You, Billy on the Street, The Awesomes, Louie, and Comedy Bang! Bang! Aside from those, enjoy this countdown. I hope some of your favorites are included, too.

34. Mulaney

Mulaney was not a good show and that is not a statement I wish I had to make. But it's true. When I first saw the promo for it, I thought it had promise. John Mulaney is the best stand-up alive and he brought Martin Short, Elliot Gould, and Nasim Pedrad with him to make a show! This is going to be awesome! The promo even had a joke that made me laugh out loud. But the show never worked. And there was a lot of faults for that. Timing, delivery, canned laughter, FOX. I admit there was promise. Mulaney's weirdness was always bubbling right below the surface, but no one dared to release it. The closest they ever got was a Home Alone-esque episode that never aired. There was an NFL game that bumped it and FOX never even bothered. Sometimes, episodes would just start halfway through. But now, Mulaney is dead and John is on to better things. Like, this much improved Home Alone comedy.

33. The Comedians

For some reason, it didn't work. The premise works. Larry David played himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but there was only a slight exaggeration between the man and the character. The idea of turning Billy Crystal and Josh Gad into unlikable actors might have been a turn-off for the masses. Yet, it's what is demanded by FX. People love Billy Crystal and it's hard to be open to that sort of new lens. It's the same problem that people have with the new Muppets show. Nobody wants to see Kermit swear. And maybe the problem with Gad is that his voice is what made him famous, through The Book of Mormon and Frozen. Maybe it's his voice he should stick to. Was he famous enough to play himself on a show? Zachary Levi didn't play himself on Curb. Keep it in mind. This is another that won't be back for a second season, though that supermarket scene did end up being worth the price of admission.

32. Lip Sync Battle

After the first season of Lip Sync Battle, one suspicion I had was confirmed. The idea works a lot better on The Tonight Show than it does in a half-hour format. (Also, Jimmy Fallon and Steve Higgins are a far superior duo compared to LL Cool J and Chrissy Teigen.) This is not to say that there weren't some amazingly rewatchable moments (Emily Blunt's Piece of My Heart, John Krasinski's Proud Mary), but a lot of the time the celebrities were just not interesting competitors. For every Will Arnett v. Alison Brie there was a Salt v. Pepa. For every Stephen Merchant there was a Gregg Sulkin. It worked sometimes and didn't work other times. But it definitely worked here.

31. Whose Line Is It Anyway?

I will always enjoy Whose Line because the improvisational comedians seem to always be on the top of their games. Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, and Wayne Brady rarely miss in their responses to the absurdities around them and when they do, that often becomes part of the joke. But something about the new version just feels inherently inferior to that of old. Aisha Tyler, despite any benefits she may add to the show, has more of an uncomfortable rapport, the kind that Drew Carey never even thought of exhibiting. And while Scenes from a Hat is a guarantee to generate laughter, any musical segment sucks the life out of the show quickly. They never work for me. But it's still so worth the watch.

30. Drunk History
Just look at that picture. Jason Ritter as Robert Wilson and Justin Long as Arno Penzias. If that's not enough to convince you of the greatness regularly produced by Drunk History, then I don't know what will be enough. And also, why are you so reluctant to be convinced? It's a half-hour separated into three segments. It's not a big deal. While Drunk History is not as quality as some of Comedy Central's other programs, it's still very entertaining. And you have to admire the process it goes through to get to air. (And what show with Will Ferrell as Roald Dahl doesn't deserve a spot in the top thirty?)

29. The Last Man on Earth

I have often talked about my love and adoration for the pilot episode of The Last Man on Earth and the season one finale of the show as you can see from this May post and this August post. But aside from those two episodes, everything else was really kind of...eh. Once the title was rendered meaningless, the show began to slip down its slippery slope to being just a below-average comedy with a creative setting. But those two episodes still elevate it to a mythic status such that I am very optimistic for season two. I think they know what didn't work and they know how to improve it. Plus, Will Forte might just be the best actor on television right now. I know how good this show can be.

28. The Goldbergs

There are very few shows I still watch on network television. Sure, there's the late night landscape (The Tonight Show, The Late Show, Late Night, SNL), but I'm talking about primetime. And there's very few. I've started watching The Muppets. There's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Last Man on Earth, New Girl, Family Guy, and Bob's Burgers in addition to that. Finally, The Goldbergs rounds out that group. So it's really all ABC and FOX. These are the last vestiges and even The Goldbergs has me feeling slightly nervous. This past season was great and that's why it's in the top twenty-eight. Everyone on the show is a great actor. But I saw hints that it might go the way of The Middle and Modern Family in that it becomes a very repetitive, very boring show. Fingers crossed it stays fresh.

27. New Girl

Here's another one of those network shows I was talking about. The third season of New Girl was very rough and everything about it was sent into panic mode. (Entertainment Weekly even ranked it on its list of the five worst shows of 2013.) But the fourth season leveled everything and put it back to being a very high-quality show once again. Background Check was New Girls' best episode ever and it even made it to twenty-one on my list of television's best episodes ever. And then the season four finale of New Girl gave a lot of promise for the future. Coach left, but rejoining Cece and Schmidt was done expertly. The fifth season won't be back until midseason because of Zooey Deschanel's pregnancy, but I've got high hopes.

26. You're the Worst
25. Catastrophe

I'm grouping these two together because they are the two shows on this list that best fit the idea of a romantic comedy genre. After ABC and NBC both tried and failed to launch their own rom-coms (remember Selfie, Manhattan Love Story, A to Z, and Marry Me?), it was FXX and Amazon Prime that ended up with the real winners, believe it or not.
So how did You're the Worst reinvent the romantic comedy genre? Well, it's a good example of what can only be described as "millennial love." The characters are very neurotic and very narcissistic, but there are redeeming qualities that make the audience root for all four of them to end up together with whom they belong.
Catastrophe, a show that originally aired on Channel 4 in Britain, but was quickly scooped up by Amazon Prime, features Shannon Hogan and Rob Delaney, two comedians who are not entirely familiar with the world of acting. And while they're a bit more mature than those on You're the Worst, their problems are no less relatable.
But what truly set these shows apart from the failed network upstarts? Quality writing. It goes a long way.

24. Family Guy

Call me crazy and call my opinion unpopular, but I think Family Guy is better now than it used to be when it was a younger show. The most recent season was one I looked forward to moreso than I ever did when it was in seasons four or five or around there. Plus, remember this?
The line in that Family Guy/Simpsons crossover, "I'm just a family guy." "And I'm a the simpsons." That line alone is enough to launch Family Guy to the twenty-fourth spot (remember, the crossover was specifically an episode of Family Guy and not The Simpsons). The characters on Family Guy seem more real as the show has aged. And I can never get enough of Brian and Stewie playing off one another.

23. Galavant

Ahhh, yes. Remember Galavant? I thought you may have forgotten. Fortunately, there will be a second season of this really interesting, inventive television show. With songs by Alan Menken (he's a big get for Galavant) and acting from Magnitude (Pop! Pop!) and Carlton Lasseter, Galavant was just a really fun comedy musical medieval romp. That can't be said for every show. And as much as I love the show's theme song.

I think I love John Stamos playing a character named Jean Hamm more.

22. The Spoils Before Dying

The Spoils of Babylon will always be one of my favorite things ever. So, The Spoils Before Dying had a lot to live up to over there on IFC. And it couldn't quite do that, but it was still super duper good. It didn't have Tobey Maguire, which essentially sealed its fate as the inferior miniseries, but the cast was still one to salivate over. Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Tim Robbins, Michael Sheen, Will Ferrell, Haley Joel Osment, and even a cameo from Jimmy Fallon! Michael Williams did a good job as the new lead and the neo-crime genre satire really worked. But Tobey Maguire, though. Hopefully, Eric Jonrosh will ride again.

21. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

I really enjoy Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The cast is fantastic (Andy Samberg, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti, Andre Braugher, Terry Crews, Melissa Fumero). It's the type of cast similar to Parks and Rec or The Office where a couple years from now, the world will be baffled that so many amazing comedians were all on the same show at one time. But there are certain cracks that formed in season two following a near-perfect first season. The Jake and Amy relationship seems a little bit forced. It's not the best idea to take Holt away from the precinct. But the Nine-Nine is still one of the top comedies on television today. Plus, it created this Lazy Sunday reunion.

20. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Which talk show host were people most sad to see go this year? Stephen Colbert? Nah, he just jumped right to The Late Show. David Letterman? Maybe certain people. Jon Stewart? That's who gets my vote. His last season brought out the best in him and it almost seemed as if he was not the "slightly restless host" he claimed to be. The Emmys agreed by decorating him with a farewell tour filled with hardware.

19. Bob's Burgers

While there was no Equestranauts-level episode in season five of Bob's Burgers, there were some solid concepts that were well-executed. The Die Hard musical, a burger cooking contest, a competition to lower rent. All of these were thoroughly enjoyable plot lines and good examples of how Bob's Burgers is still on top of its game. Plus, the guest star list was one of the best any television show of the 2014-15 season could boast. Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Galifianakis, Nick Offerman, Key and Peele, Carl Reiner, Hader, Lo Truglio, and Dratch were just some of the names who appeared on Bob's Burgers.

18. Silicon Valley

I worry that the first season of Silicon Valley will be forever impossible to be topped by any of its subsequent seasons. It was so tightly orchestrated and crazy smart and really just...awe-inspiring, which is something unexpected for another dry comedy in the HBO pantheon of such a genre. But it really worked. The second season was great and really emphasized the point that no one is safe in the tech world. And that cast just keeps gelling.

17. Late Night with Seth Meyers

I really love Seth Meyers and I really love his show. Jimmy is very secure in his position and I adore his show, too. I love watching it and it's really great. Colbert is another guy I like. But Seth Meyers is like my late night passion project. He's just going to be my guy for as long as he hosts Late Night. In his most recent season, I actually attended the taping of one of his episodes, as you might remember with Tina Fey, Adam Pally, and Grouplove.

He is definitely becoming more comfortable in his role. He seems to be doing the comedy pieces he wants to do, his interviewing skills are some of the best on television, and his sit-down monologue still kills every night. The only down side? Fred hasn't been in The 8G Band too frequently. But the show is still knocking it out of the park.

16. Inside Amy Schumer

Just watch those two videos and try to tell me that Inside Amy Schumer is not one of the funniest television shows on the air today, maybe even of all-time. Amy Schumer is the "it" comedian in the entertainment industry right now. Between her new movie with Jennifer Lawrence, her Emmy for Inside Amy Schumer, her multi-million dollar book deal, her upcoming hosting stint on SNL, and her hit comedy Trainwreck, no one is hotter than Schumer right now. And those two clips are excellent reasons why. The 12 Angry Men parody was one of the best things that happened on television all year and the Last Fuckable Day sketch with Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the prime example of Schumer's biting social commentary. She's the real deal.

15. Daredevil

Here's how good Marvel television can be. We already know that their movies are consistently awesome, but their shows have been underwhelming. Agents of SHIELD is a major disappointment and Agent Carter is merely average as a show (though excellent in characters). But here comes Daredevil on Netflix (coincidence that the better show is on a streaming service) to lead into The Defenders with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. It only took me about a day to watch Daredevil. That's how good it was (how could it be anything else? Drops of Jupiter is part of the soundtrack!). And not only was the titular hero a spectacle of the screen, but Wilson Fisk is probably the best villain currently on television. And have you seen the hallway fight scene yet? If you haven't, you should.

14. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

She's alive, damn it! It's a miracle. I guess the fact that this show is alive is a miracle, too. Passed over by NBC (a blessing in disguise. There's no doubt this would've been cancelled if it was on the Peacock), Kimmy Schmidt found a second life on Netflix, a place where it is primed to thrive. Tina Fey and Jon Hamm nearly stole the show with their turns as iconic guest actors (a statement refused by the Emmys to be affirmed), but it all came down to Tituss Burgess who burst onto the scene. When he sang I'll Make Love to You at a funeral, that's when I knew I was in love with his character. Could there be a character I loved more? Well, yes. Ellie Kemper's Kimmy Schmidt is one of my absolute favorites. It's just such a sweet and funny yet edgy and definitively-strong show. Netflix's gold.

13. Difficult People

As soon as it was announced that Amy Poehler would be executive producing a comedy on Hulu starring Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner, I knew the world was in for an immense treat. And I was happily proven right. The story of Billy and Julie as two aspiring comedians who are repeatedly taken down by the undercurrent of their own horribleness is one I was quick to gravitate to and quick to love. I imagine it will only get better as the two develop their skills in acting more, but the writing is already super sharp. It's like following the best Twitter feed ever.

12. The Colbert Report
11. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

These two are grouped together basically just because they're late night shows. The only difference is that one just got going and the other just came to an end.

The Colbert Report - Final Episode (Finale... by disnmad

The Colbert Report, to me, was always better than The Daily Show. I always thought it was sharper, funnier, and as much as I love Jon Stewart, I always thought Stephen Colbert was better to watch. His final episode was really, really great. There was a lot going. He's on The Late Show now and that only reinforces how much I loved the Report. There are elements of both that mix together, but there will never be anything like Colbert's character, Stephen Colbert.
Now, The Tonight Show is an entirely different animal than The Colbert Report was. The latter was very much a political satire. The Tonight Show is more of a good vibes, good times endeavor where Jimmy just hangs out and has a party for an hour every night. And both work best for what they are, they're very well-suited to each host. But The Tonight Show is just so entertaining. Lip Sync Battles, Good Burger reunions, and Classroom Instruments bits all make for a worthy successor of Johnny Carson and Jay Leno.

10. House of Cards

Democracy is so overrated. I only just watched House of Cards all the way through to its current point for the first time this summer. And it was awesome. The first two seasons were great and the third, which is the one being discussed for this list, was equally epic. Finally seeing Frank Underwood as President was something to be relished, but his power was almost taken over by Claire's. It was an exciting back and forth and for the first time in the history of House of Cards, the political storylines were not the most exciting. That went to the adventures of Douglas Stamper. Adventures is almost definitely the wrong word.

9. Saturday Night Live

Remember that sketch you voted the best sketch of the year from SNL? That's just one of many examples of why SNL's fortieth season was a return to form. It was on par with the perfect transition year of Wiig, Samberg, Sudeikis, and Hader, the first season with Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks, and the 2000 season where Ferrell killed it as George Bush for the first time. SNL was back and it was good once again! We got to see some Mike O'Brien Pictures which were the highlight of the year, some Jebidiah Atkinson, a good rapport with Colin Jost and Michael Che finally developed. Plus, can we count the fortieth anniversary special? Because that was epic, too. We can count it.

8. Fargo

For everyone who says that Fargo the movie had nothing to do with Fargo the television show, I have a couple things to say. One, why should that be a problem? Two, there were some similar elements. Three, this.
Fargo is one of the best miniseries to ever grace the good screens of television. (The other one on this list was The Spoils Before Dying, but that was a comedy.) Though, there are comedic elements to Fargo, it is largely a crime drama. A really innovative, inventive, and original crime drama at that. Plus, Colin Hanks and Allison Tolman really crushed it. They were amazing on Fargo.

7. BoJack Horseman

BoJack Horseman's second season was somehow better than its stellar first. I have a friend who says cartoons are for children. I think it's a really ignorant statement and there are two shows on this list that prove him wrong. One was the twenty-fourth-ranked Family Guy and the other is seventh-ranked BoJack Horseman. BoJack is so mature and so...unique that I cannot help but be in awe at the way Raphael Bob-Waksberg blends intense dramatic and depressing scenes with all sorts of humor. Slapstick, dry, corny, witty. There's all different kinds of comedy used and I am just always amazed by it. Plus, Will Arnett...besides Gob Bluth, this might be his very best role. What a broken character BoJack is.

6. Parks and Recreation

Here's a comedy that is probably the end of NBC's once never-ending plethora of comedies. From Cheers to Frasier to Seinfeld to Friends to The Office to 30 Rock to Community to Parks and Rec, NBC dominated in quality sitcoms for about three decades. But this past year, Parks and Rec came to an end.

The final season was a big risk for Mike Schur and the gang as they took a time jump by about three years, but it ended up paying off. The moments between Leslie and Ron were precious scenes to treasure and then that finale was just one big gushing love letter to everything the show stood for. And I still can't pick a favorite character.

5. Documentary Now!

This is a truly great show. The humor is one of the driest in the entire list, but there's one thing I can say for sure. Documentary Now! is the most well-made show on this list. I believe that whole-heartedly. To casual fans of literally anything (who have no familiarity with Fred Armisen or Bill Hader), this show could very well be six episodes of actual documentaries. Plus, they got Helen Mirren! How do you get Helen Mirren? My favorite documentary was the Nanook the eskimo one (because John Slattery nailed it), but that was until I saw the Blue Jean Committee. Enjoy Catalina Breeze.

4. Community

What we got from the (at long last) sixth season of Community was something nobody but Dan Harmon could have ever predicted. But the season six finale made it very clear that the next time we see the study group will be on the big screen to fulfill the six seasons and a movie prophecy. But there was so much to love from the final season. Jeff Winger continued his iconic character arc, Subway came back, and paintball was cool again. But how about that finale? Oof. That was an emotional roller coaster like had never experienced before. I thought that the season three finale, Introduction to Finality, was going to be the roughest it got with Community, but Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television proved me very, very wrong. Those last moments got me very choked up. Luckily, we had this hilarious final final scene to bring us back to our comedic reality.

3. Mad Men

In yet another installment on the long list (which is almost as long as the overall list) of shows on this list that experienced their final seasons during the 2014-15 season, Mad Men very well might be the best. The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Parks and Recreation, Community, (maybe you can count Mulaney and The Comedians), and now, Mad Men. They were all good, but Mad Men, in my opinion, was flawless. I'm going to make three very bold statements. Mad Men is the greatest drama ever made, Don Draper is the greatest dramatic character ever created, and the series finale is the second greatest series finale for a drama series (second only to Breaking Bad in that category). That's how good this show was. You can see that final scene above (Pete getting on the plane is my absolute favorite). And just as Don wanted to buy the world a Coke, I'd like to show the world Mad Men.

2. The Mindy Project

What wasn't to love about the third season of The Mindy Project? Danny and Mindy got together, Adam Pally still appeared as Peter Prentice in most of the episodes despite leaving as a series regular about two-thirds of the way through the season, and Stephen Colbert appeared as a majestically bearded priest. Among other guest stars were Rhea Perlman, who killed it, Max Greenfield, Rob McElhenny (cousin of Ike Barinholtz's Morgan Tookers), and B.J. Novak. Mindy Kaling can do no wrong. Thank god for Hulu picking this show up. Plus, look how adorable!

1. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

And now we end the list of the best television shows I watched in the 2014-15 season with yet another Netflix program. The follow-up prequel series to the 2001 comedy Wet Hot American Summer. I loved everything about this show. It was so tightly packed and stuffed with literally uproarious material. It's a cast that anyone putting a television show together would be hard-pressed to exceed in its quality. Jon Hamm fighting Christopher Meloni, H. Jon Benjamin turning into a can of mixed vegetables, Chris Pine saving friendship with his song, Paul Rudd being executed, Jason Schwarzman and Michael Cera getting shot through their skulls, Bradley Cooper kissing Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler kissing John Slattery, Josh Charles popping three collars. What more can you want in a television show? And yes, once again, I will be sharing this clip. It's a worthy best show!

It's a hurricane of fun.

By the network on this list:
Seven shows from FOX
Five shows from Netflix
Four shows from NBC
Four shows from Comedy Central
Three shows from FX
Two shows from IFC
Two shows from ABC
One show from AMC
One show from Hulu
One show from Amazon Prime
One show from Yahoo Screen
One show from CW
One show from Spike
One show from HBO

Television is in a golden age.

1 comment:

  1. Great reviews of a ton of shows and I am happy you are able to be fair and point out not only what works but what didn't or what needs improving. I watched a lot of these, and agree with your takes on those shows. Here's to a continued new Golden Age of television!