It’s never before been so hard to pick the 10 best shows of the year, as streaming services deliver strong short series on a regular basis, and cable and network TV have mostly kept pace with the quality. Some staple entries have dropped out of my top 10 not because they got worse but simply because they were supplanted. Here are 10 shows worthy of special mention even in this age of Peak TV.
Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is easiest to describe to a newcomer if they are familiar with “Riverdale.” It’s like “Riverdale” but with witchcraft and likeable characters. Those two elements are what make “Sabrina” the more interesting show, but it shares “Riverdale’s” foundation of moody cinematography and an ephemeral sense of time and place. As a horror-tinged show (though not a scary one), those elements work perfectly on “Sabrina.”
Some people won’t watch horror movies or TV series because they don’t want to be scared. As I was drying my eyes after watching the beautiful ending of Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” I thought “Those people are missing out.” The horror genre has always been a way to work through real-life fears in the safety of a fictional journey, but showrunner Mike Flanagan’s 10-episode series does it better than almost anything before it.
There are more good shows on TV than ever, but the traditional fall season has become the dumping ground for the least exciting new series – perhaps because they need the extra buzz of Fall TV Previews more than something with the cachet of an “Atlanta” or a “Fargo.” Still, some quality series rise to the surface: Recent years have given us “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “This Is Us,” along with glitzy franchise entries like “The Gifted” and assorted MCU efforts (“Iron Fist” and “Daredevil” boast new seasons this fall).
Frustrated with “Scream” Season 3 being delayed indefinitely, I was excited to stumble across “Slasher” Season 2 (2017) on Netflix. Chiller’s Season 1 was strong, but Season 2 of Aaron Martin’s Canadian horror mystery series is better. It is gorier, with remarkably creative kill scenes, but it’s also a more compelling mystery that allows us to feel for – or be creeped out by — a lot of the characters.
In a case of perfect timing, the same night “The Alienist’s” 1890s serial-killer mystery wrapped, another atmospheric historical horror-thriller debuted. “The Terror” (9 p.m. Eastern Mondays on AMC), though, closely hews to a real event: In 1845, British naval Captain John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds) led an expedition to find the last leg of the Northwest Passage, a (believed to be) 200-mile stretch linking up what had been mapped so far from the east with what had been mapped from the west.
On Monday, the Diane Ruggiero/Rob Thomas show that started off as a sly way to get “Veronica Mars”-style witty mysteries back on the tube surpassed its more famous forebearer in number of seasons. While “iZombie” (9 p.m. Eastern Mondays, The CW) strikes me as being less popular and less acclaimed than “Veronica,” it always finds a spot on my year-end top 10 lists and it’s getting to the point where the duo’s shorthand descriptor should be “the creators of ‘Veronica Mars’ AND ‘iZombie.’ ”
“FreakyLinks” (2000-01, Fox) was neither great nor terrible, but it has an important place in television history, which is why it’s a shame it hasn’t been preserved on DVD. (It has been rerun on Chiller, but not regularly enough to break out of the “lost to history” label.) The first faux-found-footage series in TV history, it exists entirely because of the success of the surprise 1999 movie hit “The Blair Witch Project.”
Today, it’s impossible to talk about “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” (1974-75, following TV movies in 1972 and 1973) without talking about “The X-Files” (1993-present). While this annoys some “Kolchak” fans, they have to admit that “The X-Files” has helped keep the “Kolchak” cult afloat – indeed, “The X-Files” is mentioned in the first sentence on the back of the “Kolchak” DVD collection.
Like most people who weren’t around when it was on the air, I was inspired to check out “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” (1974-75) – and its preceding TV movies, “The Night Stalker” (1972) and “The Night Strangler” (1973) – because I’m an “X-Files” fan. “Kolchak” is often cited as the biggest inspiration and influence behind Chris Carter’s landmark show.