Every year I talk about how good TV is on this site. It’s almost like I don’t know how to originally think of a way to start these articles. But the level of quality is getting ridiculous. Instead of a Top 20 this year, I have a Top 35 and there are still a dozen awesome shows that I’m not able to write about. In 2014, I watched over 100 shows while only dropping a handful of them. (Fun unrelated fact, I was unemployed for a few months this year! I’m better now!) Next year marks the end of plenty of beloved shows but as you can see from the influx of new shows on my list, the quality just keeps coming.
Yet remarkably I did sleep a couple of times this year so I wasn’t able to see everything. I’m either very behind on or haven’t seen Babylon, Derek, Father Brown, Getting On, Happy Valley, High Maintenance, The Honorable Woman, The Knick, Line of Duty, Over the Garden Wall, Parenthood, Peaky Blinders, Penny Dreadful, The Real Husbands of Hollywood, Shameless, Silk and A Young Doctor’s Notebook. I really liked the pilot for Mozart in the Jungle but that season isn’t dropping on Amazon until December 23rd so…
This is going to be impossibly long so I should quit stalling and get right to…
Key and Peele Season Four (Comedy Central)
“Do we throw something other than rice?”
“What would you throw?”
“I don’t know. Cous cous. Skittles.”
Why this is one of the greatest sketch shows I’ve ever seen is because it’s a show that refuses to be lazy. It doesn’t just look at topics that are popular now, but challenges the perspective we have in our society. When a sketch is able to have a successful reversal it’s because they’re creating richer characters than expected. Something can have the illusion of controversial but they’re creating an actualization of a threat that could only exist in a cartoonish form. My favorite of the season is taking the idea of a family being uncomfortable with gay marriage but the family is only uncomfortable with how much they are unrealistically trying to be accommodating. In a season where they abandoned their comfortable format and characters to keep delving deeper, this remains one of the most exciting comedies on TV.
Billy on the Street
“Now they’re going to try and find Dori. Here spoiler alert: SHE’S DEAD. HOW LONG DOES A FISH LIVE?”
Thanks to his role on Parks and Recreation and his appearances on late-night shows, the Emmys and a great one-off in New Girl, this was the year of Billy Eichner. Yet none of those can compare to the delightful madness of the game show where everyone wins, even if Billy is yelling at you. This season was even stranger with a chorus of people thanking Adam Levine for this tweets, Joel McHale being trapped in a giant hamster ball while arguing career choices, Billy’s Meryl Streep obsession culminating in the Meryl-Go-Round and one of the best things that has ever happened: Lena Dunham plays a game with Billy’s tiny nemesis Elena which caused Billy to break character for the first time all series. For other people this would be hell, but through the eyes of Billy he is making New York a better place. And I’m too scared to argue with him.
Masters of Sex
“There’s a very wide spectrum of normal as far as genitalia’s concerned.”
When you put Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan in a room, it’s impossible to watch anything else. They are commanding all of the power shifts in their relationship while always maintaining a level of respect and passion. The season started off extremely strong but as it tried to be more ambitious with its story, it lost the theme of the season and had too many weird little tangents that weren’t satisfying. However this was still mandatory viewing every week because of how incredible the performances were and what the show was trying to do dismantle what is “normal.” I hope it finds its focus next season because there is so much good here.
“It’s just seeing those soldiers up on that screen made me think about all the guys that didn’t make it that day. I mean, why should I get to celebrate anything?”
“Because you lived, Pete.”
I have a friend who is put off by TV a little bit because everything of quality is so dark or cynical. I have other shows on my list that can also be happy viewing, but none of them match the pure kindness of Enlisted. This wonderful FOX comedy was cancelled and shown out of order (shocking) but it was worth . It was about a war hero who made a mistake in Afghanistan and is punished by having to work at the Florida Army Reserve where his two younger brothers are stationed. The show is allowed to be a silly comedy without ever insulting those who are willing to serve because of the pure affection for everyone on the show. The real conflict of the series was never the snobby soldiers but the insecurities they all feel that is stopping them from being truly happy. These are soldiers who are terrible every element of physical training and tactics, but they know how to be there for each other, which makes them heroes.
“My kids are in competing musicals. This is my dream.”
“That’s your dream?”
“Yeah, that and Tina is president.”
There is a part I fear during every long running TV show where they are so afraid to let the characters evolve that they become trapped in this awful development purgatory. Bob’s Burgers prevents that by giving the Belchers their own little personal victories. In the recent episode “Best Burger”, Bob still loses the burger competition but his second place status actually causes some people to visit his store and there was a nice moment where Gene fights against his abstract tangents in order to help his family. These are people will never be rich or successful or all together sane. But the reason this show is the most reliable family comedy is that they are able to endure through maddening support (like the lengths Bob goes to for Tina in her My Little Pony-esque conference) and weird personal victories (like Gene able to act in a Die Hard musical). I would say “Never Change, Belchers” but I’m glad you can in your strange baby-step fashion.
“Back then, the visions…most of the time I was convinced that I’d lost it. But there were other times, I thought I was main-lining the secret truth of the universe.”
The amusingly named McConiassance was already underway before this HBO series. Matthew McConaughey was already impressive with his performances in Mud, Killer Joe, Bernie, Magic Mike and The Wolf of Wall Street. Yet when we look back at his whole career, it will be hard to top his utterly captivating performance as Rust Cohle. His perplexing monologues, the unhinged darkness, the damned state he appears to be in the future with all of those beer cans. Then he has another career-defining performance from Woody Harrelson to bounce off of. When the show focused on these two men trying to find some sort of clarity within society and themselves, the show was something powerfully astute. It could never successfully create that world beyond the scope of the two of them but when it worked, it was revolutionary television.
The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail
“I’ve been doing stand up comedy for a long time, but tonight was the first night ever where I said, ‘you know what, I’m not going to drink at all before I go on stage.’ and what happened was…It didn’t work out! It didn’t work out!
I am a comedy podcast junkie. It’s my favorite way to find new comedians because the format for podcasts allow for a lot of strange spontaneity where you can see what really makes them laugh. I end up listening to these shows way more than any official stand-up special because those sometimes feel a bit too polished. Just like when I see comedy live, I like the random little moments that will only happen once. That’s why The Meltdown is the comedy show TV has needed for over a decade. It’s a filmed version of a weekly stand-up show that takes place in the back of a comic bookstore. The hosts Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani guide the audience through a silly night of odd sketches, songs, stand-up, performance art, crowd work and what it’s like in the green room. This is the first time I’ve seen an accurate depiction of attending a comedy show and it’s even better when you see the best in the business having fun.
“I know what binary is. Jesus Christ! I memorized the hexadecimal times tables when I was 14 writing machine code, okay? Ask me what 9 times F is. It’s fleventyfive.”
Mike Judge is back. What a happy phrase to say after a couple of disappointing projects from one of the best American satirists alive today. What makes Judge and this show so great is that he’s able to observe so much about the absurdity of the modern workplace while having this great warmth towards the people in the midst of it. This strange gang who is trying to make Pied Piper the next greatest Silicon Valley invention are so delightful to be around. As they often fail, there is still this hope. While The Social Network showed the kid in the hoodie always knew how to build his product, these are people in hoodies who have no clue about any aspect of business. Their youth and inexperience makes a great through line especially since the world they’re navigating is ruled by rich weirdoes who are obsessed with Burger King sesame seeds and the power a car can have over you. Also the rumors are true, this show has the greatest dick joke in the history of comedy.
“All the people who stayed here and pretended it never happened, they’re asleep and they need to wake up now.”
There’s two kinds of darkness on TV. There’s the Breaking Bad/The Sopranos darkness where you see bad people do bad things and it’s worrisome what humanity can do. Then there’s the darkness of The Leftovers where you just feel surrounded by darkness because every element of the world seems out to get you. While Hannibal and True Detective have deadly forces causes this hell, The Leftovers is damaged by its silence. Continuing the haunting themes Damon Lindeloff explored in LOST and Prometheus, the unanswerable questions are the obsession of all who are left behind from a rapture-esque event. In a season almost entirely without humor, we are witness to people desperately struggling to understand anything and to cope with the impossible. The show was at its best when it shied away from the ensemble and looked at one individual for the hour. For it’s difficult to look at such earnest and raw displays of pain. It was always one of the shows I held off watching every week, but after every hour I’m glad I was able to experience such a bold and challenging show.
“Writers, are like, this ridiculous class of people who just make everything about themselves, and they tend to have really strange, bizarre eating habits.”
The last season of Girls worried me because even though it still had plenty of great observations, the story seemed like it stalled so much to the point where I was worried the rest of the series would just to be to watch them make the same mistakes over and over again. Then Season Three was a huge reassurance that this is still a very relevant show with plenty to say. To watch Hannah encounter her first real experiences with death and success was a profound journey especially since I never thought the character had it in her. Adam Driver and Richard E. Grant took turns stealing the show in some of the funniest scenes the show has ever made. I can’t imagine them ever becoming Women but they are no longer the girls from the pilot. I want to keep seeing where they’re going. Especially if it involves more nights out in the theatre as a group.
Please Like Me
“I guess I feel like I’m not good enough.”
“Aw, babe. Nah, you’re good enough. You’re great.”
While Girls looks at the loneliness and the pain of being an ignorant twenty-something, Please Like Me embraces the joy. There is plenty of tragedy in this series as everyone is dealing with heartache, suicide and mental illness. But from that pain comes kindness as Josh continues to try and find love, connect with his complicated family, support his friends, build a revenge fort against his friends, laugh, joke and bake sweets. With every episode written or co-written by star Josh Charles, there is a generosity that doesn’t make this a selfish one-man show, but a warm look at all the characters in this personal Australian setting. To use one of the click-bait-y phrases, this is one of the best shows you’ve never heard of and one of the easiest to recommend.
“I guess we should talk about the elephant in the room. Namely…what are we gonna do with literally, not figuratively, a ton of cocaine?”
Sitcoms are not designed to run too long because humor doesn’t work when the premise or the characters grow stale. So what does Archer do? Blow up the spy agency and spend a year having all of the characters trying to sell cocaine. It’s unnerving how well this worked. Every character is able to transfer their selfish incompetence into illegal activity without blinking an eye. New stakes are created with Pam’s hysterical cocaine addition, Cyril’s geopolitical ramifications, Lana’s pregnancy and Archer’s joy about having this insane adventure. The thrill never dissipates of how much the show was willing to blow up its premise to have this well plotted, structurally bold and surprisingly character focused season.
“Dear Lord, I’m such a fool, I’m such a fool. What have I done?”
In its third season, Rev. really started to hit me in the gut. I liked the first two seasons because Tom Hollander’s creation of Adam, this kind struggling reverend, was such a nice look at religion in a modern setting. When I started this season I didn’t know that this may have been the last, but during the six episodes there was this new feeling of defeat. Their church is running out of money and needs to do something to stay open. The show is at its best when it uses Adam’s determination to meet his goal clash with his religious perspective and the inner struggle he has to lead a worthy life. While this show is filled with funny moments, it’s the heartbreaking ones near the end that are going to stick with me the longest. (That’s not a spoiler.)
Jane the Virgin
“Looks like I’ll be teaching at a Catholic high school.”
“Maybe don’t tell them you’re a pregnant virgin.”
“The nuns or the high schoolers?”
There’s always one show a year where I have to make an extra hard pitch to get people to try it. Usually it’s something like “Oh, Silicon Valley is really funny, check it out.” But when a show is called Jane the Virgin and it’s about an accidental insemination, I always need to go further to say, “But really it’s brilliant.” The reason why it works is because it’s able to evoke the tone of an exaggerated telenovela and allows the audience to enjoy the insanity without any of the irony. This is one of the best plotted shows on TV because there are so many characters and they somehow are related and/or have secret affairs or they’re hiding murder clues or they’re hiding someone’s father’s identity. And it’s fun! Every episode has at least one really strong laugh from me because of its meta-approving narrator, surreal tangents and all of the joy. There’s nothing else like this on TV. At least (primarily) in English and it’s so good that it’s tempting to make me try to learn Spanish again to figure out if I’m missing other gems.
Nathan For You
“They say that the devil is an artist, and if that’s so, then maybe I was his greatest piece yet.”
Last year, Nathan Fielder’s strange comedy show created this strange environment where this weirdo lead real small businesses to terrible business choices. This season doesn’t feel like a more epic season, but it’s undeniably weirder. There are these beautifully captured moments like Nathan learning the relator he has been advising was attacked by a ghost in Sweden, creating an emotional arc for his pet fly, worried that a taxi driver is too into his idea to try to have someone give birth in a car or trying to have 40 maids clean a house at once. The brilliant of the show is how realized Nathan’s character is and his attempt to shift the real world to one where his ideas would be helpful to businesses. He’s not malicious; he’s just bad at his job. Yet there is one episode the series will forever try to top where for one instance the world did change and the results scared Nathan. That was the age of Dumb Starbucks.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
“One in four Americans are skeptical on climate change. Who gives a shit? That doesn’t matter. You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking: Which is bigger 5 or 15? Do owls exist? Are there hats?”
I really enjoyed John Oliver’s run on The Daily Show this summer because he had this natural ability to be angry and funny without discounting either emotion. It wasn’t perfect because he’s lousy with interviews. When he was given his own HBO show I figured it would just be a more profane Daily Show but Oliver channeled all of his best instincts into one of the most important comedies on the air. Without the distraction of commercials or sponsorship, Last Week Tonight can delve into major issues for upwards to 15 minutes with an incredible about of research and perspective. The reason why all of these segments go viral is because it is able to educate without every condescending and there is a passion in every word. Also he spent an impressive amount of time trying to save Russian space geckos.
“So if I didn’t understand I was being asked to be the best man, it is because I never expected to be anybody’s best friend, and certainly not the best friend of the bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing. John, I am a ridiculous man, redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship.”
Co-creator Steven Moffat once described writing Sherlock Holmes as a man who thinks he’s a god. This was the season when he was dropped down a peg by his ultimate nemesis: his own emotions. This interpretation has always been refusing to acknowledge them due to his self-prescribed “high-functioning sociopath” label. Yet in this trio of episodes, the real plots were about him trying to fix his friendship with John Watson, give him the best wedding possible and to protect the ones he cares about. While this season was less about the mysteries—although the complicated structure of The Sign of Three was a blast—it gave us a nice new chapter in the weird bond all of the characters have in this world. And like every Sherlock season, it leaves us waiting not so patiently for the next batch of episodes. But fear not, the next one will have HATS!
“I was sure I’d never see him again.”
The Affair is my Serial. The flawed narrator format has been around since the beginning of storytelling but The Affair allows a gimmick to let you compare the evidence. Every episode is half of the story where Noah presents what he says happened and then you see the same time from Allison’s point of view. Their contradictions are massive. It’s not just who said what, but a completely new interpretation of characters and motivations. This summer affair starts to threaten both of their marriage while some sort of crime looms in the future. I watched every episode looking for clues not towards what will happen next, but trying to find the emotional truth. The result is extremely compelling.
“We’re gonna need to come up with a plan in the next 20 seconds inside this huddle because when I created this huddle, I thought by this time I’d have a plan. I don’t.”
I had never seen their webseries so I had no idea how much I really needed these two to have a large outlet to their hysterical comedy. It’s not that they’re women and there should be more women having a chance in comedy. It’s that they’re awesome. On paper Abbi and Illana are just another pair of twenty-something slackers living in New York but they have this wonderful misguided determination to be the best of themselves. Their plots have the appearance of low stakes but they are always right outside the scope of their personal ambition so they are trying everything imaginable to get tickets to a concert, go see Abbi’s drawings or attend a wedding. But because it’s them and because it’s New York this requires them to clean the apartment of a man dressed as a baby, having Bed Bath & Beyond purchases inadvertently cause chaos on the subway and strapping themselves to the wall of a moving van. They are ideas that (almost) make sense in the moment but are always worth laughing at right after they happen. I love these characters and their messed-up world.
“I would never betray my country.”
“No one ever imagines they will.”
I fear these characters and their messed-up world. If you’re missing the old-fashioned spy stories before there was a heavy use of gadgets and every moment is overflowing with paranoia and mistrust, this show is all for you. The first season created a bleak world of two Soviet agents living undercover in 1980s America without even their kids knowing their true allegiance. Right away, the second season decided to make this world utterly miserable. In The Americans, everyone is losing the Cold War. Every mission serves to be ultimately successful for no one and this season goes beyond political failings and really damages the souls of everyone involved. I didn’t think they were going to be able to give a satisfying answer to the mystery that starts the season. I had some guesses but nothing prepared me for the bombshell conclusion that makes the next season premiere one of my most anticipated episodes of 2015. I don’t know if anything I wrote will convince anyone to watch this show but, damn, it’s well done.
“You forget your life after a while…the life you had before. Things you cherish and hold dear are like pearls on a string. Cut the knot, they scatter across the floor, rolling into dark corners, never to be found again. So you move on. And eventually you forget what the pearls even looked like. Or at least you try.”
There is still this strange stigma against female led shows but this is one (along with a few more higher up the list) that can sway a lot of unexpected viewers. A nurse in the turn of the century England is transported back to the time of the Highlanders where her knowledge of modern medicine and lack of proper identification puts her at risk in the middle of a war. What she has to do to stay live is impressive on its own, but her attempt to stay loyal to the husband she inadvertently left behind is also filled with unexpected stakes. Translating a complicated internal struggle is always very difficult but Outlander does it impressively well with less reliance on the voice-over thanks to Caitriona Balfe’s amazing performance and the strength of the very sophisticated and exciting scripts.
“It just sucks. It really really sucks.You have no idea. And the worst part is, I’m not even supposed to do this.”
“Tell anyone how bad it sucks, because it’s too much for people.”
Part of the joy of watching Louie is never knowing what an episode is going to look like. Usually an episode consists of a short film or two that could be hilarious or introspective. After taking a year off, Louie C.K. returned with something unexpected: a feature film. In 14 episodes, six of them were all one large story about Louie finding love with a woman in his building who doesn’t speak English. If this was released in theatres, it would be one of my favorite of the year because it was able to so much about how Louie is able to connect to people and how he experiences a limited form of happiness. Almost as sequel to these episodes was a three episode arc with Pamela, a woman who continues to excite him despite how much pain she causes him. Louie’s experiment with long-form storytelling allowed him to breathe even more in this format and both of these arcs culminated in these incredible powerful moments of emotional want. Oh and he also had two incredible stand-alone episodes of “So Did the Fat Lady” and “In the Woods”. Every episode proved this is a wonderful platform for one of the most interesting storytellers in television.
“Is this what you want?”
I was talking about this show with my parents and early on I suggested that Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard was possibly worse that Billy Bob Thorton’s Lorne Malvo. Malvo, as his name hints, is an evil force that takes joy in bringing chaos to people he finds lesser than him—which is everybody. He knows what he is and what is place is in the universe. Lester thinks he’s something he’s not. He think he’s a hero who deserves more than he has. There are plenty of characters who want something in Fargo but what Lester does to get his dreams is horrifying. This was such a wonderfully complete story of this rich Coen Brother-esque world with a gluttony of amazing performances and satisfyingly surprisingly moments. Everyone said this shouldn’t have worked but, wow, it did.
“Britta Perry. Do you know that you hate yourself more than you should and that your passion inspired me?”
Holy crap, Community is good again! So much has been said about how terrible Season Four was after Dan Harmon was fired. I watched every darn episode and after that horrendous finale, I somberly realized that I can’t watch the show anymore. It went against all that I cared about. The only way I would return is if for some bizarre reason they rehire Dan Harmon but that’s never happened in the history of television. Then they rehired Dan Harmon. And he fixed the show. Not just from the “gas leak year” but from his own mistakes. He returned the focus to the damaged centers of the characters and through that was able to expose their triumphs through the gleeful madness of Glendale. As the characters are subjected to polygraphs, hot lava, social media dystopia, VHS card games and the actual Cobra Commander, they’re reminded of their own impact on each other. They are only able to grow as they continue to test themselves and each other. More than any other season there was this belief that everybody matters. Even the ones who were cruel or insane in the past, they’re all in this, so it’s best just to bear down for midterms.
“You’re always going to be afraid, even you learn to hide it. Fear is like a companion, a constant companion–always there. But that’s OK because fear can bring us together. Fear can bring you home…Fear makes companions of us all.”
This crazy show has been around for 51 years. 51 years of planets and adventures and cliffhangers and companions and Doctors. Now it’s time for a new incarnation to helm the TARDIS and what is there to be done that hasn’t already been portrayed by the last 12 actors? In a bold move Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi decided not to focus on the charismatic romantic side of the time traveling rapscallion. Instead they focused on an element that is always present but never the forefront of the character: his disapproving darker side. This new perspective on The Doctor resulted in the most focused season of the new series as it told this complicated thematic examination of The Doctor struggling to recognize if he’s a good man, the dangerous influence he has on (the much improved) Clara and how The Doctor’s rogue behavior blends with how he sees soldiers. It was a sophistication I didn’t expect from the show and it brought a new excitement to a really excellent run of stories.
“No one has ever seen me except me.”
TV is a weird medium where typically a pilot is created—like this one—and then it goes through an approval process—this one was public—and then it’ll decide to make more episodes or not. Usually kinks are worked out as episodes are produced so within a season you have the best of what the show is. None of that happened with Transparent because it nailed everything from the very first episode. By now the main premise of the show is well known, but in case you didn’t see the clue that was right in front of you (I didn’t) I won’t say anything because the pilot handles it so perfectly. This will go down as landmark television because of the way it so perfectly captured the public understanding of this topic through heartbreaking emotion and the willingness of empathy. All of the family members are flawed, selfish people but you can’t look away from them because they’re capturing something undeniably honest. I don’t know if he’ll be properly recognized by the best performance by any actor in television this year is Jeffrey Tambor. Just incredible.
“Look, I love abortion, okay? I am an abortionado. But I would go pro-life in a fetal fucking heartbeat if it meant winning.”
It’s a strange thing to watch the HBO comedies after Game of Thrones because the tonal shift sometimes allows you to rest easy after fantasy direness. But that slowly ended up not being the case with Veep where there was a night when I thought America was more damned than Westeros. The joke of the series that is Selina Meyer has the most worthless job in the country as the Vice-President but as we watch her campaign, it becomes more and more horrifying what happens when this vapid person is given actual responsibilities. This new dose of stakes made this the best season of Veep yet with a handful of perfect episodes and a forum where these hysterical characters are just fighting for any sort of position they can grab. Thanks to the brilliance of the performances, none of them ever just become one type of petty person. There are these small flights of humanity where you recognize what they could possibly be if there weren’t in this soul-crushing system. But then the temptation is immediately too great and they must ruin everyone else’s career in this tightly realized farce of a season. If done right, next year can be even better and I can’t wait.
“I don’t know what was more miraculous–the technological achievement that put our species in a new perspective or the fact that all of us were doing the same thing at the same time. Sitting in this room, we can still feel the pleasure of that connection. Because, I realize how, we were starving for it.”
The end is almost here. Throughout the 60s we’ve seen Don Draper construct the life he thought he wanted, destroy it, sink lower than he imagined, rise up with attempts at improvements and then fall again. In the final hours and in the final moments of stillness, what does Don Draper want? In a mixture of humility and frustration it appears there is a chance for peace for the character. In the seven episodes that have aired (Thanks idiotic AMC scheduling!), we’ve had one of the best examination of the aftermath of all the characters’ accomplishments and consequences mixed with some of the most wonderfully sweet moments of the entire series. I don’t know what is to come in 2015 but if they can give us something that can match the greatness of Don joking with Sally about dining and dashing, Don dancing with Peggy to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”, the imagery of the show’s true family sitting at a diner, the Burger Chef pitch or the absolutely perfect rendition of “The Best Things in Life Are Free”, then the show will be able to secure its title of one of the best shows ever made.
Rick and Morty
“Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
Dan Harmon is all about structure. His scripts for Community are tight and even the documentary about him fits into his created story-circle. This show mixes Harmon’s tendency for complicated structure with the infinite madness of Justin Roiland’s imagination. The result is one of the funniest and darkest shows on television. The animated format lends perfectly to the anarchy of Rick Sanchez, a Doc Brown styled character, who allows such insane escalation no matter the emotional harm to his grandson Morty. This includes crafting a love potion that deforms the human race into Cronenberg monsters, buying Morty a sex robot that becomes pregnant with a killer monster and throwing a house party where he invited Abradolph Lincoler (a robot hybrid of Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler). The darkness of the show doesn’t stem from cynicism but this scary inevitability of pain and dissatisfaction. It’s weird that a show that made an alternate world where chairs sit on people can have some of the most moving observations about the human condition while also having the strongest laugh ratio of any show on TV. There’s nothing else to say but WUBBA LUBBA DUB DUB!
“It’s not complicated. I just want it to be over, Jon. Don’t you?”
Rectify is such a quiet spiritual show that for most of this season, I was just enjoying the curiously sad tranquility of the world surrounding Daniel Holden. The first season showed the week of freedom after his 19 year incarceration on death row. Like Daniel, I didn’t know what this season was leading towards. It wasn’t until a shocking metaphorical shoe dropped in the middle of the season did I realize what the whole series was leading towards. The show is able to have these long stretches of self-meditation and religious wandering for the characters to come to a sort of clarity about their own sense of peace. This type of journey is set in place so one can craft their life they want. As the elements beyond Daniel’s control try to limit him, this is the season where it stops being about observing the new world around him and recognizing what he cares the most about and what he’s willing to fight for. There is nothing like this show on TV. I don’t know how much longer this show will last considering nobody watches it but above any other show on the air, I am fascinated to see what the conclusion is for Daniel and his family. I pray we are able to see the full story but until then I’m grateful and in awe by what we’ve seen so far.
You’re the Worst
“Maybe we’re like two pit bulls. You put either with another dog, and that dog is toast. But together, they’re couch buds. They nullify the threat through mutually assured destruction.”
Romantic comedies, by definition, are awesome. Romantic comedies, by output, are terrible. In order to succeed, they need to be romantic and comedic but most of the cookie-cutter crap the genre offers typically fail in both categories. The trick to making it work is to have two well-realized funny people in the center who connect in a true and honest way. We have that with Jimmy and Gretchen. Over 10 episodes, we watch them grow and challenge each other in creatively honest ways. Oh, it’s also worth noting that they’re the worst. Their disdain for other people and their refusal to acknowledge their own mushy desires makes them the weirdest fitting couple. They’re so destructive they almost have to be together because they’ll destroy anyone else. The show treats their awfulness as perfect and harmful for each other as their struggles to keep a modern relationship work is also their attempt to become (slightly) better people. The arc for this season was so perfectly constructed and so rewatchable because everything is working exceptionally. In a year full of way too many network romantic sitcoms that all failed, this was the underseen perfect entry.
The Good Wife
“What does it mean if there’s no God? Why is that any better?”
“It’s not better. It’s just truer. It’s just not wishful thinking.”
“Always believing in the bad, maybe that’s wishful thinking too.”
Since the last TV article, I was finally able to rectify my big omission: The Good Wife. It’s not the cool thing to like CBS shows, especially CBS procedurals but this the exciting and fun exception. There have been 122 episodes that have aired in the series and I’ve liked 121 of them. That’s an absurd level of quality and I think it has reached new heights with Seasons Five and Six. The show has always succeeded in creating intriguing plots especially in the cases of the week which I typically am bored by in every other show. (Only other shows where I love the weekly cases are Veronica Mars and Terriers.) This show refuses to create a formula for itself but instead challenges and expands the world to create the most intelligent and satisfying conclusion for every component. This became even greater with its larger stories with the impressive thematic downfall of a respectable character in Five and the study of the system failing another in Six. There were so many shocking and bold decisions made in 2014 with this show that have all worked out to great effect. The midseason finale was so brilliant and can once again radically change the show in a way that no other show is willing to do.
“It we want to say it’s ‘notes’, I’m fine with that.”
There’s a point when sometimes the art gets away from you. That’s only bad when it costs people a lot of money and it becomes a public spectacle. To put it mildly, things got weird on The Chair. Much like producer Chris Moore’s first show, Project Greenlight, this is a documentary series showing the filmmaking process for a first time filmmaker getting their big break to direct a feature film. The big difference for this show is that two first time directors are given the same script to make their movie. In an attempt to avoid the trainwrecks of Greenlight, two directors were handpicked by Moore and the fellow producers of the show/movies which included Zachary Quinto. One was Anna Martemucci who Quinto had worked with before on a movie she produced and co-wrote. The other was YouTube superstar Shane Dawson. So both have worked in production before but never had a name on their own feature-length project. The irony is that the director that looks the best is Tony Sacco, the director of The Chair. This show refuses to play towards any of the cheap tricks of other reality competition shows but instead followed the raw emotion that was in front of him. This include inspiring moments that made me nostalgic for when I was working on sets and moments that may end the careers of anyone associated with these films. Anything could happen in these 10 episodes which made every installment thrilling and horrifying especially as people try to turn on the show itself. There is a moment with Zachary Quinto in the penultimate episode that is more badass than anything he’s done in Star Trek and you just can’t believe this footage is in the show. The conclusion is insane, strange and perfectly fitting with this incredible experiment of a show.
Orange is the New Black
“No offense, but, uh, men being in charge has never done me any good.“
All the scripts in this season should be studied. I loved the first season but this show went into such fascinatingly complex territory I was amazed it all fits together so seamlessly. The show always knew how to tell individual stories very well and that played out even better this year with the jarring premiere, Morello’s devastating flashback and the romances of Poussey. Yet why this show is so legendary is now because of all the stories it has in the women prison but how they inadvertently form this community as a way to endure through this hardship. The ease of which every plotline becomes a subtle catalyst for another one is so damned impressive as it displays how interconnected they all are to each other. To enforce this even further, this season introduced the brilliant antagonist of Red whose older philosophy to prison is about isolating communities instead of working with them. The ripple effect of these women falling apart is hard to watch because the show is so empathetic to these characters. Most of this is not done with a lot of fanfare until the triumphant finale when everything comes together in this jaw-droppingly impressive way that only this show and its perfect tone could accomplish.
“I have always found the idea of death comforting. The thought that my life could end at any moment frees me to fully appreciate the beauty and art and horror of everything this world has to offer.”
We all know what has to happen to Hannibal Lecter. Almost every image we have in our minds is him in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He will get caught and he will end up there. Showrunner Bryan Fuller swears they will tell the story of Red Dragon and if they can clear the rights The Silence of the Lambs. But when you’re in the middle of this season, it’s really hard not to assume that Hannibal will always win. He’s just too smart. The first season ended with his mic-drop of a plan against the mentally unstable hero Will Graham and this season is him getting more arrogant and more dangerous. While I love Season One, this season steps up quality so much because it allows the conflict to exist in every millisecond. At this point, Will knows that Hannibal must be stopped so this season is an all-out battle of darkness. There are twists I didn’t even realize where being planted in the first season and a boldness to the storytelling that is just daring. As the characters fall into unsafe emotional territory, the show leaves the audience to come up with their own conclusions to what is really going on making us lost in the madness as well. But when the guiding narrative returns, it presented a brilliantly constructed puzzle where every piece fit to show an image we really wish wasn’t true. But…this was his design. In a year of really brilliant television, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind what was the best show. There is a reason to be afraid again.
Honorable mentions include: Arrow, BoJack Horseman, The Comeback, Cosmos, Cuckoo, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Flash, Frankenstein M.D., Game of Thrones, hitRECord on TV, Inside No. 9, Justified, Moone Boy, New Girl and The Widower.