Monday, January 4, 2016

Best Television Shows of 2015

So many lists will rank their "Best of..." but I will not be doing that with my television list.  I will be listing some best episodes, but other than that I will be staying away from that here.

2015 had some of the best television, with the landscape changing coming up with 10 was tough, so this may be one or two longer.

The Americans (F/X)-Season Three

The Americans, Better Call Saul, Blackish, Broad City, Empire, Game of Thrones, Jane the Virgin, The Jinx, Justified, Louie, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
This F/X drama has built up the perfect amount of tension each year.  In season three you got to see Elizabeth (Keri Russell) at her most vulnerable which was a nice evolution for her character.  The problem with this evolution for both Elizabeth and Phillip (Matthew Rhys) is the the more humanity that seeps into them the tougher it is for them to carry out their missions as Soviet spies.  With each season this becomes more and more complicated, and throughout season three you find these two more together than ever, but challenged by how this impacts their job.

For some reason this show has been criminally neglected by Emmy voters, minus Margo Martindale being nominated in Guest Actress. Season three was the best season in my opinion. Best Episode of the season: "Stingers"

Broad City (Comedy Central)-Season Two

The Americans, Better Call Saul, Blackish, Broad City, Empire, Game of Thrones, Jane the Virgin, The Jinx, Justified, Louie, Unbreakable Kimmy SchmidtBroad City is my favorite comedy on this list, no show makes me laugh the way this show does, and that is in large part to the two creative minds behind this genius show, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson.  Glazer and and Jacobson, star in, and write most of the episodes for the series, which tells one of the best stories about young white women in New York City (I could easily imagine Ilana saying that too-the white women part).

Whether the two are wondering down St. Marks for a birthday dinner, or Abbi is hanging out with a drunk Kelly Ripa, or Ilana is trying to buy fake handbags with her mom this shows of outlandish nature has one key point, friendship.  No show of television conveys the brilliance and beauty of what it means to be a friend like Broad City.  Best Episodes of Season: "Hashtag FOMO", and "St. Marks"

Fargo (F/X)-Season Two

Season two of Fargo takes viewers back in the past before the events of the first season, but to events referenced in the first season by Lou Solverson.  Fargo tackles the tone of 1979 with perfection, throwing in a campaign stop from Ronald Reagan, and the eventual birth of corporate crime into the mix, but it's build up surrounding these different events that makes this second season a huge success.

One of the intertesting differences between season one and season two is that Noah Hawley was given sole writing credit in every episode of season one, but season has a few credited writers in the mix, this did not change anything about the show, I was still on the edge of my seat.

The shows writing goes a little bit bigger, but keeps the sardonic, and witty tone, the one element added a little bit more is that gives off some strong emotional heft that makes you connect with these characters in many different ways.  This ensemble like season one is fantastic and hits every note out the park.  Best Episodes of Season: The Gift of the Magi, and The Castle 

Jane the Virgin (CW)-Season One & Two

The Americans, Better Call Saul, Blackish, Broad City, Empire, Game of Thrones, Jane the Virgin, The Jinx, Justified, Louie, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I love this show, I do not think there is a show on television that wears it's heart on it's sleeve in the same way.  The show tackles motherhood, family and relationships with depth and levity.  Showrunner Jennie Urman (one of the few female show runners on television) uses the absurdity of the Telenovela structure while grounding  her characters with a humanity that most shows never achieve.  This is tight rope few could walk.

One of the main reasons for the success of this show is its cast from Gina Rodriguez (Jane) who nails what it means to be a young mom, to Jaime Camill (Rogelio) whose constant use of his celebrity status and Twitter hashtag usage makes me chuckle with glee.  

This show tackles the motherhood, within the Latino/Hispanic community in a way that no show has every done.  Sure Hilda in Ugly Betty was an amazing example of this, but Jane the Virgin has created a generational relate able show that is a great shining beacon in this realm.  Best Episodes of Season: "Chapter Twelve"and "Chapter Twenty-Two"

Jessica Jones (Netflix)-Season One

There have been a lot "super-hero" shows on television, and a few have actually stepped up to plate, and been amazing creating worlds.  Agent Carter was carried by the perfection of Hayley Atwell's performance.  Daredevil on Netflix finally got the character right, the dark tone, just worked.  There is only one show making this list for me, and that is Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones stands out for a couple reasons, the first is the brilliant performance of Krysten Ritter, which rises above many lead performances I have seen this past year.  In the performance vein David Tenenant helped create the strongest villain in the Marvel cannon, and while there is not much competition there his performance as mind manipulating Kilgrave is terrifying.

Jones had one of the best subtext throughout the series, which connected the relationship Jessica and Kilgrave, and that centered around consent on a deeper metaphorical level.  The show goes there, forces you to think outside the normal super hero box.  Jessica is also not a traditional "super hero" so you get to delve into what does having powers entail? There is no simple answer.  Best Episodes of Season: "AKA Sin Bin" and "AKA Smile"

Making a Murderer (Netflix)

I am glad I waited to make my list, so I could add this show to the mix.  I am not going to say much about this series, because I do not want to spoil the experience, but this show keeps you on the edge of your seat and thinking with every episode. No matter what your personal beliefs are, this show calls into the question how power, privilege, wealth (or lack of it) influence the way things get handled in our countries Justice system.

Master of None (Netflix)-Season One  

Without ranking, this may be what I would rank as "best" on my list.  Master Of None was created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, and follows Dev a struggling actor.  You follow Dev through the ups and downs of dating, dealing with cultural expectations from his family, and from casting directors as he tries to find success in every aspect of his life.

If None were an NBC sitcom it would be riddled with formulaic, stereotypical representations of what it means to be Indian, or what they think it means to be Indian.  Ansari changes the game with this sitcom, and delves deep into the way representation shapes interpretation on many levels. 

Each episode has a different tone/theme, the larger being the rom-com aspect with Noel Wells, which is handled better than any other relationship in television this season.  Yet the style of most of the episodes is individual, and has the filmic look and feel of Louie. The show's writing is quippy, sarcastic, and also tugs on the heart strings, which is a rare combination, but this show succeeds in many ways.  Best Episodes: "Parents "Indians of TV" and "Mornings" 

Mr. Robot (USA)-Season One 

This was another show that I did watch until later in the year, rather than when it aired. It started slow (for me) but I was intrigued by Rami Malek as Elliot; he has a magnetism in his performance which pulled me further and further into the rabbit hole of cyber hacking/terrorism.

As the show evolves and forms this world, there is an evolving energy, which is self-contained, something rare for a show like this, you feel an intimacy with the characters, even in a world that is meant to feel cold an isolating, especially through the perspective of Elliot.  This show makes the list because it blends some intriguing tropes, and has the creativity to delve deep into one of the most interesting topics of our time.

The Leftovers (HBO)-Season Two 

I almost gave up on this show, but towards the end of season one this show did a nice turn around.  There was an aura of improvement, namely from the performances from Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, and Christopher Eccleston.  With the tragic ending of season two, you become ready for a new beginning, but the story takes many dark and twisted turns.

The season opens with a new family in Miracle, a town where no one was taken, and the first episode is brilliant because you build great connections with these folks including the incomparable Regina King. At the end of the episode Kevin and Nora are revealed to be their neighbors, and the roller coaster of emotions which venture more into the supernatural begin.

Season two is ruled by mind blowing performances from the four actors mentioned above, but add in Ann Dowd, Amy Brennemen, and Liv Tyler (yes Live Tyler) and you have one of the most complex emotional seasons of television. Best Episodes: "International Assassin" & "Lens"

Looking (HBO)-Season Two 

HBO only has two shows on this list, which is pretty great, but they have done an appalling job at nurturing programming, letting go of shows like Getting On, Enlightened, Hello, Ladies, and the show at the center of this blurb Looking.  I have many thoughts on HBO, but this is meant to celebrate the brilliant second season of Looking.

Show runner/creator Andrew Haigh who is responsible for the best about gay men, Weekend, dove deep in this subject matter of the everyday life of the modern gay man.  Many yawned at the first, season, but like The Leftovers this show evolved into one of the most touching and sometimes funny (thank Doris) shows on television.

Whether you are gay or straight, you can see yourself in one of these characters, the neurotic Patrick, or loving and hopeful Richie.  Haigh has created some of the authentic, and vulnerable characters to grace television; he knows how to delve into the complexities of sex better than anyone.  Best Episodes: "Looking for Plot" and "Looking for Home"

Transparent (Amazon)-Season Two

Season two delves deeper into Maura and her story, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be part of a larger family, and finding yourself in the legacy of your family.  Jill Solloway has taken this show to the next level in many ways; she explores these characters in microscopic ways that pushes boundaries in allowing them to understand themselves,

My favorite thing about Transparent is that each of their characters "follows their truth" and through the writing and the performances you eventually see this journey is not always east, in fact it brings pain, anguish, often self-doubt.  My favorite episode explore what it means to be a woman, and how folks define what the definition means, and how it means different things to different people.  In this episode Maura is seeking community, but what seems to be a safe space, may not be. One of the bravest episodes exploring the complexity of being a feminist.

There are times when you hate these characters, but the subtext about each of these people is they are in transition, trying to find their true identity, and aren't we all trying to find that?  This constant transition does not ease the pain when a relationship ends, or there is awkward tension between two people, but it clings to key point of show's focus. life is an evolution, and it's all about finding yourself. Best Episodes "Kina Hora" and "Man of the Land"

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)-Season One 

The Americans, Better Call Saul, Blackish, Broad City, Empire, Game of Thrones, Jane the Virgin, The Jinx, Justified, Louie, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Just plain fun, I am not sure there is another show on this list, or on television, which makes me smile the way Kimmy Schmidt felt.  I love the world Tina Fey has created here, it's a rag tag ensemble led by the wonderful Ellie Kemper.  Tituss Burgess is the comedic MVP of 2015; he sold every moment of his character, I know "Pinot Noir" is the favorite, but I love when he sings Boyz II Men at the Korean man's funeral.

Tina Fey and her writing team do a fantastic job turning real life situations, blending the absurd, and making them funny. The show is one I have already watched three times in less than a year, namely because I love this world, and feel at home inside.  Best Episodes: "Kimmy goes Outside" "Kimmy goes on a Date"

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