This is a live list where I rank TV shows. If something isn’t on the list, it will be someday. Leave your comments and we’ll talk. I give a lot of weight to scope, scale, and depth. If a show is higher than you expect, it probably did one or all of those things very well. If it’s lower, well, it probably frustrated me.
Rankings: updated 3/13/23
- The Last of Us (1)
- Arrested Development
- Letterkenny (1-11)
- Mad Men
- Boston Legal
- Stranger Things (1-4)
- Mythic Quest (1-3)
- Velma (1)
- Yellowjackets (1)
THE LAST OF US
I’m a few hours removed from the season one finale of The Last of Us and I’m just a bit torn. I should get it out of the way: the show is awesome. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey did an amazing job. Narratively, there are some tremendous highs and dynamite individual episodes. The most impressive thing to me is how the show handles Joel’s grief and how it builds to his decision to save Ellie. Knowing what happens in the finale, if you re-watch the show, you’ll see all the ways it foreshadowed the choice he made. Even drove him to that choice. That’s not an easy thing to do. To deliver that kind of character journey with a degree of subtext that a lot of views will feel but maybe not understand. It’s brilliant. And a testament to Neil Druckmann, Craig Mazin, and everyone else who put The Last of Us together.
With that said, I did have complaints. I’m not a fan of how relegated the infected were. Especially when the climax is built around potentially finding a cure. You almost get the impression that people have survived the worst of what the infected had to offer and that over time they’ll be alright anyway if they can just survive long enough. Don’t get me wrong, in the world of the story, the cure would still be important. But to the viewer watching this story unfold, the main issue Ellie would solve kind of feels like an afterthought for much of the last few episodes.
I also thought the mall episode was a bit indulgent. Only because we already had the Bill and Frank episode. I loved the Bill and Frank episode. But to have another bottle episode that’s about two people developing their relationship and ending on a downturn…eh. You can try to make both work, and I’m sure there are people out there who love both, or who prefer the mall episode. But when you only have 9 episodes in a season, having two episodes that are that similar doesn’t sit well with me.
Lastly, I thought Joel saving Ellie didn’t feel climactic enough. It wasn’t bad, per se. I just thought it wasn’t as impressive as I expected it to be given the highs of earlier episodes and sequences. I thought this would be the season’s coup de grace. It struck me as almost a bit muted or impersonal? A little quick? In the video game, as you’re moving through the hospital, you hear tapes from Marlene and the head doctor. Those tapes give more context and humanization to the people Joel’s murdering. But how the show goes about it, they’re just kind of randoms that Joel mows down. The cult in the previous episode got more characterization. The revolutionaries in Kansas City got two whole episodes. But this group that could save humanity through a cordycep vaccine gets absolutely nothing? That doesn’t sit right with me.
Again, The Last of Us is fantastic, an instant classic. It’s just when we’re talking about the very best shows, nit-picky stuff is what makes the difference. I’m very excited about season 2. Like…really excited. I watched my wife play the game and if they translate it to TV as well as they did the first one—we are in for a treat. I think a strong second season can definitely bump The Last of Us into a higher ranking, too.
Ballers is a mess. It’s one of the lowest quality HBO shows I’ve ever watched. There are probably lower quality HBO shows? But not many. I’m someone who picked up Entourage during season 3, when it kind of had its moment after the heat wave episode. I was in college and it was one of those “let’s all get together each week and watch it”. Things were pretty rough by season 5, so the watch parties ended. But I remember when Ballers came out that everyone was saying it was supposed to be the spiritual successor to Entourage. I wasn’t expecting The Wire, right? But I hoped that maybe Ballers would be on par with Entourage, or at least have a good season or two.
Unfortunately, no. Every season of Ballers is “Spencer needs to make a deal that seems impossible.” Then he makes the deal. Then the season ends. The next season just introduces a new deal and all the previous stuff feels completely inconsequential. And there’s always some random personal issue Spencer has that’s important for that single season then never talked about again. My favorite thing is that at one point they mention Spencer is in consideration for the Hall of Fame then much later they casually mention he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Like that’s not something that warrants an episode? He never even talks about what it means to him to be in the Hall. It’s merely something thrown in.
The writing issues trickle down to the other characters. Every single season there’s a big arc about Ricky Jerret’s contract. Between episodes, Ricky even wins a Super Bowl. Does the show focus on that journey and what it meant to Ricky? Nope. It goes right into the next contract negotiation and whether or not a team will still want Ricky. I’m not exaggerating when I say every season has a Ricky Jerret contract plot. They went back to that plot point over and over and over and over again.
When I think about Ballers, I find it mind boggling that not only did a group of writers put forward these stories as their final ideas but that a bunch of other people read them, thought about them, then signed off on them. Don’t even get me started on the whole The Sting thing they tried to pull off.
With all of that said, the actors did a tremendous job with what little they had to work with. So even though I hated what I was watching, I enjoyed who I was watching, if that makes sense? Rob Corddry was amazing. John David Washington was amazing. Omar Miller was awesome. Donovan W. Carter was hilarious. London Brown got to show off. Jazmyn Simon often stole the show. And Troy Garity kind of did steal the show. It was also awesome to see Dulé Hill and Richard Schiff again, though what a wasted opportunity to never give them a scene together.
Ultimately, Ballers has a talented group of people trying their best. And there’s something endearing to it when you stop hoping for the show to get good and just accept its nonsense. It’s missing a lot. But it has a degree of charm. Enough so that I’m not angry that I watched it. I’m rooting for the entire cast in whatever each of them do next.
Oh, I also love that there’s a whole conspiracy theory that the season 4 storyline about the NCAA actually caused the NCAA to threaten to sue and that’s why season 5 makes absolutely zero mention of it. Amazing.
Atlanta is a serious gem. Definitely one of the most boundary pushing of its era. Barry‘s probably the only other major show that uses surrealism to such great effect. It’s such a fine line to walk. But Atlanta manages to be dramatic, hilarious, bizarre, and satirical. It’s subtle but loud. It’s grim yet hopeful. It keeps you at arm’s length but you feel like these are your friends. It’s an assemblage of contradictions. And I love it.
I’ve seen Atlanta all the way through pretty much twice. Season 1 was definitely stronger than I remember it being in 2016. Season 2 was, on the whole, less weird than I remember it being. Though it makes sense because when I first saw it I was only comparing how weird S2 was to S1. Seasons 3 and 4 are so much weirder that 2 seems normal in comparison (Teddy Perkins, aside). If I was ranking the seasons, I think I’d go reverse order. 4, 3, 2, 1. It’s not like 1 is bad. Atlanta just got that much better as it went along.
I gotta say, Brian Tyree Henry was, for me, the absolute best. The whole cast is astounding. Star-making performances from Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield, and Glover. But the heart and soul and engine of the show was Henry. The episode with him on the farm was so compelling and that’s mostly due to how incredibly watchable he is. His emotional range is championship caliber. I’m convinced though that any one of the four could, or should, or will win a best acting Oscar at some point.
The only weak point for me was the ending. On the one hand, it’s nice. I got closure. I’m happy for the characters. On the other hand, the implication of “It was all a dream” didn’t hit for me. I’m not sure how earned it was. To be fair, Darius did talk about simulation theory multiple times throughout the show. But in Inception, there’s a whole subplot about dreams vs reality. So when it ends on the top spinning, on this question of “is this a dream or real?” it’s done the work to justify that place. In Atlanta, it’s mostly something introduced in the final episode.
It does potentially solve the question of “How did all that surreal stuff happen?” But if it’s true, if it was a dream, then who is the real Darius? Did Earn and the others even exist? If not, what’s it mean that Darius dreamed all this? What’s his reality? I think the answer to that question is incredibly important as Atlanta‘s ultimate statement.
If it’s not true, if Darius just had a mental break. Does that matter? We assume Earn and Al get him a good lawyer and nothing bad happens. They just go on with their lives. If that’s the case, then it’s a pretty weak way to conclude. If something more serious does come of this, what is it? Like at the end of The Sopranos, you know what the stakes are. At the end of Inception, you know what the stakes are. With the end of Atlanta, I don’t really know the stakes.
So it’s a strong idea, I just don’t think it was executed all the well. It’s ambiguous and interesting enough that people will think it’s deeper than what it actually is. But it’s it reads to me more of like “Well, we want to end the show, so let’s just give them something that feels like an ending” more than a climactic, conclusive statement that the entire show built to. There is something to the idea of achieving your dreams that resonates throughout the series. So it’s not like the ending is without any merit whatsoever. I’m not saying that. Just that I think they were more concerned with wrapping up the show rather than finishing the message. Still, it’s a better ending than a lot of shows. I’m being a bit more critical because Atlanta was that good. When I compare it to the end of The Wire, though? That’s what keeps it out of the Colossal category. 9 rather than a 10.
MYTHIC QUEST (1-3)
Mythic Quest is a show that I’m rooting for, that has some great moments, and a terrific cast, but hasn’t really found its footing.
Season 3 was a bummer. It really felt like the writing team started chasing its own tale. The central conflict can’t always be “Ian and Poppy can’t work together but figure it out at the end”. It happened in season 1. It happened in season 2. And even though S2 ended with a big breakthrough for them, season 3 went right back to the same well. It’s boring. I want to love this show. The cast is awesome. The humor is great. But when the overall story takes such a step back, especially in the third season when you hope they’d be figuring it out…that’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. Such a shame.
With that said, it did feel like they finally found some direction for Dana and Rachel. That was cool. All the Dana and Ian scenes were some of the best of the season. And having Rachel and Brad together also brought new energy. Of course, the signature flashback episode was arguably the best of the season. I cried a lot. Mythic Quest does these look backs so well. And, of course, the holiday episode was one of the worst. As is tradition.
Hopefully when they write season 4 they get it together and give Ian and Poppy more to do that isn’t “we get along, we don’t get along, big gesture”. If it happens one more time, I’m going to scream. I trust to Rob. So here’s hoping.
It’s a shame Reboot will only ever be one season. It had potential and seemed to be finding a groove. I definitely think it’s worth watching the single season, especially since it ends in a place where you can make up a decent head canon conclusion for the characters. So I was satisfied and happy I took the time to watch it. Whoa. I just stopped writing this to look at the cast and did a double take because I had no idea that Alyah Chanelle Scott played Timberly. I didn’t even recognize her. Sex Lives of College Girls has been fantastic and her character on that is one of my favorite parts. Wow. Alyah has range! I liked that Reboot had a good balance of established voices like Judy Greer, Paul Reiser, Keegan-Michael Key, and Johnny Knoxville, while giving equal prominence to Rachel Bloom, Calum Worthy, and Krista Marie Yu. A lot of potential that was unfortunately cut short. Hopefully it was enough of a showcase for those involved that they get some great roles. I can’t believe every other place passed on picking Reboot up. Especially since it’s a Steven Levitan show. This was his first post-Modern Family project and they treated him like this? Wild. Bad job by Hulu. Though, it was bold of him to have Hulu executives come off as kind of villainous/problematic. Maybe that rubbed someone the wrong way?
I kind of hope, though, that we get a very meta moment where Reboot gets a reboot.
What a weird show. I get why people hate it but I also think it’s pretty creative? There’s a ton of world-building and momentum. I never know what a character will say or do from one minute to the next. I kind of enjoyed being on my toes so much. I typically really like Mindy Kaling stuff so I thought I might enjoy this more than other people. But man is it mean. There’s so much negativity and toxicity and bullying and cruelty. That negative edge makes it hard to root for anyone or even not feel bad while watching it. It had a bit of an upswing by the end but those first few episodes are brutal. I don’t mind the changes to characters. The mystery was okay. The reveal of the mystery was meh. I can’t decide if Velma is bold or a mess that will quickly tie itself into knots. I am incredibly curious to see how or if they integrate Scooby. They laid the groundwork for it. So we’ll see if season 2 has the dog and what Mindy does with it.
I never thought I’d love Letterkenny. I remember when it first came out, I kind of assumed it would be like Trailer Park Boys. I know a lot of people love Trailer Park Boys but it’s not for me. So for years I held off on Letterkenny. Hulu kept telling me to watch it, though. And I had just finished a second watch through of Frasier. Unfortunately, I did not find Frasier as charming the second time around as the first. I was looking for something decidedly the opposite of Frasier, but still wanted a comedy. So I accepted Hulu’s preferring and put on Letterkenny. And boy am I glad that I did.
Letterkenny always keeps me on my toes. I never know where an episode will go. But I know the characters will keep me entertained. So I trust it. And more times than not, that trust pays off. Especially when it leans into some multi-episode storylines or season-long arcs. It’s creative, funny, and everyone kind of feels like your friend. The more episodes you watch, the more you feel in on the joke and part of the crew. Like you could just pop into a scene and fit into the flow of the conversation. It’s weirdly comforting.
I’m not going to rank Letterkenny higher than Breaking Bad or something. But Letterkenny means more to me than Breaking Bad. If there were a special category just for “shows that hold a special place in my heart” Letterkenny would definitely be in it.
I’m so torn on Yellowjackets. The first 4-5 episodes had a lot going on that I really enjoyed. There was a sense of world building that was a lot of fun. But the last 5 episodes contracted awfully hard. The sense of potential I felt resolved in a way that left me going, “That’s it?” Like they make this big to-do about Jackie, saving what happened to her to the very last episode. And it’s just…going to sleep outside. It’s such an anticlimactic decision. Same with the blackmail subplot. Over and over again, I repeated that question: “That’s it?” I also think the flashback stuff is a lot more compelling than the modern day stuff. It’s also weird because the tone is so strikingly different. There are times that the present timeline feels almost…campy? While the flashback stuff feels a bit more like Lost. That’s not necessarily bad. I can see some people really loving that difference in energy. It can be jarring to me, though. So. Eh. I’m definitely going to be watching season 2 and think the show still has a lot of potential. I just hope it levels up a bit.
Boston Legal came out when I was in high school and it was something my mom watched all the time. As an aspiring writer, I was really into how awesome Alan Shore’s (James Spader) closing arguments were. And Spader himself was such an interesting actor that it became not just something my mom watched but something we enjoyed together. As a young kid, I also loved Murphy Brown, so Candice Bergen being a lead was a blast from the past. Same when Michael J. Fox had a recurring role. I never watched Star Trek but my mom was a huge fan. William Shatner was the entire reason she watched Boston Legal to begin with. She and I watched every episode of the first season, then I went off to college and fell off of it. But she kept watching. She had a number of episodes that she refused to delete from our DVR, despite running out of space. It brought her a lot of comfort. Especially after my dad passed away in 2007. My mom passed in 2012.
So I’ve had this weird dynamic of wanting to watch Boston Legal because of the memories with her, but also…well…there’s a lot of emotion there. So I’ve put it off for years. Finally, though, it felt right. And the experience was nice. The writing wasn’t as good as I remember it being. And some of the stuff just hasn’t aged well at all. But there’s enough humanity and charm and kindness that I kept happily watching. I understand why my mom felt such an attachment to the show. It brought a unique sense of comfort and familiarity. Maybe because it spends so much time espousing the friendship between Alan and Denny? Overall, it was nice to feel that connection to my mom and imagine how she would have responded to episodes and characters.
At a certain point, I did have to accept the show wouldn’t be a bounty of quality narratives and just appreciate the moments that worked. I feel like it’s almost overrated when it comes to the claim of “Best legal show ever”. Which maybe just says more about that genre as a whole than it does Boston Legal? The cast did a tremendous job, but they were often working with some less than ideal material. But at least it was self-aware?
I think Mad Men is very good but also incredibly overrated. It won so many Emmys. Yet Better Call Saul won absolutely zero? That’s insane. My issue with Mad Men is that it didn’t go anywhere. It chased its own tail for 8 season (since 7 was two parts) with barely anything of actual consequence ever happening. Every season had the same two issues. Don’s relationship with a woman. Something happening to Sterling Cooper. Sterling Cooper’s being sold. It’s merging. They’re breaking off on their own. They’re merging again. They’re on their own again. They’re brought again. Come on. And with Don, it would be one thing if he was growing as a character with each relationship. But the show refused to give him any kind of consequential development until the very last episode. Even then, we don’t get to see what his ultimate catharsis leads to. Will he finally be capable of a healthy relationship? Will he just keep being who he has always been? Is this a story about breakthrough or one about the impossibility of overcoming our worst traits?
People won’t like me saying this, but I don’t think Mad Men has anything to say. It reflects back to us topics of the time, like the evolution of women in the workplace, or the reaction to the loss of JFK and MLK. It shows us cooky people who were of that era like Cooper and Peter. But what is it actually saying about any of it? Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t have to say anything. That’s fine. It can just be entertaining. But I don’t think that means it should be in the conversation for best TV show of all-time. Not when we have things like The Wire and Better Call Saul and The Sopranos and Veep that just do everything much better than Mad Men ever did.
I still get mad at Peggy’s character arc. I feel like they gave her story to Joan and let Peggy just kind of blow in the wind for long periods. That her conclusion is just starting a new relationship with someone was nice in the sense that you like both characters and it makes sense. But dumb in the sense that wtf did her character even get to do?
Season 5 was amazing. It was a bit weirder and experimental. I had high hopes that it was the start of the show hitting a next gear that would deliver on the hype I had heard about for years. Alas. I do think the actors were tremendous. And Jon Hamm was always incredibly compelling.
I finally finished Arrested Development. I had watched all the way up Season 5 part one but never picked it back up for the final stretch. Instead of watching the whole show again, I picked up from S5E1. It was a lot better than I remember. Maybe because my expectations were already lowered? But I had a lot more appreciation for the intricacies and a lot less judgment for some of the awkwardness (like with Portia de Rossi’s involvement) and pointlessness (Tobias). While it wasn’t perfect, I still think it was impressive. I had initially ranked the show in the Really Good category but bumped it up to Impressive. Regardless of its flaws, it’s still such a one of a kind experience and kept me laughing up through the end.
STRANGER THINGS (S1-S4)
I, like most people, was pretty blow away by the first season of Stranger Things. Cool, dynamic, patient, climactic. It’s one of the few shows I started at dinner then stayed up all night to find out what happened. Season 2 didn’t have the same magic, but I liked how it opened up the world. Then Season 3…it almost felt like a parody. All the craftsmanship kind of vanished. Cartoon-logic abounds. But the cast is so damn likable. And the fantasy elements are fun. So as upset as I was, I still watched. Season 4 was hit and miss. I thought it watched better than S3. Vecna added a needed edge. Not to mention character development. The previous monsters were all animalistic. So to have a more humanized antagonist with personality was refreshing. But the season was still very dragged out. It probably could have been half the runtime and not lose anything of substance. We’ll see what happens with Season 5. My expectations are pretty low. I don’t think it will be bad. It’s just at this point I’m not expecting anything great.