A 12-month analysis of my TV show conquests.

I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately. Not of the “turn-on-the-TV-and-see-what’s-playing” variety, but a deliberate attempt to download and watch some of the highest quality television shows around. In fact, I don’t even have a television at home. It’s just me, my computer, and a bunch of streaming/download options.

Why TV? It’s just one of several leisure activities I have going on right now. I still read a lot of books – roughly 15 books so far in this calendar year. I’ve been tuning into the NBA playoffs and going to the gym a few times a week. There’s writing, too. But when I need to relax after a long day at work, I watch TV.

I enjoy the fact that the bar for quality television has steadily increased in recent years. The real storytellers (and actors) are moving to the television medium, to the point where it doesn’t feel liked wasted entertainment time. There’s also continuity in a specific series, so that it doesn’t just end after two hours like a movie would. The medium allows the storytellers to take their time in executing their vision – unless it’s cancelled outright (hello, Freaks and Geeks).

I’m going to recall some of the shows I’ve watched in the past 12 months, and my completely subjective rating of each. As a bonus, I will disclose a list of shows that I keep meaning to watch, but haven’t yet.

Tell me what else I need to watch, in the comments below!

Amazing (A+ grade):

  • Better Call Saul. The epitome of great television. Deliberate pacing, incredible character development, and Bob Odenkirk at the height of his powers. The central theme is powerful and biting: we can’t escape who we are, even if it hurts those around us. It’s much better to view this series not as a prequel to Breaking Bad, but as a construct that stands on its own.
  • Master of None. Aziz Ansari is genius, and the topics in here – being an Asian in America, managing relationships in the modern era, and the hilarity of daily life – speak to me in powerful ways. Can’t wait for the upcoming second season.
  • Louie. I have never laughed and cried so hard while watching a TV show. Louis CK is a master at making the small moments work. The awkwardness and realness of life bleeds through each frame. The supporting cast work is gritty and authentic. The magic realism moments are punches to the gut. Can’t say enough good things about this show.
  • Atlanta. Donald Glover manages to create a delightful collection of moments about what it means to live in America. The subversive moments are beautiful. The soundtrack is extraordinary. It demands repeated viewing. This is the American soul in a nutshell.

Solid (B-grade):

  • Girls. I watched this all the way to the end. I like flawed characters, and this show delivers in spades. There is something human about the fact that people change, but they don’t really change. Hard to explain, but it’s one of the reasons I enjoy Dunham’s work so much.
  • Orange is the New Black. I haven’t had time to go through all the episodes, but I love what I’ve seen so far. Great performances for a truly diverse ensemble cast – they did a heck of a casting job here.
  • Westworld. Good, but not great. I don’t regret the time I spent in watching it, but the story loses steam towards the end. Cast is obviously the bee’s knees.
  • The Night Of. Dominated by great performances. Turturro is an absolute revelation here. He’s 200% invested in the role, and the courtroom speech at the end makes the whole show worth it.
  • Black Mirror. Third season is uneven, but one episode – San Junipero – redeems the whole season. When magic happens in this show, it is stunning.
  • Silicon Valley. Yes, there are the obvious dick jokes. But it’s something more. Mike Judge’s best work, it is unflinching in spots and hilarious viewing for anyone in the tech industry.
  • The Girlfriend Experience. Fascinating glimpse into a world I know nothing about – the high-end escort business. Deliberately sterile and non-redemptive. Quite an exploration, indeed.
  • Halt and Catch Fire. Good, not great. Entertaining television, but it’s a bit like the Stockton and Malone in the era of Michael Jordan – just not strong enough to win championships. Overshadowed by other great shows.

Underwhelming (F-grade):

  • True Detective. Season 2 sucked hard. I came for Rachel McAdams, and left bitterly disappointed.

Shows on the “need-to-watch” list:

  • The last season of Game of Thrones. Yeah, I know it’s probably amazing. And people look at me with raised eyebrows when I say I haven’t gotten around to it yet. But how much bloodshed do I need to see? I’ve started a lot of other shows, and don’t regret it. I’ll come back to this at some point.
  • Daredevil. It’s probably rock solid, but I’m all superhero’d out at the moment. Too many cinematic duds on the big screen for me to visit the superhero topic right now. I might come back to it in a few years.
  • Stranger Things. How much “retro-as-new” content do I need? I’m not sure about it, so I’m staying away for now.
  • Mr. Robot.
  • Fargo.
  • The Americans.

Peace,

James

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