Before commenting how I might have left off a certain show, keep this in the back pocket:
Or I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Anyhow on with the show:
10. South Side (Comedy Central)
South Side took every idiotic Chicago stereotype (“it’s a violent city”, “Bulls!” “deep dish!” I am looking at you BoJack Horseman), and rightfully punched them in the face. An entire crew filled with cast members and writers from Chicago itself, South Side is a celebration of the city and the folks that will do anything from selling counterfeit Viagra to operating an e-coin service just to pay rent, child support, or keep the lights on. An additional podcast with show creators Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle titled “South Side Stories” highlighted where and how they got inspiration for the series, and it’s the only Chicago production that has done the homework to create a truly hilarious series set in Chicago about trying to survive. Plus, when’s the last time you heard Buffalo Grove, IL get name dropped on a major television series?
(All episodes are available on Comedy Central’s website or on demand through a cable provider)
9. Tuca and Bertie (Netflix)
Its bullshit that Tuca and Bertie ended up canceled two months after its release. Lisa Hanawalt is one of the best animators currently working and Tuca and Bertie was just as whimsical as BoJack Horseman. I loved hitting pause and seeing all the background gags that were drawn and its humor throughout, but the second half elevated itself with outstanding episodes in which Tuca and Bertie reevaluate their friendship and travel to the Jelly Lakes. I wish we could have seen more and it sucks that we probably never will.
(All episodes are on Netflix)
8. I Think You Should Leave (Netflix)
I have no further comments.
7.5: Joe Pera Talks With You (Adult Swim)
Am I cheating for putting this on here despite it only airing four episodes? Probably, but those four episodes resembled just how wholesome the Adult Swim’s series has been since it’s humble beginnings as a one-off special guiding its viewers back to sleep. A modern-day Mr. Rogers the world needs right now.
(All episodes are on Adult Swim’s website. Season 2 resumes January 3rd)
7. Succession (HBO)
Succession much like Veep has become an eerily documentary for the times (RIP Deadspin). The addition of Holly Hunter in an already stacked cast made it even better as the Roys tried to maintain their status as a major multimedia conglomerate in the battle to be the next heir to the empire. The minute that theme song comes in, you’re in for a fun time or when a drugged-out Jeremy Strong starts freestyle rapping to his dad in the gleefully stupid “L to the O G”. The Roys are terrible people, but there’s something charismatic about their awfulness that makes it impossible to look away.
(All episodes are on HBO Go/Now, new season in 2020)
6. Chernobyl (HBO)
Craig Mazin, the man behind the Hangover and Scary Movie sequels asked, “What is the cost of lies?” The answer to that being a historical horror look at one of the worst manmade disasters. Chernobyl highlighted the many heroes that gave their lives to stop radiation from spreading across Europe after the Chernobyl power point exploded and the people responsible for letting such a monstrosity happen. Tremendous writing, outstanding cinematography and acting, Craig Mazin always had this kind of effective storytelling within him, we just didn’t know.
(All episodes are on HBO Go/Now)
5. Better Things (FX)
I am thrilled this came back for a third round and another one is on the way. Do not let Louie C.K.’s previous affiliation fool you this was always Pamela Adlon show, she’s the creative mastermind behind it and she showed it again by directing every episode this season and being the showrunner. The Fox family got a little bit older, a little wiser, but above all else, it remains a great hangout series about parenthood and trying to stay afloat in LA. I teared up when Sam’s kids where jumping up and down to the Phineas and Ferb theme song, and there are many more small joyous moments like that sprinkled throughout the season.
(All three seasons are currently on Hulu. Season 4 drops in 2020)
4. Mr. Robot (USA)
Always ambitious with it occasionally being too much for its own good, when Mr. Robot was hot it was unlike anything else on TV. A social satire, a gleeful takedown on capitalism, a staged play, a parody of crappy 80s/90s TGIF shows, Mr. Robot balanced several plates throughout the first three seasons before beginning to smash all of them near the finish line. An episode where there’s only two lines of dialogue installing firmware at a bank, using fisheye lens to highlight the Anderson sibling’s anxiety, and traveling to a parallel universe, the two-year break helped Sam Esmail deliver the greatest final season run this year. Scholars will remember this as the show that launched multiple acting careers as well as Esmail directing career taking off. I can’t wait to see what’s next for everyone that made this show possible.
(Seasons 1–3 are on Prime Video. All of Season 4 is on USA’s website)
3. Russian Doll (Netflix)
Live, die, repeat “what a concept!” Live, die, repeat “what a concept!” Live, die, repeat “what a concept!” A birthday party gone to hell, Russian Doll uses time loops to highlight drug addiction and mental illness to display a message that everyone matters. We are human beings; we are prone to fucking up at some point in life, so celebrate the successes and learn from the failures. The last five minutes where Nadia is walking out of the tunnel with a lantern handed to her was truly cathartic to witness while I was in a bout of unemployment. Thank you, Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, for giving me the courage to keep going when things were rough this year. I needed this. (also bonus points for it being a rare streaming show that houses most of its episodes under 25 minutes).
(All episodes are on Netflix. Season 2 out TBA)
- TIE Watchmen/Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal (HBO/Adult Swim)
“I’m in every moment, we were together, all at once”
Damon Lindelof went HARD using Watchmen’s nine episodes to tell a tale about the dangers of whitewashing in media, white supremacy and inherited trauma while kicking the living shit out of fascists in the process. Every week was a new adventure, I loved seeing the old characters from the comics and new characters like Sister Night and Looking Glass being complete bad asses. I loved the parodies of Ryan Murphy shows, an all too timely “squid pro quo” joke, and the “This Extraordinary Being” installment is the best episode of television all year. Even my dad who doesn’t watch all that much TV was frequently telling me how tremendous the Watchmen series ended up. Do we need more? Probably not, but I’ll follow Lindelof wherever he goes next. I originally had an entire section here mimicking Dr. Manhattan and his ability to travel through time, but the longer I was committed to the bit, the more I realized I was wildly going off the rails and bumming myself out in the process.
On the other side of the coin is Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal which felt like a major steppingstone moving forward for western adult animation. There’s no dialogue just the images on screen, occasional grunting from the protagonists and a score by Tyler Bates to tell its story. Every frame is its own story with vibrant colors set in a deeply tragic tale of a caveman and dinosaur losing their families and learning how to cooperate with each other in order to survive. It’s a show that demands your attention, even a simple blink can throw you off course to what is happening. Adult Swim also released the animatics to the show with Tartakovsky narrating how this was going to play out in the final edit which was just as entertaining as Primal itself.
So why the tie for both shows? They both gave me a creative high I’ve been missing since Twin Peaks concluded it’s third season two years ago. I continuously went back to these shows night after night picking up on Easter eggs (no pun intended) or studying camera movements that both shows demonstrated. I really believed that these are the two best shows of the year and I had a hell of a time picking what would be the number one. I have a feeling that the next great pieces of art in the 2020s are going to draw some sort of inspiration from these two brilliant TV writers.
This year was challenging on a variety of different reasons. Things were bleak for the longest time as I spent a good portion of the year job hunting. I’m finally at a place now where I’m doing work I love again and feel creatively motivated to do stuff like this again. I’m ending this year the same way I began it; a trip to Milwaukee surrounded by some of my favorite people with spirits held high. I have no idea what awaits in the next decade, but I hope all of you will stick around for what’s to come.
(Watchmen is currently on HBO Go/Now)
(Primal is currently on Adult Swim’s website with new episodes coming in 2020)