Top TV Shows of 2016

Like so many other things in 2016, the year in television was a bit of a disappointment compared to 2015.  Some of it has to do with the shows that ended in 2015 generally being better than the ones that started in 2016.  Some of it is because quality continuing series aren’t returning until 2017 (see: Fargo, The Leftovers, Sense8, and Homeland).  But I’m pretty sure most of it is because I watch less than 10% of available scripted shows and I’m probably missing a lot of great ones.

So keep that in mind while going through my current Top 10 list, with honorable mentions.  I say current because I’m sure that I’ll finally get caught up on one of the 90% of shows I hadn’t seen and be angry that I didn’t include it on this list.  Oh well.  At least I’ve gotten better at not watching shows I don’t like (bye, Walking Dead!) to make room for shows I might like.  Anyway, the shows in the list include the network the show originally aired on (if applicable) and the streaming service it can be found on or will be found on sometime in 2017 (if applicable).

10. iZombie (The CW/Netflix)

A show best described as a featherweight police procedural with zombies doesn’t exactly scream “Top 10 Show” material.  But whatever it lacks in originality it makes up for in sharp dialog, compelling characters, and just being incredibly fun to watch.

9. The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime)

Season one of The Man in the High Castle managed to coast by on a fascinating premise, great world building, and some stunning production values, despite being hampered by bland characters making stupid decisions to keep the sometimes dodgy plot going.  Now, with the novelty of seeing a world where the Allies lost World War II having worn off somewhat over the course of the previous season, the show needed to its storytelling despite losing its showrunner halfway through production.  And, thankfully, it did.  It wasn’t perfect, some of the thick plot armor on a few of the characters is particularly egregious, but the pacing, plotting, and character work are all done much better than the previous season.

8. Veep (HBO)

Losing creator Armando Iannucci could have sunk Veep, and the show did become broader and bit less sharp under David Mandel this year.  But it still had probably the best comedy casts on television, and possibly one of the best of all time, and it still  managed to provide plenty of jokes (and insults).  And of course, the Jon H. Ryan Jonah Ryan for Congress plot line was about as hilariously amazing as you’d expect.

7. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s first season was mostly strong until the last couple of weak episodes covering the absurd trial of the Reverend.  So this season responded by making the first few episodes significantly weaker than the rest of the year.  I’m not really sure if this season had more laughs than the previous one or if it’s just better to end strongly than begin strongly.  But last year it was one of the better comedies that aired, so it didn’t need to do much more to be one of the best comedies of 2016.

6. The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX/Netflix)

You’d think a requirement for making a series based on the O. J. Simpson case would be to not woefully miscast O. J. Simpson.  But Cuba Gooding Jr. is completely miscast as Simpson, and yet the series functions perfectly fine despite that.  The key is the show making Simpson a sideshow at his own trial, with the lawyers of the prosecution and defense taking the spotlight.  Gooding Jr.’s Simpson blessedly gets less screentime than Courtney B. Vance’s Johnnie Cochran, Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clark, and Sterling K. Brown’s Christopher Darden, with all three of those performances resulting in deserved Emmys in September.  It may be a bit overstylish at times, but it’s generally a well made reminder of why the trial captivated American for so long over twenty years ago.

5. Silicon Valley (HBO)

Silicon Valley is in a tricky position because most of its comedy comes from the fact that Pied Piper always has to be a company with potential, but it can never grow into a very successful company.   So there’s a lot of progress followed by setback in a loop for many iterations.  I’m not sure how sustainable in the long term, but I know that for me it still hasn’t gotten old three seasons in.  In fact, this was probably its best season yet, with enough novel takes on its formula to keep things from getting stale.

4. Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

When Orange is the New Black was renewed for at least three more seasons after the disappointing third (somehow the show got rid of Larry and got worse), I wasn’t enthusiastic.  I figured that Netflix was just going to let the series keep going despite declining quality like Jenji Kohan’s previous show.  So the fourth season taking the series in a much darker, and better, direction was a nice surprise.  It’s true that it’s a different sort of show from the one that submitted for best comedy at the Emmys three years ago, but it’s an incredibly compelling season of television that reminds us that the show still takes place in a prison.  Now, will season five continue the trend of alternative lighter and darker seasons?  The cliffhanger ending of season four suggests not, but who knows.

3. The Americans (FX/Amazon Prime)

A year ago I complained that they were having the two main spies at the center of the series doing too many things at the same time.  Well, this season turned that into a major part of the plot, as having to put on so many hats wigs gradually wears down the Jennings family over the course of most of the season.  This piles even more drama on top of a series that still excels in sustaining tension and making incredibly uncomfortable situations compulsively watchable.

2. Game of Thrones (HBO)

Given the hit-and-miss nature of deviations from the books in previous Game of Thrones seasons, the fact that Season 6 would be the first after running out of published source material didn’t exactly inspire confidence.  It turned out that this was a blessing.  Without having to follow the various plot threads of the lengthy books, the series was free to speed through to the show’s endgame.  And following the meandering fifth season, this was an incredibly welcome relief.

1. Better Call Saul (AMC/Netflix)

It really shouldn’t be a surprise that Better Call Saul is good.  I mean, if this had been a series created by the team behind Breaking Bad but unrelated to it, I’m not sure if anybody would have expected it to be a pale imitation of their previous work.  But after tons of failed prequels even the prospect of a prequel to one of the best TV shows ever was met with fears that it would stain Breaking Bad’s reputation.  Well, it turns out that Better Call Saul is far from a stain on Breaking Bad’s reputation, and is an entirely worthy successor.  Of course it isn’t as action packed as its predecessor, and hasn’t reached the heights that it achieved in its last three seasons, but it was still a great season of television and the best show that I watched that aired in 2016.

Honorable Mentions

Bojack Horseman (Netflix)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox/Hulu)

Lady Dynamite (Netflix)

Mr. Robot (USA/Amazon Prime)

The Expanse (Syfy/Amazon Prime)

The Good Place (NBC/Hulu)

Other Shows Watched

Archer (FX/Netflix), Atlanta (FX), Billions (Showtime), Black Mirror (Netflix), Daredevil (Netflix), Luke Cage (Netflix), Orphan Black (BBC America/Amazon Prime), Preacher (AMC), South Park (Comedy Central/Hulu), Stranger Things (Netflix), The Crown (Netflix), The Flash (The CW/Netflix), The Night Of (HBO), This is Us (NBC/Hulu), Timeless (NBC/Hulu), Westworld (HBO), You’re the Worst (FXX/Hulu)


American Brexit

Some thoughts on Tuesday’s shocking results…

The Election Was a Nearly Complete Disaster for the Democratic Party

It wasn’t just the fact that the Democrats lost the presidency.  They also didn’t regain control of the Senate, which was a very real possibility, or regain the House, which was unlikely to happen anyway.  This means that President Trump’s agenda can have the support of both houses of Congress, and most of Paul Ryan’s and Mitch McConnell’s policies will have the support of the presidency.  The Democrats can still filibuster, but they won’t be able to lead any committees or set the agenda for either of the houses.

What This Says About America

There is a lot of talk about how this election proves that America is an irredeemably racist, sexist wasteland.  I can’t disagree that parts of it are (and neither would anybody who has received or even seen alt-right troll posts on twitter), but remember that this election was very close.  One percent of people switching from Trump to Clinton would have resulted in her winning the election.  We would have then seen a flood of thinkpieces about how much the country is better off now that we’ve finally elected a female president.

One percent of voters may be able to change the future of the country’s policies, but I don’t think that their actions should make a difference regarding whether you should be ashamed of your entire country or proud of it.  Whoever won the election, we know that there are deep divisions between Americans.  Whatever you think may think of the people who voted for any of the candidates (and those that didn’t vote), there were millions of them before Election Night and there still those same millions today.  This election has not changed the character of the country’s populace overnight.

Bernie Might Have Won.  Or Not.

Ever since the election, some people are arguing that Bernie Sanders would have beaten Donald Trump, while others insist he would have lost too.  Sanders did generate enthusiasm at his rallies, had higher favorability ratings, and was projected to do better against Trump in hypothetical polling.  In theory, he could have reduced the loss of voters from Obama’s run in 2012 as well as blunted Trump’s right-wing populist appeal with a left-wing populist appeal of his own, considering the fact that he beat Clinton in both Michigan and Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, the difference between Trump’s populism and Sanders’ in the primaries was that Trump got his supporters to actually vote, while Sanders didn’t.  Clinton won the 2016 nomination easily despite getting less votes than she did when she lost to Obama in 2008.  And despite Sanders winning Wisconsin and Michigan in the primaries, winning them both would in the general still leads to a Trump win because he flipped Pennsylvania, which went for Clinton in the primaries.  There’s also the question about how Middle America would vote for a “socialist” (which he technically isn’t, but anyway…).  Then again, I didn’t think 82% of evangelicals would vote for a twice divorced, crude, supremely egotistical New Yorker who has espoused very social liberal views all the way up until a few years ago, but here we are.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It looks bleak for Democrats right now.  The House is gone, the Senate is gone, the presidency is gone, and the Supreme Court may be lost for a generation.  And the 2018 midterms, where turnout is generally lower and older (and therefore skews Republican), will have 23 seats, plus the two independent senators that caucus with them, up for grabs, compared on only 8 for the Republicans.  There is a real potential for Republicans gaining a supermajority in the Senate.

You cannot wait four years for the next presidential election in order to change things.  Again, the midterms in two years are vital.  State and local elections, where the Democrats have been getting their asses kicked the last eight years, need more liberal voters to go out and vote.  Two states, New Jersey and Virginia will have governor and legislature elections in 2017, so you have to go out and vote in a year if you live there.  Getting state governments allows you to stop letting the Republicans gerrymander after the new census comes out.  (And letting them gerrymander instead, of course.  It would be nice if they Democrats would get rid of gerrymandering by mandating nonpartisan committees redraw the lines, but that isn’t going to happen).  If the Democrats want to start winning elections again, they need to get their voters to go vote in every election, presidential or not.

Two Steps Back

October 13, 2007

I spent a year in training being told that under no circumstances should I do anything that might significantly affect the future.

I followed those instructions for about three days.

It actually could have been shorter but it took me a while to figure out how I could change the thing despite overshooting our target by 235 days. Since it involved breaking and entering and hacking I won’t be writing the details here. Honestly, I don’t think it’s that big a deal. Their own plan of using foreknowledge of the stock market and sports results to make money could affect history in unknown ways too. In fact, just being here taking up an apartment that could otherwise house somebody else can change their life. And since what I did only possibly affected Tom, I don’t see the big deal.

Which reminds me, I’m still not used to people calling me Shaun. Obviously I can’t use my real name, but it’s going to take some time before I assume that people saying Shaun are talking to me instead of someone else.

February 15, 2008

So I managed to not warn everybody in my neighborhood about the stock market peaking in October. Go me. I can’t imagine what I’d have done if we had tried to send me back two decades instead of one. Could I have survived 2000 without going to Florida to teach elderly people how to vote? Or warn people not to go to the World Trade Center the year after? At least there aren’t too many critical events over the next decade, except for the disastrous 2016 election. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that president again for almost another nine years.

At least I can get a smartphone these days. Sure, it’s a first generation iPhone, but at least I don’t have to deal with a flip phone with no internet access (or a landline *shudder*). I could have brought a more advanced phone with me, but what’s the point of brining an LTE phone if LTE networks won’t be up for another couple of years?

December 16, 2008

It’s amazing how effective one small change can make. Tom’s junior year is certainly more productive than mine was. History club, working on student theater productions, two different girlfriends in three months… it’s astounding what you can do when you aren’t sitting in your room alone trying to recover from yet another agonizing day. Mind you, his friend counts on Facebook are still low (and he can’t seem to keep a girlfriend for more than three weeks), but not running away from every opportunity means it’s higher than mine was. But looking at somebody’s Facebook page (helped by knowing what password they’re using) only gives what somebody wants to present to the world, so I have no idea if this is actually making him any happier than I was.

I’m quite content with how things are going now for me though. By spreading out my gambling on several different sites, and by picking enough losers not to get banished but not enough to give me a loss, I have enough income that I don’t need to work. That gives me a lot of free time. Even today I think to myself “I should catch up something” before remembering that that particular something doesn’t come out for another four or so years. But Netflix has a streaming library now, and it’s still full of things I want to watch and will get better as time goes on. I also have enough money for DVD sets and albums (either digital or, heh, CDs), which I obviously didn’t have when I was living in a run-down apartment on a minimum wage job. There are many things that are available to buy, and for everything else there’s torrents.

November 1, 2009

It appears that Tom has decided to apply to a rather prestigious liberal arts college. Moreover, he says he’s applying to be a history major. I’m assuming his parents have assured him that they’ll help pay for that school and the inevitable graduate studies needed to make him employable. But I suppose it’s better than struggling to complete a degree that’s marketable but you aren’t any good in and drop out of college in frustration. This is all assuming that he gets in to that college, since I was rejected by a school with slightly less selectivity and I believe he has similar SAT scores and grades (for the first two years of high school anyway).

He’s finally managed to find a girlfriend that will put up for him for more than three weeks, as he’s been going out with his current one for eight months now. If I remember correctly, she ended up going to a top college several states away. I kind of hope their relationship isn’t close enough for her to decide to give up that opportunity to be closer to Tom.

But hey, for now it’s nice that one of us has companionship. I’m still wary of forming a long-term relationship because that would be a major change in another person’s timeline. It could prevent somebody from being born because their mother was dating me instead of meeting their father. Then again, every relationship you form causes a potential person not to be born anyway. I guess I still haven’t accepted the fact that this is a new timeline and everyone that I knew is in an alternate timeline… or dead.

December 4, 2010

Surprisingly, Tom isn’t doing any extracurriculars for freshman year of college. I guess it’s because he doesn’t realize that the ones in high school were the main reason he got into the college in the first place, because apparently extracirriculars are magic for college applications (and, I assume, for just-out-of-college resumes). Maybe he’ll get a job next semester or next year. Judging from the pictures he’s posting he’s having a very fun time there as a single man with few responsibilities, so maybe he’ll choose to do nothing.

I have abandoned my previous aversion to starting relationships. I’m not seeing anyone right now, as I just broke up with someone two weeks ago.  I have a small group of friends I go out with sometimes; I don’t go out as much as Tom, but I have an active life. My finances are still stable, despite getting banned from half of the nation’s gambling institutions, since I can make money on the stock market now. Quite a lot, as it turns out. Despite having no family, or old friends, I’m much more satisfied than I was back in 2018.

May 7, 2011

Tom died in a car accident this afternoon. And no, I am not currently dissolving into the ether, that isn’t how time travel (apparently) works. I’m still not sure where he was going, but in any event it was somewhere I didn’t go that time today. It’s going to be hell explaining this when I have to report back in seven years.

I’m going to have to defend my decision to change the course of Tom’s life. It I hadn’t intervened, he would likely be alive. But I know what his life in those years would have been like. Not wanting to leave your own bed, not wanting to meet new (or old) people, and constantly feeling dead inside. For all I know, he was feeling those things anyway, since I couldn’t get inside his head and so many seemingly happy people have hidden demons. Maybe he even caused the car accident, consciously or unconsciously. But despite any potential problems, he was able to fight through it and lead a full life. Not me. I ran away from friends, potential partners, college, and many other opportunities. It resulted in me living in a terrible apartment making very little money with a terrible job, which was still an improvement over living in my parent’s basement. And I ran nearly eleven years into the past through a device that could have easily killed me to get away from that.

So, do I regret doing it? No, although his (or, really, our) parents might disagree. It was better to give him a chance at several years of living a good life than a waste of a decade. I don’t have to wonder if my life would have been different if I changed that one thing, I know it would. It also taught me that I can do things I didn’t think I could, because I watched myself do them. And if Tom had the ability have a life with fulfilling relationships and achievement, then so do I.

A Whole or a Sum of Parts?

What constitutes a “favorite”?  It’s not uncommon for someone to ask what your favorite television show or music artist is if you tell them you watch television or listen to music.  And between the ability to rate shows on Netflix, movies on IMDB, and basically everything on Amazon, or liking things on social media, even those of us who don’t catalog everything they watch/listen (like me) to are provided with lots of opportunities to show what they like most.  But if you watch many shows and listen to many artists, what method do you use to determine which is a favorite?

I have made a habit of rating every musical album I listen to.  In order to come up with the rating, I listen to the whole album and decide how it works when listened to from beginning to end.  Of course, this method only really makes sense on CDs that lack the ability to skip tracks.  Otherwise, CD players allow you to skip and sometimes change the play order, you can make all sorts of playlist combinations with digital files and streaming services, and even when listening to a vinyl record if you only like one side you can choose to just not turn the record over when it’s done.  However, this does provide a standard to compare albums for rankings.

The main issue is that I don’t actually listen to albums from beginning to end often, with some exceptions of great albums whose wholes are better than the sum of their parts.  I’m more likely to either make an abridged version, skipping tracks, or more commonly use one of my attempts to combine parts of two or more releases into a better one.  Or I’ll put the playlist with all of the songs I really like on shuffle.

So, since I don’t often listen to albums as a whole, why should I rate them that way?  Why am I punishing a 50 minute album that I like 35 minutes of and hate the rest versus an album that only uses 30 minutes of a CD’s 80 minute capacity and sells for the same price?  Mostly because this is the most effective standard I’ve come up with, and if I came up with a new one I’d have to re-rate over 800 albums using the new system (this isn’t happening).  It’s why I differentiate between a “favorite” album (one that contains a lot of things I listen to in some form) and a “great” album (which can be easily listened to from beginning to end).

It’s similar when you’re talking about musical artists in regards to volume and quality of output.  Do The Rolling Stones (or U2 or Stevie Wonder or Weezer or one of many other examples) have weaker discographies than because they kept putting out lackluster albums long after their peak?  You can argue that it makes their discography weaker on average, but does it diminish what they did before?  Some people might argue that producing annoying songs that get media exposure sours them on other things they liked that the band made.  And because of the subjectivity of music and the importance of the context of listening to it, they wouldn’t be wrong.  I wouldn’t personally agree with them, but it’s a reasonable reaction.  But for artists, since discographies aren’t really as comparable as albums, I prefer to think of them in relation to how much material they put out that I like, no matter how much stuff they did I didn’t like or when they happened to release it.

And then there are television shows.  Like music artists, they can go on for too many seasons, but how does this effect whether I want to call them a favorite?  Well, Seasons 3-8 (and probably 2-9) of The Simpsons are by far my favorite comedy of all-time.  The problem is that I’ve seen less than a handful of episodes of the show from the past decade, and there are now twice as many weaker seasons of the show than “Golden Age” seasons.  How can I justifiably call something my favorite comedy if I haven’t even seen half of it?  Dramas can also go on for far too long; I still want Netflix to give me the option to rate Dexter seasons 1-4 and Dexter seasons 5-8 separately.

Serialization is both a blessing and a curse.  It allows stories that would normally need to be told within an hour to be spread out and told in depth, and it encourages you to get through weaker episodes because there is a sense that it’ll be important in the end.  But it also means that it’s harder to go back and watch an episode by itself like you can with most comedies and older dramas, and continuing story lines both between and within seasons mean that you may be hooked into seeing what happens even when you have long stopped enjoying the series.  I’ve gotten better at dropping shows from the days when I watched all four seasons of Heroes even though only the first of was good, but even then I’ve stuck through two season of The Strain for some reason.

With “shared universes” becoming the new rage in comic book movies, there is even a feeling that you need to see everything in the series (sometimes three movies a year) in order to be caught up.  It’s slightly more expensive, but at least less time consuming then trying to keep up with the Arrowverse on The CW.  It’s now up to three live action shows (Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow) with full-length seasons that occasionally cross over with one another, resulting in slight confusion if you’re only caught up with one of them.  That’s small compared to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which in addition to its movies has two shows on ABC with another in development and two shows on Netflix with another three planned.  None of this has really expanded beyond comic book shows yet, but you could do nothing but watch keep up with those two universes and still have a nearly full schedule.

But having to consume lots of things you don’t particularly like to make the things you do like doesn’t seem like a good use of time.  Neither does watching a show you haven’t enjoyed for years just because it was once one of your favorites, or repeatedly listening to an album you really don’t like because you like the artist, or listening to songs you don’t enjoy because you want to listen to the album all the way through.  But if you never do those things, you may not find out that a show gets better again after a few weak seasons, or an album grows on you and you begin to like it.  But time is precious, and sometimes we just want to consume something we already know we enjoy.  That’s what favorites are for, and really the best way to determine them may be to ask whether or not you want to be consuming it, or parts of it, repeatedly over the years.  But that definition doesn’t require a 1000+ word blog post to describe, so who cares.

Don’t Try This at Home

With my listening to new songs from my usual sources resulting in listening to dozens of songs that ranged from “mediocre” to “decent”, I got incredibly bored.  So I did something I would only do while bored and unemployed: listen to number one hits of various Billboard charts.  Maybe the average quality was lower than what I was previously doing, but at least it was more entertaining.  I even found more songs I would want to listen to again than I was doing with the other method.  I didn’t listen to every top hit (I don’t have unlimited time after all), but most of the ones that spent multiple weeks at the top of the Hot 100 as well as the Radio Play/Alternative or Modern Rock Songs/Album Adult Alternative charts.

Oddly, the worst part of it was learning that I liked certain songs more than I remember.  I listen to it fully expecting it to the terrible and then after finishing I think it was only poor/mediocre/decent instead.  Somehow this makes me doubt my old reactions to things more than learning that I now dislike songs I now like.  Now, listening context is also something to consider.  For example, I’m less critical listening to the radio in the car than I am in front of my computer screen with headphones on.  Or maybe I heard a song that worked really well in a movie or television show but doesn’t work well outside of that context.

Here are two charts, the first of which is the total number of singles I’ve rated “good” or higher by release year:


total singles

And here is the amount of those that were Top 40 hits in the United States

us top 40 singles

The first chart shows that the number of singles I like is fairly even throughout the past fifty years except for dry spells during the mid 70s, late 90s, and the large recent downturn.  The amount of those songs that became hits was pretty high throughout the 60s and early 70s, then died and unlike the total number of singles never really recovered.  Apparently people generally stop listening to new mainstream music at age 33, but according to this I started doing that thirteen years before I was born.

For comparison, this is the amount of those singles that hit Top 40 on the UK Singles Chart:

uk top 40 singles

Well that’s… different.  I suppose I have to point out again that, despite the spelling of my username, I am not British.  The stranger thing about this is that there were many hits by American artists (The Strokes, for example) that charted highly in the UK and not in the US.  I guess I shouldn’t say that my taste for post-1973 music aren’t mainstream, it’s that they aren’t the American mainstream.  That only sounds slightly less pretentious.

Anyway, these are all rather arbitrary.  My ratings are subjective and subject to being changed as my opinions do, which is quite often (I changed a dozen or so ratings today alone).  And weekly charts don’t always tell a good picture about what is popular.  A single could hit number one in a period of little overall sales and therefore competition, or it could be released in a month where ten incredibly popular songs kept it from the top ten.  The Year-End charts are a good supplement to show how popular a single is throughout the entire year, but even that has a bias towards singles released early in the year because their most popular period isn’t spread among two different years.

Other random thoughts:

  • Just from the number ones, I think the AAA chart has been more interesting than the Alternative/Modern Rock chart for about five years now.  This could be because few of the songs on the alternative chart are either alternative (nothing says “alternative” like a song made for a car commercial) or rock at this point, or it could be because I am old.
  • With all due respect to Ringo Starr and Mission of Burma, songs about Pictures are generally much better than songs about Photographs.
  • Five of the top eight hits of 1978 featured at least one of the Gibb brothers.  That seems… excessive.
  • I had a theory that I would be kinder to radio hits of my childhood in the 90s.  It was only sort of true.
  • The biggest hit of the 1960s (“The Twist”) was only number one for a total of three weeks in 1960 and 1962
  • I still have a preference for popular music to feature electric guitars.  You’d think I’d be more open to different instrumentation by now, but apparently not.


Top TV Shows of 2015

There were 409 different scripted shows producing new episodes for television channels and streaming services in 2015, somehow an increase over the staggering 376 from 2014. It’s literally impossible for anyone to keep up with all, or even most, of it at this point, including critics whose job it is to do so. And quite of a lot of those shows were good. Some very good. I’m not sure if I would say any of these seasons is an all-time great, with none of them being in my top five of the past five years for example, but the amount of good shows is higher than ever.

The quantity of television shows doesn’t necessarily mean the increase in quantity of television is necessarily as dramatic. Ever since The Sopranos set an example of 13 episodes a season, shorter episode numbers have been increasingly common. Some content providers continue to stick with around 13 episodes per season for their shows, but others (including HBO and Amazon) have been increasingly setting the standard at 10 or even less. None of the shows I watched this year aired more than 16 episodes; in fact I’ve actually been semi-actively avoiding shows with more episodes because they’re a daunting time commitment if you haven’t been watching them from the beginning.

I decided to rank the shows that I’ve watched and make a list out of it, and then I realized that ranking television seasons was going to be nearly impossible. You can watch and compare several episodes in a day, or listen and rank a few music albums, but even with the short seasons of television even the perpetually unemployed can’t re-watch all the television shows they want to rank in a useful amount of time. So I was stuck trying to compare shows that I watched live throughout in the year and shows I binge watched throughout the year and… it didn’t work. Watching a show over ten weeks is a much different experience than watching the episodes one after another over a weekend (for example, I’m not sure if I didn’t like The Knick season 1 more than season 2 because it’s better or because I binged the first and watched the second as the episodes aired).

I compromised and set up the shows I’ve watched every episode aired this year of (less than 10% of what was available!) in four tiers that made vague sense and then listen them alphabetically.  Also listed are the channels they premiered on (if applicable) and the streaming service their seasons are on or will be on sometime in 2016 (if applicable).

Top Five

Better Call Saul (AMC, Netflix)

better call saul
Ursula Coyote/AMC

While Better Call Saul may never be Breaking Bad, it did have a better overall first season than its illustrious predecessor.  Despite being more comedic than than Breaking Bad ended up being, the show manages to create a genuine emotional investment in the character we know we end up as Saul Goodman.

Fargo (FX, Hulu)


Like the first season, this year Fargo took full advantage of its limited series format to add and remove characters and plot elements without regard for needing them to continue in another season.  It was more ambitious in scope than season one, with more quirky characters, more villains (including Mike Milligan and the Kitchen Brothers, which is an amazing name for a prog rock band), and more subplots.  It impressively managed to make all of them seem like they belonged in the same series, give or take a UFO sighting or two.

Justified (FX, Amazon Prime)

justified 2
Prashant Gupta/Sony Pictures Television/FX

After a disastrous fifth season, it was gratifying to see Justified turn itself around and go out with one of its best years.  With its sharp dialog, surprising yet grounded plot twists, and a fascinating antagonistic relationship between former coal miners Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder, at its highest points the show was one of the most fun and entertaining on television.

The Americans (FX, Amazon Prime)

Patrick Harbon/FX

Suffering from a few too many plots that both take time away from major story lines and strains the credibility that the Jennings could do all of them while maintaining their cover as travel agents, the third season was a slight step down from the second.  Most of this has to do with the fact that the fact that season two was exceptional, so it’s only in comparison to its predecessor that the excellent third season suffers.  While the show can seem emotionally cold and is certainly very self-serious, it was still one of the most tense and thought-provoking shows airing this year.

Veep (HBO)


In a television age where most new half-hour shows seem to be in a contest to see which can be heavier, more dramatic, and more important, Veep continues to be the best in the category by simply trying (and succeeding) to be the funniest.  The only question is whether or not it can maintain its quality next season with the departure of creator Armando Iannucci.

The Next Ten

Daredevil (Netflix)

daredevil 2

Marvel’s deal with Netflix allows them an outlet for their comics that don’t fit in with the clean, almost antiseptic look and feel of the MCU films and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  First up for this ambitious, five-show partnership was another try at adapting Daredevil after the forgettable movie attempt a dozen years ago.  Luckily, this second try proved very successful, with some of the year’s best action sequences either on television or on film.

Game of Thrones (HBO)

game of thrones

It was definitely the weakest season of the show, with two subplots in particular (Dorne and, to a lesser extent, Winterfell) being particularly not up to par.  Still, it’s a show that inspired me to read 1.7 million words worth of its source material, so even with its downturn I think it’s still pretty good.

Hannibal (NBC, Amazon Prime)

Hannibal - Season 3
Brooke Palmer/NBC

Like season two, the third season was split into two halves.  The first half featured a European Adventure that resulted in the show disappearing so far up its own ass it wound up going all the way back through the entire digestive tract, while the second half was a stylish adaption of Red Dragon.  The first half had its moments, but it wasn’t until the second half that the show was back to the level of quality of the excellent first two seasons.

Jessica Jones (Netflix)

jessica jones

While Daredevil was a better traditional superhero show, Jessica Jones was the better drama.  Superpowers did play a part, but it was more the villain Kilgrave’s power to get people to do anything he said than Jessica’s super strength.  Its quality storytelling on surviving abuse and compelling lead hero and villain outweighed the fact that the supporting characters (the ones that aren’t getting their own Netflix shows next year at least) were mostly weak and the show only had enough plot for ten episodes instead of thirteen.

Mad Men (AMC, Netflix)

mad men
Michael Yarish/AMC

Having three slow episode to start a season isn’t exactly abnormal for Mad Men, but is more noticeable when you only put out seven episodes in a year and its your last season.  Still, the season picked up with “Time & Life” and managed to wrap up the series in a satisfying manner.

Mr. Robot (USA, Amazon Prime)

mr. robot

Yes, it liberally borrows from Fight Club with its anti-corporate speeches, a secret group dedicated to wiping out debts, and certain plot elements among other things.  And the show’s staff is very aware of this (see the musical cue at the end of the penultimate episode).  However, the season offered up enough twists and added enough depth to its main character to make it a quality thriller.

Parks and Recreation (NBC, Netflix/Hulu)

parks and rec.jpg

Two years past its prime, I figured that the sixth season finale was going to be the best send-off the show could hope for at that point and was actually disappointed it got renewed.  Luckily, the time jump in the final season allowed the show to regain some of its lost creative spark, resulting in a funny and heartwarming (though bordering on saccharine in the finale) final season.

Sense8 (Netflix)

Murray Close/Netflix

You can hardly fault its ambition.  Having eight very different main protagonists spread across eight different locations must have been a nightmare to plan and shoot.  And even if it took a while to get going and didn’t always make sense, its emotional high points cemented its status as one of the years most memorable, if not consistent, shows.

Silicon Valley (HBO)

silicon valley 2

It’s kind of weird that the second best comedy on television in 2015 wasn’t even the best comedy that aired on HBO during the hour following Game of Thrones.  The show struggled a bit to replace Christopher Evan Welch, but everything else was more consistently funny than season one.  I mean, there aren’t many shows on television doing hilarious episode-long running jokes about SWOT Analysis and Schrödinger’s cat.

The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime)

high castle 2

It was slow, had some questionable plot points, its lead characters were incredibly bland (but at least not insufferably annoying like the adult children in another prominent Amazon production), the season ended just as many of its more intriguing plot lines are getting going, and overall it was more interesting than it was good.  Fortunately, the show made enough of the fascinating premise in its debut year to not feel like a completely missed opportunity.

Honorable Mentions

Bojack Horseman (Netflix)

Doctor Who (BBC One/BBC America, Amazon Prime)

Homeland (Showtime)

Show Me a Hero (HBO)

The Knick (Cinemax)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

You’re the Worst (FXX, Hulu)

Other Shows Watched

Broadchurch (ITV/BBC America, Netflix), Community (Yahoo! Screen), Master of None (Netflix), Orange is the New Black (Netflix), Orphan Black (BBC America, Amazon Prime), Review (Comedy Central, Hulu), Sleepy Hollow (Fox, Hulu), The Strain (FX, Hulu), The Walking Dead (AMC, Netflix), W/ Bob and David (Netflix)

End of the 2015 College Football Regular Season

And so, with the release of the playoff committee’s final rankings, we have reached the end of the 2015 NCAA FBS regular football season (the other divisions ended their regular seasons weeks ago). Even though there’s still one more game to be played (Army-Navy), which could have actually been an important matchup for bowl positioning had Navy not lost to Houston. Since we already know which bowls Navy (Military) and Army (None) are going to, the game will have no effect on the post-season picture. At least you get to see two teams comprised of future competing in a long storied rivalry. More importantly, it’s a chance to see two teams using a triple option against each other in 2015. And most importantly, it’s the only college football game on that day outside of the FCS playoffs.

I’m beginning to question the wisdom of releasing playoff football rankings each week for the second half of the season, even if that wisdom basically amounts to “we can make a selection show out of this that will earn us money.”   Last season, Ohio State leapfrogged two Big 12 teams after a (admittedly impressive) championship game win over Wisconsin. Of course, football rankings have a strange logic that moves teams up and down depending on whether they won or lost instead of starting a new ranking every week. So #6 Ohio State was rewarded for beating #11 Wisconsin, even though you would expect a team ranked number 6 to beat a team ranked number 11. Publishing a ranking that says you’re going to put TCU into the playoff then leaves them out a week later because Ohio State did what it was supposed to do according to your rankings doesn’t make much sense. Seems better to just publish one at the end of the year, but then you wouldn’t get a selection show for seven weeks.

We all know that it worked out pretty well for Ohio State and the selection committee last season, so this season they again had a Big 10 team leapfrog a Big 12 team in the final rankings. At least this time Oklahoma is still in the playoff. It’s probably worse news for Clemson, who despite being ranked number 1 were underdogs when betting started. And really, which team would you rather play?

  • Option #1 is a team that embarrassingly lost to 5-7 Texas, struggled to win against #23 Tennessee and #11 TCU, but beat everyone else by double digits (including #16 Oklahoma State and #17 Baylor).
  • Option #2 embarrassingly lost to 5-7 Nebraska, had one score victories over #15 Oregon, #7 Ohio State, #4 Iowa, 4-8 Rutgers, and 2-10 Purdue, required a miraculous loss of awareness by a punter to beat #14 Michigan, but managed to win the other six games (including two against MAC teams) by double digits.

Both are flawed resumes, but if I had to choose one it’d be Option #2. Unfortunately for Clemson, they’ll have to play Option #1. But almost everyone (including me) thought that Alabama would destroy Ohio State, and that didn’t happen.

Now it’s almost time for Bowl season, rewarding only the best teams providing entertaining matchups. Oh, right, they’ve added so many bowls (there are 41 now) and watered down the requirements so much that they’re letting in some 5-7 teams now (three of them!). While I know everyone else can’t wait for the AutoNation Cure Bowl featuring 5-7 San Jose and 6-6 Georgia State, these are the games that look most interesting to me:

Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 19 3:30 EST) – #22 Utah (9-3) vs. BYU (9-3)

After taking a season off the Holy War returns in bowl form as thousands of Mormons once again descend on Las Vegas. The season has made Utah’s opening day win against Michigan more impressive, but their losses against UCLA, USC, and Arizona less so. On the other hand, BYU couldn’t beat UCLA or Michigan.

Russell Athletic Bowl (Dec. 29 5:30) – #10 North Carolina (11-2) vs. #17 Baylor (10-2)

The quality of this game depends on whether or not Baylor will have a quarterback, since they were down to putting a wide receiver at the position last game (they lost, by the way). Whether or not Chris Johnson can play after his concussion or Jarrett Stidham’s ankle is sufficiently healed remains to be seen.

Texas Bowl (Dec. 29 9:00) – Texas Tech (7-5) vs. #20 LSU (8-3)

Texas Tech has a very good offense. They also have an abysmal defense, so at least this game should be fun if you like scoring.

Peach Bowl (Dec. 31 12:00) – #18 Houston (12–1) vs. #9 Florida State (10–2)

Houston gets to represent the entire Group of Five in a major bowl. Houston’s main issue is that they may only be a decent team with a very good quarterback, since they lost to 6-6 AAC competitor Connecticut when Ward was out. On the other side, Florida State may be very good team with a merely decent quarterback (whether it’s Maguire or Golson).  Quarterbacks are an important part of the team, but having an excellent one doesn’t matter if the rest of the team is completely outmatched.

Orange Bowl (Dec. 31 4:00) – #1 Clemson (13–0) vs. #4 Oklahoma (11–1)

National Semifinal #1

Cotton Bowl (Dec. 31 8:00) – #2 Alabama (12–1) vs. #3 Michigan State (12–1)

National Semifinal #2

Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1 1:00) – #14 Michigan (9–3) vs. #19 Florida (10–3)

Two teams with first year head coaches that performed much better than expected. The only problem is that Florida’s offense was a lot more impressive before Will Grier got suspended, but their defense is still excellent.

Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1 1:00) – #8 Notre Dame (10–2) vs. #7 Ohio State (11–1)

Two teams that were beaten in three games by a combined seven points, otherwise they’d both be in contention for the National Championship. They’ll have to settle for what could be an entertaining Fiesta Bowl.

Rose Bowl (Jan. 1 4:30) – #5 Iowa (12–1) vs. #6 Stanford (11–2)

One of these teams had a very impressive win against Northwestern, and the other had a not so impressive loss against Northwestern. I’m still not sure that means that Iowa is going to win here, considering the rest of the team’s schedules, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1 8:30) – #12 Mississippi (9–3) vs. #16 Oklahoma State (10–2)

Mississippi beat Alabama, then lost to Memphis; they lost to Arkansas, then beat LSU and Mississippi State. In short, I have no idea how they’ll perform against Oklahoma State, who are looking to rebound since losing two straight after going 10-0 to start the season.

Alamo Bowl (Jan. 2 6:45) – #11 TCU (10–2) vs. #15 Oregon (9–3)

Matching up the preseason #2 and #7, with both teams once thinking they could get into the playoffs at some point. That didn’t happen, but they’re still both very good teams and offer an intriguing matchup.

National Championship Game (Jan. 11 8:30) – To Be Decided vs. To Be Decided

For all its flaws, the playoff system is an improvement over the BCS.  I may complain about Michigan State being ranked ahead of Oklahoma, but at least both of them get a chance to compete for the championship on the field instead of in the minds of poll voters.