Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The NSV Awards: The Best TV Of 2017

Hello all,
This post has been a long time coming. I watch so much TV every year and this has been a real banner year for the medium, especially for me. This was the year I caught up, on shows I'd been behind on, on shows that I'd always wanted to do, on shows I could never get access to before. In many ways, this was a terrible year for me personally, but my best TV picks of the year demonstrate new ways to depict mental illness and sexuality. TV is blazing forward, may it continue long into the future. So, without further ado, here are my picks for the best TV of 2017. Enjoy!

HM. How To Get Away With Murder
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 4
Seasons Completed: 1-4
This Shonda Rhimes' series is frequently one of the most bonkers, addictive shows on television, but often falls victim to its own worst tendencies (a focus on the wrong characters, not giving Viola Davis enough to do, thinking that literally everyone could commit murder). However, when it's at its best, nothing on TV comes close, especially when Viola Davis is acting her heart out.

25. Rick & Morty
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 3
Seasons Completed: 3
It’s hard to explain why the third season of Rick & Morty was so unfulfilling, because on first glance there is so much good here. The surprising, amazing drop of the premiere episode which blew up the show’s established narrative in hilarious and inventive ways was masterful, as were specific episodes within the run. ‘Pickle Rick’ was not only instantly iconic but also a genius evisceration of the main character, while ‘The Ricklantis Mixup’ was probably the best episode the show aired this year, both a parody and effective example of complex prestige dramas like The Wire. But somewhere along the line, it became hard to shake the feeling that the magic went missing.
   Maybe it was the enraging, gross, entitled behaviour of the toxic fandom over the Szechuan sauce debacle. Maybe the show had built up so much hype between its second and third years that, no matter the quality, it could never live up to expectations. But most likely, it was because the actual episodes were just okay, forgetting to add in that extra layer of dark poignancy that had been the hallmark of the series (this was particularly frustrating in the misguided season finale). No other show on TV can do dark, rug-pull humour like Rick & Morty (the most memorable example being the moment two kids’ fun murder game becomes something much, much worse), but what made the show winning was its ability to balance that with a stealth heart underneath it all. This year, it seemed to get lost.

24. American Gods
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
I had extremely high hopes for American Gods. Bryan Fuller (of the cancelled before their time Pushing Daisies and Hannibal) adapting a Neil Gaiman (Coraline) novel sounded like a match made in heaven, and a lot of the time it was, but it wasn’t half confusing. Often as I was deeply lost as the show left several things assumed and unexplained (thank goodness I had Finn watching it with me to identify the ancient Gods), had a strange sense of tone (sleepy yet urgent, just like season 3 of Hannibal) and had so many things going on at the same time. This often resulted in a surplus of great, wonderful moments, such as a woman’s descent into the afterlife, Anansi’s speech to the slaves, Mad Sweeney’s stand-alone episode, the most explicit, beautiful, complex gay sex scene ever shown on TV and literally anything Gillian Anderson does over the course of the series (half-convinced she was the stealth lead character). However, I kept hoping that these (and many other) effective, but disparate story threads would coalesce into something more. In the final episode, they did, resulting in an effective, entertaining episode of television that provided both questions and answers and created a desperate yearning for a second season. In many ways, season one felt like a prologue, so season two would be where the real fireworks would be. And then Bryan Fuller, the show’s key creative vision, left, and it’s hard to know what to make of this news. I do remain cautiously optimistic about the show, but even if it does succeed, there will always be a question of what this series could’ve been if it hadn’t been another unforgettable, frustrating and heartbreaking Fuller dead-end.

23. The Handmaid's Tale
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
I knew The Handmaid’s Tale was going to be a big deal long before it came out. The book had been on my to-do list for ages, so in January, I finally did it. And I was blown away by Margaret Attwood’s ability to turn the horrific into something moving and beautiful and I was desperate (if a little nervous) to see how it would be adapted to the screen. And I had to stop after the first three episodes. It was exceptional, well-made and cinematic but it was also unbearably bleak and devastating. This may be the most despairing show I’ve seen since The Walking Dead. It was powerful and moving (the scene that broke me was the long tracking shot of Ofglen’s wordless, wrenching goodbye to her lover in episode three), but it was also really hard to watch, and with my mental health where it was at the time, I didn’t feel able to continue.
   Several months later, I did eventually return to the series and its other episodes weren’t as dark but annoyed me with their storytelling (why focus an episode on Luke? And Nick?) and production (who is responsible for the music, and why are your choices so obvious?) decisions. This remains a flawed adaption, and I have a hope that in seasons to come, it will find what made the book so brave. Because in this fraught political climate, Offred’s need to find the hope in The Handmaid’s Tale seems more essential than ever.

22. The Young Pope
Status: Renewed as anthology
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
It’s hard to get a handle on The Young Pope. It seems deliberately designed to confound and annoy. In the first episode alone, there’s a pyramid of babies, Jude Law’s lead character dreaming that he gives a very open, liberal address to the public (which contrasts with the actual speech he gives which is far more conservative and disturbing) and the feeling that something special is going to happen with this series. The Young Pope is a show you battle with, trusting (and yes, praying) that the moments of transcendent beauty, thrilling plot developments, ambiguous characters and gorgeous cinematography are eventually going to mean something. And then, just when you think it’s not going to happen, it does. The flood gates open and you begin to see what it’s trying to do (or at least your own understanding of those themes. I am not going to tell you my thoughts on the point of the series, as to do so is MAJOR spoilers, but the transformation is ambiguous enough that many readings are surely possible). It becomes incredibly tear-jerking, as those moments of beauty become something more. The last three or so episodes of this are some of the most gorgeous, moving episodes of TV I saw all year. I left the series feeling fulfilled and changed, and with the knowledge that sometimes the reward is worth the wait.

21. Fargo
Status: On Extended Hiatus
No. Of Seasons: 3
Seasons Completed: 3
The third season of Noah Hawley’s Coen brothers’ based Minnesota-nice crime thriller wasn’t in the same league as the first two seasons.  This year, the series became less about morally grey complexity and more about ambiguity and profound hopelessness in the face of the truly evil. In truth, this was only really frustrating in retrospect, as in the moment, the narrative spun around the central characters was downright thrilling. I wanted desperately for Carrie Coon’s dedicated, kind, slightly out of her depth policewoman Gloria Burgle to face off against the disgusting, monstrous force of evil that was Varga (David Thewlis), a confrontation that comes way too late, throwing the balance of the season way off. I was shocked at the arc of Ewan McGregor’s twin characters and yelled, screamed, begged that Mary Elisabeth Winstead’s Nikki Swango would make it out alive. It takes a lot to steal the spotlight of that cast, but Winstead does it, taking her first major role and imbuing with inner resourcefulness, determination and pain. We want her to succeed. But in the end, it all falls in a heap in a great big enraging question mark. It’s a mess of a season, but by god, was it entertaining.

20. Room 104
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
In a lot of ways, the Duplass brothers’ excellent anthology series Room 104 feels out of its time. Every episode is set in the same crappy motel room, but features a different cast and genre. A lot of the fun came from guessing just what each episode was going to be about, making for perfect drop-in entertainment. Naturally, I became so addicted and obsessed with it that it became appointment television, shaping my mood going into the rest of the week. It fascinated me, the way the same space could be portrayed in so many visually different ways, and how a simple half-hour could make for some truly great short-form storytelling. Almost every episode is a stunner, but my favourites were ‘The Knockandoo’ (the show’s strangest episode is about cults and penises), ‘Voyeurs’ (an unforgettable instalment tells a surprisingly intricate story told completely with dance, like nothing else I saw this year) and ‘Phoenix’ (ambiguous but filled with memorable images). But my absolute favourite was ‘Missionaries’, a story of two young Mormons testing their faith and discovering an attraction to one another. Their pull between doing what they desire and what their religion teaches them, and the way they find to make it work, made for my favourite gay love story of the year. The final shot left me grinning from ear to ear. Gorgeous. It may be a retro throwback, but sometimes, everything old is new again.

19. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 4
Seasons Completed: 4
This year has often been difficult to tolerate, what with a homophobic, racist, sexist orange person as the American President and the general feeling of doom he has brought forth. It would be easy to give in to a feeling of despair, but thankfully our greatest pop culture political commentators have become even more relevant and funnier, especially Samantha Bee (whose show is brilliant, but which I started too late in the year to effect these awards) and John Oliver. As an ex-Brit, he has a wonderful outside, frustrated but extremely informed perspective which has made for a welcome weekly breath of fresh air. Oliver deconstructs the constant stream of bullshit Trump and his lackeys spout, memorably (and not unconvincingly) arguing that Jared Kushner sounds exactly like Gilbert Gottfried and that Alex Jones is not just a stupid, loudmouthed blowhard but also a very good businessman. It’s been amazing to witness, and been a goddamn lifeline. It’s hard to imagine coping without him, but thankfully he’s not going anywhere. Also, he made a movie trailer with Laura Linney and a wax figure of President Warren G. Harding, one of the silliest two minutes of TV you’ll see all year.

18. Riverdale
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2
Seasons Completed: 2
Riverdale is the most ridiculous show on TV. Its very premise, the Archie comics popularised in the 40s get a modern twist and transplanted into a murder mystery, sounds like a recipe for disaster. And yes, it is kind of is a disaster, but no other show on TV is as self-aware as this one. It knows it’s odd that that these characters all look and sound like very specific archetypes from the 50s and reference obscure, highly literary pop culture in sentences no normal teenager would ever speak. Or that the town’s richest family runs a maple-syrup empire (which is actually a cover for a drug ring) and whose lives are straight out of a gothic novel. Its aesthetic, where everyone and everything makes it look like the 50s but whose characters also use mobile phones and laptops, makes it impossible to work out when it’s supposed to be set, its plotting is frequently over-the-top and the parents are all played by actors who were in shows it was clearly influenced by (Betty’s mum is from Twin Peaks, Jughead’s dad is from Scream, Archie’s dad is from Beverly Hills, 90210 and his mum is 80s icon Molly Ringwald for goodness sake). Yes, Riverdale is utterly bonkers but, when you get into its rhythm, when it combines its myriad of influences just right, it becomes something more. More entertaining, more mysterious and sometimes downright iconic (Cheryl Blossom wearing white to her brother’s funeral while a moody coverof Tears For Fears’ ‘Shout’ plays in the background is everything I never knew I needed). Sometimes it falls in a heap (Archie often feels out of place, especially in the enraging Mrs. Grundy storyline) and the ongoing second season is less riveting than the first, but this show also gave us the great Betty Cooper. A seemingly perfect princess who has hidden levels of rage, and who is always the smartest person in the room, she’s the true protagonist of the series and feels like she just stepped off the set of Twin Peaks. But that’s what Riverdale is. Less Gossip Girl or Dawson’s Creek and more like a teen version of David Lynch’s mystery series. Whoever that that would ever exist, let alone become one of the most popular shows on TV. What a time to be alive.

17. Vice Principals
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 2
Seasons Completed: 1-2
Vice Principals is a show you have to have faith in. You have to believe that the creators know that Lee Russell (Walton Goggins) and Neil Gamby (Danny McBride) are not suitable to be vice principals of their school. You hope that they know that they are terrible people whose worst, most petty actions are directed at Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Herbert Gregory), an extremely capable, smart and funny black woman. Their actions are sexist and racist and for a while it seems like the show isn’t going to acknowledge this. However, gradually we come to realise that yes, they know exactly what they’re doing. By examining them at first uncritically before going for the jugular, Vice Principals makes its attack on hypermasculinity even more potent. Russell and Gamby’s actions have terrible consequences for them and everyone around them, and that to be happier, they need to let go of these notions. And slowly, they managed to do so, but the means to get them there were hilariously bonkers, using deliriously silly, chaotic plotting, especially in its second season. This was a show that had a who shot Gamby plotline, for goodness sake. However, what made Vice Principals so successful was that it was frequently hilarious. These are petty people acting in a petty way, so seeing grown adults acting childish and stupid was often very funny, and weirdly charming. This was an incredible deconstruction of masculinity, charming, funny and frequently exciting.

16. Broad City
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 4
Seasons Completed: 3-4
Broad City has always felt vivid and essential, but in this year terrible Trump year, their comedy has become even more of a lifeline. After a depressing but vaguely disappointing third season, the Broads bounced back with a fresh and very, very funny fourth year. Abbi and Ilana did everything this year, from trying magic mushrooms and getting animated (in a dense, visually stunning episode that also had a lot to say about where the two were at the time) to working for a deliciously bitchy restraint owner (played by a fabulous out of drag RuPaul). However, the season’s (and one of the year’s) best episode saw Ilana lose her orgasm because of Trump-related grief and anger. Sex is such an important aspect of the character, that the loss is huge. The way she overcomes it must be seen to be believed, both extremely in character ridiculous and punch-the-air triumphant. We needed the Broads now more than ever. Thankfully they rose to the occasion and then some.

15. Trial & Error
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
This underrated, pitch-perfect spin on true crime documentaries (The Staircase especially) succeeds because it has a deep affection for its characters despite their often staggering(ly hilarious) ineptitude. Imagine Parks and Rec’s Pawnee was the subject of a murder investigation and you’ve pretty much got the tone. The cast (which includes such heavy-hitters as Jayma Mays, Andy Daly and a wonderful John Lithgow) is uniformly excellent, but it’s Sherri Shepherd’s Anne that steals the show as her increasingly ridiculous maladies pile up. One of the most consistently funny shows I watched all year.

14. Catastrophe
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 3
Seasons Completed: 2-3
I’d always wanted to get on the Catastrophe bandwagon. The British romantic comedy stars Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, who have a hilarious yet cutting chemistry which made for some fun, if emotional storylines. However, its short, six-episode seasons (as is the norm for UK series) had left it feeling a tad slight. Season three refused to allow that to happen, showcasing Rob’s distressing, upsetting decent into alcoholism with unparalleled clarity. His lies, so funny in the past, become wounds, effecting everyone around him, until finally it led to an inevitable, yet crushingly sad conclusion, which is sure to have a difficult fallout in the upcoming season four. That season will sadly be without Carrie Fisher, who had made the role of Rob’s mother bitingly funny yet with hidden depths of emotion. Her devastating, untimely death leaves a poignant feeling over the third season, binding it together with deep sadness, and ensuring that Catastrophe can be ignored no longer.

13. Please Like Me
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 4
Seasons Completed: 4
This shouldn’t have been the end of Please Like Me. Josh Thomas’ decision to end his gorgeous, painful and staggeringly relatable series after four seasons still stings, especially with a final episode that lack closure. For most of the year, that wound had kept me from considering it for my list, but time heals all. In truth, the final season of Please Like Me is just as good as all the others, an incisive portrait of mental illness, relationships and family that meant the world to me and my partner. There were standout episodes, such as a camping trip that reveals deep-seated cracks in Josh and Arnold’s relationship, which was both funny and sad (and scarily parallel to Finn and I’s relationship and led us to having a very honest conversation). But it’s the episode-length family sit-down where Josh and his divorced mum and dad discuss their hopes and dreams over an extravagant restaurant meal that was the season’s greatest achievement. It feels like a climax to everything the show had been trying to do, and was the series’ most purely joyful episode until suddenly, wrenchingly it’s not. The twist at the end of that episode hurts to watch and leaves a dark, funereal tone over the rest of the season (and it’s one of the few things I’ve seen that made Finn cry). It’s hard to see how Please Like Me could’ve continued after that, but finishing where it does leaves a bitter taste to what remains one of my favourite, most personal shows. I will miss it terribly.

12. Legion
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
One of the strangest shows of the year. Created from Noah Hawley (Fargo) and spinning off from the X-Men Universe, I expected a conventional if entertaining superhero series (much like the Marvel Netflix series’ which I have yet to catch up on). Instead, Legion turned out to be one of the strangest, most experimental shows of the year, constantly changing and inventing. It was a disturbing, often terrifying but exhilarating pleasure trying to puzzle out the mysteries of David’s mind (Dan Stevens, having an excellent year) and his battles with the Shadow King, personified by Aubrey Plaza. The actress, most familiar for playing April on Parks and Recreation, was a real scene-stealer, revealing an incredible versatility by being evil yet appealing. I could easily just list the best moments of the season (of which there are many), but part of the joy of Legion was never knowing what was going to happen next, but knowing that the creators knew what they were doing. This show never got lost in its own mythos and remained extremely addictive throughout its run. A trippy, wondrous ride.

11. One Day At A Time
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
One Day At A Time feels of a different era. Its reliance on socially topical plotlines and relatively optimistic, loving aura remind one of the multi-cam sitcoms popularised in the 70s, like All In The Family and Maude. Categorised by their somewhat stagy production, television has largely moved away from this in its attempts to become more cinematic. Instead, One Day At A Time embraces its artifice and retro, homely charm to create one of the most endearing new shows of the year, with one of the nicest, most loving families on television in the Alvarez’s (only Jane The Virgin’s Villanueva’s really come close). Through them, the show tackles challenging, divisive issues, such as PTSD, veteran affairs, religion and immigration, with a gentle, yet nuanced hand. This is demonstrated most personally for me in its exceptionally well-handled coming out storyline. They’re a dime a dozen in TV today, but rarely has it been handled with as much sensitivity, grace and complexity. That’s what One Day At A Time does brilliantly, taking an old-fashioned concept and making it new again to make for a bingable slice of joy and love. It may look retro and old-fashioned, but this show brought an old concept back into fashion, making it one of the bravest and most successful shows of the year.

10. The Good Place
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2
Seasons Completed: 1-2
Who could have predicted that one of the best comedies on TV would double as a course in morals and ethics? Maybe if they’d known that it was created by Michael Schur (the man responsible for The Office, Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and that it’s cast was led by Kirstin Bell (Veronica Mars herself) and the reliably excellent Ted Danson, maybe they could’ve predicted it was going to be good. But The Good Place is more than good. It’s damn near perfect, because it’s all things at once. It’s a clear-sighted examination of morals and philosophy (the Trolley Problem is hilariously visualised in one episode), a detailed piece of world-building and logical, emotional character development and a twist-filled narrative that will throw a piece of information that completely changes everything you thought you knew. The excellent rug-pull at the end of the first season is shocking but obvious in retrospect and also changes the way the show works. The ongoing second season has built on this strong foundation by upping the hilarity. Yes, above all The Good Place is funny, a hilarious carefully calibrated joke machine that turns every moment into silliness gold. The cast is uniformly excellent, but its D’Arcy Carden’s hyper literal, deeply human Siri-esque personal helper, Janet, that is the show’s true MVP. The way she shifts tones to avoid being switchedoff is one of the show’s funniest scenes, and that’s saying something in a show as densely packed as this. It’s a strange comedy because its premise seems less sustainable over a long-period of time than others (settings such as parks department and police station have enough variation within them to last a very long time), but if it can keep up this quality, I know I’ll still be watching. I have no idea where it’s going to go next, but I can’t wait to find out.

9. Better Call Saul
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 3
Seasons Completed: 3
At its best, Better Call Saul is nothing like Breaking Bad. Walter White was an entitled master manipulator who felt he was owed everything and quite often got it with no regard for collateral damage. But for Jimmy, Chuck, Mike and Kim, things don’t come as easy. Better Call Saul’s most exciting, memorable sequences see them patiently, meticulously fighting and working, repeating the same tasks over and over again until they see even a hint of satisfaction, before it all comes crumbling down. Happiness in this series is fleeting and a hell of a lot of work, and it’s thrilling and devastating in equal measure, especially in the most recent season. The show hit an astonishing, jaw-dropping climax with Jimmy’s bottle episode trial face-off with his emotionally abusive brother, Chuck, in one of the best episodes of the year (it was so good it threw the balance off the season a little) before the season finished with a gut-punch farewell for one of the show’s most complex characters. While I do worry that it’s increasingly reliant on the Breaking Bad mythos (Gus Fring threatens to take over the show), if Better Call Saul continues to focus on hard-won moments of fleeting victory, then it will remain one of the best shows on TV.

8. Halt And Catch Fire
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 4
Seasons Completed: 2-3
Halt And Catch Fire is an example of the best and worst effects of Peak TV. Its first season, focussed on several characters and their attempt to buy into the massive personal computing boom of the 80s, featured great, memorable characters that were subsumed by a frustrating and disappointing attempt to buy into the trend at the time of complicated, but godlike men (Vikings, Mad Men, Breaking Bad). In an era so reliant on ratings, it seemed that Halt And Catch Fire was dead but, improbably, it was renewed. Season two saw the show refocus to its best female characters, Cameron and Donna, as they started a business together and the show got better and better. After yet another improbable renewal, season three saw Halt And Catch Fire blossom into one of the best shows on TV by developing its themes and placing its characters in direct opposition. The five protagonists are deeply flawed geniuses with hopes and dreams and a willingness to step on one another to get there. Their sacrifices were frequently devastating, especially when we know that if they just worked together and could stop hurting one another, they’d be so good, but they won’t. The core tragedy at the centre of Halt And Catch Fire is that no matter what they do, their innovations (online gaming, social media, internet search engines) will never be as famous as the ones that we know and use. That sounds sad, and Halt and Catch Fire can do a gut punch with the rest of them, but it was also capable of moments of profound beauty and grace, emphasising the importance of human connection in an increasingly disconnected world (a key montage late in season three should be mandatory for anyone involved in the internet). But what had allowed Halt And Catch to become its best self had also been its downfall, because it was criminally under-watched, which led to a final fourth season renewal. Sadly, I am only partway through the final season at the time of writing, but so far it’s even better than the others. Gorgeous television.

7. You're The Worst
Status: Renewed for final season
No. Of Seasons: 4
Seasons Completed: 1-3
Romantic comedies are so frequent on TV that it seems only natural that one of the best would be an anti rom-com. Stuck up, intellectual snob and writer, Jimmy, and messy publicist slob Gretchen seem like a match made in hell, two terrible people bringing out the worst in one another, but instead they do the opposite. It would be easy to assume that You’re The Worst was a show about terrible people doing terrible things in a really funny way, and to be fair that is a large part of the show’s appeal. But it also does something much more moving by delving deep into who Jimmy and Gretchen are and why they behave the way they do, especially in the first season, which argued that their parents had a lot to answer for.
   Then, in season two, it became a very different show. Gretchen, one of the funniest, happiest, most joyful(ly terrible) people on TV, fell into a depression. Suddenly, her every fibre becomes filled with brokenness and pain and no-one can help her. Aya Cash does an incredible job showing how hard Depression is to deal with in what easily one of the best and most relatable depictions of mental illness and Clinical Depression I’ve ever seen. I’ve been in her shoes (I was earlier this year) and it’s heartbreaking to see her push everyone away because they don’t understand or watch her try to find solace in a neighbor’s fantasy life (which, inevitably, was no more satisfying than her current circumstances). Just when you have almost given up hope, You’re The Worst pulls out one of the most tearjerking moments of the year, arguing that the best a person can do when faced with a depressed loved one is to stay. It’s a simple message but a beautiful and welcome one.
   While the third season was less effective (Gretchen and Jimmy regressed back to their terrible selves, Jimmy’s life is naturally less wrenching than Gretch’s, before it pulls it all together with a cruel devastating cliffhanger) and I have yet to catch up on the fourth, I will always be thankful for You’re The Worst’s sensitive, nuanced and deeply emotional handling of depression. We need more shows like this.

6. Search Party
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2
Seasons Completed: 1-2
The term ‘millennials’, of which I (probably) happen to fall under, comes with a fair amount of baggage. We’re seen as entitled and frivolous, a blight on modern day society and Search Party... Well, it doesn’t exactly dispel the idea nor does it wholly accept it. Though Dory (Alia Shawkat, best known for her roles in Green Room and that one Broad City episode where Ilana dates a woman exactly like her) claims to be acting as a good samaritan in her search for missing acquaintance Chantal, it’s clear to everyone else that she is using the disappearance to fill a void in her life. Her actions are motivated by self-interest and which cause terrible effects on the friends she drags into the search with her. The first season is excellent, a savagely funny satire of Nancy Drew type detective stories and millennial entitlement, but there’s a feeling of doom that propels you forward. What did happen to Chantal? And how far is Dory willing to go to find her answers? Both questions were answered in an unforgettable, blistering season finale, which left me winded, shattered and deeply satisfied. Dory’s actions came back to bite her in such a cruel way and it was both delicious and devastating, it felt complete. Naturally it was renewed for a second season. Thankfully, that was even funnier, building on the sense of doom and paranoia and upping the stakes in a stressful, addictive way. The characters we had followed over the first season slowly lost their minds, becoming ever more hysterical and hilarious. No show on TV manages shifting, complex tones as much as this one, so one minute you’re worried for the characters, next you’re laughing at their stupidity before you find yourself winded by the fall-out from their actions. The season again ended on a dark note, making the wait for a prospective third season damn near impossible. The only show on TV to truly understand what it’s like to be young, dumb and without purpose and the damage that combination can do.

5. BoJack Horseman
Status: Renewed
No. Of Seasons: 4
Seasons Completed: 2-4
The typical way to talk about BoJack Horseman is to say that “despite the fact that it’s a cartoon about talking animals...” But that’s the series’ secret weapon. You’re so busy laughing at the myriad silly animal puns that the moments of heavy emotion hit you like an uppercut to the jaw. And there’s a lot of pain here. BoJack Horseman is an exercise in emotional endurance, because every few episodes there’ll be a moment so gut-wrenching, so cruel, so incisive that’ll take the breath right out of you, leaving you feeling hollow. That’s because these characters have been drawn so well.
   Lead character, BoJack, is an alcoholic, depressed mess whose wise-ass attitude hides a world of almost unbearable suffering and whose fear of losing people makes him push them away by lashing out in the worst possible way. His behaviour is often difficult to watch, especially because we know it hurts him just as much as it hurts those around him. But every character on this show is broken to some extent. Diane’s stuck in a marriage to Mr. Peanutbutter, a (dog) man who she loves deeply but who doesn’t make her happy. He senses this and overcompensates by trying to please her with big gestures, but that just makes her turn ever more inward. Cat woman Princess Carolyn (probably my favourite character) is organised, clever and willing to bend over backwards to please BoJack and her other clients, but the world seems to have it out for her. She can never catch a break. Only Todd seems to be put together, coming up with a variety of bonkers ideas and coming to accept his realisation that he is asexual. Even the supporting characters are in a world of torment. Wanda, BoJack’s (owl) girlfriend in season two, gets one of the show’s most memorable, profound lines while his cruel, emotionally abusive mother was the focus of the most recent season and had one of the saddest back stories I’ve ever witnessed, making a dark statement about the impact generations of trauma can have on a family.
   No characters are as broken as BoJack and his friends whose suffering hits everyone else around them right in the jugular. No show is as formally inventive (spending whole episodes underwater or in BoJack’s head or in the memory of someone with Alzheimer’s) or as willing to make a stupid pun or weird cameo (character actress Margo Martindale). BoJack Horseman is often several things at once and the consistent way this show achieves everything it puts its hand to never ceases to amaze me.

4. Lady Dynamite
Status: No Official Announcement
No. Of Seasons: 2
Seasons Completed: 1-2
There’s no shortage of shows about mental illness. We live in a golden age of open, brave and sympathetic series’ that discuss mental illness and refuse to stigmatise it. But Maria Bamford’s Lady Dynamite may be the best of them all. In her underrated but incredibly addictive Netflix comedy series, Bamford puts herself and her Bipolar diagnosis on full display. Her openness is stunning, as is her ability to be extremely funny about her failings. She uses her voice in strange, hilarious ways (and in a way that I end up imitating at weird times), but every creative decision pulls us into her life and experience living with mental illness.
   The first season was almost unbearably wonderful, a funny yet melancholy look at how Maria’s past had shaped her present. It also introduced the world to her perfect pug, Bert (who talks like Werner Herzog), her well-meaning but frustratingly inept manager, Burt Ben Bacharach (a real scene-stealer) and had a beautiful, life-affirming conclusion. If there’s one problem I had was that it takes a while to get into the series’ unique rhythms, but the reward was more than worth it. This was a problem exacerbated in season two, due to a chaotic, extremely upsetting look into the future which seems to sour all the great things happening in the present. Thankfully, that’s not the case, and the payoff is more than worth the effort, providing perhaps the clearest visual representation of Bipolar disorder yet seen. Even more so, the second season was miraculous, filled with jabs at the first season and going ever darker. However, the show’s most impressive achievement maybe what Maria Bamford did behind the scenes. She realised that she couldn’t handle doing another ten episode season, so she reduced the episodes and tried to make them better. Her realisation of her limits and yet refusing to allow them to overcome her is incredibly inspiring, especially to my recent struggle living with Asperger’s Syndrome.
   However, this was something of a banner year for Maria Bamford, as 2017 also saw the release of her brilliant, increasingly complex Netflix comedy special ‘Old Baby’ which made me laugh so hard my parents got worried, and had me nodding my head in understanding. But that’s Maria’s greatest gift. She can make you see how hard it can be to live with mental illness, yet make you want to laugh and fight on through it. She should be an inspiration to us all.

3. Steven Universe
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 5
Seasons Completed: 2-5
Reviewing Steven Universe’s first season last year, I stated that it was the most quietly subversive, queerest show on television. But now, after getting up to date, I think it may actually be the most radical, inventive and moving shows currently airing. Its greatness sneaks up on you, its gentle calming atmosphere and pastel colours hiding intricate and well-thought out characters. Almost every action Steven, the Gems, Greg, Lars, Sadie and Connie do is rooted in their history with one another, with their tragedies, with their place in the world. These are some seriously damaged characters, yet they remain playful and kind and open about the way they love and feel. No character on Steven Universe can’t be redeemed or understood, and that has allowed the show to become a haven for beautiful, non-stereotypical representations of queerness, masculinity, disability, PTSD and abusive relationships among others.
   Recently, the show has begun to dig into some of its deeper mysteries, which has helped make the show more addictive and exciting than ever, but which also develops the characters (this was exemplified by the stunning, touching and operatic 4-part ‘Wanted’ event). Steven Universe is a show that changes you. It has become a part of me, a place I turn to if I want to feel less sad, or if I want to understand myself or the others around me. This is the most empathetic, kindest, loveliest show on television. I want it to last forever.

2. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 3
Seasons Completed: 1-3
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the lowest-rated show on American television. It has been for every year since it started airing. Maybe it’s the title that puts people off, or it’s the main character that is too complex to be likable. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to accept. Because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the best shows on TV, and it just keeps getting better. The series follows Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom, who writes, sings and dances and deserves to be very, very famous) who moves to West Covina because her childhood crush, Josh, lives there. Her actions sound crazy, but the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that, and so is this show.
   It plays into romantic conventions (love triangles, running to the airport, etc.) but also critiques and satirises them in frequently very funny ways. Usually it’s in the form of a song-and-dance number. This show’s an unashamed, heart-on-the-sleeve musical with catchy, memorable songs every episode. Those songs, almost always from Rebecca’s perspective, provide a way into her and the way she sees the world and her romantic exploits. In doing so, the series argues that we understand ourselves through the media we consume, and that’s a two-way sword. Many of Rebecca’s most terrible actions (and there are many over the seasons) can be understood as her way to achieve her happy ending, but life doesn’t work like that. This can make for a depressing, occasionally difficult watch (just look at ‘You Stupid Bitch’), but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is also a show filled with joy.
   From its supporting characters (Rebecca’s best friends, Paula, Heather, Valencia and a great gay couple) to the third season’s excellent treatment of mental illness there’s so much complexity and nuance, so many funny, relatable, quotable songs (‘I Have Friends’, ‘I Give Good Parent’, ‘Dream Ghosts’, ‘We Tapped That Ass', ‘Remember That We Suffered’ to name but a few). This is a show people will get addicted to, writing essays (on feminism, mediated existences, parody), sharing stories of how this show changed lives and wondering why this show, this perfect, wonderful show, was the lowest-rated for three years running. The first two seasons are on Netflix. Watch them and watch them now. Then, thank the CW for renewing it and pray they allow a fourth season to complete the story.

1. The Leftovers
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 3
Seasons Completed: 3
I don’t really know what to say about The Leftovers. Its beauty, its grace, its sense of hope has me at a loss for words. The third and final season is more perfect than the second (which topped last year’s list), more perfect than any other show I’ve seen this year, or ever.
    It contains only eight episodes, but there is not a bad, weak one among them. Each is a detailed, character-driven, sob-inducing portrait, of these characters, of their world, of ours. There is not a single misstep, not a single out of place moment or odd choice, every decision made to deepen our understanding of these characters, and pray for them to find a way through the dark. It’s a season that works in a wider sense, with every episode featuring movements towards making the finale possible, but also in its smaller, more intimate moments. Like Nora’s speech about how she broke her arm before she and a former enemy jump on a trampoline to the Wu-Tang clan. Or a former sitcom actor explaining his desperation to gain control in a world where he has none. Or Lindsay Duncan explaining the dark story of what happened to her children. Or Matt confronting a man who claims to be God. Or Nora tearfully explaining to Laurie about her grief. It’s these scenes, and many more like it (all the funny, silly scenes) which lead us to that finale.
    That hopeful, unforgettable, tear-jerking finale, which reveals the series as something much more than what I, and many others, thought it was. This was not a big, apocalyptic drama. It was a deeply intimate drama about people trying to find a way in the absolute worst of times. The final moments of the series pull off an incredible trick, remaining ambiguous yet providing closure and satisfaction. It’s one of the best finales off all time, but The Leftovers is one of the best series’ of all time, with everyone involved (Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston) all doing career-best work. However, special mention must be made to Carrie Coon’s Nora. What started out as an intriguing bit part became the focus of the entire series and that’s all due to Coon. Everything she does here is exceptional, able to convey so much meaning with a simple glance, or move of the hand. She made Nora someone I rooted for. I can’t wait to see her in everything. But that will be a double-edged sword, it will always hurt a bit. Because The Leftovers is over. This show that has done so much for me, brought me so much joy, made me cry so much, filled me with so much hope, is finished. This show that started out as the most depressing and bleak show on TV, but which became the most hopeful. Nothing I saw this year came close to what this made me feel and think. It left me breathless.
Did you agree with my picks? Or do you know other shows which are great, which may not be on my radar? Let me know, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Still to come, in regards to my best of the year coverage: best anime and best films (which should be done very soon, hopefully!). Hope your Christmas was great, and wish you all the best of luck in the New Year!

Regards,
David Gumball-Watson

Sunday, 17 December 2017

The NSV Awards: TV Round-Up 2017


Hello all,
There’s too much TV out there. It’s become almost comically ridiculous that there are so many great shows on TV right now, far too many for any person to watch, even if they did nothing else. There are obviously many benefits to this, an increase in representation and a willingness to cater for specific, weird tastes. It’s rare for a show now to get cancelled without at least one more season to wrap up its story. But that means there is so much to love.
   Throughout the year, I grow obsessed with my end of year list, and the cuts to an eventual 25 become more painful, as I want to spotlight more, to recommend more. There’s so much on TV that it’s easy for a show to fall through the cracks. I didn’t want to let that happen this year. So, instead of just doing my usual 25 and a handful of recommendations, I have done this post, a spotlight to some of the other memorable shows of the year. The shows that I love that had less than stellar years, the new shows I adored, my goodbyes, the shows which most hurt to leave off my top 25. I like to think of this as more conversational than my upcoming top 25, but maybe your next favourite show is here. Who knows?

   But even this list is not complete. There was more I watched, but couldn’t think of what to say. Or the shows I wanted to watch but just didn’t get around to. Shows like Alias Grace, American Vandal, Atlanta, Better Things, Big Little Lies, Big Mouth, Crashing, Dear White People, The Deuce, The Exorcist, The Expanse, Feud, Fleabag, The Girlfriend Experience, Grace And Frankie, Harlots, Master Of None, Mindhunter, One Mississippi, Mom, Review, The Sinner, Star Trek: Discovery, Transparent, Twin Peaks and Westworld. We live in a golden age of TV, and it shows no signs of slowing. How glorious.

The Fiasco
13 Reasons Why season 1: One of the most heavy-handed, depressing and dangerous shows I’ve ever seen, with a simplistic treatment of mental illness and sexual abuse that does far more harm than good. Some strong performances can’t overcome how bleak this show is, and my viewing of it seemed to coincide perfectly with the recurrence of my depression. Television has become so good at depicting mental illness, so why in God’s name was one of the worst such a cultural phenomenon?

Returning Favorites

American Horror Story seasons 4-6: It was catch-up time with American Horror Story for
me. I liked Freak Show more than everyone else seems to, as I was drawn in by its cast of freaks, caring more about them than I have any other set of AHS characters. The problem with that season is the show is called American Horror Story not American Human Story, so there was always a frustrating push-pull between the show’s two sides. Jessica Lange was stunning in her final AHS appearance though.
   Hotel bored me, and I struggled to get through it. The crap with the Vampire kids and the ‘mystery’ surrounding the main character annoyed me and the season never really kicked into high gear like I wanted it to. Denis O’Hare’s Liz is probably the best AHS character ever though.
   Roanoke is interesting, because there are things it does REALLY well. It takes a while to get going, especially with a weird new format, but that pays off spectacularly well as we get a tense, terrifying three-episode arc in the middle. Those three episodes are so good, some of the most legitimately unsettling, addictive things AHS has ever done, but then the final stretch lands with a thud. What a disappointment. Strongest performer: Adina Porter. Yet to complete Season 7: Election at time of writing.

Archer seasons 7-8: This spy spoof remains one of my favourite, most entertaining comedies to watch. While neither of the seasons I did this year were standouts, season 8’s unusual decision to transplant the entire cast into 40s noir made for a curious season. While I appreciated the chance to see these characters in a new setting, a big part of what makes Archer so funny is the chaotic interactions between the cast, which was notably absent. However, still worth a watch even if it is just for Pam (who gets a screamingly funny side-story of her own).

Doctor Who season 10: Peter Capaldi’s last season as the Doctor was a reminder of how much he’ll be missed. Freed from Clara (a boring companion who somehow managed to stay on for two doctors and three seasons), the new companion Bill was a stunning breath of fresh air. She was resourceful, wounded and fun, the best companion the series’ has had since Donna and with Nardole also making a fine addition to the TARDIS team, we’ve got the strongest key cast the series has probably ever had. Their chemistry got the series through some duds, but this season also saw some of the strongest episodes since Steven Moffat took over. ‘Extremis’ was a shocking, clever and downright thrilling episode that promised great things for a trilogy of episodes in the middle of the season (it’s not this episode’s fault that the rest were utterly terrible) and the epic, deeply moving two part finale was one of the biggest gambles this series has taken in a while. The final episode in particular is a goddamn masterpiece, filled with dark, beautiful imagery and exceptionally poignant moments of hope in the face of utter hopelessness. Everything seems primed for a truly excellent Christmas special, and my excitement is high, especially seeing it will bring forth a series of sweeping changes for the series, not least, the first ever female Doctor. I can’t wait.

Game Of Thrones seasons 6-7: If I’d only watched season 6 of Game Of Thrones this year, it would’ve made it onto my awards list, and pretty high too. After a couple of disappointing seasons, the show’s sixth season seemed to kick things into high gear, especially with that finale which was non-stop twists and turns, artfully done to compress dozens of different storylines into one almighty  battle with two clear sides. It was jaw-dropping, audacious and storytelling 101. It was genius. And then season 7 happened and it was... fine, I guess. It was a season of popcorn, things we’ve wanted to happen for years but which were way less satisfying in reality. It could be a lack of danger (not a single major character died!) or the fact that the plotting is all wonky, but the seventh season’s deliberate showy nature was frustrating. That’s not to say there weren’t good moments (the dragon attack on the caravans is one of the most awe-inspiring things I saw all year), but it felt like that this was all placeholder until the show’s eighth and final season. It’s now a waiting game to see if it was worth all the effort.

Grey’s Anatomy seasons 12-14, part 1: What a rollercoaster time I had with Grey’s this year! My perennial favourite guilty pleasure had one of its strongest years in season 12 as Meredith tried to move on following the death of her one true love Derek Shepherd. It was a season marked by hope and clever, experimental episodes (the dinner party which becomes a complex examination of grief and forgiveness and the episode where Meredith is attacked and becomes the patient for a change, which may be one of the best Grey’s episodes of all time). But then, season 13 was a real struggle, focussing on all the wrong things (a stupid Meredith/Riggs/Maggie love triangle, Amelia being childish). It was one of the few times I’d wondered if the show had run out of ideas. The just finished airing first half of season 14 has reinvigorated my faith, giving characters some much-deserved happy endings and generally being a lighter, more enjoyable show. More of this please.

Jane The Virgin seasons 2-3: A show that had a really strong first season, but which couldn’t keep up the momentum. It remains a clever marriage between high-drama telenovela plotting and more subdued, pleasant family stuff, but their dichotomy became ever more separated these last two seasons. It doesn’t help that the telenovela plot keeps going round and round in circles and that the domestic drama killed off one of the show’s most beloved characters. Still, I always look forward to the time I spend with the Villenauevas.

Mr. Robot season 2: The second season of this hacker drama was just as frustrating as the first, but without the necessary OMG moment at the climax that brought everything together. Mr. Robot frequently made me feel lost and frustrated, and it’s attempts to be clever and ambiguous seemed overly attention-seeking without the emotional undercarriage that had carried the first season through some of its weaker moments. However, there were still some tremendous rug-pull moments, especially in the strange episode where Alf makes a cameo. While I have yet to catch up on season 3, I’ve heard reports that it has overcome its sophomore slump, so  I am looking forward to that.

Nowhere Boys season 3: Introducing a brand new cast was the shot in the arm this show needed, fixing many of the problems I had with season 2. It is now one of the more diverse casts on Australian TV, and delivered some great, sustained mystery plotting and enough character dynamics that I’m eager to see what happens to them next. The best local show you’re not watching.

Outlander season 2: Oh, Outlander, how could you? Your first season was so good, an intoxicating mix of feminism, romance and the Scottish highlands that was one of my favourite shows last year. And then you did season 2, which had the France detour? You’re killing me; just like that French stuff killed the momentum on the season. It may have looked pretty, but everything I cared about was back in Scotland. Everything just seemed a little off in season 2. I did do the first few episodes of season 3, but an early plot twist seemed.. odd, and I have heard that there are some more strange detours. How could you, Outlander? Yet to complete Season 3 at time of writing.

Robot Chicken season 8: I always say that Grey’s is my biggest guilty pleasure, but in truth, it’s probably Robot Chicken. As you can see from this list, I watch a LOT of TV, but I actually binge very little. I prefer to savour, spread a little of a few things over a couple of days. Not with Robot Chicken. I binge, and I binge hard. The other day, I did seven episodes in one sitting, when I had only planned to do one. At the time of writing, I’ve still got a few to go, but I know that if I watch one now, I won’t get to bed until late. I can’t do just one. I don’t know why, but it’s my weirdest TV truth. Also, Robot Chicken is sort of stealth great anyway (this latest season had a Fifty Shades of Grey parody with the Monopoly guy. C’mon, that’s amazing).

RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9: The first season of RuPaul’s Finn and I have done on a weekly basis was such a strange viewing experience. The season began without clear, likable queens to root for and the show’s trademark bitchiness was nowhere in sight, making for a bit of a slog at times. But then, the reunion episode revealed that one of the show’s seemingly nicest queens had been a two-faced villain in what was a stunning episode, packing the entire season’s worth of drama into a single hour. The finale episode was jaw-dropping and is already iconic. Go, Sasha!

Stranger Things 2: I’ve never been the world’s biggest fan of Stranger Things and its second season did nothing to really change that. For every strong decision (the buildup of horror, the expansion of the first season’s threat), there were several weaker ones that pulled the series down. Will becoming part of the monster means we never really get to know Will, despite Noah Schnapp’s excellent acting. The character interactions which had been one of the very strongest parts of the first season were gone, as they were all thematically and literally apart. But the biggest problem is also one of its most analysed: ‘The Lost Sister’ is just as bad as you’ve heard. It kills the momentum flat (the previous episode had been terrifying and intense, ending on a brilliant cliffhanger), relies on stereotypical characterisation and doesn’t tell us anything new. It’s horrible. While the series does gain a little momentum later on, the threat never really comes together in a satisfying way. I want to like Stranger Things, I really do, but when there are so many good shows on TV that aren’t being watched, this one feels pleasant but dispensable.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt seasons 2-3: While still one of the funniest shows on TV, Kimmy Schmidt has become harder to swallow. Instead of responding to criticisms of Jane Krakowski’s character, Jacqueline being revealed to be part Native American, it doubled down in an offensive, frustrating episode that missed the point entirely and left a bitter taste. While it’s a comparatively little thing, it showed that the creators of the show weren’t willing to engage in a thoughtful, mature conversation about what was clearly a sensitive issue. There was still a lot to love, especially in the third season, which saw a move away from Kimmy and a focus on Titus (always a plus) and Jacqueline (less so). His pitch perfect parody of Lemonade was one of the funniest things I saw all year.

Vikings season 4, part 2: Vikings remains one of those strange oddities that I started watching ages ago and have just kinda stuck with ever since. It’s capable of great things, but also does some very frustrating things. The second half of season four was a good example of that, as it saw Ragnar Lothbrook removed from his position of power, but also saw the series lose its lead character. It was a brave decision as Travis Fimmel’s unexpected charisma had been one of the main reasons for watching the series and the rest of the season had suffered from the loss of such a powerful performance. I’ve heard that the currently airing season five does fix some of these problems, so I’ll probably get around to that sometime next year.

Will & Grace season 9, part 1: I was excited for the revival as the original (for all it’s weird choices) was one of the most influential and important shows in my life. It was the first gay show I ever showed to my parents and they loved it. The revival isn’t exactly world-changing, but is consistently funny, and it’s incredibly nice to have the gang back. Best episode? Toss-up between the gay conversion camp episode (which features a tear-jerking speech from Jack of all people) and the funeral episode (Karen grieving, Karen reuniting with Smitty, lots of Karen).

Farewell Old Friend

Girls seasons 5-6: Lena Dunham’s frustrating, controversial and entertaining series came to an end this year after six divisive seasons. As one of the first shows I watched ‘as live’ (a season a year), it will always hold a special place in my heart, but the show has often been overshadowed by Dunham’s questionable antics outside of the show. Girls was always inventive (most clearly shown in its exceptional stand-alone episodes like The Panic In Central Park, One Man’s Trash or the most recent American Bitch) and able to hit complex emotions in a nuanced way. I will miss Hannah, Shosh, Jessa and even Marnie, because in their struggle to grow into less terrible people, I saw myself.

Orphan Black season 5: Orphan Black was unable to overcome its worst tendencies (its constant widening of the conspiracy and focus on scientific twists over character interaction and development) in this disappointing final season. However, I will miss Orphan Black for the gift that was Tatiana Maslaney and all the Clone Sestras. May she soon have another worthy showcase for her incredible talents.

Penny Dreadful season 3: After an excellent second season which married gothic horror to personal pain, I had extremely high hopes for this third season, especially seeing it would have the chance to wrap up the series. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations. The season felt rushed and conflicts introduced early on were never cleared up. Worse than that though, this was an unglorious end to some of the most beautifully complex, broken characters I’ve ever seen. Although it seems that it had always been the plan to end the series like this, it has more of a flavour of being cancelled before it’s time. This will always seem like a terrible missed opportunity, but almost all is forgiven because we get an episode as beautiful and sob-inducing as ‘A Blade Of Grass’, a bottle episode about finding hope in the absolute worst of times. Masterful.

Rectify season 4: The final season of one of my favourite shows should be an automatic guarantee to my end of list, especially one that has had such a strong showing on these lists. However, try as I might, I can’t bring myself to remember what happened in the final season. This is one of those rare cases where I need a re-watch before deciding on a final opinion. Until I do, this series’ beautiful, upsetting, hopeful rhythms and characters will stay with me forever.

Wonderful New

Adam Ruins Everything season 1-2: My family was obsessed with this show this year, with my parents eager to see what Adam would ruin next. Conover’s comedic delivery helps the bitter pill go down, especially because a lot of basic stuff we take for granted is terrible and usually associated with power imbalances (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.). In this age of misinformation, it seems more essential than ever. Also, Adam’s character struck me as a weirdly great metaphor for life with Asperger’s (socially inept guy tries to make friends by teaching them stuff, is usually more ostracized as a result).

At Home With Amy Sedaris: The voice of BoJack’s Princess Carolyn gets her own show! And it’s kinda great! This clever, deeply bonkers spoof of home-making shows is wonderfully entertaining and gleefully surreal. Not everything works (not the biggest fan of Sedaris’ other characters), but when it’s on top form, it’s breathtakingly impressive. Episode 6 set in Nature is one of the best episodes of the year.

Bob’s Burgers season 1-3: I’m finally onboard with the Bob’s Burgers train after hearing about it for many years and I’m loving it. It took a while to kick into high gear, but working my way through the third season at the moment is so much fun, as there’s always at least one laugh-out-loud, great moment per episode. Memorable highlights: Tina’s first drive (“TURN ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, TINA! TURN, TINA!”), Bob’s Thanksgiving Totoro-inspired dream, the Mad Pooper (and the song), Gene’s weird-crush on a Manatee puppet and every insane, glorious moment of the fake shark episode.

The Crown season 1: A show that bathes in prestige drama. A fascinating look at a turbulent time for the royal family, it’s gifted with a strong cast and intriguing characters, but sometimes is a bit too stiff upper-lip for its own good. John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill is wonderful and Claire Foy shows Queen Elizabeth’s transformation wonderfully. Prince Philip is the worst, and I hate him. Yet to view season two at the time of writing.

GLOW season 1: I wanted to like this series so much more than I did. The trials and tribulations of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling had moments of greatness, but overall, I found my attention wandering and had to struggle to complete the series (I know many other people that didn’t get that far). The performances of all the women are wonderful though, and this is the series I find myself recommending to people more than any other. TV viewing is so strange.

Superstore seasons 1-3, part 1: If consistency is the truest form of success for a comedy, then Superstore is on track to become one of the greats. While its first season took a while to get going, seasons two and three packed on the character development and silliness to make for one of the most reliably funny comedies currently airing, with an absolute killer cast including America Ferrara and Mark McKinney. Most Valuable Performer? Lauren Ash’s Dina looks to be the Ron Swanson of the series, but I’d argue that Nichole Bloom’s young mum Cheyenne is a more reliably funny character.

Tales From The Tour Bus: This weird animated documentary series from the creator of Beavis And Butthead and King Of The Hill centers on the lives of country singers. It argues that their lives were just as dangerous as that of rock and rollers. The style takes some getting used to, but it’s worth the effort for some insane stories and beautiful music. My favorite episode was the two-parter centered on the tumultuous love affair between Tammy Wynette (‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’, ‘Stand By Your Man’) and George Jones, which starts out funny and romantic before turning gut-punch devastating as she is forced to face her delusions as Jones spirals into addiction. It’s a painful reminder that some of the best art comes from the most painful of places.

The Just Missed Out

Baskets season 1: Zach Galifanikis’ sad clown show would probably have made my top 25 if I had done season 2 in time. As it was, the first season was a gorgeous, heart-wrenching dramedy about family and the struggle to achieve one’s dreams. Supporting character Martha is great (where did the cast come from?) but its Lindsay Anderson’s brave, moving performance as Chip Basket’s mother that is the real reason to watch this. He disappears into the character, never for any second do we think this is a man in a dress, such is the strength of his portrayal. Masterful and sometimes downright devastating. Expect a probable appearance on next year’s list.

Downward Dog: This show was too beautiful for this world. Cancelled after one season, this show was a stunning, lovely examination of love told through the dog Martin’s relationship with his owner. What should’ve been silly and stupid became something much more heartfelt and pure, filled with understanding that even the most perfect love is about trying to understand and accommodate one another’s needs, no matter how different they are. If this was going to have a second season, this would’ve made it onto my list. As it was cancelled after 8 perfect episodes, it will remain one of the great one-season wonders.

F Is For Family seasons 1-2: Bill Burr’s dark animated family sitcom was addictive, disturbing fare. At first, it seemed to glamourise Frank’s racist, sexist diatribe that he spouted so frequently as part of the era in which it was set, but as the show went on and the messed up family dynamics become more complex and depressing, F Is For Family became much more. It became an examination of toxic masculinity, how sexist, racist attitudes infest every aspect of the family and how parents’ own failings can be transferred to their children. The fights between Frank and his wife Sue (voiced with weary frustration by the always excellent Laura Dern) were some of the most painfully real that I’ve ever seen, while the kids’ own attempts to act out often resulted in more pain. It wasn’t always an easy, or very funny watch, but at its best, F Is For Family was an extremely insightful watch.

Orange Is The New Black season 4: To be honest, Orange Is The New Black’s fourth season was one of the best things I watched this year. Taking hold of the great season 3 cliff-hanger, the show used the opportunity to go even darker, more stressful and thematically insightful. The show had always seemed to be about prison dynamics within the prison, but season four argued that the greatest threat to the prisoners was an uncaring system focused on profits over humanity. The show became extremely addictive as the feeling grew that something had to break, and it wasn’t going to be good. That break came late in the season, an immensely devastating casualty that promised to cause even bigger chaos in season five. The only reason this show isn’t on my top 25 is because I didn’t catch up with that finals season before the end of the year. If I had, this probably would’ve been top 10.

Regular Show seasons 6-7: What a strange series Regular Show is. It could so easily been a show about two slackers doing stupid things which cause them strange, interdimensional problems. And for the majority of it’s tenure, it was, but over the last few seasons it had also become something more. Slowly, Mordecai and Rigby learned to grow up, but it did so in a surprising, natural way. Mordecai had a relationship with Margaret and Cloudy Jay, both of which ended badly, due to his immaturity. Meanwhile, Rigby found a relationship with Eileen that made him strive to be a better person. Rigby, stupid, childish, annoying Rigby, suddenly became the more mature, responsible one. It was a twist I would never have seen coming, but one that was incredibly welcome. The show itself also matured into a series with a strange arc throughout its seventh season, before it married it’s strangeness with its focus on maturity in a wonderful season finale. The eighth season will be its last, but I have yet to catch up on that. For years, this series languished behind Adventure Time and Steven Universe as the best Cartoon Network has to offer. Not anymore.

Part 2 of my TV reviews will (hopefully) be published Thursday or Friday. My Top 10 Anime will go up either Saturday or Sunday.  The film roundup will go up Wednesday next week, while my top 20 films will go up the Thursday or Friday after that. Hope to see you then.
Regards,
David Gumball-Watson