10. Parades End
While a British drama about the upper class during Edwardian England and the first world war seems to reek of Downton Abbey, this miniseries actually has substance and things to say. Benedict Cumberbatch fulfills his namesake and plays a stuffy, sexually repressed young lord whose brilliance in finance and bureaucracy do not extend to the politics inherent in the upper class. His wife (Rebecca Hall) is simultaneously overbearing and repressed in her role as a lady, and there’s a whole forbidden love angle with a Michelle Williams look-a-like (Adelaide Clemens). I am mostly including this in the top 10 to put it on the list, but that’s because it actually deals with characters living in history and not just in a historical setting. The war scenes are great, the acting is great across the board, and no one comes across as too villainous or perfect. If you want more Downton but would like it to be less of a Tory wet dream, please check this out.
9. Game Of Thrones
As a fan of the books, I already know what should happen in this show. So I was surprised when the writers went past trimming the text down to actually putting characters in different situations. And I was even more surprised when this made the overall story even better. One of the shows strengths is its dialogue scenes, and Season 2 did not disappoint. Whatever you guys are doing in the writing room, do more of it, please.
8. Mad Men
On merit alone it would be at the top of the list, but that would be unfair to so many other shows. Season 5 keeps on raising the bar for the sheer artistry that is put into each episode by the whole cast and crew. Its comforting to know a modern masterpiece is getting its deserved praise while it it still airing.
7. Boardwalk Empire
This was the year we finally begin to see the Twenties the way we remember them. Lots of guns, Lots of booze, lots of sleeping around. And furthermore Steve Buscemi really does deserve some praise for his portrayal of Nucky Thompson, by the end of the season I don’t think people can say that this won’t be an iconic role. Plus the direction this season has been top notch. Tim Van Patten and Allen Coulter are at the top of their game in this season, creating a show that can dazzle you with both allusive settings and tense action, often within the same scene. The show keeps topping itself and it has no sign of slowing down.
6. The Eric Andre Show
Tim and Eric meets late night. Probably the most acquired taste on the list and not immune from a few dud sketches, but when it shines, it burns your eyes. Hannibal Buress is the perma-blazed linchpin that keeps the show from going too off the rails, and the guests each night seems to get better and better, until Will.I.Am steals the last episode.
A voice of a generation indeed. As a member of the unemployed, early twentysomthing posse, a great deal of the content of the show cuts pretty close to home for me, and that seems to be true for other people my age who I’ve talked to about this show. So many people have been trying to define this new post-adolescence, pre-adulthood mindset that has arisen in the past decade or so, and I think this has gotten the closest. Girls also gets a big boost from me for its cinematography. The DP, Jody Lee Lipes, somehow shoots scenes that look cold and feel warm, embodying a post-collegiate haze where existential dread is like a warm blanket.
4. The Thick of It
As an American, the politics on this show don’t hit quite as close as I imagine they would if I was British, but it’s a true testament to its quality that it doesn’t really matter. With the long-form Goolding Inquiry penultimate episode, the overarching themes of the whole series came to a head in a manner that most other shows could only aspire to. Not only did it showcase the mutually parasitic relationship between the government and the media in a clear cut, almost educational fashion, it did so by taking away all the power from characters we were accustomed to controlling the strings. And since we knew the characters so well at this point, all the fumbling over words and pained faces were even more hilarious and engrossing than if we had caught the footage during the news. It makes me wonder if former political aides who are still “in the loop” find watching Cspan or PMQs this entertaining (probably not).
So much clicks on this show that its almost unfair. The dialogue is quick and snappy and funny without ever seeming quirky(a la Gilmore Girls), the acting is pitch perfect for the setting and tone, and the increasingly serialized storytelling is only becoming more and more compelling. It feels like all the actors were born to play these roles. And impressively, the show has been widening its scope inch by inch to portray South-East Kentucky as an oft overlooked area of the country that is increasingly becoming emblematic of many of the issues America has created for itself in its recent history. Coal miners, Oxycontin, Organized crime, race relations, urban/rural divide, local elections, and the US Marshals in the middle, all treated with enough gravity and levity to make it feel human
2. Danger 5
In a perfect world there would be a whole channel devoted to shows like this (and Adult Swim doesn’t count). A group of international Allied spies sent to kill Hitler? Cool. Set in the 60? Sweet. Full of visual gags and surreal plot-lines? Awesome. And made with the aesthetics of a B television show from the 70’s or 80’s, complete with many sets and creatures (like mind-controlled Nazi dinosaurs) done in miniature? Perfect. If you’re some silly person who’s still skeptical after this description, you must find fun frivolous or something.
1. Sex House
This gets the #1 spot because of how unexpected it was to find such a brilliant show as a web series with 6 minute long episodes. Starts off as satire, quickly takes a pitch black turn, and keeps getting darker and more surreal until you wonder if this should just be a horror series. Reality show parodies now have a standard set so high for them that I am gleefully dreading the next one that even comes close to this.
By now, everyone should know how good this show is, and the season isn’t over so I’m holding my judgement. Not that it could be bad of course.
Friday Night Dinner
Somewhat silly British-Jewish family comedy, worth it for Mark Heap as the weird neighbor and the fairly inventive situations that someone invariably gets themselves into. The second series ramps up the zaniness without feeling forced, which is pretty hard to do. I didn’t think I would like it as much as I did, and now I’ve re-watched it multiple times.
Somewhat serious British-Jewish family comedy, it can hit dark and personal issues without missing comedy beats. probably has to do with the large amount of talent on the show, and the British are better at that sort of thing anyway
Comedy Bang Bang
Another talk show parody that has some Tim and Eric connections, was a toss up between this and Eric Andre. Reggie Watts is the man.
Fred and Carrie haven’t lost it, not at all.
My preferred cartoon of the year, hurts my brain less than adventure time yet is just as funny.
The Thick of It was superior to this one this year, but I suspect once this show has a few seasons under its belt it will be one of the funniest and most relevant shows stateside. Since there’s no Malcolm like character the whole cast gets to trade in impressive insults and put-downs, which adds some distance and charm.
Mockumentary centered on the planning committee of the 2012 London Olympics. Hugh Bonneville shows impressive comedic chops here, who knew Lord Grantham could be so funny. Catchphrasy but the characters are very easy to love(or hate-love)
The Booth At The End
The other end of the impressive web-series section, I never would have suspected a show that is only one on one conversations to be so dynamic, dramatic, and compelling. Xander Berkeley is absolutely wonderful here.