Bear with me on this. I love lists, and I used to do it A LOT. But the last 3 years or so, I got really really lazy with anything that has to do with blogging. But that does not mean I ever stopped watching. Not one bit. I’ve been watching as much TV as I can – and I’m telling you, you’ll never run out. People have been proclaiming the last few years as the golden age of television, and they’re probably right. Every network, cable channel, streaming site, even ancient relics like Yahoo are producing good-to-great shows. 2015 is the year of Peak TV. No one has seen them all, for sure. But whether you follow five shows, or 40 shows, you will find greatness along the way. Even the most inconsistent show can surprisingly come up with an episode that changes everything. So this made me come back to list-making. I was reading some year-end lists last week and I saw how different the lists could be from one person to the next. It’s such an exciting time to watch TV – but also such a difficult commitment.
For my rundown of 2015 TV, I will try to list my favorite shows of the year, my favorite television episodes of the year, and other random finds from excessive TV watching. Let’s do this!
I’ll start with my favorite TV shows of the year. I tried to cut as much so it won’t be too much. But still, I’m left with 30 shows. And that means I still cut some shows I also really liked. The following shows didn’t make the 30, but damn, these are all such good shows that any other year, these could be top 10 material:
– This is England ’90 (Shane Meadows)
– Narcos S1 (Brancato, Bernard, Miro)
– Marvel’s Jessica Jones S1 (Melissa Rosenberg)
– Survivor Second Chances
– Orange is the New Black S3 (Jenji Kohan)
– Game of Thrones S5 (Benioff, Weiss)
– Other Space S1 (Paul Feig)
– UnReal S1 (Sarah Gertrude Shapiro)
– The Great British Bake Off S6
– This Life S1 (Richard Blaimert)
– Project Greenlight S4 (Alex Keledjian)
– Fresh Off the Boat S1-2 (Nahnatchka Khan)
One of the most reliable comedy series today, the Belcher family is still a weekly must. In seasons 5 and 6, we see how easily the creators can toss around the dynamics of the family (and most of their neighbors) to create hilarious sketches and story arcs – whether it’s a bottle episode with just the Belchers in their living room, or the kids with Uncle Mort, or Linda during one of Gayle’s unwanted visits, or just Andy and Ollie licking around. While the children do not physically grow, these past seasons have witnessed the gradual changes in the kids’ personalities – be it Tina getting less and less into horses and Jimmy Jr, or Louise slowly breaking down her emotional walls, or Gene slowly (and ever so clumsily) charting the slippery waters of adolescence and girls. The tried and tested formula of Bob’s Burgers is knowing where the heart of the show is. Whether they piss off Santa, or join a Runway Club, or plant to scare the kids, at the end of each episode, we always go back to the five of them, together, cooking some burgers while the end credits roll.
Best episodes: The Hauntening, The Runway Club, Nice-capades
BILLY & BILLIE
The show opens with Billy and Billie, on one bed, the morning after. We assume what we assume, and as the conversations progress, we realize that this has happened before. They are mean to each other and swear to not have anything to do with each other again, and so we assume some other things. We keep assuming until ten minutes in, they drop the bomb, possibly one of the most shocking television moments of the year (not a spoiler, but the main plot, I swear) – they are step-siblings. The show very carefully navigates around the taboos of starting/having/ending a relationship with a step-sibling, and in the least preachy of ways, try to disprove them. True to Neil LaBute fashion, he’s not worried if people would think nothing ever happens in every episode of the show. He takes his time, he sits his couple to talk nonstop, we watch them eat real time, we cringe with every extended fight – until a gut punch punctuating each episode. Billy and Billie is a “relevant” but highly under-seen show that does not sugarcoat any of its flaws and misgivings, but instead attacks every issue head-on, scars and bruises.
Best episodes: Smells Like Teen Spirit, Territorial Pissings, Breed
One of the most realistic portrayals of female friendship, perennial character actresses Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham take center stage as Emma and Maggie, childhood besties treading through adulthood. In the first season, Emma gave up a promising career in China to attend to Maggie after her divorce with the father of her would-be baby. After the miracle of its renewal, Playing House comes back for a sophomore season, with Emma deciding to stay in Pinebrook with Maggie to raise her daughter, Charlotte, together. While there are a handful of female friendship comedies on TV today, you can easily single this one out – it stands out for being one of the most authentic. Played by real-life best friends, the show focuses on the simplest things that define the most lasting relationships – scrolling the shit out of Tinder to find the most deserving date for your friend, secretly admiring a rival’s newly renovated kitchen, fantasizing about the Property Brothers together, and all-out Kenny Loggins videoke during traffic.
Best episodes: Celebrate Me Scones, Officer of the Year, Knotty Pine
With the amount of online buzz surrounding different fan theories, Rami Malek’s eyes, the penultimate episode twist, its trademark off-center framing, comparisons to Fight Club and The Matrix, the upcoming second season, and those ridiculously strange episode titles, Mr. Robot very quickly became the most talked-about new show of the year, and its wide-eyed lead as 2015’s TV breakout star. The show is about Elliot, an emotionally unstable but technically proficient IT security engineer who works for a subsidiary of a conglomerate aptly called Evil Corp. At night, he spends his hours as an independent hacker, looking through everyone’s deep dark secrets. It all became complicated when Elliot was recruited by a guy named Mr. Robot to join an underground cyber-revolutionary hacking group to bring down Evil Corp and free the world of growing income inequality. While the show could get a little too carried away by its conceit for drama, shock factor and twists, it is grounded by the strong performance of Malek as Elliot, always weary and deep, capturing Elliot’s genius, loneliness and psychosis with every blink of an eye.
Best episodes: eps1.8m1rr0r1ng.qt, eps1.7wh1ter0se.m4v, eps1.9zer0daY.avi
Broad City is that rare TV comedy that is actually really purely comedy. The most memorable episodes of TV sitcoms today usually have one formula – develop funny arcs for the entire ensemble and conclude it with dramatic and heartwarming resolutions. While there is nothing wrong with that, there is no room for any hint of drama in Broad City – it is a comedy and its goal is to make you laugh, every single episode. While the usual TV comedy route is to go deeper and darker as it progresses seasons (think Girls or You’re the Worst), Broad City continues to be joyful, silly and just ridiculously funny. For the second season, we still follow the misadventures of Abbi and Ilana in New York – getting trapped in a Chinese underground black market for knockoff bags, dancing to Lady Gaga nude when your roommate finally decides to leave, hanging out with a celebrity after you mess up their coat check, missing a party because you got stuck in a pit, having the best time of your life after having your wisdom teeth removed, a dildo moment with your next door neighbor crush, the daunting reality that is #FOMO, spending a day cut off from technology, or just deciding to Skype all day even when you’re just beside each other. Every episode feels like hanging out with the funniest comedy duo on TV, without having to be involved in all their crazies. While the show works perfectly fine with its signature antics and “roles”, Broad City proves this season that it can shine even brighter when Abbi and Ilana reverse roles. In a number of episodes in this season, Abbi, usually the “more mature” of the couple would always wind up getting high or in trouble, and it is always surprising and interesting to see how Ilana will save, or at least try to save, the day – some of the rare times she’s ever serious. Season 3 has started, and if the first two episodes are any indication, this show is bound to be classic TV comedy.
Best episodes: Wisdom Teeth, Hashtag FOMO, Knockoffs, St. Marks
WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP
One of the most divisive shows of the year, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp can either be a winning revival of a cult hit, or just a big waste of time and talent. No one is on the fence about this show – one could feel either absolute disgust or tremendous love for it. Growing up a fan of the 2001 comedy film where it was based on, the thought of reviving Camp Firewood with most of its original cast was like having sinigang ramen – I don’t know, could be bad, but I’m definitely on board. While not every joke landed, most of them did, and the sillier, the better. It ranged from inside sight gags like Bradley Cooper’s sweater, to the most ludicrous plot lines – a dead man resurrected in a tin can, or that the entire show took place weeks before the movie, so all these older actors were actually even playing younger roles than the movie. That was also the key to how easily it transitioned. Setting the show as prequel to the movie gave it a huge liberty to play around with the characters and the situations. And it didn’t hold back. The show had the weirdest and most random of plots this year. It must’ve been such a blast shooting this whole show, and it showed.
Best episodes: Electro-City, Day is Done, Campers Arrive
I was worried that Silicon Valley was straining when the second season started. The first few episodes felt a bit repetitive and disheartening – presentation after presentation, rejection after rejection. Until it didn’t. Second half of the season was just hit after hit, even resembling moments of greatness that rivaled Mad Men when it pulled off the Shut the Door, Have a Seat caper. The best and funniest moments of Silicon Valley were always the geekiest ones. Embracing the nerd was one of its strongest suit. The SWOT analysis to “Let Blaine Die” comes to mind, or live streaming the hatching of a condor egg that showed us that Jared too can be excited about things, some dick jokes, that bottle of three comma tequila that erased an entire database, Richard’s very intimate relationship with his laptop, presenting a very digestible algorithm of Pied Piper, and some more dick jokes. People usually praise how well-written this show is, and it mostly is; but I argue that the success of the sophomore season lies with its ensemble. While we fought with Richard’s battle to win against the tech giants, we were also weary to learn what Dinesh, Gilfoyle and Jared are up to. Even Erlich’s abrasiveness from the first season was levelled very strategically with the introduction of an even more abrasive character in Russ Hanneman. Another key to the show’s leap this year was in its emotional content. The whole season had seen agonizing moments of lost, rejection, tampering, stealing; while victories are almost always short-lived. Pied Piper experienced quite some setbacks this season, and still has a long way to go: but we eagerly anticipate how Richard and his band of misfits keep the unhatched condor eggs interesting.
Best episodes: Adult Content, Two Days of the Condor, White Hat/Black Hat, Binding Arbitration
Created, written and acted by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers, Documentary Now! weekly presents an episodic documentary that parodies some of the best movies of the genre. Every episode opens with Helen Mirren introducing the fake docu in the most deadpan of ways. For its seven-part season, it very respectfully made comedy gold out of Grey Gardens, Nanook of the North, Vice HBO documentaries, The Thin Blue Line, and the rockumentary genre. The delivery is always deadpan, and most of the fun is with how well the parodies resemble the actual movies. Writing is always brilliant and spot-on, and genre shifts from horror to thriller to noir and to musical with so much ease. While each episode is always solid, the lack of continuity hinders people to appreciate the show as a whole.
Best episodes: Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee Parts 1 and 2; Sandy Passage; A Town, A Gangster, A Festival
UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
After 15 years in a bomb shelter, Kimmy Schmidt and a group of Mole Women were rescued from a doomsday cult leader that kept them hidden from the world. Yes, they alive, damn it, and it’s a miracle! Not knowing anything about a brand new world of technology, EDM, and emojis did not break Kimmy, instead it made for really good pop culture referential comedy, something that Tina Fey has very strong grasp of. Day after day, we watch Kimmy innocently land a new flat, a new job, a new love, a new hobby, a new friend, and a new purpose. Her increasing awareness of the world reveals an altogether depressing reality that we all face today.
Best episodes: Kimmy Rides a Bike!, Kimmy Goes Outside!, Kimmy Goes to Court!
Contrary to criticisms on how the first season dealt with cliches of gay life and its lack of any recognizable character, the sophomore season breathed new life to its gay normcore. After the sexual misadventures in the pilot season, we opened season 2 in a gorgeous retreat for Agustin’s intervention. Within the first five minutes, our lead men turned from “kids” to realizing the dullness of adult life. Interestingly, this was followed by the arrival of Doris, the most adult of them all, and turned their adulting to, well, another night of crazy. The day after, however, and the succeeding days leading to the finale, the show chose to explore the personal struggles of the characters, rather than being gay. It further explored the human longing to look – for romantic love, for questions, for answers, for your dreams, for a companion, for closure. It was a huge improvement, and the best thing about it is how it remained complex but finally felt authentic. A testament to this was how two very different scenes – one with Patrick and Kevin dancing to Say You Love Me, and another with Patrick and Richie in that final scene at the barbershop – elicited similar feelings of happiness, love, sadness, and regret.
Best episodes: Looking for Home, Looking for a Plot, Looking for Truth
The show opens with River and Stevie, police partners. They have chemistry, but couldn’t be any more different from each other. Stevie is fun and loves singing disco while patrolling around town. River, on the other hand, is serious, and, well, not as fun. One evening, they stopped on an apartment compound when River found a sighting of the Ford they were looking for. He chases the driver to an alley, up to his apartment – leading to one of the best twists of 2015 TV season. Just like that, within the first 10 minutes, River differentiated itself from the slew of police procedural shows that are all over TV today. The brilliant Stellan Skarsgård, one of the most commanding character actors on screen, stars as the unstable but focused River. This show flies because of his very calculated performance as a suffering workaholic, switching instantly from misery to scorn. Also finally sharing the spotlight is the equally brilliant Nicola Walker, playing the total opposite of River, and a perfect bounce off to break down his monolithic walls. Unlike other police and crime dramas, the crux of River is not the criminal investigation, not the twists and turns of the whodunnit. It focuses on the psychological struggles of River, as he deals with his daily routine and as he suffers deteriorating mental health.
Best episodes: Episode 6, Episode 1, Episode 5
RICK AND MORTY
Rick and Morty is one of those rare shows that very easily found its voice from the get go. To label the show hilarious would be a grave disservice to the minds behind it; because more than anything, Ricky and Morty is a heavily-researched weekly science class. It is a series of high concepts lensed through the mind of Grandpa Rick, the drunk, abrasive, acerbic, and foul-mouthed genius who drags his family, mostly his grandson Morty, out on adventures and near-death, traumatic experiments. In season two, while the fun still runs full steam ahead, along the way, somehow, the show managed to chance upon its beating heart. Rick becomes aware of his influence to Morty, Beth and Jerry reconcile for the sake of the family, Summer decides to stop being a whiny teenager, and Morty starts taking responsibily. After impressing us with its writing, and now making us care for its dysfunctional family, Rick and Morty is slowly claiming that void that Community’s glory left wide open.
Best episodes: Total Rickall, The Wedding Squanchers, Look Who’s Purging Now
Rob Norris is an advertising executive from the US who traveled to London for business and met school teacher Sharon Morris. This meet-up ends in a – well, yes, you guessed it right – catastrophe. The one-night stand made Sharon pregnant, and Rob grapples to try to make a relationship out of it. Season 2 does not open right where Season 1 left off – Sharon very pregnant and about to pop a baby out. The best thing about the show is definitely Rob and Sharon’s chemistry. And that wouldn’t have been possible without the outstanding writing and razor sharp banters. The unlikely couple mirrors the way we argue, they reflect our insecurities, they are normal people going through normal disappointments in life. Season 2 opens up the world of the show to both the characters’ family and friends. This is the only way to go bigger this season, and so seamlessly they did.
Best episodes: Episode 1, Episode 6, Episode 5
NATHAN FOR YOU
Everything you need to know about the show is narrated by Nathan Fielder over its opening credits – Nathan is a graduate of one of the top business schools in Canada and is out to help small and struggling companies come up with really strange out-of-the-box strategies to improve their businesses. Yes, it’s one of the funniest shows on TV today, for sure. But what makes it different from other comedy shows is its full grasp of its audience’s emotions. The show takes full control and knows exactly how to make audiences feel uncomfortable, not with gore or blood, but mostly (impressively) circumstantial. While Nathan’s resting poker face is funny as it has always been, he gets down in serious business and does and says things that will tip you off, make you cringe, and look away. The most surprising part of it, however, is that deep down, this show has warmth and heart, and it’s not scared to explore and expose it. Unlike its usual 3-4 sketches per episode formula, Season 3 opens with just one sketch, possibly one of the best ones he’s ever done. In this quest, he tries to single-handedly bring down an American corporate giant, Best Buy, by helping a small-town TV salesman one-up the company’s famous price matching policy. From here, it hits harder every week as it hires a whole gym to do housekeeping, stage a no-play “play” for smokers and theatre hipsters, and finally, to become a hero by attempting to cross buildings in tightrope. The show has a really good storytelling framework that it never feels overstuffed and long. Season 3 has raised its stakes so much and it was so worth it. One of the easiest weekly tv viewing habits.
Best episodes: Smokers Allowed, Electronics Store, Hotel/Travel Agent, The Hero
MASTER OF NONE
The main idea behind the Netflix comedy Master of None has to be inspired by Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreation. The show feels like a spinoff of Tom’s character and his taste for anything fancy, hip and happening. Here he plays Dev, a New Yorker who is out looking for love and whose intermittent acting gigs have given him so much free time to chill out with his group of diverse friends as they examine gender, race and minority representation in the American society. Along the way, he was able to reconnect with his parents, enjoy the company of old people and discuss the inevitability of death, spend countless of mornings, both good and bad, with the love of his life, and just hangout with an impressive list of guest stars including Claire Danes, Noah Emmerich and H. Jon Benjamin. For a pilot comedy, Master of None is surprisingly self-aware, clever, assured, topical, polished, and an overall impressive addition to the already superb roster of comedy on tv today.
Best episodes: Parents, Mornings, Finale, Old People, Indians on TV
BETTER CALL SAUL
How do you avoid the pitfalls of greenlighting a spinoff prequel to one of the most loved shows of our time? Vince Gilligan could let you in on that. It started with a tease – the first couple of episodes actually worried me because it resembled Breaking Bad too much – the mood, the drug syndicates, the landscapes of New Mexico desert, the black-and-white opener – all of it screamed formula. Generally, however, it worked. It drew people in for its familiarity. Once people were hooked, Gilligan was smart enough to unleash what beast Better Call Saul actually is. It remains as routine, detail-oriented, ambitious and thrilling as Breaking Bad, but Better Call Saul distinguishes itself for being offbeat and comic as it starts to tread that thin line between right and wrong, legal and illegal, good and evil. Let’s wait for when he puts on the black hat and changes his name to the Goodman that we all know of.
Best episodes: Pimento, Marco, Five-O, Hero
LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER
There’s nothing on TV quite like Last Week Tonight. For those who have not heard of it or have not clicked on those viral John Oliver clips, well, it’s about time you do! It’s a half-hour talk/news show with anchor Oliver discussing world news from the previous week very briefly (often joking about country locations in maps). After which he singles out a topic to focus and dissect for the rest of the show. And what impressive dissection. On a weekly basis. For 35 episodes in 2015. Imagine the amount of research – and more than that, imagine how difficult it was to make every other line in the script funny. The tricky part about these talk shows is the format – one person in front of you, talking the whole 30mins, and trying to poke fun of things whenever he can. The problem is, however funny the anchor is, at some point, it gets annoying. But never with John Oliver (maybe the endearing accent?). It is easily one of the easiest shows to watch on a weekly basis, and has one of the highest laugh per minute ratios (if there is such a measure) in all of tv comedies today.
Best episodes: Edward Snowden Surveillance, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, Sex Education, Pharmaceutical Marketing, Transgender Rights, and any segment on FIFA
PARKS AND RECREATION
The sitcom that was most difficult (and most emotional) to let go of was Parks and Recreation, and NBC shamelessly couldn’t be bothered to give it a more ceremonious exit when it decided to premiere two episodes of the final season per week, making the season run half its intended duration. The final season started a little bit rocky, picking up straight from the flash forward finale of season 6. It opened immediately with what we were led to think was THE conflict of the season: that the most stable of all relationships in the show – former workplace-proximity associates Leslie and Ron’s falling out. The first handful of episodes, however, focused too much on Jammy while just dancing around the bigger issue that needed resolution, and not seemingly showing signs of a wrap up. But just when we thought this will get stretched til the end, it came head-on with the miracle of an episode, Episode 4’s Leslie and Ron. And from then, Parks and Recreation was back in full swing for one last ride. Episode after episode of odes and celebrations of Pawnee, of every single part of the town that we loved and grew fond of – from JJ’s Diner to the City Hall to Snakehole Lounge to our favorite talk show, the show gave them proper tearful send offs. Then fittingly, every single supporting character, as deserved, got their individual swan songs – April goes to Washington, Donna and Joe, Tom and his businesses, Johnny Karate’s show, two funerals and Gary’s political reign, the all-around handyman Ron Swanson, and the power couple Leslie and Ben. The best part of the final stretch of the show is the lack of conflicts or villains or even plot arcs – just pure appreciation of the last 7 years with Pawnee, a town that is and will always be first in friendship, fourth in obesity.
Best episodes: Leslie and Ron, One Last Ride, Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington, Two Funerals
PLEASE LIKE ME
Please Like Me is a slight autobiographical exploration of creator, writer and lead actor Josh Thomas’ sexuality. While the bluntness of its first season can be intuitively compared to Dunham’s Girls, the succeeding seasons have successfully distinguished itself from anything else on tv – as other shows progressed to go darker, it stayed light-hearted, funny, and always curious. That is not to say that it’s shallow – most definitely not with the third season – as it takes on the most serious pains of failure and rejection, but finishes it with its usual charm, yellow filter, and superb grasp of the perfect pop song. The themes could range from vegetarianism to abortion, from referencing Love Actually to ceremoniously killing off Adele the chicken, from coming out singing Chandelier to the weekly-changing sing-along opening credits. The key to the success of the show is its sharp writing, further opening the show’s observant eye when highlighting the brightness in the awkward moments of growing up, coming out, friendship, falling in love, falling apart, heartbreak, and even death.
Best episodes: Christmas Trifle, Eggplant, Natural Spring Water, Coq au Vin, Pancakes with Faces
Early 2000s spawned an era of TV medical dramas – ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House, Scrubs – all trying to “reinvent” this subgenre. And to some extent, they did – to the point there’s no more drama left unexploited, and we all got sick of watching these heroes dissect the strangest of diseases. Enter Cinemax’s The Knick, a show no one watched. And which should change soon. One of the most refreshing take on these profession dramas, the show mostly takes place in the Knickerbocker Hospital around the dawn of the 20th century, that time when we don’t even have x-rays and blood suctions, and being a surgeon is one of the scariest things you could wish for your worst enemies. While it is very tempting to manipulate emotions when your lead character literally battles life and death, the show steered as far away from drama as possible. This is mostly attributable to the vision and aesthetics of creator and director Steven Soderbergh, helming every single episode yet. This also provides a very consistent look and rhythm to each episode, working very well to the detail-obsessed nature of the show. It is mostly very straightforward, almost like an unemotional, even cold, procedural on surgery, which makes for strong contrast when it battles with race, class, and addiction themes throughout the seasons. The second season opens with the 1901, a new world, and the rebirth of a new Knickerbocker Hospital uptown. This also opens the world of the show outside the confines of the hospital, outside the worldview of Dr. Thackery, and into a more ensemble structure.
Best episodes: This is All We Are, Williams and Walker, Ten Knots, Do You Remember Moon Flower?
What makes Review exciting is how it morphs into three different shows at any given point. The most obvious of its format is reality. Every episode, the team behind the show selects a series of life experiences that the viewers would dare host Forrest MacNeil to try – and subsequently reviewed using his five star point system. But of course it’s fake reality, since it’s staged; so in some ways, it resembles a comedy sketch more – with each life task a short, singular and standalone sketch. But the sketches are not always standalone, more often than not, these seemingly unrelated tasks actually form a cohesive story – and that’s where the unassuming miracle of this show lies. Andy Daly is life reviewer Forrest, and as much as we thought the first season was brutal with him, the second offing trumps it very easily. We see his life turn from a simple tv show host, to a cheater, to a divorced man, to an arsonist, to a murderer, to being in jail, to being homeless, to being rejected by family, and to who knows where else this show would lead him. On top of that, this year, he experienced and reviewed the mile high club, having the perfect body, trying a glory hole, being a cult leader, catfishing someone, talking to an imaginary friend, being buried alive, being the subject of a conspiracy theory, and in one of the most meta episodes of the show, giving a 6 star rating.
Best episodes: Buried Alive, 6 Star Review, Public Speaking; Murder, Magic 8 Ball, Procrastination; William Tell, Grant A Wish, Row Boat; Conspiracy Theory
Season 1 of The Leftovers may have been divisive, but Season 2 is a cult that converted people – anywhere you look at it, it was a clear masterpiece, of breathtaking ambition, confident direction and well-grounded emotions. Focusing on a different sort of departure – of those that were left behind, season 2 opened with Kevin, Nora and Jill moving to Jarden, Texas, a town untouched by the sudden departures. Expanding its world gave The Leftovers a creative resurgence that made up some of the most confident moments on tv in 2015. Co-created by the same guy who gave us Lost, The Leftovers inherited its balls to be unafraid and just go there – opened the season with an elaborate sequence of a random cavewoman giving birth, dedicated the entire first episode to people we have never met before, dug into the depth of the strangest version of purgatory on tv yet, or just not bother explaining anything at all. The Leftovers has never been about answering why, it’s about the slow and mostly miserable quest for the how. However ambitious in its ever-changing narrative structure episode by episode, co-creator Tom Perrotta somehow managed to ground the show from flying over our heads – its grasp of emotion extends even further than its complex structure that you’re left mostly heartbroken after an hour in Jarden.
Best episodes: No Room at the Inn; Ten Thirteen; Axis Mundi; International Assassin; I Live Here Now; Lens
YOU’RE THE WORST
Right off the bat, we know You’re the Worst is one cynical sitcom. If you didn’t already get it from the title, the show would very happily remind you that “I’m gonna leave you anyway” every single episode opening. The very first sequence of You’re the Worst immediately disproved that unfounded belief that you meet the nicest people in weddings. Exhibit A: Jimmy and Gretchen. Jimmy just finished ruining his ex’s wedding when he bumped into Gretchen, who was just on her way out after she stole one of the bride’s gifts. Not unexpectedly, they’re both quite awful. Both on their way home, they started talking – leading to what was very clearly a one night stand. They were both very vocal about how horrible people they are, and how none of these things should matter to them the next day. But somehow, they couldn’t get enough of each other. One night led to one whole week. Then very quickly, she moved in with him and they officially became a couple. This very quick turn of events also very quickly fizzled out any promise this show hinted when it started. Good thing they came back for a another go at it. Early on in its inspired second season, the razor sharp abrasive dialogues were in full form, and Jimmy and Gretchen were back with the couple’s usual charm from being repulsive. But most importantly, this season of You’re the Worst did what no other sitcom would ever come close to touching – it very carefully waltzed around clinical depression – how a person can just, all of a sudden, fall apart for unexplained reasons. It was difficult to watch the show for the most parts of the season, and for once, it’s not because of its foul-mouthed leads. How the show developed this storyline is one of the most surprising and heartbreaking moments of tv this year. It is ambitious to use a sitcom as medium to handle such delicate material and to also place this responsibility to its viewers to hopefully understand something that is very complex to digest. It left us, not with an answer, but with hope – that maybe this will go away, maybe things will be better, maybe they will stay together for each other – but as Lindsay and Paul intimated, “I don’t know much, but I know I love you. And that maybe all I need to know”
Best episodes: There Is Not Currently A Problem; LCD Soundsystem; The Heart Is A Dumb Dumb; A Rapidly Mutating Virus
Three different strings of yarn get tangled up in a small town murder mess. Peggy, the beautician, ran over Rye, after he committed three counts of murder, one of which was a judge presiding the case of their crime family in Fargo. In the middle of it is a state trooper investigating the case while taking care of his daughter and cancer-stricken wife, and protecting presidential candidate Ronald Reagan during his campaign in Fargo. While the story arc has nothing much to do with the original movie that inspired it (or even its first season), it feels so much in the same world – both atmosphere and characters. They are all consistently well-shot, well-written and well-acted. Led by stunning performances from Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Bokeem Woodbine, Fargo’s second season is assured to blow you away with its perfect balance of crime, wit, and even supernatural references.
Best episodes: Loplop; The Castle; Waiting For Dutch; Gift of the Magi; Rhinoceros; Palindrome
The first season of Transparent was my favorite tv show of 2014. Given that personal pressure, the second season still shocked and caught me off-guard. It’s still as fresh and melancholic and confident as the previous one, but this season even questioned everything we’ve known from the start. Firstly, let’s stop calling this a comedy. You feel a whirlwind of emotions when watching Transparent, but LOL-Ing is definitely not one of them. Secondly, when we think we know the Pfeffermans, this new season opens the world of the family and gives ample focus to each one of them – to finally understand not just where they came from, but how they became so. This exposed the deeply rooted selfishness that one might associate to the decisions that these people regularly and sparingly make. Deeply rooted back in 1933 Berlin scene, the Pfeffermans, as a family, has struggled to fight for their freedom, for their personal victories – and that could mean saying no to a wedding, or flaking on a previous commitment. The Pfeffermans are notoriously honest, and the show highlighted that however radical the society you are living in, excessive honesty can still strain and cause major disparage between relationships. It blurs the line between quest for personal freedom to just mere selfishness. The political play to gain this is a constant reason why the characters of the show are always amusing to watch. And good for us, cos unlike the previous season that was mostly about Maura, the trans parent of the family; each character this season went on their own journeys. This, however, did not automatically hand over redemption to these people. There are failures and there are consequences. It’s not perfect, but it’s also never cynical. The season ends with believable nuggets of hope and a path to a brand new morning.
Best episodes: Kina Hora; Man on the Land; Mee-Maw
Much of Wolf Hall’s mastery lies in what is not said. It is a very quiet Tudor miniseries that moves in such a methodical pace that you can spot every power struggle and political manipulation in every plot turn. Anchored by Mark Rylance stunning turn as Thomas Cromwell, who started his statesman days when he was introduced as an aide to Cardinal Wolsey, who described him as “a man of many talents”, and exposed him to power and to the throne of King Henry VIII. Being a man of unquestionable loyalty, Cromwell was dragged into defending people he served – from going against the church, to securing the divorce of the royal family, to that riveting final execution. Unlike most of the costume dramas on tv today, Wolf Hall is not bookmarked by deadly fight scenes, or shocking revelations. This show is quiet, calm, and it takes its time. It stands in the background, watches very carefully, and waits for its turn to attack. It is well written but never contrived; it is subtle but never boring.
Best episodes: Masters of Phantoms; Three Card Trick; Anna Regina; Crows
The Americans, following the lives of KGB spies pretending to be a typical boring married American couple, is still the most criminally overlooked tv show today. And it’s a real shame cos it’s one of the best written, most intense, and perfectly acted shows on tv now. The stakes continue to boil up as the season picked up from the suggestion of their daughter Paige being part of the operative. When we speak of this show, raising the stakes is not about anything criminal – that’s literally normal day to day life for the Jennings. The only thing the couple has been avoiding all this time is for this to come in any way close to home, to their family. And this season is all about that looming threat. We started the season asking whether Paige will join her parents after conflicting opinions between Elizabeth and Phillip. With its heart finally being exposed, The Americans delivered some of its best and most unforgettable episodes in 2015. While the couple scrambled to protect their children, they also started to be confronted by the horror and guilt of their past “missions” – be it a good family friend and the massacre of her family, or an old woman that happened to be at the wrong place and time. With its moral compass expeditiously challenged, The Americans remains one of the most exciting ways to spend an hour every week!
Best episodes: Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sleep; Stingers; Walter Taffet; Open House; Salang Pass; EST Men
Oh what a hoot. Definitely the most improved show of the year, my favorite Netflix show finally found its footing and revealed the promise it has been hinting since the pilot season. This animated show is set in a strange world where people live together with anthropomorphic animals, but revolves in an even stranger world of Hollywood pretensions and sadness. In the middle of it is BoJack (Will Arnett), a horse/man celebrity has-been still living off of his fame and fortune from when he starred in the hit 90s sitcom Horsin’ Around. Flash forward to today, he lives in a fancy mansion with a random person (Aaron Paul) who stays with him because no one else would. For the second season, BoJack started working again in the revival of Secretariat movie, produced by Wanda Pierce (Lisa Kudrow), an owl that just woke up from a 30 year coma and was still relevant enough to immediately assume a head producer gig in a big film production studio. BoJack Horseman is buoyed by its wit – dialogues are often hilarious and have the silliest puns on both animals and celebrities. It has very good grasp of pop culture and the world where it revolves. It is self-aware and uses it to its advantage. On the flip side, it also has a very good grasp of its emotions. Even though it has no business with drama, this season’s dramatic revelations became it’s strongest suit. Having the strangest (physically and otherwise) and silliest characters, it still managed to be very affecting, in a very humane sense. It is one of the saddest stretches of television season all year as it explored BoJack’s and most of its characters’ middle-age depression – Mr. Peanutbutter’s fear for his career and family, agent Princess Carolyn’s fear of not being the best in her job, Diane’s fear (and attempted escape) of the world she’s starting to get lost and unfamiliar with, Todd’s fear of not achieving anything, and BoJack’s fear of getting older without anyone. These are legitimate concerns everyone battles with as we grow older, and lensing it through the point of view of these offbeat characters sent the message so much louder.
Best episodes: Escape from L.A.; Out to Sea, Hank After Dark; Let’s Find Out; Brand New Couch
It took me a while to let go of Mad Men. Everyone knows it’s my favorite show and the weekly laments I posted on my wall leading to its finale might have annoyed a number of friends. But I can’t be bothered. No other show has affected me and the way I watch tv over the last 8 years more than this show. I used to watch tv to laugh or cry or just in passing while doing chores. But with Mad Men, there’s no way you can enjoy a single episode of it without granting it your full attention. Not because of its plot twists or convoluted details. And that’s the magic of the show. It immerses you in its deliberate non-plot. It gets you tangled up in its non-event. It makes you think about its characters, and care for them and their lives – long after you watch an episode. It’s not a show to binge, but a show to immerse yourself with on a weekly basis. A weekly dose of Mad Men fuels my heart – and I meant that with zero exaggeration. I watch an episode and think about it the whole night. And the next day. And the day after that. And it was always worth it. The people behind the show made sure it’s worthwhile of your rewatch or dissection or discussion. There are blogs just focusing on the accuracy of Mad Men’s history, while there are also weekly vlogs on how meticulous each piece of costume is for the show and the time it represents. It was the end of the 60s. The end of an era. The last 7 episodes of its final season aired in 2015, and its final stretches produced some of the best moments of the show – be it that iconic Peggy entrance to McCann, the roller skates + piano combo, the almost-but-not-quite Shut the Door Take a Seat heist, that devastating Betty reveal, Don and Roger’s final drink, Peggy and Stan finally, the final agency announcement that no one cared about, those three person-to-person calls, Don breaking down to a stranger, and that final tv ad that changed, defined and bridged a culture that is still relevant today.
PS: 😭 (Could be interchangeable with number 1, really)
Best episodes: Lost Horizon, Time & Life, Person to Person, The Milk and Honey Route
In one of the most twisted episodes of television I have ever seen, Hannibal left everyone hanging and clueless when it closed its second season with the possibility that most of its regular characters were dead, as Hannibal and Bedelia flew to Europe. Imagine waiting for a whole year for an answer, an answer that really didn’t come easy. The third (and last?) season opened its first set of episodes focused on that Florence trip – Hannibal building a new life and status, with his fake wife slash captive. The first half of the season focused on the hunt for Hannibal, and examined what it would be like to be held [mentally] hostage by a man of such contradicting and controlling personality. The first part of that statement carried with it the episodic nature of the show. It is, in part, a detective show – solving mysteries and tracking its perpetrator. What makes Hannibal’s take on this structure stand out from the millions of cop/crime shows is the intricacy of these crimes, the campiness of its writing, the visual feast, and the deliberate focus of its underlying psychology. This combination turns the horror into a compelling opera – bold, decadent, sumptuous, dramatic, and always over-the-top. Even its haters can’t argue that Hannibal is TV’s prettiest show. Simply put, nothing else on TV looks like it. It uses rich, dark colors, slow motions, extreme close ups and very indulgent CGIs to give its distinct decadent look. This particularly works in Hannibal’s food feasts and the elaborate presentations of crime scenes. Early in the season, we find a human body broken, bent, and scattered to shape like a heart; like a piece of displayed art. Chasing after each other for the last two seasons, both Hannibal and Will have used these deaths as a way to communicate with each other. In this case in Italy, Hannibal wants to say how much his heart is broken, and that Will has a lot of mending to do. Will, troubled and struggling with his own mental health, could not seem to ignore Hannibal’s effect on him and is compelled to abide. As a criminal profiler, he can choose to peek into the lives of those killed and their killers, but his recent mental deterioration has caused him to confuse reality from what he is forced to think as real. This gives Hannibal power over controlling him; and this season was all about fighting against that control. This led to the consummation of one of the most complex but believable love stories on tv – culminating in the perfectly orchestrated final scene of the season as they finally joined forces to stop the Red Dragon, proving, once again, that Hannibal is a show that does not conform (despite being on network tv) and does not play safe – with drama, visuals, blood, and violence. No one is safe until you see them alive. No one is gone until you see them dead.
PS: Can someone make a show on Hannibal’s recipes?
Hannibal was canceled by NBC after 3 seasons of bad viewership. I still hope for the show and its main crime husbands’ resurrection
Best episodes: Antipasto; Dolce; Digestivo; …And the Woman Clothed in the Sun; …And the Beast from the Sea; The Number of the Beast is 666; The Wrath of the Lamb