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.
This week, “Atlanta” (10 p.m. Eastern Thursdays, FX) began its second season of being about nothing and everything. The episode “Alligator Man” opens with two ATL youths lounging around when one mentions that they can purchase drugs at a local drive-thru restaurant if they ask for the “No. 17.” We assume they are heading there to buy said drugs, only to find they are robbing the place at gunpoint. But the employee working the window is armed, too. Bullets fly, ending with a teen girl – unseen until that point — emerging from the backseat of the youths’ car, screaming. Cue the opening titles.
After eight long episodes of Noah Hawley’s literally brain-teasing “Legion,” it’s a comparative relief to get back to the familiar footing of his first hit show, “Fargo” (10 p.m. Eastern Wednesdays on FX), which launched its third season with a 90-minute premiere. The “X-Men” spinoff “Legion” asked viewers to follow the pathways of a mutant’s brain, but “Fargo” allows us to kick back and follow the creatively crazy connections between thick-accented folks in the north woods.
My first-episode impression of “Legion” (10 p.m. Eastern, Wednesdays, FX) is “What the heck did I just watch?” The 90-minute premiere is undeniably a mess. There’s no doubt it’s an INTENTIONAL mess, but whether you’re willing to stay on this ride will depend entirely on how much you like mind-trip TV shows.
I put off sampling the first hour of “Atlanta” (10 p.m. Tuesdays on FX) for a couple weeks because I knew I’d have a tough time watching police beat up an unarmed man, which happens in the second episode of this ultra-realistic half-hour dramedy. Indeed, it is tough to watch, but it’s so artfully staged, and says so much without saying anything (in dialog) that it’s hard to look away from this pitch-perfect show.’
Executive producer and lead writer Noah Hawley positions his chess pieces for another year of murder, crime-syndicate maneuvering and Minnes-ooh-ta accents and quirks in the premiere of “Fargo” (10 p.m. Eastern Mondays on FX) Season 2. This a brand-new story, but similar to the relationship between “Fear the Walking Dead” and its parent show, it is a prequel with loose connections to the original story. You won’t have to watch Season 1 in order to jump into Season 2 (however, you should watch Season 1 because it’s great).
A couple seasons ago on “The Walking Dead,” Rick and the gang agree to march toward Washington, D.C., on Eugene’s promise that there was a governmental structure in place working against the zombie plague. While the characters never spoke in-depth about the question of whether the government – which demonstrably failed to stop the zombie plague — should be trusted, I felt strongly that once the gang got to D.C., they would not find a safe government-run utopia.
Entertainment trends are a funny thing. Horror movie releases have slowed to a trickle, whereas a decade ago there was a new one in theaters every week. But horror TV shows were rare then, whereas today, the boob tube is covered with them. Even though horror is still scarier on the big screen for obvious reasons, TV is making a strong case as a home for horror in 2015 — some of the best horror TV ever made, actually.
Through five episodes, “The Strain” (8 p.m. Central Sundays on FX) is already shaping up to be one of the best horror TV shows ever. Its combination of wonderful Guillermo del Toro-style mood along with believable modern special effects would make for a fine horror flick, but the fact that it’s a 13-episode miniseries allows for more depth.
On the heels of “Fargo,” FX continues its miniseries winning streak with “The Strain” (9 p.m. Central Sundays on FX), based on a novel and Dark Horse comic book series. Like “Fargo” and the more open-ended “The Bridge” (now in its second season), “The Strain” is deliciously and darkly stylish, as one would expect from co-producer Guillermo del Toro, who is also credited as a writer and director on some upcoming episodes.