Veep is my proof that 9/11 wasn’t a conspiracy. Hear me out. There is no better way to explain the most baffling political blunders than by sheer ineptitude and mediocrity. If Bill Clinton says that House of Cards is very close to the real thing, then Veep is surely the missing remainder. What cannot be chalked up to ruthless precision must be the result of resounding obliviousness (which is my usual response to truthers). Veep doesn’t paint the most flattering portrait of American politics, but it sure is a blast to look at. Season 4 was perhaps its strongest season yet, confidently catapulting Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) into ever more escalating scenarios and job titles. The show also benefits from the ensemble cast, not only because of how truly excellent each member is, but because it means equal and/or potentially expanded airtime for the strongest characters. Take for example Amy and Dan (Anna Chlumsky and Reid Scott). Their well-defined relationship has struggled to maintain its relevance in the subsequent seasons, so the remaining ensemble has shouldered the load for Season 4. Newbies Richard (Sam Richardson, who is by far the strongest of the bunch), Tom (Hugh Laurie), and Bill (Diedrich Bader) all bring in new dynamics to the office and help disperse focus of other cast mainstays, keeping the relationships and writing as fresh as inauguration day.
#9: Game of Thrones
Well, what is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Game of Thrones delivered one of its best seasons yet and, like always, we are still screaming at our screens. While GoT continued some problematic use of rape as a narrative tool for no apparent reason, it was still able to deliver all the signature, multi-million dollar moments that makes the show so rich and immersive. This season’s penultimate episode “Hardhome” rewarded us for our patience, delivering the long awaited Whitewalker horde that has loomed over everything since the opening scene of the pilot. Season 5 also delivered new light to George R.R. Martin’s theme of exploring typical “villains” versus archetypal “good guys.” The line between the two continued to blur; Tyrion, a certifiable sleeze, continued his rise herodom, Daenerys showed some of the ruthlessness that we would typically associate with the villainous Lannisters, and Jaime redeemed many of his terrible deeds along his path to fatherhood. I have always had a soft spot for Stannis and felt that he likely has the most legitimate claim. Its hard not to just feel sorry for the guy, really; dude’s straight up manipulated. So when he dropped the proverbial flaming axe on his own kin, R.R. Martin’s manipulation of character roles came to a head. Despite such a terrible thing, I still feel pity for him, and in comparison, far worse things have happened in Westeros at the hand of your prototypical heroes. That is the enduring impact that Game of Thrones has, a thorough acceptance of characters as who they are and who they can be in a world (not too dissimilar to our own) where right and wrong are eternally intwined and never easy to spot.
#8: Rick and Morty
For my hard-earned schmeckles, there is no funnier show on television than the incomparable Rick and Morty. Most animated shows are cursed with their own limitless possibilities, where your imagination is only limited by what you can draw. Hence the weaknesses of most animated programming (mostly notably like Family Guy); the humor is most often than not derivative, taking each punchline to its exhausted overblown conclusion. Rick and Morty rejects this curse and manages to breeze across its many universes (and universes inside those universes) and challenges the limits of its own imagination. Whether its a planet with a screaming sun or planet-sized aliens who pit civilizations against each other in a American Idol-type deathmatch, Rick and Morty can fire off its portal gun in any direction without ever losing sight of its purpose or its intended punchline. Helmed by Dan Harmon (Community creator) and Justin Roiland (animator and voice-of-Rick-and-Morty and the strongest case yet for a voice-over acting award), Season 2 reached a fresh new level in its finale, where Rick finally admits his selfish and destructive behavior hurts his family and sacrifices himself for their well-being. Its a surprising (and surprisingly poignant) move that brings unexpected meaning and character growth to Rick and Morty that has long been missing in our typical episode-by-episode-point-in-time animations. Its humor is highly intelligent but still isn’t above appealing to the lowest common denominator (after all, the show originated from Roiland’s Back to the Future spoof where Marty must perform lude acts on Doc); you’ll find yourself laughing when you didn’t even want to. Meseeks you to find a better comedy on TV (hint: the answer is #5 on our list).
#7: Penny Dreadful
When quality horror is of the rarest quality on the tube, Penny Dreadful is our best hope. The Gothic monster mash delivers time and time again on each level: at times a conglomeration of mythical beasts, then a cringe worthy gore piece, and then as a nail-biting supernatural thriller, where terror lies in darkness at the doorway. In its execution, Penny Dreadful offers a successful formula for TV horror: keep the scares varied and don’t settle into just one kind of mechanism (take note, Ryan Murphy, shock factor is good for about 10 minutes, not four seasons). Season 2 of Penny put a face to the nameless horror of Season 1, bringing a refreshing change of pace and dynamic to the progressing story and tortured characters (you still listening, Murphy?). Featuring such characters as Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, and Josh Harnett (good joke, but this is seriously the finest work of his career), it constantly keeps you on your toes by showing you your next expected scare from your comfortable literary characters, then blind siding you with something from a part of Mary Shelley’s mind that she tried to forget. With the many twists and turns of character origins and motivations, Penny Dreadful is an unsettling experience that horror fans will lap up from the pool of blood it leaves on the floor. (Gross.)
#6: The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Your typical crime documentary is a pretty predictable exercise: interviews spliced with archival footage and research, and for some of the worse ones, some cheesy reenactments. The Jinx breaks this mold so completely that it brings new dimension to the field as a whole. The Jinx explores the life of Robert Durst and the many murders surrounding the real-estate tycoon. The ever-mounting details of Durst’s life is rich enough on its own, but director Andrew Jarecki manages to enhance the significance and retelling of even the most bizarre twists and turns in the Durst biography. The Jinx stands above all others on two legs. For one, The Jinx expertly manages to bring the documentary to life and reach artistic quality unlike I’ve seen in documentaries. The reenactments are small artistic pieces in their own right, the credits and ad-break teases (its on HBO, so they’re entirely for effect) keep us glued to the proceeding, and the use of tracking shots and slo-mo bring a cinematic flare. We’re watching a dramatic story unfold like we would on True Detective, making the reality of it all that much more shocking and hard to believe. Second, The Jinx is so well-documented and researched that you are, without giving anything away to the uninitiated, literally watching a real-life case be potentially solved before your eyes. The exploration of Durst’s childhood brings sympathy to this clearly mentally ill person, but when you begin to dig deeper into his suspected crimes, and when Durst personally reaches out to Jarecki to be interviewed for the project, the vile truth comes spilling out. It is a singular documentary experience that holds real weight: Durst’s cases have been reopened thank to The Jinx.
(Fun fact: Andrew Jarecki is the founder/CEO of Moviefone. I only hope they introduce a Bob Durst voice option when calling in. “Hello and welcome to Moviefone *burp*”)