It’s March, everybody, and you know what that means: brackets! This year, I’m honored to follow in the footsteps of Ken Tucker, Alan Sepinwall, and Rob Sheffield as guest commentator, cheerleader, and all-around raconteur for Hulu’s annual “Best In Show” tournament, which you can see here and give your love on Twitter with the #HuluSweet16 hashtag, if you are so inclined.
Hulu narrowed a list of every show on TV to a sweet 16, and then I came in and asked if they’d thought about adding My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic before they stared me down in abject horror. We think you’re going to love arguing about and talking about and pitting these 16 shows against each other, and we’ve even included some shows I’m not that fond of (but you might be) for variety’s sake. Click on the link above and vote, or if you want to know why I voted the way I did, keep reading. We’ll do this every one of the four weeks for which this tournament will run!
First, a quick note on methodology, because I am even an intense nerd at online brackets. I first had to determine what I was voting for when pitting these shows against each other, and I decided, completely arbitrarily, that my eligibility period would be April 2013 through March 2014. This meant, for instance, that enough really great New Girl episodes from season two got in to push it past Veep, while it also meant that quite a few terrible episodes from Community’s fourth season found their way into eligibility, which caused that show to fall. This is not a foolproof system, and I don’t know that it will work all of the time going forward. If you don’t want to follow my eligibility window for your own voting, please don’t. I just like to overthink things, in case you couldn’t tell.
On to the matches!
True Detective vs. Game Of Thrones: This one was pretty easy for me. I liked True Detective, but I was never in rapturous love with it. It did some interesting things, it did some stupid things, and it did some irritating things. There are plenty of shows on TV I would have voted for it over, but none of those shows were Game Of Thrones, which is coming off its best season, which may have contained its best single episode. An easy choice in the battle of HBO vs. HBO. My pick: Game Of Thrones
The Good Wife vs. Scandal: This was tricky, because I had to count some of Scandal’s crazy-good second season against some of Good Wife’s less impressive fourth season. But most of the “comeback” stories about Good Wife ignore that it basically turned the corner and accelerated out of the doldrums immediately as 2013 started, so the episodes that aired toward the end of season four were all solid. And the show’s fifth season has been enough of an improvement over Scandal’s messy third (which I still like quite a bit) for me to feel good about giving it the win. My pick: The Good Wife
Hannibal vs. Bob’s Burgers: I agonized about this one, while admitting the pairing—“Acquired Tastes”—was incredibly clever. Hannibal is one of my favorite dramas; Bob’s is one of my favorite comedies. Bob’s was higher on my 2013 top 10 list—barely—but Hannibal’s second season has started with some episodes that seem destined to push it somewhere into my top five by year’s end. What this one came down to for me was that Bob’s has already been renewed, and I pretty much need Hannibal to run its entire planned seven-season arc. If I can’t help it get there by rooting for it in an ultimately meaningless Internet bracket, then I am just not doing my job. My pick: Hannibal
Orphan Black vs. The Americans: Damn. The people at Hulu were doing their work when they paired these shows up, because this is another tough call, and it’s one of the few weirdly affected by my eligibility window. Orphan Black aired all of its first season in my window, while Americans aired only a handful of episodes, due to debuting in January in 2013 and February in 2014. And yet that actually pits 10 Orphan episodes against 10 Americans episodes—the last five of season one and the first five of season two. That might put you at a disadvantage, since you haven’t seen all of Americans’ first five, but I have, and they’re astoundingly good. So I gave it the edge over another of my favorite shows. Sorry, clones. I still love you. My pick: The Americans
Sherlock vs. Archer: This one was an easy call for me. Archer makes me laugh more than any other show on TV, and it’s in the middle of a creative resurgence in its fifth season, which has stripped away a lot of the show’s bullshit and made it leaner and meaner. Meanwhile, I like Sherlock, but I also find it actively irritating to watch. It’s a show that thinks it’s smarter than it actually is, and it seems designed to constantly reassure you that you, yourself, are smart for watching it. Nothing wrong with that, but I haven’t been able to stand shows like that for years. Advantage: Sterling Archer. (That said, I’m all but certain Sherlock is going to waltz through this thing and win it all.) My pick: Archer
Arrow vs. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Another one I had some trouble with, but mostly because it felt weird to compare these two shows, which are both exceptionally good at what they do but do very different things. Ultimately, I came down to the thought that Arrow is having the kind of terrific second season only genre shows on tiny networks seem capable of, and it’s got some of TV’s best action sequences to go along with it. Brooklyn is having a great first year, but it also feels like it’s just figuring out what it can do. I suspect if I get to offer commentary on the 2015 tournament, it will be an easy victor for me. My pick: Arrow
New Girl vs. Veep: This one was a tough pick for the exact opposite reason of some of the others: Both of these shows have problems. New Girl might be my favorite show on TV—i.e., the show I watch first whenever I have a choice as to what I’m going to watch—and I love the Nick and Jess pairing. But it’s hard to deny that season three has had some problems getting going (though I think its 2014 output has mostly been fine-to-very-good), and the plotting—particularly around Schmidt—has often been very, very weird. On the other hand, I don’t terribly enjoy Veep. I laugh at it a fair amount, and I think the cast is phenomenal. But I also find its easy, dismissive cynicism a huge turnoff. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ work? An emphatic yes. The show as a whole? Eh. It’s New Girl in a squeaker. My pick: New Girl
Community vs. Mad Men: I know many of you will brand me as a heretic for this, but for as much as I love Community, I have always loved Mad Men just as much and often more. As mentioned above, Community had to include a whopping six episodes of its messy, often awful fourth season, thanks to my methodology, and while Mad Men’s sixth season also had its problems, they were intentional ones, designed to make us think about how the characters were stuck in ruts they needed to break out of. It was close. But as good as Community’s fifth season has been, the back half of Mad Men’s sixth season (basically everything from “For Immediate Release” on) was even better. My pick: Mad Men
Join me here again next week, when you’ve voted for all of the shows I did not!