Links to Recent and Semi-Recent Stories, Reviews and Podcasts


Hi! I have been an entertainment critic and a journalist for a long time, and now I am a Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair (thus feel free to address me as Baroness Von Ryan). I’m also the author of the new book Burn It Down: Power, Complicity and a Call for Change in Hollywood. It comes out June 6 from Mariner Books. If you’re in the media and you would like to talk to me about the book, the WGA strike, or the many issues facing Hollywood, please contact Ro (at)

  • More on the book: It’s my reaction to and examination of the trends that produced #MeToo and various racial reckonings, as well as a look at how much has changed in the American TV and film industries (and how much hasn’t). I interviewed more than 150 people for it, at all levels of the industry, and did some deep dives on troubled productions that illuminate how entrenched the biggest problems are — examples that demonstrate how much more needs to be done. Many industry people are working for change on all kinds of fronts, and I spoke to dozens of those brave, persistent, amusing and intelligent folks. The book is available for pre-order, and if you look at the pre-order page, you can see that a bunch of extremely nice people have said very cool things about it. Kirkus Reviews was also kind. Here is a look at the book’s badass cover! By the way, here are all the places that you can find me and/or the book online.
  • If you want to know more about the book, what I’m watching and what I’m thinking about, I have an email newsletter.  Please sign up for Burner Account today! It is free! In the newsletter, I have shared thoughs the death of Twitter (which then didn’t die — rude), about Dark Winds, Rutherford Falls, For All Mankind and Star Trek: Picard, among other topics. 
  • This is what was in Publisher’s Weekly when Burn It Down was announced. And this is the pic the book team said could not be my author photo LOL. 
  • The rest of this site mainly features links to my recent and somewhat recent work. From last year: I wrote about House of the Dragon and nuclear proliferation, you know, fun stuff! 
  • Warner Bros. Discovery is having problems but a lot of its DC or DC-adjacent TV is… good? It’s true! Anyway, here are some thoughts on Pennyworth, The Sandman, Harley Quinn and The Boys, among other shows. 
  • I reviewed the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once for Vanity Fair. I really enjoyed it, and if this corner of the multiverse is the one where it’s Michelle Yeoh’s world and we’re just living in it, I’m super cool with that.
  • I penned a non-spoilery appreciation of one of my favorite, soothing television escapes: The Great Pottery Throwdown. It’s on HBO Max, and I love it so. 
  • I wrote about the first season of the breakout Showtime drama Yellowjackets!  
  • I talked to Michael Greyeyes about his career and his outstanding performance on the excellent comedy Rutherford Falls (it’s on Peacock, check it out!).
  • I interviewed Jeff Garlin of The Goldbergs and Curb Your Enthusiasm about workplace behavior and norms. It was… a journey. 
  • I made lists of my favorite TV and films of 2021
  • Cowboy Bebop is a beloved anime and Netflix has made a live-action TV show based on the original series. I wrote about why I dig it for VF
  • I wrote about how Netflix’s response to the controversy over a very high-profile comic’s transphobic comedy special was… not good. 
  • I had a ton of fun writing about why I love the Netflix show Lucifer, which wrapped up its six-season run in September. Longtime Lucifans may enjoy the piece, but it’s really designed to tempt newbies who have yet to check out the show (thus no spoilers about the final season, or much of anything else). It would be a sin not to give the devilish drama a chance, if my description of it intrigues you! 
  • I am a fan of the podcast Screaming into the Hollywood Abyss, in which those who work as writers and producers in film and TV (and beyond) talk about the challenges they’ve faced in their careers and what they learned along the way. The whole theme of the podcast is adversity in an often brutal industry, but I find it heartening (not to mention entertaining and just plain interesting) to listen to smart people tell good stories, and also offer insights into the obstacles they’ve faced and how they’ve climbed over them (or tunneled under them). I guested on the podcast this year and talked about what it’s like to write about and report on the entertainment industry. You will not be surprised to learn there are obstacles and challenges aplenty on that path! 
  • For Salon, a deep dive into the story of All Rise, one of the rare TV dramas with a Black female lead, and what went wrong during the two-year tenure of its showrunner. I ultimately spoke with 30 people, 18 of whom worked directly with EP/showrunner Greg Spottiswood. In the course of reporting the story, I learned of an appalling comment Spottiswood allegedly made on a Zoom call with staff last year. But this story, which is the culmination of months of work, isn’t just about one man or one comment, it’s about how the entertainment industry is still in need of major reforms; it still has a long way to go when it comes to true inclusion and matters of culture, equity, race, respect and professionalism.
  • A 2021 story for The Hollywood Reporter on two departures at Bull (a show previously in the news for alleged harassment of actor-producer Eliza Dushku): After investigations, showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron and cast member Freddy Rodriguez are both gone from the CBS drama. I spoke to several sources at Bull, all of whom alleged an unprofessional work environment in which it was common for Caron to berate the writing staff. A writer who worked for Caron on a previous show, Medium, had this to say about his leadership: “It was a toxic environment while I was there. And now that I have much more experience and I have been a showrunner myself, I can tell you, there are a lot of different ways to tell a writer that what they’re submitting didn’t work for you without attacking them in a cruel way.”
  • Never thought I’d write these stories: Warrior is coming back for a third season! It arrives June 29 on Max (the artist formerly known as HBO Max). My 2020 VF feature on the show is about, among other things, the quest for inclusion, Hollywood’s biased history, Bruce Lee and the challenging path of a rare U.S. drama with many key Asian characters. In the course of reporting that story, HBO Max altered course and said it would add Warrior to the streaming service, and that happened on Jan. 1, 2021. As recounted in this April 2021 VF story on the show’s revival, Warrior quickly became one of HBO Max’s Top 15 most-viewed series. Lots of intel on the renewal in that piece, and also in this April GQ interview with Warrior executive producer Justin Lin. (Before taking the plunge with Warrior, if you’d like more general info about the drama, here’s my review of the show’s first season.)
  • In the early hours of Monday, Feb. 1, Vanity Fair posted its first story collecting testimony from a  number of women alleging multiple kinds of abuse and violence from Marilyn Manson a.k.a. Brian Warner. Here’s a thread linking to our coverage of this story.
  • Media and entertainment industry executives are in a position to reward the odious men and women who encouraged the murderous Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol  — if past is prologue,  many of those grasping politicians and opportunistic creeps will be rewarded with convenient and possibly quite lucrative rebranding opportunities. I wrote about why media and entertainment executives should not give them those image-enhancing opportunities. They really, really shouldn’t.
  • Please enjoy my year-end lists of 2020 TV shows (and other things) I really loved; it comes with a side order of musings on baking, cruelty and compassion.
  • You may have heard of the cult Nxivm (the one Allison Mack of Smallville was in), and, well, wow. A lot going on there. In 2020, HBO debuted The Vow, a 9-part documentary on Nxivm, and I reviewed it for the New York Times. I think the documentary is fascinating, thoughtful and highly relevant to our times.
  • On the third anniversary of the arrival of that awful Access Hollywood tape, I wrote about what occurred then and what’s happened in the entertainment industry since (and believe it or not, I kinda sorta have some hope!)
  • I talked to more than 30 sources about Peter Lenkov, a CBS showrunner who was fired in 2020. The resulting in-depth story was the hardest of my career, and it’s not just about one man, it’s about a broken system that fails to train, curb and adequately supervise individuals who are allowed to amass and wield enormous amounts of power.  The entertainment industry (still) needs institutional, systemic and radical change.
  • For Vanity Fair, I wrote about how some Hollywood TV studios cut the pay of assistants during the pandemic, which added yet another obstacle to a path that is quite difficult for lower-level workers (and by the way, assistants’ very low pay was already making the television industry’s stated goal of greater inclusion very hard to achieve).
  • Another VF piece: I wrote about whether TV is sabotaging itself by letting the trend toward short seasons and short overall runs damage its finest ambitions. (Spoiler alert: It is!) I talked to some notable creators for the piece, and they’re concerned too. This piece means a lot to me; I’ve been pondering the issues it explores for a looong time. (Don’t write me an email about how short-run shows can be great. I promise I agree with you!) ALSO: As a companion piece to that column, check out this Q&A with Mike Schur, creator of The Good Place, who laid out the economic forces leading to generally shorter TV-show runs.
  • Hooray for the spring 2020 return of One Day at a Time, which was canceled by Netflix but, after a hue and cry from its many fans (including me), returned for a fourth season on PopTV. Here’s an in-depth feature for the New York Times on how the comeback came together.  (I’ve written a number of pieces for the Times in recent years, including pieces on Gentleman Jack, Rubicon, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend [don’t miss this sidebar] and Modern Love.)
  • For this 2019 six-part retrospective SyfyWire podcast about the legacy and impact of Lost, we talked to many veterans of the show, as well as critics and other Lost insiders, and we had a good time making it. I hope you’ll give it a shot.
  • Many things are Bad but the fourth season of Wynonna Earp, which finally arrived in 2020, is Good. It’s also super gay. Wrote about it!
  • The fifth season of Lucifer finally arrived on Netflix in August 2020. Yay! This show is a gem. I interviewed the showrunners, Ildy Modrovich and Joe Henderson, about where the show is going and where it’s been, and I also discussed those topics with stars Lauren German and Tom Ellis.
  • I talked to David Simon about the renewed popularity of The Wire, the landmark HBO series he created (and which turns 18 this year). We also talked about his 2020 limited series The Plot Against America, and the state of American democracy (RIP).
  • Lists! I compiled rosters of my favorite 100 TV programs of the past 10 years and the 40 best TV shows of 2019.
  • I wrote about how the creative team behind HBO’s Mrs. Fletcher depicted the lead character’s internal and external transformations.
  • Slings & Arrows has returned to streaming, via Acorn TV, and this early-aughts Canadian gem is so good!
  • I am an eternal superfan of HBO’s Enlightened, and I wrote about why the 2011-2013 program is  more relevant than ever and one of the best shows of the decade.
  • Some personal news. Extremely earnest thanks to every single person who was kind and nice and fantastic to me about this announcement. 💚🌈
  • I talked to Killjoys creator Michelle Lovretta about the show’s excellent and quietly subversive series finale. Killjoys is one of my favorite shows of the past decade, don’t sleep on its many delights. Team Awesome Force 4eva.
  • For Polygon, I wrote about the rise of Tentpole TV, the industry’s scramble to make programs out of sci-fi/fantasy properties, and the good and bad that might come out of this major shift in the television industry.
  • If you want to see all my writing on the final season of Game of Thrones (plus some other TV pieces I really enjoyed writing), it’s all on the TV Guide site!
  • You know I am down with shows that go for broke and make me cry and get fucking weird. So the week of the 20th anniversary of its U.S. debut, I wrote a tribute/viewing guide to one of the best science-fiction shows ever, Farscape (which is now on Amazon, completely with the Peacekeeper Wars wrap-up miniseries!). This piece has intel about Farscape’s past (and possible future) from one of the show’s executive producers and a Ben Mendelsohn mention you may not have been expecting. But the important thing about this Farscape viewing guide is that I give you permission to not watch every episode. No, really, it’ll be fine! Happy Farscaping!
  • Here is a deeply reported Vulture piece from 2019, which contains revelations about CBS, Eliza Dushku, deep-rooted patterns of toxicity and another HR investigation at a show with a history of turmoil.
  • I collected a list of links to reporting about the many #MeToo stories that came out of just one media/entertainment company in the past year (this thread began in November 2018 and it’s still going in December 2019 as more stories about systematic problems emerge). In an op-ed for the Hollywood Reporter, I wrote about how the work of changing abusive cultures in the industry has barely begun, and propose one possible way forward.
  • I wrote about Claire Fraser of Outlander for Entertainment Weekly. I really enjoyed this chance to gab about why she’s not only important in her own right, she’s a precursor to a wave of ambitious TV shows that unapologetically present stories about complex women.
  • Even if you know nothing about Doctor Who, this in-depth feature story should get you up to speed. For the piece, I talked to showrunner Chris Chibnall, Jodie Whittaker, a writer, a director and knowledgeable fans of the show; we discussed what it’s all about, why it works, where it has been in its 55 years and where it’s going. This piece was truly a labor of love, and I hope you enjoy it. As part of the reporting for the story, I got to do this enjoyable and enlightening interview with star Jodie Whittaker.
  • My favorite shows of 2018. Yay for good and great TV!
  • I wrote a big Sunday feature on Wynonna Earp for The New York Times, a definite high point in my professional life! Even if you don’t watch the show, aren’t you intrigued by the fact that this Syfy series already has multiple conventions devoted just to it? And it’s been on for only a few seasons? I think the rip-roaring show’s history, themes and fandom come together to create an interesting saga, one that I think has value to any interested observer of the evolving TV landscape. Also there are tentacles and mustaches, what else do you want? (A couple reported Wynonna pieces from 2019 are here and here, and just for fun, here’s a 2017 review of the show.)
  • After more than a year of reporting on Brad Kern, a showrunner cited by dozens of ex-employees for harassment, vindictiveness, inappropriate behavior, repeated mistreatment of a nursing mom and racist comments (among many other allegations), he was finally fired by CBS. As I said in this Twitter thread, “It SHOULD NOT take multiple major stories in the press to remove a toxic exec, showrunner or anyone else with power in TV. That’s not the system working: That’s a sign the system has failed its workers.”
  • The culture of CBS, and entertainment-industry cultures in general, need massive, revolutionary overhauls. Abuses of power for the most part are still ignored, enabled and whitewashed. This is a reported Vulture story, with some analysis of those issues, on Brad Kern, Leslie Moonves, CBS and the changes the past year have not brought about.
  • The documentary This Changes Everything is an examination of decades of sexism and the systematic exclusion of women in Hollywood. Fun stuff, right? But honestly, this film (which features Taraji P. Henson, Meryl Streep, Shonda Rhimes, Jessica Chastain and so many other amazing women) is brisk, lively and interesting, and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it (toward the end, they interview me about my reporting on this topic). This Changes Everything premiered at TIFF, had a well-regarded run on the festival circuit and got a theatrical release before arriving on Starz in late 2019. It’s now streaming on Netflix.
  • Fuuuuuuuuck nooooooooooo.
  • Some stories give me frustration migraines: This one did not! Yay! I’ve been reporting on issues of inclusion and representation in the TV industry for many, many years (see all the links at the end of this post). HBO has made serious strides since I wrote this story about the then-abysmal stats on inclusion in at high-end TV networks in 2014. Check out this story, for The Hollywood Reporter, about the progress HBO has made on the inclusion front as of 2018. (FX has changed a lot as well.) No, the TV industry has not fixed everything when it comes to matters of representation in front of and behind the camera. But here’s my two cents, as someone who will continue to shine a light on these issues whenever I can: Why not celebrate real progress when it arrives? I think a lot about how much still needs to be done. But what Casey Bloys of HBO said regarding these issues made me feel hope. I like hope! I am pro-hope.
  • More for The Hollywood Reporter: Devilish problems behind the scenes at American Gods during its troubled second season. Toxic showrunner 101: Don’t be this guy. Also, ageism is all over Hollywood and I’m over it. Something fun: The time I met Meghan Markle, plus thoughts on women’s progress, Suits and The Crown.
  • More for The New York Times: An interview with the great Ann Dowd on The Handmaid’s Tale (there’s also a mention of The Leftovers); a review/explainer of the fine true-crime series The Staircase; a review of the documentary series The Fourth Estate, which is about The New York Times; an interview with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys about the series finale of The Americans; Jane the Virgin showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman makes it official that Season Five is the final season and talks about why that is and what she’s thinking as she and the team head into the endgame of this wonderful show.
  • I guested on the Tom and Lorenzo podcast, check it out here, here and here. I love Tom and Lorenzo so much and we had a blast talking pop culture, film, TV and Me Too. Tom’s baked goods were amazing.
  • More podcastery! Here is an earlier visit to the Extra Hot Great podcast, where we talked about The Fourth Estate and several other shows. I nominated an episode of One Day at a Time for the TV canon and I definitely did not tear up during that segment. This one’s for the true nerds (a.k.a. my people): In a 2016 appearance on Extra Hot Great, I participated in a Star Trek TV fantasy draft and nominated a truly exceptional episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for the TV canon. Here’s another Extra Hot Great podcast appearance! And yet another EHG chat, in which we talk about Star Trek: Picard.
  • I was honored to be on a panel at CUNY’s School of Journalism with New York Times critic A.O. Scott, the AP’s Nekesa Moody, and writer/journalist/podcaster Kurt Andersen; CUNY Professor Janice C. Simpson moderated. The panel, which is available as a Studio 360 podcast here, was titled, “When Bad People Create Good Art.”

From about 2000 and 2018, I was a TV critic at Variety, at HuffPost, and at the Chicago Tribune. Everything I wrote at Variety, from fall 2015 to spring 2018, is collected here. Here is a selection of pieces from the last few years that I would love for you to read:

In case it’s of interest, I have an Instagram (warning: It’s mostly pictures of my travels, animals and pretty flowers). Three other things before I get to the next section: One, I frequently get the questions, “How did you become a TV critic? How could I get into the writing-about-TV game?” and I’ve addressed those queries in this post. Two, I still love TV and, as you can see from the links above, I’m still writing about it, reporting on it and even doing the occasional review, but I’m no longer reviewing TV full time, and this Vanity Fair article explains why. Three, if you’d like to know more about my life and tattoos, this post from 2013 is from the middle of my family-pocalypsethis is about life stuff and my arm tattoos, and this is what I wrote when my mom died in 2016. More tattoo content: This is my back piece.

Before I joined Variety, I was the TV critic for Huffington Post. Quite a bit of that work is here. You can also find the HP pieces here, and there are archives going back to 2011 on the right side of that page. Until the fall of 2010, I was the TV critic for the Chicago Tribune. All the links to my work there are gone now.  Not great, Bob.

Here’s a long 2007 feature on the production of Friday Night Lights. I visited the set in Austin way back in Season 1, and was moved and delighted to write about the way they shot the show and how that influenced the intimacy of its vibe. To this day, that long FNL feature is one of my favorite things I’ve ever gotten to do. Texas Forever. 

The drama that might be closest to my heart – and the show I’ve almost certainly written about more than any other – is Battlestar Galactica. For BSG’s final run of episodes, I interviewed the writer of each episode and also offered my own thoughts; those posts are long but I so enjoyed doing them (and now that they have disappeared into a black hole, I may post them here eventually). Perhaps the most extensive entry into that array of final-season coverage is an in-depth, post-finale interview with executive producer Ron Moore; that piece also contains my thoughts on the finale as well as comments from actors Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. In late 2013, I interviewed Moore again, on the 10th anniversary of BSG’s debut, and you can find that conversation in both story and podcast form.  I still miss Adama and Roslin and Saul damn Tigh. So say we all.  

I wrote a ton about Breaking Bad back in the day; here are a few links to some pieces I wrote during the show’s home stretch. I’m still not over “Ozymandias.”

By the way, I used to be half of a podcast duo: Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan is over – and if you ever listened, thank you. And you can still listen, if it’s new to you. It usually consisted of Ryan McGee and I blathering about whatever shows we were into (or not into) at that moment in time. Sometimes the podcasts contain interviews with actors and TV writers. (You can search the podcast’s site for show names.) This podcast (which is also on iTunes) may just be in your wheelhouse.

In addition to the ones names above, of course there are dozens of shows I want you to watch and catch up on and love. I don’t have time to list them all, but here are a few worth mentioning: I wrote quite a bit about Spartacus over the years – interviews and reviews and a “what to watch before you binge it on Netflix” explainer. If you think you’re too good for Spartacus and that Spartacus is something you should sneer at, think again.

Just a few favorites from the past half-decade or so (and I need to add to this list! I really do!): Peaky fooking Blinders, the incredible Hall of Famer Rectify, and the wonderful Happy Valley are on Netflix, You’re the Worst and The Shield are on Hulu (as is the cult gem Mary Kills People), get into The Americans for Lenin’s sake (comrades, that final season!!) The Returned is magnificently cry-inducing and weird, Banshee and Strike Back both had wobbly final seasons but were really worth watching before that.

Comedy got so wild and risky and great in the past decade that I wrote a big piece in 2016 about how half-hour shows are crushing it even more than drama (it’s good to live in a world in which half-hours as varied as Atlanta, One Day at a Time, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place are so consistently excellent). More raves! Killjoys is my sci-fi jam. Oh, also, Black-ish! (And more Black-ish!)

Some of the shows listed above are a little bit obscure, but I watch and like a lot of popular dramas as well! Some of them are on my end-of-year Best TV lists: Check out my 20 favorite shows of 2017, with many honorable mentions. Here’s my 2016 Top 20 list (I ranked shows for the first time! Exciting! I did not rank programs on two other lists of very good shows from that year). Here’s my 2015 Top 20 list (which contains links to two other lists of very good shows from that year). Also, feel free to check out my 2014 Top TV list, my 2013 Top TV list and 2012 Top TV list, all of which you can treat as rosters full of viewing suggestions. Finally, follow me on Twitter if you want the full scope of my daily obsessions, enthusiasms and rants. (Spoiler: I post a lot of pictures of foxes.)

But wait, there’s more! Here are a few reported stories worth noting:

Representation of women and people of color as TV showrunners for the 2016-2017 broadcast network season and what those dire statistics mean for the pipeline of future TV creators.

Representation of women and people of color as TV directors: The amount of scripted TV has doubled in the past five years, but guess who is directing most of it? I bet you don’t have to guess. If you only read one or two sidebars from this story, make it the ACLU interview and/or the roundup of comments from TV directors.

[Addendum to the directors story: If you think real change is not possible when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the TV industry, think again. This story proves that significant improvements are indeed possible. Everyone in the TV industry should take note.]

Representation of women in writers’ rooms. Spoiler alert: The percentages are not great. (This story is a couple years old but … yeah. Still not great.)

Film world bonus! Check out the stats on the writers and directors of Star Wars. I love Star Wars a lot. Its writers and directors are almost all white guys.

Representation of women and people of color as creators at prestige-drama outlets. Spoiler alert: I’ll let Sisko take this one.

[Four years later update: HBO has changed its ways – everyone in the TV industry should take note. I’m leaving Sisko in place because there’s much more work to be done.]

My Top TV and Films of 2021

Hello! It’s too late to post my favorite TV shows and films of 2021, because it’s now 2022 and no one cares! Or maybe someone cares. In any event, it pleases me to post this information and at least give my WordPress skills a workout.

Normally I write A Whole Thing about what the year in TV meant to me, yada yada. Who has the energy? I don’t! Whatever energy I do have is going into writing a book. I am excited to bring Burn It Down into the world and I am focusing on almost nothing else for the next several months. I am nervous about writing my first book, and the world continues to be A Lot, but I have a new mantra from Gerri:

Here are the usual rules about why some shows/films are not on the lists below. It is possible that: 

  • I didn’t have time to get to it.
  • I sampled it and didn’t like it as much as you did.
  • I tried it and strongly disliked it. What were they thinking?
  • I’m a cruel hellbeast determined to bring pain and suffering to the world. (This is probably the reason.)

Three lists coming at you: My Top 10 TV Shows (the best of the best in a very strong year!), My Top 10 Movies, and a longer Top 40 TV Shows roster (there was so much variety in what was good this year. Sincere thanks to everyone who worked hard to make good shit during a very hard time).

If I wrote about a given show recently, I linked to that piece within the list. Next to each entity, I’ve listed where to find it. If there is no listing, you’ll probably have to rent it on one of the usual platforms. These titles’ locations, of course, depend on what country you’re in, and some programs and films also migrate around various platforms; it’s best to check JustWatch for the most current information.

If we were in the Before Times and we were at a party, and you asked me, “What have you seen lately that’s good?” of course I’d passionately advocate for everything on these lists. But I’d be especially energetic about recommending these underseen and/or under-discussed gems: For All Mankind, Reservation Dogs, We Are Lady Parts, Yellowjackets, Summer of Soul, CODA, The Green Knight and Plan B.

Update Jan 17, 2022: I wrote this post when I had only seen three episodes of Station Eleven. I watched the rest of the limited series recently, and I was even more deeply entranced by it. I’ve added it to my Top 10 list, which is now a Top 11 list (given the title of that book/show, this development is numerically appropriate, I guess!). I’ve also added a link to a piece I wrote about Yellowjackets, and it’s not spoilery if you haven’t started the show yet.

My Top 10 11 TV Shows of 2021 

  • For All Mankind (Apple TV+) 
  • Hacks (HBO) 
  • Mare of Easttown (HBO) 
  • Reservation Dogs (FX/Hulu)
  • Station Eleven (HBO Max)
  • Succession (HBO)
  • We Are Lady Parts (Peacock) 
  • The Witcher (Netflix) 

My Top 10 Movies of 2021

  • Summer of Soul (Hulu) 
  • CODA (Apple TV+)
  • The Green Knight
  • Dune
  • The French Dispatch
  • Passing (Netflix)
  • Plan B (Hulu) 
  • Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Marvel/Disney+)
  • King Richard (HBO)
  • Spencer 

My 40 Best TV Shows of 2021 

  • The Baby-Sitter’s Club (Netflix) (Is this show in a shared universe with Yellowjackets? It is now!) 
  • A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO) 
  • The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+) (Glyn Johns’ wardrobe + vibe = 2022 goals)
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC/Hulu) 
  • DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW/Netflix)
  • The Expanse (Amazon) 
  • For All Mankind (Apple TV+) 
  • Girls5eva (Peacock) 
  • Great British Baking Show (Netflix)
  • Great Canadian Baking Show (DailyMotion)  (I continue to insist it’s as good as if not better than the OG GBBO.)
  • The Great Pottery Throw Down (HBO Max)
  • Hacks (HBO) 
  • Hawkeye (Marvel/Disney+) (Bro! Mainly for Florence Pugh + Pizza Dog!)
  • How to With John Wilson (HBO) 
  • I Think You Should Leave (Netflix) 
  • Kim’s Convenience (Netflix) 
  • Life at the Water Hole (PBS) (It’s fantastic family viewing, if you’re looking for something in that arena.)
  • Loki (Marvel/Disney+) (Mainly for Richard E. Grant + Alligator Loki!)
  • Lupin (Netflix) 
  • Mare of Easttown (HBO)
  • Only Murders in the Building (Hulu) 
  • Oprah with Harry and Meghan (CBS)
  • Pennyworth (Epix) (It’s coming to HBO Max soon! It’s fun!)
  • The Pursuit of Love (Amazon) 
  • Reservation Dogs (FX/Hulu) 
  • Rutherford Falls (Peacock)  
  • Squid Game (Netflix)
  • Station Eleven (HBO)
  • Succession (HBO)
  • Sweet Tooth (Netflix) 
  • WandaVision (Marvel/Disney+)
  • We Are Lady Parts (Peacock) (It’s so good! Please give this a shot!)
  • What We Do in the Shadows (FX/Hulu)  
  • The Witcher (Netflix) 
  • The Wonder Years (ABC/Hulu) 
  • Wynonna Earp (Syfy) 
  • Yellowjackets (Showtime) ( I absolutely do not care if this show “sticks the landing” when it ends its first season, in part because it’s already been renewed for a second season, yay! But yeah, that whole “sticking the landing” thing matters very little to me, and these are just a few of the reasons why: 1 The first eight episodes have been so damn enthralling, and even if I guessed some twists, I did not guess them all! 2 I’m entranced by the work of this stellar cast 3 The writers have constructed a truly entertaining, smart narrative and episode after episode, the show’s directors, including EP Karyn Kusama, fucking crush it 4 The majority of characters are women, all of whom are quite different from each other and their relationships are appropriately complex (and all of that is still too fucking rare) 5 Having come of age in the ’90s (often working as a music critic who wrote about a lot of the bands on the soundtrack), and given that I’m a similar age to Shauna, Natalie and Taissa, I relate to so much of Yellowjackets so hard 5 This is one of the few fictional narratives I’ve ever seen that depicts the ongoing effects trauma with intelligence, nuance and accuracy. All of that gets a hearty fuck yeah from me. Get caught up and then read Emily VanDerWerff on Yellowjackets!)

Still here? Want to read more of my work? Do that here! Love you some lists? Here is last year’s Top TV List. My 2019 Best TV list. Also in 2019, I published my 101 favorite shows of 2010-2019, which is infallibly correct. Here is my 2018 Best TV List. That’s a lot of #content! Please stay safe, and know that I’m rooting for you!

The Top TV Shows of 2020

I love reading critics’s end-of-year lists and, because I’m a nerd, I also enjoy making lists of things I should check out (at this point, my Things to Watch Google Doc is one of history’s greatest epics). It’s weird how other critics’ lists are correct and the lists I post annually are also perfectly correct.

But my lists are the most right!  

Before I get to the core of this post, I want to mention that I’m moderating a Better Off Ted reunion for charity on Dec. 27. Stop by if you care to — it should be fun! (Of course, for Veridian employees, this event is a mandatory training session.)

All right, as usual, you could make a pretty good Top 10 list of things I have only seen part of or have not seen at all. Not sure if you were aware of this fact, but there is a lot of #content out there. 

So this list, especially given how often quarantine brain derailed me this year, is not comprehensive. I’m sure, in the next week or two, I’ll watch more things I wish I’d included. Regardless, I’m glad for the existence of all these shows — and movies, documentaries, multi-part documentaries, films-that-are-probably-not-TV, TV-that-might-be-movies and documentary-scripted hybrids, plus unicorns that are also 10-hour films, etc.

Two omissions from these lists that were still important parts of my 2020 viewing experience: The Great British Baking Show (which goes by the nickname GBBO in its original habitat) and the Great Canadian Baking Show. I’d like to unburden myself a bit regarding both of those programs. A bit later in this post, I delve into how what’s good about them relates to key aspects of my favorite scripted programs of 2020. Skip ahead to the lists if you don’t want to wade through this part! 

Like a lot of other folks, we watched every Netflix season of GBBO this year and wow, that’s a lot of marzipan! Here’s one of the things I love about the show at its best: The regular delivery of refreshing and quietly optimistic depictions of how a person’s confidence, competence and feelings of validation can evolve in productive ways over time. 

GBBO is blessedly not about people who seek to dominate, destroy, bully and shit on other people. It’s about people who are frequently modest but who have a set of skills they may — or more likely may not — think are important. They get to hang out in a tent with other generally cool and/or eccentric baking fiends, and their confidence may waver week to week, but it tends to grow in the bakers who begin, ever so gradually and before our eyes, to come into their own.

There’s a competitive element woven through the proceedings — each week’s episode efficiently wrings drama from each baking challenge, which is a good thing (sidebar: The camera crews who film inside the tent and and the editors who edit this show are amazingly good at their jobs). But GBBO does not dwell on — or even really find much — behavior that is destructive, cruel, vindictive, harmful or corrosive. And I feel my battered heart grow three sizes whenever bakers in the tent help each other out — which is often. 

As I wrote in my end-of-year piece about Ted Lasso, for way too long, craven, cowardly, mean, terrible, selfish people have told the rest of us that cruelty, cowardice, thoughtless domination, corrosive shittiness, greed, vindictive agendas and insensitivity are necessary qualities for those who aspire to display “leadership,” “confidence” and “success.” Almost worse than the toxic jerks who embody these garbage qualities and promulgate these abusive ideas are the enablers who let these folks do what they want without putting up any real resistance. Here are a couple of pieces I wrote in 2020 that touch on these all-too-common dynamics; if you need more evidence, well… ::waves hands, gestures at world::

Those who are willing to do the worst — to be the worst — get much further than they should because there are so many weak, spineless, equivocating people who let these lies and these bullshit excuses persist and fester. Let me say — no — yell (again): All these people are wrong and they can eat shit forever. 

And that brings me to this observation: When it’s firing on all the right cylinders, GBBO (and its offshoots) can serve as quiet, tea-drinking rebukes to that kind of thinking. 

After watching the construction of thousands of cakes, pies and pastries, here are the images that are most firmly lodged in my memory: The moments in which people who didn’t have a lot of confidence in their skills and knowledge realized that they were good at this. I like to see generally overlooked people ponder the happiness, however fleeting, they’ve brought themselves and others with their care and creativity.

The best moments may be the ones in which people who are kind, humble, accountable and modest begin to realize that the way they move through the world is actually … good. Really good. To see them have those altruistic, responsible and artistic impulses validated on a national stage, while they’re also making friends with a varied range of welcoming, thoughtful people, well…. You could do worse than seeing that happen a whole bunch. 

I have to balance all that out by saying that GBBO has an enormous array of problems when it comes to race, class, gender and the treatment of various cultures, traditions and foodways. The show is generally quite good when it comes to incorporating disabled contestants into the mix, but it’s also continually tin-eared and problematic on any number of other fronts. There is behavior in the tent that has walked up to the line of inappropriateness and/or harassment (and a few times, that behavior has crossed a line, not that the show appears to be even remotely aware of it).

I’m certainly far from the first person to point this out, but the fact that every judge and every presenter in the mothership’s history has been white is not just notable but quite illuminating. I mean, the 2020 episode centered on Japanese cuisine was, from start to finish, unbelievably oblivious and cringe-worthy. They had a decade to get better on that front, and after that decade of opportunities to improve, GBBO came up with that utter disaster. Sigh.

A secondary complaint I have differs a bit from that whole bucket of problems, but, like most other sentient adults, I spend most of the technical challenges complaining about them. All these critiques contain my roundabout way of saying that, yes, we watched the 2020 edition of the show, but a number of things went awry with it, and the finale was limp and disappointing for a whole bunch of reasons, and I generally agree with Salon critic Melanie McFarland about why that was so.

All things considered, GBBO has real value but it also has deep-seated issues — and, like many established institutions, it displays no real willingness to reckon with the complicated problems and biases at its core in a serious, concerted way. The show is a massive hit, a situation that has caused it to lean into some of its worst tendencies rather than attempt to evolve away from them. (And all that said, did I adore the GBBO Derry Girls holiday special? I absolutely did! What can I say? Shit’s complicated!)

One program the pastry mothership could learn from is the Great Canadian Baking Show, which is not just incredibly Canadian but as sweet and entertaining as you’d want it to be. Dan Levy from Schitt’s Creek was the co-host for the first two seasons, and the hosts in Season 3 — Carolyn Taylor and Aurora Browne — are delightful and bring a lot of terrific, much-missed Mel-and-Sue vibes to the Canadian tent.

Especially in the second and third seasons of GCBS, the bakers are among the best I’ve ever seen on any food-related show. A few of them would have handily won on GBBO, in my humble opinion. So if you’re a GBBO fan, get this show into your eyeballs. In the US, the show is available on a site called DailyMotion (I think legally? Maybe? Who knows?!) To pre-emptively address kind feedback from other GBBO-heads — yes, we’re planning on watching other countries’ editions soon!

Anyway, these shows — like many of my favorite scripted programs — consciously and sometimes inadvertently explored important and highly relevant questions: Who gets to feel confident about their beliefs, their presence, their history, their actions? Whose memories and traditions matter, and why? What does real competence and compassion look like? Who gets their worldview and their plans validated, and who doesn’t? 

What do we owe each other — and ourselves — in a world that sometimes feels like a chaotic collision of many unreliable narrators? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but neither do many of the year’s best programs. That vulnerable, searching humility was kind of beautiful in a year in which many of us desperately needed things to believe in and care about — while having our doubts, anxieties and fears validated in some way.

Other much-glorified modes of TV (which, to be clear, I have frequently glorified!) just hit different this year. Not for nothing, but most of my Top 10 is composed of half-hour shows. Shows that are comfortable with ambiguity, doubt and the vulnerability of connections (with oneself, with others, with reality itself) can be challenging to sit with; longer running times just would not have worked for many of these stories.

Also, if I’m honest, as the year wore on, it got harder for me to get excited about sampling one-hour shows. I’ll just admit it: In this quarantine year, there was a lot of stress for all of us, and my brain was just tired. The whole “it gets good in the sixth episode” phenomenon was just a non-starter for me. In recent years, in the world of TV, one-hours have tended to struggle with structure, pacing and tone more than half-hours have (the widespread phenomenon of streaming drift remains an issue). Not that there aren’t one-hours I love (there are!), but half-hours, which have been rewardingly frisky and inventive for a while now, really shone in a special and unexpectedly necessary way this year.

Speaking of tone, mood and intention, in 2020, what I needed was, well… not certain kinds of trite, predictable violence, not anti-heroes, not rigid or arrogant definitions of catharsis or loud, braying declarations of Meaning. Your mileage may vary, as always, but for me, this year, just… no, thank you. Not so much with the chest-thumping and show-boating and the “bravura” turns.

The shows I loved most were well-crafted and smartly executed, but also intimate; they were willing to be a bit messy and quiet and very artfully picked the moments in which they were in your face (wasn’t the world and its problem in our faces enough?). The shows on my lists threaded the needle of the right incidents + the right characters = awesome but left room for emotions that were hard or even impossible to express.  Don’t know about you, but this year I was often like Connell and Marianne on Normal People — unsure of what to say and whether I should be the one to say it, and yet feeling so much.

In a year in which we couldn’t be around each other, having so much emotion vibrating in the quiet spaces between people who found it hard to connect — that somehow just felt right.

Normal People, like How To With John Wilson, like Ted Lasso, like the devastatingly brilliant I May Destroy You, like Better Things, sat with doubt. These shows are all so different from each other, but they all skillfully and intelligently lived within the spaces that hurt and pain and love and frustration and hope can sloppily occupy together. My favorite shows were so often distillations of the ideas that I tried to explore in this essay, which is still my favorite thing I’ve ever written. As I wrote of The Leftovers, “this show makes me feel seen. Because it doesn’t try to solve these core problems. It is a dramatic recognition of the fact that contradiction and collision define us, and may break us (or not).”

This year, I found a bunch of people to explore with, to sit with, to care about, to feel with. In a year that was brutal, they often gave me the antithesis of brutality (while exploring what brutality can do to human beings and why it’s important to find strategies and communities that can help us resist it).

The ways the best shows found to explore these impossible questions… well, they felt right for 2020. There was redemptive, cumulative power in their willingness to let the unspoken linger — to pose questions and embroider ideas, but not necessarily answer heartbreaking, beautiful, terrible questions about risotto and assault and amends and community and success and failure and the breathtaking simplicity of generosity. 

In a year in which my brain and my soul were so tired so much of the time, I’m glad so many shows came at me sideways, subversively or playfully undermining what television “should” be, could be, can be. The kernels of intelligence, love, tolerance and wisdom embedded in these creators’ works — and in all that well-laminated pastry — made 2020 just about tolerable. I’m grateful.

Here are the usual rules about why some shows are not on these lists. It is possible that: 

  • I didn’t have time to get to it.
  • I sampled it and didn’t like it as much as you did.
  • I tried it and strongly disliked it. What were they thinking?
  • I’m a cruel hellbeast determined to bring pain and suffering to the world. (This is probably the reason.)

Without further ado, here is my 2020 TV Top 10 in alphabetical order (and if I’ve written about a show recently, I’ve linked to it below): 

My 2020 TV Top 10

Better Call Saul, AMC

Better Things, FX

BoJack Horseman, Netflix 

Harley Quinn, DC Universe/HBO Max

How To With John Wilson, HBO 

I May Destroy You, HBO 

Normal People, Hulu 

Schitt’s Creek, PopTV

Ted Lasso, Apple TV+

What We Do in the Shadows, FX

There were even more things I loved! Below is a list of very good entities that came across my eyeballs in 2020. What is a movie? What is TV? What is time? Are we alive? I’d puzzle all of that out if I had the mental energy to do so, but I don’t, and you’re probably too brain-fried to do anything but be dazzled by this list of movies, films, documentaries, sandwiches and unicorns that I enjoyed this year. (A note on why the Great Canadian Baking Show is not on either list: None of the episodes we watched this year was made or aired in 2020.)

My Overall Top 40 Things on 2020 Screens 

(* denotes a 2020 Top 10 TV Show)

Beastie Boys Story, Apple TV+

Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, HBO

*Better Call Saul, AMC 

*Better Things, FX

*BoJack Horseman, Netflix

The Crown, Netflix   

Dave, FX

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, CW 

Devs, FX


Enola Holmes, Netflix 

The Expanse, Amazon 

The 40-Year-Old Version, Netflix 

The GoGos, Showtime 

The Good Place, NBC 

The Good Lord Bird, Showtime 

*Harley Quinn, DC Universe/HBO Max

Hamilton, Disney+

*How To With John Wilson, HBO 

*I May Destroy You, HBO 

The Last Dance, ESPN 

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, HBO 

Laurel Canyon, Starz

Lucifer, Netflix (and this story too!)

The Magicians, Syfy

The Mandalorian, Disney+

**Mr. Robot

*Normal People, Hulu 

The Old Guard, Netflix 

One Day at a Time, PopTV

Palm Springs, Hulu  

The Plot Against America, HBO 

The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix 

*Schitt’s Creek, PopTV

*Ted Lasso, Apple TV+

Visible: Out on Television, Apple TV+

The Vow, HBO

Warrior, Cinemax

*What We Do in the Shadows, FX  

Wynonna Earp, Syfy

**Yes, Mr Robot, which ended in 2019, is a ringer! I didn’t watch the final season of this show until 2020 (and that is absolutely fine, because linear time doesn’t exist). Anyway, I thought it was really good, with some truly impressive standout episodes. Overall, I thought the show finished strong. Good job, everyone! 

No, I’m not done yet! I will leave you with a few final thoughts:  

Killjoys and Lost Girl: I rewatched both these shows in full in 2020 and not only do I have zero regrets, I may do the whole thing again! If you are looking for truly enjoyable, well-made, quippy and surprisingly deep found-family narratives, get yourself into these shows. You could do a lot worse than losing yourself in the Michelle Lovretta-verse. 

Still here? Want to read more of my work? Do that here! Still love lists? Last year, I published my 101 favorite shows of 2010-2019, which is infallibly correct. Here is my 2018 Best TV List and my 2019 Best TV List.

Be well and thanks for reading! 

The 101 Best TV Shows of the Decade: The Definitive List You’ve Been Waiting For

This is my personal list of the top 100 101* programs of the decade. 

I only considered programs that premiered after January 1, 2010. If you get mad about an omission, there’s a 98% chance that the show you’re cranky about premiered before that date. I’m almost annoyed at myself for imposing that limitation, because it means I can’t include Men of a Certain Age, which is so, so great (and which premiered in December 2009). But that’s the rule I decided on, so it is what it is. 

Here’s what I decided not to consider for the list: Commentary programs (like “Full Frontal”), documentaries, comedy specials or any kind of reality TV. Though I didn’t set out to exclude it, I also ended up without any shows primarily aimed at kids. No hate for any of these genres: I just ended up organically focusing on the kinds of scripted storytelling I love. 

So this list consists of scripted TV released in the last decade that I saw and liked enough overall to put it on this list. My best-of-the-decade roster would have been much longer if I could have put selected seasons of some shows on it. But I went with the “all or nothing” approach. There are shows below that had occasional dips in quality, but they also had something special, were pretty consistently good and/or had a number of excellent or great runs during their lifespans, so they made the cut. And of course some of these programs are notably more ambitious than others! But they each brought something special to the game and I am glad I watched them all. 

I wonder if you will be able to tell what my all-time fave of the decade is. And by the way, if you want more recommendations, here are my lists of the best TV of 2019 and the best TV of 2018. There are yet more best-of lists at the end of this post.

Where to see these shows depends on what country you live in and what company has the rights to a particular show at a given point in time. Given that those circumstances can and do change, I’d consult if you want to know where to find all this delicious content. 

I watched a lot of TV in the past decade. A lot. Probably more than is strictly advisable. No regrets. This is the best of what I saw.  Let’s get into it, shall we?

One-hours, in alphabetical order

The Americans

Better Call Saul



Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The Crown 

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

The Expanse*


Game of Thrones

Gentleman Jack

The Good Fight 

Halt and Catch Fire 


Happy Valley 

The Hour 

Into the Badlands 


Jane the Virgin 



The Knick

The Last Tycoon 

The Leftovers

Lost Girl 


Marvel’s Agent Carter 

Mary Kills People 

Mr. Robot 

My Brilliant Friend 

Orange Is the New Back 

Peaky Blinders 

Penny Dreadful 



Les Revenants/The Returned




Stranger Things 

Strike Back




Top of the Lake 



Wynonna Earp

Half-hours, in alphabetical order 

American Vandal



Better Things 

Big Mouth


BoJack Horseman

Broad City 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine 


Derry Girls




Fresh Off the Boat 


The Good Place 

Happy Endings

I Love Dick


Key & Peele

Master of None 

New Girl

One Day at a Time 

One Mississippi 

Regular Show


Russian Doll 

Schitt’s Creek 




Survivor’s Remorse 


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 

A Young Doctor’s Notebook

You’re the Worst 

Movies and limited series, in alphabetical order

Alias Grace

And Then There Were None 


The Honorable Woman 

The Little Drummer Girl 

London Spy 

National Treasure 

National Treasure: Kiri 

The Night Of

Olive Kitteridge 

The Pacific 

The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story 

The Night Manager 

A Very English Scandal 

When They See Us 

Wolf Hall 

Update on Dec. 10, 2019: Edited to remove Doctor Who, which had a good decade but, as my son pointed out, premiered decades ago. I knew that! But I had a brainfail on that front. Rather than use a TARDIS to permanently erase this error from the timeline, I removed DW and added Regular Show, which — as my son also pointed out — we both enjoyed a great deal. The point here is that my son is excellent.

*Update on Dec. 31, 2019: When first published, this roster had 100 shows, but I’ve now added The Expanse to make it 101. The Amazon drama released its fourth season four days after this list came out. Around the middle of the show’s second season, I fell behind on The Expanse, in large part due to Peak TV glut and various other time-devouring commitments. Fortunately I’ve had time lately to get caught up, and we finished Season 4 on Dec. 31, 2019. It’s a late-breaking and deserving addition to the list!

The Top TV Shows of 2019

This is a love story. 

Television, there’s too much of you. Stop. But also, don’t. 

I didn’t do individual writeups of each show on this list, as I did with my 2018 list, in part because this was a looong year and I still have a lot of things to get done before 2019 calls it a day. OK, fine, that’s partly a dodge. I am pretty busy, but even if I wasn’t, the truth is, penning 40 41* individual writeups is challenging. Fun fact: Writing short is often harder than writing long. It’s true. 

You may assume that every show on this list will bring you joy for a distinct and delightful array of reasons. Watch them all. 

A few bits of houskeeping: One reason I’ve posted this list is to draw your attention to something completely unrelated (I guess this is my version of a pop-up ad?).  Feel free to skip ahead to the list(s) if that’s the only #content you desire.

The documentary This Changes Everything (which is already available to rent/buy on various platforms) arrives on Starz on Dec. 16. I would love it if you watched it, and not just because I’m in it (stone-cold humblebrag, Mo! Wow! This is the real brag: Someone said that I sort of serve as the Neville Longbottom of the film and I have never felt more profoundly complimented. I recently re-read the entire Harry Potter book cycle, and Neville and Luna Lovegood are kind of the best. Also, the fact that Hermione ends up with Ron is one of the great literary catastrophes of our age, but that’s not the topic at hand right now.) 

This Changes Everything systematically (and entertainingly and thoughtfully, in my opinion) takes on the issues of institutional and informal exclusion, bias and sexism in Hollywood. It contains a lot of useful facts and figures but also a bracing array of interviews with top actresses and directors. And yes, I’d say all these positive things even if the film wasn’t the reason I became best friends with Yara Shahidi and Meryl Streep. (This is a lie. We are not friends. Let me dream.) Here are some critics’ takes on TCE in case you want to read up on it before deciding whether to check it out. 

Back to the list! Yearly whine: These are not all the shows I watched. I viewed part or all of many more programs. These are the ones I deemed worthy of being on this long (and yet difficult to pare down) list.

If I wrote about a show this year, I’ve linked to that piece within the list. And if you want to know where to stream any of the shows below (that information can be confusing and non-intuitive), or you just want to know where to find obscure gems like Rubicon and Slings & Arrows), I find Just Watch quite helpful on that topic.

Here are the house rules on why some shows are not on the list:

  • I didn’t have time to get to it.
  • I sampled it and didn’t like it as much as you did.
  • I tried it and strongly disliked it. What were they thinking?
  • I’m a cruel hellbeast determined to bring pain and suffering to the world. (This is probably the reason.)

The Best

As you already know, Fleabag was the best TV program of 2019. Kneel

My 2019 Top 10 (in alphabetical order)

Better Things, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Fleabag, The Good Fight, The Good Place, Lucifer, One Day at a Time, Schitt’s Creek, Succession, Watchmen.

The Top 41* Television Programs of 2019 (in alphabetical order)

*Update on Dec. 31, 2019: When first published, this roster had 40 shows, but I’ve now added The Expanse, which released its fourth season 10 days after this list came out. Around the middle of the show’s second season, I fell behind on The Expanse, in large part due to Peak TV glut and various other time-devouring commitments. Fortunately I’ve had time lately to get caught up, and we finished Season 4 on Dec. 31, 2019. It’s a late-breaking and deserving addition to the list!

Barry (HBO)

Better Things (FX) 

Big Mouth (Netflix) 

A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO)

Blood & Treasure (CBS)

BoJack Horseman (Netflix) 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC)

Catastrophe (Amazon)

Chernobyl (HBO) 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW)

The Crown (Netflix)

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW)

Deadwood: The Movie (HBO)

Derry Girls (Netflix)

Emergence (ABC)

The Expanse (Amazon)

Fleabag (Amazon)

Fosse/Verdon (FX)

Gentleman Jack (HBO)

The Good Place (NBC)

The Good Fight (CBS All Access) 

I Think You Should Leave (Netflix)

Into the Badlands (AMC)

Jane the Virgin (CW)

Killjoys (Syfy)

Lucifer (Netflix)

Mrs. Fletcher (HBO)

One Day at a Time (Netflix/Pop TV)

Pennyworth (Epix)

Pose (FX)

Russian Doll (Netflix) 

Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV) 

Stranger Things (Netflix)

Stumptown (ABC)

Succession (HBO)

Superstore (NBC)

Warrior (Cinemax)

Watchmen (HBO)

When They See Us (Netflix)

You’re the Worst (FX) 

Shout-out to shows that had good, very good or great wrap-ups or series finales this year. Among them: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, You’re the Worst, Into the Badlands, Killjoys, Catastrophe, Fleabag and Deadwood. I miss them all, but they went out on supremely entertaining and emotionally satisfying high notes. And by the way, it is an utterly fantastic troll that the Deadwood movie, which was released by a network owned by AT&T, is in part about the deeply unwelcome arrival of a telephone company. 

Not done yet: I re-watched the following shows this year. They remain great. 

  • Deadwood (didn’t write about it! Still fucking incredible!)

Those links probably whetted your appetite for more of my writing, which you can find here.  One mo’ thing: Here’s my list of the 100* best TV shows of the past decade. (Well, 101 now that I added The Expanse to that list too!)

Finally, science tells us that even-numbered years are better than odd-numbered years. I can’t wait to see what we all get up to in 2020. Sincerely wishing you all good things.

Through the Looking Glass: A Lost Retrospective Podcast

Hello! I am very excited to share this with you. This fall, Tara Bennett and I co-hosted a Lost retrospective podcast for SyfyWire. The six-part podcast explored the show’s impact, influence and legacy through a series of conversations with special guests. We’d love it if you checked out all six parts, but if I may be so bold, you’re really going to want to hear the season finale.

As noted in Tara’s story on the podcast’s debut, guests include Melanie McFarland (Salon), Sarah Rodman (EW), Nikki Stafford (Finding Lost books), Lost transmedia innovators John Bernstein and David Daniels, Sky1’s The Lost Initiative co-host (and Official Lost Magazine editor) Paul Terry.

In the fifth episode, we had a very enjoyable and illuminating chat with former Lost scribes Drew Goddard (The Good Place) and Elizabeth Sarnoff (Barry), who were so great, smart and honest.

The season finale features an in-depth, funny and thoughtful conversation with Lost executive producers and showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. They offered a lot of insights, anecdotes and even some information I wasn’t aware of, despite having written about and reported on the drama a lot back in the day. And toward the end, they may have gotten a bit salty about what Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin said about the Lost finale.

All six episodes of the podcast have now been posted, and I’m really proud of what Tara, Paul Terry and I created (the three of us collaborated on this project). Here’s a direct link to the podcast if you use Apple for your podcast needs. And here’s the full roster of links to Through the Looking Glass:

Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts

By the way, earlier this year, I did a Lost re-watch, something I’d wanted to do for a while. It was illuminating and refreshing to watch the show far away from the hubbub around it when it was on the air. I enjoyed a lot of that hubbub and I certainly contributed to it! But as a fan of television — especially genre television, character-driven stories and TV that plays with boundaries and expectations while aiming directly at the mainstream — it was a fascinating experience. Many of the thoughts that I had about the show filtered into the conversations that we had for Through the Looking Glass.

I can unreservedly say that working on this podcast and having these conversations has one of the most enjoyable experiences of my professional life. That’s partly because I got to work with Tara and Paul (who co-wrote The Lost Encyclopedia and who are the best). It’s also partly because whatever my expectations were for the conversations we pursued with our guests, the actual talks we had blew way post those hopes. Every person we talked to was far enough away from the show to have some perspective on why it had the impact it did — and on how it changed them as people and as artists. These folks were insightful, funny, entertaining, thoughtful and not averse to getting absolutely real. Seriously, this whole experience has been a blast.

If you give our podcast a shot, thank you! And before you go:


One last thing: If you like the podcast, check out some of my other work!

‘Slings & Arrows’ Arrives on Acorn: Why You Should Watch

“Slings & Arrows” arrives on Acorn’s streaming service on Monday, Nov. 4, which should be a national holiday in North America, probably.

I wrote about “Slings,” the great Canadian series, twice about a decade ago. The first piece I’m republishing below is from 2008 and is an overview written on the occasion of the show’s DVD box-set release. The second story, from 2007, focuses on the third and final season. Each season is only six episodes long, which may well be a selling point for many folks overwhelmed by #content.

If you’ve never seen the show, you can read the first few paragraphs of the first piece safely. There are a few mild spoilers in these pieces but 1. They shouldn’t interfere with your enjoyment of “Slings” in any way, if the show ends up being your kind of thing and 2. I’ve marked where to stop reading the first piece if you’d rather go in knowing nothing.

You should definitely go in knowing that I love “Slings & Arrows” and that I consider it one of the great unheralded gems of the last couple of decades. It’s lovingly knowing about how hard (and how joyous) it can be to create good art, it’s often quite funny, it’s genuinely moving at times, and it features fine performances from Paul Gross, Rachel McAdams, Luke Kirby, Mark McKinney, Sarah Polley, Colm Feore, Stephen Ouimette, William Hutt, Don McKellar and many others.

A note about its arrival on Acorn: Season 1 arrives Nov. 4, Season 2 shows up Nov. 25 and Season 3 hits the service Dec. 16. And I know there are now approximately eight million streaming services vying for your money, but if you like U.K. TV, consider signing up for Acorn. It’s particularly strong on British TV and, in general, shows in which people wear sweaters while drinking tea or solving crimes (or both).

Acorn’s press release reminds me that New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum called “Slings” “the single best TV show about theater ever made,” and she is correct. That said, it’s about more than just theater; it’s really about why people choose to pursue creative endeavors, despite how hard those paths usually are. “Slings” blends smart satire and humane insight in equal measures, and that is a genuinely hard thing to do. A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted about this Acorn release and the love for the show remains strong.

The below was first published Feb. 5, 2007:

The strike by Hollywood writers may be over soon — and hooray for that. But there’s been one benefit to this otherwise frustrating TV drought — it’s given us a chance to catch up on some worthy programs via DVD. And “Slings & Arrows” may be the ideal viewing choice for these waning days of the strike.

Each season of the Canadian series, which concerns the backstage drama at a Shakespeare theater festival, is only six episodes long, and all three seasons were released in one boxed set by Acorn Media on Feb. 5. The handsome and handy set includes a brand-new disc of extras, but never mind them (the extras aren’t great, though the extended versions of some episodes are a nice plus).

The play’s the thing, or rather the New Burbage Festival’s often-hapless attempts to stage the Bard’s classics — that’s the main attraction. (There’s more on the show here.)

“Slings,” which has given showcases to actors such as Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”), Sarah Polley (the writer/director of “Away From Her”) and Canadian stage legend William Hutt, is set in New Burbage’s rehearsal spaces, offices and pubs. And no TV show has ever done a better job of demonstrating why otherwise sane people are willing to risk their relationships, their financial health and their sanity, all for the love of the theater.

Those who wrote and performed “Slings” show a palpable love for language and the magic of the stage. And there are fascinating insights into what goes into creating a terrific performance. 

Continue reading ‘Slings & Arrows’ Arrives on Acorn: Why You Should Watch

See You On the Other Side: My Battlestar Galactica Post-Finale Interviews and Review

This piece was originally published March 14, 2009. The publication I worked for then let the post lapse into the void. But there were many copies.

Can you believe it’s really over? I can’t either. Before accepting that fact, let’s talk and think and write about the finale way too much. Here goes…

Part 1: The interview with Moore

MR: I think one thing that threw me about the finale was that it was hopeful.

RDM: [laughs] There were a fair number of people that were prepared for the most nihilistic [finale ever].

MR: “You’re going to kill them all, aren’t you!?”

RDM: I know.

MR: It’s the ultimate sucker punch of “Battlestar Galactica” — that it ends on a hopeful note.

RDM: Yeah, it’s true. It’s the final twist. The final twist is — that it’s all OK. 

MR: Talk to me about that whole second Earth thing. That kind of gave me pause me when I saw it.

RDM: It was built into the show when we decided to get to Earth. This was always the plan – the plan was to get to Earth, have it be a cinder, and then go, “God, where now?” And take the audience on this other journey and make them forget about that and not think about it. Because the concept of the show was to search for a place called Earth.

So we wanted to give that to you before you expected it and make it a downer and [have you go,] “Oh shoot, now what?” And now you’re really adrift. [The intention was] to put the audience with the characters, where they were really adrift and not hoping that anything better was going to happen.

And at the very last, at the very end, to then have a moment of hope, to have something to hang on to, and to give them the thing that they had quested for for so long, and to give that to the audience too.

MR: And so it’s as if this Earth is an homage to the other Earth, the first one.

RDM: I thought there was something interesting about that. This isn’t the original Earth. We’re actually [living on] an homage, as you said, to the original Earth. They come here and try to learn a lesson from the original Earth and make this Earth a better story.

MR: So the question is, did they learn their lesson?

RDM: Exactly. And the show could not answer that. It didn’t feel right for the show, like [happens] with so many things, to give a definitive answer to that. Any more than the show said, “This is the answer to terrorism, this is the answer to Iraq, these are the answers to security and freedom.” It gets to a place where you have an opportunity and you have a hope, but you couldn’t definitively say, “It’s going to be OK.”

MR: I went back and watched the closing moments of “Crossroads, Part 2” again, and the final image is of a planet that looks a lot like Earth. How does that fit in to what we see in “Daybreak”? Can you walk me through that?

RDM: That was all specifically thought out. The planet that you see at the end of “Crossroads” is this planet that we stand on. It has the North American continent and the South American [continent], it’s very clear, we wanted it to be visually easy to identify for everybody.

Kara takes them to both Earths, as a matter of fact. She takes them to the original Earth, which, when we showed it in Revelations, we were careful to never quite be able to identify the land masses from orbit. We wanted you to accept it as Earth, and most people assumed it was this Earth, but we didn’t want to flat out mislead you, so we didn’t want to have it look like North America too.

MR: So Kara comes back in “Crossroads,” she says, “I’ve been to Earth”…

RDM: She had been to that Earth. The original Earth.

MR: The crispy Earth.

RDM: She guided the fleet to get there. She takes us to that. That’s part of her experience that she remembers. She remembers traveling there, seeing there, and comes back to the fleet saying, “I know how to get to that place.”

In the finale, she makes an intuitive leap connecting the music as coordinates, enters the into the jump computer and those coordinates take us to the second Earth, this place.

MR: It was a little bit of a fakeout, you have to admit.

RDM: Yeah, we did a head fake. But I don’t think it crosses the line, I don’t think it’s unduly misleading. I think you accept it as you go along. And clearly [we] wanted people to draw the connection that it was going to be this Earth, but we also didn’t put anything in the show that prevented us from doing the finale the way we wanted to.

Continue reading See You On the Other Side: My Battlestar Galactica Post-Finale Interviews and Review

A 2007 Friday Night Lights Set Visit: Witnessing the How the Magic Was Made

This piece was originally published March 20, 2007. 

AUSTIN, Texas — A dusty field in Texas. A ramshackle house in a cash-strapped part of town. The cramped, battered office of a high school guidance counselor.

They’re all unlikely places for a creative revolution, but there’s no other way to describe what’s happening on the set of “Friday Night Lights,” NBC’s acclaimed series about life in the small town of Dillon, Texas.

Far from the bright lights of Hollywood, in vibrant yet laid-back Austin, the actors, writers and directors of the show have created one of the most realistic, subtle, enthralling dramas on any screen, large or small. And they’ve done it on this first-year show by breaking many of the rules of television.

“When I first came on [the ‘FNL’] set, I thought, it’s interesting — this is what I imagined filmmaking would be, before I saw what filmmaking was,” says executive producer Jason Katims, the show’s head writer and a veteran of beloved cult series such as “Roswell” and “My So-Called Life.”

“What I imagined it would be was, people moving really fast, actors trying this and trying that, everybody being very excited, and it being very creative and it being a place to sort of discover things. That’s what I thought it would be, and this is the first time I actually saw it work that way.”

Indeed, a visit to the set of “Friday Night Lights,” which touches on the fortunes of the Dillon High School Panthers football team but is much more about the lives of the residents of the town, demonstrates that the show’s creative process is like nothing else on television.

There are no fancy lighting setups. Actors are not only allowed but encouraged to improvise their lines. Every single scene is shot in real locations, unlike most TV series, which use prefabricated sets. And with inspiration from what director of photography David Boyd calls “gonzo documentary guys” such as D.A. Pennebaker and David and Albert Maysles, three cameras simultaneously record the action, capturing nuances and moments that many other shows ignore in their forced march to the next plot point.

It took a little time to settle into its groove — even NBC entertainment president Kevin Reilly says he got a little tired of the show’s “jiggly camera” style, which has been toned down since the pilot.

But over the past six months, as it has unfurled surprising, deeply human stories about an injured quarterback suing his coach; a high school boy’s attempt to care for his sick grandmother; and one couple’s attempt to raise a spirited, smart daughter while dealing with the pressures of modern life, “Friday Night Lights” has quickly become appointment television for a growing number of critics and fans.

One of several fan sites devoted to campaigning for a second “FNL” season,, has collected dozens of the show’s critical raves, and a recent Tribune column on the show prompted an outpouring of more than 100 positive emails and message-board comments from readers.

“Everything about the show just feels so natural and real, which is a rarity on TV. It’s not about quippy one-liners or bombastic arguments,” one commenter wrote. “All of the characters are flawed, some more than others. But all of it is beautiful to watch.”

Though the “FNL” audience has hovered around 7 million viewers, well below NBC’s expectations, its viewers are positively rabid about the show, as Reilly well knows.

“I just got an e-mail today forwarded to me from one of the heads of one of the major advertising agencies — and I literally get a version of this every day — saying this is the best television show in years, or the best television show on the air,” Reilly says.

“Everything’s real, and all the relationships [make you] feel like you know these people,” says Scott Porter, who plays former Panther quarterback Jason Street, the character who was paralyzed in the show’s first episode. “I think that’s why people who watch the show have such a strong connection to it.”

But if fans travel to Austin to find the show’s fancy soundstages, they’ll be out of luck. There is a bare-bones production office on the outskirts of the city, but there is no soundstage, there are no sets.

All scenes are shot in houses, businesses and stores in and around Austin, which is where you’ll find the gritty high school that doubles as the home of the Dillon Panthers, the tiny house that quarterback Matt Saracen (Evanston’s Zach Gilford) shares with his grandma, and the fast-food joint that doubles as one of the show’s hangouts, the Alamo Freeze.

On the farthest outskirts of Austin on a recent February evening, klieg lights and cranes carrying a rainmaking machine were poised like towering robots over that day’s set, which recently had been home to a herd of cows, judging by what was underfoot. In the March 28 episode, which was filming that night, circumstances force the residents of Dillon to build an improvised football field for an important Panthers game.

On the sidelines, Tim and Billy Riggins —actors Taylor Kitsch and Derek Phillips — tossed perfect spirals at each other during breaks in the filming. Extras wandered around in Dillon Panther shirts and waved pennants during the big plays, which were filmed until the wee hours. As the night wore on and this “Mud Bowl” episode lived up to its name, the actors playing the Panther team members and coaches were soaked by the rain and covered in mud. Nobody minded.

Addressing the show’s critical acclaim and glowing press notices, Kyle Chandler, who plays Coach Eric Taylor, said in an interview the next day, “I don’t think anyone’s going, ‘Oh, well, now I’m going to get this new car.’ I think all the actors on this show love the process more than anything we’ll get out of it in the long run. I love this process. It’s an actor’s dream.”

Shooting in real locations in Texas has given the show an authentic feel that it would never have had in Los Angeles, says Chandler, who was raised in a small town in Georgia.

“When you live in this town, you are from Texas. You’re experiencing and feeling it,” Chandler said. “Austin is a great place. It’s not hard to get ideas for your character when you just go to breakfast across the street.”

But there’s far more to the show than a palpable sense of place. The show’s actors and directors have unprecedented freedom to change lines, alter scenes and improvise moments that feel true to the moment and to their characters. And the show’s writers, who’ve come up with some of the most nuanced, compelling story lines on television (most of which don’t have a thing to do with football, despite the show’s origins as H.G. Bissinger’s non-fiction account of a real Texas high school football team), are fine with those improvised alterations.

“Truthfully, 95 percent of the time, the actors are only lifting up what we originally envisioned as writers,” says Katims. “Every once in a while, you’ll be like, ‘I wanted that line because I wanted that transition.’ But you work it out.”

But on most shows, changing one line – heck, one word — of dialogue can lead to tense negotiations between actors, director and writers.

“Normally you’ve got a writer sitting there, watching every single word,” says Jesse Plemons, who plays Landry Clarke.

In the tiny high school guidance counselor’s office that serves as the office of Dillon High School counselor Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), the quest to convey the emotional truth of a scene and not just recite each word as scripted was demonstrated again and again.

In the scene being shot that night, for a different upcoming episode, Landry is struggling to tell Taylor, a Dillon guidance counselor, about a friend who has been physically attacked. Taylor’s comforting words change slightly with each take. And the words Landry is struggling for come out differently every time; he doesn’t want to reveal the friend’s name, and at one point, Taylor thinks he may have been the one who was assaulted. The words keep changing, but the emotional impact only grows as Britton and Plemons mine the difficult emotions at the heart of this moment.

“We try to definitely hit all the points in a scene, but we’re allowed to change the lines around to kind of fit us and fit our characters,” says Plemons.

Continue reading A 2007 Friday Night Lights Set Visit: Witnessing the How the Magic Was Made

The Top TV Shows of 2018

Welcome, I am your TV-recommending algorithm. This AI swears a lot. 

First things first: Why are there 40 shows on this list? Because it’s my site and I make the rules. Unchecked power has turned me into an unpredictable wild-card cyborg. Wheee!

Real talk: There are 40 shows on this list because if you embrace the theory that ten percent of any field of artistic endeavor is good and/or worthy of deeper attention (and about two to five percent is great), this number isn’t hard to understand. Out of the 500 or so scripted and hundreds of other unscripted/documentary programs out there, there are bound to be at least 40-50 worthy or exceptional shows, if not many more.

Because I’m a drama queen, I feel the need to assert that this list does not contain all the shows I watched this year. I continue to watch several shows I’ve kept up with for some time, and I checked out dozens of other shows of varying quality and miraculously lived to tell the tale. This is my attempt to share the best of what I watched (and yes, I had to whittle this roster down from a higher number).

In any event, as a critic these days, you end up functioning as a nicer, more humane version of the algorithms that drive just about every other facet of daily life. Why are we nicer? Well, we sometimes sleep, so we’re not observing your habits and clicks at every moment. More importantly, we have better senses of humor and we are more likely to cry, shout, rant and cheer at random intervals, which keeps everyone on their toes.

Anyone deeply versed in TV is used to being asked the question “What should I watch?” These days, the answer requires a fair bit of algorithmic investigation. I usually reply by asking, “Well, what do you like?” There are thousands of new and old shows I could recommend, and that question gives me a sense of which recommendations to pitch.

Of course, I’m all for people trying shows outside their usual comfort zones — in fact, being curious is essential if we’re to discover the  unexpectedly awesome programs we didn’t know we needed. There are some shows I recommend regardless of what a person’s previous favorites have been. But if you get the sense that someone often likes to relax with traditional network comedies and then you recommend a pitch-black serial-killer narrative, everyone involved is likely to look back on that conversation with frustration.

This list is my partial solution to the fact that, these days, there really is something out there for just about everyone. You might not like what I like, not exactly, but that’s OK! Every one of us can both experiment with the new and relax into our comfort zones, and still have plenty to pick from. The result is that we’re not all going to like or even watch the same shows. It’s harder to find consensus and it can be challenging for some new shows to get noticed or create buzz. Those are dilemmas that affect the TV industry, no doubt. 

Even so, I don’t know that consensus is the be-all and end-all of cultural commentary. It has its uses and pleasures, but there are many pluses to this expansive television era as well. There is such a variety of tones, protagonists, settings, themes and ideas to choose from, and if you want to do a re-watch of a past favorite, that’s easily done too. (Although it’s worth noting — and lamenting — how many classic programs and interesting shows from the past are not easily available. That’s a real shame for a lot of reasons.) 

Being aware of a large number of shows you haven’t watched but come highly recommended can feel like you’ve got a lot of homework to get done; I don’t dispute that that’s a real sentiment I come across (and feel myself at times). However, I’m good with where things are now. I mean, I don’t dig the very niche thing “Patriot” does, but I love how hard Brian Grubb loves it, you know? I’m glad that these days, TV programs have a somewhat easier time finding ways to be incredibly specific about what they do and how they do it. 

And honestly, it’s not that hard for a show to gain buzz if it does something innovative, energetic and exciting. “Killing Eve” turned the familiar contours of a cat-and-mouse spy serial into something funny and weird and surprising. It wasn’t just good, it was great counterpoint to the dirge-y tone of too many other one-hours in the Time of Prestige Drift.

But sure, consensus — among critics, or among critics and viewers, among friends — may be a more nebulous concept these days. You may have to wait longer for people whose opinions you care about to see the show(s) you really want to talk about. But there’s a lot to talk about. In the TV realm, it’s still very possible to find thoughtful essays, smartly written features and incisive criticism.

Of course, the job of a TV critic has changed since I started doing it at the dawn of the aughts, back when critics rode dinosaurs to work and we actually still got some screeners in videotape form (it’s true!). It’s less like the gig of a film critic (who usually tries to at least see most movies every year and write about many of them) and more like the job of a book critic (who sifts through information about thousands of releases to see what’s worth checking out, let alone taking the time to cover or opine about). I’m sure it will evolve further, probably to the point where someone invents an AI critic that you just download into your brain. Be forewarned: It may try to sell you on “Spartacus” and “Jane the Virgin.” Just a wild guess.   

One observation about this list: As Alan Sepinwall wrote, this was not a year chock full of exceptionally great shows. There was some greatness on display! But it was more a year for a lot of solid B, B+ and A- endeavors (there was also a metric fuck-ton of Cs, Ds and Fs, yeeesh.) A number of new programs established themselves capably, but here’s what  predominated in 2018, in my opinion: A number of very good returning shows demonstrated their well-developed chops and showed that they knew exactly what they were doing.

So 2018 wasn’t a year that we saw a big array of flashy debuts or game-changers. It was a year that celebrated craft, discipline and the deep pleasures they can create when married to inspiration, thematic richness and psychological heft. 

Stan alert: A lot of shows got a lot of hype this year, and in many cases, that hype is fully deserved (except for the overrated shows, and let’s assume you and I are in complete agreement about which shows were overrated). However, some worthy offerings didn’t get their due in terms of attention, praise, press coverage or overall buzz. Regardless of your taste and inclinations, I would ask you to consider a few under-the-radar gems, especially “The Little Drummer Girl,” “A Very English Scandal,” “Vida” and “The Good Fight.” Of course I recommend everything else on this list! But those are the ones that need the hype, so consider them hyped.  

I have supplied you with 40 shows that were good, very good or great (and 14 more Honorable Mentions). But to narrow things down a bit further — because there is nothing critics enjoy more than agonizing over lists — here (in alphabetical order) are my Top 10 TV Shows of 2018“The Americans,” “Atlanta,” “Better Call Saul,” “BoJack Horseman,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “The Good Fight,” “The Good Place,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Killing Eve,” “One Day at a Time.” 

Finally, if a show you like is not listed anywhere here, assume it’s due to one of these reasons:

    • I didn’t have time to get to the show.
    • I didn’t finish its current season.
    • I sampled it and didn’t like it as much as you did.
    • I tried it and strongly disliked it. What were they thinking?
    • I’m a cruel hellbeast determined to bring pain and suffering to the world. (This is probably the reason.)

My Top 40 Programs of 2018

“Altered Carbon,” Netflix

This futuristic pulp serial was too convoluted at times, but I loved the world-building and the flashbacks to the timeline starring Renee Elise Goldsberry and Will Yun Lee. James Purefoy was also fabulous. More than anything, I want a spinoff starring Poe (the wonderful Chris Conner). My review.

“The Americans,” FX

Exceptional, moving, disciplined, brilliant. All the adjectives for an all-time great final season. Thanks for ruining trains for me, nerds! Here’s a review of the last season and a post-finale interview with stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys

“Atlanta,” FX

I know other episodes got a great deal of (deserved) attention, but I think about “Woods” — and its stylized but deeply truthful depiction of depression — all the time. What a buffet of riches “Atlanta” offered this year. The entire cast is fantastic, but Lakeith Stanfield and Brian Tyree Henry are on a whole other level. They’re once-in-a-generation actors, and we get to see them both on this show. I’m so grateful. 

“Better Call Saul,” AMC

This bittersweet season was the best one yet; it was beautifully modulated and quietly stellar. We know how good Bob Odenkirk is, but I love how “BCS” has given more and more screen time to Rhea Seehorn, Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks. They’ve made the most of it.  

“Bodyguard,” Netflix

What if “Homeland,” “24” and “Scandal” got together and had a baby? First of all, that would be messy. But the point is, you’d probably get something like the slick and propulsive “Bodyguard,” which contained a lot of ridiculous twists yet remained quite watchable. Richard Madden is very good in this.

“BoJack Horseman,” Netflix

No show mixes silliness with tragedy with more facility — I love how, through some alchemy, the goofier moments of “BoJack” deeply enhance the saddest scenes.  This year we got smart and lucid explorations of toxic masculinity, grief, addiction and damage, and as well as lube jokes and an uncontrollable sex robot running a television network. Rami Malek was top-notch as a world-weary showrunner who thinks his anti-hero drama is brave and challenging, when it’s really just dumb, sexist, obvious and entirely unnecessary. Diane and BoJack’s gripping argument in Episode 11 was the animated “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” I didn’t know I needed. That confrontation mined five seasons of character development beautifully, and that was just one of many stellar moments and adventurous gambits. All in all, this was an exceptional show at the top of its game. 

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Fox/NBC

I love this show so very, very much. This year seemed determined to kick us in the face several times per day, but when “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was uncanceled by NBC, I was both relieved and so freaking happy. This year we really needed pure joy when we could get it, and I got it while watching this excellent comedy and celebrating its survival. To the Nine-Nine! 

“Castle Rock,” Hulu 

I’m not really a horror gal, nor am I a Stephen King obsessive (I do like a lot of his work, especially the Dark Tower series, but I’m betting a lot of the references in this show passed me by). All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this character-driven study of loss, fear, memory and the difficulty of connection. It had some slower patches, sure, but the cast was outstanding and overall it was a satisfying and effectively atmospheric endeavor. Andre Holland was a wonderfully empathic anchor for everything that transpired, and “The Queen,” which explored the dementia Sissy Spacek’s character was experiencing, was thoughtful and moving. 

“Counterpart,” Starz

The first season, which debuted in January and which I reviewed, was quite entertaining. The second season began Dec. 9, and given the strength of the cast — and given that this show stars J.K. Simmons — I’ll watch. 

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” CW

One of the best shows on TV upped its game this year. The pre- and post- suicide attempt arc was exceptionally well done, and not only were the core character’s dilemmas examined in a compelling fashion, the storylines of the supporting characters were filled out wonderfully. Judging by the first several episodes of the final season, “CEG” is going out very strong. My feature/interview with the co-creators of the show, and a list of some of its best songs

“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” CW

Does your TV show have murderous unicorns, a brusque beer-swilling criminal who writes saucy romance novels on the side, a ship that can take the whole crew anywhere in time, and multiple charismatic bisexual characters having flirty adventures? If not, re-examine your life choices. The John Noble scene from this past spring belongs in the Smithsonian. A couple of my Twitter raves.

“Doctor Who,” BBC America

I was so excited to do a big feature on the past and present of this show this year. I also interviewed star Jodie Whittaker, which was delightful. As for the new season, I think the era of 13 is off to a solid start (“Rosa” was so good). 

“Everything Sucks!,” Netflix 

My review. This show really found itself by the end of its first — and unfortunately, only — season. Give this a look if you want a gentle, retro coming-of-age comedy. It may be of particular interest to viewers who would be into a thoughtful and sweetly funny story about a young LGBTQ woman coming to terms with who she is.

“The Good Fight,” CBS All Access

It pains me how little attention this show gets, because it’s one of the most frisky and bold dramas around right now (the clunky episode riffing on the Shitty Media Men list was a rare misstep, but everything else this year was so good that I was able to let that go). “The Good Fight” was wobbly in its first season, but it really found its feet by leaning into the surreal vibe and the helpless anger that often characterizes the Trump era. What a fantastic season. 

“The Good Place,” NBC

Absolutely delightful. I’m so glad this show exists (speaking of consensus, it’s the one show in our household we all abjectly adore). If I were doing a best episodes of the year list (and I’m not!), the recent “Janet(s)” would have placed very highly there.  I had fun doing this interview with creator Mike Schur

“The Haunting of Hill House,” Netflix

If you would like to have a hourlong conversation with my spouse, ask him if he’s ever seen Netflix’s “Money Heist.” (He has, and he will happily talk about for a very long time.) Better yet, ask him if he liked the final episodes of “The Haunting of Hill House” (reader, HE DID NOT). To be sure, this season was flawed: It was too long, and some underdeveloped characters got too much screen time and others didn’t get enough. And my word, despite having nothing but love for Henry Thomas and Carla Gugino, those parents seemed incredibly clueless and even cruel for letting those clearly traumatized kids stay in that house as long as they did (poor Luke needs eight million hugs). That said, Gugino was great (as were her wedge heels and flowing loungewear), Timothy Hutton, Thomas and several other cast members were also excellent, and one jump scare made me scream and dump an entire glass of water all over myself. When the show was on its A game, it was very good at creating creepy tableaux and disturbing atmospheres, and it was often perceptive about how grief, family history and trauma can be irrevocably intertwined. 

“Homecoming,” Amazon

Find someone who loves you as much as Sam Esmail loves overhead shots. A twisty and well-performed gem. And if it makes the trend toward economical and rewarding half-hour dramas blow up even further, hooray. 

“Howards End,” Starz

I had some real issues with this limited series (Matthew Mcfadyen is a good actor but he was miscast as Henry Wilcox, and thus the central romance didn’t really work). However, I would watch Hayley Atwell in anything, and much of the time, this was a quality showcase for her many skills. If you’re a Hayley fan and/or a costume-drama person, this is worth a look.

“Into the Badlands,” AMC

This action-adventure show just keeps getting better. It’s one of the most beautifully art-directed and shot one-hours on TV, and its action and fight choreography are to die for. In other words, I’m a hardcore stan

“Jane the Virgin,” CW

Still great. Here’s a look at one outstanding episode and an interview with showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman

“Killing Eve,” BBC America

Science tells us that many of the best TV shows are about believably complicated, often queer female characters who bestow upon us many highly gif-able moments. So damn good. Review

“Killjoys,” Syfy

I am a longtime superfan and I don’t want this show to leave us in 2019! Any functional description of this show — i.e., “found family in space” — is basically my love language.  

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” HBO

I remain impressed at this show’s ability to dig into serious issues and smartly explain them even as it remains nimble and entertaining and able to make me laugh until I get a cramp in my side.

“The Little Drummer Girl,” AMC

This miniseries looked great and the central performances were outstanding. Florence Pugh was just sensational in the lead role. Sidebar: As we all know, the central question of 2018 is whether Michael Shannon in “Little Drummer Girl” or Shea Whigham in “Homecoming” was the more awesome obsessed middle-aged guy in retro/weird glasses.

“Mary Kills People,” Lifetime/Hulu

Both seasons of this Lifetime offering are now on Hulu, and each season is only six episodes long. As I said in the reviews that (optimistically) three people read, it’s a brisk and thought-provoking drama that takes a serious topic (terminal people choosing to end their lives) and explores it with respect and insight without ever lapsing into grimness or tipping too far into comedy. The series is really more of a character-driven crime caper than anything, and a generally rewarding one at that.

“Miss Sherlock,” HBO

What’s that you say? You would like to watch a gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes series set in modern-day Tokyo? You would like your female Sherlock to sport a killer bob, have charisma for days and wear a designer trench coat like a champ? Then this bracing, comedically-tinged cocktail is for you. 

“My Brilliant Friend,” HBO

Literary adaptations don’t get much better than this. 

“Nanette,” Netflix

So many people wrote so many great thinkpieces about Hannah Gadsby’s comedy special; I highly recommend seeking out those essays. Or simply watch “Nanette.” And then watch it again. You may not agree with every conclusion Gadsby comes to, but the point was to move you, make you laugh and make you think. This exceptional and brutally beautiful hour succeeds wildly on those counts. This Gadsby bit is also worth a look. 

“National Treasure: Kiri,” Hulu 

This U.K. drama has nothing to do with the other “National Treasure” TV series that is also on Hulu in the U.S. (though they share a writer). Anyway, “Kiri” is very good (if dark), and Sarah Lancashire is typically incredible in it. Review

“One Day at a Time,” Netflix 

So, so wonderful. Here is one of my various love letters to this outstanding comedy. 

“Pose,” FX

I’m a simple person, I don’t ask for a lot. All I want is for Billy Porter, in character as Pray Tell, to narrate every moment of my life. Let me have this. Shoutout to Mj Rodriguez, who took a difficult central role and made it pulse with transfixing need and vibrant compassion. “Pose” acknowledged the realistic and often deeply unjust problems, biases and tragedies encountered by this varied array of characters — but it’s damned impressive how it folded all that into an overall narrative that brimmed with exuberant energy, gorgeous visuals and defiant joy. 

“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” Netflix

Beautiful to look at, informative and therapeutic all at once. Samin Nosrat is a delight as a host and travel guide, and the four-episode season left me hungry for more. The only shared universe that matters to me is the one that I am going to create between “The Wine Show” and “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.” I’m willing to consider a “Great British Bake-Off” crossover. Obviously, in this scenario, Ina Garten is Nick Fury.

“Sharp Objects,” HBO

Thanks for ruining dollhouses for me, nerds. 

“The Staircase,” Netflix 

Still weirdly transfixing on a whole bunch of levels. I wrote this review/appreciation earlier this year.

“Succession,” HBO

Cousin fucking Greg, amirite? Also, Kieran Culkin is next-level fantastic in this. The whole cast is excellent, but I can’t believe how much I enjoy Roman, who on paper I should hate quite a bit. If our planet is going to be run into the ground by sociopathic billionaires, they may as well entertain us richly and well on our way to the apocalypse.

“Superstore,” NBC

Anyone who ever stated that losing “Roseanne” was a problem because that would mean we wouldn’t have any mainstream comedies about working-class characters clearly didn’t know what they were talking about. Both “Superstore” and “One Day at a Time” (among other half-hours) constantly take on aspects of the lives of working and lower-middle-class Americans and turn them into comedy without being unrealistic about the daily struggle to pay the bills. Also, I truly believe the pack of weirdos from Cloud 9 could absolutely put a hardcore beatdown on the extended family of Logan Roy, for what that’s worth.

“A Very English Scandal,” Amazon

This brisk limited series is absolutely stuffed with brilliant performances: Hugh Grant does stellar work, and Ben Whishaw is (as always) exceptional in every way that matters. Speaking of TV somewhat generally, it gives me an exhaustion migraine when TV creators think the only way to signal that they are exploring complex ideas and and challenging themes is to adopt a bludgeoningly dark vibe, a literally dark palette, or a uniformly joyless tone. No. Life does not work like that! Even in the worst circumstances, human behavior does not stay within one narrow range of emotions or colors. Being almost uniformly joyless or Serious belies a fundamentally adolescent understanding of how tragedy works or how life operates. In any event, an intellectually adventurous, deeply focused work can be energetic and graceful and even fun! It’s true, tell a friend. Back to “A Very English Scandal”: It boasts a jaunty tone, a frisky energy, a slightly shaggy, enjoyably lived-in atmosphere — and a very, very sure understanding of what it wants to say about class, power, homophobia, love and bravery (or the absence of courage). It’s engaging and entertaining while making all those cogent points; it deftly balanced a wry, sarcastic tone with real understanding of — and sympathy for — its flawed characters. Three crisp episodes, and then it was done. Hooboy, I love a charmer that doesn’t overstay its welcome.  

“Vida,” Starz

What a gem. “Vida” created a world and characters worth following in six concise episodes. A lot of shows could learn from it.

“The Wine Show,” Ovation/Hulu

The biggest mistake I’ve ever made is not watching this show sooner. It involves attractive people — including a (sometimes) magnificently bearded Matthew Rhys in Full Welsh mode — wandering through beautiful villas sampling wines and learning more about what factors and elements can make a wine delicious. Wait a minute: Not watching this show until this year was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done, because now I still have lots more to watch. Advantage me.

“Wynonna Earp,” Syfy

I love this rollicking, emotionally engaging serial. I continue to be impressed by the skills of its game and talented cast, all of whom really went for it this season, and whoa, did it ever pay off. I can’t wait to see where things go next after that game-changer of a season finale. I have to add, obviously I’m a hardcore Nedley nerd. (Nerdley?) Last but not even remotely least, here is a  feature on the show, its history and its delightfully non-chill fandom. 

Honorable mentions:

“American Vandal,” Netflix
“Barry,” HBO (My review.)
“Billions,” Showtime
“Dear White People,” Netflix
“The Deuce,” HBO
“Fresh Off the Boat,” ABC
“Grown-ish,” Freeform (My review.)
“Insecure,” HBO
“Mosaic,” HBO (My review.)
“Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” Amazon (My review.)
“Save Me,” Starz
“Suits,” USA
“Trust,” FX
“Wild Wild Country,” Netflix

Finally: I love checking out other year-end Best of TV lists, and Metacritic has a great collection of those here. Also, I did a fair bit of TV reporting, writing, panel-ing and podcasting during the past year or so. You can find a lot of those links here