#5 The Nuanced Thriller: The Americans
This is the show I’d brave arguing with my mother-in-law for.
Tatyana, originally from the southern Russia, is especially sensitive to any Eastern European stereotypes in movies or TV and I don’t blame her – I’ve sat through enough Bonds, James Bonds, Die Hards and other action movie franchises (even some used-to-be good ones – I’m looking at you, Indiana) to feel the pain of the botched Russian accent and predictable evil sneer.
But in “The Americans” there are Soviets and there are Americans and there patriots and traitors and overprotective parents and ruthless spies, and the lines between those divisions are not just crossed, but muddied to the point where the depths contained in single characters transform a mundane scene – there is lots of dish washing going on in the “The Americans” – into one of nail-biting tension. Though I haven’t yet convinced her, I’m certain that one day I’ll get Tatyana to try the show and weigh for herself the truth of these portraits of the confused and often self-sabotaging people who once fought in the shadows of the Cold War.
There are also lots of wigs and some rad 80s music.
#4 – The Unexpected Musical: Bob’s Burgers
#3 The Anti-Romcom Romcom: You’re the Worst
This is my romcom spot and anyone who knows or follows me might have expected it would feature the show created by and starring one Ms. Mindy Kaling. While I adore Mindy’s sass, style, humor and just the general way she seems poised to take over the world, being perfectly honest with myself means admitting that her show, “The Mindy Project” can be hit or miss.
“You’re the Worst” hit every one of the 10 episodes in its premiere season out of the park – and there are layers of entertainment goodness that just keep giving: the best supporting characters on TV, philosophical debates about “Ferris Bueller”, a mangled heckling of Sandra Bernhard and most essentially – candid and hilarious conversations about sex, commitment, death, love, parents, PTSD and the horrors of having to grow up.
#2 The Cold-Blooded Killer: Fargo
In Chicago there’s a generally held belief that one positive result of our frigid winters is they discourage violent crime – as the temperature drops, so does the murder rate. The same can’t be said of the icy Minnesotan landscape of FX’s “Fargo” – as seemingly good folk go about their lives bundled from head to toe against the cold, hitmen and vengeful husbands commit their crimes with abandon and little thought of the problems of body disposal.
While it’s probably not a great idea for anyone writing about TV online to speak ill of this year’s almost universally praised, “True Detective,” here I go anyway. For me that show managed to disappoint a little bit each episode from its midpoint on. It seemed to want to use supernatural and philosophical abstractions to support and propel it’s densely wound mystery, but instead its story floated off into the ether and those final 30 minutes, the big reveal and revelation, left me deflated, saying “oh… huh….ok”.
“Fargo”, so tangentially connected to the Coen brothers, but so firmly placed in their world, never strays from this earth, finding all the evil, yearning and struggle needed for a quality show right there in the people of Bemidji (and a few pesky out-of-towners.) The plot builds and twists till you’re never sure who could and might be responsible for another character’s murder, blackmail or kidnapping. Rather than look to the stars or a mystical spirit, “Fargo” finds all the makings of its boogeyman inside regular ole people like you and me.
I should also probably admit that this show had me at hello, the “hello” being the prospect of bringing Billy Bob Thorton into my living room every week. He’s just so great at playing a shifty sonofabitch, and his “Fargo” character wins the title for Most Shifty Sonofabith of all.
#1 The Animated Show about a Talking Horse and Death: Bojack Horseman
To get a glimpse into the implausible and offbeat world of Bojack, look no further than the opening credits, in which our main character’s head (which is that of a horse, of course, of course) floats through a typical day in his life as a washed-up television star – starting from his bed in his Hollywood Hills mansion, and almost ending at the bottom of it’s pool:
What sets Bojack apart from his surroundings isn’t the fact that he’s a talking, sweater-wearing, whisky-drinking, cocaine-snorting horse. In this show, animals are people too, though two papparazi who happen to be birds still crave seeds and Bojack’s publicist, a quick on her feet feline, keeps a scratching post in her office. You might think the resulting menagerie would feel whimsical, but don’t forget that this is Hollywood, baby, the place where dreams, whether they be those of people or anthropomorphic animals, come to die.
And it’s Bojack’s realization of this – he peaked 20 years ago on a cheesy family sitcom – that keeps him from connecting to anyone, keeps him floating through his life, usually with the help of drugs and alcohol, unable to land any sort of personal or professional victories. Those around Bojack are cynical, but still hold out some hope that they can turn things around: Mr. Peanut Butter with his reality show, Princess Carolyn (the aforementioned publicist) with Andrew Garfield, or Diane, Bojack’s ghostwriter and possible love interest, with her warts and all biography of him. As they work and claw toward love, recognition, immortality, all wrapped up in the guise of fame, Bojack’s complete despair strands him on the sidelines, watching from the comfort of his inflatable pool raft.
Sure, this show is funny – the writers, animators and voice-actors (especially Will Arnett) all do a fantastic job of finding the humor in the drugged-out, desperation-filled world of Hollyweird. But on a show where an animated dog named Mr. Peanutbutter throws out a line like,”The key to being happy isn’t to search for meaning, it’s to keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense and, eventually, you’ll be dead,” it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry – for most episodes of this fantastic show, I ended up doing some of both.