This is a live list where I rank TV shows. If something isn’t on the list, it will be someday. Leave your comments and we’ll talk. I give a lot of weight to scope, scale, and depth. If a show is higher than you expect, it probably did one or all of those things very well. If it’s lower, well, it probably frustrated me.
Rankings: updated 6/12/23
- Mad Men
- Boston Legal
- Stranger Things (1-4)
- Mythic Quest (1-3)
- His Dark Materials
- The Americans (1-2)
- Dave (3)
Not For Me
Really Not For Me
The first season was definitely interesting. Maybe a little too long? A lot happens for nothing much to happen but it’s all very exciting. Watching it in 2023, it feels a bit caught between eras. It’s methodical like a lot of the prestige shows from the 00s and early 10s. But it has some pace to it like a lot of what came out around that time as everyone started trying to improve upon Lost, Breaking Bad, and keep up with Game of Thrones. It’s just simultaneously a bit too fast and a bit too slow. That’s what I meant by a lot happens for nothing much to happen.
We have all these intense encounters and missions and situations that never seem to change the main status quo. You have a lot of side characters that come and go. So there’s the sense of consequence. But, again, the status quo remains. By the end of season 1 of Breaking Bad, you feel you’ve been on a journey with Walter White. Same with Game of Thrones. The Wire. Leftovers. With The Americans, it’s mostly the relationship stuff between Elizabeth and Phillip. They’re together, they’re not, he’s in, she’s out, she’s in, he’s out, then they get back together. Everything else just kind of facilitates this melodrama. Entertaining but not enough. I do love Matthew Rhys and Kerri Russell though. I realize I’ve been underrating Kerry Russell my entire life.
This was an improvement. The overarching main story played out like a single episode of Dateline stretched through 13 episodes. That gives viewers a central mystery that’s a lot more of a hook than Philip and Elizabeth fighting. It’s also nice that we have a central theme of parents and children and that the other spy family becomes symbolic for the issues Philip and Elizabeth are having with Paige and them having a reckoning with the duality and lies of the life they’ve built. So I definitely think this was a step up and step forward. But, again, by the end of the season, nothing meaningful has happening. We’re exactly where we were at the start of the show. We don’t really have a sense of progress or failure. The story is interesting but it’s not dynamic. I feel like Ozark is an example of Americans with improved pacing and stakes. We’ll see how season 3 goes.
What a mess. I loved Season 1. I was still interested in Season 2. But every episode of Season 3 made me constantly roll my eyes. It went from a show that was about a coach changing the culture of a football team and, in turn, changing himself, to a story about mental health, to a Saturday morning cartoon show with a Lesson of the Week. What was once charming became downright goofy. Nate’s character arc went from compelling to neutered to cheesy. Ted’s potential reunion with his wife was incredibly weird and forced. Keeley had nothing to do. Roy and Jamie becoming friends was nice but the Neanderthalic fighting over Keeley was reductive.
The biggest issue in TV is when the show stops having a narrative purpose and changes to simply giving the characters something to do. Instead of the characters being players in a story, they become the story. It’s not like it’s impossible to make that work. But what often happens is the drama comes from interpersonal highs and lows and is created for the sake of having something going on rather than because it’s important to the story. Shows like The Office, It’s Always Sunny, and Abbott Elementary make it work. How? They have time. So they let things really build over the course of seasons. The less episodes you have, the sharper you have to be. Ted Lasso lost its edge.
With that said, it’s still a charming, unique show that had great characters and performances and still had moments that really worked. And, believe it or not, it eventually had soccer/football. So that was nice. I’d rather just watch Major League but Ted Lasso is definitely a worthwhile show. Just ultimately pretty disappointing.
THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL
We finally have something in the Colossal tier! The thing I appreciate most about Maisel is that it had a journey in mind and stuck with that journey. Yes, there were some low points along the way (looking at you season 3) but so many shows fall in love with their characters and lose sight of the story. Drama for the sake of something happening replaces purposeful narrative choices (see Westworld. Not on Maisel. The purpose of showing Midge’s journey from heartbroken housewife to superstar comedian is primary from start to finish. It’s not always a direct or fun journey. But that’s part of the story.
The thing that impresses me most about Maisel is that it’s almost always trying to be creative and inventive. There’s a slight degree of meta humor or stage performance to the whole thing. Like the entire episode is an elaborate bit with set ups and punchlines and twists and surprises. It fuses comedy, drama, and spectacle. The comedy is dramatic, the drama is comedic, and it’s not afraid. There’s a supreme confidence from the cast and the writers that they’re delivering great material. I felt that, I appreciated that, and I think they accomplished what they wanted to accomplish. Especially with the final season.
I’m writing this after watching the Succession series finale and it’s such a night and day difference to me. The Maisel finale has stakes and payoff and climactic moments and elaborate bits and catharsis. While the Succession finale was a lot of the same in-fighting we got during every other episode. Most of it felt like a normal, early-to-mid-season episode with a little bit of a cliffhanger. If you showed it to someone who didn’t know it was the series finale, I think they’d be surprised to find out it is.
And I guess there’s a personal component. I’m an aspiring novelist. Midge’s journey is the one I want to go on. It’s inspiring, even though it’s a fictional TV show, to see the process unfold. To watch an artist hone their craft, figure out what it takes to make it, then f***ing make it. That resonates. And I think it will for others as well. So I have a soft spot for the show that definitely elevates it on the list. But I also think the quality is there. It’s a very unique, one of a kind experience that blends old and new, various genres, has amazing performances, and tells an inspiring story. Plus, the performances are just outrageously good. The main cast crushes it time and time again.
Beef was very good but I’m not sure I think it’s great. It’s kind of a tale of two halves. The first half has all this fascinating build and development. You don’t know where it’s going to go, how crazy it will get, what lines it will cross. That’s exciting. Especially as it builds the characters and their world. But the most difficult thing to do in all of narrative is land the plane.
I spent years as head fiction editor of a monthly literary journal, Red Fez. Every month, I read 20-40 stories. 1-3 would be excellent. 2-5 would be very good. And the rest would fill out the bell curve. The biggest issue I saw? People struggling with ending the story. One example was a story where a guy was at a motel in Arizona. The people in the room next to him were criminals on the run with a hostage, a young woman who tries to escape just as the main character got back to the motel with some pizza. Because the guy saw the girl, the criminals force him into their room. It’s tense. But the main character is disillusioned enough by something personal that he doesn’t care. He ends up just hanging out with the criminals, bonding with them. They all share the pizza. Through a conversation with the woman, we learn the guy had a big fight with his fiancée and left home. Other criminals show up, having hunted down the friendly criminals, and there’s a fire fight. Not everyone makes it. The main character tries to escape with the girl but she’s gone. He ends up back in his car and decides to go home. The end.
If you’re like me, you’re also wondering: what happened when he got back home? Did this experience change him for the better? What change did he have to make? Will his fiancée even take him back? If she does, what will that mean for him? If she doesn’t, what will that mean for him? There’s all this other stuff that’s the actual conclusion to the story. But we never get it.
Beef was like that for me. It sets up so much for the characters and what they want and what they’re looking for. Yet what are we left with at the end? I think it needed at least one more episode to meaningfully conclude its story. What makes this a bit annoying is that, as of right now, the show is thought of as a limited anthology. Meaning each season is self-contained. So it’s not a “wait for season 2” kind of thing. This was Ali and Danny’s story. I have no complaints about where their story goes. And I’m sure there are people who find the ending completely powerful specifically because of where we conclude and the implications of that moment. I don’t. I think both the audience and characters deserve just a little bit more.
And I’m not saying everything needs spelled out. That you can’t have a mysterious, implicative ending. You can. There’s a way in which that works. Like in The Leftovers or Sharp Objects or The Sopranos. Actually, imagine if The Sopranos ended one episode earlier. That’s the difference between greatness and very goodness. I just think Beef ended in an easy place rather than the right place.
I do want to say that Ali Wong and Steven Yeun absolutely crushed it. The entire cast was amazing. Yeun really has star power.
Perry Mason has been really good. Though I put it in the Impressive category just for the cinematography. It might have the most consistently great cinematography of any multi-season TV show I’ve ever watched? Westworld had pretty amazing cinematography, too. Something like Game of Thrones had moments but wasn’t keeping that same visual energy from one scene to the next. Succession is well-shot but its cinematography is more about highlighting the actors rather than delivering world-building atmosphere. There are plenty of shows with good to really good cinematography, but very few that feel like a film shot by Roger Deakins
And then the cast is fantastic. Matthew Rhys and Juliet Rylance are so infinitely watchable. Both seasons managed to build up dynamic side characters, have a nuanced, unraveling mystery driving the story, and deliver both an overall story and smaller arcs for its heroes. It’s just very well done. Which is extra surprising because HBO changed showrunners between seasons. But the quality remained. It was fun to see Mason go from struggling in season 1 to establishing himself in season 2. If there is a season 3, and I hope there is, seeing him a lot more experienced and wise will be great. Having this kind of nuanced, thoughtful character arc is so refreshing after bingeing all of Ballers, a show that featured absolutely no nuance or thoughtful developments.
It’s a shame that, as of writing this, Perry Mason is such a cult show. It’s one of those things where it may not get renewed and 5 years from now they’ll be a dozen think pieces about the diamond in the rough that somehow fell through the cracks despite being on a popular streaming service known for producing the highest caliber shows in the world. Start watching now. Change the future.
Update: Found out today that Perry Mason‘s been canceled after 2 seasons. It’s a shame.
I’m a few years late to Dave. First heard about it in 2022 when Donald Glover talked about people comparing Dave and Atlanta. Glover, the creator and lead of Atlanta, clearly felt his show was superior. His example was that Dave was a good burger but not fine dining, not Wagyu. While Atlanta was more like The Sopranos in terms of quality. But there were a lot of people online debating which was better. With some even landing on Dave. That seemed crazy to me.
Now that I’ve seen the first season of Dave, the whole debate is hilarious to me. Dave is really good. But, yeah, it’s not Atlanta. There are definitely highs. Like the season finale was wild. Definitely the best episode of the season. And I like the cast, especially GaTa. It’s fun and interesting and you don’t know where each episode is going to go. That surprise-factor is hard to achieve and something a lot of my favorite shows have. So Dave‘s doing a lot right.
The negatives would be that it’s just a tad superficial. The journey isn’t quite as deep as Atlanta. We get some character development but it’s pretty limited. Most of the time, character depth is created through internal tensions. Like Al, in Atlanta, has to portray himself as this tough gangster rapper, and he’s had to live that way, but he’s a very sensitive, thoughtful person. So you have the tension between how he’s living, how he’s perceived, and who he actually is. Then Earn is smart and capable but stupid and constantly making frustrating decisions. So you root for him but also aren’t sure he’ll get it together.
When you look at Dave, you don’t get a lot of internal tension. Mike’s Mike. GaTa’s GaTa. Elz is Elz. Dave has some tension between being this fun, happy guy but also a raging narcissist. So he’s a kind person but also can be a selfish person. There’s something there. But Elz story simply being some career stuff and an episode where he hooks up with Emma isn’t much. GaTa’s bipolar episode was awesome and moving, but there hasn’t necessarily been a character arc. Ally had some good moments and some depth but mostly as B plot or C plot.
A lot of good ingredients. We’ll see if future seasons find a stronger footing. If not, that’s okay. Still a fun show, in the vein of Workaholics. But it has the potential to be more.
I did not enjoy season two. Part of that is on purpose. It’s supposed to show Dave dealing with the pressures of the early stages of his career. That’s not all easy and fun. It can be stressful, ugly, and complicated. Whenever you have a season that explores these feelings, it creates a lot of negative energy. The same thing happened deep into You’re The Worst. For the first few seasons You’re the Worst had a great mix of positive and negative energy that made it fresh and dynamic. But season 4 or 5 tipped fully to the negative and things got bleak. And not fun. It was “real” but exhausting. It’s a big swing for the fences. I think it works in shows like Beef and Barry and at times in Atlanta. But when your whole season revolves around everyone you like being unlikable…………………eh.
Also, it’s pretty hard to make the “person gets some fame and acts selfish then realizes it and becomes good again” story interesting. It’s such a played out arc. We all know where it’s going. We all know why it’s happening. I’m not sure Dave managed to say anything new about that journey. Which made the main character arc so uninteresting to me. Of course there are still funny moments and dynamic moments. It’s not like the quality completely vanished. It’s just the choice of what to make the season about really took the wind out of the sails.
And, again, non-Dave characters really suffered from lack of development and nuance. We get a bit more insight into Mike when he obsesses over the note-leaver or lies about having a family. But neither of those moments are necessarily likable or ultimately meaningful. And GaTa barely has anything to do until the finale. Which is such a shame. Then the whole conflict with Elz didn’t feel earned to me. Nor did the resolution.
The last two episodes were definitely the highlights. We finally get some catharsis. Dave finally learns a lesson and grows up a bit. The performance with GaTa at the very end of the season was finallllllllllllllly an uplifting moment. And did have a degree of setup with GaTa ending the Bar Mitzvah episode rapping on the car and having a bunch of kids excited about it. That shows us he’s on his glow up in terms of recognition and readiness for a bigger role. I saw online that a lot of people liked the fake out where it seemed like GaTa wasn’t at the VMAs only for Dave to take the stage and GaTa to join him. Instead of being like “Oh my goodness!” I thought I missed something and had to rewind. Making that a twist can definitely work for people and have that surprise factor. But I’d rather we get the characters making amends and seeing that moment of growth from Dave, what it means not only for GaTa but also for Mike and Elz to see and hear this. That’s important stuff that we deserve but never get.
Dave‘s third season was definitely a level up. Maybe it’s just having more experience or bringing in someone new who helped shaped the season but whatever they did, it was a drastic, drastic improvement. It’s not like the show was bad before or anything. It was just missing a lot in terms of consistently building scope, scale, dynamics within episodes and across episodes. It’s still not on the level of Atlanta but S3 was the closest it’s been. Like at least the same state (though not the same zip code).
The worst part of the show continues to be whenever they make Dave infuriating. Which they limited until E9, “Dream Girl”. Then they had Dave go full maniac and that’s not really interesting to me. Because it always ends up the same way—he realizes he’s been a jerk and tries to get better. You can make that interesting. But they’ve gone back to that well so many times that it’s pretty dry for me.
The best part of Dave is when they have their “set piece” episodes where we’re in curious, unique situations and environments and the characters have to navigate it. Whether that’s the house party in the “Texas” episode or the music video in “Harrison Ave” or the chain theft in “Hearsay” or the finale! They don’t always have to be as insane and relatively “big budget” as the finale, but it’s the right kind of unique.
If the Brad Pitt cameo was a high point, the Drake cameo was such a fumble. I mean, it’s awesome they got Drake. But it’s such an incredibly awkward scene. I know it’s supposed to be awkward between Dave and Drake. But we just had this huge thing with Dave encountering Bella who was saying all the things he typically said about being a star and special. Yet it’s shown to be psychotic. This whole season has been about deconstructing Dave’s psyche and having him confront these parts of himself. So Bella’s this perfect final villain. For him to immediately meet Drake and just say the same stuff he heard Bella say that made her seem so crazy…sigh. That can work if the point is to show Dave’s a lunatic. But I don’t think the show wants us to see that scene as tragedy. Rather, Drake encourages it. Then sometimes the two of them look like they’re in front of a green screen rather than in West Africa? It was a bit anti-climactic to me—visually, emotionally, narratively. And we just had so much Brad Pitt that Drake kind of feels like a bit of an afterthought.
Robyn was a nice addition. I think I like her and Dave together more than Ally and Dave. But I hope Ally’s still on the show. Her moving out at the end seemed pretty bleak.
Looking forward to season 4 but also wondering where the show goes from here.
MH370: THE PLANE THAT DISAPPEARED
When Netflix put out the documentary on the Cecil Hotel, a lot of people complained that it relied on YouTubers and social media sleuthers and hobbyists. But that was a poor interpretation of the documentary. Yes, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel included those people, but it was thematically relevant as they showed the insanity of the public angle. There’s a whole episode dedicated to documenting how these clueless, careless people ruined someone’s life. The doc isn’t unaware of how problematic these people are. It’s actively making the point. Yet a good percent of viewers completely misunderstood what was happening and judged the doc harshly. The irony is as funny as it is exhausting.
I saw similar complains about the MH370 doc. So I went in with the expectation that, once again, people may have misunderstood. Nope. Not even a little bit. This documentary is egregious. Cecil Hotel at least made a point with its inclusion of the conspiracy theories. MH370: The Plane That Disappeared does not. You could maybe start to argue it’s saying that when official agencies do a poor job of providing closure the result is insane theories. If you do make that argument, you’re demonstrating an abundance of kindness that is unearned by what’s present in the show.
I had second-hand embarrassment listening to some of these conspiracy theories. It’s one thing to bring them up just to have Mike Exner shoot them down. It’s entirely different to spend what had to be a bulk of the budget recreating the “details” of those theories. It gives way too much credibility to them. Especially since both journalists had been held up as authorities on the subject matter. At least in the Cecil doc the hobbyists weren’t the ultimate authorities on the topic. Unfortunately, The Plane That Disappeared didn’t get or couldn’t get anyone more qualified to speak on the subject. This is just another example of the startling decline in the quality of Netflix programming.
Season 4 of Succession has started so I thought I’d recap my thoughts on the show so far. I was a big fan of Season 1. Like, I was the early adopter telling everyone that they need to watch Succession, that it’s immediately one of the best shows on TV, and that it could go down as an all-timer. The tension between Logan and Kendall, Kendall’s fragile attempt to gain some independence, and the way the show shattered that independence—brilliant. Season 2 had me in the palm of its hand. In retrospect, now that I know what happens and have watched it twice, it’s maybe a bit slow? But the first viewing had me on my toes. It reminded me of watching Lost, Game of Thrones, True Detective S1, and peak Westworld. Just constant anticipation for the next episode.
I truly thought the end of Season 2 was one of the best TV moments I’d ever witnessed. Kendall flipping the script was so earned and powerful. What a masterful build up and payoff. It gave me goosebumps. I’ve re-watched that final 5 minutes like 50 times. It’s that impressive to me. If the show had ended there, it would be in the highest category on this list.
Then Season 3 happened. I know S3 has its fans. I’m not one of them. I think the biggest pitfall I see in TV is when a show loses its main story and becomes more about character drama. And the focus on character drama is a gateway to fan service. And once you go down that path, it’s hard to recover. A good example of this is Westworld. Season 1 was pure story. The characters served the story. Season 2 wasn’t as pure. The creators had feedback. What audiences had liked, not liked. The plot twists they had guessed or failed to see coming. Etc. etc. The creators used that info in writing Season 2 and the result was…messy. Personally, I still liked S2. But Season 3 of Westworld was a nightmare. The love of certain actors and characters completely warped the texture, tone, and plot.
Another great example is this show Hulu had called The Path. Similar to Westworld, Season 1 was pure story. Not anywhere close to the quality of Westworld but it was pretty good. There was a cult. We got to meet the people in the cult. And see Aaron Paul struggle with his belief in the cult. The characters were part of the story rather than the story itself. And the conclusion to Season 1 was pretty awesome. Then Season 2 just…lost the plot completely. The focus became the character dynamics. Every episode featured people fighting or making up. Someone who was all about Meyerism suddenly wanted nothing to do with it. Then they’d be into it again. That something was happening was more important than why it was happening.
I don’t think Succession S3 is that bad. But it started to feel like the show was chasing its own tail a bit. How many times can Kendall, Shiv, and Roman team up then betray one another? How many times can we have them done with Logan, back with Logan, done with Logan, back with Logan? Not to mention whatever drama of the week Waystar RoyCo. is facing. Bank debt. Hostile takeover. Buying another company. Selling the company. Whatever make or break that’s all-important until it’s eventually meaningless. At a certain point, it stops being interesting.
After the S3 finale, all these people were blown away that Tom betrayed Shiv. I thought it was one of the most obvious things the show could do. And, really, does it matter? Why should we believe that anything consequential will come from this? Kendall’s press conference was supposed to be this atomic bomb drop on Logan. It was supposed to be a paradigm shift in the show. And it wasn’t. Episode by episode, Season 3 neutered the power of that moment. And there was some benefit of the doubt that they would do something interesting with how that would affect Kendall. But, by the finale, he was fine. A brief low point was the entire payoff. Sure, he’s more disillusioned with his father and teamed up with his siblings. But that is incredibly anticlimactic to me. So why should we believe that Tom and Greg siding with Roman will be any more meaningful and not another temporary thing that ends up not mattering?
That’s my main complaint with Succession. After three seasons, you can’t really point to anything meaningful having happened. Some characters have developed. But what’s actually happened that’s consequential? Greg’s wealthier. Roman’s matured. Connor got engaged. That’s nice. But it’s not satisfying.
I really really really really really hope Season 4 can stick the landing. I was of the mindset that Season 4 needed to finally be the fall of Logan, and Season 5 would explore what happens when the siblings have control and Logan is out of the picture. Do they succeed? Do they fail? Is it more of a mixed bag? I’m scared the show won’t actually go there, though. There are definitely ways it can end that will have me praising it and saying it lived up to its potential. But I’m afraid it’s going to end with a new beginning. Like the second to last episode, Logan passes away. Then the last episode is his funeral and the last shot is of the kids at the Waystar RoyCo. HQ, ready to lead the company, for better or for worse. I will be so angry if that’s it.
We were so so so close. I loved most of what Season 4 was doing all the way up until the finale. Then the finale was a pretty crushing disappointment, for me. I know pretty much 99% of the rest of the world loves it. But I had the same difference of opinion with Season 3. And the Season 4 finale does the exact same thing. The future of the company is at stake. People betray one another. The end. I didn’t find the finale all that interesting because we’ve seen Kendall, Roman, and Shiv do all of this before. And the future of the company has been at stake in every previous season.
The biggest thing to me is that most of what happened in Succession never had consequences. Even Tom’s big betrayal at the end of S3. He and Shiv get back together. Then break up again. Then get back together. Even Greg betraying Tom during the finale. There’s no real change in their dynamic. No payoff. Tom’s pissed for a second then goes right back to being confounding and cruel and in control of Greg. Connor has 2 minutes of screen time in an 88-minute episode. Roman lost his confidence at the end of the last episode and spends this episode moping. Shiv flip flops for the millionth time. Kendall just has the same disappointment we saw him have in S1, S2, and S3. The most meaningful thing to happen was the death of Logan and the presidential election. But even the presidential election isn’t finalized. We’re told there’s still a chance Mencken loses. So like…okay. Logan passed and the kids did the same stuff they always did. Got along for a bit then broke up.
Don’t get me wrong. Season 4 had a ton of highs. The second episode might be the best in the entire series. Logan’s terrifying and fantastic speech to ATN. Him telling his kids they aren’t serious people. Episode 3 is also one of the best. And the funeral episode! The speeches each sibling gave were perfect. Roman’s breakdown. Kendall’s grandiloquence. Shiv’s middle ground. Honestly, I wish the funeral episode would have been the finale. I’d rather leave off with the implications and potential of what could happen than the boring conclusion that we got.
Yes, Tom becoming the CEO is cool. Tom entire character journey is pretty much the only significant character arc in the entire show. And it’s terrific. Not only does he win. But he walks through hell to get there. And it changes him. From the moment he betrayed Shiv at the end of Season 3 to the finale, he’s gone from the goofy midwestern guy trying to please everyone to someone who can hang with the Roys. He grows colder. More straightforward. Less fawning. At the end, when he’s officially CEO, he wears it well. There’s gravitas. Cunning. That sense of cruelty waiting to be unleashed. Those are traits Logan had that Kendall, Shiv, and Roman did not. When we see Tom in the car with Shiv, he looks and feels powerful. Awesome. That’s climactic. That’s cool. That’s finale worthy.
The issue is that when you compare Tom’s journey with Roman, Kendall, and Shiv, it puts into context how boring their stories ultimately end up being. Yes, sure, there’s an argument to be made about the poetry of the siblings never really changing. Or the spiritual deaths they all suffer because they have to accept they won’t be their father. Or the idea of Succession as allegory or commentary on the wealthy. I hear you. I like all those ideas. But I think the execution is still flat and boring because it’s pretty much exactly what we saw happen throughout the show just it happens on the finale. I’m not saying the show is a failure. Or lacking in nuance or depth or theme. I have it in the second-highest tier for a reason. I love the show. I’m going to recommend the show to people for the rest of my life. I just think they botched the finale and went with some really boring choices. For a random episode that’s part of Season 4, it’s great. For the finale? No. Absolutely not. But the series has some amazing highs and is such a unique, incredible experience.
HIS DARK MATERIALS
It was a shame that you could feel His Dark Materials run out of steam. The first season came out swinging. I loved it. I remember seeing the books when I was a kid but never took the time to read them. So it was exciting finally diving into this world. And HBO did not disappoint. You got the sense they wanted His Dark Materials to be a thing. The cast was awesome. The story was powerful. And the conclusion to season 1 had my jaw on the ground. I was shocked it went there. And excited for what came next.
Season 2 was okay. I got the sense that HBO really wanted to double down on Ruth Wilson’s breakout from Season 1. To the point where she started to come off as the show’s main character. Something that carried over to Season 3. I wasn’t a big fan of Lin-Manuel’s performance as Lee Scorseby. But enjoyed the chemistry between Lyra and Will and them figuring out the mystery of the story. All the stuff with the angels had me really excited because I didn’t think the story was going to go that big. Overall, an okay season, but lacked a bit of the punch and polish of S1.
Then S3 was…yeah. A bit of a downgrade. It was like the budget got cut in half. Though, it was nice to see James McAvoy finally be in the show rather than just a guest. Maybe that’s where the budget went. I do think the last half was a bit better than the first half. But I was incredibly tired of the Marisa Coulter redemption arc. It kind of came out of nowhere. And, still, she was awful to Lyra? I get that the tension is purposeful. I just think how the show was a bit messy in its execution of the complications of Coulter’s character. Everything was kind of messy at the end. Lyra barely got to do anything. She spent the first third of the season asleep. The second third convincing people it was okay for her to go to the underworld. Then the last third talking a lot. She was still important. But not in the way it felt in S1 and S2. The show placed way more emphasis on Marisa, Asriel, and Will. That can work. And there’s a version of this where it does. It comes back to the quality of execution. I don’t think it was quite there.
And the whole switch from the Authority to Metatron was weird. Metatron as the big bad also came off as pretty undercooked. And the idea that Marisa and Asriel outsmart him to the point of tackling him off a ledge is outrageous.
I did like that the show took the time to let the post-Metatron story play out in a full episode. And gave Lyra and Will the chance to discover and explore their feelings for one another. That was well done. I kind of laughed at the end because it reminded me of being a teenager, before cell phones, on vacation or at summer camp, and kind of crushing on someone during the trip then you both go back home knowing you’ll probably never see or talk again. I don’t think the characters deserved that ending? I get the poignancy of it. It’s just a bit weird to me to have this whole story that rails against organized religion and divinity as the source of happiness then denies the main characters their ultimate happiness. It’s a bit too cynical or bitter? It’s like “Yeah, that stuff is a bunch of bollocks. But you know what else? Life is cruel and you don’t always get what you want.” I guess you can argue that if the idea is you don’t need religion to be happy then there’s also something to the idea that Will and Lyra won’t and can’t have each other and that’s okay, too, they’ll each still go on to have good lives and be okay. Everything will be okay.
Sure. But I still wish they had the chance together.
I will say, because I don’t know when else I’ll ever get to talk about it, I read the synopses for the sequel trilogy Philip Pullman’s been writing. Yikes. I hate the direction he took things. Lyra entertains the ideas of a philosopher preaching that daemons are a delusion. That seems like such a betrayal of her character that I can’t get over it. Maybe it makes more sense when you read it. But the idea itself strikes me as absolutely outrageous. And it seems the Magisterium is still powerful and villainous. That blows my mind. All of its leaders died. Not only that, SO DID THEIR GOD. And like a lot of the angels. You’re telling me that barely set them back? That they’re still a dominant force? Sigh. It’s like the Star Wars sequels having the Empire 2.0 as the villains. If you spend all that time in the original trilogy defeating the Empire, the absolute laziest thing you can do is have another version of the Empire as the antagonist.
Oh well. Rant over.
THE LAST OF US
I’m a few hours removed from the season one finale of The Last of Us and I’m just a bit torn. I should get it out of the way: the show is awesome. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey did an amazing job. Narratively, there are some tremendous highs and dynamite individual episodes. The most impressive thing to me is how the show handles Joel’s grief and how it builds to his decision to save Ellie. Knowing what happens in the finale, if you re-watch the show, you’ll see all the ways it foreshadowed the choice he made. Even drove him to that choice. That’s not an easy thing to do. To deliver that kind of character journey with a degree of subtext that a lot of views will feel but maybe not understand. It’s brilliant. And a testament to Neil Druckmann, Craig Mazin, and everyone else who put The Last of Us together.
With that said, I did have complaints. I’m not a fan of how relegated the infected were. Especially when the climax is built around potentially finding a cure. You almost get the impression that people have survived the worst of what the infected had to offer and that over time they’ll be alright anyway if they can just survive long enough. Don’t get me wrong, in the world of the story, the cure would still be important. But to the viewer watching this story unfold, the main issue Ellie would solve kind of feels like an afterthought for much of the last few episodes.
I also thought the mall episode was a bit indulgent. Only because we already had the Bill and Frank episode. I loved the Bill and Frank episode. But to have another bottle episode that’s about two people developing their relationship and ending on a downturn…eh. You can try to make both work, and I’m sure there are people out there who love both, or who prefer the mall episode. But when you only have 9 episodes in a season, having two episodes that are that similar doesn’t sit well with me.
Lastly, I thought Joel saving Ellie didn’t feel climactic enough. It wasn’t bad, per se. I just thought it wasn’t as impressive as I expected it to be given the highs of earlier episodes and sequences. I thought this would be the season’s coup de grace. It struck me as almost a bit muted or impersonal? A little quick? In the video game, as you’re moving through the hospital, you hear tapes from Marlene and the head doctor. Those tapes give more context and humanization to the people Joel’s murdering. But how the show goes about it, they’re just kind of randoms that Joel mows down. The cult in the previous episode got more characterization. The revolutionaries in Kansas City got two whole episodes. But this group that could save humanity through a cordycep vaccine gets absolutely nothing? That doesn’t sit right with me.
Again, The Last of Us is fantastic, an instant classic. It’s just when we’re talking about the very best shows, nit-picky stuff is what makes the difference. I’m very excited about season 2. Like…really excited. I watched my wife play the game and if they translate it to TV as well as they did the first one—we are in for a treat. I think a strong second season can definitely bump The Last of Us into a higher ranking, too.
Ballers is a mess. It’s one of the lowest quality HBO shows I’ve ever watched. There are probably lower quality HBO shows? But not many. I’m someone who picked up Entourage during season 3, when it kind of had its moment after the heat wave episode. I was in college and it was one of those “let’s all get together each week and watch it”. Things were pretty rough by season 5, so the watch parties ended. But I remember when Ballers came out that everyone was saying it was supposed to be the spiritual successor to Entourage. I wasn’t expecting The Wire, right? But I hoped that maybe Ballers would be on par with Entourage, or at least have a good season or two.
Unfortunately, no. Every season of Ballers is “Spencer needs to make a deal that seems impossible.” Then he makes the deal. Then the season ends. The next season just introduces a new deal and all the previous stuff feels completely inconsequential. And there’s always some random personal issue Spencer has that’s important for that single season then never talked about again. My favorite thing is that at one point they mention Spencer is in consideration for the Hall of Fame then much later they casually mention he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Like that’s not something that warrants an episode? He never even talks about what it means to him to be in the Hall. It’s merely something thrown in.
The writing issues trickle down to the other characters. Every single season there’s a big arc about Ricky Jerret’s contract. Between episodes, Ricky even wins a Super Bowl. Does the show focus on that journey and what it meant to Ricky? Nope. It goes right into the next contract negotiation and whether or not a team will still want Ricky. I’m not exaggerating when I say every season has a Ricky Jerret contract plot. They went back to that plot point over and over and over and over again.
When I think about Ballers, I find it mind boggling that not only did a group of writers put forward these stories as their final ideas but that a bunch of other people read them, thought about them, then signed off on them. Don’t even get me started on the whole The Sting thing they tried to pull off.
With all of that said, the actors did a tremendous job with what little they had to work with. So even though I hated what I was watching, I enjoyed who I was watching, if that makes sense? Rob Corddry was amazing. John David Washington was amazing. Omar Miller was awesome. Donovan W. Carter was hilarious. London Brown got to show off. Jazmyn Simon often stole the show. And Troy Garity kind of did steal the show. It was also awesome to see Dulé Hill and Richard Schiff again, though what a wasted opportunity to never give them a scene together.
Ultimately, Ballers has a talented group of people trying their best. And there’s something endearing to it when you stop hoping for the show to get good and just accept its nonsense. It’s missing a lot. But it has a degree of charm. Enough so that I’m not angry that I watched it. I’m rooting for the entire cast in whatever each of them do next.
Oh, I also love that there’s a whole conspiracy theory that the season 4 storyline about the NCAA actually caused the NCAA to threaten to sue and that’s why season 5 makes absolutely zero mention of it. Amazing.
Atlanta is a serious gem. Definitely one of the most boundary pushing of its era. Barry‘s probably the only other major show that uses surrealism to such great effect. It’s such a fine line to walk. But Atlanta manages to be dramatic, hilarious, bizarre, and satirical. It’s subtle but loud. It’s grim yet hopeful. It keeps you at arm’s length but you feel like these are your friends. It’s an assemblage of contradictions. And I love it.
I’ve seen Atlanta all the way through pretty much twice. Season 1 was definitely stronger than I remember it being in 2016. Season 2 was, on the whole, less weird than I remember it being. Though it makes sense because when I first saw it I was only comparing how weird S2 was to S1. Seasons 3 and 4 are so much weirder that 2 seems normal in comparison (Teddy Perkins, aside). If I was ranking the seasons, I think I’d go reverse order. 4, 3, 2, 1. It’s not like 1 is bad. Atlanta just got that much better as it went along.
I gotta say, Brian Tyree Henry was, for me, the absolute best. The whole cast is astounding. Star-making performances from Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield, and Glover. But the heart and soul and engine of the show was Henry. The episode with him on the farm was so compelling and that’s mostly due to how incredibly watchable he is. His emotional range is championship caliber. I’m convinced though that any one of the four could, or should, or will win a best acting Oscar at some point.
The only weak point for me was the ending. On the one hand, it’s nice. I got closure. I’m happy for the characters. On the other hand, the implication of “It was all a dream” didn’t hit for me. I’m not sure how earned it was. To be fair, Darius did talk about simulation theory multiple times throughout the show. But in Inception, there’s a whole subplot about dreams vs reality. So when it ends on the top spinning, on this question of “is this a dream or real?” it’s done the work to justify that place. In Atlanta, it’s mostly something introduced in the final episode.
It does potentially solve the question of “How did all that surreal stuff happen?” But if it’s true, if it was a dream, then who is the real Darius? Did Earn and the others even exist? If not, what’s it mean that Darius dreamed all this? What’s his reality? I think the answer to that question is incredibly important as Atlanta‘s ultimate statement.
If it’s not true, if Darius just had a mental break. Does that matter? We assume Earn and Al get him a good lawyer and nothing bad happens. They just go on with their lives. If that’s the case, then it’s a pretty weak way to conclude. If something more serious does come of this, what is it? Like at the end of The Sopranos, you know what the stakes are. At the end of Inception, you know what the stakes are. With the end of Atlanta, I don’t really know the stakes.
So it’s a strong idea, I just don’t think it was executed all the well. It’s ambiguous and interesting enough that people will think it’s deeper than what it actually is. But it’s it reads to me more of like “Well, we want to end the show, so let’s just give them something that feels like an ending” more than a climactic, conclusive statement that the entire show built to. There is something to the idea of achieving your dreams that resonates throughout the series. So it’s not like the ending is without any merit whatsoever. I’m not saying that. Just that I think they were more concerned with wrapping up the show rather than finishing the message. Still, it’s a better ending than a lot of shows. I’m being a bit more critical because Atlanta was that good. When I compare it to the end of The Wire, though? That’s what keeps it out of the Colossal category. 9 rather than a 10.
MYTHIC QUEST (1-3)
Mythic Quest is a show that I’m rooting for, that has some great moments, and a terrific cast, but hasn’t really found its footing.
Season 3 was a bummer. It really felt like the writing team started chasing its own tale. The central conflict can’t always be “Ian and Poppy can’t work together but figure it out at the end”. It happened in season 1. It happened in season 2. And even though S2 ended with a big breakthrough for them, season 3 went right back to the same well. It’s boring. I want to love this show. The cast is awesome. The humor is great. But when the overall story takes such a step back, especially in the third season when you hope they’d be figuring it out…that’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. Such a shame.
With that said, it did feel like they finally found some direction for Dana and Rachel. That was cool. All the Dana and Ian scenes were some of the best of the season. And having Rachel and Brad together also brought new energy. Of course, the signature flashback episode was arguably the best of the season. I cried a lot. Mythic Quest does these look backs so well. And, of course, the holiday episode was one of the worst. As is tradition.
Hopefully when they write season 4 they get it together and give Ian and Poppy more to do that isn’t “we get along, we don’t get along, big gesture”. If it happens one more time, I’m going to scream. I trust to Rob. So here’s hoping.
It’s a shame Reboot will only ever be one season. It had potential and seemed to be finding a groove. I definitely think it’s worth watching the single season, especially since it ends in a place where you can make up a decent head canon conclusion for the characters. So I was satisfied and happy I took the time to watch it. Whoa. I just stopped writing this to look at the cast and did a double take because I had no idea that Alyah Chanelle Scott played Timberly. I didn’t even recognize her. Sex Lives of College Girls has been fantastic and her character on that is one of my favorite parts. Wow. Alyah has range! I liked that Reboot had a good balance of established voices like Judy Greer, Paul Reiser, Keegan-Michael Key, and Johnny Knoxville, while giving equal prominence to Rachel Bloom, Calum Worthy, and Krista Marie Yu. A lot of potential that was unfortunately cut short. Hopefully it was enough of a showcase for those involved that they get some great roles. I can’t believe every other place passed on picking Reboot up. Especially since it’s a Steven Levitan show. This was his first post-Modern Family project and they treated him like this? Wild. Bad job by Hulu. Though, it was bold of him to have Hulu executives come off as kind of villainous/problematic. Maybe that rubbed someone the wrong way?
I kind of hope, though, that we get a very meta moment where Reboot gets a reboot.
What a weird show. I get why people hate it but I also think it’s pretty creative? There’s a ton of world-building and momentum. I never know what a character will say or do from one minute to the next. I kind of enjoyed being on my toes so much. I typically really like Mindy Kaling stuff so I thought I might enjoy this more than other people. But man is it mean. There’s so much negativity and toxicity and bullying and cruelty. That negative edge makes it hard to root for anyone or even not feel bad while watching it. It had a bit of an upswing by the end but those first few episodes are brutal. I don’t mind the changes to characters. The mystery was okay. The reveal of the mystery was meh. I can’t decide if Velma is bold or a mess that will quickly tie itself into knots. I am incredibly curious to see how or if they integrate Scooby. They laid the groundwork for it. So we’ll see if season 2 has the dog and what Mindy does with it.
I never thought I’d love Letterkenny. I remember when it first came out, I kind of assumed it would be like Trailer Park Boys. I know a lot of people love Trailer Park Boys but it’s not for me. So for years I held off on Letterkenny. Hulu kept telling me to watch it, though. And I had just finished a second watch through of Frasier. Unfortunately, I did not find Frasier as charming the second time around as the first. I was looking for something decidedly the opposite of Frasier, but still wanted a comedy. So I accepted Hulu’s preferring and put on Letterkenny. And boy am I glad that I did.
Letterkenny always keeps me on my toes. I never know where an episode will go. But I know the characters will keep me entertained. So I trust it. And more times than not, that trust pays off. Especially when it leans into some multi-episode storylines or season-long arcs. It’s creative, funny, and everyone kind of feels like your friend. The more episodes you watch, the more you feel in on the joke and part of the crew. Like you could just pop into a scene and fit into the flow of the conversation. It’s weirdly comforting.
I’m not going to rank Letterkenny higher than Breaking Bad or something. But Letterkenny means more to me than Breaking Bad. If there were a special category just for “shows that hold a special place in my heart” Letterkenny would definitely be in it.
I’m so torn on Yellowjackets. The first 4-5 episodes had a lot going on that I really enjoyed. There was a sense of world building that was a lot of fun. But the last 5 episodes contracted awfully hard. The sense of potential I felt resolved in a way that left me going, “That’s it?” Like they make this big to-do about Jackie, saving what happened to her to the very last episode. And it’s just…going to sleep outside. It’s such an anticlimactic decision. Same with the blackmail subplot. Over and over again, I repeated that question: “That’s it?” I also think the flashback stuff is a lot more compelling than the modern day stuff. It’s also weird because the tone is so strikingly different. There are times that the present timeline feels almost…campy? While the flashback stuff feels a bit more like Lost. That’s not necessarily bad. I can see some people really loving that difference in energy. It can be jarring to me, though. So. Eh. I’m definitely going to be watching season 2 and think the show still has a lot of potential. I just hope it levels up a bit.
Boston Legal came out when I was in high school and it was something my mom watched all the time. As an aspiring writer, I was really into how awesome Alan Shore’s (James Spader) closing arguments were. And Spader himself was such an interesting actor that it became not just something my mom watched but something we enjoyed together. As a young kid, I also loved Murphy Brown, so Candice Bergen being a lead was a blast from the past. Same when Michael J. Fox had a recurring role. I never watched Star Trek but my mom was a huge fan. William Shatner was the entire reason she watched Boston Legal to begin with. She and I watched every episode of the first season, then I went off to college and fell off of it. But she kept watching. She had a number of episodes that she refused to delete from our DVR, despite running out of space. It brought her a lot of comfort. Especially after my dad passed away in 2007. My mom passed in 2012.
So I’ve had this weird dynamic of wanting to watch Boston Legal because of the memories with her, but also…well…there’s a lot of emotion there. So I’ve put it off for years. Finally, though, it felt right. And the experience was nice. The writing wasn’t as good as I remember it being. And some of the stuff just hasn’t aged well at all. But there’s enough humanity and charm and kindness that I kept happily watching. I understand why my mom felt such an attachment to the show. It brought a unique sense of comfort and familiarity. Maybe because it spends so much time espousing the friendship between Alan and Denny? Overall, it was nice to feel that connection to my mom and imagine how she would have responded to episodes and characters.
At a certain point, I did have to accept the show wouldn’t be a bounty of quality narratives and just appreciate the moments that worked. I feel like it’s almost overrated when it comes to the claim of “Best legal show ever”. Which maybe just says more about that genre as a whole than it does Boston Legal? The cast did a tremendous job, but they were often working with some less than ideal material. But at least it was self-aware?
I think Mad Men is very good but also incredibly overrated. It won so many Emmys. Yet Better Call Saul won absolutely zero? That’s insane. My issue with Mad Men is that it didn’t go anywhere. It chased its own tail for 8 season (since 7 was two parts) with barely anything of actual consequence ever happening. Every season had the same two issues. Don’s relationship with a woman. Something happening to Sterling Cooper. Sterling Cooper’s being sold. It’s merging. They’re breaking off on their own. They’re merging again. They’re on their own again. They’re brought again. Come on. And with Don, it would be one thing if he was growing as a character with each relationship. But the show refused to give him any kind of consequential development until the very last episode. Even then, we don’t get to see what his ultimate catharsis leads to. Will he finally be capable of a healthy relationship? Will he just keep being who he has always been? Is this a story about breakthrough or one about the impossibility of overcoming our worst traits?
People won’t like me saying this, but I don’t think Mad Men has anything to say. It reflects back to us topics of the time, like the evolution of women in the workplace, or the reaction to the loss of JFK and MLK. It shows us cooky people who were of that era like Cooper and Peter. But what is it actually saying about any of it? Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t have to say anything. That’s fine. It can just be entertaining. But I don’t think that means it should be in the conversation for best TV show of all-time. Not when we have things like The Wire and Better Call Saul and The Sopranos and Veep that just do everything much better than Mad Men ever did.
I still get mad at Peggy’s character arc. I feel like they gave her story to Joan and let Peggy just kind of blow in the wind for long periods. That her conclusion is just starting a new relationship with someone was nice in the sense that you like both characters and it makes sense. But dumb in the sense that wtf did her character even get to do?
Season 5 was amazing. It was a bit weirder and experimental. I had high hopes that it was the start of the show hitting a next gear that would deliver on the hype I had heard about for years. Alas. I do think the actors were tremendous. And Jon Hamm was always incredibly compelling.
I finally finished Arrested Development. I had watched all the way up Season 5 part one but never picked it back up for the final stretch. Instead of watching the whole show again, I picked up from S5E1. It was a lot better than I remember. Maybe because my expectations were already lowered? But I had a lot more appreciation for the intricacies and a lot less judgment for some of the awkwardness (like with Portia de Rossi’s involvement) and pointlessness (Tobias). While it wasn’t perfect, I still think it was impressive. I had initially ranked the show in the Really Good category but bumped it up to Impressive. Regardless of its flaws, it’s still such a one of a kind experience and kept me laughing up through the end.
STRANGER THINGS (S1-S4)
I, like most people, was pretty blow away by the first season of Stranger Things. Cool, dynamic, patient, climactic. It’s one of the few shows I started at dinner then stayed up all night to find out what happened. Season 2 didn’t have the same magic, but I liked how it opened up the world. Then Season 3…it almost felt like a parody. All the craftsmanship kind of vanished. Cartoon-logic abounds. But the cast is so damn likable. And the fantasy elements are fun. So as upset as I was, I still watched. Season 4 was hit and miss. I thought it watched better than S3. Vecna added a needed edge. Not to mention character development. The previous monsters were all animalistic. So to have a more humanized antagonist with personality was refreshing. But the season was still very dragged out. It probably could have been half the runtime and not lose anything of substance. We’ll see what happens with Season 5. My expectations are pretty low. I don’t think it will be bad. It’s just at this point I’m not expecting anything great.