It’s said we’re living in a golden age for television with options larger than ever before. Cable is packed with slews of amazing shows that push the limits of entertainment all over. Streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon are letting you enjoy some terrific stuff in a binge fashion. And the networks are still hanging in there to deliver some great entertainment in their own right. Series roll around with amazing stuff, fantastic drama, some top comedy and more and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by how much great stuff is on the tube, so much that you can get behind easily. It’s just great to see how much good is around.
Of course, there’s also a lot of bad. No one is perfect, not even top networks and while there’s a lot of great stuff, there’s also a lot of terrible as well. It’s hard to cut through the garbage and amazing how so many truly horrific shows remain incredibly popular while fantastic ones are ignored. It’s a tough thing to cut through but there are some standouts to watch nowadays, shows on the air right now that deserve to be checked out. There are also shows that are long past their expiration date or so utterly terrible that they should be canceled. It’s easy to cite nothing but reality shows among the worst but there’s plenty of scripted series to fill that out. Here are the 10 best and 10 worst current TV shows and a reminder that for all the great around there, there’s a lot of bad too.
Warning: some spoilers for some series.
The 10 BEST
From the start, the CBS adaptation of the comic book heroine has soared higher than expected. Melissa Benoist is great in the title role but just as appealing in her human identity of Kara, putting up with ruthless boss Cat (Calista Flockhart stealing every scene she’s in) and balancing attractions to co-workers Winn and Jimmy Olson. Chyler Leigh is improving as her sister but the real MVP has been David Harewood as Hank Henshaw, the head of the alien-hunting DEO who, in a turn that took even veteran comic book fans by surprise, was revealed to be the Martian Manhunter. The bad guys have been well developed as well as the talk of how a woman has to fight even harder as a hero. The latest episodes are really amping it up as Kara was turned evil thanks to Red Kryptonite, going on a rampage and Hank had to expose himself as Martian to stop her, leading to his arrest. Now, Kara deals with the fallout and regaining the public trust and Benoist just lovely in the role. Things get even better with a crossover with The Flash and working in touches of the Superman mythos in their own way for a show that can make you happy as a comic book fan majorly.
Who would have imagined a series based on a small 2011 hit would become one of the most delightful shows on TV? Bradley Cooper has a recurring role as the movie’s character, Eddie Morra, now a Senator using a pill that massively increases his brain power. The pill soon ends up in the hands of slacker Brian Finch (Jake McDorman) and the FBI decides to use him as an asset. The joy is first how the show skewers so many of the clichés you see on other CBS procedurals (FBI work can be long and tiresome and Brian openly notes “in real life, hacking is boring.”) The show also has a great humor with Brian’s mind imagining things and working in everything from comic book panels to a full-scale tribute to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Jennifer Carpenter has a good charm as his co-worker and the series still does dramatics with Brian facing off against Morra on his secret plans and trying to keep his family safe. Still, the humor carries the show over with its unique style and proves one of the best examples of a movie working so much better as a show and a damn good one too.
8. American Crime Story
For 20 years, people have asked how it was possible for O.J. Simpson to be found not guilty of a murder case that seemed so airtight. FX is answering that with this amazing show that replicates the famed “Trial of the Century” in fantastic detail. Sure, it plays a bit loose with some events and John Travolta is horribly miscast as John Shapiro. However, it’s still unbelievable to see the inner workings of this event that was proof truth is stranger than fiction. Cuba Gooding Jr is good as Simpson himself who is more affected by the loss of the public love than the murder charges and Courtney B. Vance showing the ego and drive of Johnny Shapiro who just wants to win. Meanwhile, Sarah Paulson is sensational capturing Marcia Clark, a woman completely unprepared for the media scrutiny on her personal life, her voice, even her hair and baffled as to how a slam-dunk case is being undercut at every turn. It captures the era perfectly (a guy sends legal advice via fax machine rather than texting and the Internet isn’t a thing) and shows how the trial kicked off the era of “reality TV” we know today. Indeed, David Schwimmer plays Robert Kardashian as a good guy who has no idea how his daughters will use the fame to become “stars for doing nothing” and the series captures a watershed moment in American culture.
7. The 100
The CW series has gotten massive buzz for growing beyond “Lord of the Flies with pretty people” to arguably the best sci-fi series on television. In its third year, the show has blossomed with its cast handling the twists and turns, the dark politics rearing their heads, conflicts and fight scenes that can outdo Game of Thrones in their brutal turns. It’s also developing its mythology by showcasing how a runaway A.I. caused the nuclear war on Earth a century ago and now seems to be out to finish the job. Eliza Taylor has gotten even more appealing as warrior Clarke and her relationship with Lexa was well handled. And the show has shown no fear in killing off popular characters, as proven by one stunning death that’s caused massive controversy but also pushed attention. The series has never shied away from not playing it safe and is proving it this year for a show that proves the CW is far more than just for kids.
6. Hap and Leonard
If you’ve been missing Justified, here’s a show perfect to fill that slot up. Based on the novels of Joe. R. Lansdale, James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams play the title characters, best friends who lose their jobs at a Texas ranch and are out of sorts. Enter Hap’s old girlfriend (the sultry Christina Hendricks) who soon hooks them into a wild search for a case of stolen money lost decades earlier which gets them in hot water with mobsters and a pair of crazy killers. The humor is great, dark and wild with amazing action sequences and the chemistry of the leads is terrific. Additionally, there’s how Leonard is the most anti-cliché gay character TV seen in a while, none of the usual quirks or characteristics but a down-to-earth guy and Hap not even making it an issue shows their friendship. A fine dark comedy, it’s the perfect tone for those who want something offbeat but still fun to watch.
If you thought the first season of Netflix’s Marvel series was good, it’s only gotten better. Matt Murdock is discovering that taking down the Kingpin has only left a massive hole in the New York underworld and crime is on the rise. That brings in the Punisher (Jon Bernthal), a soldier who wipes out criminals and his discussions with DD on “you’re one bad day away from becoming me” are fantastic to watch. Things really kick up with the arrival of Matt’s former flame Elektra (Elodie Yung), sexy as hell and taking off in battles as she and Matt face off against a crowing dark crime syndicate known as the Hand. Deborah Ann Woll and Elden Henson continue to shine as Karen and Foggy trying to help Matt out with Foggy not happy about Matt’s double life. The fight scenes are absolutely incredible from DD and Elektra fighting ninjas to the Punisher carving his way through a cellblock and get wilder in the finale. Throw in a couple of surprise appearances of season 1 characters and this is the best Marvel show on TV and amazing to see develop.
4. Person of Interest
Over four seasons, CBS’ drama has moved from simply a procedural crime show to an absolutely amazing sci-fi drama that explores the ramifications of virtual life in our own lives. The cast continues to be first rate with Michael Emerson the dark genius, Jim Caviezel as the black ops soldier helping him out and Amy Acker as the delightful nutcase hacker. Mixing gripping crime stories with cutting-edge social commentary, the series has burst as a fantastic gem with wild twists and turns. Its fifth and final season is to debut in May and with the return of Sarah Shahi and bringing all the terrific plotlines to a final run. After years as the secret gem on CBS, this show is about to go out with a bang and cap off a drama that grew from simply a procedural to one of the best shows on TV today.
3. House of Cards
With a crazy election season upon us, what better time to check back on Netflix’s gripping dark take on politics. As season four begins, Frank Underwood is facing re-election and some challenges from his own party as well as an arrogant young opponent who’s expert at playing the game. Kevin Spacey remains electric as Frank, constantly scheming but this year has a major event forcing him to face his mortality with some past faces popping up that may bring Frank’s litany of sins to light. Meanwhile, Robin Wright is stunning as Claire, the First Lady who makes her own bold steps to take her place in history and their relationship remains one of the most fascinating on TV. From top to bottom, a terrific series just gets better and makes you realize how whoever wins the election this year can only hope to run a government as efficiently as Underwood does.
2. Better Call Saul
This prequel to Breaking Bad has blossomed in its second year into a terrific show in its own right. Bob Odenkirk is doing Emmy-worthy work as Jimmy McGill, the “slip and fall” attorney who will morph into slick Saul Goodman. In the second season, we see him taking more of the steps to a darker path, working with a major law firm but breaking out on his own, a man wanting to be a big deal but held back as much by his ego as pushed on by his skills. We also get great work from Jonathan Banks as future fixer Mike and Rhea Seehorn as Kim, a lawyer who forms a connection with Jimmy even as she finds out about his darker side. Stylishly shot, each episode is amazing and deepens this minor character into his own amazing journey and even if you know how it ends, seeing the transformation of Jimmy into Saul is amazing television.
1. The Americans
Now in its fourth season, FX’s gripping drama is only getting better. It’s still the thrills as Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell play 1982 suburban parents who happen to be deep-cover KGB agents. It captures this era where the Cold War ran hot and tensions were high, the two fantastic (It’s no surprise they’ve hooked up in real life thanks to their great chemistry) and now handling their teenage daughter Paige knowing the truth about their real jobs. Throw in Phillip having to handle the secretary he secretly married also knowing about it and you just feel how things are getting out of control. Yet the two leads carry it off with their terrific skill of disguises, willing to kill but unable to handle family life. As both a family drama and a spy thriller, this is one of the best shows FX has ever put on and fantastic to see it develop.
Somehow earning itself two seasons, this CBS series is based on the life of Walter O’Brian, a man who claims to have hacked NASA at 13 and created a program that caught the Boston Marathon bombers. That those claims have come under serious scrutiny should be a warning sign but the TV show is even wilder as a group of “geniuses” work for the government. Our “hero” is an insufferable jerk with no people skills and arrogant demeanor and the rest of his bunch are just a cliché group of guys (fat hacker, hot girl, hat-wearing thief) and Katharine McPhee wasted as the “normal girl” who helps them out. The situations they get into involve hacking and science schemes that are proven unable to work in real life and the cast chemistry is pretty much nonexistent. Most CBS procedurals are actually good but this is the exception as it’s hard to root for one arrogant jerk, let alone a whole team of them.
9. The Bachelor/Bachelorette
Twenty seasons. Twenty times, millions have tuned into ABC’s reality show where a batch of some of the most superficial women imaginable try to “win” the heart of a guy on TV. What results is often painful to watch, stupid competitions, ceremonies, women degrading themselves and the fact it’s yet to give us a true “love affair” speaks volumes to how bad it is. Its spin-off is worse as the women who have already looked like jokes now turn it around to put guys through the same thing, truly stupid to watch unfold year after year and that ABC gives it hours of broadcasting, including “reunion specials” is remarkable. A franchise showing off how low a woman can go to get ahead on TV, both series rank among the worst any network can offer today.
8. Dr. Ken
Ken Jeong is a truly funny guy from The Hangover movies to Community, amazingly talented to make you laugh. But in his ABC sitcom, he shows none of that, a cookie-cutter formula that often lowers to Asian stereotypes with Cheong as a doctor with no bedside manner. That Jeong co-writes and produces the show is more annoying, you’d think he’d give us something with some life and humor but all we get is a show that would have been terrible in the early 2000s, let alone today. It’s a true shame as Cheong, and his cast, deserve so much better but instead are sucked into a series that could use a dose of real humor STAT.
7. 2 Broke Girls
Apparently, it’s the chemistry of Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs that’s allowed this CBS comedy to last so long. However, even that has its limits as the “jokes” are built entirely on racial and sexual shots on everything from their slutty personas to drug use and far too many lines about their short Asian boss. Not to mention how we get constant talk of them being so dirt poor yet still able to afford computers, Netflix and some pretty nice clothes. Hot as two ladies may be to look at, it’s not enough to overcome a “comedy” that make you feel dirty watching.
6. The Big Bang Theory
If you want to make a geek angry, just talk about how this show gets their culture right. True geeks loathe it massively for making them look like absolute idiots, social retards who can’t live outside a bubble of comic books or TV shows and act like they’re real all the time. The appeal of Kaley Cuoco is a key to it working but even she can’t salvage dialogue that often is nothing but listing various sci-fi/fantasy stuff as “punchlines” and producing characters that are self-centered nuts. This is a show where the fantastic sci-fi comic Saga is run down as just “girls with naked breasts on the cover.” It goes to the laziest tropes over and over and the fact it’s a massive ratings hit and even Emmy winner for Jim Parsons proves quality doesn’t always go hand in hand with audience appeal.
5. Beauty and the Beast
That this show has lasted four seasons remains baffling given how almost no one claims to be watching it. A remake in name only of the beloved 1980’s CBS series, you have the charisma-free Kristen Kurek as a cop and Jay Ryan as a soldier morphed into a “beast” who doesn’t look at all unattractive. The writing, the acting, the storylines, it all plays more like a bad parody of a CW series than the real thing and the shifts in tone from procedural to some sort of wild conspiracy story just make it worse. Every year, fans are outraged this survives when perfectly good shows like The Tomorrow People are axed while this survives. Its upcoming fourth season will be the final one but that’s about three and a half years longer than it should have gone for a show that’s ugly for both its leads.
4. CSI: Cyber
In one of the greatest post-Oscar comedowns ever, Patricia Arquette went from the triumph of Boyhood to a show that, even by the standards of CBS procedurals, is utterly laughable. Every week, tech blogs will have guys ranting about how much this show gets wrong about the Internet and technology, presenting as “experts” a bunch of goofs you wouldn’t trust to fix your toaster. One episode presented the police as the true victims when video of a suspect being shot sets off riots and Ted Danson just looks totally lost as his CSI character brought into a world he knows nothing about. Arquette, a fine actress, just gets to talk bossy or recite techno-jargon than anything useful and amazing this got on the air. The buzz is this might be canceled and a shame to see the once great franchise going out with a whimper but at least it frees Arquette up for something far better.
3. Fuller House
Here is living proof ‘90s nostalgia only goes so far. For years, fans have asked for a revival of the long-running ABC series about a widower and his extended family living under one roof. Now, it’s here as D.J. (Candace Cameron Bure), sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and goofy best friend Kimmy (Andrea Barber) are now living in the old house and raising their various kids with old faces (Bob Saget, Dave Coughlin and John Stamos) all popping by now and then. The reviews have been harsh as hell as the jokes are all 20 years out of date, the laugh track obnoxious, the acting horrendous and it all comes off as a terrible, terrible joke. To think so many great series screaming out for revivals and yet this got on the air is an utter mess and showcases how some shows are much better off left to rest in their time.
2. The Real Housewives
Pick any incarnation, they’re all horrible. There’s nothing “real” about these women at all, a vapid collection of rich gals who complain about lives that most women would kill for and acting like it’s a massive inconvenience to show it all off on TV constantly. Loud, shrieking harpies for the most part, they sink to the biggest stereotypes of their locations (Jersey are loud and obnoxious, Dallas boastful, New York snide and always shopping) and their “catfights” are always elaborately played out for the cameras. You can’t even blame it only on the U.S. as there are versions in Greece, Canada, France and more, showing that watching a bunch of over-privileged women broadcasting their “problems” is a global thing and a bad one for a series that just comes off as possibly the most annoying franchise in all of television history.
1. Keeping Up With the Kardashians
How did this happen? How did this nation allow a family of utterly vapid, untalented people commander the airwaves into a franchise that’s turned into a multi-million dollar empire? Yes, Kim is hot to be sure but really, as Joel McHale said, she’s famous simply for “having a big ass and a sex tape.” Watching them basically do nothing week after week and have it be watched by millions speaks volumes about the current state of the American public and gives a majorly wrong message to young girls. They’re hot to watch, yes, but it doesn’t make up for how they have no business on TV screens and ridiculous this show is still on the air.
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