I lost the television battle of 2015.

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. RobotHannibalJessica JonesMan in the High CastleReviewMaking a MurdererJonathan Strange and Mr. NorrellThe KnickNarcosHomelandDifficult 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 NoneParks & RecreationSilicon 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.

8. Daredevil

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.

7. Fargo

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.

6. Nightingale

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.

4. Louie

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.

1. Transparent

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.

9. Unreal

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.

6. Fargo

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!

1. Review

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.

Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris has died over at NBC. There will be no service, nor there much sympathy from this writer, because I was never a fan of this attempt to revive the variety series. On paper this looked like a surefire hit. Neil Patrick Harris can sing and dance his way out of a paper bag, but this might have been too tricky for the Emmy winner to handle. He can revive a Broadway rock musical, but it appears the Twitter generation isn’t interested in a revival of a somewhat traditional variety show.

My love for NPH used to be very strong. Friends know why I have fallen out of love with Mr. Harris (I won’t go into it), but he’s a consistent television hosting presence. The variety show is a long dead and underappreciated medium. For those who have entertainment ADD, the variety show is a perfect way to spend 44 minutes. There’s singing! There’s sketch comedy! Want a dance number? Sure, we can do that!

If you’re still skeptical after all that potential content, Best Time Ever boasted a bevy of celebrity guest stars. Imagine my surprise when Reese Witherspoon showed up as the weekly celebrity announcer in the pilot episode. This Oscar-winner was clearly looking to have a good time in between prestige film projects, but that’s when I noticed something. Best Time Ever is all about Neil Patrick Harris. I get it—he’s the host, but it always felt like he was slightly shoving his celebrity in your face. The show was like being invited to a birthday pool party—except you had to spend the entire time watching the birthday boy jump off the high dive and applaud while doing so.

Surely, Mr. Harris was looking to bring a new experience to the small screen, but, alas, it didn’t work. It was too jumbled and undefined. There were moments where he brought “regular people” up on stage, and revealed to them that he had been following them around for days. Don’t worry. It’s not stalking when it’s all for good fun—and pitiful ratings. This should have been joyous, raucous and fun. Instead it was awkward and self-serving. I’ve had a better time at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

When favorite TV series end, the most fervid fans often ask themselves this question: “What other show can I latch onto to fill this void?”

We’re in the Golden Age of television, so even though cultural phenomena like Mad Men ended this year, there’s surely another great drama just around the corner (or already on television, Hulu, Netflix, whatever).

The same cannot be said for E!’s The Soup. When the network revealed in late November that they would not be bringing back Joel McHale and company for episodes in 2016, I asked myself what show I could watch to supplement my weekly dose of reality television and snark, and nothing came to mind.

Sure, there have been copycats (remember Danielle Fishel on Style Network’s The Dish or Chris Hardwick on Web Soup?), but none of these shows lasted because they deviated from what was most crucial to the success of The Soup: biting commentary on the ridiculousness of television. For even though we are in the Golden Age of TV, we also live in an age where Keeping Up with the Kardashians has aired more episodes than critical darlings like 30 Rock (150 to 138).

In many ways, The Soup was a part of the checks-and-balances of the TV world. The networks were the “lawmakers,” or the ones that would greenlight crap like Bad Girls’ Club and Wives with Knives, while The Soup was part of the judicial branch, the people to shake our shoulders and remind us that we had just watched a two-hour block of shows about storage units.

While reality television isn’t as potent as it was 10 or 15 years ago, when Survivor dominated the ratings, it’s more superfluous now. If you do have cable, you can’t change the channel without coming across some sort of reality programming, and The Soup crawled these channels for the worst (Finding Bigfoot), the so-sexually-suggestive-you-can’t-look-away (Gold Rush Alaska), and the blink-and-you-miss-it moments (Spaghetti Cat?).

Tosh.0 may be the closest thing to filling the void, but it doesn’t have the heart of The Soup. After all, when The Soup was supposed to air the night of the Paris terrorist attack, they canceled. In 2008, when Heath Ledger died, they told the paparazzi to leave him and his family alone. For as much poking and prodding as they did to celebrities, they also were respectful of reality.

The Soup was also the one show on E! to keep the network legitimate and real. If you’ve ever caught E! News, you know that it really should be called Kardashian News or Why is this News?. The Soup was the one show that never pandered to the aura of celebrity. Now, without this show on the network, E! has officially cultivated a world of vapid men and women and botched plastic surgery. There’s no counterbalance. Even Chelsea Handler is gone.

I suppose that The Soup was going to end soon anyway, especially since most people don’t have cable anymore, and if you don’t have cable, you’re not able to know these reality TV references or even watch the damn program on E!. So maybe the end of The Soup is the end of an era.

Unfortunately, we’ll still be overrun by unnecessary reality shows. We just won’t have anyone to dish with about it.

The Fall 2015 TV season is here, and we’re predicting which shows will win over audiences, which ones will leave people on the fence, and which ones will leave them reminded of Fox’s Utopia (Fall 2014’s first cancelled show).

Here’s a look at the good, the bad, and the early candidates for ADTV Death Watch 2015.

What Will Thrive

Show Network Cast/Plot Reason
Code Black CBS This medical drama follows an understaffed and overcrowded emergency room in Los Angeles. Stars Marcia Gay Harden. CBS thrives on medical and cop dramas. And this is definitely in that wheelhouse.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend CW A musical/comedy about a woman (Rachel Bloom) who moves to California to be with the high school boyfriend who dumped her. With the success of Jane the Virgin, CW is on a roll. And early buzz says they may have another hit on their hands.
The Man in the High Castle Amazon An alternate history of the world if the Axis powers would have won World War II. The January pilot was the most-watched episode in the history of Amazon programming.
Quantico ABC It’s “How to Get Away with Terrorism,” following a group of FBI recruits, one of which masterminded a terrorist attack. Early reviews says it is very Shonda Rhimes-esque. And that’s never a bad thing.
Red Oaks Amazon A young tennis player works at a country club during the summer between college years in the 1980s. David Gordon Green of Eastbound & Down directs. This could be a sleeper hit.  
The Player NBC A group of rich people gamble on whether a team can stop crime. Stars Wesley Snipes. If people are crazy enough to make a James Spader show a hit, they’re crazy enough to make this Wesley Snipes series a watercooler show.
Scream Queens Fox A sorority is terrorized by a murderer. Stars Emma Roberts, Ariana Grande, Jamie Lee Curtis, and anyone else who’s ever met Ryan Murphy. This series mixes two other successful Ryan Murphy show ideas: Glee and American Horror Story. It looks like scary fun!


What Will Be on the Bubble

Show Network Cast/Plot Reason
Blood & Oil ABC It’s a soap opera in Williston, N.D., and stars Don Johnson as an oil tycoon. With Revenge now over, ABC needs a sudsy drama for fans to gravitate to. This could be it.
Blindspot NBC A naked tattooed lady is found in Time Square and her body offers clues to crimes. NBC may keep this show around because of similarities to the network’s only other hit show: The Black List.
Grandfathered Fox John Stamos plays a man who finds out he has a son. . .and a granddaughter. John Stamos plus a cute kid usually means gold. Well, ‘80s/early ‘90s gold.
The Grinder Fox Rob Lowe stars as a former TV star who was on a lawyer show called The Grinder. This is Rob Lowe’s first major TV role since he left Parks & Recreation, so it, lit-ra-lly, has to be somewhat good, right?
Life in Pieces CBS CBS’ answer to Modern Family, starring Dianne Wiest, James Brolin, and Colin Hanks. It’s a little like Modern Family. AND The Slap, with its unique multiple POV format.
Wicked City ABC Set in 1982, it’s about two LA detectives trying to track down two romantically linked serial killers. It has an interesting premise, and it’s an anthology series. But can it be as good as its premise?


What Will Die a Horrible Death(Watch)

Show Network Cast/Plot Reason
Bastard Executioner FX Sons of Anarchy’s Kurt Sutter created this series about a knight who wants to lay down his weapon, until he gets the executioner’s sword. Reviews have been pretty bad. And with an SOA spin-off coming, maybe some Sutter fans will just wait until that one comes out.
Best Time Ever NBC It’s Neil Patrick Harris’ hour-long variety show. It’s an hour-long variety show. And it’s 2015.
Dr. Ken ABC Based on Ken Jeong’s previous career as a doctor, this sitcom stars and is created by the actor/comedian. Ken Jeong is hilarious, but might work best with the right people to play off of. Imagine a Community spin-off of just Chang.
Heroes Reborn NBC A reboot of the NBC superhero show that went off the air in 2010. . . .that no one was asking for.
Limitless CBS A TV show based on the Bradley Cooper movie from 2011. A man takes a pill that makes him infinitely smarter. Was this movie notable enough to be made into a TV show?
The Muppets ABC It’s a behind-the-scenes look at The Muppets, told documentary style. This is, like, the third time ABC has tried to reboot The Muppets in some capacity. And this series is more divisive in reception than the others.
Minority Report Fox A reboot of Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi film starring Stark Sands and Meagan Good. It’s basically nothing like the film. The pre-cog program has been abolished and now pre-cogs are in hiding because of their special abilities.
Rosewood Fox Stars Morris Chestnut as a private pathologist who also has a heart condition where he will probably die before he hits 40. The previews make it look like Dexter, if it were boring. So basically, the last season of Dexter.
Supergirl CBS Melissa Benoist stars as Supergirl, cousin to Superman, who must learn to embrace her newfound powers. The super-long preview makes it look like a romantic comedy. Think: Marvel’s Manhattan Love Story.
Truth Be Told NBC Follows the lives of diverse couples and their feelings on everything from sex to race relations.Stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tone Bell, Bresha Webb, and Vanessa Lachey. NBC looks to be still seeking the next Friends. And this still ain’t it.

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
Available on Amazon Instant Video, On Demand, and iTunes

American Experience: Walt Disney
Available on iTunes, DVD, and PBS.com

I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere in eastern North Carolina. With the closest friend some 15 miles away, television quickly became my lifelong companion. Sure, there were hours spent running through fields of corn and wheat with my dog at my side, but one can only really take about two hours of that. But television provided hours and hours of pure pleasure, particularly when my parents bought a satellite dish – one of those big SETI-like things – which opened my worldview significantly. I obsessed over thousands of films and shows available to me, not the least of which was the early days of The Disney Channel. I’m talking about the days it used to show non-stop hours of classic Disney cartoons over today’s pre-teen focused entertainment/garbage.

Aside from television, I was also obsessed with blossoming technology. Being five, I was quickly the first one in the house to master said satellite dish and, more importantly, my Atari 2600. That led to my Nintendo which led to my Game Boy which led to my first PC which led to my iPod and iPhone and iPad and Macbook etc, etc, etc.

You see where I’m going with this by now, I hope.

Given my relatively isolated upbringing, Walt Disney and, later, Steve Jobs were two men I would never meet, yet they had a profound impact on my life and the lives of billions of others worldwide. It is most likely entirely coincidental that documentaries about these two visionaries and undeniable geniuses were released in the same month. The parallels between the two men are slim at best, yet they still both shared a significant mix of traits: inherent within their significant contributions to American and, eventually, the worldwide culture were wide streaks of aggressively unpleasant – near monstrous – traits. To their credit, neither documentary hides from the unfortunate truths of both men, but neither really paints a completely vivid portrait of their subject. It is difficult to condense a full life – all of its joys, its shortcomings, and its stark and unflattering truths – into a 2 or 4-hour film, and, like many fictional biopics are accused of doing, both documentaries ultimately feel like a series of “greatest hits” from which we learn very little.

Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine begins with the death of Apple’s co-founder and ultimate CEO in 2011. Gibney includes a montage of people reacting to the death, and his narration takes on an almost alien feeling as he clearly feels disconnected from the actions of those he films. He asks, “Why are so many people crying over a man they never even knew?” Thus, the central question of the documentary becomes, given Jobs’s equally pervasive reputation as a creative genius and complete asshole, why do people weep openly for who Gibney and others consider an at best cruel and at worst dangerous man.

Gibney spends an hour and a half on the growth of Jobs from his much-publicized and discussed adoption and upbringing by doting parents to his near half-year pilgrimage to India to his ultimate development of the machine that would become the first Apple computer. This part of the story is the part we’re most familiar with given the hundreds of times the story has been recanted in various profiles and films. There is as much time dedicated to his professional triumphs as to his personal disasters, including his poor treatment of friend and partner Steve Wozniak and the outright rejection of his biological daughter, Lisa. Yet, one thing remains abundantly clear about this version of Steve Jobs: he was at this stage in his life an immature and spoiled brat. He was a boy in a man’s body – at once eager for the success and limelight that great men earn but unable to adapt to the requirements of being a man.

After phasing through Jobs’s tenure at the struggling Next, Gibney shifts his focus to Jobs’s great second act as the CEO of Apple, and it’s this section of the documentary that I personally find the most problematic. To be fair, there is an intense amount of detail to cover in the last 10 years of Jobs’s life that no half hour of a 2-hour documentary could possibly cover it all. Yet, Gibney spent the earlier portion of the film providing a fair and balanced account of the man Steve Jobs before rushing to the end by highlighting only the most outwardly negative aspects of the late Jobs. Here, instead of focusing on Jobs’s nurturing of Pixar, the iMac, the iPod, or the iPhone, Gibney continues down the well-trodden path of “Steve was a hard man to work for.” We’re also treated to an exploration of Jobs’s involvement in back-dating of stock options and of his involvement in the Foxconn tragedies. It’s not that I minded including these facts in the documentary – hell, I lived through them, so it was nothing new to me. It’s that Gibney so obviously omitted much of what made late phase Steve Jobs even greater than the early phase. He does develop one fascinating theory about Jobs’s desire to make personal computing more personal and, by doing so, pushes people farther away from each other. That is something I wanted more of, but in the end, Gibney is never able to answer his own question as to why so many people wept when Steve Jobs died. I have my own opinions on the matter, but they were always my own and not anything I developed based on Gibney’s presentation. To answer that question, you need more information, more information than Gibney provides, and I highly recommend you read Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. It is what I consider to be the definitive work on the man and the monster.

The American Experience: Walt Disney documentary is roughly twice the size of Gibney’s Jobs doc, but I found it no more successful. Being a self-proclaimed Disney nerd, this one was the more bitter pill to swallow. This is the documentary that told me more about Disney’s dark side than I think I was ready to accept. But more on that later…

Disney is a more traditional documentary than Gibney’s work. It starts in the early days of Disney’s life and moves along beat by beat through his years as a struggling animator, through his struggles relating to his father, through his early successes with Oswald the Rabbit, and ultimately through his revelation in Mickey Mouse. The first two hours are largely dedicated to Disney’s creation of what is considered to be the Big Five in early motion picture animation – Snow White and the Seven DwarfsBambiDumboFantasia, and Pinocchio. This section is an animation fans wet dream, and, although I knew much of the detail here, it is still well presented in an accessible and beautiful presentation. What I didn’t know as much about was Disney’s penchant for nastiness, bordering on hatefulness. He built an animation empire but built it in a sort of a sexist caste system where men held the power positions, privileges and income while women were largely relegated to the painful cell painting process where they literally went blind for roughly 10 percent of what men were making.

When the animators complained, an incensed Disney held a company meeting where he effectively justified his system, claiming those who worked hard reaped the rewards. If you didn’t make enough money, then you weren’t good enough to justify the salary. Excerpts from his speech are included in the film, and it’s as hateful and ugly as anything in the Jobs piece. And it gets worse from there. After the animators began to strike in support of an animator’s union, he lashes out against them – eventually engaging in fisticuffs with the animator who brought Goofy to life. Walt’s brother, Roy, eventually brought the strike to an end, but Walt felt betrayed and disillusioned by this new system of fairness. He then testified in front of the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) about those who helped bring about the strike and claimed them to be communists. He later repeated the same communist theory when the NAACP and prominent African Americans picketed the Atlanta premiere of his controversial Song of the South. When we finally reach the creation of Disneyland, a little joy comes back into the Disney image, but you’re never unaware of the misery inside the man that brought joy to so many. According to American Experience‘s portrait, Walt Disney, the human being, bore little resemblance to Walt Disney, the public persona.

Like Jobs, Disney had significant father issues, something he tried to work out through Mary Poppins and something covered significantly in the film Saving Mr. Banks. But unlike Jobs, Disney tried to hide his darker side from the world by frequently going on self-imposed exiles when reality became too difficult. This naturally contrasts with Steve Jobs who seemed to wear his negative qualities on his left sleeve with his undisputed genius on his right sleeve. Both documentaries spent a lot of time combing through the dichotomy of two geniuses who weren’t necessarily great people, but does being a monster preclude you from being a genius? I don’t personally think so, I work with very difficult and very smart people all the time. In the end, neither documentary offers a robust enough perspective on either subject to give the casual viewer the whole truth. They both raise the concern of their monstrous temperaments but never try to wrestle with the implications of doing so. American Experience‘s biggest crime is that it ultimately becomes a rather one-note and rushed take on Walt Disney that single-handedly focuses on the personal failures of the man. Alex Gibney’s take on Steve Jobs commits a much bigger sin by failing to answer its own questions.

Neither man is beyond reproach, of course, so that isn’t my objection here. Yet, if you’re going to explore the personas of two men who have arguably changed the way we interact with entertainment and pop culture today, then you’d damn well better do it in a fair and balanced way. Neither documentary does that, in my opinion.

The legacies of Walt Disney and Steve Jobs deserve better.



It was an ugly moment. It was the kind of moment that, however quickly it passed by, you knew instantly that it would stir controversy thanks to the unfortunate truth it uncovered. And it has, deservedly so.

On last night’s Season Four premiere of HBO’s Project Greenlight, the judging panel tasked with selecting the right person to direct their broad romantic comedy script – Not Another Pretty Woman – started to discuss their favorites within the top ten directors. The conversation was genial and professional. They discussed the screenplay and their desire to select someone who would bring out the best in the clearly underdeveloped work. Hopefully they were also looking for someone to rework that awful title.

And then it happened.

Here’s the situation. Line producer Effie Brown advocated for Leo and Kristen, a white woman and a Vietnamese man, anticipating they would bring sensitivity and the delicate handling required for one of the script’s female characters – Harmony, a black prostitute. She very eloquently urged her producing partners to think about selecting a more diverse director who would consider such issues in their interpretation of the script. Matt Damon interrupted her, reminding Brown that Leo and Kristen were the only two who fully embraced the script as is. And then he said this…

“And when we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show… Do you want the best director?”

Yeah… Effie Brown reacted professionally, but even she was taken aback by the display.

I did not include the scene in my immediate review of the episode, and that bothered me all day. I had a few very specific reasons for excluding it. I didn’t have an advanced copy of the episode, so it was late last night when I finished watching it. I was lucky to bang out my review as quickly as I did. The scene wasn’t the kind of water cooler moment you want to react to quickly. Thanks to the “now-ness” of the Internet, reactions all have to be instantaneous these days, leaving little time for contemplation or reflection. Given the powder keg nature of the scene, reflection and thoughtfulness would only contribute positively to the overall conversation.

So I chose to wait it out. To let it marinate. My opinion on the scene hasn’t changed, but hopefully my words are more thoughtful than my knee-jerk reaction last night would have been. I’ve gotten in trouble before for quick takes. I didn’t want that to happen this time.

Do I think Matt Damon is a bad person? Absolutely not. Do I think he’s a product of the omnipresent Hollywood culture? Yes I do. Most likely realizing the impact of what he said and how a team of reality TV producers would edit it (they didn’t), he filmed a separate segment to clarify the intent of his statement. Basically, he uses the old (white) Hollywood adage that the best person should get the job, and it would corrupt the integrity of Project Greenlight to make their ultimate selection based on any other criteria.

But that’s the problem. In my opinion, it wouldn’t corrupt the integrity of Project Greenlight at all. In fact, it would enhance the show’s reputation by potentially giving young, diverse filmmakers a leg up in an industry dominated by white men. Those who pay attention have all see the statistics of the members who make up the Academy. But just think how revolutionary it would have been for Project Greenlight to flip the script and cast someone different behind the camera. Damon mentions diversity comes in casting, not behind the camera, which comes dangerously close to mirroring an old phrase I’d heard many times growing up in the South – effectively “black folks are good for entertaining.” Damon wasn’t trying to be outwardly racist, but he clearly did not see the value in looking for a different perspective behind the camera.

Just imagine if a non-white, non-male teenager had seen a Project Greenlight Season Four that featured someone more like them and less like the standard Hollywood power types. Just imagine someone growing up inspired by the next Ava DuVernay or Carl Franklin. In twenty years, think of the wonderfully diverse films that would produce. If only we could inspire those who are too often ignored. Think what a cinematic world that would create.

Instead, we get Matt Damon mansplaining diversity to a black filmmaker, and an angry white male winning the directing slot in Project Greenlight. That’s not shocking or surprising in the least. It’s kind of what I’ve come to expect from Hollywood today. What was shocking (and disappointing) was the brutal efficiency Matt Damon used to so quickly dismiss the idea of selecting a contest winner based on their ability to bring a broad perspective – diversity – to the project.

Project Greenlight remains a class act when compared to the broad field of reality television programming. In fact, I give it props for pulling actual truth within the confines of the reality TV genre. Matt Damon, however, is less so, and I hope this incident causes him to reconsider his position of privilege  in Hollywood and support someone from a broader and more diverse background. It’s not simply affirmative action.

It’s simply in support of a more colorful canvas of cinema.

In this week’s Water Cooler Podcast (our 40th episode), Megan, Joey, and Clarence revisit Netflix’s highly anticipated but ultimately controversial fourth season of the Emmy Award-winning comedy series Arrested Development. We explore how the cult classic grows over Season Four, our favorite character moments, what works, what doesn’t, and why the season ultimately deserves equal footing with its far more acclaimed preceding seasons. If you’re an Arrested Development fan, then join in the conversation by commenting on the site, on Facebook, or on Twitter and letting us know what you think of Season Four.

Over the next few weeks the Water Cooler returns to Emmy world with predictions and reactions to the upcoming ceremony.

New shows not doing it for you? Don’t worry, many of your favorite television standards are returning starting this week. Here is a listing of series return dates. Make sure you continue to follow Awards Daily TV for continuing coverage of these series and more!

September 8
The Awesomes (Hulu)
Cake Boss (TLC)

September 9
The League (FXX)
You’re The Worst (FXX)

September 10
Sunday Night Football (NBC)
Longmire (Netflix)

September 11
20/20 (ABC)
Continuum (Syfy)
Z Nation (Syfy)

September 13
Doll and Em (HBO)
Project Greenlight (HBO)

September 14
Monday Night Football (ESPN)
Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
American Experience: Walt Disney (PBS)

September 15
The Mindy Project (Hulu)

September 16
South Park (Comedy Central)

September 17
NFL Thursday Night Football (CBS)

September 19
Doctor Who (BBC America)

September 21
Castle (ABC)
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Scorpion (CBS)
NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)
The Voice (NBC)
Gotham (Fox)

September 22
Fresh Off the Boat (ABC)
NCIS: New Orleans (CBS)

September 23
The Middle (ABC)
The Goldbergs (ABC)
Modern Family (ABC)
Black-ish (ABC)
Nashville (ABC)
Survivor (CBS)
The Mysteries of Laura (NBC)
Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Empire (Fox)

September 24
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
Scandal (ABC)
How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)

September 25
Last Man Standing (ABC)
Shark Tank (ABC)
The Amazing Race (CBS)
Hawaii Five-O (CBS)
Blue Bloods (CBS)

September 27
Once Upon a Time (ABC)
60 Minutes (CBS)
Bob’s Burgers (Fox)
The Simpsons (Fox)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
Family Guy (Fox)
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS)

September 29
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)

September 30
Criminal Minds (CBS)
Chicago P.D. (NBC)

October 1
The Blacklist (NBC)
Bones (Fox)
Sleepy Hollow (Fox)

October 3
Saturday Night Live (NBC)

October 4
Madam Secretary (CBS)
The Good Wife (CBS)
CSI: Cyber (CBS)
Homeland (Showtime)
The Affair (Showtime)
The Leftovers (HBO)

October 6
The Flash (The CW)
iZombie (The CW)

October 7
Arrow (The CW)
Supernatural (The CW)
American Horror Story: Hotel (FX)

October 8
The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
The Originals (The CW)
Haven (Syfy)
Billy on the Street (TruTV)

October 9
Undateable (NBC)
Reign (The CW)
America’s Next Top Model (The CW)

October 11
The Walking Dead (AMC)

October 12
Jane the Virgin (The CW)

October 13
Chicago Fire (NBC)
Manhattan (WGN America)

October 15
Top Chef (Bravo)

October 16
The Knick (Cinemax)
Satisfaction (USA)

October 23
Hemlock Grove (Netflix)

October 24
Da Vinci’s Demons (Starz)

October 30
Grimm (NBC)

November 5
Mom (CBS)
Elementary (CBS)

November 6
MasterChef Junior (Fox)
World’s Funniest Fails (Fox)

December 4
Transparent (Amazon)

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