One of the most difficult years to judge because of the massive gluttony of great TV, 2015 may go down as one of the best years of television. With streaming services in full gear, producing quality exclusive content, and full seasons of shows to binge on, audiences are now completely spoiled. There is so much to choose from, from any genre and category, the statement ‘there’s nothing good on’ couldn’t be further from reality . . .
10) The Flash (The WB) – A series that brought the fun back to super-heroics, the first season quickly established the characters and removed a lot of the angst that can plague other comic book characters (see ‘Arrow,’ which has benefitted from lightening up a bit). The second season has incorporated the more wild aspects of the comic lore, introducing parallel Earth-2, and building off the fact that Barry Allen (the winsome Grant Gustin) has only just started to get a handle on his wondrous abilities (most of which have translated very well to television).
9) The Last Man on Earth (Fox) – Creators Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, of ’21 Jump St.’ and ‘The Lego Movie’ fame, have a knack for taking otherwise stale material and spinning it into comedic gold. With co-creator and star, Will Forte, they have turned a normally morose subject, the travails of the seemingly sole survivor of a viral outbreak, into both a parody and an allegory for the human/societal condition. Each episode has been carefully curated to represent a different theme – from loneliness, to male/female relations, to corporal punishment – all unfolding both surprisingly and more importantly, hilariously.
8) The Walking Dead (AMC) – Judging this series over the course of a calendar year is tricky because it starts with the second half of the previous season and ends with the first half of the next season. The winter return of season 5 was one of the best half seasons in the show’s history, tracking the difficulty Rick’s re-united wild crew have with assimilation into the walled-in, sheltered society of Alexandria. The fall first half of season 6 was a wildly uneven series of episodes that seems to have polarized the fan base through rampant audience manipulation, ending on a tantalizing cliffhanger of horror on the horizon . . .
7) Justified (FX) – The final season of this modern western morality play brought the Raylan Givens / Boyd Crouter conflict that hovered over this impeccably written series to an interesting and satisfying close. Leads Timothy Olyphant (as the ‘gray-hat’ US Marshall throwback from another era) and Walton Goggins (as his nemesis with a shared background) were never better playing and reacting to the intricate Kentucky-fried noir chess moves leading to the end-game. The biggest surprise was the bounce-back of Joelle Carter’s character, Ava, relegated to an inane woman-in-prison subplot last year, now center stage and supplying the dramatic impetus over the endgame.
6) Marvel’s Daredevil & Jessica Jones (Netflix) – These two varied series illustrate the mature and artistic possibilities of long-form storytelling on the small screen, using ‘street-level’ Marvel comic book characters on the periphery of the major players in the overall universe created with the ‘Avengers’-related blockbuster films. With more time and more budgetary limitations, the creators and well-cast actors can flesh-out the characters, whether they be good, evil, or support staff. The adult themes are explored in surprising ways, changing the public perception that funny books are strictly for kids, and building a larger inter-connected, yet grounded world within the larger Marvel cinematic universe . . .
5) Game of Thrones (HBO) – For a while, it seemed that the 5th season of GoT was taking a back seat to the stellar 3rd and 4th seasons, but the 1-2-3 punch of the final 3 episodes cemented this one as the most dramatically far-reaching, even if it was not the best. Sporting major character and plot advancements, this season left fans salivating in anticipation for the next one, even moreso than usual . . .
4) Mad Men (AMC) – The stellar drama went out the way it came in, with style, nuance, and confounding character development. Nothing finished quite like a rapturous audience could have guessed, yet the arcs for each main and supporting player ended in logical fashion, leaving indelible, defining imagery behind. In any other year, the final 7 episodes of one of the greatest series ever aired would have taken the top spot, but 2015 was really something special . . .
3) Fargo (FX) – The second season of this north mid-west set series, based on the feel and tone of the Coen brothers’ excellent ’96 film of the same name, actually surpassed the first. Remaining unpredictable and entrancing, this collection of episodes plays more like one long, nuanced film. Set in the late ’70s, creator / main writer Noah Hawley embraces the style, feel, and sound of the films of the time. It’s a tale that interweaves virtuous cops, warring gangsters, UFO sightings, and one woefully misplaced, misguided couple (Jesse Plemmons & Kirsten Dunst, doing the best work of her career with a complex character) thrown right in the mix . . .
2) Mr. Robot (USA) – One of the most promising debut seasons of a television show, this one comes out of the gate swinging and never lets up, with quality episode after quality episode. Creator Sam Esmail and star Rami Malek are a great team, keeping Malek’s drug-addled, paranoid, genius hacker Elliot Anderson in the forefront, engaging the audience, never knowing what is real or imagined. It’s a portrait of mental illness, a condemnation of our technologically dependent society, and a satire on the pervasive influence of corporate conglomeration. This near perfect first seasons is a modern paranoid screed that also happens to be immensely entertaining . . .
1) Show Me a Hero (HBO) – This 6-part miniseries created and written by David Simon (‘The Wire’), with assists by writer William F. Zorzi and full series director Paul Haggis, is vital filmmaking – an engrossing, frustrating, and at times heart-breaking masterpiece. Based on the meticulously researched book by Lisa Belkin, it tells the story of embattled Yonkers politician and former mayor, Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac, who has quickly proven to be an actor to follow in both smart indie pieces, ‘Ex Machina,’ and mega blockbusters, he’s Poe in ‘Star Wars’), as he navigates through the city’s housing crisis of the late ’80s/early ’90s. Despite the title, this story has no clear heroes or villains necessarily, it unfolds with no judgment or editorial bias. What emerges are astute perceptions about human nature and responsibility to fellow man, and themes of morality, abject bigotry, and cutthroat politics on the local, municipality level, all set to a score of Bruce Springsteen classics. This is not simply entertainment, it is food for the mind and soul, the rare intersection of perfect writing, direction, and acting (an ensemble of both familiar faces in different kinds of roles and convincing character actors) that truly transcends any screen, large or small . . .
There were a ton of other great things on television this year – one of the best seasons in the long history of ‘Survivor’ (‘Second Chance’), additional great offerings to check out on Netflix in ‘House of Cards’, ‘Bloodline’, ‘Master of None’, ‘Kimmy Schmidt’, ‘Narcos’, solid seasons of super-hero and sci-fi shows ‘Arrow’, ‘Agents of SHEILD’, ‘Agent Carter’, and ‘Doctor Who’, new broadcast hits ‘Scream Queens’, ‘Quantico’, and cable (‘The Affair’, ‘Flesh & Bone’, & ‘Ash Vs. The Evil Dead’). These are just my favorites – there really is something for everyone and anyone, so enjoy!