This is part 2 of my End of The Year series. Check out part 1 here.
As I talked about in Part 1, everybody turns to TV for different reasons, and I’m making my end of the year list to reflect 10 different kinds of audiences. The categories are as follows:
- “I only have time for one show”
- “Please restore my faith in humanity”
- “Gut me, I’m dead inside”
- “At the end of the day, I just wanna laugh”
- “I’ll have the highs and lows and everything in between please”
- “I loooooove bad TV”
- “What’s the most relevant to our society?”
- “Show me something I’ve never seen before”
- “I want to get a lot back on my investment”
- “Give me a binge, boy, and free my soul”
Today, we’re tackling 6-10.
“I loooooove bad TV”
What is “Bad TV”? And is there a difference between watchable Bad TV and unwatchable Bad TV? Short answer: Yes.
- You (Netflix)
- A Million Little Things (ABC, available on Hulu)
- The Society (Netflix)
- Daybreak (Netflix)
- Bachelor in Paradise (ABC, available on Hulu)
Reality TV is always a strong contender to be Bad™. It generally has a lower production budget than (more) scripted television, which makes it look just slightly less polished. Combine that with the inherent schadenfreude of watching people getting caught being fools on camera, and you have great, awful, bad, good television. Some people might prefer The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, the flagship enterprises of Bachelor Nation, but those are a little too neat for me. They carry on with an air of seriousness that I think we all see through.
They’re just the regular season, Bachelor in Paradise is the playoffs. This version of the show takes the most popular candidates from The Bachelor(ette), throws them on a beach, and pumps them full of alcohol in the hot Mexican sun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it shouldn’t — it’s a ridiculous show. The best part is that because it embraces its silliness, the editors are allowed to go nuts and do basically whatever they want.
I mean this is cinema.
Daybreak isn’t actually bad, it’s incredibly campy — a pretentious way of saying that it’s aiming for maximum cheese factor — but if you love Bad TV, you’ll probably love the way it feels slapped together with knock-off duct tape.
A Million Little Things is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a This is Us copycat so overly dramatic that it’s laughable, which is the best part about these bad shows. You create your own vision of the show without feeling like you have to buy into whatever the creators are going for. Capri and I, for example, hate-watch Theo.
Ditto for the rom-com psychological thriller You, which is perhaps best read through the lens of the hilarious @VeryHarryHill on Instagram.
But for me, this prize goes to The Society, the Netflix show about a bunch of teenagers who return home from a field trip to realize they’re the only people left in their town and they can’t leave. The show makes ample use of the built-in excuse that these characters are making bad decisions because they’re dumb teenagers, as they try to hold things together in half-baked idea after half-baked idea. The villain is a blatantly evil, self-identifying psychopath that keeps getting fourth chances, and the show keeps trying to get you to invest in the greater mystery of what happened, but that’s the least interesting part of the show. The best part is watching the blind shout orders to the deaf.
Verdict: The Society
“What’s the most relevant to our society?”
TV is much more nimble than film (because it’s a bit messier) which gives it the ability to capture a moment in time. So what shows captured something about our world the best this year?
- Unbelievable (Netflix)
- Watchmen (HBO)
I’ve written just an unreasonable amount about Watchmen over the past two months — don’t worry, I am definitely not done yet — but one of the most powerful aspects of the show is its commentary on race and racism in the United States. It depicts horrific but real events of history like The Tulsa Massacre of 1921, something that deserves to be seen and acknowledged as the dark mark on American history that it is.
I’m a straight, white dude so take this with a grain of salt. Watchmen’s unflinching representation of the history of violent racism in America is something that I’ve never seen on the small screen, and it feels as necessary as ever, with young black men being killed by the police officers sworn to protect them at alarming rates.
But Unbelievable is in a class of its own in this category. The Netflix miniseries depicts the real-life dismissal of a young woman’s sexual assault case and the detectives who stumble upon her case years later while investigating a serial rapist. There aren’t any metaphors or symbolism at work here, just the facts of the case.
The show isn’t just about how the legal system failed Kaitlyn Dever’s Marie but how it actively turned against her — painting her as a criminal — not a young victim just trying to cope with the most traumatic experience of her life. Unfortunately, we all know that it is not a unique phenomenon, with about 1 in 6 American women becoming victims at some point in their lifetime, and how an actual political movement needed to arise before society would consider the idea of believing women.
There’s been some troubling reporting circling the idea that the #MeToo movement has failed, but that reporting largely overlooks the fact that these stories are now seeing the light of day in powerful and mainstream forums. Unbelievable is infuriating to watch, and that’s the point.
“Show me something I’ve never seen before”
There’s so, so, so much TV, and so little time. Why bother watching something you’ve seen a million times if you could see something fresh?
- Undone (Amazon)
- Barry (HBO)
- Primal (Cartoon Network)
- Watchmen (HBO)
Undone is an animated live-action medley created using a technique called rotoscoping in order to take live-action footage and turn it into animation. It’s the perfect tool to tell a story that blends past and present, reality and fantasy, and sanity and illness. The story follows Alma (Rosa Salazar) after a car accident rocks her world in every way imaginable, giving her a line of communication with her deceased father, played by Bob Odenkirk.
Barry is on this list mostly for its phenomenal episode “ronny/lily” which I will absolutely be talking about more in Parts 3&4 of this series breaking down my favorite episodes of the year. For now, just watch this:
Primal is the latest show from Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of Samurai Jack and master of visual language. Primal rackets up that challenge by taking place entirely without words in a brutal prehistoric nightmare landscape that is as thrilling as it is beautiful.
But the choice here is Watchmen. Watchmen takes familiar symbols and remixes them to tell a story that is uniquely raw and unpredictable. I mean, where else can you see a giant squid destroy New York in one scene, the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 in the next, followed by an alternate version of Vietnam where the US won the war and they hold a yearly festival to celebrate the blue god who conquered them?
“I want to get a lot back on my investment”
Of course we all like to get a lot back on our time investments. Duh. But some shows invite you to invest more attention and reward it — the more you give to them, the more you get back.
- Mindhunter (Netflix)
- Succession (HBO)
- Mr. Robot (USA)
- Fleabag (Amazon)
- Watchmen (HBO)
Consider this a reminder that Fleabag is the best show of the year and should probably win every single category. There is not a moment of wasted space or time and holds up remarkably to rewatching.
Mindhunter follows 70s FBI agents as they interview serial killers and try to come up with a unifying theory to catch ones in the future. It’s an incredibly still show that invites you into every scene, reading facial expressions, camera angles, and every little choice the creators made. Succession also invites you to interrogate every character and search for objective truth through the biased lens of the show. Mr. Robot is a combination of both — fusing beautiful camera work with a quest to find the truth behind the subjectivity.
But the choice is again Watchmen. I have never watched a show as dense. There is no limit to how much you can invest in the show, where every single choice is at least an easter egg, and at most a nuanced and powerful commentary.
“Give me a binge, boy, and free my soul”
This time of year is perfect to start a binge — to avoid your family and the cold weather, hunker down on your couch and crush cliffhanger-ending episode after episode.
- Mr. Robot (USA)
- The Expanse (Amazon)
The Expanse returned to Amazon earlier this month, and it’s at its peak. The show looks phenomenal, and there might not be a show better at worldbuilding on the air. It lends itself especially well to binging, where you can rush through the exposition that starts the series and get into the nitty gritty of watching the world unfold before you. It gets really fun and geeky if you’re into that kind of thing.
Mr. Robot ended this year after an absolutely stellar 4-year run, and if you are one of the many people who checked out during the uneven start to its second season, you flat-out messed up. The good news is that it’s never too late to start!
Mr. Robot follows Elliot Alderson on his quest to right the wrongs he sees in society, destroy the shadowy 1% of the 1% who play god with our money and with our lives. The story has only become more relevant in 2019, with wealth inequality on the rise, corporations growing in power, and media being manipulated to spread propaganda.
Mr. Robot deserves your attention.
Verdict: Mr. Robot
Part 3 Coming Next Week:
Favorite episodes of 2019.