What are the best shows currently on television that don’t have “Game” or “Thrones” in the title? I’m glad you asked…
5. [Tie] Turn and Hell on Wheels…AMC’s two all-but-forgotten, mostly buzz-less historical dramas are in different places in their runs. “Turn” has finally realized its potential with its best season so far, and has discovered a way around its central problem—boring “see-taw-kett” and a horrible lead character and antagonist (the tediously deranged Captain Semcoe)—by highlighting more scenes with George Washington (as a wily general not yet fully embraced by all of America), British spymaster John Andre, and the vain-glorious, yet weirdly sympathetic traitor Benedict Arnold. And “Hell on Wheels” is ending its run with a half-season that is finally freed from ridiculously endurable villain “The Swede.” I’m curious to see if Bohannon and company can stick the landing.
4. Outlander…A lot of critics have had some issues with this second season, but I’m not one of them. The intrigue in France was a welcome change of pace, and the more-recent battle episodes have managed to highlight the different flaws of each character through action, something that’s not easy to do. [Like did it really make sense that Jon Snow would fall right into Ramsay’s trap on “Game of Thrones?” Oops, trying to avoid talking about that for now…]
3. Maron…The fourth season is hands-down the best of the series and one that stands pretty well on its own if people haven’t seen the first three. Marc Maron’s drug-addicted version of himself has managed to get belly laughs out of living in a storage locker, rehab, recovery meetings, and rebuilding your life. Not since “Eastbound and Down” went off the air has a series managed to make rock bottom hilarious, and it is a very welcome contrast to today’s other critically acclaimed comedies where (“Broad City,” “Masters of None,” and even the-hiatus afflicted “Louie”) real problems like “how can I afford to live?” are rarely mentioned. By playing depression and moral malaise for laughs, Maron is doing the best work of his career.
2. Another Period…On the other end of the comedy spectrum from “Maron” is this fearless historical comedy—sometimes pitched as “The Kardashians meet Downton Abbey”—that has played child labor, hatchet wounds, and endangering babies for successful laughs. The cast is uniformly perfect but I particularly love Michael Ian Black’s sociopathically servile butler. When a money-hungry Harriet Tubman tricks two people into going over Niagra Falls as part of a barrel-promotion, I knew I’d found a good antidote to the windbaggery of today’s twitter-verse.
1. Veep…Their best season to date, and one that may have you frequently rewinding to miss the rapid-fire zingers you just missed. The ensemble has found a way to really gel, and there is a special place in comedy heaven for whoever thought of having Jonah run for congress. Still, no one outshines Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, whose President Selina Meyer amazingly manages to be likable despite being a little bit awful. It’s a tricky feat and one that should get more kudos.