Jason Sizemore's Blog
February 19, 2020
On Monday, the Kickstarter to fund my latest anthology launched. Invisible Threads: Cutting the Ties That Hold Us will be co-edited with Lesley Conner and includes a great list of contributors including: Alix E. Harrow, Maurice Broaddus, Fran Wilde, Damien Angelica Walters, Chesya Burke, A.C. Wise, Andi Buchanan, Jordan Kurella, Beth Dawkins, ZZ Claybourne, Geoffrey Girard, Merc Finn Wolfmoor, KT Bryski, Michael Wehunt, Stephanie Malia Morris, and Sabrina Vourvoulias.
You can check out and back the Kickstarter here. As of this post, we are 48 hours into the project and we’re up to $2530. There is a long way to go until we hit $20,000!
What am I referencing when I talk about invisible threads? Perhaps the clearest way to describe the anthology theme is to describe the short story by Beth Dawkins that inspired it. You’ll be able to read Beth’s story as it will appear in the book.
Roughly a year ago, Beth mentioned a piece she had submitted to popular genre publication. Her story had been originally written for Apex Magazine, but since I had placed the zine on hiatus, she needed a new home for it. I had published her before in the magazine, so I was interested to read her newest work.
Beth’s story is about a female protagonist who lives in a poor, rural community. She likes the people, her home, but she is constantly frustrated by her inability to jump over a massive wall that blocks her from escaping the outside world. Naturally, this metaphor is multi-layered and the plot is more intricate than this simple explanation would lead you to believe. The way Beth uses the wall as a representation of the poverty trap, societal expectations theory, and rural resentment serve as barriers of those who wish to enhance and explore their world was fascinating to me.
We all have different walls to climb unique to our geographic, economic, and social upbringing. I wanted to do an anthology with diverse perspectives that examines these barriers with stories containing protagonists overcoming and/or facing the obstacles that are attempting to hold them back.
Whereas Do Not Go Quietly was about revolution and was more politically charged, Invisible Threads will be more triumphant and inspirational. Certainly, the stories will contain plenty of anger and a call to fight, but it will strive to do so with a message of hope.
Below is the fabulous cover art by famous artist agnes-cecile (what a bit of luck Lesley and I had landing her!). I hope you will consider backing Invisible Threads. The Kickstarter runs through March 18th.
January 10, 2020
Did you know that of the 1,146 pages comprising the 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, that 325 pages are dedicated to the proper usage of commas?
Okay, I pulled that fact out of thin air. But I bet many of you (myself included) would not be surprised if this was true. Out of all the elements of composition and grammar, the application of commas is simultaneously the most contested and the least important aspect of writing.
One of my most embarrassing editing experiences involves commas, a well-respected and uniquely talented writer of cosmic horror, and my personal obstinance. Way, way back in the early days of Apex Magazine, I approached this writer for a reprint. (She’ll remain anonymous because I don’t want anyone sending her this essay and reminding her of my mistakes.) Having her name in the zine would be a Big Deal. A stamp of quality and a statement of the type of content we wanted.
The query went well. She was gracious and obliged me with a fantastic story to reprint. I immediately accepted it and returned it to her with a couple of minor punctuation edits.
To read the entire essay, head over to the Apex Book Company Patreon and join at the $1 tier.
January 9, 2020
My recovery from a triple mandibular resection last February continues. The debridement surgery in September created a major quality of life improvement. Pieces of the bone that didn’t survive the transplant in February were removed, allowing my gum tissue to finally heal. My food options multiplied greatly. I’ve even gained a few pounds back from the 30 I lost.
The next step is a bone and marrow transplant from the pelvic area of my hip bone to the area of my replaced jaw that was excised in September. They grind up the bone and marrow from my hip and mix with a substance call bone morphogenetic protein. My surgeon described it as a kind of fertilizer for bone regrowth. This stuff is surgically placed in the debridement area in a mesh and allowed to heal and grow for several months.
The date of the bone graft surgery is January 24th. I can expect at least one night in the hospital. Lots of swelling. Plenty of pain. Liquid only diet for 5 days. It won’t be pleasant, but compared to what I went through last February, this will be a walk in the park!
All of this leads to the moment I’ve been waiting for…the installation of my implant posts and my new set of teeth. The surgeon and I hope that I heal quickly enough so that he can do the procedure before May 1st (when I’m set to travel to Indianapolis to be a guest of honor at Mo*Con). I will be a lot less self-conscious with my teeth than without!
Why self-conscious? Because not having bottom teeth affects my speech. I can be hard to understand at times due to the lack of teeth and the partial lip and face paralysis. From a vanity standpoint, the right side of my face is going slack due to the lack of a large bone presence and teeth to support the tissue. The permanent dentures should alleviate that issue.
Plus, it’s hard to eat and I make a mess. I don’t want Maurice Broaddus to have to hire a handler to dab sauce off my chin!
January 8, 2020
I’ve recently watched two television adaptations that created a pair of polarizing responses. On the positive side we have HBO’s Watchmen. On the negative side is Netflix’s The Witcher. Both series have a respected genre pedigree: one being one of the great graphic novels of our time; the other novel having a cult following and being the source material for one of the best video games ever created (The Witcher 3).
So what caused my split decision?
[image error]All hail Sister Night!
There’s a certain flaw in writing that I call “shit happens just because.” I’m sure my fancy nomenclature isn’t the official term. But I think you know what I mean. Cartoons use it all the time because, well, they’re cartoons (I’m looking at you Rick & Morty!) Sitcoms, as well. But when you’re dealing with dramatic work, “shit happens just because” isn’t as easy to swallow and can ruin the viewing/reading experience.
Both the Watchmen and The Witcher television series are thick with lore. Both shows are a challenge to understand if you’re not familiar with the source material. I can understand why a viewer would turn to their spouse and ask “What the fuck is up with all the clocks and tick-tocking?” when watching the first couple of episodes of Watchmen. There are Rorschach masks, Lori Blake, Ozymandias being weird, and so on.
The Witcher, likewise, has a whole series of material concepts to throw at you. There’s the Law of Surprise, the mythos of Geralt, Yennefer and her transformation, a hedgehog man trying to wed a princess.
The difference is that in The Witcher series, stuff happens…just because? When Geralt jokingly invokes the Law of Surprise as payment for saving the hedgehog man’s life, it is a big moment…what I surmise to be the crux of his and Ciri’s bond that becomes central to the overarching narrative. But what is the Law of Surprise? I had never heard of it prior to that instance. What’s its importance? Why is Geralt forever tied to Ciri now?
Don’t worry, the writers are telling us, just because!
Not that Watchmen doesn’t have its convenient plot moments. When Captain Metropolis magically surmises that Hooded Justice is bisexual and uses his sexual sway to recruit Hooded Justice to the Minutemen, that’s a “just because” moment.
The difference in these crimes of storytelling is that The Witcher moment serves as the foundation of the series. The Watchmen scene is just lazy writing to gloss over a minor detail.
I’d like to say that despite my misgivings with The Witcher, I can see why it is popular. It does many things right. Cavill makes a good Geralt (though how hard is it to grunt a lot and to look good taking a hot bath…on second thought). The two female leads are quite good. The magic is interesting. The fight scenes are well-done.
[image error]It’s getting steamy, Geralt.
I desperately want to like the show.
It’s entirely possible that I’m more forgiving of Watchmen‘s follies because I’m a lot more familiar with the source material. If I had read Sapowski’s Witcher books and played the video game maybe I’d be singing a different tune.
Maybe in a few weeks I’ll have a change of heart and will join those legions singing the praise of the Butcher of Blavikan!
January 2, 2020
IN OTHER WORDS: Matthew W. Quinn on How To Create Awesome Cover Art, or The Tale of Battle for the Wastelands
When I was writing my independent military fantasy novel Battle for the Wastelands, one of the major people involved was none other than Apex Publications founder Jason Sizemore. Not only did he do a developmental edit back in 2016, but he proofread the manuscript, formatted it into an eBook and print book, and put me in contact with cover designer Mikio Murikami. He said that the final cover equaled anything from one of the Big Five publishers.
[image error]Artwork by Matt Cowdery. Design by Mikio Murakami.
How did this cover happen? For starters, even though I didn’t decide to independently publish Battle until around August 2019, I had been considering it for some time. I knew it was important to land good blurbs from other authors — people bought my debut horror novel The Thing in the Woods because it had been endorsed by fellow Atlanta writer James R. Tuck and my horror-comedy novella Little People, Big Guns has been blurbed by horror greats Brian Keene and Wesley Southard. Although Jason was willing to blurb it and his name carries much weight in the publishing community, I was looking for someone well-known in the independent fantasy market and in particular someone who wrote novels similar to Battle. So I searched Amazon and ultimately contacted Jack Conner, author of The Atomic Sea, and he agreed to take a look. The Conner blurb is on the front where genre readers will look first, while the Sizemore blurb is on the back to further convince the curious. Why use only one endorsement when you can have two? j/k
Secondly, based on my experience browsing online or attending events with books for sale, many indie or small-press books have low-quality covers. The art is often obviously rendered or pixelated, not anything like the books from major publishers that have larger art budgets. Although websites like The Book Cover Designer have good-looking and relatively cheap pre-made covers that I’ve used for some of my indie projects, they also tend to be rather generic and I wanted something special. For as long as I was considering independently publishing Battle, I checked out potential cover artists at events like DragonCon or the Pancakes and Booze art shows in Atlanta. It was at DragonCon 2019 where I met Matt Cowdery, a West Coast artist who’d illustrated Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings card games. We emailed back and forth and over the next couple of months and he put together a beautiful cover. Although it was pricier than anything from The Book Cover Designer, people do judge books by their covers. Furthermore, according to writing podcasts I listen to, covers should signal to readers what genre they’re in. So not only did I hire an artist with experience in fantasy — I often describe the world of Wastelands as “The Dark Tower meets Game of Thrones” – I was sure to include airships (steampunk) and a cowboy-type with a Civil War rifle (Western) on the cover.
Once that was done, it was time for laying out the title, blurbs, etc. on the cover, since this wasn’t something Cowdery typically does. I thought about using Amazon’s built-in options, but Dave Schroeder from my writing group warned this could look rather generic. So I spoke with Jason and he recommended Murikami. Over Thanksgiving, Murikami gave me several possible cover configurations. He worked very rapidly and effectively, something I appreciate.
To sum up, to have the best possible cover you need to hire skilled people to do both the artwork and the cover design — these are typically separate people — and you will probably need to spend money to get the best. Cowdery and Murikami have done an excellent job with Battle and it is my intention to hire them for future books set in this world. Cowdery has already completed the art for the prequel e-novella “Son of Grendel,” which I hope to release in the first quarter of 2020, and Murikami is working on the layout.
Matthew W. Quinn is an Atlanta author of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Battle for the Wastelands is his first independent novel and his third published book after The Thing in the Woods and Little People, Big Guns.
(Would you like write a guest post about genre-related issues? Send me an email via my Contact page.)
December 23, 2019
This is the first of an ongoing monthly series titled “Editorial Content” that will be about editing and writing. I plan to write these exclusively for Patreon and our paying backers. However, the first one is free to all and will also appear on my personal blog (and Apex website blog) for cross-promotional reasons.
If you enjoy content like this, please consider backing the Apex Patreon at the $1 level or greater!
“I have great faith in fools—self-confidence my friends will call it.”Edgar Allan Poe, Marginalia
One of the easiest ways to make your manuscript stronger is to practice assertive writing. Word economy can improve your writing, make your editors happy, and to create narrative drive.
What do I mean when I say to practice assertive writing? Turn on your television. Watch your favorite show. Maybe it’s Seinfeld. The episode is “The Contest” and Kramer charges into Jerry’s apartment, slaps $100 on the counter, and declares “I’m out.”
It’s effective because the beats happen quickly. Kramer doesn’t come in and say “I watched Cinemax and now I’m a contest loser.” Thanks to proper scene setting and plotting, the viewer knows with two simple words what’s up without the need for expanded exposition. The word economy and quick nature via the assertive writing in that scene allows for a humorous moment and grants the script the time to add even more jokes.
Like how television only has so many minutes to air, a manuscript only has so many words to spare. Publishers have word count limits for a practical reason: printing costs a lot of money. Editors have their red pens ready because they realize that many readers have a remarkably short attention span. Bore them repeatedly with moments or descriptions that do nothing to advance the narrative and they’ll likely call your work bloated and cast it aside.
In my professional capacity as an editor, one of the most common writing sins I encounter is that of wishy-washy writing. Most of the time the culprits are from people still learning the craft. Like a toddler taking its first tentative steps, a new writer expresses anxiety about their abilities through the use of repetition and extraneous verbiage. However, this particular sin is not exclusively the rookies’ domain. Plenty of experienced scribes can fall into this bad habit due to anxiety regarding their familiarity with the genre or the subject matter (example: a sci-fi writer trying a bit of historical romance).
Wishy-washy writing manifests in numerous ways. One of the most common is via the insidious form of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives modifying absolutes. This phenomenon is called pleonasm.
Here are some examples:
Something is either perfect or not perfect. Unless you’re James Madison writing the Constitution and you’re “forming a more perfect Union” then avoid this type of writing crutch.
“blackest of black”
Yes, yes, I know there are many shades of black. But black is black and blackest of black is not only a poorly constructed description, it is also a cliché. As are many pleonasms.
“see with one’s own eyes”
Here we have a double pleonasm. Barring some science fiction device, how else will you see? And who else’s eyes are you using if you’re not using your own? Don’t answer this unless you’re the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth.
Naturally, there are instances where repeated usage of certain pleonasms has become acceptable to the Grammar Gods of Chicago, AP, and MLA. Also remember, it is your right as a writer to request a stet if an editor has failed to recognize an intended use of a pleonasm.
I Don’t Think So, I Know So
Adjectives receive all the glory, but verbs do all the work. Therefore, your verb choice is one of the most important aspects of writing. Too often I see in manuscripts poorly chosen verbs that makes the writer come across as unsure.
Take, for example, the following line of exposition:
“The footsteps stopped for a moment. When they began again, each footfall seemed like a warning.”
The problem word is seemed. It does nothing to add to the mood or the tension of the narrative. It’s just … functional. It’s like eating a slice of white bread. Certainly, the bread will temporarily satiate your hunger, but there are so many better choices you can make.
“The footsteps stopped for a moment. When they began again, each footfall echoed like a warning.”
I’ll not argue that this line is a strong bit of writing. But I do think we’re moving in the right direction by replacing the ambiguous seemed with the more dynamic echoed. Echoed makes environmental suggestions. Possibly the narrator is trapped in a cave, a hallway, or an abandoned house … and places like that are often secluded and isolated.
“According to our analysis, the sample was clean. Carbon and oxygen and nothing else.”
The second sentence is merely a reassertion of the first. In context of the story, the reader has no reason to need the second sentence. A cleaner sample of this line goes:
“Our analysis deemed it clean.”
The phrase according to is also a bit of writerly anxiety that merely muddles the intention of the excerpt. Using deemed allows us to take out an instance of the overworked was construction.
People tend to use minimizing language in unintentional ways to not come across as arrogant and aggressive, rude and unfriendly. We soften what we say in a matter of deference. It’s an extremely problematic phenomenon in business writing (particularly for women and people of color), but it also exists in fiction writing and probably deserves a separate essay analyzing the subject.
You’ll often hear people calling minimizing words as junk words. Flabby expressions. Whatever. Nomenclature is your choice, but try to avoid using these words in your writing:
Just, pretty much, a bit, enough, mostly, usually, almost…
Remember that bit I mentioned earlier about word counts? I’m nearing mine, so I must conclude now.
When you have something to say, say it concisely. Don’t worry about offending the reader with assertive writing. Your characters will come across stronger. Your narrative will flow better. Your manuscript will have more punch.
December 12, 2019
They said they would pay real MONEY and back the Apex Patreon if I did a monthly series about editing for our patrons.
I’ve shied away from doing a series like that behind a paywall for my book publishing project. I want to target readers, not writers. It’s easy to fall into the small press trap of only selling to writers and people who are aspiring to be writers.
But if these two trusted and savvy friends are to be believed, readers are often interested in process-oriented information. Especially information that pulls back the curtain from the mysterious process of editing and publishing.
I have two friends who say they’ll back the Apex Patreon for my essay series. But I need more than two in order to make this worth the time.
Is this something YOU, my blog reader, would find interesting enough to consider paying $1 a month for an essay on an editing topic of my (or your) choice?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments or hit me up via email through my contact form. I really want to hear your opinion on this.
December 5, 2019
If there’s ever a gifting trap, it’s the one that happens when you decide to buy a book for someone you know. I can remember several instances over the years where I could sense that the person receiving my gifted book was unimpressed for various reasons.
But why would someone be nonplussed by a gift? Because books are personal. Your choice in a gifted book reflects what you see in somebody. Or so they often think. This is particularly true when you’re buying for the occasional or non-reader.
But wow…when you find the perfect book for someone and that someone LOVES it, there is no GREATER feeling of satisfaction. It’s an instantaneous bonding moment. That person will think “You get me” and reward you with praise and hugs.
I’m not making a claim that I’m an expert at book gifting. Like I mentioned before, I’ve made some unfortunate choices. But here are some book suggestions for the coming Christmas holiday along with the type of readers who might enjoy them.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January (Alix E. Harrow)
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.
Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.
WHO WILL ENJOY THIS BOOK: Virtually anyone who likes to read. Alix’s portal fantasy has broad appeal. Good for young readers and adults alike. I call this one a pretty safe bet.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS (Maurice Broaddus)
Thelonius Mitchell is tired of being labeled. He’s in special ed, separated from the “normal” kids at school who don’t have any “issues.” That’s enough to make all the teachers and students look at him and his friends with a constant side-eye. (Although his disruptive antics and pranks have given him a rep too.)
When a gun is found at a neighborhood hangout, Thelonius and his pals become instant suspects. Thelonius may be guilty of pulling crazy stunts at school, but a criminal? T isn’t about to let that label stick.
WHO WILL ENJOY THIS BOOK: Most middle grade readers. Parents of exceptional children. Marginalized readers. This is a fun whodunit that was partly inspired by the author’s own rambunctious kids.
RATION (CODY T. LUFF)
All the girls who live in the Apartments are forced to weigh their own hunger against the lives of the others living in the building. When Cynthia is wrongly accused of ordering an “A” ration, she punished by the other girls. Eventually, she is forced to leave the Apartments along with Ms. Glennoc, one of the former managers who has tormented and abused her for years. Together, they encounter a world of even more scarcity, but one filled with politics and intrigue. Cynthia struggles to return to the Apartments and help the girls who are still there.
Forced to reconcile her role in the destruction of these girls with the greater needs of society to find any sustainable source of calories, Ms. Tuttle makes one bad decision after another while she grapples with a mother who is growing more and more impatient with her mistakes.
WHO WILL ENJOY THIS BOOK: If your friend likes socially conscious dystopias (think The Handmaid’s Tale) then Ration is the gift of choice. The guy who co-wrote the copy (me) arrogantly compared the title to The Road and Atwood’s classic, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have done so without truly feeling like the book is good enough to stand with those two iconic works.
SABBATH (Nick Mamatas)
The infamous eleventh-century warrior Hexen Sabbath is plucked from death and certain damnation by a being claiming to be an angel of the Lord, and finds himself dropped into contemporary Manhattan with no clothes, no weapons, no resources, and one mission—to track down and kill the living personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins before they bring about Armageddon.
With time running out and his only ally a destitute art gallery owner, Sabbath must fight his way through New York’s elite and challenge the world’s most powerful man, or an eternity of suffering will be his, and our, only reward.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS BOOK: Pulp readers who enjoy Richard Kadrey and Charlie Huston! What I’m saying is that if your friend likes fast-paced, smart and thoughtful supernatural action, then this is a great gift choice. Just look at that cover and tell me otherwise.
My Apex cohort Lesley Conner offers a bonus suggestion for my blog followers!
GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW (Silvia Moreno-Garcia)
The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.
Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.
In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS BOOK: Is your reader friend someone who particularly enjoys cultural immersion in their fantasy choices? You won’t find a better gift book than this one. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a criminally under read writer. Help correct this by foisting her book on your friends and family.
November 27, 2019
It’s been an up and down decade. But one thing consumers have reliably counted on are quality television shows.
The world burns around us, but damn if we don’t have some fine TV.
Here are five of my favorite episodes from the past ten years.
Watchmen – “This Extraordinary Being” (S1.E6)
Why not start with the episode that inspired this list? And this aired only a few days ago.
Why is it good? I don’t believe I’ve seen a show tackle the deep-rooted and systemic racism in America in such an effective and powerful manner. The show launched with the Tulsa race riots, an event that had been effectively white-washed from our history. From that, we see the origins of the mysterious Hooded Justice (the only superhero not outed in the original Watchmen comic).
The camera work, the script, the acting…all brilliant.
Black Mirror – “White Bear” (S2.E2)
So this one comes from one of the most culturally significant series of the decade.
Why is it good? Admittedly, this is a love it or leave it kind of entry. For me, I see it as a perfectly paradoxical examination of morality, voyeurism, and cruelity. Does the punishment fit the crime? Probably. Is the punishment cruel? Probably. Are the people exacting the punishment just as bad as the criminal? Probably.
There are no easy outs, no easy answers. A wonderful example of using technology to tell a great story.
The Leftovers – International Assassin (S2.E8)
This show is criminally underappreciated. I blame too much peak TV.
Why is it good? At this point in The Leftovers, it would be a tall task to describe what is happening that would make any sense to you. Let’s leave it at this: the show’s protagonist is transported to a weird purgatory where he is assigned to assassinate the show’s antagonist. He accomplishes his goal, but is forced to do so in a horrifying, grotesque fashion.
Characters from the series’ universe show up as different people…except for Kevin (the protagonist–though he’s a lawman in the show and an assassin here). It’s quite a twist done with style and panache and filled with powerful dialog.
Doctor Who – “The End of Time: Part 2”
Scandalous confession–I stopped watching Doctor Who in the second season of Capaldi’s run. For whatever reason, he didn’t appeal to me and I’ve not gotten back around to the show. Despite that, there are several episodes that could have made this list from Matt Smith’s run. But it is David Tenant who sneaks in with this episode that ran on January 1st, 2010.
Why is it good? David Tenant puts on an acting clinic and reminds us of why we love the Doctor. When the show’s reboot was in its prime, it had a way of making us love the characters despite the crazy plot and cheesy effects. There’s nothing cheesy in this scene as Tenant made many viewers bring out the waterworks.
Atlanta – “Teddy Perkins” (S2.E6)
You’ll gather by this list that I like off-beat shows that takes narrative chances.
Why is it good? This might be my favorite piece of horror from the 2010s. The premise is simple: Darius goes to pickup an antique piano from Teddy Perkins. It quickly spirals into nightmare material. We also learn about Darius’s two regret life limit pact.
There are deeper issues being addressed: abuse, cultural coding, etc. But the brass tacks of it is that it’s just damn entertaining.
November 19, 2019
Have we reached peak TV? Hard to say. So many people suffer from recency bias and are quick to declare what they just watched the Best Thing Ever. I remember thinking in the 1990s that The X-Files could never be topped. Then in the 2000s it was The Sopranos. These days, I still love both series, but would not call them the best of their respective decades.
These kinds of lists are always subjective and restrictive in terms of stuff I’ve actually seen. Why create such a list? Because I am offering a service to you, the reader, should you have need to watch something of quality.
Some shows that started in the aughts and ended their runs in the 2010s aren’t include. Notable examples are Mad Men, 30 Rock, and Breaking Bad. If I thought their best years were in the decade prior, then they were excluded.
Noteworthy honorable mentions: Chernobyl (HBO), The Good Place (NBC), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox), True Detective (HBO), Silicon Valley (HBO), The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), Fringe (Fox), Succession (HBO)
10. Justified (FX) — Name a more iconic duo than Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)? As a native of southeast Kentucky (the show is set mostly in Harlan), I greatly enjoyed that the series antagonist, Crowder, was an intellectual. Too often, villainous rednecks are portrayed as stupid. Certainly many are.
The final scene encapsulated the series perfectly. These two old frenemies have binds deeper than the coal they had once dug together.
9. Black Mirror (Netflix) — Had I made this list before the awful fifth season, this show would be in the top three. But those three episodes happened, so here we are.
Not that clunkers hadn’t happened to the show before. The first episode focused on a British Prime Minister being forced to have sex with a pig on television to save a member of the royal family. It wasn’t awful, but I nearly didn’t bother with episode two.
That episode was 15 Million Merits and featured a pre-Get Out Daniel Kaluuya, Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), and Rupert Everett (Cemetery Man). The technological cautionary tale became a recurring theme of the series and made me a permanent fan. It also echoed what I was doing with Apex Magazine.
8. Hannibal (NBC) — The fact that this ran on network television is still one of the most unlikely things to have ever happened.
Mads Mikkelson’s iconic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter stands alongside Anthony Hopkin’s iconic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter as two of the greatest anti-heroes in the history of popular media. Hugh Darcy plays Will Graham in the series with haunted eyes and a just right amount of moral ambiguity.
The heartbeat of the show was the on-screen chemistry of Will and Hannibal. The sensuality between the two transcended homoeroticism. It was simply…murderous…how well the two complimented each other.
7. The Americans (FX) — From the moment Fleetwood Mac’s pulsating “Tusk” booms to life in the opening heist scene you’ll be hooked. My lifelong crush on Keri Russell pays dividends as she gives a scene-stealing performance as Spy Momma Elizabeth Jennings. Matthew Rhys and Noah Emmerich round out the cast in a Cold War period drama that was great through all six seasons.
6. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX) — For this one, I’m only going to throw some words to the screen:
Implications. Wild card bitches! Playing nightcrawlers. Troll toll. Rum ham. Charlie Work. Fight milk!
Those who have seen the show are giggling and smiling. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
5. Community (NBC) — The 2010s have been a dire time for network sitcoms. Sure, there have been a handful of good shows: Parks & Rec, Bob’s Burgers, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Black-ish (the first couple of seasons), and The Good Place come to mind. But, to me, one show stands above the rest.
Sporting an incredible cast and whip-smart writing, the show transcended ‘good’ to ‘god tier’ in its second and third seasons. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard as I did during Jeff Winger’s naked pool showdown (set, inexplicably, to “Werewolves of London”) with Coach Bogner. The show had a knack of taking down Hollywood tropes in the funniest ways possible. Long live the crew of Community!
4. The Leftovers (HBO) — Based on a Tom Perotta novel, this is the story of a family struggling to keep it together after 2% of the population disappears. It’s about the biggest bummer of a television show I’ve seen, but it is flat-out incredible.
The series starts slow. And then arrives Carrie Coons. I’ve seen a lot of folks call her portrayal of Nora Durst as the best acting of the decade. I can’t argue with that assessment.
The series also delivered one of the most fascinating episodes of television I’ve watched with its season two entry “International Assassin.”
To give away anything about The Leftovers is to give away too much. The show is a slow burn that will rip your heart out.
Justin Theroux was also amazing in The Leftovers
3. Veep (HBO) — Despite an awful swan song season, this is one of my favorite shows of the decade. The first few seasons gave me belly laughs beyond what any other show has ever provided.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the titular VP. She’s surrounded by an army of idiots (Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh) that enable her worst whims and desires. Because it’s what they’re paid to do, right?
The show is a perfect take down of American politics.
2. Fargo (FX) — Yet another FX series. The creative director over there takes risks, I’ll say that. The Coen Brother’s theatrical version of Fargo is fantastic. The television adaptation is even better.
Every season has been great. Certainly, some seasons are better than others, but the acting, the writing, and the direction is strong throughout. Standouts of the anthology series includes Allison Tolman, Billy Bob Thorton, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemmons, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Bokeem Woodbine.
Each season starts with a crime. The path it traverses from there is a wonder.
1. Atlanta (FX) — Sorry HBO, but FX has you beat. Long live basic cable!
This is Donald Glover’s second appearance (see Community) on this list. Third, if you count 30 Rock.
I’m a big fan of experimental storytelling. When it works, it adds a whole layer of interesting to a tale. Donald Glover has mastered the art of absurdity.
The show’s plot is unfocused. Barely holding it all together is the thread of Earn (Donald Glover) managing the on-the-rise rapper Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry), who is also his cousin. Zazie Beetz plays Glover’s love interest. Lakeith Stanfield turns in a star-making performance as the unflappable and perpetually high Darius. Each episode focuses on one or multiples of these core characters.
The show smartly addresses social issues and even takes jabs at certain pop culture icons (look out Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber). And it produced the most thrilling episode of television of the decade: “Teddy Perkins.”
Watch these ten shows or Teddy Perkins will visit you.