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. 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.