Emmy nominations are out this week, which means its time for the final wrap-up of the television season. I’m doing mine in several parts. This one is the shows. I watch A LOT of shows. I don’t think all of them are good. And of the ones I think are good, I don’t think they’re all great. So I’ve singled out the 11 shows I do think are great.
FX keeps putting out good television, but with the exception of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it hasn’t had the best luck with comedy (Testees was embarassingly bad). Thankfully, this season they put out the filthy animated comedy Archer. This one’s not for kids, folks. It’s raunchy humor and spy antics blend together so perfectly. And its stellar voice cast (including Jessica Walter, H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, and Judy Greer) are all flat out perfect. Running jokes and serialized storytelling make regular viewing a treat.
Best Episode Skytanic
It doesn’t really do anything better than any other episode. The narrative picks up a little as the relationship between Cyril and Lana starts to become troubled, but other than that, it’s not unlike every other episode. Except for the fact that it’s HYSTERICAL. From Archer’s inability to understand the way the zeppelin works, to the constant Hindenberg references, and so on, it’s the funniest episode of the series. “Yay metaphor!”
10. Parks and Recreation
Parks and Rec had a really rough first season. So rough that I wasn’t actually interested in watching the second season. But I did, for lack of anything better to do. I’m glad I did, because the improvement was huge, and Parks and Rec quickly became one of the funniest shows on television. It comes from the same idea of The Office, but its heart is much bigger and it lacks the snarky cynicism. It’s a show about dreams, no matter how great or small, and about friendship. Even its douchiest characters (I’m looking at you, Tom Haverford) are lovable and have their moments of sweetness.
Best Episode: Telethon
I’m not sure why I feel this episode is the best of the season, but I didn’t even have to think about my choice. It’s just a great episode. There’s Ron/Leslie goodness, Amy Poehler gets to let loose and be really funny the more tired and then hopped up on sugar she gets, and the relationship between Anne and Mark crumbles (come on, you can’t tell me I’m the only one who hates this pairing)
09. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is one of the most absurd, ridiculous, and un-PC shows on television. And that’s a good thing. A very, very, very good thing. The comedy faltered a bit in its fourth season, not quite as gut bustingly hilarious as its first three seasons, tending more toward the “everybody yelling at each other at loud volumes” type of comedy over the seemingly stupid but actually quite clever satire it had perfected through seasons one, two, and three. Thankfully the gang returned to form in their fifth season (and I seriously can’t believe it’s been on for five years), trading their constant yelling for dysfunctional team scheming. From Kitten Mittens, to Birds of Prey, to the DENNIS system (that’s Demonstrate your value, Engage physically, Nurturing Dependence, Neglect Emotionally, Inspire hope, Separate entirely), the season was back to its ludicrous brilliance.
Best Episode: The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention
It starts out with a brilliant concept, the gang drinking wine out of Coke cans, and snowballs into pure hilarity from there. The gang giving Frank an intervention while drunk is one of the funniest and most horrible things the gang has ever done.
The season’s biggest sensation is pretty damn good, despite the annoying fangirls who inevitably make any show that could be remotely appealing to teens look completely unappealing to the rest of the world. It’s not perfect. Both it’s first thirteen episodes and the back nine had their problems (Teri and her fake pregnancy in the first thirteen, lack of cohesion and Quinn’s magically disappearing baby bump in the back nine, not to mention the character assisination of Jesse St. James), but in the end it’s still something of a small miracle: a television musical that’s actually good (suck it, Cop Rock), managing to be both hysterically funny and completely heartbreaking in the same hour-long time slot. And not only does in manage drama and comedy, but week after week it produces amazing musical numbers with the most talented young cast on television.
Best Episode: Bad Reputation
In the last episode before the actually continuity of relationships between characters started to get fuzzy, Bad Reputation produced two of the show’s very best numbers, Total Eclipse of the Heart and Run, Joey, Run. There was something for all three Rachel-shipper groups (Rachel/Finn, Rachel/Puck, Rachel/Jesse). And, best of all, we got a glimpse into the heart of softening mean girl Quinn Fabray, who was really underused for much of the back nine episodes, but who’s shaping up to be one of the best characters on the show.
Fringe has never received the attention it deserves, but people have really started to take notice with the show’s second season, which takes the ideas that started in season one and begins to really tell a whole, complete story with them. We now have a better idea of what’s going on, and it’s becoming a glorious piece of serialized storytelling. While most episodes of the season seem to be one-shots, the all in some way, be it narratively or emotionally, tie into the overall arc of the season and the show. While there’s a lot of big science going on, a lot of talk about universes collapsing which will all be even more important next season, I’m sure, at its heart Fringe is a show about family, both the ones we’re born with and the ones we make, and how far we’re willing to go to keep them safe.
Best Episode: White Tulip
While most people are calling this season’s Peter the series’ best episode (and it is pretty damn good), I found White Tulip more emotionally satisfying and important. And, you know, it deals with time travel. Which is awesome. And it has Peter Weller. The science of the episode is just cool, and while it may not fit into the scientific narrative, it’s extremely important to the emotional narrative, and helps us to understand even more where Walter is coming from, and why he’s done the things he’s done.
06. Mad Men
I keep waiting for Mad Men to fall apart. Shows aren’t supposed to be this good for this long. It’s going into its fourth season this month, and unless the writing staff drank a large keg of stupid over the winter, it looks like it’s going to be just as good as previous seasons. Mad Men is a slow build. Unlike shows like Glee and Community, whose storylines and character relationships can evolve and change a dramatic amount in just one episode, Mad Men has been slowly building the tension in its storylines throughout the season. And it works. The failing marriage between Don and Betty finally came to a head this season with Betty discovering her husband’s secrets and planning to divorce him. And the tension at the office finally broke with the season finale. Through all this, there were also bizarrely hilarious moments (oh, guy who lost his foot to a lawnmower, we hardly knew ye).
Best Episode: Shut the Door, Have a Seat
This season’s finale left more questions than any season finale before it, which is a good thing. The fate of pretty much every major character is left in question. And for the first time, there’s the possibility for completely new storylines. January Jones was passed over for an Emmy nod last year, but it would be a crime for that to happen this year. The scenes between Betty and Don were the most emotionally charged of the episode, and despite Jon Hamm’s amazing performance, that was all thanks for Jones.
05. Human Target
So this is easily the “one of these things is not like the other” of the list. Yeah, on the surface it looks like nothing more than a fun action series. And it is that. Every single episode offers wonderful action scenes where our charming hero gets to beat the bad guy, and make a quip while doing it. While the first few episodes weren’t much more than that, the show quickly became something more – a show about a haunted man and the things he’s haunted by. Past sins, lost love, and the way those thing tie together and effect the way he works. Add to that the ridiculously likable cast – Mark Valley, with just the right amount of charm and sadness; Chi McBride, hilarious as the high strung boss with a past of his own and a complete devotion to his business partner; and Jackie Earl Haley, easily the stand out, snarky all over the place, but with just as much devotion to Chance as anyone. It’s one hell of a fun show, with all kinds of potential. Thank god Fox was smart enough to pick it up for a second season.
Best Episode: Corner Man
While the storyline culminator Christopher Chance was an amazing season finale, the episode Corner Man is an example of the best parts of this show. While it’s a standalone episode, it still ties into Chance’s emotional conflict. It has an awesome bad guy, a hot lady (and a BSG alum as well, something this show likes), a lovably goofy client. It’s funny, it’s action is amazing, and the interaction between its three main cast members is perfect.
04. True Blood
So, yeah. Vampire are big now, thanks to crap like Twilight. But, let’s make sure one thing is clear. True Blood ain’t Twilight. For one thing, True Blood‘s vampires are actually vampires. They feed on humans, kill people, and have crazy sex. And, oh yeah, they don’t fucking sparkle. True Blood also lack the earnestness that Twilight has in abundance. And that’s a good thing. It recognizes the ridiculousness of its story and characters and relishes it. It’s camp, intentionally so. The second season wasn’t quite as intimate as the first, with two different storylines happening in two different cities, but the vampire mythology became more in depth and cohesive. And of course, there were the characters. This season had lots more Eric, who is easily the coolest and sexiest vampire on the show. Michelle Forbes popped up (as she does often in shows I enjoy) as the season’s real big bad, Eric’s maker Godric’s appearance was too brief, but still mesmerizing (and allowed for deeper insight into Eric), Evan Rachel Wood was delightfully crazy as the Vampire Queen of Luisiana, and Debrah Ann Woll extended her role as the newborn vampire Jessica. And then of course there was the teaming up of Jason and Andy. Season two provided great gore, amazing hilarity, and moments of startling emotional honesty.
Best Episode: I Will Rise Up
While the infiltration of the Fellowship of the Sun was the better of the season’s two storylines, it’s aftermath was even better (and no, not just because it had Sookie sucking on Eric’s chest, resulting in a really hot dream scene). The sibling relationship between Jason and Sookie was re-established and solidified, we got a nice look into the workings of the vampire PR machine, and we finally got to see deep into Eric’s heart, with the moving death scene of Godric. And things finally started happening in the Bon Temps set Marianne storyline. You know, besides Tara and Eggs acting crazy.
I was pretty sure I was going to at least like Justified. FX has been putting out a lot of quality television, and being based on Elmore Leonard character’s is a pretty good sign. I wasn’t really prepared for how much I love it, but I suspect the writers weren’t really prepared for the course the first season took. What started out as an insanely entertaining and funny show about a quiet cowboy who shoots people turned into an amazing study of the difference between right and wrong, an exploration about where we come from and how that shapes who we are, and, most importantly, a story of fathers and sons. Timothy Olyphant did award worthy work this season, but the real scene stealer was Walton Goggins, whose best work of the series is, unfortunately, not eligible for Emmy consideration due to air dates. Goggins made Boyd Crowder develop believably from the worst of the worst to sympathetic, confused, and sympathetic Woobie. The most fascinating part of the show quickly became the relationship between Boyd and Raylan, the antagonism and camaraderie that exists between them.
Best Episode: Bulletville
It really sucks that the season finale Bulletville is ineligible for Emmy consideration this year due to its airdate, because it was easily the best finale of the season. First of all, with a body count of about 16, it appeals to one of the things that drew me to the show in the first place. It was tense and violent in the best possible way. But, most importantly, it was about the relationships that became the centerpiece of the series, those between the boys – Raylan and Boyd – and their fathers – Arlo and Bo. And, of course, the relationship between Raylan and Boyd. We also finally get an answer to the question of whether or not Boyd’s conversion is genuine, and the conclusion is heartbreaking. The final ten minutes of the episode are just amazing, and the final moment is perfect.
I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong about Community. After watching the first two episode I was unimpressed, thinking that it tried too hard. Then, several weeks later, I caught up with the rest of the episodes when I was home sick one day, and discovered that the more it went on, the better it got, and it really didn’t take long to become the best comedy on television. It’s a very self aware show, which is one of its greatest strengths. Not just because of the meta humor that provides, but because it allows the writers to be hyper aware of the viewers and what they think, and lets them tweak and play with characters and storylines accordingly. Thankfully, it strikes the perfect balance between fan service and doing its own thing. Its most valuable asset is easily it cast, who have tremendous chemistry together, so that every character can interact with every other character in their own storylines and nothing is lost.
Best Episode: Romantic Expressionism
Modern Warfare is probably the flat out funniest (and most ambitious) episode. And as a Jeff/Annie fangirl, I might lean a bit toward Debate or even the finale Pascals Triangle Revisited (which plays better on rewatch). But I think Romantic Expressionism is the the best example at all the wonderful things Community can be. It has two hilarious storylines (Pierce trying to be funny at Troy and Abed’s movie night, and Jeff and Britta meddling in Annie’s relationship with Vaughn), amazing group dynamic, awesome meta humor (the EPIC sexual prospects stare down), and, yes, a Jeff/Annie moment that’s pretty epic in its own right. And, you know, an incredibly random and amazing line. (“Thanks for eating all the macaroni!” “Shut up, Leonard, nobody even knows what you’re talking about!…… I did eat all the macaroni. It’s messed up that he knows.”) This was also the episode when I completely fell in love with Britta and her glorious dorkiness.
I won’t lie, the fact that this was the last season certainly figured into Lost being placed at the top of the list. But I really did love the season. I actually really liked the flashsideways and its resolution. I wasn’t bothered by not getting the answers to every single question (because I never thought we would. We got the most important answers, that’s what counts.) The show, for me, has always been about the characters and their journey, and I’m just really happy that the writers chose to focus on that. There were some excellent mythology based episodes, but as the series wound down and came to an end, the moments that have stuck with me most have been the ones about the characters: the reunions and the laughs and the deaths and choices made. Lost has always been one of the most emotionally involving shows for me, and its ending didn’t disappoint.
Best Episode: The End
Is there even any question? Yeah, the long awaited Ab Aeterno was awesome, and The Candidate was absolutely amazing, but the series finale was the show’s most emotional episode by far. Like I’ve already said, I was completely emotionally satisfied by the ending, and I’m really glad that they were able to make it a relatively happy ending. This episode produced scenes that I will never forget, not the least of which is Jack’s beautiful death scene, his eye closing, signaling the end. But there was also the reunion of my favorite ship of the show, Charlie and Claire, which is probably my favorite moment of the entire series.