in Top Ten

Once I realized I’d have to hunker down this year, I saw it as an opportunity to binge watch a bunch of old shows. For me that included watching every episode of Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, the first season of Cheers, the first two seasons of Halt and Catch Fire and most of Viva La Bam for reasons unknown. Also, I caught up with HBO’s Watchmen. The problem is I forgot to watch new shows.

If I have the time, I’ll always pick a movie over a TV show. Which means a show has to really grab my attention to get me to watch it. Even more to finish it. Honestly, it was hard to come up with a top ten, but I’m happy with the results. Plus, now that I’m done with this list I can go back to watching Viva La Bam.

Honorable Mention
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Harley Quinn
PEN15
Tiger King

10. Rick and Morty

All I have to say is “Fuck All of you. I’m acid proof.”

9. High Score

Netflix has been doing a lot nostalgia docuseries lately. I don’t know if High Score elevates itself from those other shows but it hit the spot. The show explores the history of video games with episodes focused on topics like the video game crash, Sega vs. Nintendo, and the transition from 2D to 3D graphics.

If you’re a fan of gaming history, you’re probably going to hear a lot of familiar stories and fun facts. Where the show shines most is its portraits of overlooked pioneers in the industry. Pioneers like Jerry Lawson, the primary creator of the video game cartridge, and one of the few black engineers of the time. Or Ryan Best, the creator of GayBlade, the first LGBT-themed video game. These are the stories that need to be told. High Score is a good start.

8. Devs

I like that FX goes all in on the trippy shows. Devs is bold television not just aesthetically but in its winding plot, metaphors, even pacing. The show is about a mysterious project at a tech company. A project known as “Devs”. An employee mysteriously dies after his first day on the Devs team and his software engineer girlfriend, Lily (Sonoya Mizuno), investigates. In charge of the company is the enigmatic Forest (Nick Offerman—in his best dramatic performance to date), driven to push his technology to new heights no matter what the sacrifice. I have to be vague to hide how cool the reveal is.

Show creator/writer/director Alex Garland continues to tell mind bending stories about life and death through the lens of science fiction and this is his most ambitious project yet. It’ll give you a lot to think about. It’ll also make you hate tech companies. I mean hate them MORE. I know you already hate them.

7. Solar Opposites

One of the most blink and you’ll miss it shows of the year. Then again, that’s our media landscape these days. Shows are hot for a weekend and forgotten. It doesn’t help that Solar Opposites was immediately held up to the high standards of Rick and Morty.

It’s fair. Solar Opposites is a lot like Rick and Morty. Both are zany, hyper-violent, sci-fi comedies. Justin Roiland’s performance as Korvo isn’t that different from Rick. What set this show apart is a stronger adherence to the family sitcom format but even moreso its weirdly compelling subplot.

You might have heard a lot of people online talk about “the Wall” arc this year. If you don’t know what that is one of the alien characters shrinks down people that piss him off and traps them in an ant farm behind his wall. There, a society run by a corrupt duke (Alfred Molina) terrorizes the community until a meek man named Tim (Andy Daly) leads a revolution. It’s one of the most involved and compelling subplots I’ve ever seen on a TV show and reason enough to check out Solar Opposites.

6. Moonbase 8

There are few things I like more than a good “Breakfast Comedy”. A good Breakfast Comedy is a funny show that I can watch, relaxed, on a Saturday or Sunday Morning with a cup of coffee and a slice of toast. It’s a show that’s low stakes, maybe a little artsy, and may or may not have Fred Armisen.

My favorite Breakfast Comedies of recent year include; Portlandia, Joe Pera Talks with You, my number 2 pick on this list, and now Moonbase 8. Created by the show’s three stars alongside director Jonathan Krisel (Portlandia, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!), Moonbase 8 is a workplace comedy about three subpar astronauts working at a simulated NASA moon base in the Arizona desert.

The show stars John C. Reilly as “Cap”, an optimistic but desperate former helicopter pilot. Fred Armisen as “Skip” a nebbish but intelligent doctor living in his astronaut father’s shadow, and Tim Heidecker as “Rook” a naive but well-meaning Christian who wants to spread the word of Jesus throughout the universe.

The humor is subtle with plotlines bordering on mundane. Like an episode where the crew tries to catch some guy who keeps stealing all their shit outside the base. What works about Moonbase 8 is the show’s characters are idiots with hearts. They make a lot of brash decisions but for the most part they are three guys with the same dream of visiting the moon. It’s heartwarming and it goes well with a slice of Dave’s Killer Bread.

5. The Last Dance

We all know that Michael Jordan is great. That he won a bunch of championships in close succession. That he’s a gamblin’ man. We know all these things and yet The Last Dance is a thrill ride of a docuseries. It helps that Michael Jordan is so charismatic. Whether he’s being Mr. Nice Guy or the biggest asshole on the court you can’t deny that he’s a compelling figure. That’s not even taking into account that he’s one of the greatest athletes of all time.

As a 90s kid (we remember), Michael Jordan was THE athlete. I was never surprised by his success back then but looking back it is amazing. Sure, it took a lot of luck, having the right coach, the right players, the right time, but you can’t deny Jordan was a competitor. He wanted to win more than anyone and he just did.

4. What We Do in the Shadows

This is my favorite sitcom on TV right now. Which is crazy considering it’s about vampires who kill people. It helps that they’re pathetic. Though one highlight this season was Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) stepping out of his role as a familiar and embracing his Van Helsing heritage. The vampire fighting scenes on this show are impressive. What We Do in the Shadows is one of the more inventive shows on TV from a production standpoint.

I don’t feel the need to recap the season but I would be remiss if I didn’t raise a glass to Jackie Daytona. Laszlo’s (Matt Berry) embrace of his new life as a bartender/high school volleyball enthusiast may be the highlight of the entire show up to this point. To think all it took was a toothpick to completely transform the character.

3. The Mandalorian

I don’t love that The Mandalorian is connecting itself to the rest of the Star Wars universe. I didn’t fall in love with this show because I love Boba Fett or Luke Skywalker. I fell in love with it because it’s the kind of show that will spend 30 minutes telling a story about an unintelligible Frog Woman trapped in an ice cave with spiders.

The great thing about The Mandalorian is that it’s simple but weird. We see a vast array of alien worlds populated by interesting creatures all bound together by a sweet father and son relationship. It shows Star Wars can be more than Rebels vs Empire or Sith vs. Jedi. I didn’t hate that we saw familiar faces this season. In fact, I was excited in those moments. The show earns those moments. I just fear that the show is heading in the wrong direction. That connecting the universe will lead to anger. Anger will lead to hate. Hate will lead to suffering and so on.

But as of now, I believe in Jon Favreau. The force is strong with him.

2. How to with John Wilson

John Wilson is a filmmaker. He films things. Sometimes those things are interesting. That is the gist of How to with John Wilson, a show that plays like Planet Earth if it was about New York City. John Wilson shoots footage and narrates his findings. Such findings that include the history of scaffolding, the Mandela Effect, and how to cook the perfect risotto.

There’s something oddly therapeutic about John Wilson drifting from thought to thought. He meets interesting people along the way too. Like a guy who’s built a device to restore his foreskin. The way this show weaves together ideas with a collection of unrelated footage is unlike anything I’ve seen. When I watch this I’m at peace. This is zen comedy and John Wilson is our video guru.

1. The Queen’s Gambit

I know people who watched The Queen’s Gambit and started playing chess. I know because I am one of them. Just thought I should know whether or not I’m a secret chess genius. I’m not.

The fact that this show made the ultimate nerd hobby cool for the kids is no small feat. The Queen’s Gambit is the Rocky of chess movies. Yeah, I know this is a TV show but we live in an era where those lines have become far less defined. This is a long-ass movie that turns a game of strategy into a battle of passion, and Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor Joy) is the ultimate chess warrior.

Based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis (The Hustler, The Color of Money), The Queen’s Gambit is the classic underdog story. A woman raised as an orphan in the 1960s who finds her calling and then has to fight against all odds i.e. “douchebag chess nerds” to prove her worth. Predictable? Maybe. Thrilling? Always.

Seasoned screenwriter (and director of every episode) Scott Frank (Get Shorty, Minority Report, Logan) has delivered a stylish yet accessible entry into the world of chess. Of course none of it would work without the talent of Anya Taylor-Joy. Her intensity. That stare. An instant classic character.

I only wish there could be more of this show. Then again, that’s the beauty of a great show. It leaves you wanting more. That’s part of the game and we’re all the pawns, man!

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