The Ten Best TV Shows of 2020

If you’re wondering how long the year we’ve just experienced was, use the 77th Annual Golden Globes as a yardstick. The ceremony, hosted by Ricky Gervais, aired back in the first week of January. That’s right – Gervais’ controversial monologue, Bong Joon-Ho lecturing us about subtitles, Ramy Youssef explaining that people don’t know who he is – that all happened this year.

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How “The Queen’s Gambit” Became 2020 Comfort Food

It’s… been quite a year, hasn’t it?

I know there’s a running gag to refer to each new year as “the worst one ever,” but in retrospect, it feels like we were tempting fate. We’ve never experienced a calendar year like 2020, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that after we rip our calendars to shreds, burn them to ash, and salt the earth upon which they were cremated, I hope we never, ever experience one like it again.

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The “Animaniacs” Reboot Swings and Misses

The best scene in Hulu’s new Animaniacs reboot occurs right in the opening of the first episode. Parodying Jurassic Park, the scene features Steven Spielberg as a Professor Hammond stand-in, revealing to a group of slack-jawed scientists that he has “reanimated” the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister!) for the first time since the late 1990s. As the show’s version of Alan Grant notes the characters’ “clean, vectored outlines,” a nearby Hulu executive gloats that they’re going to “make a fortune” from these new characters.

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10 “Animaniacs” Episodes that Were Zany to the Max

It never fails.

I’ve heard the theme song well over a hundred times. I know every lyric by heart (and can decisively state the original line is “pay-or-play contracts”). But it doesn’t matter. Every time I get to the final verse – “We’re Animan-y… totally insane-y…” – the penultimate line always catches me off-guard. It could be common standby of “Here’s the show’s name-y,” but the writers could just as sneakily sub in “Chicken Chow Mein-y,” “Dana Delany,” “Citizen Kane-y,” or any number of other rhyming or quasi-rhyming phrases. Anything goes.

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“Teenage Bounty Hunters” Deserves a Second Chance

At some point in the last few years, the phrase “cancelled too soon” began to feel like a TV anachronism. We’d seen many TV shows get cut before their time in a hyper-competitive television environment, but as cable and streaming services began to broaden the horizons and increase the hunger for market-friendly content, the medium became a breeding ground for TV resurrections.

So it was that when FOX cancelled Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it was picked up by NBC; The Expanse went from SyFy to Amazon; Designated Survivor from ABC to Netflix; and One Day at a Time from Netflix to PopTV. We seem to have finally reached an age where TV shows only need a niche audience to guarantee their continued endurance for as long as the creators and cast are willing.

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“The Boys” is a Sharp Superhero Satire

The words “satire” and “parody” are often used interchangeably these days, but they shouldn’t be. A satire offers humorous commentary on the world using a popular or familiar creative work as its vehicle. A parody, however, lampoons the creative work itself, with social or cultural commentary rarely a focal point of humor. Put simply, a satire is a critique that features comedy; a parody is a comedy with specific critique. (This being October, it may be apt to draw examples from horror films: Scream = satire, Scary Movie = parody.)

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Emmys 2020: Which Shows Will Win?

There was the time that Alan Alda cartwheeled his way to the stage. There was the time Helen Mirren dropped an uncensored expletive on live TV. There was the time when Joan Rivers and Eddie Murphy cohosted and delivered a rather non-politically correct opening monologue.

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Will Peacock Take a Quick Bite of Apple?

Peacock Apple

It was only a few short years ago that the number of major streaming services could be counted on one hand. Yes, back in the halcyon days of the mid-2010s, people began buzzing about the possibility that Netflix and its few competitors would mean the end of traditional TV. After all, who needs a cumbersome and expensive cable bundle when you can get thousands of hours of entertainment with just two or three online services?

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Not What They Stream: Why Some Beloved TV Shows Aren’t Coming to Netflix

EdTV

We live in an incredible era – one where thousands of television shows are instantly at our fingertips. On top of the hundreds of DVD sets that studios continue to churn out each year, we have a treasure trove of new and classic TV awaiting us on over a dozen (and counting) streaming services. Gone are the days when we needed to wait to catch a rerun – DVD boxsets have allowed long-running TV shows to fit comfortably on our bookshelf, and Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and their ilk have provided us with massive libraries of their own. All in all, we have a seemingly endless world of TV to choose from.

But there’s the question: Is it really endless? While the streaming boom has made it easy for a new generation to become enraptured with shows like Cheers and The Sopranos and Buffy and Battlestar Galactica, not every show is as easy to find on a streaming platform. In fact, there are some TV shows – including some fairly popular ones! – that have never received a proper online release, or even a proper DVD set… and probably never will.

What follows are five such TV shows. We’ll go through each, one by one, and try to learn why they don’t have a shot at a legal release. (Operative word there being legal – most of these shows can probably be found on bootleg DVDs or through low-quality YouTube uploads. But an official, authorized release is virtually impossible.)

We begin with…

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Gargoyles: An Ambitious Animated Series Ahead of Its Time

Gargoyles

As stated previously, I’ve begun writing pieces about great (and often overlooked) TV shows you can stream while cooped up at home these days. Enjoy, and keep washing those hands.

The early ‘90s were a prosperous time for American animation. The merchandise-driven cartoons of the ‘80s (sorry, He-Man and GI Joe – you wouldn’t be on TV if they didn’t have toys to sell) had given way to a more serious quality of storytelling and production in children’s entertainment. Now studios were investing in better writing and animation to tell stories for the young generation that would someday be known as Millennials.

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Deadwood: HBO’s Greatest Drama

Deadwood

As stated previously, I’ve begun writing pieces about great (and often overlooked) TV shows you can stream while cooped up at home these days. Enjoy, and remember to wash your hands.

It may seem odd that I’ve waited this long to write about Deadwood, but my resistance can generally be boiled down to two factors: (1) The multitude of writings about this series across the Internet, both on series and episodic bases, meant that a lot of things I could say about the show have probably been said already, and (2) the rather colorful dialogue would make it difficult to write about the series in detail without violating this website’s relatively family-friendly guidelines. (Attention to any kids who, against all odds, follow my work: Don’t watch Deadwood. Yet.)

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Extras: A Showbiz Satire from Across the Pond

Extras

As stated previously, I’ve begun writing pieces about great (and often overlooked) TV shows you can stream while cooped up at home these days. Enjoy, and remember to wash your hands.

One of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes comes from the show’s final season, a convention-breaking entry called “Lower Decks.” Rather than focusing on Picard, Data, or any of the show’s other colorful leads, the episode turns the camera on a group of side characters, the oft-nameless “Redshirts” who populate the background shots of the Enterprise and rarely if ever get a line. These characters were typically used as cannon fodder in the original Trek, but “Lower Decks” takes an extended (and unexpectedly poignant) look at a few of the Starfleet officers beyond the Bridge, reminding us that even the most inconsequential background extras have lives of their own.

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Modern-Day Simpsons: 22 Episodes Worth Watching

Simpsons 22

Earlier this year, The Simpsons kicked off its latest season. Its thirty-first, to be precise.

Though I’ve been watching the show since childhood, I’m continually amazed when each new season begins: “It’s been on how long?” In 2009, the show broke the record as America’s longest-running scripted series (previously held by Gunsmoke), and last year, it broke the record for most episodes ever produced for a scripted series (previously held by… Gunsmoke). And in 2021, The Simpsons will become the longest-running sitcom in the world.

But with each mention of the show’s immortality, someone invariably brings up the caveat. “The Simpsons isn’t funny anymore. It hasn’t been funny since the ‘90s.”

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The Rise of Blockbuster TV

Mandalorian (2)

Millenia after our civilization reduces itself to a pile of ash and nuclear waste, alien archaeologists will ponder many questions – chief among them being “Who were these creatures, and why were they so obsessed with ‘streaming services’?” As they sift through the rubble with meticulous tentacles (or maybe hands – sorry for the stereotype, aliens!), they will attempt to piece together how this unorthodox form of televisual consumption came to be, how it grew in popularity – and the moment it went too far.

And if my prediction is accurate (again, it’ll be a few thousand years till we’re sure), they will conclude that moment to be somewhere in November 2019.

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Emmys 2019: Some Well-Deserved Wins Can’t Save a Boring Ceremony

Emmys19Winners

In retrospect, I can’t fault the producers of the 71st Annual Emmy Awards for choosing to go without a host. Certainly, someone looked at the year’s earlier Oscar ceremony, which proved competent and watchable even with the unfilled vacancy left by the ousting of Kevin Hart. And certainly that person also theorized that it probably wasn’t worth the time and effort to track down a celebrity host for the Emmys and then learn from the world’s most valiant anonymous trolls that said celebrity had written a couple of off-color tweets in 2008. Add in the fact that this year’s show was broadcast on FOX, a network which doesn’t have any late-night hosts to fall back on (their last Emmys was hosted by Andy Samberg, star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine – a show the network no longer even owns) and you could be forgiven for allowing the production to air without an emcee.

But having sat through last night’s extremely boring and extraordinarily unfunny ceremony, I will take anyone to the mat if they suggest that the Emmys should continue this trend into next year.

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Emmys 2019: Who Will Win?

Emmys19

Okay, full disclosure: I originally wrote a long introduction to this piece about whether or not we should care about the Emmys this much (we shouldn’t) and what they say about the state of TV at large (very little). But then my dinosaur-age computer blew a fuse and said intro was lost to history. So I’m just going to skip the intro and dive straight into what it says on the tin: Who will win this year’s Emmy awards?

(Also, obligatory reminder that roughly 50% of the money you make from these predictions rightfully belongs to me.)

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What the End of “One Day at a Time” Says About the Future of Netflix

One Day At A Time

On Thursday, Netflix cancelled One Day at a Time, its delightful revival of Normal Lear’s 1970s family sitcom of the same name. In an apologetic Twitter statement, the streaming service stated that, despite their love for the show, “simply not enough people watched to justify another season.”

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The 10 Best TV Shows of 2018

BestShows18Top

In the introduction to last year’s installment of my annual “Best TV Shows” series, I lamented the fact that television had grown so voluminous in its content, and so fragmented in its appeal, that great shows no longer stood out the way they once did. Competitive-minded producers, sensing the need to stand out in an increasingly crowded field, have birthed countless shows designed to appeal to smaller and smaller demographics. And while some of these little-watched shows have been quite good, most of them… uh, no longer need to be.

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10 Great Pop-Culture Books of 2018

Books18

It’s that time of year again. The time when all the uppity and pretentious critics all hunch over their desks and type out their picks for the best films/shows/books/albums/games/celebrity pratfalls of the last 12 months. As a somewhat uppity and pretentious critic myself (albeit one who doesn’t hunch, for posture purposes), I’m all too eager to join the fray. I’ll be posting my “Best Films of 2018” piece next week, with a “Best TV Shows of 2018” article following shortly after.

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2018 Emmys: The Revolution that Wasn’t

Emmys2018.jpg

When it comes to the Emmy Awards, I’ve long held two mindsets. The Jekyll in me wants to root for the nominees I love, and cheer whenever a lesser-known gem takes home the gold. But the Hyde in me is urged to snark my way through the ceremony, mocking the self-important Hollywood types who’ve devoted a dry and often artless night to congratulating themselves.

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The Important Lesson of the Seinfeld Finale

SeinfeldFinale.jpg

May 14, 1998, marked the end of two pop-cultural touchstones. One was Frank Sinatra, who died in Los Angeles at the age of 82. The other was the TV series Seinfeld, which aired its final episode on NBC that evening.

It may seem trivial to lump a man’s life with a TV show, but while Sinatra was mourned by many, the end of Seinfeld garnered even greater recognition. NBC devoted its entire Thursday night comedy block to the show – an hourlong retrospective clip show, followed by the hourlong finale. The episode attracted over 76 million viewers, making it one of the most-watched TV finales of all time. (No other series finale since then has come close to that number, with only one – the Friends finale – even getting halfway there.)

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The Top 15 TV Shows of 2017

BestShows17top

2017 may have at last been the year in which quantity overtook quality.

With over 500 shows airing this year, across more networks and streaming platforms than ever before, the world of television is bursting at the seams. And the effects were clear: This year saw multiple networks (WGN, A&E, Cinemax) get pushed out of the scripted-TV business by sheer force of competition. There was a narrowly-averted writers’ strike, attributed largely to the evolving nature of the business. And some of the best shows on television slipped between the cracks unnoticed, with viewership numbers that scored in the mere six-digits.

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A Complete Guide to Studio 60 (Part 2)

Studio60Pt2

I wasn’t sure if I’d have the strength to finish this guide. Studio 60 takes a lot out of a guy, particularly when he reviews 11 episodes in one go. But I’ve been watching a lot of Saturday Night Live lately, and it’s reminded me that – even after all these decades, and even in a largely uneven season – sketch comedy can still bring joy to the world. It can bring laughter to us when we most need it.

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The Mouse and the Fox: Some Thoughts on the New Disney Deal

DisneyFox
After weeks of swirling rumors, the news has finally been confirmed: Disney is buying 20th Century Fox.

The mouse-eared media giant announced its plans yesterday to buy out one of its chief cinematic rivals, acquiring the rights to the X-Men, Avatar, The Simpsons,, and a slew of other TV and film properties in the process. The cost for this maneuver? A little over $52 billion.

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