As December marks the holiday season, filled with proverbial chestnuts roasting on equally-proverbial open fires, it also marks year-end list making season, a time when we turn consuming art into a ranked competition to illustrate which is “the best” and “the worst.” In truth, year-end lists can be fun if not taken too seriously. They can demonstrate a critic’s singular taste and generally serve as conversation openers, a chance to argue in favor of or against the myriad quality art that each new year brings.
However, after years of reading or participating in these kind of year-end rituals, it becomes clear that there’s an unspoken formula to many of these lists. Via his Episodes newsletter, Vox culture editor and veteran TV critic Todd VanDerWerff pens a satirical “top 10 TV shows of 2015” list that illustrates this formula, with everything from the halfway snarky introduction to said list (“Veiled description of what’s to follow. Discussion of how little I wanted to be doing this in the first place. Final, grudging acceptance of the gods of traffic, readership, and the secret fun of getting to do this and have people care what you think.”) to how the number four slot goes to a new show because “putting a first season show at number one opens you up to ridicule if it falls apart in season two.” Though the list is TV-centric, its jabs could easily apply to film, music, or any other artistic medium. As someone who has penned a few of these lists (and read a hell of a lot more), VanDerWerff’s assessment is equally accurate, funny, and damning.
(Below is the reprinted list. Follow the link above to see his notes.)
Todd VanDerWerff’s “Top 10 TV Shows of 2015”
1. Slightly out there but ultimately non-controversial pick.
2. Your actual number one.
3. The old warhorse that had a good season.
4. Something new.
5. Weird, irreverent pick that not every critic will have.
6. Consider putting “Mad Men” here.
7. A show that everybody loves (including you), but if you put it here, people might think you’re cool.
8. Shit, you forgot this one.
9. Whatever you have more of, do the opposite here.
10. A really weird, irreverent pick not every critic will have.