Yep, 10 more best TV shows of the year
Crunching the numbers on the flood of programming thats made best-of lists trickier than ever.
X = 11.
I went into newspapers so I'd never have to do algebra, so this isn't part of a math problem.
It's my prepackaged answer to anyone who asks, after seeing my list of the Top 10 TV shows of 2015, why I hadn't included [X], which is clearly superior to any of the shows I've chosen.
That show can be No. 11.
In truth, it might also be one of the 10 best, too - the cable network FX reported last week that its research department had counted a staggering 409 scripted series for 2015.
I didn't see all of them. I wouldn't trust the judgment of anyone who has, because that person would be too sleep-deprived to choose between paper or plastic, much less weigh the competing merits of a sprawling premium cable fantasy drama and a niche-y streaming comedy.
Whether we've reached what FX Networks chief John Landgraf has dubbed "peak TV" is anyone's guess: My Google calendar, already filling up with new shows for 2016, suggests the industry, now entertaining us on multiple platforms, isn't pulling back yet.
So right now the idea of listing 10 best shows seems more absurd than usual. When the website HitFix asked for mine a few weeks ago, along with one devoted to new series, I realized I could make at least three, all nearly equally defensible.
And that's just from the shows I managed to see.
And yet, while my list ultimately overlapped with only five of the 10 on the list HitFix assembled from critics across the country, the result wasn't useless. Because HitFix also listed every show that got a vote, and there were 97 of them.
Sixty-three received votes in the "new shows" category.
That's exhilarating, if overwhelming.
It means anyone can discover a great show, anywhere, at any time. It means X really can equal 11 and that there are many more possible X's than ever before.
So here's my list, the rankings arbitrary, the choices personal, the omissions inevitable. Maybe you'll find shows here you've never seen (or heard of) and would like to try. Or maybe you'll decide to stick with trusty No. 11.
1. FX's "Fargo."
If there's anything harder than telling a completely new "true" crime story that captures the spirit of the Coen brothers' 1996 movie, it has to be doing it twice. Noah Hawley's second 10-episode installment of "Fargo," set in 1979, gave us Ronald Reagan (Bruce Campbell), a UFO and more than one reason to go back and watch the first season all over again.
2. SundanceTV's "Rectify."
I get it if you haven't found time yet for Aden Young's performance as a man freed from Death Row but not exactly exonerated. This is an actor's show - creator Ray McKinnon played Lincoln Potter in "Sons of Anarchy" - but it's also a story about how justice does and doesn't work, told, for once, at the speed of life.
3. HBO's "The Leftovers."
For a medium with a high body count, TV doesn't always deal well with the aftermath of loss. This series, about the people left behind when 2 percent of the population abruptly disappears, is eloquent on the subject, and Season 2 took it to new heights. Or lows.
4. HBO's "Game of Thrones."
Degree of difficulty counts. Five seasons in, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss continue to improve on their unfinished source material - the novels of George R.R. "I'll Get There Eventually" Martin - while deploying a huge cast in multiple locations. The wonder isn't that it's as good as it is, but that it exists at all. As for Jon Snow, we'll see, won't we?
5. Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
"30 Rock" producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock intended it for NBC, but Netflix proved the best home for this unlikely comedy about an abduction survivor (Ellie Kemper) starting over in New York.
6. FX's "The Americans."
TV's best spy drama, about a Russian couple (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) living undercover in the 'burbs, is much more than a montage of great wigs. But the wigs are great.
7. FX's "You're the Worst."
Stephen Falk's quirky rom-com about a couple (Chris Geere and Aya Cash) who may belong together because no one else would survive them tackled depression this season, a story line I should have seen coming, but didn't. Other winning comedies that didn't hide from the dark side of love and family: Amazon's "Transparent" and "Catastrophe" and CBS' "Mom."
8. Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black."
Every inmate has a story. I'm not sure what it says about the rest of television that one of the shows that covers the range of the female experience best is set in a women's prison.
9. USA's "Mr. Robot."
Maybe if HBO's "True Detective" hadn't experienced its sophomore slump, I wouldn't have gotten as excited about Sam Esmail's dark, often deceptive drama about a young hacker (Rami Malek). But it did, and "Mr. Robot" became the summer's happiest surprise. It's not what I'd expected from USA, but if I learned anything in 2015, it's that great TV can come from anywhere.
10. CBS' "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."
The real Stephen Colbert took the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater in September, and it turns out he's as funny - and seemingly as happy - as his Comedy Central persona. I love the mix of guests and I love that he actually talks with them. Also new this year: Trevor Noah, whose "Daily Show" doesn't have me missing Jon Stewart as much as I'd expected; Larry Wilmore, whose "Nightly Report" is a great addition to Comedy Central, and "The Late Late Show's" James Corden, whom I can't seem to stay up for but whose show certainly looks like fun.
On Twitter: @elgray