I’m having trouble falling asleep, and this is something I want to write, so we’ll see how far I get before I finally get sleepy.
TV is my primary way of consuming narrative these days. I don’t consider it inferior, nor do I feel guilty for watching a lot of TV. (However, I do wish I read more.) One of the greatest English writers was Shakespeare, and he wrote plays. Some of the best novels were actually serialized chapters. TV kinda combines all that. You get the deep connection to characters through serialization. On top of what’s written, you get the direction and acting. Delivery can add so much, especially with comedy. In fact, sometimes a joke is only good because of its delivery. The best works of TV match up against any achievements in literature. The Wire is a fucking masterpiece. I Remember You, an episode of Adventure Time, is as good as any short story I’ve ever read. I have to make an effort to not tear up, even when I just think of it.
Everyone used to say we were living in a Golden Age for TV, but now we’re in Peak TV. There’s too much good stuff to keep up. It makes me hesitant to watch even shows that are merely good, and only watch things people rave about. So, this won’t be any type of comprehensive list. If critics can’t even keep up, then I definitely can’t. This also won’t be any type of ranking. I love these shows in different ways. I was going to put imaginary numbers in front of each show to drive home this point, but I’m too lazy.
This is my latest obsession. There’s so much to unpack about why it’s good that I’d need several essays, so I’m not even sure where to start. I guess I’ll just ramble incoherently. It’s a cartoon and a kid’s show. The most basic, basic way to describe it is as a coming-of-age story for a kid with magical powers. Episodes are 15 minutes long (well, less without commercials). That episode of Adventure Time I mentioned earlier was co-written by the creator of this show: Rebecca Sugar. The show knows how to punch you in the feels without resorting to cheap tricks and while retaining Steven’s child-like nature. Its pacing is amazing, raising the stakes, revealing backstory, fleshing out characters and their relationships, and showing Steven slowly growing up. I also have to mention that it does a good job with diversity. The Crystal Gems are all female characters, and they all have unique personalities. They exist not merely to serve Steven’s story, but as their own characters with their own relationships with each other. They’re also role models for Steven, and it’s cool to see on TV a male character looking up to several female characters. Connie, another female character, is Steven’s friend, and isn’t merely a love-interest prize. Seriously, I could write another essay about her too. She gets to have her own goals, desires, and values. Like I said, I’ve watched a lot of TV, so I’ve seen cases where this isn’t true for female characters. Plus, it’s not just skinny white ladies. Although the Gems aren’t human, Garnet is definitely a black woman — she looks like one and she’s voiced by Estelle. She also is tall and strong, yet also tender and wise. She’s also the leader. A true leader, not just a token side character in a position of authority, as I’ve seen in other shows. Amethyst is more ambiguous ethnically, but she represents a different body-type. Pearl is more stereotypical light-skinned and very thin. But what’s nice is that she is her own well-rounded character with her own strengths and flaws, not necessarily presented as more or less than the others. Connie is Indian, and the diversity here is pretty casual. I’m using that in a jargony way that only makes sense to me. What I mean to say is that it’s a world where diversity is a given, and not the other way around. It just is. It doesn’t have to justify itself or call attention to itself. Not that calling attention to diversity is a bad thing; it’s just refreshing to see a fantasy world where this is the norm. This is especially refreshing for a mixed person like me, who grew up seeing diversity as a norm. Oh and Connie’s parents are Dr. and Mr., which will be like me and my wife when she finishes grad school.
All this rambling, and I didn’t even mention the music, which is so amazing!!! Not every episode has a musical number, so it doesn’t feel forced or anything. I’ve listened to some of them a million times, and I learned the ending credits on piano.
It’s so, soo good. Most of it is on Hulu, so it’s binge-able. It might have the widest appeal of any of the shows I’m going to mention. It’s only on it’s second season, and episodes are short, so it’s not that much of an investment to catch up. I recommend watching from the very beginning. It starts out good and just gets better and better. Pretty much every episode is worth watching. The only skippable episode is the non-canon Uncle Grandpa crossover.
This is my favorite traditional sitcom that’s currently on network TV. It’s consistently funny. It’s more of an ensemble comedy, like Modern Family or later seasons of Cheers. There’s no weak link in the cast (really early on, Gina didn’t work as well as some of the other characters, but I definitely wouldn’t say that now), and they good job mixing and matching characters. All of them are equally awesome, but the hilarity of Captain Holt’s deadpan delivery is more equal than the others. (Holt describing Ratatouille as “the rodent chef” made me die.) Plus, Terry Crews is funny in everything.
You can jump in any time, since there’s no huge overarching story. If you’re not watching, jump in now!
With the end of Community and Parks and Rec, the sitcom isn’t dead. This show carries on the tradition.
As a side note, I’ve kinda stopped watching Modern Family. I enjoyed some of the earlier seasons. The writing for that show is really solid, jokes-wise. The show is pretty jam-packed, so sometimes it feels like everything has the depth of a c-story. The actors are all good too. I never felt obsessed with that show the way I felt about other shows, so while solid, it doesn’t have any special place in my heart.
I haven’t watched Fresh off the Boat, which I’ve heard is decent, but no one has raved about. I also gave up on Last Man on Earth for now, despite my love for Kristen Schaal.
You could make a case that this is a traditional sitcom because the show has a lot of that family sitcom DNA. But it’s animated and has a bunch of music, so even though it’s not network TV, it doesn’t technically count for me. It doesn’t rely on cut-away humor the way other Fox shows do. The humor comes more from the characters.
This show makes me really happy. (Given some of my other favorite shows, it’s really refreshing.) The Belchers are a weird family, but they all embrace, accept, defend, and love each other. (Even Louise.) Add in the fun musical numbers, and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside after the show is done. It’s also really, really funny. And I love, love, love Kristen Schaal, who voices Louise.
Other favorite shows I’ll hopefully write about later: You’re the Worst, Bojack Horseman, Community, Parks and Recreation, Master of None, Rick and Morty. Other shows I’ll probably mention: Game of Thrones, The League. Other shows I binged but I won’t count as a 2015 fav: Seinfeld, Always Sunny, Regular Show, White Collar, Lost.