TV has always been a great way to sit down and shut your brain off — or, at least, that’s how it used to be. There are so many TV shows on nowadays, you literally couldn’t watch every single one if your life depended on it. With that, Chris Walker and Austin Hall try to break down a few shows worth watching from the past year.
Bojack Horseman — Netflix
Bojack Horseman (Will Arnett), an anthropomorphic horse and former sitcom tv star, takes solace in drugs and alcohol — not the cheeriest premise for an animated comedy show. Still, through brilliant side gags and puns thanks to the fact that half of the population are also anthropomorphic animals and insects, the show does a great balancing act between comedy and drama, with little Easter Eggs so vast that, upon second viewings, you can find yourself focusing on just the background jokes and have a good time doing it. In fact, the show would be great even as a straight-up comedy, but it’s so much more. With each season, they dig deeper and deeper into despair, as Bojack constantly tries to do the right thing to turn his life around, but ends up making things so much worse. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud and close to tears in many of the later episodes. In the fourth season, it hits its darkest moment in “The Old Sugarman Place”, revealing a horrid truth about his grandmother’s past.
Still, his one chance at redemption is reconciling with a family member he didn’t even know existed. He tries desperately to stay in her life, but her fathers won’t let him. In the end, she makes a decision and calls him; the face he gives at the end, one of relief and excitement, is more emotional than anything else you’ll see on an animated show.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — The CW
I’m usually not a huge fan of musicals, but the way that this show incorporates the performances allows them to give the audience a reprieve from some of their tougher topics. After all, this is a show about Rebecca Bunch’s (Rachel Bloom) quest to make Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) love her by any means necessary. As she stalks, manipulates, and schemes, the show uses meta humor to poke fun of Rebecca, and even digs into how silly it can be to break out into song during a scene.
During season three, “I Never Want to See Josh Again” finds Rebecca at a darker place than we’ve ever seen her, and, instead of the usual upbeat ending, we get a fade to black. Some of the best shows find humor in things that people wouldn’t usually find humorous, but truly great shows know when to get real. This one does both at just the right time.
Game of Thrones — HBO
For six seasons, we have seen several warring families make a slow march towards Westeros, staking their claim to the Iron Throne. It was a long journey, both figuratively and literally, where we deal with several kings rising and falling in battle, and dragons. (Did I mention dragons? Dragons!) Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), the King in the North, meets Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the Mother of Dragons, and each moment together is as electric as you’d expect having watched and rooted for these characters for so long.
For years we heard from the North that “Winter is Coming” and this time, it does, and gloriously. The White Walkers (ice zombies!) have threatened to take over the entire realm and finally make their march on Westeros. In just a few short episodes, we get a great battle scene filled with action-packed dragon fire, and another one on thick ice against the White Walkers. This show, with gorgeous set pieces, acting, and beautiful dialogue, will come to an end in 2018 or 2019, and frankly, I’m willing to wait in order to cherish every last morsel of the remaining story.
Insecure — HBO
Insecure, starring series co-creator Issa Rae, starts out looking like it’s all about relationships, but it’s also about how these characters deal with racism, sexism, sexuality and gender. Lawrence Walker (Jay Ellis), Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji) and Issa Dee (Rae), have gone through some very tumultuous times, especially Molly and Issa, both of whom change their ideas on what kind of relationship they’re looking for as well as where to take their careers, and Lawrence, who tries to redefine himself in season two.
Throughout the two seasons, you end up rooting for all three of these characters at various times, even when they fight each other, but certainly whenever they have to put up with racism or sexism. Each one of them has to deal with it in their own way, but the spotlight, in those instances, is more on the racist or sexist topic that’s been brought up, shining a light on another part of society that has unfortunately gotten a pass for too long.
The show also really thrives when you’re left wondering who’s right and who’s wrong when they interact with each other, such as when Molly and Issa deal with their current relationships or Issa and Lawrence fight about the past they once had. The last episode of season two “Hella Perspective”, shows some of this off brilliantly. An episode that delves deeply into each one of their lives and what they were all doing over the span of a month, we see how they each deal with some pretty messed up situations, leading them all to a crossroads of sorts. Season three will have to address how each one of them will move forward with their lives, but that seems to be exactly the plan, and I’m sure our feelings on each character will change with each episode. I can’t wait.
The Leftovers — HBO
How would people deal with 2% of the world’s population disappearing into thin air? This is the question that The Leftovers goes about answering, and, since it mirrors the idea of Rapture, has plenty of religious themes placed into the story.
In the third and final season, the show goes full bore into making you think that Kevin Garvey, Jr. (Justin Theroux), is something special. His father thinks he’s the messiah and so does Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), who’s sister, Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), lost her two kids and husband in the “Sudden Departure”. Throughout the seasons, we have seen straight-up fantasy elements, false idols, a cult built to remind people of what happened, and tons of crying from Kevin. Each episode is packed with hilarious absurdity, mesmerizing characters, and a dread that fills your heart each time Kevin, Matt, or Nora try to make sense of it all.
From a show so wrought with sadness and loss, you find beauty in how these broken characters deal with it, and keep going. You might say watching the show is a religious experience.
Better Things — FX
Pamela Adlon has done everything. The tenured actress from Californication and the voice of King of the Hill’s best character (I dare you to say it’s not Bobby, damn it) has an IMDB so thick, she doesn’t need an autobiography. That’s what happens when you start acting at 16.
Her career, and being a single mom of three girls, inspires Better Things. The show is a spiritual cousin of Louie (the disgraced star is a former executive producer), tackling the comedy behind being a woman in Hollywood and what it takes to be a single mother. For both, it takes a strong support system and an IDGAF attitude to handle anything, like a teenager unleashing a barrage of insults at the drop of a dime just because she’s displeased. The show finds its biting humor easily in these moments, but also is really relatable and honest when it shows Adlon’s Sam worried about being in a relationship, because she’s scared of letting anyone in.
The entire second season, directed entirely by Adlon, is available online now. The second episode is definitely my favorite, mainly for Sam’s poignant honesty in a break-up with a boyfriend she considers “too nice”.
Black-ish — ABC
I’ve stood on my pedestal for this show in the past, shouting out Tracee Ellis Ross for being amazing. It’s easy to like a show that is basically the spiritual child of The Cosby Show and Moesha, focusing on the household of an affluent Black family in Los Angeles.
That being said, the Kenya Barris-guided show, is pointedly honest about what it is like to be Black in a country that made Donald John Trump its 45th President. In its fourth season, Black-ish has continued to make poignant, impressive comedy that is focused on a variety of topics from postpartum depression to Juneteenth. The show’s impressive cast has brought laughter, tears, and knowledge with every scene. Even a bottle episode about the family playing Monopoly, with their own specialty rules that greatly benefit grandparents Ruby and Pops (the show’s not secret/secret weapons in Jennifer Lewis and Laurence Fishburne), teaches you a lesson through the laughs — don’t trust anyone.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — Amazon
If there’s any show about making the most of the lemons life gives, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is it. In the pilot, Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is going about her life in 1958 New York City, raising her 2 kids, and being a great wife & daughter, all while speaking with that signature Amy Sherman-Palladino dialogue.
Her life is perfect, until it isn’t:when her comedian wannabe husband bombs on stage and has a breakdown, she starts to see her life unravel quickly. What does she do? She gets drunk, goes to the comedy club where her husband tanked and delivers a great, impromptu set on the sting of her life falling apart. Oh, and she gets arrested.
The rest of the first season shows Brosnahan’s titular character become a comedian, through all the ups, downs, and audience heckling. Featuring Alex Borenstein as her guide/manager and Tony Shalhoub as her father, Maisel dives deep into the world of 1950s NYC — one of the show’s biggest strengths. The show completely looks like it’s in 1958, from set design and costumes to the dialogue, no detail is left to make you feel like a cellphone might crop up out of nowhere.
Maisel was a clear hit, so season 2 has a lot to live up to, but I’m not worried. If there’s anything that the first season taught me it’s that Mrs. Maisel isn’t afraid of anything.
Master of None — Netflix
Saying this show is about a New Yorker trying to find his way is too simple. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang built a series which focuses itself through the lens of Ansari’s Dev and packs itself with many layered stories on identity, love, and family. The show itself reminds you of Louie or Curb Your Enthusiasm at times, with its auteur tendencies and how it builds upon the lives of its creators.
From an ode to Italian cinema to looking at the lives of different New Yorkers, the show finds humor and honesty in every situation it covers. The best though — yes, the Thanksgiving episode, the journey through the life of Lena Waithe’s Denise, a Black lesbian, focused through Thanksgivings over the decades. Written by Ansari and Waithe, who is a serious TV veteran, the episode captures the best part of the show — its deep, personal, and open storytelling that feels more real than anything else on television.
Riverdale — The CW
The show is campy. That’s what you should expect a program based on the Archie comics to be. However, it resides on the CW, so you know it’s going to be full of hot, edgy teen drama. The weird thing is Riverdale is really good because it is self aware of how absurd it is. It knows how ridiculous a drug named “jingle jangle” is, and makes fun of it, but doesn’t question it too much.
There’s the undercurrent of Gossip Girl meets Twin Peaks, which is merited through the murder mystery that the teens try to solve during the addictive (and easily bingeable) first season. The show blends being odd, overly dramatic, and daring, while flipping the archetype of being a teen drama. Archie, Veronica, Betty, and the gang are played by a bunch of no named actors, except Jughead (is it Cole or Dylan Sprouse?), while the parents are rounded out by seasoned vets like Twin Peaks’ Madchen Amick, 90210’s Luke Perry, and Scream’s Skeet Ulrich.
Honestly, the show is formulaic and messy at times, but this isn’t The Wire. It does know what it’s doing. When you have a character like Cheryl Blossom, who can make any and every line memorable, it doesn’t need to be brilliant — it just needs to keep being fun.