The Saboscrivner’s Top Stand-Up Comedy Specials of 2022

I’m a lifelong comedy nerd.  Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, The Simpsons, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Eddie Murphy, The State, Ghostbusters, the Marx Brothers, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Justice League International comics, Tom Lehrer, Bugs Bunny, The Tick, Laurel and Hardy, Spike Jones, Seinfeld, and a dog-eared book of corny old Henny Youngman one-liners helped mold and shape my sense of humor.

I love good comedy, and I specify “good,” because there is so much bad comedy out there.  Too much, really.  Comedy is one of the hardest things to write and perform well,  so I have the utmost respect for the writers, actors, and stand-up comics who make me laugh, especially because laughing is such a better alternative to crying and/or screaming.  These days we need all the help we can get to not cry or scream.  I know I do.

I especially love stand-up comedy, so here is my list of my favorite stand-up specials to come out in 2022:

9. Patton Oswalt: We All Scream (Netflix).  Oswalt is one of my all-time favorite stand-ups and the last comedian I saw live before the pandemic struck, back in February 2020.  I always root for him as a fellow nerd who made good, but We All Scream meandered a bit too much for me.  It wasn’t as tight or focused as some of his previous specials, but I’m so happy he has found happiness in his life again after losing his first wife, and that he’s still doing what he does — almost an elder statesman of stand-up at this point.

8. Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel (HBO Max).  I wasn’t super-familiar with his work before, but this was a very bold, brave, heartfelt, and personal performance leading up to a huge moment.  If you’re going to watch it, please don’t read anything about it first, because almost every reviewer spoils it.

7. Atsuko Okatsuka: The Intruder (HBO Max).  I wasn’t familiar with her at all and still have no idea where she came from.  We just clicked on this randomly, and Okatsuka was silly, clever, and likeable.  I look forward to whatever she does next.

6. Lil Rel Howery: I Said It.  Y’all Thinking It.  (HBO Max).  This was just joyful.  Rel is a comedian who doesn’t set out to be some kind of bold truth-teller or a combative curmudgeon.  He just brings infectious enthusiasm to his stories and anecdotes, like a less obnoxious Kevin Hart, and it was delightful.  I enjoyed this special a lot more than his previous one, Live in Crenshaw.

5. Neal Brennan: Blocks (Netflix).  Another bold and fearless performance.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand about comedy, it’s “angry alpha bro” stand-ups who come out with a heel stage persona and try to be acerbic and confrontational, punching down and reveling in being bullies.  Brennan isn’t a bully by any means (unlike what his former collaborator has become), but I loved how confrontational he got at times here, discussing some big issues from his own life and life in general while being unafraid to alienate the audience.

4. John Gondelman: People Pleaser (Amazon Prime Video, Tubi).  Another new name and face for me, but I just liked the guy immediately.  He’s such a mensch!  Loves his wife, doesn’t punch down or go for shitty cheap shots, clever wordplay, good crowd work, terrific payoff at the end.  Whatever he does next, I’ll be paying attention.

3. Catherine Cohen: The Twist…?  She’s Gorgeous (Netflix).  This was as much a musical cabaret show as a stand-up performance, and I was enrapt.  Cohen’s stage persona is an attention-craving Millennial diva caricature, somehow sexy, raunchy, and deeply neurotic all at once.  Accompanied on the piano by unsung hero Henry Koperski, this was the kind of lounge act I’ve loved ever since I was a kid, even though they didn’t exist by the time I was born and haven’t made much of a comeback since then.  She’s a true star in the making, and I hope to see her perform her bawdy, melodramatic musical comedy live some day, before she gets too popular to keep playing in small, intimate cabaret venues.

2. Kyle Kinane: Trampoline in a Ditch (YouTube).  This was a recorded version of the tour set I saw Kinane perform in Orlando in 2018.  He has such a great deep voice, and he’s one of the best storytellers in the comedy game.  He is a self-proclaimed “dirtbag” who nevertheless seeks out the joy and wonder in everyday life.  A story he tells about taking his mother to a bowling alley left me in tears at the live show, and I was so glad it was included in this recorded version.  Yes, the link above leads to the entire show, completely free.  You’re welcome.

1. Tom Papa: What a Day! (Netflix).  As a performer, Papa is so cool, even though his stories about marriage and fatherhood are anything but cool.  He does everything Jim Gaffigan and Mike Birbiglia do on stage, only smoother, faster, and more effortless-looking — and don’t get me wrong, I like those gentlemen too, and I’ve seen Gaffigan live twice.  I discovered Tom Papa from his “Out in America” segments on the late, lamented Live From Here radio show (a reworking of A Prairie Home Companion that made it much more music- and comedy-focused and in touch with modern sensibilities, but was unfortunately another victim of the pandemic).  Papa has a few other stand-up specials, and each one is a breath of fresh air and well worth seeking out.  His stories may be about the mundane trivialities and annoyances of middle age, but his delivery is anything but mundane.


The Saboscrivner’s Top 15 TV Shows of 2022

Welcome back, stalwart Saboscrivnerinos!  Every year I make my dozens of readers wonder why they should seek television and movie recommendations on a food blog, but let’s face it, not that many people seek restaurant recommendations here either.  So let’s get on with it!

15. George and Tammy (Showtime).  An acting master class from the great Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain as troubled country music icons George Jones and Tammy Wynette, two incredible songwriters and performers who loved each other as best they could.  The miniseries isn’t over yet, but it has been excellent so far.  I’m really impressed that Shannon and Chastain, two of my favorite actors, are doing their own singing.

14. Fleishman Is In Trouble (FX on Hulu).  Taffy Brodesser-Akner adapted her own first novel into this miniseries, and it is depressing, but beautifully written.  The Fleishman in trouble seems to be the newly divorced doctor dad navigating dating apps and single parenting in Manhattan, after his wife completely disappears.  But when the focus shifts to his best friend (played by the wonderful Lizzy Caplan, who is also the narrator), we learn he might not be the only Fleishman in trouble, and that every divorce — every story — has at least two sides.  There is one episode left, and I have a good feeling it won’t disappoint.

13. The White Lotus, season 2 (HBO Max).  I enjoyed this season, with horrible, attractive rich people on vacation at a Sicilian resort, more than the first season in Hawaii.  Most of the characters really were awful, but because the show opened with the discovery of a body and a mention of “a few” more deaths, I enjoyed it the most for the murder mystery aspect, figuring out who would kill and who would be killed, searching for clues and crafting theories that might have been more interesting than the way things actually played out.  Season 1 was more about racism, classism, and colonialism, but this season focused more about sex (especially the transactional nature of sex), infidelity, and the mind games people play with their partners and themselves.  Anything about infidelity and cheating makes me feel really depressed, but I appreciated that I felt real tension during the finale episode, waiting for everything to go wrong.  Even if I didn’t love the show like some of these others on my list, I give it props for making me feel anything at all and giving me a chance to speculate between episodes.  

12. Reacher, season 1 (Amazon Prime Video).  This show about a former military police investigator embroiled in small-town intrigue reminded me of two of my all-time favorite shows: Justified (although Reacher isn’t nearly as clever and witty) and Banshee (although Reacher isn’t nearly as badass).  Still, I enjoyed the hypercompetent protagonist solving mysteries and owning the corrupt local yokels.  I’ve never read the novels this show is based on, but my father and my father-in-law both love them, which speaks volumes — no pun intended.

11. Our Flag Means Death, season 1 (HBO Max).  I didn’t expect to like a show about pirates, especially when I found out it was supposed to be a comedy.  But then it turned into an unlikely romantic comedy, and it became the feel-good show of 2022, like Ted Lasso and Schitt’s Creek in previous years.  If you don’t like it at first, I can’t say I disagree with you.  But especially now that you don’t have to wait for a new episode every week, hang around until Blackbeard shows up, played by New Zealand actor-writer-director Taiki Waititi.  That’s when the show gets good and will become great.

10. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, season 1 (Disney+).  I’m definitely feeling Marvel Studios burnout, y’all.  This show definitely wasn’t perfect, but it edged the charming Our Flag Means Death out of my Top Ten because it stars one of my favorite actresses, Tatiana Maslany, playing one of my favorite comic book characters, Jennifer Walters, a mousy lawyer who becomes the big, green, fun-loving, sexy superheroine She-Hulk.  This show did its best to delve into some of the weird legal issues that would come up in a world of superheroes and supervillains, crazy future technology, unnatural powers, people being snapped out of existence and coming back to life en masse, and so forth.  It did provide a nice view of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” from the point of view of regular people trying to deal with the weirdness.  I just wish it had more weight to it, even though it’s a superhero show and a comedy at that.

It seemed clear to me that the writers’ room was more comfortable writing about Jen’s relationship woes and trouble with men than the legal stuff, which is totally fine.  Those parts really fleshed out her character and mattered in the end.  But everything felt so rushed, when they could have developed the other characters more, extended entire scenes, and given everything a chance to breathe and matter.  Longer episodes would have helped with the pacing, but maybe it came down to budget issues.  I’m sure you’ve already heard about the second-to-last episode, in which my favorite Marvel character shows up and reminds us how awesome he is.  Then the season finale is super-fun and joyful, and it probably pissed off all the right people.  I know it’s a big ask, but if you can binge through the whole season, you will probably enjoy it.  Episodes are short (I argue too short), so it should be an easy binge.

9. Andor, season 1 (Disney+).  The least-“Star Warsy” Star Wars thing I’ve ever seen, and also one of the best.  The show’s tone is grim and bleak, the pacing can be slow and ponderous, and there isn’t a lot of comic relief to break up all that darkness, but there are definitely moments of catharsis and hope that make it all worthwhile.  It is a prequel to a prequel, set a few years before the events of the Rogue One movie, which in turn is set right before the first Star Wars movie, Episode IV: A New HopeAndor is all about the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in the form of the Empire, and how regular people — not Jedi knights, not members of a special family — can stand against it.  It wouldn’t be spoiling anything to tell you that Andor’s highlights include a daring heist, a heart-pounding prison break, and a brave, brutal uprising in the streets, plus a handful of rousing monologues and heartfelt speeches.  But if that doesn’t sound “Star Warsy” enough for you, there is also a cute, cool, and loyal new droid and a visit to “Planet Miami.”

8. Peacemaker, season 1 (HBO Max).  Christopher “Peacemaker” Smith was introduced in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad movie, which I liked much better than the previous article-less Suicide Squad, but still didn’t love.  As a result, I wasn’t expecting much from this show, but it went a long way toward redeeming Chris, a violent, macho, immature jerk.  By the end, he was still a violent, macho, immature jerk, but he dealt with his daddy issues and learned how to function on a team, make friends, think for himself, and do the right thing.  It was a really interesting deconstruction of toxic masculinity and childhood trauma, with plenty of raunchy humor and gory violence to keep it from ever feeling too serious or weighty.

I’ll argue to anyone that pro wrestler-turned-actor John Cena  is one of the greatest comic actors out there.  He really made us hate, laugh at, and care for the deeply problematic Chris.  But the highlight of the show was Freddie Stroma playing Vigilante, a bizarre adaptation of one of my low-key favorite DC Comics characters.  The guy stole every scene he was in and made you root and cheer for a very weird and unsettling character.  So James Gunn made a super-fun and funny show, and now he’s in charge of all DC movies and TV shows moving forward.  I feel like they may finally be in the right hands after Peacemaker.  Also, the show has what is probably the best opening title sequence of all time.  You’ll never want to skip it because it’s infectious in every possible way, and you’ll notice new little details about it every time.

7. The Afterparty, season 1 (Apple TV+).  A really clever and entertaining show that’s a murder mystery, but also a comedy.  A group of old friends attend their high school reunion, followed by an afterparty at a famous classmate’s house.  Someone ends up dead, and a police detective arrives to interview all the attendees, since everyone is a suspect.  But the structure is so cool: every episode is a different interview, so you see the same events play out as flashbacks from multiple perspectives, filling in the gaps for the audience so we get a clearer picture of the evening’s events.  And even cooler, every episode is also a different genre, depending on which unreliable narrator is telling the story, so we get a rom-com, an action movie, a musical, and more.  It wrapped up the loose ends in an extremely satisfying way, and yet somehow, we’re getting a second season!

6. The Righteous Gemstones, season 2 (HBO Max).  Another show I fully expected to hate, and did at the very beginning, but ended up really enjoying.  We binged both seasons back to back, but only season 2 aired in 2022.  It’s a comedy about a family of wealthy televangelists in South Carolina, and how hilariously screwed up they all are.  The widowed patriarch (John Goodman) is detached, disapproving, and paternalistic, the eldest son (co-creator and showrunner Danny McBride) is ambitious but overestimates his competence and intelligence, the middle daughter (comedy secret weapon Edie Patterson) is sexually inappropriate and practically feral, and the youngest son is… not-so-secretly gay, but doesn’t realize it?  His plots are a bit of a comedy vacuum, but the rest of the show had us howling with laughter.  And then the great Walton Goggins is in it as their scheming Uncle Baby Billy, a former Christian music child star, now in his 60s after squandering countless opportunities and wasting most of his life.  I never had any patience for McBride’s loudmouthed Southern jackass characters, but his humor totally grew on me, so much so that we even went back and binged Vice Principals, his previous show that he and Goggins starred in together.  That’s a more uncomfortable watch, but also entertaining.

5. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, season 1 (Paramount+).  This is it, folks.  My favorite Star Trek of all time.  Better than the current Discovery (which I also enjoy) and any of the previous, beloved series.  Discovery season 2 introduced the core trio at the heart of Strange New Worlds (so I would recommend watching at least that season too): Ethan Peck as Mr. Spock, Rebecca Romijn as Number One, and Anson Mount, one charming and handsome dude, as the best fictional boss ever, Captain Christopher Pike.  With his empathy and emotional intelligence, Pike is my favorite Star Trek captain of all time, and he really makes the show.  Strange New Worlds perfects the formula of exploring, making contact with alien races, solving problems, and bonding with the crew that has made Star Trek endure through the decades.  If you have ever been skeptical, or you think Star Trek is boring, or you don’t get what all the Trekkies love but wish you did (as I have through much of my life), this is the show for you.  It’s pure joy — fun, optimistic, hopeful, feel-good entertainment about the smartest, bravest, kindest, most heroic people doing their best and being their best.

4. The Bear, season 1 (FX on Hulu).  As much as I love restaurants (which is A LOT, considering I review them in this blog), I’ve never worked in the restaurant business, or any food service or hospitality jobs.  A lot of my friends have, though, and I have the utmost respect for the people who cook and serve me.  I realize it’s a hard job, but no show has ever shown a more realistic look at life in a restaurant kitchen than The Bear, about a fine dining chef who returns to run his family’s dumpy Italian beef sandwich restaurant in Chicago after his brother commits suicide.  The show is so stressful.  You feel it when the kitchen is slammed with orders, when co-workers yell and scream at each other, when family fights, when egos clash.  Chefs and kitchen staff have told me how accurate it all is, and I feel even more awe toward them.  But on top of the gripping, gritty drama, the show also made me really hungry for Chicago-style Italian beefs (I like mine with hot giardiniera but not dipped), and also for spaghetti.  If you know, you know.

3. Atlanta, seasons 3 and 4 (FX on Hulu).  Donald Glover hasn’t proven me wrong yet.  I’ve been a fan since he his earliest Childish Gambino mixtapes and his days as a young writer on 30 Rock, where he gifted the world with “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.”  I quit watching Community around the same time he left the show, I saw him perform stand-up live in 2012, I’ve listened to all his albums more times than I can count, and I’ve loved Atlanta from the beginning, which seems like a long time ago (2016, damn!).  This year we got two seasons, after a few years with none, and they were remarkable.  There were several stand-alone episodes that felt like experimental short films, that were always interesting even when they didn’t include the four central characters.  And when we caught up with Earn, Alfred, Darius, and Van (played by four of my favorite actors: Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, the effortlessly cool LaKeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz), it was like spending time with old friends.

Season 3 had the crew hanging out in Europe, but I preferred seeing them back home in the ATL in Season 4, exploring its secret passages and endless parking garages, avoiding angry old white ladies and deranged Tyler Perry analogues, navigating family squabbles and Black-owned sushi restaurants, going to therapy, and forming complicated revenge plots.  The show is over now, but it went out on top.  There was funny Atlanta, surreal Atlanta, and even scary Atlanta, but never any mediocre or bad Atlanta.

2. Severance, season 1 (Apple TV+).  The less you know when you watch this show, the better experience you will have.  It’s complicated and sometimes confounding.  It’s a workplace drama, a dark comedy, a mystery, dystopian science fiction, and existential horror, all at once.  It has some of the best acting, writing, and directing I’ve seen this year.  It sucked me in, had me on the edge of my seat with clammy-palmed tension, and made me feel extremely uncomfortable at times.  But I see that as a good thing, the fact that it made me feel any strong emotions at all, when so much entertainment is designed to be bland and banal, disposable and empty.  I am notoriously bad at maintaining a healthy work-life balance, so Severance hit me hard.  I guess I’m the target audience, and I doubt I’m alone.  Don’t read anything about it, don’t watch any teasers or trailers, just watch it before some fool spoils it for you.  You can get a free week trial subscription for Apple TV+, and I swear you’ll binge it within the week.  Then keep it long enough to squeeze in The Afterparty and Ted Lasso, too.

1. Better Call Saul, season 6 (AMC).  You knew this was coming.  The final season to one of my favorite shows of all time, which was a prequel/spinoff of another one of my favorite shows of all time, and they stuck the landing.  They wrapped up everyone’s story arcs and/or set them up for Breaking Bad in the perfect possible ways.  There were moments of extreme tension balanced by cathartic humor, shocking deaths, and plenty of wild plot twists as details set up over the course of two long-running shows, some over a decade old, finally paid off.  The last few episodes flashed forward to events that took place after Breaking Bad, which I think many of us were waiting for the entire time, to learn the final fates of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman/Gene Takovic and our beloved Kim Wexler, played by the best damn actress on television, Rhea Seehorn.  They both broke bad, did some terrible things, and had even more terrible things done to them.  In the end, I think they both redeemed themselves, but in ways that would have been hard for anyone to predict.  I’m sure most people reading a list of some nerd’s favorite TV shows of the year have already watched all of Saul, but if you haven’t, it’s never too late to start.  You definitely won’t be sorry.

For anyone who made it this far, here are my lists from previous years:

Top Twenty TV Shows of the Decade (2011-2021)
Top Ten TV Shows of 2021
Top Twenty TV Shows of 2020
Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019
Top Ten Movies of 2019
Top Ten TV Shows of 2018
Top Ten Movies of 2018

The Saboscrivner’s Top Ten TV Shows of 2021

It’s the end of the year as we know it, so here’s another list!  Here are the Top Ten television shows I watched this year, and why.

10. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+). I almost listed the dire, depressing HBO miniseries Mare of Easttown instead of this six-episode Marvel show, because Mare of Easttown is better in almost every way. But The Falcon and the Winter Soldier humanized one of the best villains to appear so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (my dude Zemo), two supposed good guys had major heel turns (one expected, and one as a huge surprise), and they introduced an important new character who will hopefully lead into a new movie or show about one of my favorite Marvel concepts.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations on not being a nerd.  Oh yeah, and Sam Wilson, one of the two biggest mensches in the MCU, Steve Rogers’ trusted friend and protégé, fulfilled his potential and rose to a well-deserved spot on the superhero A-list.  I cried happy tears.  If you haven’t watched it or haven’t been spoiled yet, I don’t want to ruin it for you, but it’s a beautiful, inspiring moment that reminded me why I love superheroes, even when their stories suffer from poor pacing, weird editing, relatively low budgets, and other factors that keep them from reaching their full potential, as this show did.  Mare of Easttown had better performances and told a tighter, twistier tale, but all it did was make me depressed and hungry for hoagies, and that’s already how I feel every day of my life, baby.

9. Wynonna Earp, Season 4 (SyFy). I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this show to most people. It’s a low-budget, campy Canadian Western-fantasy-horror series that owes a great debt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so if you think that sounds fun, then run, don’t walk.  And if you think that sounds awful, then run in the opposite direction.  Honestly, my least-favorite parts of this show were always the monsters of the week, and even the “big bads” of the season often disappointed.  That said, I always enjoyed spending time with the main characters as they laughed, cried, drank, banged, fell in love, shot the shit, shot some demons, and drank some more in the cursed town of Purgatory in the Ghost River Triangle.  This was the final season, and the series finale ended the only way it could have – with an adorable lesbian wedding and a little bit of happiness and hope springing from all the bleakness and blood these heroes had faced.

8. Bosch, Season 7 (Amazon Prime). Maybe the best modern detective/cop/neo-noir show, Bosch did an excellent job of telling gritty crime stories set (and filmed!) in beautiful Los Angeles, while balancing it with some good drama and much-needed comic relief to break the tension. You may have dismissed this as a “show for dads,” or “copaganda,” and you wouldn’t be completely wrong, but Bosch was always so much better than it had any right to be.  This was the final season, but we haven’t seen the last of driven, hyper-competent detective Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch or his smart, tough, capable daughter Maddie.  They will be returning in a brand-new series, but with a somewhat different status quo based on this series finale.  I’ll miss the wonderful supporting cast, featuring many alumni of The Wire.  I never read any of Michael Connelly’s Bosch novels that were adapted into the show, but the entire series had a sprawling, detailed, novelistic feel.  L.A. felt like another main character, and I sure hope the next Bosch series is shot on location as well.

7. AEW Dynamite (TNT). This has been airing for just over two years, and it may be the best televised wrestling show of all time. I ranked it much higher last year, only because I had a lot more going on this year and fell so far behind keeping up with All Elite Wrestling.  But there is also a staggering, overwhelming, intimidating amount of weekly content to watch: the Elevation and Dark shows on YouTube (usually featuring lesser-known wrestlers who often amaze and astonish), and the bigger cable shows that push the stars and advance the story arcs, Dynamite on Wednesdays and Rampage on Fridays.  It’s just too much to watch, so I started reading spoilers and fast-forwarding on the DVR to get to my favorite performers and the more interesting matches.  In 2021, everyone continued to work their asses off to put on a great show, people seem to still be getting along and avoiding behind-the-scenes drama and politics, long-term storytelling that built over months and even years finally paid off (World Champion Adam Page had an incredible story arc), and the return of live crowds (who are much less risk-averse than I) injected even more excitement and enthusiasm into the shows.  Also, a few high-profile hires took screen time away from some of the less-popular wrestlers who are my favorites, but it also finally made me a fan of the great C.M. Punk, who I missed out on completely during his long reign in WWE, when that company turned me away from watching wrestling for 15 years.  I am so glad there’s a real, viable alternative to WWE, especially because AEW also seems like a happy, functional workplace.

6. Snowpiercer, Season 2 (TNT). You can feel some of the nerve-wracking, edge-of-your-seat tension and drama many people loved and missed in Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones on this sci-fi series, about the survivors of an apocalyptic freeze hurtling around a dead, frozen Earth aboard a life-sustaining train (which is starting to break down). The constant class conflicts of the first season were mostly resolved, but Season 2 raised the stakes by introducing a formidable antagonist for the exhausted heroes, threatening their uneasy alliance and the safety of everyone on board.  Spoiler alert: he’s played by Sean Bean, and he’s a sadistic, pompous jerk with an amazing wardrobe who has backup plans for his backup plans and corrupts everyone he meets.  Daveed Diggs and my teenage crush Jennifer Connelly continued to anchor the show with their charisma, and Bean’s villain shook up the power dynamic on Snowpiercer just as the other two were finally having their “We’re not so different, you and I” detente.

5. Black Monday, Season 3 (Showtime). The only show from this list to also make my Top Twenty TV Shows of the Decade list, this may have been the final season of the clever comedy about Wall Street weirdos who caused the biggest stock market crash in history, then got into even more complicated capers, shady business dealings, political and religious scandals, backstabbing betrayals, jazz, cocaine, sex, and their dysfunctional love-hate relationships with each other. Oh, and there was a serial killer storyline too.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be happy if the show continues a little longer because everyone involved is so funny and smart, but if it doesn’t, Black Monday ended on a perfect note, without ever faltering, slowing down, or wearing out its welcome.

4. Waffles + Mochi, Season 1 (Netflix). This is a food show. It’s also a children’s show, starring two adorable puppets who left their homeland, “The Land of Frozen Food,” to learn about fresh, delicious foods by working in a magical, fantastical supermarket.  Celebrities like Chef Jose Andres and Michelle Obama (Waffles and Mochi’s boss at the supermarket) appear to teach lessons as our heroes travel the world in a flying, talking shopping cart, learning about different foods and cultures.  It is charming, educational, good-natured, and hilarious.  Your kids will love it, and if you are child-free by choice like my wife and I, you may surprise yourself by loving it too.  I think we cried when the too-short season ended, but we were delighted when a surprise holiday special, Waffles + Mochi’s Holiday Feast, appeared on Netflix as a Thanksgiving treat.  Even better, the show never judges “healthy” versus “unhealthy” foods, or those who prefer one over the other.  But you will come away with a newfound appreciation for sancocho, pani puri, and savory Finnish pancakes made with reindeer blood.  Seriously.

3. Ted Lasso, Season 2 (Apple TV+). With the possible exception of my #2 entry, this was the show I looked forward to the most from week to week, and its positivity and optimism (two things I usually hate) kept me going from August to October, during a particularly stressful semester at work. As fun, funny, and affirming as this season was, I felt like it was a slight step down from the brilliant first season due to less focus on the genial good guy Coach Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) in favor of building up the rest of the cast, and plots that meandered a bit.  I think it lingered a little too long on the relationship between Roy Kent and Keeley – we get it, they’re adorable together, they soften each other’s rough edges, and they will eventually work all their problems out!  We also saw a major character’s slow heel turn, while Ted was distracted by his own panic attacks, PTSD, and eventual willingness to seek therapy and talk about his problems.  In a year that will leave many of us with some PTSD, I love that this show helped normalize being open and honest about mental illness, and that it showed seeking help is always a strength, never a weakness.  This is such a good show – heartwarming but never cloying, good-natured but never inspirational, and consistently funny.  I also appreciate any stories that feature kind, patient, supportive bosses (both Ted as the coach and Rebecca as the team owner, after her Ted-inspired face turn last season), because we all desperately need good bosses in our lives, and sometimes we have to settle for fictional ones.  (I am lucky to have good bosses right now, but I appreciate them so much more because I’ve had bad ones too!)

2. Hawkeye (Disney+). This was my most-awaited show of the year, based on one of my favorite comic book heroes: Clint “Hawkeye” Barton, a regular guy who stands alongside gods and giants, saving the world “with just a stick and a string.” This series was directly inspired by one of the finest comics of the past decade, the Hawkeye series by writer Matt Fraction and artists David Aja and Annie Wu.  The influences were strong, but of course any Marvel Studios project is going to take some liberties with the source material, “remixing” 80+ years of comics to make them fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  As a result, the Hawkeye of a few Avengers movies and this series wasn’t Matt Fraction’s dysfunctional himbo man-child, but a world-weary assassin who is more than ready to hang up his bow and arrows to be a full-time family man.  Similar to the comics, Clint’s new protégé, archery prodigy Kate Bishop, makes him a better man, but MCU Clint is much more mature, with his life much more together, so he doesn’t need Kate as much as Kate needs him.  Kate is a damn delight, by the way.  Hailee Steinfeld was a perfect casting choice, and I hope we see much more of her, because she was so much fun.  Also fun and delightful was Yelena Belova, the new Black Widow, played by Florence Pugh, returning after her memorable first appearance in the Black Widow movie earlier this year.  The best scene in the show was Kate and Yelena just talking, and I hope the Marvel Studios powers that be keep them together in future shows and movies, building on their crazy chemistry and growing friendship.  They are already so much more entertaining than Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson as the original Hawkeye and Black Widow!  Other terrific new characters included Deaf, Native American martial artist Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox, an actual Deaf, Native American actress!), foppish (and possibly sinister) playboy Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton from Better Call Saul), and one of the best live-action Marvel villains ever, who I was overjoyed to see back, unexpectedly.  I’ll be okay if Clint Barton finally retires from archery and avenging, but I want to spend a lot more time with all the other characters from Hawkeye.

1. Blindspotting, Season 1 (Starz). The biggest and most pleasant surprise on this list, which my wife and I didn’t watch until the final few days of 2021. Most people have probably never heard of it (because who subscribes to Starz?), but the show is a wonderful spinoff of one of my favorite movies of 2018, also called Blindspotting.  The writer-stars of the original movie, the multitalented Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, are the writer-showrunners of the series, and Casal reappears as his character from the movie, Miles, who is arrested and sentenced to five years in prison in the first episode.  The main character of the show is Ashley, Miles’ loyal, resourceful girlfriend, played by the amazing Jasmine Cephas Jones (best known for playing Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds in the original cast of Hamilton, alongside Daveed Diggs).  Cephas Jones is such a talent!  This show should be a star-making vehicle for her.  Her Ashley does everything she can to keep the family together with Miles incarcerated, including moving herself and their precocious son in with Miles’ ex-hippie revolutionary mom in their old Oakland neighborhood.  The show is so warm, funny, and charming, with such a strong sense of place and a world that feels “lived in,” populated by real characters who have spent their lives in this community, together.  It has terrific dialogue and some truly heartwarming moments of joy.  It’s hilarious, but it’s not a straight-up comedy by any standard.  Like the movie, Blindspotting can also be heartbreaking, touching on issues of race, but especially taking a stand against the unfair prison-industrial complex, the complicit criminal justice system, the pointless “war on drugs,” and the collateral damage they inflict on innocent families.  Oh yeah, Ashley and other characters also deliver gorgeous spoken word poetry segments as asides to the audience, with lyrics that sound as much like Shakespeare as they do East Bay hip hop.  Every episode also features dreamlike interpretive dance sequences that are beautiful enough to bring you to tears.  Even a dummy like me can tell exactly what each dance sequence represents, and how they propel the plot forward.  I’m not going to keep my Starz subscription any longer than I have to, but this show was renewed for a well-deserved second season, and you bet I’ll resubscribe for it!

Here’s a helpful hint for you steadfast Saboscrivnerinos: Amazon Prime is currently running a sale until January 4th where you can subscribe to Starz for 99 cents a month for the first two months, before the price goes back up to the $10/month range.  If you read this in time, I strongly encourage you get the subscription, at least for a month.  You’ll probably binge-watch the eight half-hour episodes of Blindspotting in a few nights, as we did, and then you can cancel.  That’s the best dollar you’ll spend this week!

For anyone who made it this far, here are my lists from previous years:

Top Twenty TV Shows of the Decade (2011-2021)
Top Twenty TV Shows of 2020
Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019
Top Ten Movies of 2019
Top Ten TV Shows of 2018
Top Ten Movies of 2018

The Saboscrivner’s Top Twenty TV Shows of the Decade (2011-2021)

Because this is the kind of content you come to a food blog for, right?  Well, the year is ending, and I usually publish some kind of best-of-the-year lists, so here’s my first one: my Top Twenty TV Shows of the Decade, spanning from 2011-2021.  A few of them started airing in the previous decade, and I account for that below.  I’d love to know what my dozens of readers think about my choices, and what yours would be!

20. Parks and Recreation (NBC; 7 seasons; 2009-2015).
I used to love this show. It was hilarious, but also kind (most of the time, except for the characters’ horrible treatment of their harmless co-worker Jerry, which I always found off-putting). But I rank it at the bottom of the list because the first season was bad, and the second season didn’t get really good until two important characters were added at the very end. Also, it seems like such a time capsule of the Obama era now, with hard-working people in government like Leslie Knope going above and beyond for their unappreciative constituents, and also people like the rugged individualist Ron Swanson, on the surface her polar opposite, but ultimately an honorable man who could learn to be better and be persuaded to do the right thing and care about others. I don’t feel as confident in our government now, and I haven’t in a long time. This show may not have aged super-well, but I still think about all the times I laughed my ass off, and the handful of times I teared up (the proposal and the series finale).

19. The Venture Bros. (Adult Swim; 7 seasons plus a few specials; 2003-2018).
The only animated series on my list, it was almost entirely the work of two people, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, so there were delays of a year or more between seasons. We only got two longer specials, followed by seasons 5-7, in the past decade. Arguably, some of the finest moments of the show had already occurred, so they can’t count here, but there were still plenty of good gags, deep-cut nerd references, and complex additions to the show’s mythology in those last few years. This show could have run forever, and I would have been thrilled, but I think it ended on a good note, and I worry that any longer might have been bad for Mr. Publick and Mr. Hammer’s sanity and health. Still, Go Team Venture!

18. Warrior (Cinemax; 2 seasons; 2019-2020, but renewed to hopefully return).
A show I discovered after it ended, it was a badass martial arts-Western-historical drama from Jonathan Tropper (creator of a show that will rank higher on this list) and Justin Lin (director of Fast and Furious 3-6 and 9), so you know it’s going to be fun. Based on a concept created by Bruce Lee himself, it is the story of Ah Sahm, a skilled fighter who travels from China to San Francisco in search of his sister and gets caught up in Tong warfare. Along the way, he becomes a protector of innocent people and a folk hero in the oppressed Chinese immigrant community. Andrew Koji is terrific as Ah Sahm, who occasionally cracks jokes, letting his stone-faced persona slip. The fight choreography was always excellent – some of the best I’ve ever seen on television. Despite the ongoing plotline, my two favorite episodes were both stand-alone stories: a Western homage in Season 1, and a martial arts tournament in Season 2. But I cannot in good conscience recommend you just watch those out of context, so give it a chance from the beginning.

17. Person of Interest (CBS; 5 seasons; 2011-2016).
This looked like the kind of “dad show” I avoid – a CBS procedural about two guys who use a machine to find people in trouble or people about to cause trouble, and then swoop in to either rescue or stop them. The first season began kind of slow, but by the seventh episode, there was a twist that promised more interesting things to come, and it didn’t take too much longer for that promise to come true as enemies became allies, allies became enemies, and newer characters joined the mix. Even though the show kept the procedural aspect with a new number/person every week, it set up elaborate, ongoing story arcs, intense dramatic moments, huge action set-pieces, and became straight-up cyberpunk by the end. I like to think some fuddy-duddy CBS executives were pissed that their “dad show” evolved into something deeper and darker, but it was always fun. If you can get through the first handful of episodes, you’ll encounter major payoffs by staying patient. Also, creator Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher) would go on to create Westworld with his wife Lisa Joy, and he’d revisit some themes about all-powerful artificial intelligences and free will on the later show.

16. iZombie (The CW; 5 seasons; 2015-2019).
Extremely loosely based on a comic book co-created by my favorite artist, Michael Allred, the iZombie show jettisoned almost everything about the comic and improved the concept in every possible way. Rose McIver pulled off a memorable performance as Liv Moore, a woman who was bitten and turned into a zombie at a doomed boat party. In this show, zombies have pale skin and white hair, but they can retain their mental functions as long as they consume one human brain per week. To keep from going feral, Liv (a medical school dropout) gets a job as an assistant medical examiner to have easy access to brains, then discovers they temporarily give her flashes of the recently deceased people’s memories and aspects of their personalities. She uses this newfound ability to help a detective solve their murders, so it’s a case-of-the-week (or “brain-of-the-week”) procedural. However, the show also establishes some pretty complex, intertwining plots for every season. The brain-eating may not work for squeamish viewers, but it is the central conceit of the plot, and the show is all about plot rather than shock value gore. iZombie was a CW show, so everyone in the cast is ridiculously hot, and every character has multiple opportunities to be the best character.

15. Atlanta (FX; 2 seasons so far; 2016-present).
This brilliant show, co-created by actor-writer-comedian-singer-rapper-musician Donald Glover, is so exciting because you never know what it’s going to be from one episode to the next. It can be a dark, stark slice of urban life, an absurdist comedy, an exploration of race and racism, or a brutal, horrific nightmare. With director Hiro Murai around to set a strong visual element, Atlanta packs one of the best casts on television: Glover as hapless, passive underachiever Earn, Brian Tyree Henry as his cousin, up-and-coming rapper Paper Boi, Zazie Beetz as Earn’s love interest Van, and LaKeith Stanfield – maybe one of the best actors working today – as spaced-out, sagelike Darius. Atlanta has been on hiatus for what seems like forever, but Season 3 should be out in 2022, and they are already hard at work on Season 4. Whatever comes next, it will be worth watching, because there won’t be anything else like it, before or after.

14. Daredevil (Netflix; 3 seasons; 2016-2018).
This show is close to my heart because Daredevil is my favorite Marvel superhero, and I earned tenure because of a law review article I wrote about Daredevil in 2019 (download it for free at… so I can say without exaggeration that a superhero literally saved my career. But also, the show was terrific, with excellent casting and outstanding fight choreography. Each season had one memorable fight sequence that probably blew a chunk of the budget, but you could always see where all that money and expertise went. Just think of “hallway fight,” “stairwell fight,” or “hospital fight,” and it may come rushing back to you. The show borrowed liberally from Frank Miller’s legendary noir-tinged comics, while remixing key moments and going its own way with a lot of them. Sometimes this worked (Punisher), and other times, not so much (Bullseye). My biggest complaint about Daredevil and the other Marvel shows on Netflix were that the seasons were too long, leading to a lot of slow pacing and filler. I think it would have ended with an even better reputation if seasons were eight episodes long, or even ten, rather than 13. But I remain hopeful and optimistic that we haven’t seen the last of these characters, or the perfectly cast actors who played them, in other live-action Marvel projects. And Daredevil has been the most consistently written Marvel comic for the past 20 years, with so many more classic stories by the best writers in comics to adapt.

13. The Americans (FX; 6 seasons; 2013-2018).
A show that shifted between slow, methodical pacing and breakneck, stressful intensity (often in the same episode), The Americans may be the least-flashy show on this list, but it was always a master class in acting. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell played two Soviet spies, living deep undercover as an all-American family in the Washington, D.C., suburbs in the 1980s, raising unwitting kids while committing acts of espionage (and occasionally straight-up murdering people), all under the nose of their next-door neighbor and “friend,” an FBI agent played by Noah Emmerich. Like I said, intense. There are a lot of dangerous missions (aided by fascinating analog technology and fabulous wigs), close calls, horrible betrayals, and the highest of stakes. A final standoff in a parking garage in the series finale featured some of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and it led to a heartbreaking conclusion. But no spoilers from me! You probably didn’t watch this show (not nearly enough people did), so what are you waiting for?

12. Black Monday (Showtime; 3 seasons; 2019-2021).
Another ‘80s period piece, this one is a comedy – ostensibly a sitcom – about Wall Street iconoclasts who engineered the biggest stock market crash in history. But as silly as it often was, it was also a smart and clever show, with intricate plotting, full of twists and turns and plenty of brutal betrayals. The ‘80s references were a treat to pick out, and the snappy wordplay was unparalleled. Plus, you had a terrific cast anchored by Don Cheadle, with some of the funniest people around: Regina Hall, Andrew Rannells, Paul Scheer, Casey Wilson, June Diane Raphael, and Ken Marino playing TWO of the slimiest characters ever. Black Monday could surprise me by returning for another season, but if not, it ended on a perfect note. Unfortunately, because it was broadcast on Showtime, I suspect that kept a lot of people who would have loved it from discovering it.

11. The Leftovers (HBO; 3 seasons; 2014-2017).
This was certainly a polarizing show, especially since Season 1 is full of unpleasant subject matter and is difficult to get through. But there are plenty of great moments along the way, and then the series was retooled for a very different second season that led to even more unforgettable television. The general concept of the show is that 2% of the world’s population instantly, randomly disappeared during a moment that would be referred to as the “Sudden Departure,” and the survivors were forced to deal with grief and loss, along with reexamining everything they thought they knew about religion, science, life, and death. Some of The Leftovers is brutally sad, but I think there is a lot of hope there too. Justin Theroux, Christopher Eccleston, and especially Carrie Coon and Regina King are incredible in this, and there are a few dreamlike episodes that come later that will fill you with awe for their audacity and ambition.

10. Hannibal (NBC; 3 seasons; 2013-2015).
People (including me) always say that it’s a wonder this show existed at all, much less on NBC for three seasons. Bryan Fuller’s artsy take on Thomas Harris’ novels redefines the relationship between sophisticated, multitalented psychiatrist/surgeon/gourmet chef/snappy dresser/cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter and sensitive, vulnerable FBI profiler Will Graham. Each man is fascinated by the other, and they have a bizarre mentor/mentee relationship where they constantly hunt and hurt each other, while being the only people who could possibly understand each other. Every aspect of the show is gorgeous, from sets to costumes to elaborate feasts designed by food stylist Janice Poon. Even the murder scenes staged by Lecter and competing serial killers (there sure are a lot of them in this beautiful nightmare reality) are elaborate tableaux that fascinate as much as they repulse. This show is definitely not for the squeamish, but it is so much better than it had any right to be. Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Lecter makes Anthony Hopkins’ award-winning portrayal from earlier movies seem like hammy community theater by comparison; when Eddie Izzard appears in the show as a killer who is far more vile and depraved than the refined Lecter, he is doing a straight-up Hopkins impression.

9. Justified (FX; 6 seasons; 2010-2015).
Another crime show, and another show that could be hilariously funny. It achieved greatness on the strength of the two leads in the roles of their lifetimes, Timothy Olyphant as trigger-happy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and Walton Goggins as backwoods crime lord Boyd Crowder, two men who grew up in abusive, poverty-stricken homes in the hollers of Harlan, Kentucky, dug coal together, and then went in very different directions in their lives. Raylan and Boyd spend almost the entire series as “frenemies” – they hate each other and wouldn’t mind killing each other, but often find themselves in uneasy alliances against common threats and more dangerous foes. Raylan isn’t as upstanding as he appears and Boyd is much smarter than he appears, but both men are formidable adversaries and incredible fun to watch. Based on source material by the late, great novelist Elmore Leonard (who also wrote Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Rum Punch, which Quentin Tarantino adapted into Jackie Brown), Justified always had clever, snappy tough-guy dialogue, memorable performances from the “big bads” of each season, and a real sense of place that made it feel different from every other show on television. You’ll never leave Harlan alive, but you’ll want to watch these guys try.

8. The Good Place (NBC; 4 seasons; 2016-2020).
I think this Michael Schur sitcom will age better than Parks and Recreation, due to balancing jokes with philosophical exploration of what it means to be a good person and lead a good life. Four deeply flawed people die and find themselves in “The Good Place,” an afterlife that is not what it appears to be, and this kicks off an epic saga with some major plot twists, status quo shakeups, extremely high stakes, ongoing mysteries, noble sacrifices, and more aspects that you would expect from big-deal prestige dramas, not scrappy, hilarious, underdog network sitcoms. It’s a funny show, and a feel-good show with heart, but it’s also a seminar in philosophy and ethics with a strong point of view. You will be a better person if you watch it, and not just because it’s a good TV show that I’m recommending.

7. Childrens Hospital (Adult Swim; 7 seasons; 2010-2016).
This parody of medical dramas like E.R. and Grey’s Anatomy started out as eight-minute “webisodes” that aired during the writers’ strike of 2008, then launched as 15-minute episodes on Adult Swim that got more ambitious and high-concept as the show continued, against all odds. It features so many beloved names in comedy, very few of whom would be considered “stars” or household names, but they were all amazing here, usually playing it completely straight, which made it even funnier. Lake Bell, Erinn Hayes, Ken Marino again, Rob Huebel, Megan Mullally, Henry Winkler, Rob Corddry, and Malin Akerman played the core cast, but some of the recurring characters, like Nick Offerman’s Detective Chance Briggs and co-creator David Wain’s Rabbi Jewy McJewJew, filled me with delight whenever they showed back up. And later on, we’d find out that the ”Childrens Hospital” we were watching this whole time was a show within a show, and we’d spend time with the actors playing the characters on that show, which somehow had been running for decades. It all makes sense. Kind of. Or maybe not. But it was brilliant, inspired, chaotic comedy that included everything from direct parodies to slapstick to wordplay to callbacks to gimmick episodes to changes to the entire status quo of the show. Oh yeah, and it was all set in a hospital in Brazil. Which was where they were the entire time.

6. Breaking Bad (AMC; 5 seasons; 2008-2013).
I don’t think any shows have built tension better than Breaking Bad. I’m talking edge-of-your-seat, pit-in-your-stomach, heart racing, teeth chattering tension. It makes you feel real fear for the characters, all various shades of bad people who bring their worst problems upon themselves. It’s a show about one brilliant man’s hubris, and how he poisoned his own life and the lives of everyone he interacted with. It’s a pulpy, violent, brutal show about criminals – some of the worst people you’ve ever seen – and a sad tale about how the American health care system fails people. If we had Medicare For All, this public school teacher who developed cancer could have gotten the care he needed without embarking on a life of crime that would cause untold suffering for thousands of people, and so much death and destruction. But a show about a man getting health care would not have provided the gripping drama we got. The only reason I didn’t rank this show higher was because only seasons 4 and 5 aired during this decade. But then we got a prequel/spinoff that surpassed it in some ways, so stay tuned for that!

5. Twin Peaks: The Return (Showtime; 1 season; 2017).
I was too young to watch the two seasons of Twin Peaks when they first aired from 1990 to 1991, and I would definitely have been too young to fully understand or appreciate them. But when I finally binge-watched the show in 2009, it quickly became one of my all-time favorites, and it made me a huge fan of the works of co-creator and visionary filmmaker/visual artist/musician/avuncular weirdo David Lynch. Still, it always saddened me that Twin Peaks ended on a maddening cliffhanger. When it returned for a new season of 18 episodes on Showtime in 2017, each one directed by Lynch himself, it felt like a dream come true – a chance to revisit the town, see some old friends, and get some closure. Well, as you might expect from Lynch, the dream was often more like a nightmare. It was often darker, drearier, and more dreamlike than the earlier episodes. Some things never made sense. Others contradicted things we thought we knew or dashed our hopes for happy endings. As nice as it was to reconnect with some beloved characters, the actors were so much older, so frail and infirm. Some died before this season went into production, and a few passed during production or shortly after it aired. The methodical pacing made me think a lot about the passage of time, and how time ravages us all, one way or another. But even when Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost gave us a bit of comic relief or a few happy moments, I found that a lot of the show still frustrated me, and it didn’t give me the ending I hoped for so badly. In the end, I should have known better. Lynch’s works often belie explanation, and he never gives audiences easy answers, catharsis, or finality. Why did I rank this show so high on my list, even when it ultimately left me disappointed? Because it was a gift, because it was the uncompromised vision of an auteur, and because I don’t need to love everything to realize what a damn fine work of art it was. And maybe we’ll see Lynch and his characters and the town of Twin Peaks again… just hopefully not in 25 more years.

4. Halt and Catch Fire (AMC; 4 seasons; 2014-2017).
Some people might have read a blurb about this show and thought it sounded boring. Some might have dismissed it as “Mad Men, but in the home computer industry in Texas in the early ‘80s.” Many probably never heard of it at all. But give it a chance, and I promise you’ll be impressed. You will never believe how much you’ll care about five people working in the home computer industry in Texas in the early ‘80s, or how much you’ll both love and hate them at various times, and how deeply you’ll care about all of them relatively early on. I’ve already written about shows that are “master classes in acting,” and here’s another one. None of the leads are household names, but that’s a shame, if not a crime. You should get to know Lee Pace, Scoot [not a typo] McNairy, Mackenzie Davis, Kerry Bishe, and Toby Huss, because they deserved to become big stars after this show, which should have made more of a cultural impact. It’s not too late for any of that to happen. Just like Mad Men showed this advertising agency as a microcosm of the vast societal changes of the 1960s, Halt and Catch Fire shows how much these five characters in their 1980s setting pioneered the technological advances that made our world the way we know it today, allowing you all to be reading my list right now. Watch it. I promise you’ll bawl your eyes out at least once. And they introduce a character in the final season who I really wanted to get a spinoff – let’s see if the dozens of fellow Halt and Catch Fire fans can guess who that was.

3. Banshee (Cinemax; 4 seasons; 2013-2016).
Really? He liked it that much? Yes, I did. This little-seen Cinemax series by Jonathan Tropper (who would later co-create Warrior) is on HBO Max now, so you have no excuse. The show is pure id – pulpy action drenched in sex and violence, with plenty of nudity and blood. A criminal tracking down a woman from his past finds himself in a small Pennsylvania town and finds himself thrust into the position of impersonating the new sheriff, who conveniently, nobody had met or even seen yet. He gets together with his old crew, pulls some jobs, makes a few friends and a lot of new enemies, and realizes that outrunning his past is impossible. We meet an incredible villain in the form of the local crime boss, a former Amish man who was cast out of the pacifist community and now rules the town with an iron fist (and a really scary henchman), keeping everyone in fear… except the new impostor sheriff. Like Justified, Banshee is a saga of small-town badassery that often feels like a modern-day Western, but while Justified has it beaten for cleverness and wit, Banshee wins with brutal fight choreography, hot women, and dangerous people doing very bad things to each other. The show is so audacious in what it gets away with, it almost becomes transgressive, and I love and respect it for that.

2. Better Call Saul (AMC; 5 seasons with one coming next year; 2015-2022).
With one season remaining to wrap everything up, I can say with certainty that this prequel/spinoff surpassed its original source material, Breaking Bad – at least for me. Both shows were about the criminal rises and downfalls of flawed but good men, full of potential for greatness in their fields. Walter White could have been a successful chemist, but he could never get along with others. Jimmy McGill did become a successful attorney, but he had the heart of a con artist, and he had a better time doing things the wrong way — taking shortcuts, skirting the law. He identified more with his criminal clients than the polished, pompous lawyers who stood in his way and set him up to fail when he was trying so hard to be good, until he realized he didn’t have to do things their way. Sadly, we still don’t know how Jimmy’s hubris and bad choices as Saul Goodman are going to affect his (and our) beloved Kim Wexler, the best woman on television, played by one of the best actresses on television, Rhea Seehorn. Oh yeah, Mike from Breaking Bad is in this too, and we see the origin story of how both men got involved with the cartel. This show has some of the most gut-churning, intense drama since Breaking Bad aired, but it can also be one of the funniest shows on TV. That balance is necessary to break all the tension, and there is a lot of tension.

1. Mad Men (AMC; 7 seasons; 2007-2015).
Maybe this is recency bias, because I never watched this series as it aired, but binged the entire thing with my wife earlier this year. I was skeptical, fully expecting to hate it, but it surpassed all the hype. For me, it completely lived up to its reputation as the pinnacle of prestige TV, alongside The Wire (my favorite show of the previous decade). Only seasons 5-7 aired during this decade, but those were still three impeccable seasons of television. Sometimes Mad Men was inscrutable, sometimes it was frustrating, sometimes it was funnier than most actual comedies, but it always delivered the best writing and acting on television, to say nothing of incredible sets, costumes, and general production design, as you can imagine for a show that spanned the tumultuous era of 1960 to 1970. Jon Hamm’s mysterious, suave, and deeply flawed Don Draper is an unforgettable character, but the entire ensemble was important, with Elisabeth Moss’s Peggy Olsen as the closest we ever had to an audience point of view character (and poor Ted Chaough emerging as my favorite character). I never expected I would “mark out” at so many legendary moments during what I expected would be an understated drama, or laugh so much, or be shocked, or saddened, or pissed. This show had everything. It was a carousel through one of the most important, turbulent decades in history, and it could only ever have been crafted with this much care, attention, wit, and art during these past two decades. Plus, Mad Men brought us Vincent Kartheiser’s perfectly emphasized reply while his life was falling apart and someone asked how he was doing: “NOT GREAT, BOB!”

The Saboscrivner’s Top 20 TV Shows of 2020

The Saboscrivner’s Top 20 TV Shows of 2020

These are the shows I would rank 11-20, in no specific order.  They were perfectly fine and entertaining.  I enjoyed most of these shows most of the time, but I watched too much good TV this year, and they didn’t crack my Top Ten.

Upload s1 (Amazon Prime)
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
Doom Patrol s2 (HBO Max)
Bosch s6 (Amazon Prime)
Dead to Me s2 (Netflix)
Umbrella Academy s2 (Netflix)
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow s5 (CW)
Hunters s1 (Amazon Prime)
Fargo s4 (FX; now on Hulu)
Medical Police s1 (Netflix)

Now for my Top Ten, ranked in order:

10. Lovecraft Country s1 (HBO) – Probably the most ambitious and audacious show I watched all year, a 1950s period piece with a majority Black cast that contrasts fictional horrors (eldritch horror, body horror, cosmic horror) with real social horrors that continue to perpetuate today. Each episode had a very different feel, all harkening back to weird tales from pulp fiction – a creepy cabin in the woods, a cult of wealthy white wizards, a haunted house, an Indiana Jones-style adventure full of deadly booby traps, body swapping, a sex demon, a tour of the multiverse, malevolent spirits tormenting an innocent, and time travel back to one of the darkest hours in our history – and all while highlighting issues of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, police brutality, and systemic inequality. If it sounds heavy, it sometimes is. There were uneven points and some aspects I didn’t love, but the show hits more than it misses. It deserves all the credit in the world for trying, and for being unafraid to shock audiences and make them uncomfortable. And it seemed to make Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett into stars, which they deserve to become. It was definitely one of the shows that captured the zeitgeist of 2020, this hell year.

9. Snowpiercer s1 (TNT) – Another show that captured the zeitgeist, this was a bleak and grim postapocalyptic adventure, where survivors of a frozen planet live on a titanic train that hurtles around the dead Earth, trapped in strict social strata, with the first class passengers continuing lives of luxury while the tail section subsists in squalor. Of course there are class struggles, which lead to a murder mystery and a violent uprising. I think this show comes closest to the feeling of Game of Thrones, with its social order of dangerous, depraved haves and rebellious have-nots with nothing to lose, where life is cheap and justice and equality are unheard of. And I’m always thrilled to see my ‘90s crush Jennifer Connelly and the multitalented Daveed Diggs in anything.

8. The Good Place s4 (NBC) – We got the final four episodes of this triumphant show way back in January, which feels like a lifetime ago. A rare show that cracked us up, kept us guessing, and stealthily gave us ideas for how to be better people, The Good Place offered us humor, hope, and love over the last four years when we really needed all of the above. It culminated in a finale that was both beautiful and sad. I will never forget this show, and I’ll never stop recommending it.

7. Perry Mason s1 (HBO) – A wonderful neo-noir with a fantastic cast headlined by Matthew Rhys, Tatiana Maslany, Shea Whigham, and John Lithgow. Here, Perry Mason is a rumpled, low-rent detective in 1930s L.A., but the season is his origin story for becoming a legendary trial attorney. It’s another bleak and grim show, but we don’t watch noir for moral uplift or happy endings, do we? It’s gorgeous to look at and remarkably well made in every aspect. I hope HBO makes more.

6. Schitt’s Creek s6 (Netflix) – Now here’s a show we watch for moral uplift and happy endings. My wife and I had never seen this show or even heard much about it until it won all of the Emmys earlier this year, so we binged all six seasons and fell in love with it, after a slow start. This is the epitome of a feel-good show, detailing a rich, spoiled family’s fall from grace, and how they had to lose everything to learn how to be good people. The admittedly lousy town of Schitt’s Creek changed the Roses for the better, but they changed the town and its inhabitants for the better as well. Everyone made the most of their opportunities to grow and change, learned humility, and found success, friendship, love, and happiness they never dreamed would be possible. Who couldn’t use some of that right now? The last three episodes of the sixth and final season are just one scene of pure joy after another, and I guarantee you’ll cry happy tears when you aren’t laughing.

5. Ted Lasso s1 (Apple TV+) – Maybe the most pleasant surprise of 2020, an Apple TV+ show from Bill Lawrence, the creator of the great sitcom Scrubs, starring the affable Saturday Night Live alumnus Jason Sudeikis in the role he was born to play. Ted Lasso is a genial Midwestern college football coach hired to come to England to manage a struggling soccer team. He takes the gig, despite knowing next to nothing about soccer. But the show is first and foremost a character piece about one of the biggest mensches in fiction, right up there with Superman, Captain America, and Special Agent Dale Cooper.  He’s a kind, empathetic, patient, loyal, and surprisingly wise mentor, friend, and boss.  He helps, uplifts, and improves the lives of everyone he encounters. There is no cynicism here, but don’t get me wrong – it’s not a saccharine-sweet, glurgy, preachy show either. I hate that stuff, so don’t worry. Also, it is often hilarious. While I harbored concerns about a show in 2020 about a clearly mediocre and undeserving white dude who gets rewarded with a good job he doesn’t belong in, I was proven wrong. Coach Lasso’s empathy and humanity make him the right man for the job, and it’s about damn time for that.

4. The Mandalorian s2 (Disney+) – We binged both seasons back to back late this year, and I enjoyed it more than anything Star Wars-related since the original trilogy of my youth. After eight movies in between that ranged from good (Episode VII) to unnecessary (Solo) to terrible (take a guess!), The Mandalorian distilled everything I have always loved about Star Wars and made it into a galaxy-spanning western and a homage to Lone Wolf and Cub. By now, I’m sure you’re familiar with the Beskar-armored bounty hunter who doesn’t remove his helmet for anyone, and the adorable and gifted child under his protection. Season 2 improved on Season 1 in almost every way by introducing new and old allies, raising the stakes, and tying the show into the larger Star Wars continuity. The finale was pure fan-service in the best possible way, but I had plenty of mark-out moments throughout the season, including when one of my favorite actors, associated with other modern badass westerns, showed up as an ally, and when a beloved Star Wars character reappeared for a redemption arc. This show is clearly a labor of love for everyone involved, and it showed.

3. Black Monday s2 (Showtime) – Another show we binged during the pandemic, and very possibly the least-known show in my Top Ten. A Showtime series about Wall Street iconoclasts and schemers set in the late ‘80s, it will bring to mind Scorsese’s excellent Wolf of Wall Street (the funniest movie he ever made) and John Landis’ 1983 classic Trading Places. Yes, it’s a sitcom, but an intricately plotted sitcom about some really smart, really awful people double- and triple-crossing each other as they claw their way to the top, like crabs in a barrel. Full of hilarious ‘80s references, terrible fashions, and ridiculously clever wordplay (from David Caspe, the creator of Happy Endings), this is the best and funniest show you’ve very likely never heard of. And on top of that, it will shock you with some major plot twists along the way. Plus, it stars Don Cheadle, Regina Hall, Andrew Rannells, and Casey Wilson, who elevate almost everything they’re in.

2. AEW Dynamite (TNT) – The hell year 2020 made me a pro wrestling fan again, after I drifted away from WWE 15 years ago, when the great Eddie Guerrero died tragicially. This brand-new wrestling federation owned by billionaire Tony Khan started airing on TNT last fall, but watching Dynamite on Wednesday nights became a pleasant routine for me during the pandemic, and something I would look forward to all week. I thrilled to the in-ring action, learned everything I could about the characters on the screen and their real-life personalities, and became a “mark” for several of the incredibly talented and charismatic performers, who regularly risk their health and safety to tell stories, take bumps, defy gravity, and sometimes bleed for our entertainment. As usual, I gravitated toward underdogs like Orange Cassidy, Sonny Kiss, John Silver, and “The Librarian” Leva Bates, mostly good guys and goofballs. But on AEW, even the main-eventers are all hard workers and generous performers who share the spotlight and don’t make everything all about them.

AEW Dynamite aired my favorite TV moment of 2020: “Le Dinner Debonair,” a taped segment where two pompous heel (bad guy) wrestlers tried to psych each other out over a steak dinner, only to transition into an old-timey Hollywood musical number with full choreography, where they both sang and danced. It was entrancing. This past week, a wrestler who went by the character name Brodie Lee died suddenly. He was a year younger than me, but in peak physical condition, unlike me. He was a giant man who played a convincing heel (bad guy) who I never appreciated enough on screen, but was apparently the nicest guy ever, with a wife and two young sons. Last night I watched the most beautiful episode of Dynamite, a fitting tribute to the man’s career and life, both cut far too short. I cried when they showed a montage of his best moments, set to my musical hero Tom Waits’ song “Ol’ 55.” It was a wrestling show made with care, pride, and love, from people who seem to love their jobs, their craft, and their co-workers. AEW doesn’t seem to suffer from the massive egos and backstage politics of the WCW and WWE, that I used to watch and get frustrated by. The veterans constantly “put over” (elevate) the young talent of tomorrow, and everyone collaborates and supports each other, even while pretending to cause each other grievous bodily harm.

1. Better Call Saul s5 (AMC) – The best-acted, best-written, best show on TV. It fills me with tension and dread the way its predecessor Breaking Bad did, but I argue this prequel/spinoff series has surpassed the original show. I always say comedians make excellent dramatic actors because they have so much inner darkness to draw from, and I think everyone realized that about series lead Bob Odenkirk a long time ago. But this season belonged to the best and most underrated actress on television, Rhea Seehorn, whose character Kim Wexler is the heart and soul of the show. She consistently amazes and astonishes. I’m still hoping for a flash-forward to a happy ending for Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, but the fact that Kim’s fate remains completely unknown makes her scenes that much more riveting. This might have been the best season yet, and that’s the highest possible praise.

For anyone who cares, here are my lists from 2019 and 2018:

Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019
Top Ten Movies of 2019
Top Ten TV Shows of 2018
Top Ten Movies of 2018

The Saboscrivner’s Top Ten Movies of 2019

Man, it was hard to figure out ten movies I liked enough to make a Top Ten list this year!  For anyone who missed it, here’s my Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019.  Now on with the movies!

10. Always Be My Maybe — a romantic comedy starring and written by the insanely charismatic and funny Randall Park and Ali Wong, with a legendary appearance from a big-name actor you’ve probably already heard about.  I got to see Ali Wong do stand-up, opening for the great John Mulaney, before she even had a Netflix special, so I’m thrilled to have seen her explode since then.  And even though I never got into Randall Park’s sitcom, I’m thrilled he has a recurring role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is doing other things now.  This movie introduced me to the fact that he is a hell of a rapper, and I’m not joking about that.  Check this out and be amazed and astonished!  Dude has bars, and such a chill, laid-back flow that I just love.

9. John Wick 3: Parabellum — as long as they keep making these, I’ll keep going, even as they get progressively more ridiculous.  This one had kung fu, gun fu, knife fu, dog fu, and horse fu.

8. Under the Silver Lake — a trippy, meandering film about an amateur detective (or maybe just a creeper?) trying to find a missing girl in Los Angeles.  It contained one of my favorite scenes in any movie this year (guess what I think it was, constant readers!), even if the whole thing doesn’t quite come together as well as I hoped.  It would be part of an amazing L.A. neo-noir film festival alongside The Long Goodbye, The Big Lebowski, and Inherent Vice.

7. Hustlers — this was the one about the gang of strippers seducing, occasionally drugging, and robbing Wall Street guys, based on a true story detailed in a New York Magazine article.  Though written and directed by a woman, Lorene Scafaria, it felt a lot like a Martin Scorsese movie, and makes a perfect companion piece to his similarly-structured Wolf of Wall Street.  I didn’t expect to like either movie all that much, but surprised myself by how much I enjoyed both, despite the characters’ amorality.  At least in Hustlers, you understood what drove the women to do what they did,  and probably even rooted for their “found family” until they took things too far (as characters always do in movies like this).  But the cast was great, especially Jennifer Lopez, who hasn’t been this good in anything since Out of Sight.  My only complaint was that Lizzo had a tiny cameo, and I was hoping to see much more of her in the movie.  Feel free to take that however you want.

6. Deadwood: The Movie — one of my favorite shows of all time ended abruptly 14 years ago, so to get this movie and spend a little more time in the Black Hills with these characters was a real gift.  Deadwood featured a murderer’s row of amazing character actors, so if you love Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, and John Hawkes, you owe it to yourself to start at the beginning of the series, and cap off the experience with this movie.  It was bittersweet, focusing on how much time had aged these hard-living men and women, especially since the brilliant writer and showrunner, David Milch, revealed he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease right before the movie came out on HBO.  Did I cry?  You bet I did.

5. Booksmart — a delightful and kind-hearted comedy about two overachieving best friends getting ready to graduate high school and figuring out what comes next in their lives.  So many comedies have a mean streak and love to humiliate and debase their characters, but Olivia Wilde’s film found empathy for everyone — these two girls who spent so much time planning their futures that they lost the opportunity to live as teenagers, and the other kids who somehow excelled in school while having a blast.  In the end, innocence was lost, lessons were learned, and everyone walked away better off, with new understandings about each other and themselves as well.  How often does that happen?  Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd stole the movie with every scene she was in.  I’m expecting big things from her in the future.

4. Dolemite Is My Name — another good and kind comedy, but also loud, raunchy, and hilarious.  After ruling the ’80s with the unassailable and unmatched hot streak of Saturday Night Live –> 48 Hours –> Delirious –> Trading Places –> Beverly Hills Cop –> Raw –> Beverly Hills Cop II –> Coming to America, Eddie Murphy’s career was never quite the same, after too many forgettable, family-friendly flops.  But this was a return to form for one of our most charismatic comic actors of all time, playing a lesser-known comedy legend, Rudy Ray Moore.  The story of how Moore honed his foul-mouthed stand-up persona and got the ultra-low budget Dolemite film made is heartwarming and inspiring, but you’ll be laughing the entire time, I promise.  Plus, it’s on Netflix, so it’s free!

3. Knives Out — Rian Johnson has yet to make a less-than-great movie (check out The Brothers Bloom and Brick if you haven’t!), and this whodunnit is insanely intricate, clever, and funny, with an old fashioned-feeling premise that still comes across as super-relevant in 2019.  It has a star-studded cast full of actors that even your parents will probably enjoy watching, often playing against type (Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig stealing the show as a character I hope we see in future movies), and a star-making performance from Ana de Armas.  But that script was breathtaking, with so many twists and turns, precision gears that move in perfect clockwork.  The big reveal is another one of my favorite scenes in any movie this year, and once again, it shows that kindness and empathy can triumph over greed and selfishness.

2. Motherless Brooklyn — my favorite neo-noir since 1997’s L.A. Confidential, which is probably my third-favorite movie of all time (after Casablanca and Ghostbusters).  This was a passion project for writer/director/star Edward Norton (one of my favorite actors), who apparently made a lot of changes from the original novel.  I hated to see this movie come and go from theaters without making a big cultural impact, but I loved every minute of it.  It’s a 1950s period piece with a killer cast (including Gugu Mbatha-Raw from “San Junipero,” the only Black Mirror episode I’ve liked), but just like Knives Out, the mystery feels incredibly relevant for modern times.  (Wait for the villain to be revealed and make his big speech!  That’s what I call meta-casting!)  Also like Knives Out, it also features another protagonist who is a genuinely good guy — not an antihero, not a rogue, not a bad person who does bad things that somehow work out for the best.

1. Avengers: Endgame (as if there was any doubt!) — the culmination of eleven years and 22 movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s grand finale brought so much emotional resonance and catharsis, especially after the shocking (if you don’t read comic books) ending of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.  This movie had everything: new life, tragic death, wacky time travel capers, some of the most rousing and badass action sequences we’ve seen so far, heroic self-sacrifices, true love, hope for the future, and (spoiler alert!), good triumphing over the ultimate evil.  It has been a hell of a decade, and whether you call these Marvel movies “theme park rides” or “comfort food” or “focus group-friendly popcorn entertainment” or “legitimate cinema,” they clearly tapped into the zeitgeist, gave audiences what we needed, and sent us home happy.  Not every Marvel movie nails the formula, but Endgame was the perfect culmination of everything Kevin Feige, the Russo Brothers, and other creators had built together.  I laughed A LOT.  I sure as hell cried a lot too — both sad and happy tears.  Hell, I’m getting choked up just thinking about a few of those classic moments, especially the ending.  All the characters got a chance to shine, especially my favorites.  This is probably my favorite of all the Marvel movies, and it felt like the perfect ending to all of it.  Of course we already know it wasn’t (nothing ever really ends), but I don’t know how they’re ever going to top this one.

The Saboscrivner’s Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019

Living in the age of Peak TV is exhausting, because there is almost too much quality programming to keep up with.  Television has gotten so good that former favorites from recent years like Mindhunter, Killing Eve, Big Mouth, Stranger Things, Arrested Development, and the final season of Game of Thrones didn’t even crack my Top Twenty list!

So here goes nothing.  I’ll start with my #20-11 shows of 2019:

20. I Am the Night (miniseries; TNT)
19. Barry (season 2; HBO)
18. South Side (season 1; Comedy Central)
17. Russian Doll (season 1; Netflix)
16. Wu-Tang: An American Saga (season 1; Hulu)
15. The Umbrella Academy (season 1; Netflix)
14. iZombie (season 5; CW)
13. Bosch (season 5; Amazon Prime)
12. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 3; Amazon Prime)
11. I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (season 1; Netflix)

And now, more detailed descriptions for the Top Ten:

10. Dead to Me (season 1; Netflix) — this show makes the list for the career-best acting of Christina Applegate (who I never thought could be this good) and Linda Cardellini (who I wasn’t that familiar with, so shame on me).  The twist happens early, so what’s left is a complicated character study of two flawed and broken women and their strange bond.  It’s coming back for a second season, but even if it didn’t get picked up, I think it ended on a good note.

9. Fosse/Verdon (miniseries; FX) — I love learning the history of music and culture I missed out on, so this was an educational look at the careers of talented, troubled theater and film director/producer/writer/choreographer Bob Fosse and his wife and muse, dancer/actress Gwen Verdon.  I loved the movie version of Chicago, and this summer, my wife and saw it on Broadway, caught up in Fossemania (a Fosse frenzy?) after this miniseries gave us a look behind its scenes.  It was also some of the best acting I’ve ever seen from Sam Rockwell (one of my favorite actors) and Michelle Williams (someone else I wasn’t that familiar with, so shame on me).

8. Veronica Mars (season 4; Hulu) — a pure nostalgia bomb, bringing us back to the seedy beach town of Neptune, the tiny and tenacious blonde private eye, my favorite fictional father Keith Mars, and a lot more mysteries, quips, danger, and heartache.  It was nice to see these characters one more time, some of them for the last time… but I have a feeling (more like a hope in my heart) that we still have more cases to solve with Veronica and Keith.

7. The Good Place (seasons 3 and 4; NBC) — we got the last few excellent episodes of Season 3 in January, and then the majority of Season 4 this fall.  I feel like they spent a lot of time treading water so far in the final season, especially introducing some unlikable new characters near the end, taking time away from the core sextet we have come to know and love.  But this smart, sweet, clever, hilarious, hopeful, good-natured show has earned plenty of goodwill from me, and I look forward to the last few episodes when it returns in January 2020.  I have no doubt it will stick the landing and give us an unforgettable tearjerker of a finale, while still teaching us college-level philosophy and making us think about becoming better people.

6. Doom Patrol (season 1; DC Universe) — one of two comic book adaptations in my Top Ten, this show is about people with super powers, but instead of gifts or talents, they are presented as disabilities.  The Doom Patrol members aren’t heroes by choice, but trauma survivors, broken and damaged people who form a “found family” and deal with existential threats to reality itself.  It was a remarkably accurate adaptation of Grant Morrison’s classic Doom Patrol comics of the late ’80s and early ’90s, with excellent production value and fun acting by Diane Guerrero (another pleasant surprise as Crazy Jane, a woman with 64 alternate personalities, each with their own powers), Timothy Dalton, Brendan Fraser (we missed him!), Matt Bomer (this dude should have played Superman), and the always-great Alan Tudyk as one of the most entertaining, most terrifying villains in a long time.

5. Fleabag (season 2; Amazon Prime) — first of all, I really don’t care for British comedy.  I often find it either too dry, smug, or mean-spirited.  Yes, including that one that you love.  But I enjoyed the first season of Fleabag well enough, and really liked the first season of Killing Eve, written by Fleabag’s creator, writer, and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge.  But after Fleabag Season 2 won all these awards and accolades, I gave it a chance here, at the very end of 2019, and binged the all six episodes in one night — the very night I’m writing this Top Ten list.  (Luckily they’re only about 25 minutes each.)  It was outstanding — streets ahead of the first season.  So funny, sad, clever, and cathartic, even ending with a bit of hope.  Waller-Bridge is so incredibly talented and funny (she even salvaged the usually execrable Saturday Night Live this season), and I’ll be on board for whatever she does next.  Hopefully it will have more asides and knowing looks to the audience.

4. Sherman’s Showcase (season 1; IFC) — this is a high concept comedy, cats and kittens: Sherman’s Showcase (a show within a show) is a loving homage to Soul Train and other musical variety shows, and it has been running continuously since the 1970s, hosted by the mysteriously ageless Sherman McDaniels.  The Sherman’s Showcase we watch is a collection of clips highlighting the fake show’s almost 50-year history, featuring hilarious musical homages that stand on their own as great, catchy songs that SLAP (including a weirdly prophetic song called “Time Loop” that might have deeper significance to the narrrative).  There are also interview segments, fake commercials, movie and TV parodies, surreal sketches, and plenty of running gags.  Co-creators Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle (who also created the great new Comedy Central sitcom South Side, which made my Top Twenty) are brilliant, drawing their influence from those old Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime specials I have very vague childhood memories of, as well as half a century of popular music and variety shows.

3. Ken Burns’ Country Music (miniseries; PBS) — I doubt this eight-part documentary miniseries will end up on many other “Best TV Shows of 2019” lists, but I loved it.  I’ve spent most of my life listening to, playing, and learning everything I could about rock and jazz music, got deep into hip hop later in my life, but made it pretty far without ever giving country, that other major American musical genre, much of a fair chance.  There’s so much awful country music, especially now, but to be fair, there is plenty of awful rock and hip hop too — especially now.  This documentary took us back to the early 20th Century and introduced me to a lot of the names and songs I’ve heard my whole life, only with more historical context and framework to better appreciate the songwriting, the musicianship, and the evolution of the sounds and styles.  I’ve always loved Johnny Cash, but now I’ve embraced Patsy Cline, Hank Williams (not Junior!), the Western swing of Bob Wills, and lots of other twangy crooners, honky tonk angels, and outlaw poets.  My favorite decades of country music are the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, but even now, there are great modern artists to be discovered, like Margo Price, Orville Peck, and Kacey Musgraves (and that’s not even getting into the virtuoso musicians in folk, bluegrass, and Americana).  I feel like I just audited a brilliant college course on country music, and I have more of an appreciation for it than I ever dreamed possible.  Plus, the documentary introduced me to this bit of pure sunshine: a young Dolly Parton performing “Mule Skinner Blues”:
Even if you think country music sucks (like I once did, not having been exposed the really cool old stuff), I think this would be awfully hard to not fall in love with.

2. Star Trek: Discovery (season 2; CBS All Access) — I admit it, I’ve never been the biggest Star Trek fan.  Sure, Captain Kirk was a cool dude, and William Shatner used to be pretty amusing.  And Picard was awesome, but the shows in general left me cold.  I wanted to be a Trekkie; I WISHED I was a Trekkie.  But now, I finally found the Star Trek that made it all click for me: Discovery.  I subscribed to CBS All Access for a month and binge-watched both seasons of Star Trek: Discovery over the course of two weeks.  Last year’s Season 1 (co-created by the great Bryan Fuller, the creative genius behind Hannibal) looked gorgeous, with the nicest production value I’ve ever seen on a Star Trek show, and it introduced us to a compelling cast of characters and an interesting status quo, set shortly before the events of the original series from the ’60s.  I also appreciated that it was a serialized narrative, which I’m not used to from Star Trek, but perfect in this age of prestige television.  This year’s Season 2 was even better, improving on the first season in every way.  It introduced my favorite Star Trek captain ever, who is probably my favorite fictional boss of all time.  (I am lucky to have a good supervisor now, but I haven’t always had such fantastic bosses.  Because of this, I honestly get choked up whenever I see a capable, competent, courageous, patient, kind, loyal, supportive boss in any media.)  The show had so many twists and turns, a surprising amount of tension-relieving humor, and so much empathy, heroism, and heart.  My wife and I laughed a lot and cried far more than we ever would have expected.  In a year full of ups and downs, dizzying highs and terrifying lows, Discovery was the show I had no idea how much I needed.

1. Watchmen (season 1; HBO) — who watches the Watchmen?  There was no reason for it to exist.  The twelve issue series by legendary writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons is often considered the greatest comic book of all time.  It already got one adaptation back in 2009, a pretty, but flawed, movie directed by Zack Snyder.  While Watchmen really required a long-form TV adaptation on a channel like HBO to do it justice, it didn’t seem necessary, and fans were skeptical.  I was skeptical!  But I should have had more faith in showrunner Damon Lindelof, co-creator of two of my favorite shows of all time, Lost and The Leftovers.  He didn’t give us a straight adaptation of the comic, but an audacious sequel, set 35 years after the events of the graphic novel (which was set in 1985).  It ended up a brilliant and ambitious epic about America’s fraught history of racism (starting with the Tulsa massacre of 1921, which I never learned about in school, even as the son of a history teacher), generational trauma, the dangers that come from vigilantism and self-appointed saviors and people wearing masks, and how the sins of our ancestors continue to affect us and threaten the world itself.  We caught up with some old faces from the original comic, but our point of view character in this strange alternate 2019 was the unforgettable Sister Night, aka Angela Abar, played by the great Regina King.  Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Hong Chau, and Jeremy Irons were also excellent in their roles.  This series included the single best TV episode of the year: the sixth episode, “This Extraordinary Being.”  (But don’t you dare watch it out of order!)  I was blown away by how good Watchmen turned out to be, defying any and all expectations and truly surprising everyone with what we were going to see on our screens every week.  In this age of binge-watching everything, with entire seasons of shows dropping on streaming services at once, Watchmen reminded us of the joy of watching a new episode every week, giving us time to ruminate and analyze and read reviews and craft theories about what the hell is going on.  It was a very nice touch to have supplemental readings available every week on the HBO website, fleshing out the world of Watchmen after each episode with additional world-building details.  Up above, I mentioned that Star Trek: Discovery was the show I didn’t realize how much I needed.  Well, Watchmen was the show I didn’t realize how much I wanted.  Ultimately, it edged out Discovery on my list because it was so unpredictable, in the best possible way.  If this is the only season we ever get (and it might be), it more than accomplished everything it set out to do, and the ending really satisfied.

And since you made it to the end, here are my Top Ten Movies of 2019.

Top Ten Movies of 2018

“Heeeey, I thought this was a food blog!”
“Don’t encourage him — maybe he won’t post any photos if he’s doing movie reviews!”

Since I’ve already posted my list of my Top Ten TV Shows of 2018, I thought I’d squeeze in my Top Ten Movies list before the year is out.  Why?  Because I love to make lists and share information about stuff I enjoy.  So here you go:

10. Murder on the Orient Express — beautiful film, great cast, good mystery told well. I’m glad I didn’t already know the story. It was a delight to watch completely fresh and unspoiled.

9. Sorry to Bother You — an important film that everyone ought to watch, but I guarantee most people won’t like it. It’s uncomfortable, angry, and has an audacious twist in the middle that turns it into a whole different genre. Definitely watch this one with as little information as possible. It’s the most pro-union, anti-capitalist piece of media I’ve ever seen, and you could write a thesis critically analyzing every bit of it.

8. Black Panther — a superhero movie that was so much more. This Afrofuturistic sci-fi fantasy epic meant so much to so many people, and it was a crowd-pleaser for all. Wakanda Forever!

7. Bad Times at the El Royale — this should have been my favorite movie of the year. A neo-noir mid-Century period piece with a large cast — all strangers — trapped together at a remote location that is practically its own character, full of mysterious, interlocking backstories, twists, turns, and fake-outs. But it turned into a very different movie for its third act, with the introduction of a final character that never fit, and it didn’t end nearly as strongly as it started.

6. Mission Impossible: Fallout — I finally got into the entire series in 2018, binge-watched them all leading up to this sixth installment, and marveled at how they kept improving. This one is the best of all of them. The Mission Impossibles are what I always wish James Bond movies were, with incredible action set-pieces, death-defying stunts, gorgeous locations, much-needed comic relief, and a hero who balances badassery with empathy. Ethan Hunt would never trade one innocent life to save a million, making him more like Superman or Captain America than Bond. Say what you will about the controversial Tom Cruise, I finally realize he’s a consummate entertainer who literally puts his life on the line filming these movies. You can go into this one cold, but I strongly suggest watching MI 3 (which gives you backstory that makes Fallout more emotionally impactful), Ghost Protocol (4; my second-favorite in the series), and Rogue Nation (5, which leads directly into Fallout) first.

5. Blindspotting — another film about race relations in Oakland, this one makes a fantastic double feature with Sorry to Bother You. It’s full of dread, but it’s ultimately the more fun and hopeful film. Daveed Diggs, from the original cast of Hamilton, co-wrote and co-stars in this, and he is an A-list superstar in the making. He even raps in this one, and you’ll see how incredible and multi-talented he is. (I saw him live last year with his noise-rap group clipping., which isn’t for everyone, but this movie ought to be.)

4. A Simple Favor — I loved every moment of this movie. A sexy neo-noir thriller that’s also a comedy? Hell yes. Anna Kendrick is an adorably awkward national treasure, and Blake Lively impressed me as an actress for the first time ever. This reminded me of two wonderful movies I also love, but it would be a spoiler to name them.

3. Blackkklansman — probably Spike Lee’s best movie since Do the Right Thing, and definitely my favorite. A mostly-true story about an African-American cop tricking the KKK into thinking he was a new racist recruit after several phone calls with David Duke himself, and his Jewish partner showing up to the live Klan meetings to further fool them. I’m a fan of anything that denigrates and mocks racists, since that takes their power away. But we needed this movie more than ever in 2018, with bigots, xenophobes, and racists emboldened by the president and operating in the light of day, in public, with impunity. Despite how fun and funny this movie often was, the chilling ending reminded us that this battle is far from over.

2. Avengers: Infinity War — a culmination of a decade of Marvel Studios releases, cynics could say this movie was an excuse to smash the action figures together and earn multi-billions, but it had so many great team-ups and payoffs, so everything felt EARNED. And that ending! We nerds knew to expect it, but I was loving seeing it in the theater on opening weekend, with all the “civilians” losing their damn minds, not believing it could end that way. Let’s hope we all make it to the end of April, so we can see the true conclusion of this sensational superhero saga.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — the best Spider-Man movie ever, one of the best superhero movies ever, and one of the best animated films ever. Absolutely gorgeous, creative, imaginative, hilarious, heartfelt, sad, and sweet. This movie had it all. I can’t imagine anyone seeing it and not loving it. Along with Black Panther, it showed that representation matters so much. I’m so glad Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy exist as new, young, hopeful heroes, especially for kids. Also, I absolutely have to have a Spider-Man Noir follow-up movie starring Nicolas Cage spouting ’30s slang, drinking egg creams, and punching Nazis, whether it’s animated again like this, or a live-action movie.

Top Ten TV Shows of 2018

“What the hell is he doing?  This is a FOOD blog!”

Folks, I’m a nerd.  I already warned you I love movies, television, music, comedy, comics.  The name of my blog, The Saboscrivner, is even taken from the Chew comic book series.  It refers to a character who is a food writer, whose readers can literally taste everything she writes about, due to her vivid mastery of language.

So at the end of every year, I make lists of my favorite things, and the longest list is always my Top Ten TV Shows.  If my constant readers aren’t TV watchers, feel free to skip over it.  If not, bask in my excellent taste as I bring you:


10. The Venture Bros. (Season 7) — I’ve been watching and loving this show since it debuted in 2004. Since then, it has moved away from being a Jonny Quest parody and a “show about failure.” Instead, it has delved deeper into its complicated mythology that mines some deep cuts from throughout geek culture, developing the main characters into three-dimensional people that grow, change, screw up (a lot), and feel fully realized, despite being a crazy cartoon. Creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have never been afraid to shake up its status quo, which always impresses me. With multi-year gaps between its short seasons, there are a lot of details to keep track of, and I know I’ve forgotten a lot, even after reading their gargantuan behind-the-scenes book that also came out this year. But if you have Hulu, all the early seasons are currently available to stream, so it’s never too late to catch up.

9. Sharp Objects (Season 1) — Set in depressing small-town Missouri (more like Misery, am I right?), it was part neo-noir murder mystery and part Southern gothic family drama. Amy Adams (one of my favorite actresses) did most of her acting in this by reacting, as an alcoholic and former cutter with severe PSTD, returning to her hometown and terrible family as a reporter, investigating the murders of two local girls. But nothing will prepare you for the almost campy evil of her mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, or the off-putting banality of evil that Adams’ character encounters from everyone else trapped in Wind Gap. I hate awards shows, but these two women deserve the G.D. Emmys right now.

8. Big Mouth (Season 2) — The only other cartoon on my list, this Netflix show can be raunchy, perverted, and gross, but it’s also hearfelt, warm, and true. Puberty was a horrific time for pretty much all of us, and these writers haven’t forgotten what it felt like. It’s also probably the funniest show around right now, with so many tightly-packed jokes per minute that my wife and I laughed nonstop, binging through the ten new episodes in two days and feeling sad afterwards. I never cared for Nick Kroll unless he collaborates with John Mulaney (my favorite stand-up comedian), but both of them are in great form here, providing voices along with the hilarious Jenny Slate, Jessi Klein, and Maya Rudolph, among others. Don’t let the stylized (okay, UGLY) animation put you off — if you’re not a complete prude, there’s nothing funnier you can stream right now.

7. Better Call Saul (Season 4) — A slower season where ultimately not a lot happened, but still a tour de force for heartbreaking writing, brilliant editing and music selections for montages, and some of the best acting on television from Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, and especially the great Rhea Seehorn as patient, kind, competent, probably-doomed Kim Wexler. As a prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is using more Breaking Bad “fanservice” than ever before, and at this point, I can’t imagine watching Saul without having seen Breaking Bad first. But unless it completely screws up its final seasons (which I doubt), I think this is going to end up being the superior show.

6. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 2) — A charming, funny, and well-made show that only starts to fall apart when I think about it too deeply. It won all the awards for its first season and deserved many of them, but it hit so many buttons for me, about the mid-century New York Jewish experience and the history of stand-up comedy. Rachel Brosnahan is truly a superstar as “Midge” Maisel. She lights up the screen and pulls off the largely improvisational-feeling stand-up routines, which are generally hysterical. You can see why her character is dazzling late-’50s audiences, even if it seems like she time-traveled there directly from 2018. The show would be a worthless piece of crap if Brosnahan and the writers couldn’t make that happen. But Midge is surrounded by far too many characters who aren’t interesting or likable (especially her snobby, elitist parents), and she had far more unlikable moments herself this season, where she treated her burgeoning comedy career like one more disposable hobby for a dilettante to dabble in. It also lost points due to an interminable three-episode arc set in a Catskills mountain resort, which seems like the absolute worst vacation ever.

5. Killing Eve (Season 1) — A gripping, clever, and often hilarious cat-and-mouse thriller between a sociopathic (yet whimsical) assassin and a bored, underutilized analyst who first discovers her global trail of death, this was a brilliant show about two strong, smart, capable women who become obsessed with each other. Excellent acting from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer as Eve, the analyst, and Villanelle, the killer. It reminded me of one of my favorite shows ever, Hannibal, with its depiction of the complicated relationship between a murderer and the one person who understands him enough to possibly take him down, but develops an emotional attachment along the way.

4. The Americans (Season 6) — A show I’ve stuck with since the beginning, it never made a huge pop culture impact due to being a character-driven drama about Soviet spies living deep undercover in the Washington D.C. suburbs in the ’80s. It’s always well-written and excellently-acted, but tends to get overshadowed a lot. Well, this was the final season, and it was one of the best. The series finale was damn near perfect, with a climactic scene in a garage featuring some of the best acting I’ve ever seen from Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich. If it took seven years to build up to that confrontation, it was totally worth it.

3. Daredevil (Season 3) — What can I say? Daredevil is my favorite Marvel superhero, it was the best of the Marvel Netflix shows, Season 3 was a return to greatness after the just-okay Season 2, and now it’s canceled, along with Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Daredevil was so perfectly suited for a serialized TV show, with so many decades of great stories by brilliant writers to draw from, blending crime-noir, brutally choreographed fight scenes, and legal drama. But due to behind-the-scenes drama between Marvel, Disney, and Netflix, this is why we can’t have nice things. This summer I wrote a law review article about Daredevil (mostly the comics, but also the show) and the lessons they teach non-lawyers about heroic lawyers and the legal system. It will be published in 2019, and unfortunately, one of my main arguments was that the show WILL continue to adapt comic book storylines and get people thinking more about the law and how good lawyers can make a difference. But we still got three seasons, there are still plenty of amazing Daredevil comics to read (seek out writers Miller, Bendis, Brubaker, Waid, and Soule, or ask me for “greatest hits” recommendations), and at least my article is still coming out… for now.

2. The Good Place (Seasons 2 and 3) — Okay, maybe THIS is the funniest show currently on television, but it’s so much more than just a network sitcom. If I had to compare it to another show, the closest would be Lost, with regular, not-so-special people thrust together into weird, fantastical, metaphysical circumstances beyond their understanding, their destinies now bound. It’s a smart show that has taught me more about philosophy and ethics than I ever dreamed possible, and a fearless show that packs more plot development into a single episode than others do in entire seasons, then completely shake up the status quo, writes itself into corners, and flawlessly figures new ways out. The stakes are high, and there are twists and turns galore to thrill you when you aren’t cracking up. If you haven’t seen this yet, the first two seasons are on Netflix. Give it two or three episodes in case you aren’t hooked immediately. They’re short, and midway through Season 1, you’ll probably be obsessed, like we were when we binged the whole series this year.

1. Atlanta (Season 2) — What can I say that critics and other fans haven’t already said? The multi-talented Donald Glover can do no wrong. With director Hiro Murai as his right-hand man, a hip and woke writers’ room, and excellent co-stars in Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz, Atlanta is almost a whole new show every week. You never know what you’re going to get, if an episode will be hysterically funny, like one man’s wasted day when all he wants is a haircut from the flakiest barber ever, or if it will be a harrowing nightmare, like a violent armed robbery, a chase through the woods, or a trip to a madman’s mansion. You might have heard something about “Teddy Perkins,” which is probably the most memorable and singular episode of television to air in 2018. You can watch it out of context even if you’ve never seen Atlanta before, and I guarantee you won’t forget it anytime soon.

Remembering Anthony Bourdain

A big reason I started The Saboscrivner is because of local celebrity Ricky Ly, founder of, published author, and one of the biggest food writers in Orlando.  Ricky and I both used to be regular, prolific posters on the Florida forum on, but when he founded the Orlando Foodie Forum on Facebook (, I followed him there and became a part of that incredible community.  I have not yet had the opportunity to meet Ricky in real life, but he has definitely been an influence on me.  I feel more connected to Orlando because of him, and I’ve learned a lot about our rich restaurant scene and food in general thanks to him.  Through his Facebook group, I’ve received a lot of encouragement about my writing, inspiring me to finally create this blog, which I should have done a long time ago.

However, maybe the biggest reason I got into this food blogging game was Anthony Bourdain.  His death last month hit me much harder than any other celebrity deaths I can think of, because I was such a huge fan of his.  Through his TV shows, his food writing, and even his novels and graphic novels, I felt like I knew the guy, and I thought the world of him.  He really inspired me to think more about the food I ate, where it came from, who made it, and the stories and culture behind it all.  He was a saboscrivner too — when you listened to his voice or read his words, you were along for the ride with this very cool, but very tortured, tour guide.  The sights, the smells, the tastes — he made them real.  You were there.  That’s what I hope to do, on a much smaller scale.

When I learned of Bourdain’s suicide almost one month ago, I wrote what I hoped was a worthy tribute on Facebook, and Ricky included my piece among other local culinary luminaries on his food blog, Tasty Chomps.  I was honored to be included among well-known chefs and much better-known food writers.  So here’s his compilation of eulogies from several different writers, including mine: