2018 Calvin Awards: Best TV Show
By David Mumpower
February 26, 2018
Last year, the category of Best TV Show demonstrated the hallmark change in the industry. A person with network television could only watch three of the nominees. In the most recent vote, that number drops to two, but the news isn’t all bad for the big four networks! One of them finally won the category for the first time since Modern Family in 2011. Yes, it had been a while, but the popularity of that one network show that we love is so significant that it could easily repeat next year.
Two new series appeared at the top of our vote in 2017, and not much has changed a year later. They’re still our favorite shows, just in reverse order. Yes, NBC’s The Good Place has usurped the throne from the defending champion. The surprise isn’t that it managed to do so but by how much. Its 2017 total of 68 points would have been enough to win this year by an eyelash, but the actual results were nowhere near that close.
Thanks to its earning a third of all first place votes and top five placement on roughly 70 percent of them, The Good Place wins Best TV Show in dominant fashion. Its point total of 119 isn’t merely 51 points of improvement over last year. It’s also almost exactly the totals of the second and third best programs in the category. Suffice to say that once word got out amongst our staff about the quality of The Good Place, others kept trying it and falling in love with it.
Is this turn of events shocking? The answer is yes. Anyone who has seen The Good Place knows that the end of season one forced a reboot of the entire premise. Staff members rightfully questioned whether the series could maintain its charm in a new environment. Well, the show alleviated those concerns quickly and emphatically, albeit in odd fashion. The first three episodes of The Good Place season two rebooted the concept twice more, keeping viewers guessing about the ultimate direction of the series.
Of course, our vote is for the entire year, meaning that the game-changing season one finale is a key reason why we celebrate it as the greatest program in the industry today. Whether you’ve watched since the beginning or are hearing about it for the first time, you should know that The Good Place is worth eight hours of your time. That’s all you’ll need to either experience the trials of Eleanor Shellstrop for first time or re-watch the seasons to appreciate the depth of their genius. The Good Place isn’t merely the best show on television. It’s also one of the most culturally significant. In watching it, you’ll aspire to become a better person. That aspect alone makes it worthy of your time.
Remember your first school dance? It was awkward and magical and largely uncomfortable. I say all of this as I point out that Stranger Things, our second favorite series, ending at a place relatable to all of us. No, we haven’t battled Demogorgons, adopted killer pets, or wandered the Upside Down, but we all appreciate the disorienting nature of our first dance.
After almost two seasons of placing children in mortal danger, this show reminds us all that the heroes of the piece are children. Even after fighting apparently-not-mythical monsters, these kids are just as vulnerable in social settings as the rest of us. It’s a powerful finish to a second incredible season of Stranger Things. We voted the show as our favorite in 2017, and its popularity only diminished slightly over the past year. It’s not that Stranger Things did anything wrong inasmuch as The Good Place had a near-perfect year of television. Combined with Game of Thrones season five in 2016, we’ve lauded three straight amazing years of television programming. The bar is high for next year’s competitors.
Speaking of Game of Thrones, the former category winner two years ago is once again our third favorite this year. That’s the same spot it held in 2017, albeit with slightly stronger voting support. As much as we loved certain aspects of the most recent batch of eight episodes, this most recent season as a bit erratic relative to prior ones.
Now that showrunners David Benioff & D. B. Weiss are beyond the writings of George R.R. Martin, they’re not quite as strong. Still, some of the scenes last year were wholly engrossing. For the first time, protagonists and other central characters have faced one another in real-stakes battles for control of Westeros. Even some of them have seemed conflicted by the situation, making viewers feel that much more stressed by it.
The final eight episodes promise more of the same, as humanity fights for survival, and several characters care very much about who claims the throne in the end, even if their conflicts aid The Night King in his quest to wipe out the species. Game of Thrones is poised for a big finish, one that may return it to the top of the Best TV Show rankings.
Fourth and fifth place are a new series and a returning favorite. Fourth goes to GLOW, a fictional retelling of the classic 1980s syndicated series, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestlers. We love the odd nobility of these women as they try to build a wrestling company in an incredibly sexist era. Plus, the season long story arc of Ruth and Debbie hating one another is equal parts believable and heartbreaking. The chemistry between co-leads Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin is terrific, and the show’s so good that we even like Marc Maron in it.
Fifth place is Better Call Saul, which has bounced around the rankings the past couple of years. It’s finished as high as third and as low as seventh. Our love of Breaking Bad is well documented, as it’s the most successful series ever in this category. Its successor hasn’t wowed us as much, but that’s an unfair comparison. Grading any other series against the greatest of the 21st century leads to inevitable disappointment.
Our staff clearly views Better Call Saul as appointment television even without the presence of Walter White and Jesse. To a larger point, the line of demarcation between our favorite shows and the second tier has a divide at sixth place. So, our staff views the fourth and fifth place selections as right there with Game of Thrones and Stranger Things. These are the best five series on television right now by a goodly amount. We get more divided as a group from this point forward.
Our sixth and seventh nominees this year are a now-concluded series and one that’s newly begun. The finished program is The Leftovers, which has hovered on the fringe of our voting since its inception. The Biblical resolution finally put it over the top, as the HBO series earns sixth place. The other new series to earn selection this year is Mindhunter, the Netflix series that explores the origins of the FBI’s serial killer investigatory process. It’s a fascinating insight into how some of the earliest prosecutors had to “befriend” monsters to learn more about their thought process.
The rest of the top ten includes another completed series, a perennial favorite, and the return of a series long thought ended. The completed series is Halt and Catch Fire, which ends its admirable four season run with a terrific conclusion that explores the genesis of the creative process. The perennial favorite is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which managed virtually the same voting total and results as last year. Finally, our staff was at least momentarily obsessed with the 2017 version of Twin Peaks. As expected, it was weird and stubbornly off-putting and infrequently delightful. Twin Peaks is the ex we can’t quit, and we hooked up a lot over the past few months.
Best TV Show is always one of the most brutal voting categories at The Calvins. Narrowly missing selection this year are the following programs: The Americans, black-ish, American Gods, Big Little Lies, Legion, Bob’s Burgers, The Magicians, Five Came Back, Last Week Tonight, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Star Trek: Discovery, and Marvel’s Runaways.
2018 Calvin Awards
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
||Good Place, The
||Game of Thrones
||Better Call Saul
||Halt and Catch Fire