Happy New Year everyone. With the coming of 2016, it makes perfect sense to look back on the year that was. As the first part in our multi-part series, I want to look at the year in television. So without further ado, here are my 5 favourite television series from 2015:
5. Daredevil/Jessica Jones
While two different series in the same shared television universe, I find myself struggling to choose the better between these two equally affecting shows from the ever-expanding MCU. I am going to confess something rather unpopular, but I am starting to find the Marvel Cinematic Universe rather tiresome. While unique in its efforts to tie all of its properties under one guiding thematic core, there has been a lack of gravitas to Marvel’s latest theatrical efforts. This is doubly so when you look at their main antagonists. Villains lack compelling narrative through-lines. Meanwhile, within the Netflix television efforts, the show runners of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones have found ways of not only making their villains compelling, but also narratively empathetic. They are evil, and yet there is intelligence and heart behind the cruel and vulgar behaviour.
The main characters, while not wholly as compelling as their villains, are still some of the strongest and more-developed characters in the entirety of the MCU. Compare that against the film’s heroes who show little other character development than bravado and masculine insecurity. Much of this is thanks to the series’ episodic structure, but then again look at Agents of Shield that serves no purpose other than a continuity vehicle for the MCU and little else, and you see how truly special the Netflix offerings are in all of Marvel’s thiefdom.
4. Master of None
It was clear almost immediately when I started Master of None that Aziz Ansari had developed something incredibly special with his Netflix Original sitcom. Labelled by some as the Louie for the millennial generation, Master of None confronts serious issues in the life of a twenty something nearing 30, but does so with an earnestness and joy that most like-minded comedies (the Louies and Marons of the world) seem to lack under their veil of cynicism. Ansari’s character, while compelled to make difficult choices throughout, approaches these choices with an optimism that is simply intoxicating.
Master of None also does what few other shows do through its confrontations of social behaviour and privilege in modern America. There are few issues off the table. Racism (intended and unintended), mysogeny, sexual orientation, ageism, and more, social issues such as these are treated with a heartfelt maturity that underlies the shows optimistic take on modern American society.
With Fargo’s second season, it proved that it could do what True Detective couldn’t, that is take the thematic ambiance from a successful first season and transplant that feeling on a new cast of characters in its second. True Detective changed locations and characters and the end result was a lesser version of its original self. Meanwhile Fargo changed its time period and characters and managed to make a second season that was both uniquely compelling on its own merits while also furthering the ludicrous universe that is Fargo, North Dakota.
The 70s aesthetic of Fargo’s second season proved to be such a wonderful thematic backdrop to the show’s absurdist action/comedy, and its ensemble of compelling characters chew that scenery with vigor. The absence of modern contrivances allowed the characters to flourish on their own merit. The writing and performances were so strong that the second season not only lived up to the firsts incredibly strong output, but may have even surpassed it.
When Mr. Robot opened, it appeared to be a reasonably authentic exploration of the world of vigilante hacking. When the show’s first season came to a conclusion, that initial plot was buried under so much thrilling character development and various plot twists that I thought my head was going to explode with each and every episode. The show’s writing was so good, and its character work so compelling that the main throughline of the plot, the big hack on Evil Corp, is but a blink of an eye in where this show truly wants to go. It is a beautiful thing to be genuinely surprised by a television show, but Mr. Robot does this in spades.
The credit with Mr. Robot’s success truly lies with both the writers and the extraordinary cast. Rami Malek delivers a wonderful performance as an introverted computer savant. And before I hop on to the final, and best show of the year, I just want to give a warm welcome back to Christian Slater. It is so good seeing this man deeply invested in compelling narrative storytelling once more. I recently re-watched True Romance for the umpteenth time and it was a wonderful reminder of just how good Slater can be.
I have already expressed my love for Hannibal on this site, but I am going to lay it all out again for you: Hannibal is by far the best television show created in the 2010s. There was hardly a moment of this entire series where I was never enthralled. Okay, the exposition building intro to the third and final season was kind of pretentious, but that aestheticism gave the show’s slower pensive moments a chance to artistically flourish, and the show reveled in the opportunity. And then there was the finale, an episode of television in which the show’s loyal audience received the perfect denouement – visceral carnage married with pathos in an all too satisfying conclusion.
You see, Hannibal throughout was always a show about mood. It’s stories, while deep, served to generate an atmosphere of modern-gothic beauty that is rarely approached with such literacy and intelligence in television. Delivery from the shows cast was always filled with morose, yet analytical fascination in eyes of grotesque visceral violence. One rarely walked away from an episode without feeling disturbed, yet you could not help but see the light in all of that darkness (seductively defined by the relationship between Dr. Lector and Will Graham). In summary, Bryan Fuller has created a masterpiece, and it will be a television show that artistically minded show-runners will be chasing for years. As I said in my review of the finale, I am sad it is over, yet overjoyed that we were all able to experience it.
Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar