What was the best TV show of the school year?

Three Journal writers make their case for your next TV-binge

Josh, Jonathan and Lauren discuss their picks for the top TV show.

Television is a hotly debated topic here at the Journal — so much so that we’ve written about it 39 times this year in the Lifestyle section. We gathered some of our most passionate TV lovers to fight for their favourite show from the past school year.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

While my list of “favourite shows” grew exponentially this year, a valuable addition to that lineup is rom-com-drama-musical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Yes, it’s somehow an amalgamation of almost every TV genre and yes, it pulls it off perfectly.

Created by actress/comedian/singer Rachel Bloom and 27 Dresses writer Aline Brosh McKenna, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend follows Rebecca Bunch, a New York lawyer who runs into her summer camp ex-boyfriend and decides to quit her job to move to his small town of West Covina, California to get back together with him.

The plot is just as absurd as it sounds and is explored through the lens of Rebecca’s deep-seated unhappiness and longing for a better life. From the beginning, the series subtly references Rebecca’s history of mental illness. The recently-concluded third season dives deep into Rebecca’s psyche by focusing on and humanizing her mental health struggles and giving her an official diagnosis.

Rebecca also happens to see her life “as a series of musical numbers,” resulting in over 100 original songs over the course of the series. The songs are as catchy as they are hilarious, with titles such as “Nothing is Ever Anyone’s Fault,” “Buttload of Cats” and — my personal favourite — “Let’s Generalize about Men.” 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is so versatile that almost anyone can find something they like, whether it’s comedy, drama, dark humour or music. It balances its exploration of serious topics with an unending humanity, sense of humour and some shower-singing-worthy songs.

    — Lauren Trossman

Nathan for You 

I watch a lot of television. My watching habits have surpassed the "my parents worry about me"-level and progressed to the point where they carry around their withdrawn acceptance of my lifestyle like a burdensome Costco card.

Since I consume so much television, I’m rarely surprised by what I watch. I've been through countless re-castings, survived numerous main character deaths and trudged through more spontaneous evil-twin reveals than any man ever should — I've seen it all.

So, you can imagine my shock when a docu-comedy series about a failed Canadian businessman who tries to help small businesses with ill-conceived marketing ideas managed to effectively turn my brain inside out.

Comedy Central's Nathan For You, which has produced 32 episodes over four seasons, stars writer-creator Nathan Fielder as a semi-fictionalized version of himself. Fielder comes from a Canadian-Jewish family, graduated from University of Victoria with a Bachelor of Commerce and is painfully awkward in every interaction — not exactly qualities you'd expect to find in a must-see TV show.

Fielder channels his unique brand of comedy to create out-there promotion schemes for small businesses – schemes that often gloriously go down in flames. In this year's season, he tries to market smoke detectors as musical instruments, opens a computer repair shop staffed exclusively with asexuals and attempts to blackmail Uber with the help of Los Angeles cab drivers.

While Fielder's show provides consistent laughs throughout its five-year run, this year's fourth season finale, "Finding Frances," isn’t only the show's best episode but also the best two hours of television I've seen in recent memory. Fielder abandons his show's typical format to pursue a terrible Bill Gates impersonator's long-lost love. What follows is a mind-blowing examination of loss, fear and the intersection between reality and television. 

If you watch one show out of the 26 I've recommended during my time at the Journal, make it this one.

— Josh Granovsky

This Is Us 

Are you looking for genuinely funny characters with clear chemistry? Do you want to have a cathartic cry once a week? Most importantly, do you want to be able to participate in conversations about one of the last shows that is part of the cultural zeitgeist? This is your chance.

By now, you’ve definitely heard of This Is Us, the show that took the world by storm immediately when it premiered last year. It delivered a feel-good, mystery-filled and overall enjoyable first season, picking up several major award nominations and wins along the way. Thankfully, it has only gotten better in its second season. 

The show transitioned from a high-quality nighttime soap to a genuinely phenomenal look at how the most minuscule life events can change the course of a family’s history. The show’s creators took the criticisms of the first season in stride, offering genuinely moving storylines for Kate, a character whose first season arc was criticized for limiting her to being a one-dimensional character only concerned with her weight.

As well, Deja, a foster child taken in by the Pearson family, allowed the show to examine the complications of the foster system, criminal justice and racism in a heartfelt narrative. Kevin, whose battle with addiction parallels his father’s similar struggles decades earlier, also surprisingly became the heart of the show thanks to a moving performance from Justin Hartley.

What was once introduced as escapist fare about a family dealing with issues that were conveniently resolved each week became a genuine reflection of an American family doing their best to persevere in the toughest of circumstances — but notably not always succeeding.

—Jonathan Karr

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