Welcome to, not just golden age, but the platinum age of scripted American TV programs. Gone are the days of accusation that watching too much TV is not good for our well being. The concern instead is that there are too many good TV shows that one is impossible to watch the all. Thus, you may find some other critically-acclaimed shows are not listed here, because 1) this is a personal list, and 2) I have no time yet to watch those shows yet.
Mind you, there are other shows that do not make the cut in the top 10 list below, yet I still watch them because you cannot just watch 10 TV shows in a year. There are simply too many good TV programs out there. But thank you, TV! You show us that good story and good storytelling are found in TV these days.
Alright, the list, in alphabetical order, starts with:
1. THE AFFAIR
I started watching the entire first season earlier this year, and boy, was I hooked from the start. The series takes a hardly original approach of telling an illicit extra marital affair from both he-said and she-said perspectives, but what unravels in further episodes take us by surprise. Noah Solloway may be the most complex, despicable and well-written family man character in television right now, yet we can not just say otherwise to Alison Lockhart with her doe eyed soulful persona. It is possible to have a series that leaves you devastated week after week.
Not many series get better each season, but The Americans does get better, if not more thrilling. Each season brings the tension closer and more gripping, and season 3 of The Americans may be its best yet. Paige finally learns the true profession of her parents. This brings many opportunities of future developments, as the storyline progresses to the peak of Cold War in mid 1980s. The terror is getting more subdued, and feels real. It’s a crime that the series is still overlooked by the Emmys so far.
I put it simply: it is possible for a TV show to laugh at itself (and its presumably core audience), be genuinely funny, and be heartwarming in almost every week. What an achievement, indeed.
The set-up wins: an American guy impregnates a British girl during their one night stand. What follows is nothing but hilarity that ranges from chaos to madness. I cannot get enough of the short season, as it packs more rom-com moments than any other series attempting the same.
Anywhere you turn, you can never escape the Lyons, especially the cracking wits of Cookie Lyon, played with feisty persona by the great Taraji P. Henson. The show grows its audience week after week until it becomes a cultural phenomenon. It has been described as Dynasty for R&B and hip-hop millenials, which worries me the most for being excessive in style in future seasons. But as long as Cookie’s in the house, the matriarch shall balance the entire kingdom. Bring the kidnaps, murders, and music then.
Perhaps the series has the most serious treatment among other superhero series right now. In fact, I am torn between choosing this over other noteworthy entries, i.e. Agent Carter and The Flash. Yet, for what it is worth, Daredevil gives us, pun intended, justice. The series equals straight-forward action scenes with multi layered characters and muted, often heavy dramatic moments that bring the entire serious feel almost like a work of art. For real. The last four episodes of the season will put you on the edge of your couch.
7. MAD MEN
We say goodbye to Don Draper and co., with the last scene that easily goes down as one of the finest in TV history. But if you watch carefully, it is the women of Mad Men that soar in this last season. Joan Harris, Peggy Olsen, Betty Francis, and even Sally Draper, each one of them are given prominence in their roles that we can only daydream how great it will be if there’s a spin-off among them. As the show stops before the feminism era, we imagine that their imaginary prominence will play pivotal role should there be a continuation. Alas, the show ends on a high note, and as a fan, I cannot be more satisfied than that.
I dare you not singing, or at least humming, its theme song after binge-ing the series even for just after 3 episodes. The theme song is indeed addictive, and so is Titus Andromeda’s Pinot Noir. Don’t Google or Youtube that. Oh, you just did? Well then. Good luck!
The most surprising new drama of last year airs in Lifetime channel, associated with its female-centric tearjerker shows. UnReal is still female-centric, but tearjerker it ain’t. It offers a fictionalized behind-the-scene look of a reality program a la The Bachelor, where dramatic moments are unfold as staged by the deceptive, manipulative, ruthless characters played with excellence by both Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer. You can feel the female bromance between the two against their love-hate bantering and wits. You root for them each week as they keep showing their flaws, and still hold their heads high among the seas of men as their objects of frustration. Perhaps it is the most daring program of last season, and no one notices yet.
I have no idea how they do it. How can a show get more hilarious every season? Just when I thought the season 3 is the funniest yet, the presidential campaign in season 4 pushes the funny envelope further, with a welcome addition from Hugh Laurie and his surprisingly acute comic timing. Julia Louis-Dreyfus could not be funnier than in this season. As we anxiously await the result of the presidential election in the series, here’s a cheers for Armando Ianucci as the creator of the series. Thank you for the wonderful 4 seasons you have helmed. Even without your presence as the show-runner in subsequent seasons, we always have the entire wacky, incapable team of Susan Meyer to humor us. The Emmy for Best Comedy Series is justified.