Over the past two decades, television has changed rapidly from something scheduled that has to be enjoyed in limited settings, to a fluid medium of entertainment that exists primarily on the internet. Some people bemoan this change as the death of television, when in reality, it’s an artistically freeing transition that gives the power of choice to consumers, and a wider audience to producers. Broadcast television might not be completely dead just yet, but it’s going extinct; digital media is undoubtedly the future.
As a consumer and reviewer of digital TV releases, and as someone who’s looking towards the future of entertainment, here are my top ten favorite series of all time:
This short-lived animated series debuted on Adult Swim in 2008 and ran for four incredible seasons until it was canceled in 2014. Superjail! was known for it’s psychedelic visuals and graphic cartoon violence. The series follows life inside a brutal prison located inside a volcano, and every episode ends in a slapstick horror bloodbath.
Superjail’s Warden, a cheerful and indulgent Willy Wonka-esque character, spends his time either stressing out Jared, the prison’s anxiety-riddled accountant, or lusting after Alice, the transgender sadomasochist head guard. Newcomers to the show should watch “Combaticus” and “Ghosts” to get a taste of the humor, pacing, and aesthetic of the series. While Superjail! may never return, the show’s director, Christy Karakas, is set to release a new series entitled Ballmastrz 9669 in 2018.
9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
This series that premiered on Netflix in 2015 is another successful project by 30 Rock’s Tina Fey. The show’s titular protagonist is a perpetual optimist who is trying to find her way in New York City after spending the majority of her adult life in an underground doomsday cult. Kimmy transitions to life outside of the bunker with help from her old-school New Yorker landlady Lillian, her flamboyant Broadway wannabe roommate Titus, and her clueless socialite employer, Jacqueline.
On top of being hilarious, the show manages to address the consequences of long-term emotional trauma and PTSD in a way that is both authentic and easy to digest. As a serial program, new viewers should ideally start from the first episode of the first season, but two highlights you can’t miss include the episodes “Kimmy Goes to School” and “Kimmy Rides a Bike.” You can check out all three seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt available right now on Netflix.
8. The Boondocks
Based on the comic strip of the same name by Aaron MacGruder, this animated series premiered on Adult Swim in 2005. It’s fourth and final season was released towards the end of 2014. The Boondocks follows the lives of the Freeman family who move from Chicago to the mostly white suburban neighborhood of Woodcrest. In The Boondocks, Huey, a ten-year-old retired political activist, acts as a problem solver and moral compass to his talented but
troublesome younger brother, Riley.
This series tackled big issues like class, race, and identity, all while maintaining great comedy and a visual style heavily inspired by Japanese animation. You should definitely check out the episodes “Return of the King” and “The Color Ruckus” to get a feel for The Boondocks. There’s rumors of MacGruder developing a new series for Amazon, but you can catch his other show, Black Jesus, streaming on Adult Swim right now.
Widely regarded as one of the most influential sitcoms of the 1990s, Seinfeld was the brainchild of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Famously described as “a show about nothing,” Seinfeld followed the lives of Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George as they dealt with handling social faux pas and the frustrations of living in New York City. A large part of the series was based on real-life experiences of its writers.
Most people have seen the series at this point in time, but if you haven’t, start off with the episodes “The Junior Mint” and “The Hamptons.” Seinfeld has been off the air for close to twenty years now, but you can still get your Larry David fix when the brand new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm returns to HBO on October 1st, 2017.
Featuring some of the tightest writing and brainiest references on television right now, Archer is a phenomenal animated series. Although the show’s format has changed in recent seasons since its 2009 premiere, Archer primarily follows the missions of a fictional spy agency in post-World War II America. Sterling Archer, an American take on James Bond, performs espionage missions for his mother Mallory’s spy agency with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Lana.
However, the place where Archer really shines is in it’s support cast, especially regarding Pam, a crude and overweight gossip who has a double life as a bare-knuckle fighter and street racer, Krieger, a mad scientist with a hologram anime wife who may or may not be a clone of Hitler, and Cheryl, an eccentric heiress with a choking fetish and an ocelot. Can’t-miss episodes include “Legs” and “El Secuestro.” The ninth season of Archer will premiere on FXX in early 2018.
5. Arrested Development
A sitcom that premiered in 2003, but was revived for Netflix in 2013, Arrested Development follows the life of Michael Bluth, the seemingly only sane man in the entire Bluth family, who are a collection of wealthy and out-of-touch socialites. The Bluths have to learn to deal with the real world when the family’s patriarch, George Bluth Sr., is taken to jail on charges of embezzlement.
The series was known for its dedication to long-running jokes, and it’s writing received wide critical acclaim. To get the most out of Arrested Development’s style, you need to watch it from the first episode, but “Out on a Limb” and “Top Banana” are too good to not highlight here. The fifth season of Arrested Development is returning to Netflix sometime in 2018.
4. Rick and Morty
This animated sci-fi series by Justin Roiland and Dan Hammond is Adult Swim’s newest smash hit. The show follows Rick Sanchez, a functioning alcoholic mad scientist, and his weak-willed grandson, Morty, as they travel through time and space on increasingly dangerous and surreal adventures. Originally conceived as a parody of Back to the Future, Rick and Morty is known and loved by its fans for its strange juxtaposition of family life drama against a slapstick fantasy background.
Be sure to check out “Lawnmower Dog” and “Auto Erotic Assimilation” if you’re new to the series. While the first episode of season three was released as a prank on April Fool’s Day, new episodes of Rick and Morty are set to return on July 30th, 2017.
3. Twin Peaks
This series originally premiered in 1990, but has been recently revived by creative masterminds David Lynch and Mark Frost for a third season. Twin Peaks initially follows Special Agent Dale Cooper as he investigates the death of Laura Palmer in a sleepy Pacific Northwest town. As time goes on, and more supernatural elements are introduced, the show takes on an entirely new direction and aesthetic.
Spanning three seasons, one movie, and a massive cult following, Twin Peaks is known best for it’s combination of melodrama, camp, and Lynch’s trademark surrealist imagery. It’s impossible to recommend a single episode from this series, but it’s honestly worth it to start from the beginning and work your way forwards with this show. Season three of Twin Peaks iscurrently airing on Crave TV.
2. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
Created by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, this sketch comedy series featured avant-garde anti-humor, and was heavily inspired by the aesthetic of public-access cable and infomercials from the early1990s. Episodes of this series usually were a collage of short sequences, often featuring a blend of celebrity cameos and amateur actors found on Craigslist. Part of what makes this series work is the ambiguity of who is (and who isn’t) in on the joke.
Tim and Eric spawned a spinoff series, Check it Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, starring Academy Award nominee John C. Reilly as a clueless investigative journalist. Be sure to check out “Carol” and “Chan” if you want to get into this series. Wareheim has been busy directing music videos for bands like Major Lazer, Beach House, and Blonde Redhead, but the third season of Heidecker’s new project, Decker, is set to air on Adult Swim on July 16th, 2017.
1. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
A powerhouse black comedy that originally premiered on FX in 2005, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of the best television shows ever produced. Even after twelve seasons, this series, created by Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton, has still managed to keep its edge and stay relevant.
The series follows the lives of Dennis, Dee, Charlie, Mac, and Frank, the most self-centered and sociopathic characters currently on television, as they manage a small Irish-themed bar in South Philly. “The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention” and “Frank Reynold’s Little Beauties” are my favorites, but any episode from this series (after season one) won’t leave you disappointed. Season 13 of It’s Always Sunny is set to premiere on FXX in early 2018.
RuPaul’s Drag Race This show doesn’t belong on my main list considering that this isn’t a scripted series, but I live and breathe for Drag Race. Every season a gaggle of truly sickening drag queens competes for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar. This show has absolutely everything: top level performances, professional artistry and craftsmanship, a positive LGBTQ2+ message, and drama like you wouldn’t believe.
It’s a disservice to Drag Race to cherry-pick a single episode, but anything past Season Four will be a great place for new drag fans to start watching the show. RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 will premiere in early 2018, but if you can’t wait that long, RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars Season 3 is set to be released before the end of the year.
“Mary Cox is an entertainment writer from the United States. Her hobbies include making good beer and bad decisions, watching drag queens fight on the internet, and overanalyzing everything. Mary one day hopes to be the person shouting “World Star” in the back of a Waffle House brawl video. She is currently tolerating life in Toronto. You can follow her on Twitter at @M_K_Cox”