I think I can be forgiven for avoiding tough dramas this year, which already had enough misery. Even the hour-long series I did watch had plenty of humor. What can I say? The year started with an attempted insurrection, but eventually got brighter. Still, with a resurgence of COVID, it’s not surprising that all I wanted to do was laugh.
10. A.P. Bio (Peacock)
With the announcement that it’s finally been canceled (for real this time), I decided to give this final season the edge over the latest seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Search Party. With one of the best ensembles on TV, the show gave each of their main cast members a chance to show off their unique talents, including a bottle episode where the students try their hand at erotica. But the secret weapon of this show has always been its enormous heart, and it was hard not to get choked up when Jack is let down once again by his deadbeat dad (guest star Bruce Campbell).
Standout episodes: “Tornado!,” “Tons of Rue,” “Love, for Lack of a Better Term”
9. The Great (Hulu)
While this season occasionally felt a bit repetitive as Catherine and Peter scheme and delay their attempts at power, no show was better at both satire and crude jokes. (It also featured the most sexually liberated characters on TV.) A late season arrival by Gillian Anderson as Catherine’s bitchy mother pushed it to another level.
Standout episodes: “Dickhead,” “A Simple Jape,” “Five Days”
8. Ted Lasso (AppleTV+)
Despite what you may have heard, this season was good, actually. I may not be fully on-board with Nate’s heel turn, but it’s not a mistake to complicate characters who seemed to move in only one direction. If you wanted all the warm fuzzies, the show provided a new classic Christmas episode. But it also delivered an extremely twisted relationship reveal early in the season and delivered a splendid homage to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. That a show could do all this, and focus on the main character’s messy mental health journey, and still include all those dad jokes proves it still has a winning formula.
Standout episodes: “Lavender,” “Carol of the Bells,” “Beard After Hours”
7. Hacks (HBO Max)
My favorite binge of the year. What could have easily been 10 episodes of Boomer-vs.-Millennial fish-in-a-barrel jokes instead proved to be far more interesting for both Deborah (the great Jean Smart) and Ava (astonishing newcomer Hannah Einbinder). Both were richly drawn, and often wrong (and often unwilling to correct themselves). But both grew as comedians and people by season’s end. But the show also found time to give itself over to its equally compelling side characters, including Deborah’s manager Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) and daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson).
Standout episodes: “D’Jewelry,” “Falling,” “I Think She Will”
6. What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Part of me wonders if this was intended to be the last season, and a late renewal forced a rewrite of its odd finale. We’ll probably never know, but this was still a riotously funny season. There wasn’t a funnier half-hour of television than “The Casino,” which ditched the normal opening credits for depressing B-roll of Atlantic City and only got funnier from there. “Bazinga is the war cry of Sheldon,” a newly Big Bang Theory-obsessed Nandor states. Nandor actually became the focus of the season, stuck in a malaise after another failed relationship. Whether he was dancing in spandex or pretending to be hibernating while other vampires fondled him, Kayvan Novak never gave less than his all.
Standout episodes: “The Casino,” “The Wellness Center,” “A Farewell”
5. The White Lotus (HBO)
When the pandemic hit, HBO had some gaps in their schedule. So they turned to the notoriously fast Mike White to see if he had any ideas he could write and shoot (within COVID protocols) in a matter of months. It sounds like it would be a recipe for something slight but enjoyable. But that would seriously underestimate Mike White. Interrogating white privilege, the hospitality industry, colonization, classism, sexism, racism (both subtle and overt) and more, it’s serious in its themes yet hilarious in its execution.
Standout episodes: “New Day,” “Recentering,” “Departures”
4. Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
There’s no more reliable duo than Steve Martin and Martin Short. And there’s no genre more played out than true crime. But their marvelously constructed parody series delivered a compelling mystery and laughs of every sort. (My personal mark for truly great comedy.) I knew I would enjoy a show with these two and a cast that includes Nathan Lane, Jane Lynch and Amy Ryan. I just didn’t expect to enjoy it this much.
Standout episodes: “Twist,” “The Boy from 6B,” “Double Time”
3. Mare of Easttown (HBO)
Even though the accents could be funny, Mare provided procedural thrills and familial devastation without ever feeling like it was showing off (looking at you, True Detective). And for a grim show that dealt with suicide, drug addiction, incest and murder, it still managed to find humor in everyday interactions. It adds up to one of the most satisfying limited series of all time.
Standout episodes: “Miss Lady Hawk Herself,” “Fathers,” “Illusions”
2. Reservation Dogs (Hulu)
Had it not been for my No. 1 show delivering knockouts week after week, this would have been it for me. With a mostly Indigenous cast, an entirely Indigenous writers room and the kind of specificity that can only come from years of real experiences, Sterlin Harjo’s dramedy was a breath of fresh air. Yet for all the authenticity about the Indigenous experience in America, its youthful ambitions and adult regrets will feel instantly familiar to people of any background. Doing all that with a cast of newcomers – all of whom have their own sharply defined personalities – made this a miracle.
Standout episodes: “NDN Clinic,” “Come and Get Your Love,” “Hunting”
1. Succession (HBO)
What else is there to say? After two seasons that continually raised the stakes, the show took another leap, delivering nine weeks of self-serving maneuvers, devastating betrayals and cutting one-liners. These are the worst people on TV (even worse than the Gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), yet I always wanted to spend more time with them. That’s power.
Standout episodes: “The Disruption,” “What It Takes,” “All the Bells Say”
VICTIM OF PEAK TV
The Morning Show – Season 2
DIDN’T WATCH BUT PROBABLY WOULD HAVE LOVED (Besides the Marvel Shows)
The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+)
Can’t Get You Out of My Head (BBC)
City of Ghosts (Netflix)
Exterminate All the Brutes (HBO)
Impeachment: American Crime Story (FX)
It’s a Sin (HBO Max)
Midnight Mass (Netflix)
The North Water (AMC+)
Saturday Morning All-Star Hits! (Netflix)
Scenes from a Marriage (HBO)
Squid Game (Netflix)
Station Eleven (HBO Max)
The Underground Railroad (Prime)