Remember when there were so many good shows on TV? Critically praised hits The Sopranos and The Wire, ABC’s addictive LOST, outstanding cable dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, smart comedies like Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock?
It seems like television has taken a dive in the last few years, but there are still some programs worth getting excited about.
Spoiler alert: a lot of them are horror series. Also, highlight the hidden text on this page to see actual spoilers.
ABC, available on Hulu
I didn’t realize how much I like Black-ish until I made this list. It’s kind of a fresh take on The Cosby Show, but you know, less rape-y. It follows the Johnsons, an African American family living in a predominately white, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Anthony Anderson plays Dre, an exec at an ad agency. His wife Rainbow (played by Tracee Ellis Ross) is a successful doctor. (Sound familiar?) The crux of the show is Dre’s struggle to make sure his family maintains their cultural identity, and although I’m a lower-middle-class single white female, the comedy and storylines still translate. The supporting cast features Laurence Fishburne, Jenifer Lewis and Deon Cole, whose character Charlie might make my top 100 TV characters of all-time list for this scene alone.
9. American Crime Story
FX, available on iTunes
The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story received rave reviews from both critics and viewers, and deservedly so. It showed a completely different side of the infamous OJ Simpson trial and explained how a case with so much substantial DNA evidence ended with OJ walking free. Sarah Paulson’s performance as Marcia Clark is sensational, and I suspect you’ll be seeing more of Courtney B. Vance after his phenomenal portrayal of Johnnie Cochran. It’s a heartbreaking, tragic story no matter how you tell it. In my opinion, it’s a must watch. And yes, it does take a minute to get used to seeing Cuba Gooding, Jr. as OJ and David Schwimmer as Robert Kardasian, but it won’t be so weird after a couple episodes. John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, well, he’s very Travolta. That doesn’t go away.
I’m excited to see what Ryan does next season with the events that followed Katrina.
8. Scream Queens
Fox, available on Hulu
Another Ryan Murphy home run, Scream Queens is the perfect mix of comedy and horror, a genre that is incredibly difficult to balance. There is nothing else like this on TV and I’m elated to see that it survived Fox’s ax and got signed for a second season. I understand that a lot of people simply don’t get it. But if you’re someone who does, it doesn’t get much better than Scream Queens. S/o to Glen Powell who plays Chad Radwell. You’re perfect and hilarious.
7. The Walking Dead
AMC, available on Netflix
I don’t hold a popular opinion on The Walking Dead in that I don’t think it’s really that good of a show. The plotlines are occasionally dull (let’s look for Sophia FOR A WHOLE SEASON) and the characters often make stupid, illogical decisions. Then every once and awhile, the writers will completely go against everything they’ve built with someone and make them act totally out of character. Still the show is wildly popular. Why? It’s entertaining and the characters (for the most part) are interesting.
I will admit that the show has corrected a great many things from the first few seasons. I think that after the show became the massive success it is, the writers realized, “Whoa! People really like this show. I guess we should stop phoning it in.” The result has been more artistic shots, more time to set up storylines and characters, fewer stupid character decisions and more character consistency. In my opinion, the last two seasons of the series have been its strongest. And with the introduction of Negan, I’m actually excited about next season. Not because I care who he kills (I’m not really attached to any of the characters at this point), but because we finally have a villain that is both charming and terrifying. Plus, he adds some comedy – something that has been lacking since the Governor touched Maggie’s boobs and Glenn lost his sense of humor.
P.S. If you ever get the chance to see Michael Rooker (who plays Merle Dixon) at a comic con, do it! He is hilarious. I went to a Wizard World featuring Corey Feldman, Ralph Macchaio and Robert England, and Michael was easily my favorite part. That’s saying a lot.
6. Modern Family
ABC,available on Hulu
The buzz has died down for Modern Family after what seemed like years of Emmy domination. There’s a reason for that – it’s not as good as it once was. Not to say that it’s not still a decent show, but those first few seasons were some of the best in comedy TV history. The odd couple dynamic of Cam and Mitchell, the deadpan, dry humor of Lily and the doofy charm of Phil keep me coming back each week. At some point, Modern Family would’ve easily landed in the top 3 of a list like this, but the last few seasons have been mediocre. Still, it’s worth watching, especially those first seasons.
5. American Horror Story
FX, available on Netflix
Ryan Murphy can officially do no wrong (see #8 and #9). American Horror Story is a show unlike anything else I’ve seen on television. First of all, it’s an anthology, meaning that each season is a different storyline with different characters. Anthologies are fairly common in horror movies, but never in a series. It also uncommon in the fact that, for the most part, the actors remain the same. They just take on new roles each season. Evan Peters has played everything from a mild-mannered husband, to a notorious serial killer, to a “freak” with lobster hands.
Here’s the thing about AHS, though – it’s legitimately creepy. At times, it’s downright brutal and twisted. I’m constantly amazed with the things Ryan and FX are able to get around the FCC. But it’s not just brutality for shock’s sake, it’s well-written and brilliantly acted by regulars Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson (see American Crime Story), Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Denis O’Hare and others. Also, if you pay attention, you’ll find that all the seasons tie together, which is pretty awesome.
Admittedly Freak Show and Hotel were weaker than their predecessors, but it’s still a solid show for horror lovers that will leave you guessing and mesmerized ‘til the very end.
4. Bates Motel
AMC,available on Netflix
Most of us know the story of Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, but how did Norman Bates become who he is? That’s what Bates Motel investigates. It’s a slow burn, but a necessary one to truly unravel the events in Norman’s life, his relationship and attachment to his mother Norma, and his interactions with other people, both friend and foe. I love that Bates Motel never feels the need to rush viewers. We all know where Norman is headed and this series is the journey to get him there. With one more season ahead, the payoff of the build is beginning to pay off and it’s been well worth the wait.
“I like this show, but I hate what they’re doing to Norman’s character.” – some IMDb user who has clearly never seen Psycho
3. The Affair
Showtime, available on Showtime Anywhere
The most overlooked show on this list, Showtime’s The Affair is a must watch for TV elitists. It tells the story of a man (Noah Solloway played by Dominic West) and woman (Alison Bailey played by Ruth Wilson) engaged in an affair and the repercussions it has in every aspect of their lives. Therefore, your protagonists are also weirdly your antagonists.
One of the revolutionary things about the show is how it tells their story. Each episode, you’ll see the same situation, once from the perspective of Noah and once from the perspective of Alison. It’s fascinating. Their memories sometimes differ in slight ways – Noah will remember Alison being dressed up, while Alison remembers looking frumpy. Sometimes it seems like you’re watching two different stories all together. While the fallout unfolds, there is also an underlying whodunit murder storyline happening that you’re constantly trying to piece together. I’m glad to see some nominations start coming through for The Affair, but it deserves much more as it gets better with each season.
2. The Goldbergs
ABC, available on Hulu
If your reservation with watching The Goldbergs is that it looks like a The Wonder Years knock off, get over it. It’s so good. The series is actually semi-autobiographical. Showrunner Adam Goldberg created the characters based on his own family members and writes storylines loosely based on his real life events, captured on video via his 1980s camcorder.
If you’re an 80s kid, so many things will leave you feeling nostalgic. At least once an episode, my friend will start laughing and clapping, then exclaim, “I remember that!” One thing they’ve managed to do incredibly well is give you the feeling of the 80s without shoving it down your throat. The clothes and set design aren’t over the top, they just are what the 80s were, seemingly effortlessly.
The other thing The Goldbergs does well is create flawed, loveable characters. Murry is the tough, teddy bear dad; Beverly is the world’s most impressive and hilarious smother (Wendi McLendon-Covey KILLS it, by the way); Barry is the overconfident, yet deeply insecure older brother; Erica is the cool, reasonable older sister; Pops is a smart, caring, ladies’ man grandpa; and Adam is the nerdy kid just trying to navigate his teenage years into adulthood.
Everyone I have recommended this show to loves it. And after three seasons with no decline in quality, I’m confidently calling The Goldbergs the best comedy on TV.
1. Game of Thrones
HBO, available on HBO Go
If you’re not watching Game of Thrones at this point, stop what you’re doing and watch it immediately. I cannot be the first person to tell you this. Yes, it is that good. They’ll kill everyone you love and you’ll just keep coming back for more because yes, it is that f*^%ing good.
Why are you still here? Go watch Game of Thrones.
USA, available on Netflix
Probably like most of you, Mr. Robot wasn’t on my radar until it took home a Golden Globe for Best Drama. If you beat out Game of Thrones, you have my attention. Turns out Mr. Robot is not even in the same league as GoT, but it’s not bad. It tells the story of a computer programmer (Rami Malek) who suffers from social anxiety disorder and is recruited by an anarchist, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) to take down a multinational corporation. In real world terms, it would be like a hacker joining Anonymous.
I really enjoyed season one of Mr. Robot, but the end was slightly disappointing. However, with shows like Game of Thrones, Bates Motel and The Affair all approaching their last seasons, Mr. Robot will be one to watch come awards season 2018. Get in on the ground floor now. Season two begins Wednesday, July 13th.
Also, someone tell me if Rami Malek is hot. I’ve spent 10 episodes trying to figure it out. I think he is?
Better Call Saul
AMC, available on Netflix
I loved Breaking Bad, so naturally I was pretty jazzed when it was announced that it was getting a spin off with Bob Odenkirk reprising his role as Saul Goodman and Jonathan Bank’s Mike Ehrmantraut as a series regular. Better Call Saul is a fine show; well made, superbly acted, solid script. I don’t love it though. (Disclaimer: I have not watched season two yet.) Maybe it’s because Jimmy McGill (Saul’s real name) isn’t as interesting as Saul Goodman. Or maybe it’s because I’m pretty disinterested in his crazy brother. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I understand that it is not and will never be Breaking Bad. That’s not even showrunner Vince Gilligan’s intention, and it shouldn’t be. The pacing is slow. He’s taking time to build a different side of a character that you’ve known for years. I commend him for that. But it hasn’t quite hit its sweet spot with me. That said, if you were a BB fan, you should be watching this. I’m intrigued by what’s ahead for ol’ Jimmy.
House of Cards
Netflix, available on Netflix
I know, I know. How is this not on my list? Truthfully, I watched the first season and it was painful. Not because it’s not a good show – it’s a great show, actually – it just seemed too real to me. I loathe politics because I assume that the shady things that happen in House of Cards are the exact things that happen in real life. It’s awful and it makes me hate everything. I don’t need that in my life. BUT if you can handle that stuff, I highly recommend HOC. The writing is top notch and Kevin Spacey is on a whole new level. It deserves every bit of recognition it’s getting.
Speaking of political things, I hear good stuff about Veep on HBO. It wasn’t my thing, but a lot of people think it’s one of the best comedies running.
Orange is the New Black
Netflix, available on Netflix
People love OITNB. LOVE IT. NBA superstar Russell Westbrook even dressed up like Pornstache a couple years ago for Halloween. However, much like The Walking Dead, OITNB is almost a guilty pleasure to me. It’s more of an entertaining show than it is a good show. It’s often over-dramatized and unbelievable, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t binge watch every season. It’s worth giving a shot for 3 or 4 episodes. Maybe you’ll get hooked.
HBO, available on HBO Go
For its quirky, off beat, occasionally dry humor, I’m surprised how popular Silicon Valley has become. It seems like most everyone I know is watching it and loving it. Here’s the deal though – I have no idea why I like it. That makes it very hard to 1.) recommend it to friends and 2.) to do this write up on it. I’ve watched every episode available and I binged watched most of season one, but I don’t think I’ve audibly laughed once. Perhaps it’s my weird attraction to Martin Starr? Maybe I have a sick obsession with seeing how far under Richard can bury himself? Or was it the jerk off algorithm that sold me? I honestly don’t know. Anyway, watch Silicone Valley, I guess?
Comedy Central, available on Amazon and Hulu
If you like immature, but (mostly) well-timed jokes, you’ll probably dig Workaholics. It’s certainly not for everyone though. It follows three best friend man-children who work as telemarketers and smoke a lot of pot. The first season is pretty freakin’ great. Season 2 was not as great, but still pretty good for the most part. Seasons 3 and 4 were okay. Season 5 sucked. Season 6 was back to pretty good. The show was good enough to launch the careers of both Adam Devine and Anders Holms, so take that for what it’s worth.
Hulu, available on Hulu
The Path is new on the scene, just wrapping it’s first season in late May. It had me at the jump because 1.) Aaron Paul and 2.) it’s about a cult (*ahem* “movement”), which I find fascinating. While I’m not ready to say this is a great show, it’s first season shows promise. The characters are compelling and events escalate quickly… possibly too quickly. By the 3rd episode I really started enjoying it, so if you do try it, give it a little time. I thought the pilot was a bit dull.
Available on Hulu
Okay, The Grinder doesn’t really count since it just got the stanky boot from Fox after just one season, despite its critical acclaim. (93% on Rotten Tomatoes!) However, it’s so good that I had to at least mention it.
Rob Lowe is Dean Sanderson, an actor who played a lawyer on a network crime drama (think CSI), but finds himself at a crossroads after the show is canceled. He decides to move back to his hometown and join his family’s real-life law firm without any formal education. At the firm, he works alongside his brother Stewart (Fred Savage) and a cast of affable supporting characters.
It may sound like a silly premise, but the writing was smart and the cast had an amazing chemistry. I loved watching Rob Lowe and Fred Savage together as the odd couple. And the chemistry between Fred Savage and Mary Elizabeth Ellis who plays Stewart’s wife was so endearing. I can’t say enough good things about The Grinder. Fox was stupid to end it so quickly without giving it time to find its audience. So even though it only has one season, I still recommend you watch it because you’ll laugh. A lot. And laughing is the best.