Bates Motel heads into its season finale tonight. Will Emmy ever recognize this great series?
The Television Academy has only awarded A&Es superb Bates Motel one Emmy nomination in its 4-season history.
Let’s let that sink in.
One nomination. In four years.
Granted, it was the right nomination – Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Vera Farmiga – but it simply isn’t enough now that the show has matured not only in its storytelling but also in its deepening of its characters and associated performances with each passing year. Bates Motel is not only a thrilling suspense drama worthy of comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock’s great original, but it’s also a touching ode to the complexities of parenting. More specifically, to motherhood.
Farmiga’s Norma Bates isn’t a particularly good mother. She’s well intended but near-sighted where her son, Norman (Freddie Highmore), is concerned. Emmy should not be so similarly near-sighted in their reaction to the series. Bates Motel is a complex drama that astutely documents a complex relationship far better than any previous attempts have been able to do.
Bates Motel isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. To fully appreciate it, you have to stick with it for the long haul. It builds on itself, layering psychosis after psychosis until it nearly cracks from the suspense – much like Highmore’s Norman. It’s a great symphony of pain, suffering, and trauma. The iconic movements in season four wouldn’t resonate without the mistakes planted in earlier seasons, sewn into the ground like so many rotten seeds.
And perhaps that’s ultimately why the Television Academy struggles to reward the show. Those who may have missed out on earlier seasons may feel left out of the overall arc, although that’s hardly an excuse. Even passing knowledge of the series mythology would help you appreciate the brilliance of the fourth season. Even if you know nothing of Mother and Norman Bates, the casual viewer cannot ignore the towering performances of Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore. I’ve written about Farmiga before, and everything I said then sticks today. She’s flat-out astounding in the role – the greatest role of her fascinating career. Even though she deserves very serious Emmy consideration this year, I’m worried that, as the Television Academy failed to nominate her for last year’s “Norma Louise,” she’ll likely be left out again this year. You can forget about Mother not being happy. I’m pissed as hell.
But as great as Farmiga is this year, Freddie Highmore may have been slightly better with a trickier arc this season. He’s played the two halves of Norman Bates for a few years now, but this is the year in which the two halves seem to finally merge into one. I don’t know how he does it, but Highmore’s eyes seem to have completely died overnight. They’re the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes. And season four Norman Bates is the Devil indeed. Highmore brilliantly captures the internal struggle of the committed Norman, the terrified Norman, the murderous Norman, the Mother-infused and flirtatious Norman, and the resolute Norman that burns your soul with hatred from the inside out.
Aside from completely blackening his eyes, Highmore has shredded the plucky younger version of himself on display in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland. This is a man, a very dangerous man, and this is Freddie Highmore’s moment in the moonlight.
And don’t forget he also wrote an episode of the series (“Unfaithful”). This kid is talented.
These actors are talented.
This show is great.
Emmy, don’t make Mother mad again. We can forgive your past transgressions.
We all go a little mad sometimes…
Super sad face
Vera Farmiga, Lead Actress
Freddie Highmore, Lead Actor
Photo by Daniel Sahlberg http://danielsahlberg.com
Better Call Saul‘s Rhea Seehorn talks about the acting, scripting, and filmmaking craft behind the smash cable drama
When talking to Rhea Seehorn, you’re immediately taken aback by how excited she is about the end-to-end craft of filmmaking. Previously best known for her role on NBC’s Whitney, Seehorn definitely excels at interpreting the character of Better Call Saul’sKim Wexler based on Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and a host of insanely talented writers’ scripts. Yet, it’s clear that her thirst for the overall craft of filmmaking drives her. Throughout our conversation, Seehorn deftly interjected smart observations and lavish praise for the creative team that helps create one of cable TV’s highest rated series.
At a time in her career when Rhea Seehorn could easily rest on the many accolades and laurels she’s received for her transformative season two performance, it’s completely refreshing to see her so dedicated to the task of accentuating her acting career with a broader experience. Like House of Cards‘ Robin Write and others before her, Seehorn has a keen interest in the task of direction, and, based on her intuitive eye, it’s a career direction that would undoubtedly server her well.
As Better Call Saul‘s Kim Wexler, Rhea Seehorn is the unique center of the show, balancing between the flexible ethics of Jimmy McGill and her own infallible moral center – a dichotomy that may well prove the couple’s end. While Seehorn has always been a strong component of the series, her season two performance has elevated her to new heights, putting her on par with Emmy-nominated co-stars Bob Odenkirk and Johnathan Banks as well as critically acclaimed Michael McKean. Her quiet, yet silently powerful, performance imbues the character of Kim Wexler with such clear presence that, even if she’s not speaking, you’re never unaware of her place in the scene.
Through our conversation, I could not help but be hugely impressed by Seehorn’s raw intelligence and insight into the complex series. Here’s hoping Emmy voters remain similarly impressed when the voting window kicks off in mid-June.
AwardsDaily TV: Happy belated birthday, Rhea Seehorn! How did you spend the day?
Rhea Seehorn: Thank you! I am shadowing the director Scott Winant [Emmy-winner for Thirtysomething]. Just trying to learn directing because it’s something I’ve always wanted to learn more about. I usually just watch when I’m on sets for my own shows. It’s informative as an actor just to understand all parts of the machinery, but I’d also like to direct one day. So, it was a great day, learning for 14 hours!
ADTV: That’s great, so should we expect you to take up the director’s chair on Better Call Saul in an upcoming season?
RS: Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t discussed that at all. I have my hands full with my own character. I’ve never aspired to direct myself. Right now, I’m just loving creating Kim [Wexler] on that, and that takes up all of my brain space.
ADTV: So what brought you to Better Call Saul originally?
RS: I auditioned for it with Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas, and Russell Scott. They cast Breaking Bad, so they’ve been with those guys for a long time. Sharon and Sherry have auditioned me for other things over the years, so I’ve played a range of characters for them. Casting directors, especially great ones like them, tend to know a larger body of your work than anybody because its all the stuff for which you didn’t even get the part. They really know my approach, the way I work, and the types of characters that they think would be a good fit for me… It was a really fun audition, a really wide-open audition to just do your best and see if you’re the right person to tell the story.
ADTV: I know the way Vince Gilligan [series creator] works so a lot of the character was there on the page. Tell me, though, how did you define the character of Kim?
RS: You know, it is… and Bob [Odenkirk] has said this too… it’s 99 percent in the text. Their scripts are just so incredibly strong, and we have almost no rewrites… which is very uncommon in the business. You can begin to build a foundation pretty much the second you get the script. It’s pretty much all there. Even when I had my very first episode for season one – the pilot, I’m seated in the conference room scene, and Jimmy comes in with the Ned Beatty “You will atone” speech from Network – which is amazing. The first time I speak or do anything is in the parking garage, and it’s really just one sentence broken into two parts… and we share a cigarette. But it’s all there. By that, I mean, even when you don’t have lines, you can read the scripts and get these very fine nuances where you can start to build the outline of your character. You’re forever coming up with new parameters of what edge they can go to and new details to add and then you kind of fill in. It’s a process of deduction.
If you’re sharing a cigarette with somebody and take it out of your own mouth and put it back and you don’t flinch (which was written in the script), then you know you have a history with them. We can finish each other’s sentences, so that also implies a long history. And it’s clear we’ve had this argument many, many times if I know exactly where it’s going exactly when he starts it. That says a lot about somebody, and it says something about their relationship. That’s how their scripts are written. It’s not just the beautiful dialogue, it’s the entire environment that is constantly giving you colors to use. To paint the portrait you’re trying to make… Even though we don’t know anything past the script we have, you have enough to build a three-dimensional person. There’s something that’s magical about their writing where I’ve never come across a contradiction about Kim’s life… It always seems revelatory about her. It just becomes an inspiration to interpret, and they [the creative team] really trust their actors. They all love to see how many thousands of ways you can play a line, and that’s a really wonderful environment to work in.
ADTV: So, I reached out to Twitter to get a sense of what people would like to ask you. One of the questions I’d received was around Breaking Bad / Better Call Saul comparisons. There are a lot of fans who consider Better Call Saul a better show than Breaking Bad. What are your thoughts on the comparison?
RS: Hmm… You know what, I don’t bother comparing them. I think it’s odd to compare them. I’m a huge Breaking Bad fan, still am. There are narrative links to it doing origin stories of two main characters… but the whole thing [Better Call Saul] is definitely its own show. And that’s more of what I focus on. We make sure it’s its own vehicle. Even though there are recognizable similarities, I think most people would agree that it has its own life, its own world that is slightly different. Vince has said this before, for instance, that in Better Call Saul you’re following a character who’s desperately trying to be good versus a character who is allowing his sociopath to come out… I don’t compare them. I just really celebrate that I feel like they’ve made this very rich tapestry that has these seeds that we know that blossom in this other show, but yet it’s its own thing. It would die in the shadow of Breaking Bad if it wasn’t.
ADTV: So, to me, season two feels like Kim Weller’s coming out party. Season one was mostly about the drama between the two brothers [Jimmy and Chuck], and now in season two, you’re a third part of that triangle. What was your first reaction as you started reading some of these scripts as you realized your role was being dramatically increased in size and scope?
RS: Well, I’ve been asked quite a bit what did Vince [Gilligan] and Peter [Gould] tell you about the season and that I was going to have all this stuff this season. But we didn’t. There were no talks, and you get it script by script. It doesn’t come down to counting lines or counting scenes… I mean, look at the Jonathan Banks character, just a brilliant character who says almost nothing… So, you just want to be present in the world, and I knew my character wasn’t going to be a tertiary object because they just don’t write people like that. I mean, even in season one, I relished that she was always three dimensional and always had a point of view in the scenes I was in. By the time I got the stuff for season two, my favorite thing I started to notice was that Kim’s decision not to speak was a reflection of her power.
She’s very observational and much less reactionary than a lot of the characters that she’s around. Kim’s very pragmatic and level-headed. It’s fun to see that that’s not a weakness to be silent in scenes and be observant. Because we work on an episode and then about three days later get the script for the next one… it never occurred to me that it might be this whole season that unfolds with this information about her. You just play it scene by scene, and that’s how you present you have to be when you’re in their material. You never really know what’s around the corner for any character. As a fan of their writing, I love how they answer one question and raise two. It’s fun to keep up with that, and I just want to make sure that I interpret this great story as best as I can.
ADTV: One of my very favorite moments for you in season two is how you engage in these con games with Jimmy. I fantasize that it’s Kim’s version of “breaking bad” a little. Why do you think she engages in those games with Jimmy?
RS: I don’t know yet. I certainly have my own opinions, and it was discussed (in the script and with the director Thomas Schnauz) is she good at them and why is she good at them? You see she just didn’t choose to participate in them, she’s actually pretty good at it. There’s a lot of possibilities there… I never believed Kim loved Jimmy because she had her head in the sand. I always believed that she knew who he was – maybe not every single detail or line that he crossed – but she could have possibly seen him do cons or was aware of the scene he came from. It didn’t feel unfamiliar to her. She’s kind of enticed into it the first time and then she initiated it the second time. But it didn’t feel completely unfamiliar to her. I don’t know where that comes from yet. I’m still learning that. It certainly was fun to show that side of her and for her to grapple with what are the boundaries for her between what’s okay and what’s immoral. There’s legal versus illegal, moral versus amoral, and ethical versus unethical.
I feel like all of the characters in Better Caul Saul feel like they know how to hang on to right and wrong, and they keep finding out that it depends on your perspective. It depends on the situation. It depends on life. It’s much more upsetting to find that all of that lies on a spectrum, that it’s not just black and white. So, that was another reason that it was fun for me to play those scenes. She’s toying with that. She’s toying with not being able to hang on to that anymore, and she’s enjoying watching Jimmy be great at them too. Kind of like the audience. We as watchers of the show are enticed by Jimmy succeeding at these cons. But I don’t know right now what any of that means for Kim.
ADTV: There’s still a lot of discovery there.
RS: There is [laughs]! The good news about me not having a lot of answers is that I can’t accidentally spoil anything.
ADTV: That’s true. Vince keeps a tight hold on his direction for the series, I guess.
RS: Well, he honestly doesn’t know. He and Peter aren’t lying when they say they didn’t know things were going to happen or that they don’t know the ultimate direction of the series. They really don’t know.
ADTV: I like that though. I like letting the characters drive the story line rather than have some artificial endgame that you’re driving toward. It feels more organic that way.
RS: It does! It does. And I didn’t realize until I was in talks with them how uncommon that is. It’s a pretty big gamble to not be sure if all your pieces are going to fit in the end. Those are two smart dudes as well as the whole writer’s room.
ADTV: I can’t even imagine. So, I have two iconic moments for Kim that I want to talk about. One is when you’re rainmaking, trying to drum up new business. How was it for you filming that scene?
RS: That was amazing. That entire montage… ten or eleven phone calls… Forgive me, it’s largely done in post… Oh, that’s another thing, you can film it all, and then you see what Kelley Dixon [editor] does with it. That’s a joy to see. It was like watching magic all over again because the post… putting in the Spanish version of “My Way…” Just brilliant. So, eight to ten phone calls plus the pocket dialogue that is either overwritten with music or you only either gets bits and pieces of it… And then they wanted it to reflect three or four days of time passing, meaning there’s costume changes, and then Kim doesn’t have an office so she’s going to be looking for somewhere to set up shop somewhat privately. But we shot all of that in one day with just me for about fourteen hours… it was amazing.
John Shiban directed it, and Ann Cherkis wrote it. I start with that beautiful scene where I say, “You don’t save me. I save me.” to Jimmy… But all of those phone calls were done on a single day, and the whole thing was like a pit crew. You had to change the costumes. Change the props. The post-its were a practical nightmare with names being cleared, numbers being cleared, and the colors staying the same so that they would match if you went in and out of these scenes. They would also have to be put in the same place each time, and there’s this beautiful crane shooting the scene from outside. And I have to do the phone calls over and over without a scene partner physically there. I mean, you do with the person on the other end of the phone. I actually wrote the other half of the phone calls, and I made them all different just to keep my head on straight. There’s a difference between a friend of a friend versus the dude I used to hang out with in law school or the mother of an old college friend who now works at a law firm. I wanted all of those phone calls to feel different, and that was really the only way to keep myself straight as far as the performance of it. And then if you’d turned around to see behind the crane, there’s the pit crew making it all happen. It was this beautiful circus.
ADTV: And it works so brilliantly.
RS: Oh, thank you for the compliment. One other thing I want to add about the scene is the use of the wides [wide angle lenses] and what a great call that was. These scenes are just beautiful, and they’re so much more than the extreme close-ups that TV is obsessed with right now. They’re so much more beautiful and painterly and monumental. I feel like the viewer is oddly more a part of the scene that way even though you’re physically farther from the action.
ADTV: Totally agree. I’d written a piece a while back about the cinematographer being the unsung hero of the show… It’s just amazing work. It is painterly.
RS: Yeah, I read your piece on that, and you were right. It is another character on the show. This line Arthur Albert walks… his framing… his composition… walks this fine line in being as much a part of the story as anything else and yet he’s not intrusive. I don’t watch it and get pulled out of the scene. It’s always illustrative of the narrative we’re telling.
ADTV: Another brilliant scene that I sort of consider your “money” scene for the season was the confrontation between Jimmy and Chuck at the end of the season where you’re effectively choosing a side between the two. Tell me a little about what was going on in your head while you were filming that scene.
RS: The scene confronting Chuck was maybe one of the most fun times to be on Twitter ever [laughs]. People were SCREAMING… That’s Peter Gould’s writing and directing in that one. And, of course, Michael McKean is giving a tour-de-force monologue. That whole scene and the dynamic is so complicated and constantly unfolding. I feel like a show is smart when it makes its audience feel smart, and this scene does that. You’re being asked as a viewer to keep up… I mean, on one hand, Chuck’s such an asshole for accusing Jimmy of this and the whole time you know he did do it. He’s absolutely correct, and yet you’re mad at him for saying it! And Bob’s [Odenkirk] over there brilliantly playing this guy who cannot figure out if he’s getting busted and what does Kim think and he can’t ask her otherwise he’ll get busted. I mean, I get to play this huge roller coaster of emotions in this one scene again without saying a word. It’s a very Kim moment, and I love them for protecting that part of her. I love all of the directors on the show for encouraging, inspiring, and allowing the performance that I bring to it.
Kim plays her cards very close to her chest, and I’ve never been told that I’ve got to indicate to the audience exactly what I think. I’m so glad because you do get told that sometimes… I think she hears this scam, the more details that come out, the more it sounds like something Jimmy would do. And she realizes it, knows his intentions were in the right place, but the execution is so off as usual… Playing her thought process before she spoke was as fun to me and as important to me as an actor as when she finally says something to Chuck. I spoke to Peter for a while about when she finally confronts Chuck and how it couldn’t be a yelling and screaming moment because that wouldn’t feel like a Kim moment. She makes a choice to protect [Jimmy], but there’s an absolute truth to what she’s saying to Chuck. That’s part of these multiple layers to these scenes that are so fun to play… The emotion of the scene doesn’t really happen until she gets to the car when she punches him [laughs].
ADTV: OK, one last question. When you’re not watching Better Call Saul, what are you watching?
RS: Catastrophe. Umm, I love TV. I watch so much TV. House of Cards. Peaky Blinders. I was obsessed with Togetherness on HBO and was very sad when that was cancelled. There’s so much great TV that I want to watch and just don’t have enough time.
Watch full episodes of Better Call Saul season two on amc.com. Episodes are also available on streaming content providers. Better Call Saul returns for season three in 2017.
Netflix held an FYC event last night in Hollywood celebrating Narcos. Cast members, including stars Wagner Moura (Pablo Escobar) and Boyd Holbrook (Steve Murphy), were in attendance. Producer/directorJose Padilha, executive producer/director Eric Newman, and Moura were on the Q&A panel following the screening.
Narcos takes on the Medellin cartel in Columbia, charting the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar. Moura who played the infamous druglord revealed he didn’t speak Spanish before taking on the role. Director and Producer José Padilha said, “Three months before we even scouted Colombia, he went to Medellin on his own, enlisted into a university where Pablo Escobar went and stayed there speaking Spanish for three months. When we got there, he knew how to speak Spanish, that’s what it takes.”
Of course, it’s been widely (and illegally) available online for months now, but this is your chance to legally download and own the critically acclaimed series. Labelled as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Season 1 – For Your Consideration, the entry offers high and standard definition downloads for those who haven’t yet caught the show, regardless of your Emmy voting eligibility.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend stars Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten that confused and transposed. Anyway, Rebecca briefly reconnects with summer camp fling Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) and decides to follow him across the country to West Covina, California. The series also stars Donna Lynne Champlain and Santino Fontana (Frozen).
Bloom received Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards for her title performance. She is favored to receive Emmy attention in the Comedy Actress category. It’s possible this promotion will increase the series’s Emmy viability including the deserving supporting cast of Champlain and Fontana.
Or you can just own the series and replay “West Covina…. Caaaaaalifornia!” over and over and over and over and over.
Sarah Paulson brings the trials of Marcia Clark to life in American Crime Story
Sarah Paulson is always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
That’s a vaguely offensive statement, isn’t it? I intend it with nothing but good will for this brilliant actress. It’s meant to highlight how, after four straight nominations, she has yet to finally receive an Emmy. I doubt she’s losing much sleep over this. Great actors are seldom in it for the hardware. Still, I was certain she would take home gold last year with her complex performance as Dot and Bette Tattler, the singing conjoined twins in American Horror Story: Freak Show.
I’ve come to terms with the loss some six months later. Expertly performed by Paulson, the role was probably too out there for the broad Television Academy. The same could be said for her searing work in this year’s American Horror Story cycle, Hotel, as the perpetually crying Hypodermic Sally.
But Ryan Murphy giveth and giveth again.
Paulson is certain to be Emmy nominated again for her work in Murphy’s other American production, The People V. O.J. Simpson. Here, she has the iconic role of Los Angeles prosecutor Marcia Clark and brings unexpected depth, gravitas, and pathos to the character. Where Clark was once the butt of many Simpson trial-related jokes (more on that in a bit), Paulson has effectively eliminated all of that with a single hour of television, the best hour American Crime Story has produced thus far.
Airing last night on FX, “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” is an ode to not only the trials of Marcia Clark but also the plight of all women. It was a heartbreaking hour of television. It made you feel for the woman, a woman that had to this point suffered the slings and arrows of O.J. Simpson’s defense team as much as that of a focus group gathered to discuss her perceived bitchiness. It made you understand not only what it was like to be Marcia Clark at the center of the Trial of the Century but also what it feels like for a woman. It gave the audience a dramatic reinterpretation of Marcia Clark, She Who Could Not Win.
The episode started with Clark in the midst of a difficult divorce hearing against her soon-to-be ex-husband. Having suffered through that, Clark arrives late in the courtroom and is promptly humiliated by Judge Lance Ito. Setting aside the shit she has to put up with in the courtroom, she then goes home to overhear a trashy tabloid program dissect her hair and wardrobe choices. I’m sorry, but I thought she was there to prosecute O.J. Simpson, not walk a red carpet. Shaken, Clark carries on even as boss Gil Garcetti offers the assistance of a stylist.
Yeah, her boss…
She finally decides to begin the infamous makeover, shrewdly set to Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose.” Excited and tightly permed, Clark confidently strides into court and turns all heads in the process. And not the kind of head turning she anticipated. By the time Judge Ito unprofessionally comments on her appearance, Clark is emotionally bruised and battered. Only a kind note from co-prosecutor Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) salvages the moment.
Still, it did result in this fantastic line…
“Goddamn, who turned her into Rick James?” asks a reporter.
I know that was mean, but goddamn it was funny.
Anyway, Clark continues to suffer at the hands of women and men at every turn. Perhaps the most damaging is an incredibly painful exchange with a convenience store clerk as she buys tampons. His unwarranted feedback insinuates that it would be a tough week in court thanks to her cycle. After Clark is faced with the betrayal of her first husband (he sold nude photos to a tabloid), she mentally collapses in the courtroom, erupting into tears. What’s meant as an act of kindness by Judge Ito is the ultimate insult: he calls court in recess to allow the one strong woman in the room to collect herself.
And Sarah Paulson conveys it all with style and amazing skill. Gone is the cock-sure early season Clark interpretation, the one you knew had to collapse but never this painfully. What replaces it is Paulson’s dramatization of Clark’s public unravelling. Her performance in “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” may be the finest acting she’s ever done on television. I’m not even talking about the meltdown scenes, which were of course very convincing. I’m talking about the pensive looks into the mirror, the massaging of her long curly hair, the undeniable joy at trying something new, and the heartbreaking humiliation of knowing they’re all laughing at you.
When Sarah Paulson looks in the mirror and twists those famed curls, I’m reminded of Meryl Streep’s great performance in The Bridges of Madison County where twists of a dress and a shy hand on the back of her neck conveyed repressed longing. But, here in American Crime Story, similar movements on Paulson’s part convey shattering insecurities and the pressure of being a working woman on an international stage. Sarah Paulson gently eviscerates the steely exterior of Marcia Clark and reveals the crushed woman inside.
When Marcia Clark erupts into tears at the end of the episode, it represents the cries of everyone – both women and men – who have suffered such complete humiliation. It is the most relatable and honest moment thus far in the great FX miniseries. Sarah Paulson deserves the Emmy this year now more than ever because she was able to give us new perspectives on a woman we thought we knew so well via courtroom cameras. Turns out, we didn’t know her at all. She’s just like millions of women facing the same struggles at home and at the workplace every day.
Television Academy, please make this Sarah Paulson’s year.
Some of the most memorable television episodes from the past year are dramas dressed in comedy clothing or feature twists and turns no one could see coming.
Here are my 10 favorite TV episodes of 2015:
10. “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” Inside Amy Schumer
While this particular episode was a little derivative of the focus group sketch from 2014, it drove its point home about sexism by featuring typically “unattractive” character actors like Paul Giamatti, John Hawkes, and Jeff Goldblum, and taking its classic premise beyond the sketch format.
9. “The Truth” Wayward Pines
The episode where the reality behind the town of Wayward Pines is revealed and everyone’s minds both on and off screen get blown. I feel like I’ve said too much already.
8. “The End” Parks & Recreation
We see the futures of every life Leslie Knope touches, from April and Andy’s domestic bliss to Jerry’s long and happy life. Plus, the show coyly hints at Knope’s fruitful political career. It was a happy ending for everyone, and you couldn’t have imagined it concluding any other way.
7. “Parents” Master of None
Master of None is an uneven 10 episodes, but when it’s on, it’s on. While “Indians on TV” is the episode everyone talks about, “Parents” is a heartfelt and heartbreaking look at family that spans cultures, generations, and highlights Aziz Ansari’s dad as a breakout star.
6. “Person to Person” Mad Men
There were many theories about how AMC’s juggernaut would end, and as it turned out, Don Draper was one of the brains behind one of the most iconic commercials in history. “Person to Person” refers to the phone calls Don makes in the episode, including that to his daughter, to Betty, and to Peggy. But it also describes how quickly this finale spread into a viral phenomenon.
While I won’t soon forget Forrest MacNeil having Mile High sex in front of his son or starting a cult in his father’s backyard, the one episode I always go back to in season 2 of Review is this one, which introduces us to Forrest’s best (imaginary) friend Clovers, who meets an untimely and violent demise.
4. “eps1.5br4ve-trave1er.asf” Mr. Robot
In “eps1.5br4ve-trave1er.asf,” Elliot (Rami Malek) spends most of this episode trying to free Fernando Vera from prison, in order to save Shayla’s life. While many people might remember the Sound and Color scene from the final episode as the quintessential moment of the series, the final scene in this episode is the one where I knew I was hooked on finding out how Mr. Robot would turn out.
3. “The Word” Black-ish
This episode came along when we truly needed a laugh in a racially charged year. Jack (Miles Brown), the youngest member of the Johnson clan, drops the N bomb during his talent show rendition of Kanye West’s “Golddigger,” and it opens up a whole can of worms about the use of the word. Not only was this episode hilarious, but it also encouraged a thoughtful discussion.
2. “Knockoffs” Broad City
Just as Black-ish yielded thoughtful discussion of the N word, Comedy Central’s Broad City penetrated cable with commentary on “pegging.” Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) finally lands a dream date with Jeremy (Stephen Schneider). . .and he wants her to wear a strap-on. Plus, this episode features Susie Essman and an epic underground twerk sequence from Ilana Glazer. It may have been called “Knockoffs,” but this episode is legit.
1. “LCD Soundsystem” You’re the Worst
I typically don’t look to comedies for my favorite dramatic moments of the season, but Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) face at the end of this episode is one of the best emotional sequences of the year. The title of this episode refers to the band that family-man Justin Kirk’s character references while hitting on Gretchen with his wife Lexi (Tara Summers) in the next room. Gretchen loves the idea of seeing a perfect family, and when Rob makes a pass at her, this crushes her belief and her already dwindling spirit.
Yes, I did manage to construct a Top Ten list of what I was able to consume within the calendar year, but it wasn’t drawn from a wholistic compilation of what I wanted to see in 2015. Mr. Robot. Hannibal. Jessica Jones. Man in the High Castle. Review. Making a Murderer. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The Knick. Narcos. Homeland. Difficult People. These are all shows that I either completely missed or managed a few early episodes before falling behind thanks to other commitments. There’s little I can say other than the same thing everybody always says – there are simply not enough hours in the day. It’s sad. But true.
Before I jump to my Top Ten, here are a few Honorable Mentions that, for one reason or another, didn’t quite make the final ten. These are all fantastic shows in their own right, but there were just ten others seemed to fit better. This is not an exact science, after all. These wonderful shows include Bates Motel (special shout out to the fantastic and criminally ignored Vera Farmiga), Master of None, Parks & Recreation, Silicon Valley, and Veep.
And, with that, here are my top television shows of 2015.
10. Schitt’s Creek
I will be the first to admit to being a little lukewarm on this bizarre comic confection that airs on the Pop network, but, sometimes, these things grow on you as the series progresses. And this one did because it frankly got better as it went along. Stars Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, and Dan Levy evolved their riches-to-rags characters from their one-note beginnings into strange and often hilarious entities. Schitt’s Creek deserves better than it’s gotten from Pop, from critics, and from awards bodies. Check it out.
9. 7 Days in Hell
HBO’s mocumentary about the longest tennis match in history blew me away on first viewing with its completely out-there comedy stylings. Andy Samberg and Kit Harrington make a great pair of rivals who go to great lengths to out match the other. With pitch-perfect narration by Jon Hamm and a gonzo cameo by Michael Sheen, Hell is so good that it appears to have come from the comedy loins of Christopher Guest. That’s the highest compliment I can pay it.
Netflix’s Marvel series wasn’t on anyone’s quality radar one year ago today, largely due to the pop culture damage done to the property by Ben Affleck’s version in the early 2000’s. Yet, about three episodes into it, the comparisons between the TV series and the much-maligned film version were completely out the window. Netflix’s version is graphic, brutal, intelligent, and as well acted as any prestige drama. The impending second season is high on my must-see list as it presumably broadens the series mythology beyond its origin-story confines.
This second season of FX’s midwestern oddity crime drama went back in time to tell an origin story of sorts as it explored a cataclysmic crime event that influenced the first season. Stars Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, Kirsten Dunst, and MVP Jean Smart were all given strong characters to inhabit as we slowly dug into the twisted crime story that included tangents to UFO sightings and Ronald Reagan. Sadly, the series could not keep the momentum to the end and flubbed the landing thanks to a too-abrupt denouement and a disappointing final episode. Still, when it cooked, Fargo was cooking with gas.
HBO’s one-man event was probably as difficult to make as it was to sit through. Focusing on a single man who murders his mother in the first 3 minutes, the film carries vague homages to Tennessee Williams and melodramas of the 1950s. You could easily spend hours analyzing the amazing set design, but you would be ignoring its best attribute – the stellar performance from David Oyelowo who manages to find our sympathies within the madness.
5. Game of Thrones
HBO’s Emmy-winning masterpiece admittedly felt a little disorganized and uneven this season, but, to me, it hardly mattered. When it flew, it flew as high as Daenerys’ manic dragon. There were a dozen highly memorable sequences that encompassed a menagerie of human (and inhuman) experiences. Basically, no one does it better than David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
I went into Louie‘s fifth season relatively unaware of the show’s shaggy dog charms. I’ve never been a huge fan of Louie C.K. before, so I was completely blown away when I realized how incredibly funny, smart, and true to life this series actually was. It’s not the kind of show that wins popular acclaim, and that’s totally fine with me. Louie C.K. is using his series to talk about topics normally foreign to the average sitcom. And this is far from your average sitcom.
3. The Jinx
Netflix’s Making a Murderer may have stolen its thunder, but the world collectively held its breath when The Jinx finished its six-episode run last spring. No matter what you think about director Andrew Jarecki’s tactics in constructing his case against potentially disturbed millionaire Robert Durst, the filmmaking craft on display is unmistakeable. Jarecki walks us through the various cases beat by beat with equal measures style and substance. It’s a fantastic series that isn’t easily rivaled.
2. The Affair
Showtime’s adult drama was unfairly ignored by the Emmy’s last summer, but that’s not why I continue to hold the series so close to my heart. If season one was about the passion of the affair, then season two is about its immediate aftermath. By expanding the narrative to include four character perspectives, the series has deepened its impact as it explores the process of writing, parenting, mothers, and divorce. You know, basically, the bedrock of the American experience. Here’s hoping the Television Academy gets its head out of its ass and at least recognizes second season MVP Maura Tierney who so brilliantly captured the evolution of a woman scorned.
If you’re looking for what I value most in a television show, then it’s found in the show’s ability to surprise me and show me aspects of the human experience I haven’t seen before. Transparent does that better than any television show on the air today. Not only does it cover the transgender experience, but it also gives us deep insight into the Jewish culture (and an important distinction – it’s not a cartoonish viewpoint of Judaism), the feminist movement, and the damaged children of damaged parents. The cast is uniformly fantastic, and I could go back and re-watch the second season multiple times to catch all their subtle nuances. The cast and writers make it look effortless, and that’s the hardest thing to do when constructing a television show.
My top ten list features a lot of new comedic shows. Perhaps I just wanted to laugh in 2015? I was also attracted to a lot of shows on streaming platforms, and only one major network comedy landed a slot.
10. Catastrophe (Amazon)
Unlike juggernaut Transparent, this small Amazon romance is the little comedy that could. Centering on the unplanned pregnancy between an Irish schoolteacher and an American businessman (played by creators Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney), Catastrophe reminds us that there is such a thing as a good romantic comedy. They are not all stinkers. The chemistry between the two leads is natural and realistic without being hokey and contrived. It’s only 6 episodes, so it’s an easy binge.
9. 7 Days in Hell (HBO)
Almost nothing made me laugh out loud more riotously than this HBO tennis odyssey. It mocks documentary and sports commentary, and nothing is funnier than an unplanned, bisexual orgy on a tennis court during a live tennis match. Kit Harrington should be considered for other comedic material.
8. The Muppets (ABC)
I might be a closeted Muppets apologist (out and proud, perhaps?), but I don’t see anything wrong with this new take on the beloved felt characters. Sure, it is a bit jarring to see our favorite Jim Henson creations sipping a beer after work, but a lot of the episodes have actually developed the characters beyond what the movies have shown us.
7. Master of None (Netflix)
Just when you thought this Aziz Ansari show was a simple romantic comedy, he changes it up on you. The pilot feels more like a standard rom-com, but each episode is its own little movie with Master’s characters opening up their feelings about different topics and themes. The show is strongest when it’s dealing with family, modern sexual conduct, and friendships. It also surprises us by revealing Ansari as a capable actor.
6. Fargo (FX)
Even though I never turned into the first season of this acclaimed FX drama, I was drawn in by the cast that included Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Ted Danson and Jean Smart for the second time around. It may not have ended with a totally satisfying finale, but the first three fourths of the season is excellent and meticulously produced.
5. Wayward Pines (FOX)
This FOX mystery was easily the best show of the summer, and it was a pleasant surprise that it didn’t stray into totally unbelievable territory. Starring a top-notch cast that included Matt Dillon, Melissa Leo, Toby Jones and an excellent Hope Davis, Wayward kept audiences engrossed with its strange plot, kooky characters and paranoid tone. This show was 10 episodes of creepy perfection, and it’s a shame that it’s coming back for a second season. It ended so perfectly, and I’m afraid it’s going to turn into the next overcooked summer show after Under the Dome.
4. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
My love for Kimmy has lasted all year, and, by Dong, I will not apologize! NBC must be kicking itself for passing on one of the most joyous, lovable, and bingeable shows of 2015. Hashbrown no filter.
3. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO)
No other season finale blew my mind like HBO’s The Jinx did. Through six tight, stylish episodes, we are presented with the case against real estate icon Robert Durst and the crimes that have surrounded his life. Situations are recreated and dramatized by director Andrew Jarecki, and Durst was involved with the entire interview process. In the finale, Durst’s microphone is left on, and what he utters will chill you to the bone. No dramatic television is as terrifying as the possible truth.
2. Transparent (Amazon)
The second season of Jill Soloway’s trangender family drama couldn’t possibly be better than the groundbreaking first, right? Wrong. Soloway has managed to expand the world of the Pfeffermans to allow Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura to become a piece in a complex tapestry of dysfunction. The children really shine in these episodes, and Amy Landecker especially knocks it out of the park as Sarah, the oldest and most confused child.
1. Difficult People (Hulu)
There isn’t a show this season that I was more delighted to tune into than Hulu’s Difficult People. It’s not a groundbreaking or relevant show, but it made me laugh more than anything else this year. Starring creator Julie Klausner and internet sensation Billy Eichner, Difficult allows its characters to say what you’ve always been thinking to those boneheads in your everyday life. It’s Will & Grace off their meds and with harsher insults. New York City is a place where people go to live out their dreams, but Julie and Billy are two people who haven’t achieved the success they’ve wanted and deserved in the Big Apple. Full of fun side characters (including the delightfully bitchy Cole Escola) and pop culture one liners that puts Scream Queens to shame, Difficult People is my favorite show of the season because it’s that bitter kid that you can gossip about everyone else with.
Editor’s Note: While we always encourage our readers to listen to the Water Cooler podcast, we realize many of you have much competition for your entertainment time during the holiday season. As such, we are including abbreviated versions of our individual Top Ten lists on the site. The podcast is where it’s at though. Enjoy!
According to my list, it was a good year for Fox (well, at least the beginning of the year), Comedy Central, and Lifetime. Here are my 10 favorite shows of 2015:
10. Empire (Season 1) and Last Man On Earth (Season 1)
Even though their second seasons aren’t as illustrious, both of these shows experienced top-notch first seasons, transcending genre and expectations.
Lifetime is typically known for two-hour movies starring the likes of Meredith Baxter or Nancy McKeon, so this sudsy summer show came as a surprise. Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby star in this show about the behind-the-scenes of Everlasting, a Bachelor-esque reality show. This show has sex, murder. . .and naturally, a second season.
8. The Jinx
It’s sensational storytelling, but it’s good sensational storytelling. While it might not be as thorough as Netflix’s Making a Murderer, it’s more entertaining.
7. Parks & Recreation
Of course this show would go out on top with a finale that does in comedy what Six Feet Under did in drama. And they didn’t even need to humblebrag about it.
You won’t find a better cast on television. And even if you pick a favorite, you feel bad for not singling out another actor, the bench is that deep. Now if only it would have stuck the landing.
5. Another Period
While Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp got a lot of attention in 2015, this show was more reminiscent of the comedy Wet Hot performed back in 2001. Sometimes icky (Garfield’s rape scene), but always absurd and hilarious (Christina Hendricks’ character is simply known as “Chair”).
4. You’re the Worst
The best show you’re not watching went deep this season with Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) struggle with depression. And yes, it was on the same network as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League (not that that’s a bad thing!). The show’s leads are great, but its supporting players often steal the spotlight. Give Kether Donohue, who plays the spoiled-but-affable wifey Lindsay, any award there is to give. She deserves it.
3. Wayward Pines
Some may have missed this Fox show over the summer, which is good because maybe they don’t yet know the big spoiler. The only bad thing about this show is that it’s getting a season 2. It’s perfect just the way it is with season 1.
2. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
NBC famously passed on this show, but did air Mr. Robinson and Truth Be Told in 2015, so clearly UKS didn’t fit with the network’s current Must-See lineup of crap. Ellie Kemper is a delight, and Tituss Burgess is a revelation. Can’t wait for season 2!
It’s the Breaking Bad of comedy. This Comedy Central series has drama (Forrest blackmails his new girlfriend. . .because he *has* to), heartbreak (Suzanne is remarrying as a-hole!), and edge-of-your-seat thrills (will he be able to perform a William Tell on his son?). Never has a show been so absurd and yet complicated with human emotion. All it takes to right his wrongs is a simple “no,” but Forrest’s ego dictates all of his decisions. Five stars.
“Dramedy” is a term thrown around a lot when it comes to television, especially when it comes to deciding whether emotionally versatile shows like Orange is the New Black, Transparent, and Jane the Virgin are one or the other. The fact of the matter is that today’s TV isn’t as black and white as it used to be when it comes to comedy versus drama.
In the past, TV comedies had to roll out “A Very Special Episode” in order to do something more dramatic, but now, they tend to weave in powerful moments more seamlessly, and an excellent example of this is on FXX’s You’re the Worst.
The ironic thing is that FXX is a network that’s supposed to be geared toward comedy, a run-off of the FX franchise and their ever-increasingly-crowded lineup. And yet YTW is doing (and has been doing even last season) some really emotionally advanced plotlines, despite being a show that’s supposed to—and does!—make you laugh.
The first example is Edgar, played affably by Desmin Borges. Edgar is a young veteran who’s dealing with PTSD, which sounds like something you’d see on Emmy’s former Best Drama winner Homeland. In Season Two, he deals with his anxiety and insomnia by enrolling in an improv group, which actually can be a form of therapy.
Edgar is the absolute heart of the show, and strangely enough, the most optimistic of the four main characters despite having gone through so much. Borges plays Edgar as a wide-eyed little boy at points, an interesting take on post-war life considering that most soldiers played out on TV and movies are jaded and angry.
Edgar’s counterpart (and crush) is Lindsay, played brilliantly by Kether Donohue. While Donohue is mostly known for her voice-over work, she’s a physical force to be reckoned with on YTW, stealing every scene she’s in. Lindsay is a young divorcee, whose learning how to live life on her own for the very first time. She’s like Bambi walking across ice, but with wing sauce all over her face.
She’s needy, superficial, but you can’t help rooting for her. In the most recent Sunday Funday Halloween-themed episode, Lindsay’s run-in with a character in a haunted house inspires her to take control of her life. The final scene of the episode, with Lindsay returning to her own haunted house with a determined look on her face, makes this character more than just a supporting player with a one-note joke. Lindsay might be considered a classic stereotype of a Millennial, but she has depth.
In addition to these plotlines, You’re the Worst also has been tackling mental illness this season, with Gretchen (Aya Cash) revealing to Jimmy (Chris Geere) that she’s clinically depressed and that there’s nothing he can do about it but accept it and try not to fix her. This is quite the departure from 20 years ago when sitcoms would wrap-up “very special” storylines by the end of the episode, with the disturbance never to be heard of again.
It’s great to see that characters in comedies don’t have to be flat anymore, that they can deal with real-life problems just like their dramatic counterparts. There’s no confusion over whether YTW is a comedy, so if Emmy voters are watching, they should definitely know where to put Edgar and Lindsay on their ballot next year.