Another year is in the books which means its time for lists! Because there’s nothing we love more at the end of a calendar year than ranking the things we spent our time watching. This year I’m doing things a little different with getting a full-blown top 20 rather than a top 10 and a ‘best of the rest’ list. There was simply too many shows that deserved recognition, that’s how much good TV there was! Let’s get start with #20-11:
One thing before we REALLY get started. I think I may have said this at the top of every one of these lists that I’ve done but there’s a ton of TV out there (in case you haven’t heard). So much of it is so very good and yet one can only watch so much. So for every show that I highlight in this list, there was always one or two (or ten) that I just didn’t have the time to watch (sorry Peaky Blinders) and thus, I can’t rank them in this list. Apologies in advance if your favorite got left off.
20. Game of Thrones (HBO)
I wrestled with where to put the final season of Game of Thrones in my list. On the one hand, it was an epic conclusion to one of the shows that defined the last decade. On the other, it was almost a total mess. While season 8 reached new heights in terms of scale with episodes like “The Long Night” and “The Bells” it was also racing to the finish line with little regard to proper pacing or paying off long-simmering plots and character arcs.
Most of my problems with this final season are summed up in my review from May but because of the craft on display and the joy of watching this show every week with friends, Game of Thrones earns a spot on the list. That ending may have been a let down, but man what a ride this show was.
19. Legion (FX)
What a weird show Legion was. From the mind of Noah Hawley (creator of Fargo), Legion was nothing if not true to itself right until the end. After a second season that veered too far into style over substance, the show returned with a much clearer focus in its final season. It was still weird as heck, make no mistake, but the story was paced much better. Dan Stephens and Rachel Keller continued to deliver solid performances as David and Syd while supporting performances by Harry Lloyd, Stephanie Corneliussen, and Lauren Tsai brought deeper emotional stakes to David’s story.
Legion was a beautiful, trippy, and often frustrating experience to watch but when all was said and done, I’m so glad I was along for the ride. I mean what other show would give us a rap battle between Jermaine Clement and Jason Mantzoukas? Have a look:
18. Mindhunter (Netflix)
The first season of drama based on the FBI agents who pioneered criminal profiling was a revelation when I premiered back in 2017. It took a sub-genre of the crime show and turned it on its head by focusing almost exclusively on interviews with already incarcerated killers and somehow it was more chilling than if we’d watched these crimes being committed. After a lengthly hiatus, the show was back with a season that played more like a traditional investigative show by focusing on the Atlanta child murders that took place between ’79 – ’81.
Even with a more traditional approach to the crime genre, the show was no less compelling thanks to strong lead performances by Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallaney, and Anna Torv and the same intense directing led by David Fincher that helped season 1 stand out like it did. While I was much cooler on this season than the first, it’s focus on the victims and institutional failings at the heart of the Atlanta murders was a heartbreaking and sobering look at the way justice doesn’t always look the way we want it to.
17. True Detective (HBO)
After the train wreck that was season two of True Detective, no one was sure when the HBO anthology drama was going to come back for a third season or even if we wanted it to. But the time off served creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto well and the show returned with Oscar winner Mahershala Ali at the lead and a story the hewed much closer to the celebrated first season. Thanks to a captivating lead performance and a strong sense of atmosphere, True Detective season 3 was a return to form for the series and left me anxious for what Pizzolatto does next.
16. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC)
After FOX decided to axe this delightful workplace comedy, NBC (which produced the show anyway) stepped in to give the show a second life on the network it probably should’ve been on in the first place. Praise God for corporate synergy! If the show had ended after season five we never would’ve gotten the hilarious real-time episode that parodied 24 nor the season-ending two-parter that brought all of the Nine-Nine’s allies and enemies to take down a corrupt police chief. Like any good comedy, you just love to spend time with these characters and I’m glad the show is gonna stick around for the foreseeable future.
15. The Good Place (NBC)
I don’t watch much on broadcast TV these days, so much of it is rote and boring but those words can never be used to describe The Good Place. As the show closed it’s third season and headed into it’s fourth (and final) it continued the same whimsical and hilarious rumination on the afterlife that we’ve come to know and love for the last 4 years. While the recent run of episode haven’t been the show’s strongest, a mid-season cliffhanger promised a very compelling endgame for the series once it returns in January.
14. The Expanse (Amazon)
Despite premiering in 2015 on Syfy, I was really late to watching The Expanse having to wait until each season dropped on Amazon Prime after it aired and by the time I finished it’s second season when Syfy cancelled it. Thankfully Jeff Bezos is a huge fan and Prime Video stepped in to renew the show for a fourth season. I’m only a few episodes in but the show has remained one of the best sci-fi experiences on TV thanks to deep world-building, a talented cast, and the production values to match.
13. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
Parting is such sweet sorrow isn’t it? It’s hard when good things leave and no series ending was more bittersweet for me than when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend bid adieu this past spring after 4 seasons. This hilarious and heartfelt musical comedy was always such a treat to watch as heroine Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) found director in her life and self-acceptance after a series of personal and romantic set backs. Watching her journey to self acceptance was filled with fits and starts (much life real life) but ultimately ended with hope and a ton of hilarious songs. Seriously, after 100+ songs the show was still cranking out the bangers like my personal favorite from the season, “Don’t Be A Lawyer.” Don’t miss this show, it’s all on Netflix waiting for you to dive in.
12. Big Little Lies (HBO)
How does a show intended to last one season, based on a single book, and packed with A-list stars come back for a second season despite exhausting the source material? Well the answer is simple, add Meryl freaking Streep.
Yes, despite being billed (and winning Emmys) as a limited series the success of season 1 of Big Little Lies proved too massive for HBO to say no to not ordering more. Miraculously all the stars were able to negotiate new deals and the gang got back together for more wealthy misadventures in Monterrey, CA. While this second season never quite provided a compelling narrative reason for existing, it was a tremendous blast to watch these incredible actresses play off each other again. The core 5 actresses once again brought their A-game and you add in Meryl Streep and that’s all the reason I need to watch.
11. Veep (HBO)
What is there to say about Veep that hasn’t already been said? After a long hiatus for star Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ cancer treatment this incisive political satire returned for a triumphant final season that brought the show to a surprisingly emotional conclusion while still brining a metric ton of laughs and nasty put-downs. I’ll miss this show for JLD’s legendary lead performance and for its ruthless tear down of men and woman who seek power at the expense of everything else.