There’s too many shows! The best TV of 2013, pt. 1

And so another year comes to a close, and of course that means it’s time to make arbitrary lists subjectively comparing things. For my favorite shows of the year, I looked at the entire calendar year, with the only real rule being that a returning show must’ve aired at least half of a single season during 2013. Again, this is all subjective, and I can already rattle off about ten things that aren’t on my list for myriad reason (#1 being that I just haven’t watched them yet). Also, as you can see, this is part one. Part two will drop sometime between Christmas day and New Year’s Eve and will be a more in-depth look at my top two shows of the year. So without further ado, let’s begin!

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25. Adventure Time

Adventure Time‘s mega-sized, 52-episode fifth season began airing in November of 2012, but the 37 episodes aired in 2013 have shown the kind of expansion and experimentation that a fifth-season show, even an all-ages program, shouldn’t be able to get away with. But Adventure Time continues to deliver fresh and exciting stories on a fairly consistent basis. 2013 saw the birth and raising of Jake’s pups, the development—and ultimately, dissolution—of Finn’s relationship with Flame Princess, more history of The Mushroom War and the bond between Ice King and Marceline, and greater ambiguity in Princess Bubblegum’s morality. Adventure Time also indulged in experiments in both animation (the infamous “A Glitch is a Glitch”) and storytelling (“The Vault,” “The Party’s Over, Isla de Señorita”), while maintaining its appeal to kids. At this point, Adventure Time is essentially unstoppable, but why would you want to?

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24. Girls

Maybe the most divisive and controversial season of TV in 2013, Girls took its second season as an opportunity to get dark. Really, really dark. Each of the four main characters experienced some kind of trauma this year, from Hannah rupturing her eardrum with a Q-Tip to Marnie’s soul-crushingly awkward Kanye West cover. The show also took time to go down paths that didn’t immediately make a whole lot of sense. “One Man’s Trash,” aka “The Patrick Wilson Episode,” is essentially a one-act play with two characters, “Video Games” follows Hannah and Jessa out to the country to visit Jessa’s family, and “Boys” gives insight into the show’s male characters. But it all went to hell in the season’s final three episodes, and as the lives of the characters fall apart, the narrative comes into stark focus. The final scene of the season is a doozy, and rightfully polarizing, but whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that it blows open the doors for season three.

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23. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

On paper, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a disaster. A police department workplace comedy, helmed by Mike Schur and Dan Goor (of Parks and Recreation), and starring Andy Samberg shouldn’t work. And for the first few episodes, it didn’t, entirely. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a secret weapon (or six) hidden up its sleeve: its supporting cast. They carry the show in early episodes, and by the midseason finale, they’re just as, if not more, integral to the show’s existence as Samberg. There’s Andre Braugher as Captain Holt, the strict new captain of the pecinct whose vulnerabilities are slowly but surely brought to light; Stephanie Beatriz as Rosa Diaz, the tough, street-level detective whose iciness isn’t hiding some fragile little girl—she just happens to be a badass; Melissa Fumero as Amy Santiago, the over-achiever who longs to be taken on as a mentee by Captain Holt; Joe Lo Truglio as Charles Boyle, a bumbling divorcee who’s fiercely loyal to his fellow detectives and the precinct; Chelsea Peretti as Gina, the precinct’s administrator who seems to both hate and love everyone in equal measure; and last, but certainly not least, is Terry Crews as Sergeant Terry Jeffords, the leader of the sqaud, who’s recovering from a breakdown but slowly working his way back into the field, and has immense love for his baby girls, Cagney and Lacey. The supporting cast (especially Crews, who steals every scene he gets, and Peretti, who can make a ten second scene the best of the episode) make Brooklyn Nine-Nine, smoothing out any wrinkles and rough edges from Samberg. I mean, if Terry Crews destroying a pink princess castles with his bare hands isn’t enough to get you to watch, I don’t know what else to say.

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22. Arrested Development

Let’s get some things out of the way: no, the new season of Arrested Development was not on the level of the original three, and yes, there were some problems, most specifically the episode lengths and certain characters being given too much or too little to do. But, and trust me on this, a second watch really reveals the gem underneath. The story structure is interesting, and while the decision to have each episode focus on a certain character proved problematic, it makes sense with the parallel narratives. On second watch, the season is also much funnier, as jokes and punchlines come together better, and references that aren’t revealed until later in the season make more sense. But in the end, it’s impossible for me to hate spending time with the Bluths. And as the story continues diving into the darkness of Michael Bluth (a story that, like it or not, began all the way back in season one), more and more about the true nature of the Bluths is revealed, as the importance of George Michael and Maeby becomes clearer. While still just a funny sitcom about a family of horrible people, Arrested Development also became a story about breaking free, about trying to find yourself, even when the very DNA inside you is pulling you down into the depths of awfulness. Oh, and did I mention the bees? (Beads? Bees.)

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21. Sleepy Hollow

Talk about a pleasant surprise. When Sleepy Hollow was first announced, I couldn’t have been any less interested in a story about Ichabod Crane, Time Traveler, but as the pilot began making the rounds, the buzz grew, and it seemed this little show might not be a train wreck after all. Co-led by Tom Mison as Crane and Nicole Beharie as Lieutenant Abbie Mills, the show turned out to be a more progressive answer to Supernatural, with a healthy dose of Fringe and The X-Files mixed in. The central narrative, which is bonkers beyond belief and involves the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, is woven throughout monster-of-the-week stories in a way that’s smarter than a serialized Fox drama should be allowed to be. Joining Mison and Beharies are Orlando Jones as Captain Irving, Sleepy Hollow’s police captain, Katia Winter as Katrina Crane, Ichabod’s trapped-in-limbo wife who is a witch, and Lyndie Greenwood as Jenny Mills, Abbie’s allegedly unstable sister who has more knowledge of the supernatural threats than Abbie realized. Sleepy Hollow is insane, but it’s never self-serious, balancing out the heavy and ridiculous with subtle humor and sweetness, and honestly, no image on television this year was better than the Headless Horseman dual-wielding machine guns.

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20. Orphan Black

When it comes to breakout performances, none shine quite as bright as Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black. A sci-fi show about a group of clones who discover they’re clones and try to find out where they came from, Maslany takes on not only the five main clones, but five more clones, and sometimes she’s even playing one clone impersonating another clone impersonating another clone. Entire scenes are just Maslany acting against herself, and what makes it even better is how easy it is to forget. (True story, at one point during the first season, I actually went to IMDB to see who played Cosima, the geeky scientist clone, before remembering that it’s still Maslany.) The show itself is good enough—it’s soft sci-fi, more about the connections these women both have made in their lives and are making with the new knowledge of their origins, and the supporting cast performs admirably—but Maslany’s performance is masterful, and rightfully takes front and center in any conversation about the show. The end of season one barreled into absolute madness, and with season two just around the corner, it’s as good a time as any to catch up on this sleeper hit.

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19. Veep

Perhaps it was a nice bit of synchronicity that Veep‘s sharper, funnier, and all around better second season came at the beginning of a year where public opinion of the United States government fell into its deepest malaise yet. Season two brought Gary Cole into the cast, giving Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyers a consistent sparring partner, as the Vice President dealt with a hostage situation hiding a government secret, a government shutdown, rekindling her relationship with her husband, and considering her political future. Louis-Dreyfus continued to deliver on all cylinders, as the supporting cast (especially Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, and Matt Walsh) only got better. Deeper characters and more interesting, serialized stories help elevate Veep into the pantheon of American political satire currently inhabited by Stewart and Colbert, and with a well-defined voice and razor-sharp wit, it could become the sharpest political satire of our age.

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18. Parks and Recreation

If Parks and Rec‘s fifth season started off slow, its back half, which aired at the beginning of the year, picked up the slack considerably. Much of it was planting seeds for season six, but the sheer spectacle of the Knope-Wyatt wedding in “Leslie and Ben” glossed over the relatively meandering parts of the season. Fortunately, season six has been solid thus far, beginning with the hour-long premiere “London,” which featured perhaps Ron Swanson’s greatest story yet. We also got the introduction of the Eagleton doppelgangers, as well as the long-awaited recall vote, leading to Parks and Rec‘s gutsiest narrative decision in years. And of course, it continues to be one of the most pleasant shows on television, even when the wear and tear of six season starts to show, making it no surprise that the little comedy that could continues to chug along.

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17. Justified

Justified, despite having a second season that could stand alongside the greatest prestige dramas, has always been relegated to the second tier, the shows that are good, just not that good, but season four sought to break free of that designation. Opting out of a big bad, Justified‘s fourth season instead focuses on the mystery of Drew Thompson, a man deeply ingrained into Harlan, yet also completely invisible. But as much as Justified is a show about the law, it’s also a show about a community and the behind-the-scenes power that drives it, and season four dove even deeper into Harlan than ever, giving Boyd his own narrative that, while sometimes intersecting, mostly just runs parallel to Raylan’s. Season four also saw excellent performances from the entire cast, including a delightfully badass constable courtesy of Patton Oswalt, that concluded in some of the strongest performances of Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and Jim Beaver’s careers. Few shows on television understand exactly what they are quite like Justified, and if the trend of excellence continues, it could find a home amongst its more revered brethren with time.

MALIN AKERMAN, BRADLEY WHITFORD

16. Trophy Wife

To be frank, a poorly-titled ABC sitcom simply has no business being as good as Trophy Wife is. The story of a woman marrying a man with two previous wives, with three children between them, all existing as a single family unit, Trophy Wife found its feet quickly and took off from there. As the titular wife, Malin Akerman is a delight, never pushing her character too far into any stereotypes, and her scenes with husband Bradley Whitford are some of the series best. Micheala Watkins and Macia Gaye Harden shine as the two previous wives, both creating complex, fully-formed characters without falling into caricature. And most surprising are the children, the teen-aged Warren (Ryan Lee) and Hillary (Bailee Madison) and the adopted youngest, Bert (Albert Tsai), who are never grating, and are oftentimes (well, in the case of Bert, always) standouts from any given episode. While Trophy Wife aims more for pleasant than gut-bustingly hilarious (and truthfully, there are less jokes than you’d expect), it still has moments of comedic brilliance, especially when Malin Akerman shows off her incredible chops for physical comedy. Sadly, Trophy Wife is wilting on ABC, stuck at the end of a poorly-performing night and never getting the attention it deserves. But I’m not giving up, and neither should you.

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15. Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23

Like fellow “Best Show of 2013” Happy Endings (and perhaps, sadly, Trophy Wife), Apartment 23 suffered from the incurable scourge of being a sitcom on ABC that isn’t Modern Family. After being mishandled for the entirety of its first season and a half, ABC finally pulled the plug on Apartment 23 before the back half of season two could even air. Thankfully, Hulu picked up the bruised and battered show, bringing the final nine episodes, which just happened to be the series’ best, to audiences in the spring. Wicked, fun, and extremely blunt, Apartment 23 is surprisingly fresh in a saturated sitcom market. Krysten Ritter gives a revelatory performance as the titular bitch, but Dreama Walker is the real breakout, a relatively unknown actress whose manic energy redeemed a questionable character early in the first season, and who stood and delivered throughout the second. The second season also saw the supporting men—James Van Der Beek, Eric Andre, and Ray Ford—consistently matching Ritter and Walker beat for beat, creating a zany tone unlike anything else on TV. Unfortunately, as we now know, being unique can prove to be fatal, but we’ll always have these two seasons.

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14. Comedy Bang! Bang!

Comedy Bang! Bang! the show struggled in its first season with transporting the tone of the podcast to the screen, but Scott Aukerman and company must’ve figured it all out between seasons, because the second, double-sized season of Comedy Bang! Bang! comes out of the gates with a, well, bang and never looks back. The couch guests run of the gamut of film and television actors (many of whom, surprisingly, have little comedy experience), while the character guests continue to be a who’s who of the alt-comedy world. And with more episodes comes greater room for experimentation, including a Lost-riffing mystery told out of chronological order, a Sliding Doors homage, two holiday extravaganzas, and a musical episode (written, of course, by “Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber”). Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watts have an even better back-and-forth than season one, and the inclusion of characters from the podcast (including the classics Dalton Wilcox and Fourvel) brought even more fun to the show. For fans of comedy, Comedy Bang! Bang! isn’t just a suggestion, it’s a damn requirement.

KERRY WASHINGTON

13. Scandal

Part political drama, part soap opera, Scandal (one of ABC’s few legitimate smash hits) succeeds because of its ability to do something few other shows, today or ever, have been able to pull off: make every single episode a game-changer. Every week brings new answers, questions, lies, conspiracies, and alliances, a political and personal landscape in constant flux. The amount of plot in a single episode is enough to make it must-see television, but the fact that it’s so damn watchable is what keeps audiences invested. And it’s not just the “Oh my god!” moments; the performances, from Kerry Washington’s inimitable Olivia Pope to Jeff Perry and Dan Bucatinsky as Cyrus Beene and James Novak, the married Chief of Staff and White House reporter, respectively, fit the tone of the show spectacularly. The first half of season 3 (or 3A, according to production codes) also introduces Lisa Kudrow’s Congresswoman Josie Marcus, a Democratic candidate for President who is so far from the least complicated part of the season that it’s mind-blowing. No one’s sure how long Scandal can keep flying by on pure adrenaline alone, but it’s become the kind of television event worth being around for while it lasts.

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12. Mad Men

It’s telling that even an off season of Mad Men is better than much of what’s on television. Though the term is bandied about with more reckless abandon than ever, season six truly was a transitional year for Mad Men, as the show began to shed it’s “male anti-hero drama” skin and emerge as a tale about those affecting change, instead of those affected by change. Nowhere is this more evident than the arc of Peggy Olson, giving Elizabeth Moss one of her best seasons to date. Peggy has been put through the wringer by various men throughout the run of the show, but in season six, she finally fights back—sometimes literally, with a home-made bayonet to the gut—and she comes out… well, not on top, but some facsimile of on top, one that historically fits the attitudes towards and opportunities available to white women of the time. Season six also gave us the glory and mystery of Bob Benson and his ever-present coffee, hiding dark secrets and top-notch corporate politics, and “The Crash,” the season’s drug trip episode which gave the world a tap-dancing Ken Cosgrove and some of the most oblique symbolism in a show stuffed to the gills with oblique symbolism. With the final season on the horizon, what’ll be most interesting about season six in hindsight is exactly how these threads lead into the series’ endgame, though as a season, it still stands perfectly fine on its own.

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11. New Girl

2013 saw New Girl swing for the fences in splendid fashion, finally bringing together Zooey Deschandel’s Jess Day and Jake Johnson’s Nick Miller in the episode “Cooler,” then slowly but surely deconstructing every aspect of the typical sitcom relationship, while never allowing it to eat away at the rest of the season, which dealt with Schmidt’s romances of two different women, the relationship between Nick and Schmidt, and Cece’s impending wedding. While season three stumbled out of the gates a bit, the reintroduction of Damon Wayans, Jr.’s Coach brought a jolt of energy back to the show, and once moving past the dissolution of both of Schmidt’s relationships (and his childish desire to destroy Jess and Nick’s), the show has regained some of its footing. Unfortunately, none of this fixes the show’s biggest problem: having no idea what to do with Lamorne Morris’ Winston. Morris is an incredibly gifted and incredibly game actor who gives his all to whatever table scraps the writers give him, but a character can only exist on non-plots alone for so long, and the bizarre stories given to Winston more and more make him seem like an insane person. But those are problems for 2014, and for this year, New Girl took bold risks that payed off in dividends, elevating it from “that Zooey Deschandel show” to one of TV’s best comedies.

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10. Rectify/Top of the Lake

In 2013, Sundance made a name for itself with this pair of beautiful, somber miniseries, both of which contain a central mystery, but which they often eschew in favor of moving character beats and long, dialogue-heavy scenes. Both set in small towns on opposite ends of the globe, Rectify and Top of the Lake are also both heavily defined by their lead performances. Aiden Young in Rectify takes “understated” to a new level entirely, doing more with a longing stare than many actors could do in an entire season. Elizabeth Moss in Top of the Lake takes notes from her West Wing and Mad Men performances, but transforms into a different beast entirely, never beating her chest, but also never backing down from the men who are constantly pushing against her. Both series also feature a stellar supporting cast (Abigail Spencer and Adelaide Clemens in Rectify and Thomas M. Wright and Holly Hunter in Top of the Lake), and traffic in the kind of atmosphere that, while more common this year than in recent memory, is still remarkably rare on television. As Sundance continues to define its brand, Rectify and Top of the Lake both stand as fantastic beginnings.

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9. Happy Endings

Of all the sitcoms that suffered at the hands of ABC in the last year, none were treated with such condescending disdain as Happy Endings. But the final episodes of the series never soured, and they were some of the series best, making its cancellation an even tougher blow. The last 15 episodes featured a racist parrot, a black market cough medicine that causes you to sleep for days, and a food fight between two food trucks, and the ensemble cast continued to be the strongest on television, especially Casey Wilson, Adam Pally, Damon Wayans, Jr., and Eliza Coupe. While the zany, fast-paced sitcom will be missed dearly, it ended perfectly, with the main cast at the wedding of Alex’s sister, where the madness escalates into all-out insanity before ending on a note of sweetness that almost brings a tear to the eye. Oh, Happy Endings, you were just too good for this world.

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8. Game of Thrones

There’s nothing else on television quite like Game of Thrones. Oh sure, you can find other fantasy and sword-and-sandals series, other dark dramas of political and personal intrigue, but Game of Thrones has combined these elements into a behemoth yearly television event. Season three was GoT‘s strongest season yet, despite a bizarre torture storyline that ended with a character losing his penis and some problematic racial imagery. Of course, much credit should be given to “The Rains of Castamere,” as the Red Wedding climaxes the season in even more devastating fashion than even the Battle of the Blackwater in season two. Season three also pushed new characters into the spotlight, especially Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), thrust into an unlikely partnership that became the season’s emotional center. And in one of the best developments of the series, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) finally takes center stage in King’s Landing, and his scenes with both Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Olenna Tyrell (Dianna Rigg) were season highlights. The future of the book series (and by extension, the television series) may be in constant flux, but Benioff and Weiss have created a creature uniquely their own, and damn if it isn’t spectacular.

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7. Broadchurch

2013 really saw the death of the traditional murder-mystery drama (for now, at least), and only those series willing to experiment or bring in other elements were able to survive. Broadchurch takes the ingredients of an American murder-mystery and dresses them up in a moody British drama, creating a sorrowful, engaging series just as much about the lives of people in the tiny community of Broadchurch as about finding Danny Latimer’s killer. Led by David Tennant, in one of his best post-Doctor Who roles, and Olivia Coleman, who steals the show throughout, as the two detectives responsible for finding the killer, other notable cast members include Arthur Darvill as the local reverend, David Bradley as the town’s newspaperman, and Jodie Wittaker as Beth Latimer, the grieving mother of Danny. Heartbreaking and beautiful, Broadchurch comes together in a way that’s almost inimitable, and if it ends up being the last great murder-mystery for a while, that’d be just fine.

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6. Masters of Sex

While all the elements of Masters of Sex work remarkably well, what truly sells the series are the performances. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as Masters and Johnson, respectively, are both giving career-defining performances that are dizzying in their pure level of talent. Sheen plays the cold, unlikable Masters with subtlety, while Caplan gives a complex, layered performance that should immediately earn her a place in the top of the talent pool. Also of note are Beau Bridges and Allison Janney, as Provost Barton Scully and his wife, Margaret, who bring both levity and gravitas to the series, and give a perspective on exactly what the far-reaching implications of Masters and Johnson’s work are. Admittedly, the first season begins slowly, but it ends in fireworks, and the sheer importance of a series that really examines sexuality in American culture—despite it’s 1950s setting—simply can’t be downplayed. The first season may have just ended, but the second can’t come soon enough.

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5. Bob’s Burgers

I’m not entirely sure when Bob’s Burgers became the best sitcom on television, but I’d put money on the episode where Jon Hamm guests as a talking toilet. But it’s not just its penchant for silliness and great jokes that make Bob’s Burgers so fantastic, it’s having a show about a blue-collar family, with blue-collar struggles, who all genuinely care about each other. The love the Belchers feel for each other holds Bob’s Burgers together in even its weakest episodes (as few and far between as they are), and its full embrace of the weirdness of every single Belcher makes the characters some of the most lovable on TV. From the year’s first episode (“Mother Daughter Laser Razor”) to the last (“Christmas in the Car”) Bob’s Burgers was consistently hilarious and enjoyable. Tina Belcher (Dan Mintz) emerged as the series’ standout character, but the show was never afraid to constantly shift the focus of any given episode. The incredible list of guest stars also grew, bringing in new guests like Molly Shannon, Jordan Peele, and the aforementioned Jon Hamm, while the series also brought back many former guest stars, making Bob’s Burgers‘ small sea-side town feel richer and fuller than most any other town on TV. It may be a dire time for animated sitcoms, but Bob’s Burgers continues to carry the torch, and it does so with aplomb.

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4. Hannibal

Despite coming from the mind that birthed Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Wonderfalls, the idea of a series about Hannibal Lector, especially in a year full of awful “dark and gritty” serial killer dramas, was about as unappealing as they come. But Bryan Fuller and his crew crafted a series of stark, horrible beauty, using the Hannibal Lector story as a springboard to examine the nature of brutal violence, dependency, guilt, and sorrow. Mads Mikkelsen gives an inspired performance as Lector, but his performance wouldn’t be half as great without Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham. Dancy plays Graham as a man barely holding it together, if at all, and constantly questioning everything in his life. Mikkelsen’s Lector is quiet, but deadly, and the scenes the two share are always thrilling. A fantastic supporting and guest cast (which includes Carolina Dhavornas, Laurence Fishburne, Eddie Izzard, and Gillian Anderson) help support the procedural elements of the show. But what’s most arresting about Hannibal is its beauty, the masterful crafting of every set, every shot. Bold colors, beautiful music selections, and harrowing imagery combine with the performances to create a tone unlike anything else on broadcast television, and while it’s unlikely Hannibal will ever make it above under the radar, it will go down as a new and exciting take on the Hannibal mythos.

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3. Orange Is the New Black

Netflix’s spotty history of original dramas and the bad vibes of late-era Weeds seemingly marred Orange Is the New Black long before anyone actually saw an episode. But when the series’ first season was dropped all at once in July, it revealed a true treasure. A complicated series that balances its comedic and dramatic elements, Orange Is the New Black is never content with one tone for very long. All the technical components are excellent, from the writing and directing to the set design and music selections. But what really commands about the series are the characters. Orange Is the New Black may use a suburban, middle-class white woman as its entry point, but the other inhabitants of the prison make up a colorful tapestry of distinct, complex, and engaging personalities, almost all of whom receive at least a few minutes of screen time. The fact that these aren’t characters we’re used to seeing on our screens—especially being treated like real, fully-formed people instead of plot devices—makes them and their stories all the more engrossing. And while the season does have a central narrative, the show takes time to dive into the backgrounds of these characters and what they’re up to when not directly involved in that main narrative, giving Orange Is the New Black depth that its other Netflix companions lack. The cast is led by Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon, who perform admirably enough, but the true stars are in the supporting cast: Kate Mulgrew as Red, the head of the prison’s kitchen and adoptive mother to many of the inmates; Uzo Aduba as Suzanne, mockingly referred to as “Crazy Eyes,” who takes an immediate liking to Piper and has an immense love of the theater; Laverne Cox as Shirley, a transgender woman who is the prison’s hairdresser and struggles with the relationship she has with her wife and son; Danielle Brooks as Taystee and Samira Wiley as Pouseey, best friends who provide much of the show’s humor and heart; and Taryn Manning as Pennsatucky, a born-again drug addict who becomes Piper’s rival. There are so many more, but simply describing them here does them a disservice. Orange Is the New Black fills massive voids in the television landscape, but the fact that it does so while also being incredible cements it as the best new show of the year, and one of the best dramas in recent memory.

Steven Universe and the embrace of genderless programming

For those in on the new school of hip, all-ages appealing animated programming, Steven Universe is likely already on the radar. The show tells the story of a young man, Steven Universe (Zach Callison), who lives with a team of intergalactic warriors called the Crystal Gems: Garnet (Estelle), Amethyst (Micheala Dietz), and Pearl (Deedee Magno). They all posses a magic gem (Steven, whose gem is embedded in his bellybutton, inherited his from his mother, Rose Quartz, a former Crystal Gem) that summons a different special weapon, and have been tasked with defending humanity. Though Steven in an anomaly among the Gems–he’s the only male on the team, still young, and has little control over his magic gem–the others care for him, helping him train his powers and solve life’s little (and sometimes, very big) problems.

What immediately makes Steven Universe distinctive is the woman behind it all, Rebecca Sugar. A former storyboard artist, writer, and composer for Adventure Time, Sugar is the first sole female creator in Cartoon Network history. But while this is an important accomplishment, Sugar seems to have no intention of creating a “female” show. Or a “male” show, for that matter. Steven Universe has no use for traditional gender lines in animation or storytelling, trading those in for forward, smart stories that cover the spectrum: action-packed beat-em-ups sit comfortably within outsider stories; sentimental family moments rub shoulders with comic book-level apocalypse scenarios. It’s not just that three of the protagonists are female, it’s that gender has little bearing on what happens within the show. Even The Powerpuff Girls, a show that dealt with gender stereotypes directly and indirectly, is seen as a “male” show–though how much of this is because of the show or because of our cultural attitudes is up for debate. Steven Universe isn’t the first show to shift in this direction, but it feels like the first to fully embrace to, to not cover it up with subterfuge.

But the genderless nature of Steven Universe is just one reason to watch. The animation is lovely, utilizing big, distinct shapes and a large color palette that make each character, villain, and location distinctive, and the action animation is no slouch either. The writing aims for pleasant, but is peppered with enough gut-busting humor and touching moments to keep it fresh and exciting. The music is lively, incorporating electronic styles that suit the sci-fi/magic mashup of the show. And the influences run the gamut: Adventure Time (obviously), 70s and 80s sci-fi anime like Robotech and Mobile Suit Gundam, The Powerpuff Girls, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and more. It’s a smorgasbord of treats that combine into a new flavor all of its own.

With the right push from Cartoon Network, Steven Universe could become their next big intergenerational hit, and hopefully with that will come the big shift away from gendered storytelling. In our modern age, there’s just not a place for it, and Steven Universe could be the show to finally give it the boot.

Netflix’s subscriber secrets: Is there a point?

If you’ve followed the rise of Netflix, you might be aware that they’re extremely coy with information about their subscribers (numbers and demographics), and even more so with their new line of original programming. It creates a lot of unanswered questions about these shows, especially with semi-hit House of Cards and bonafide cultural phenom Orange is the New Black. James Packer is the president of worldwide television and digital distribution for Lionsgate, who distribute Orange is the New Black, and he says it makes shopping the show in international markets more difficult. “Ultimately I want data to help my team internationally,” he says. “You can’t do that on ‘Orange.'”

And he has a point. Despite the rise of online streaming and On Demand services, the classic advertiser-based model for television still reigns supreme. And in global markets where Netflix is not an established brand, a complete lack of viewership information raises concerns, and it’s not as simple as “what ads go where.” Demographic information and viewership numbers are vitally important in scheduling and branding, and while content and critical praise can carry some weight (as it appears to be for Lionsgate and OITNB), without numbers for advertisers, it can only do so much.

So what’s Netflix’s goal with the secrecy around their audience data? Obviously, they’re not concerned with advertisers–Netflix neither sells ad space nor collects fees from cable/satellite providers–but there’s a difference between finding the data irrelevant and refusing to release it at all. It could be a gamble at a paradigm shift, though a large-scale shift away from the ad-based model would take years, maybe even decades to come to fruition. Or, more likely, it’s just that lack of concern on Netflix’s part. But if that’s the case, where do they cross the line from unconcerned to irresponsible? For companies like Lionsgate, who are trying to get their product out into the world as much as possible (for the sake of the art or the sake of the money, whichever helps you sleep at night), it becomes a struggle against an opponent who neither cares nor can be fought back against.

Maybe pressure from distributors and networks will eventually force Netflix to begin releasing the kind of data they want to see, but for now, it remains cloaked in mystery.

A Short Toast to Cory Monteith

I bailed on Glee after the Rocky Horror episode. The show was beginning to tumble into a direction that I wasn’t as attached to, and my television habits/interest hadn’t fully formed yet, and so the show and I drifted apart. And though I’ve never really looked back on that decision heavily, I still keep myself tangentially aware of the show’s going-ons. I’m not sure what it is about Glee that causes me to read the occasional review of a much-talked about episode, but I’ll never be able to forget what got me in: the pilot episode, and in particular, its closing rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” a song I despise on a very deep level, despite knowing all of the words (and having performed a bizarre dance routine to, involving standing on a chair and exiting the stage with a long series of faux-periouettes). The performance is obviously a triumphant one, but it—and the song itself—always struck me as one that speaks to the Finn Hudson character on a very base level, capturing his complicated emotional journey throughout the series, or at least the episodes I’ve seen.

Now, obviously, it’s unfair to conflate the character of Finn Hudson and the actor Cory Monteith. From all appearances, Monteith was a straight-forward, down to earth guy, one who enjoyed life and struggled to live as best he could (despite whatever personal issues and setbacks he faced, none of which I will get into here). His twitter feed was a constant source of entertainment, and long after I had abandoned Glee, I would still find myself chuckling at a joke or looking over links and pictures he sent out into the digital ether. But his work within Finn Hudson was my first introduction to Monteith, and even when I found the show floundering, I could always count on him to hold it together.

One of the last examples of Moneith’s talent I can remember before quitting is the wonderful “Grilled Cheesus,” a highly emotional episode that dealt with religion and the ways spirituality exists in all our lives. While the A-story, about Kurt’s father having a heart attack and the glee club rallying around him in support, is heavy and emotionally difficult, Finn’s story, while carrying a small bit of the same gravitas as Kurt’s, takes a lighter approach, and lends the episode some much-needed levity, and it’s Finn’s plot (and Monteith’s performance) that keeps that episode fresh in my memory, even to this day. (Even an incredibly hokey song choice couldn’t stop his performance of “Losing My Religion” from delivering on every single level.)

As I said before, it’s been quite a while since I sat down and actually watched an episode of Glee. If and when the show does its tribute to Monteith, no matter what form it takes, I’ll most likely break that abstinence. I have little interest in anything the show is actually doing at this point, but a sense of responsibility, and of genuine sadness, draws me toward any form of remembrance. I may not have much to say about Monteith, but I am saddened that we’ll never get to see where his talent may have taken him. I might even need to bust out the Glee pilot once more, for old times’ sake, and even more so than usual, I know the tears will come when the first a capella notes of “Don’t Stop Believing” blast through the speakers.

So here’s to Cory Monteith, the decade-too-old high school student who brought me to tears with a capella, and whose talent and work, I hope, can live on for years to come.

Is it time to mourn the half-hour dramedy?

Brie Larson, Toni Collette (United States of Tara)

I recently watched United States of Tara, a Showtime original starring Toni Collette as a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I’d heard quite a bit about the show, especially a growing well of praise that’s sprung since the show’s cancellation in 2011. While I was fascinated with the characters (Collette’s performance of Tara and her multiple “alters” is comparable to the work Tatiana Maslany is currently doing on Orphan Black) and storytelling, since finishing the series, I’ve been more stricken not only by how gloriously it succeeded as a half-hour dramedy, but also by how dead the genre feels in today’s television landscape. Has it reached the end of its road?

Though the dramedy has a long history (ostensibly beginning with M*A*S*H), it evolved tremendously in the early 2000s. Freaks & Geeks, Paul Feig’s seminal high-school dramedy, finished its single-season run in 2000, while 2001 saw the arrival of Scrubs, Bill Lawrence’s high-energy hospital sitcom. The term “dramedy” had been redefined to focus on thematic, not structural, elements. Both of the aforementioned programs would lay the groundwork for network dramedies (hour and half-hour, respectively) for the forseeable future. From Freaks & Geeks would come sharp, quirky, yet poignant hour-longs: Ugly Betty; Pushing Daisies; Desperate Housewives; and on the cable side, Huff. Scrubs set the stage for more manic, zany half-hours that would be increasingly serialized and infuse a certain amount of emotion into their stories: How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Recreation, Community.

 But it’s on cable that the new half-hour dramedy came into its own. In 2005, HBO and Showtime each debuted a half-hour dramedy of their own. For HBO, it was The Comeback, a truly fascinating, though incredibly painful to watch, faux-reality series starring Lisa Kudrow as a failed actress trying to reclaim her fame. The series never found popularity, its inaccessible nature not helped by the fact that the entire series was presented as raw footage, full of long awkward pauses between characters and with all the “bad takes” and incidents that would normally be edited out still presented to the viewer. It was canceled three months after its debut, and today remains more a fascinating failure than essential viewing. Showtime, on the other hand, premiered Weeds.

 Weeds is the story of a suburban housewife (Mary-Louise Parker) who, after her husband’s death, turns to marijuana dealing in order to support her family. Its first season had elements of suburban satire, but as time passed, those fell away in favor of the character-driven stories. Weeds ran for eight long seasons, seasons which saw its quality diminish intensely. (So intensely that, by the time of the finale, few publications or critics even cared enough to weigh in.) Even the finale, an episode that jumps a decade into the future and brings back characters who left the series years before, was divisive among fans. (I mean, it’s no Lost finale, but I digress.)

 What is undeniable about Weeds, though, is the impact it had on the cable television landscape. This new breed of half-hour dramedy, featuring extreme serialization and an emphasis on dark comedy, was a huge hit. From Weeds came a bevy of shows that followed these new guidelines. Showtime would follow them closely, perhaps a little too much so, in producing The Big C and United States of Tara, becoming notorious for their “respected actress behaving badly” series. Other programs used the guidelines and created new variations: Hung, in which a high-school teacher becomes a male prostitute; Californication, starring David Duchovny as a struggling novelist; Bored to Death, which would incorporate noir storytelling elements; Party Down, which eschewed traditional structure, each episode revolving solely around an event the titular crew is catering, forcing a subtler type of serialization. While not huge ratings hits or massive phenomena, this new slew of series nonetheless remain an important part of television’s history, having both occurred during the Golden Age of TV Drama and also repurposed a genre that had worked in the past, and was still working well on the network channels.

 But where are we now? United States of Tara, considered by many to be the crown jewel of this new kind of dramedy, ended in 2011, while Weeds, the origin of the species, finished its reign in 2012. The drawn-out end of the Golden Age is fading into a new Silver Age, an era for drama and comedy defined by an increased feminine presence and an embrace of the emotional core many Golden Age dramas avoided. Single-camera and animated sitcoms have grown in popularity and prestige. Experimentation is becoming more and more encouraged, both by new outlets like Netflix and established programmers like HBO. Networks not known for original scripted content have stepped up and provided fascinating and exciting new programs, like Sundance and IFC. The television landscape is made of Play-Doh, ripe for playing around, trying new things, and starting from scratch if an idea doesn’t work out.

 And so the dramedy finds itself diminished. HBO recently struck critical and cultural gold with Girls, Lena Dunham’s examination of the female twenty-something life in New York City, as well as a bonafide television masterpiece with Enlightened, Mike White’s quiet rumination on the pursuit of happiness. Showtime brought on Don Cheadle for House of Lies, an entertaining, if contentious, story about a team of management consultants. And… that’s about it, as far as the new dramedy model goes. But is it the end? Is it time to mourn this complicated beast?

 Maybe not. Fuse is setting to premiere their first scripted program, The Hustle, a dramedy set in the hip-hop world, and HBO has picked up an untitled Dwayne Johnson/Mark Wahlberg project about retired athletes, Michael Lannan’s untitled series about young gay men living in San Francisco, and Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley, featuring a who’s who of young indie-comic talent. Each of these has at least the faintest promise, and combined with the programs still on-air, it could keep the genre alive for a few more seasons. This might be the slow death of the half-hour dramedy, but you can keep your black suits and veils in the closet for now.

Finals Week: Grading the 2012-13 Season

The 2012-13 season of television was a bizarre one. It seemed like more new series than ever started up and sputtered out almost immediately. Hell, NBC probably deserves some award for the number of new series it killed before they reached a sixth episode (all while two comedy mainstays marched through their final seasons). With the season having come to a close this past week, it’s as good a time as any to take a brief look back on some of the shows that graced screens, for better or worse, and the episodes each ended their year on.

30 Rock

Before this season, 30 Rock had been on wobbly legs, many acknowledging that some of the seams were starting to show, a bad sign for a show whose biggest attribute is its tightness. The show still had its loyal fanbase, but they weren’t oblivious. When season 7 began, it seemed to be just as shaky as the last few. Fortunately, after a few episodes, things began to click in ways they hadn’t for years, ramping up to a series finale, “Hogcock!/Last Lunch”, that perfectly encapsulated everything fans loved, and would dearly miss, about the show. Really, how could any episode of television featuring the title song from The Rural Juror musical not be perfect?

Finale Grade: A
Season Grade: A-

Community

At this point, it seems foolish to even try and talk about Community. As I noted previously, I haven’t seen a season of television be so divisive amongst fans of the series since season 5 of Lost. But fan reactions are a poor judge of quality, which made this season all the more difficult to watch and try and discuss on a weekly basis. To call season 4 of Community “mediocre” would do a great disservice to some of the great episodes, such as the Jim Rash-penned “Basic Human Anatomy” or the puppet-assisted “Intro to Felt Surrogacy”, but how else can you describe an episode like “Conventions of Space and Time”, or even worse, “Advanced Introduction to Finality”, the season’s fan-service heavy, laugh-light finale. And even more confusing, NBC renewed the show for a fifth season. A fifth season! I… I have to stop this one now, otherwise this could go on for days.

Finale Grade: D
Season Grade: B

The Office

Unlike its final-season companion, 30 Rock, The Office had dug itself so far into a hole that, by the time the ninth season began, it was difficult to tell if anyone outside of a few critics and diehards even still cared (cue flashbacks of Weeds). Season 9 was tumultuous, broad, frustrating, and at times, just bizarre. Andy Bernard’s descent into unbridled villainy accelerated to a point where some of the season’s best episodes occurred while he took his family boat on one final cruise (is it possible to be thankful that The Hangover Part III exists? If so, I am). Fortunately, having a finish line in sight, and Greg Daniels back as showrunner, gave the show a renewed energy. The Office works exceedingly well when there’s a loose narrative goal to move things forward, the romances of Jim & Pam and Michael & Holly being the two best examples. With this renewed spirit, even missteps like Boom Mic Brian, a member of the documentary crew who comes out from behind the camera to be a plot device between Jim and Pam, or Andy’s decision to quit Dunder-Mifflin and strive for… fame, or something, could be swept away quickly, or at the least, with as little pain as possible. Then, in the eleventh hour, something amazing happened: The Office delivered a show-stopping finale, one that very nearly forgave what transpired after Michael Scott took off his microphone at that airport. In a funny and poignant hour, The Office did justice to what the show was really about: the people.

Finale Grade: A
Season Grade: B

Parks & Recreation

Is it fair to say Parks & Recreation had an “off” season? Many critics have said so, but I’m not so sure. For the first time in a while, it seemed like the show had no big event to work towards, no Harvest Festival, no city council election. The season began with Ben and April in Washington, in what eventually became a mostly forgettable arc. In fact, for the first half of the season, I’d agree that Parks was having an “off” season. Thankfully, one wonderfully unexpected proposal turned the tides. The show even made a brave narrative choice by featuring the wedding of Ben and Leslie several episodes before the season’s finale, a choice that (mostly) paid dividends to a tightening of the show as a whole. Oddly, the season finale, “Are You Better Off?”, is a relatively low-key affair, at least, as low-key as an episode featuring an insane town hall meeting and Burt Macklin, FBI, can be. But low-key is not inherently bad, and “Are You Better Off?” was a great example of how to make it work. It even, in a Parks almost-tradition, ends on a wonderful cliffhanger, just to let you know that this show’s still got it.

Finale Grade: A-
Season Grade: B+

New Girl

While it may have started as a middle-of-the-road Zooey Deschanel starring vehicle, in its second season New Girl has morphed into a warm, funny ensemble comedy- one that just happens to have Deschanel at its center. In fact, the true stars of this season were Jake Johnson’s Nick Miller and Max Greenfield’s Scmidt. Sure, Lamorne Morris’ Winston could still use some work, and there were a few weak episodes in the bunch (the guest-overstuffed “Chicago” springs to mind), but the amount of growth shown by New Girl this season was just astounding. Episodes like “Eggs” began to use its perspective to tackle more serious issues, and “Cooler” signaled a big turning point for the show: the Nick/Jess kiss. Surprisingly, the Nick/Jess romance has been a welcome addition to the expanding world of New Girl, and the showrunners have found an enjoyable push-pull that keeps it interesting. By the season finale, “Elaine’s Big Day”, the show was confident enough to leave as many doors open as possible, setting up for what I hope will be a brilliant third season.

Finale Grade: A-
Season Grade: A-

The Mindy Project

To call The Mindy Project a disappointment would be a bit too dismissive. No matter the comedy pedigree, even Mindy Kaling’s, a new show is allowed to be shaky, to take some time to find its legs. But what happens when, sixteen episodes in, the season is still inconsistent and mostly boring? The Mindy Project promised a shake-up in its first season, and while there was some shuffling of cast members, it didn’t occur until very late in the season, and even then, new additions like the usually-great Beth Grant still didn’t feel right. However, Kaling’s performance, and that of leading man Chris Messina, has been strong, and a few well-played guest stars (B.J. Novak, Seth Rogan, and Anders Holm) helped shape some of the best episodes of the season. The final stretch of episodes, featuring Holm as Kaling’s pastor love-interest, were even consistently enjoyable. It’s clear that the rough sketch of a great comedy is there, and hopefully Kaling & Co. can work it out by the time the show returns next fall.

Finale Grade: B+
Season Grade: C

Happy Endings

I’m not sure ABC has ever really had to deal with a low-rated, critically-acclaimed comedy before. Their treatment of Happy Endings suggests that this is something the network had never dreamed of, and they dealt with it by shuffling the show around the week, changing up the episode order, putting it on a mid-season hiatus, and eventually relegating it to a two-a-week burnoff on Friday nights (not to mention their incredibly insulting “#SaveHappyEndings” campaign). That never detracted Happy Endings, though, and the show’s third season was its most whip-smart yet. Many might cite How I Met Your Mother, but in a perfect world, Happy Endings is the true heir apparent to the throne of Friends. Even the weak links in the cast, Elisha Cuthbert and Zachary Knighton, developed into interesting, funny characters this season. A strong stable of recurring and guest stars (including Rob Corddry, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Andy Richter, Megan Mullally, RuPaul, and Rachael Harris) added to the wonderfully absurd world of the show, and a wedding finale (as each season has had) made it all the more difficult to understand why anyone would cancel the show.

Finale Grade: A
Season Grade: A-

Bob’s Burgers

Seth MacFarlane may have an unfortunate stranglehold on the animated sitcom front, but Bob’s Burgers is the true king of the format (is it even worth mentioning The Simpsons at this point?). The ingredients may seem familiar, but Bob’s brings a certain bizarre sweetness to the recipe, and the results are a chinless blessing. After two oddly-scheduled seasons, the show finally got a full order with season three, and it pulled no punches. Every member of the Belcher family got at least one episode to shine, even pulling the originally bland Tina into MVP status with fantastic episodes like “Tina-Rannosaurus Wrecks”. Pulling out not one, but two(!) great holiday episodes, as well as a few clever tributes (see “OT: The Outside Toilet”, where the titular toilet is voiced by none other than Jon Hamm), kept the season feeling fresh, and the fleshing out of Oceanside, the New Jersey town Bob’s calls home, allowed for near-infinite character pairings. The season finale, “The Unnatural” saw the (very) loose plot threads of the season culminate in a thrilling and hilarious half-hour that cemented the show as the King of the Hill follow-up it’s always wanted to be.

Finale Grade: A
Season Grade: A

Portlandia

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s charmingly absurdist sketch show shifted gears slightly this season, switching out the constant addition of new Armisen/Brownstein characters for a higher level of serialization. Guest stars like Chloe Sevigny (as Alexandra, Fred and Carrie’s shared new roommate/love-interest) and Kyle MacLachlan’s Mayor were given fully realized, multi-episode (or in the Mayor’s case, season-long) arcs, as were many of Fred and Carrie’s characters: Peter and Nance opened a bed and breakfast in their home; Kath and Dave learn that Kath is pregnant; the Portland Milk Advisory Board desperately attempts to find an alternative to traditional milk. Okay, that last one is more a recurring gag than a sketch, but the point remains the same. This serialization pays off immensely in the season finale, “Blackout”, a hilarious episode that ends on a surprisingly heartfelt note. If this is the path of the show’s future, it’s a good one for all involved.

Finale Grade: A-
Season Grade: B+

Girls
Many people much smarter than me have said much, much more about Girls than I ever plan to. It’s a show that taunts you, dares you to talk/argue about it until you’re blue in the face. Compared to this season, the first was a cakewalk of setup, as this year saw many of the ticking bombs from season one exploding fantastically, creating giant messes of everything these girls want and believe. It also saw the show attempt to play with conventions, including the oh-so-controversial Patrick Wilson episode, but it’s where it all ended up that’s the most interesting of all. The season finale, and the final scene of the finale, have been dissected to bits, but I’m not sure any of us are any closer to really understanding what Lena Dunham was trying to say. Whether it’s a declaration of feminine weakness, or the opening of act three of a grand love story, the show still warrants discussion, and that’s one of the best things television can do.

Finale Grade: B+
Season Grade: A-

Enlightened

It’s unfortunate that Enlightened has already been canceled by HBO. Like many, I missed the first season entirely, but found myself a devout follower by the time the second came around. Enlightened is not a show for everyone, with it’s glacial pace and focus on introversion and quiet character moments, but the second season saw the corporate espionage plot become more prominent in the mix, and with it, supporting characters that could each fill an entire episode by themselves. While Laura Dern and Mike White continued their Emmy-worthy performances as Amy Jellicoe and Tyler, respectively, Luke Wilson’s Levi, Timm Sharp’s Dougie, and Diane Ladd’s Helen Jellicoe, all lifted the show to heights most hour-long dramas could barely dream of, let alone a half-hour program. The season/series finale is a mix of poignant grace and big, juicy character moments that scream for the awards reels, Laura Dern’s final voice-over bringing the entire series to close in a neat package in such a way that’s equal parts heartbreaking, uplifting, and incredibly philosophical. There was no other show like it on television, and I doubt there will be for some time.

Finale Grade: A
Season Grade: A

The Walking Dead

After its mostly-boring second season, The Walking Dead took some pains to try and keep the show interesting going into its third, and biggest, year. Those efforts didn’t always pay off, but it was nice to see the show return to a pace and style that could be sustainable for a few more seasons. Several supporting characters, such as Steven Yuen’s Glenn, Lauren Cohan’s Maggie, and Chandler Rigg’s Carl (I know, right, Carl!), stepped up to the plate and delivered on levels they hadn’t til this point. David Morrissey stumbled a few times as the seasons big bad, The Governer, but ultimately played the role with a mix of cool evil and bubbling rage that worked perfectly in the context of the show. In fact, the season’s weakest episode didn’t come along til the very end, with a season finale that barely wrapped up any stories, instead acting a segue between this season and the next, a bold move for sure, but one that worked poorly given the narrative structure not only of the show, but of its source material. It’ll be interesting to see how a new showrunner (Scott Gimple, who penned some of the season’s best episodes) wrangles this unruly plot thread next year, and hopefully all of this anticlimax will actually pay off.

Finale Grade: B-
Season Grade: B+

Bates Motel

Bates Motel seemed like an ill-conceived project from the beginning: a modern-era prequel to the horror classic Psycho. And I’ll admit, at first I watched purely for the campy awfulness, but, like American Horror Story: Asylum, campy awfulness soon gave way to a show that was actually enjoyable to watch. Vera Farmiga’s B-movie performance as Norma Bates seemed delightfully silly at first, but became more and more unsettling as the show progressed into the quiet thriller Freddie Highmore’s Norman Bates had been inhabiting from the start. While some characters, like Norman’s brother/Norma’s son Dylan took a while latch on, others, like Emma, a quiet girl with CF who’s attraction to Norman ropes her into the bizarre going-ons of the town, were immediately enrapturing. The season finale, “Midnight”, played even more low-key than the rest of the season, setting up the right balance of bizarrely campy and quietly menacing the show seems to strive for.

Finale Grade: B+
Season Grade: B

The Following

Like Bates Motel, I was originally drawn to The Following on the promise of campy awfulness (plus, I’m a sucker for Kevin Bacon, what can I say?), and while it delivered largely on that front, too often the show’s story was too boring to care about, while its violence was too gruesome to be justified. Few characters have any clear motivations, and most are barely more than broad character types, put there to revolve around Bacon’s protagonist, Ryan Hardy, and James Purefoy’s antagonist, the increasingly dull and exasperatingly dramatic Joe Carroll. The season finale delivered on all of these detriments, ending on one of the lamest television cliffhangers I’ve ever seen. Unless Vera Farmiga gets transported in from Bates Motel, the chances of me coming back for more of this bleak mess are slim to none.

Finale Grade: F
Season Grade: D

Supernatural

To put it gently, Supernatural has been on too long. That, combined with full-season orders, has left the last few seasons of the show seeming like warmed-up leftovers of the taught, exciting genre program that it used to be. Season 8 was a slight step up, with some great new additions to the show’s mythology (especially the Men of Letters, which provided Sam and Dean with a much needed HQ), and a great new character to push forward into season 9 in Metatron, the scribe of God. And even a moderately boring season can be forgiven by an exciting finale, and while parts of “Sacrifice” existed solely to push the plot past some of its dead ends, the final scene, with millions of angels raining down from a now-closed Heaven, while a human Castiel, a severely wounded Sam, and an astonished Dean all looked on, was a sight to behold. It’s hard to tell where the show will go from here, but hopefully some of “Sacrifice”‘s momentum and exciting imagery will stick around.

Finale Grade: A-
Season Grade: B-

One By One They All Just Fade Away: Why Community doesn’t need a fifth season

I’ll admit, I was late to the Community game. I only got into the show about two years ago, during the summer before the third season. But about halfway through the first season, I knew I loved it. I knew it spoke to me in ways few shows had before, and few have since. It’s probably the second most important TV show in my life (behind Lost, which will always be the show that made me love and appreciate television). I follow the cast like a hawk, keeping an eye on any and all new projects they’re working on. I’ve been an active participant player of the “Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne” game on Reddit. I will argue violently that “Remedial Chaos Theory” is the best-written episode of television comedy ever. And yet, despite all this, I can’t help but feel that tomorrow’s season four finale, “Advanced Introduction to Finality”, needs to be the end of the series.

In case you missed it, in the tumultuous time following season three, the Community fanbase grew to a rabid beast that no mere NBC or Sony executive could ignore. While the idea of TV fandoms have been around for a while, often attributed to huge commercial successes like Glee or era-spanning cultural definers like Doctor Who, you can thank the Human Beings (the name members of the fandom have given themselves) for helping to push the idea strongly into the forefront of the cultural consciousness. So while live ratings continue to plummet (though not a problem exclusive to Community or even its network, the flailing NBC), it seems the fandom is more huge and rabid than ever. So, only naturally, there has been a large push for NBC to renew the show for a fifth season (at this time, NBC has not renewed any of its current comedies).

But what exactly fuels this renewal mania? Obviously, if you become emotionally attached to a show, the natural inclination is to want it to run as long as possible. The never-ending cries from fans of beloved cult shows like Pushing Daisies or Party Down are more than enough proof. But Community exists in a more bizarre situation: after all that caterwauling for a fourth season, very few actually turned up for the premiere (and even less showed up for subsequent weeks). I’ve read more internet comments and Tumblr posts than I care to count about how “it’s just not the same”, or the more malicious “Community is garbage now!” “Community is the biggest disappointment on television,” etc, etc. An astounding number of those same fans who clamored for this new season have become dismissive of the show under its new showrunners, yet still show up every week to watch, undoubtedly to better fuel their tirade of jokes on Twitter. (Funny enough, the last time I remember a season of television being this divisive among fans was Lost.)

And yet, here we are again. On the eve of the season four finale, a massive movement has broken out online, including a contribution from the big dog itself, Sony, to watch the season four finale live and live-tweet the show as a message to NBC that they’d better renew the show for a fifth season. And while I find it admirable, I have only one question: Why? Dan Harmon, the show’s creator, has said time and time again that the show was never meant to run longer than four seasons (it is a show centered around a college degree, after all). Even the most ardent spoiler-avoider must be aware that “Advanced Introduction to Finality” will deal with Jeff and the study group’s completion of their time at Greendale. It’s the main narrative thread that’s driven the entire series. There’s no real reason the show has to stop, as there will always be stories to mine from the characters and their relationships, even without the titular community college to bring them all together, but it’s just not the right direction for the show.

For as much as Community is about the personal relationships forged between its main cast, the show works best when built around Group Study Room F. Part of season four’s uneasy oddness can be directly traced to a lack of study room. Group Study Room F, and in a larger sense, Greendale Community College itself, is essentially a character in the show, much like The Simpsons‘ Springfield or Parks and Recreation‘s Pawnee. Like those, Greendale is filled to the brim with eclectic and entertaining characters that almost seem to inhabit their own show when they’re not floating in and out of ours. Be it the screechy-voiced Garrett, always in need of saving, the party-starting Magnitude, whose dialogue consists almost entirely of the phrase “Pop pop!”, or one of Greendale’s more tragic figures, Todd, a war veteran that the study group sees as an enemy, but is really just a guy with a child trying to make something of his life after returning home. And that’s not even mentioning Greendale’s wonderfully zany professors and faculty, of which two have become series regulars in the form of Jim Rash’s Dean Pelton and Ken Jeong’s Ben Chang.

To pull Greendale from Community‘s formula would be the equivalent of losing a main cast member, which would be especially problematic for Community. Chevy Chase, who plays Pierce Hawthorne, has already exited the show, and his split from them was messy and, by the accounts of cast members, writers, and Dan Harmon, extremely mean-spirited. Chase has a long history of being difficult to work with, so none of that was necessarily surprising, but it left the show in a hard place. His arc through the second and third seasons saw him wrestle with feelings of inadequacy amongst the study group, at times becoming the show’s antagonist, but his redemption at the end of season three, especially in the penultimate episode “Digital Estate Planning”, left the character open for a challenging and fulfilling arc in season four. However, Chase’s exit forced the show to sideline Pierce, instead reducing him to rehashed jokes from seasons past and entire episodes where his name is barely mentioned.

Which is all to say: can Community survive a fifth season, especially when losing not only a main cast member, but also the character that is Greendale Community College? On some level, yes, it could. This season, like many a season four before it, has seen the show shift from a forward thinking, challenging invention of a mad whacked-on-pills scientist to a show that just wants to please its fans (which, let’s be clear, is not a bad thing, and trust me when I say that it’s happened to at least one of your favorite shows). But this isn’t just any old show we’re talking about, this is Community. The show inherently has a built-in narrative structure that would make it difficult to move past Greendale, even if it hadn’t become the rich world it is now.

And most of all, is it worth it to try and extend the life of a show, especially a comedy, beyond its natural endpoint? One simply needs to watch one of Community‘s night-mates, The Office, to see a show that has been pumped so full of drugs to keep it going that it’s literally falling apart at the seams. The Office reached a natural endpoint in possibly its most moving and poignant episode, “Goodbye, Michael”, yet NBC insisted on keeping it around for two more years. Community, like The Office, has a rich supply of supporting characters to keep the show afloat, but not even The Office risked leaving its Scranton, Pennsylvania office park for any extended period of time. So I say, let Community go on its terms. Everything about “Advanced Introduction to Finality”, from the episode description to the title to its mere existence, reads “End of Series”, and I can’t help feel a fifth season would barely be able to bring much, let alone closure. To quote Nietzsche: “The end of a melody is not its goal: but nonetheless, had the melody not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either.” Community has reached its goal; it’s time for us to accept it, and say goodbye.