Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#40 – #31)
Our list continues! The next ten are a fun blend, showcasing many of the shows to come out of either web-based series or lesser known cable networks, proving that the big league networks no longer hold a monopoly on good TV. With off-beat comedies, foreign drama originals (most of which the U.S. has already attempted to recreate to various degrees of success), cartoons that capture our attention as well as any live-action drama, and a game-changing horror show.
After much deliberating, debating, and voting we at Way Too Indie have compiled what we consider to be the best 50 shows to come out of the decade so far. Check back each day this week as we count down to the top ten.
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far
(#40 – #31)
The Heart, She Holler
I might have been one of the only few to watch every episode of The Heart, She Holler, but I’m not surprised. Vernon Chatman and John Lee, the creators of shows like Wonder Showzen and Xavier: Renegade Angel, have been personal heroes of mine for making some of the most mind-blowing things I’ve ever seen on TV, and The Heart, She Holler might be their most twisted work yet. The show is a Southern gothic soap opera about a family fighting for control of their beloved town, but anyone familiar with Chatman and Lee’s previous shows know that plot doesn’t really matter. The Heart, She Holler turns into a mind-melting self-destruction of sorts, as it breaks down into something bordering on the experimental (who else would end their series by playing Jimmy Carter’s malaise speech for 10 minutes straight?). And while Chatman and Lee’s episode-by-episode deconstruction of their own show is awe-inspiring in its audacity, it’s also really funny. Their cast—with the likes of Patton Oswalt and an incredible Amy Sedaris—sells every piece of insanity thrown their way, and the dialogue contains so much hilarious wordplay it would take multiple rewatches to wrap your head around every line. The Heart, She Holler might be, bar none, the most deranged thing ever made for television, and I thank Adult Swim for supporting mad geniuses like Chatman and Lee. [C.J]
Billy On The Street
Bringing unmatched levels of energy, enthusiasm, and insanity to those tired ‘Man on the Street’-style segments, Billy Eichner hustles down New York City sidewalks, thrusting his handheld microphone in the face of any random pedestrian, and confidently asking, “Would you have sex with Paul Rudd for a dollar?” Flanked by celebrities like Zachary Quinto, Rashida Jones, or Paul Rudd (as well as semi-frequent guest, the crotchety NYC-resident Elena, who co-starred with Michelle Obama and Big Bird in Billy’s latest viral FunnyOrDie segment), Eichner comes prepared to outwit any person that gives him the slightest bit of attitude.
Aside from his big presence and regular shouting, it’s often the hilarious simplicity of the “games” he plays with guests that are the most entertaining aspect to his show. “Would Drew Barrymore Like That?” which Billy plays with Will Ferrell, includes Eichner asking Ferrell about Barrymore’s feelings towards blueberries to which Eichner exclaims, “Drew Barrymore would hate eating a blueberry. Drew Barrymore would kill you if you even offered her a blueberry.” His quick-wittedness and the sheer ridiculousness of the endeavor become enchanting. Even in his most seemingly irate moment, Eichner is a joyful comedic treasure. [Zach]
Legend of Korra
There are a number of animated shows on our list, and Legend of Korra doesn’t seem an obvious choice if all you know about it is it’s a continuation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Which is a show I never personally watched and that most adults associate with pre-teens. I felt this way until someone forced me to watch a few episodes of Korra, at which point I was hooked. Whereas Avatar focused on younger-aged characters, Korra’s are older and the story lines more mature. The show takes place in a world where some people have the ability to bend, which means manipulate the elements: earth, air, fire, and water. In Avatar, Aang was the current incarnation of the Avatar, a person who could harness all of the elements to be extra powerful. In Legend of Korra it’s 70 years later and the titular Korra, a water bender, is the new Avatar. She struggles with her studies in air bending, trained by Aang’s son Tenzin (voiced by J.K. Simmons), participates in pro-bending (a spectator sport), and generally faces the terrorists and evils that arise in the metropolis of Republic City.
The show takes risk, suavely facing heavier sociopolitical subjects. In the first season a terrorist is trying to homogenize Republic City by taking away people’s bending abilities, its parallels to race issues clear. It’s also fluid with gender and sexual identities in a subtle but impressive way. Plus it easily holds up visually to even the best Miyazaki films, with its steam punk aesthetic, a vibrant mix of 1930’s style elements and its own made-up world. As an excellent character-driven show, Korra uses many recognizable voice talents as well. This is one cartoon well worth giving up your Saturday morning brunch for. [Ananda]
Review stars Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil, a professional critic who spends each episode reviewing whatever his viewers tell him. But Forrest is no ordinary critic, you see; he prefers to review life experiences, instead of things like books or movies. It’s a straightforward setup, but what makes Review so astounding is how quickly it does away with its own format. It’s morbidly funny to see Forrest developing a cocaine habit after reviewing drug addiction, or planning a bank robbery in order to review stealing, but the show also explores how Forrest’s job impacts his personal life. By the third episode, “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes,” Review fully came into its own, providing a half hour so gut-wrenchingly funny it made other comedies on TV pale in comparison.
And the reason why the show pulls off its tonal balancing act so well is because of Andy Daly. Daly, who some might recognize from Eastbound and Down or MadTV (count me as a fan of his work on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast), finally has the opportunity to delve into a role showcasing all of his comedic strengths. His performance makes the show because, no matter how absurd a certain episode or review can get, Forrest remains grounded to some degree. While Review only has one season under its belt, it’s a near-flawless one, starting out as a cheesy formulaic show before transforming into a painfully funny look at one man inadvertently ruining his own life. [C.J.]
Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld began their web series High Maintenance as a self-funded passion project that would allow the co-creators low-stakes freedom to exhibit a series of strange, unconnected stories. After 13 varied, compelling web episodes of different lengths were posted to Vimeo over the course of a year and a half, the premium video sharing service stepped in to make High Maintenance its first venture into original programming (funding six more episodes released in batches of three this February and last November).
While the series’ protagonist is ostensibly The Guy — an unnamed, bearded, bicycling marijuana deliveryman — each episode is built around a new set of characters, providing nuanced glimpses into the lives of a diverse collection of people. A cancer-stricken birdwatcher, a cross-dressing screenwriter, and an asexual teacher who does magic tricks are all united over a shared hobby: weed. While rebutting the idea that all pot smokers are similar, High Maintenance analyzes the relationship people maintain with the drug (from first-time smokers to full-fledged stoners) in order to reveal details of the characters’ personalities. The result of their approach and the show’s anthological structure is a series unparalleled in its ability to illustrate the wide array of people you find in a city like New York. [Zach]
American Horror Story
I won’t lie: I’ve fallen out of love with American Horror Story after it followed two incredible seasons with two wildly inconsistent ones. But if the show might not be strong overall, its impact is undeniable. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s show was the first to kick off the anthology format trend in TV, dedicating each season to an entirely new storyline. And even though the show came out a year after The Walking Dead, its massive ratings proved that audiences wanted something scary on their TV screens.
But “scary” might be the wrong word to describe American Horror Story. It’s more of a grand guignol soap opera than a straight up terrifying program, although it does have its fair share of bone-chilling images (Twisty The Clown, anyone?). What makes American Horror Story great TV is its fun and campiness, and how much it wants viewers to enjoy getting scared. And even when the show takes a dive in quality, there’s still the basic pleasure of watching the likes of Jessica Lange chew up as much scenery as possible. American Horror Story may have fallen from grace since its first two seasons, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t qualify for a list like this. It’s still one of the weirdest and boldest shows to enter the zeitgeist in recent years, and that alone is worth plenty. [C.J.]
With Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent adaptation of Inherent Vice, along with a renewed interest in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, the slacker mystery has become en vogue again. But five years ago, it was impossible to get anyone to check out FX’s Terriers (it’s the only show on this list that got canned after one season). Taking place in San Diego, the show follows former cop Hank (Donal Logue) and best friend/ex-criminal Britt (Michael Raymond-James) as they open up an unlicensed private detective agency. And like the aforementioned films, our charmingly deadbeat heroes stumble into a large conspiracy.
Back when Terriers got the axe from FX, people pointed their fingers all over the place when figuring out why no one watched it: bad marketing, a vague title, and an ad campaign that made little to no sense (the real reason why it didn’t make it past season 1: it was FX’s lowest rated show ever). For fans of Terriers, it was insanely frustrating, because the show would immediately click for anyone who just saw one episode. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James had perfect chemistry, the mysteries were expertly crafted, and the show was perfectly in tune with all of its characters. There have been rumblings from creator Ted Griffin about a Veronica Mars-type reunion movie in the works, but as of right now it looks like Terriers won’t be coming back anytime soon. That’s alright with me, though; I’ll always have this fantastic season to come back to whenever I please. [C.J.]
Workaholics came at the perfect time back in 2011 when It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (already on its seventh season) was beginning to lose its novelty, especially after devoting a season on repetitive ‘Mac got fat’ jokes. Admittedly, the concept of a twentysomething slackers sitcom isn’t particularly unique. And neither is the lowbrow (or more accurately, low-bro) humor found in the show. But the third episode (“Office Campout”) is the perfect example of crafting hilarious material from moronic and outlandish situations. The trio prepare to spend the night at the office while their house is fumigated, but as they begin to party and trip balls by consuming psychedelic mushrooms, two burglars break in to steal equipment. On a dime, the episode transforms from a stoner comedy into a full-on Mission: Impossible style manhunt. Creators Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, and Anders Holm manage to make dick and fart jokes funny again due to their amazing bromantic chemistry and their willingness to get weird. Workaholics is dumb humor done well. If It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is Seinfeld on crack, then Workaholics is The Office on acid. [Dustin]
With only one season under its Scottish belt, Outlander has already managed to make plenty of waves, especially among females. I admit I fall squarely into its intended audience, but all genders can appreciate an out-of-time adventure led by an independent and incredibly resourceful woman. The show’s basic premise is that Claire (Caitriona Balfe), a battlefield nurse in post-WWII Britain, travels to Scotland with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) as a way to reconnect after being away from one another for so long and so Frank can research his Scottish ancestry. At an ancient ruin one morning after a solstice, Claire is mysteriously transported back in time 200 years. Now she must keep herself alive among the highlanders, deal with an especially evil ancestor of her husband’s (played also be Menzies), and enter into a forced marriage with the hot and steamy Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), making for a complicated time-defying love triangle.
Based on the popular ’90s historical-fiction novel series by Diana Gabaldon, I initially wrote off Outlander as a Harlequin romance. It is certainly sexually graphic enough to fall into the category of escapist fiction, but the supernatural element, the historical accuracy and intrigue, the strong characters around her, and most significantly Claire’s level-headedness and general kickass-ness propel the show past its more sentimental elements. And the sex. Look out Game of Thrones, the indelicate and coarse sex you’ve numbed us to is challenged by the intimate, tender and sexy as hell nooky Outlander presents. Plus Claire, while always technically in danger—mostly at the hands of the men around her—somehow manages to own her sexuality and use her wit to save herself, not to mention teach us all a thing or two in the sack. After a nail-biting and blush-inducing first season, we can’t wait to see where Claire will end up…or I guess more accurately, when. [Ananda]
I don’t know when it happened, but some time ago the Scandinavians figured out the crime and mystery genres. And it’s not like their approach reinvented the wheel, either; if anything it was a return to basics, with an emphasis on one compelling case being investigated by well-rounded, three-dimensional characters. That’s more or less what the Danish/Swedish show The Bridge (no, I’m not talking about the remake on FX) did. The show’s first season opened with a grisly crime: the body of a politician appears on the bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark together, with the corpse cut in two, so each half resides in a different country. Enter Danish detective Martin (Kim Bodnia) and eccentric Swedish cop Saga (Sofia Helin), who must work together to find the killer.
Revealing any more of the surprises in The Bridge would ruin most of its fun. The tension between the two neighboring countries collaborating together on a case that impacts both sides of the border makes for a great setup, and Bodnia and Helin manage to pull off a great rapport despite their characters’ major differences. And the show’s handling of plot and structure is masterful, doling out just enough information to make you clamor for the next episode. The Bridge isn’t the best of the recent trend of Scandinavian crime dramas—that honour goes to Forbrydelsen (The Killing)—but it comes very close. This show could function as a manual on how to make a terrific mystery. [C.J.]
Check out the rest of our Best TV Shows Of The Decade lists!
View Other Picks in this Feature:
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#50 – #41)
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#30 – #21)
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#20 – #11)
Best 50 TV Shows Of The Decade So Far (#10 – #1)