Contemporary television has turned into an embarrassment of riches. I mean, there are a lot of good, even great, shows to watch these days. Too many.
So, with all due respect to those rabid binge-watchers of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead or Scandal (that one I seriously don’t get), here is a rundown of 20 TV shows—some new, some familiar, some you may never have heard of until now—that I daresay really came correct with some undeniable oomph this year.
Archer (FX) and Bob’s Burgers (Fox)
The two best animated comedies not only share the same voice actor in the titular lead role (H. Jon Benjamin, by the way), but also an acerbic, side-splittingly funny view of dysfunctional-family chaos. These shows laid out the joy and pain that comes with knowing you’re all stuck together.
Arrested Development (Netflix) and Family Tree (HBO)
On the live-action, dysfunctional-family sitcom front, the Bluths returned to TV with a vengeance, reminding everyone how hilariously right they are at being just plain wrong. Meanwhile, Christopher Guest had Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) unearthed his family history in his nutty, charming comedy.
Breaking Bad and Mad Men (AMC)
AMC’s twin pillars of quality TV had their prized antiheroes go all out. As Walter White spent his final episodes destroying everything he cared about before one last act of fatal redemption, Don Draper had that meltdown we’ve been waiting for, forcing him to start from scratch for the next and last season.
Broadchurch (BBC America) and The Returned (Sundance Channel)
The British murder-mystery and the French ghost story were not only the best imports of the year, but dramas that both dealt with the damning secrets that haunt small-town communities. With the American remakes soon on their way, do yourself a huge favor: Catch up on these first.
The Chris Gethard Show (thechrisgethardshow.com) and The Pete Holmes Show (TBS)
These late-night funfests have awkward, geeky hosts presiding over an environment that’s as unpredictable as it is surprisingly endearing. But they’re shows that also welcome the weirdos and losers of the world with open arms. Hey, even they need late-night shows to watch after a hard day!
Eastbound and Down (HBO) and Real Husbands of Hollywood (BET)
So, who was the bigger, self-centered, fame-seeking dick on TV this year? As Danny McBride’s Kenny Powers did his final victory lap, uproariously looking for one last shot at greatness, Kevin Hart fearlessly acted like a “mitch”—yes, it means what you think it does—and hilariously sent up reality shows and celebrity ego-tripping.
The Fall (Netflix) and Hannibal (NBC)
“This is what goes on in the mind of a lunatic,” Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys once uttered, and these serial killer-heavy procedurals explored that notion in deep, unsettling detail. These dramas also brought Gillian Anderson, in all her sultry, meticulous glory across separate, respective roles, back to stateside TV audiences.
Girls (HBO) and Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Lena Dunham’s so-pitiful-its-sad (and vice-versa) dramedy and Amy Schumer’s rude/lewd/crude sketchfest were eye-opening testaments to how single gals live in the 21st century. It’s like these shows nobly exist to right the wrongs Sex and the City committed so many moons ago.
Key & Peele (Comedy Central) and Portlandia (IFC)
Just as In Living Color and The Kids in the Hall respectively mocked black and white culture 20 years ago, these skitcoms anchored by comedy duos (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele; Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein) cleverly reminded us that black and white people aren’t that different after all.
Parks and Recreation (NBC) and Veep (HBO)
These sitcoms boast the best ensemble casts, political satire that’s savvy and subtle, relentless humor (although Veep is more acidic with its gags than the usually sweet-natured Parks) and two innately funny ladies (Amy Poehler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who play the hell out of their lead roles.
In Memoriam: David Brenner