Winter Has Come: TV in 2015

Saul

Photo by Ursula Coyote, AMC

2015 is shaping to be television’s most prolific year yet. A show just premiered on the PlayStation network, of all places. Netflix and Amazon have fully established themselves as networks to watch. And great television’s old haunts – basic cable, subscription services, even the broadcast networks – haven’t been slouching either. Here’s a look at four of my favorite shows so far this year.

Better Call Saul

When AMC announced that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould would be reuniting the Breaking Bad crew for a spinoff starring the huckster lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), the initial response was trepidatious at best. Why risk spoiling one of the greatest runs in TV history with a shameless cash grab? But such reactions, despite the wobbly creative fortunes of the parent network, proved unfounded. Far be it from me to question Gilligan and Gould’s narrative ambitions.
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“Empire”: Top of the Charts

Empire

Empire is a ratings phenomenon unlike anything on television in years, or maybe ever. The number of people watching each episode has increased without fail for each of the show’s nine episodes. It’s handily outdoing American Idol, once an unstoppable phenomenon, now Fox’s Wednesday night warmup act. The social media buzz is off the charts, with GIFs of Cookie being Cookie and clips from the original songs reliably popping up on Twitter each week.

All of this buzz prompts the question: is the show, created by Lee Daniels (Precious, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and Danny Strong (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire screenwriter and onetime Mad Men recurring character), any good?

The answer is complicated. I watched all eight of the show’s non-pilot episodes in one fell swoop yesterday afternoon, and I’m not sure I’d call Empire good so much as savvy.

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“SNL 40″: Fortieth Verse, Similar to the First

Last night’s Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special began with a musical tribute to the show’s iconic characters performed by two of its most currently camera-ready stars. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake “History of Rap”-ified forty years of surreal catchphrases and gross-out gags before intoning the show’s now-infamous opening salvo.

“Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!”

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“Jane the Virgin”: Watch It, Por Favor

And now, a humble request from a TV fanatic: don’t be a Jane the Virgin virgin.

In an era when the term “prestige television” means dark antihero dramas and niche single-camera sitcoms, Jane the Virgin stands out. This loving parody of and homage to Spanish-language telenovelas is a complex, character-driven show with a specific point of view, an eye towards diverse perspectives and an array of colorful performances. Watching the pilot, I was overwhelmed by the seemingly unsustainable tangle of plot threads. And yet, by some miracle, the show has sustained those threads and deepened beyond them.

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Reaction: The “Ghostbusters” Cast Couldn’t Be Better

Ghostbusters

As with most people, the word “reboot” sets my teeth on edge. I’m always a proponent of discarding tired concepts and flagging franchises in favor of original material. But reboots aren’t inherently bad. Tuesday’s “Ghostbusters” announcement offers hope that at least one upcoming remake won’t be cringeworthy. Read the rest at The Eagle.

Pop Culture Hopes and Dreams for 2015

Force Awakens

Last year at this time, I published a post with a series of hopes and dreams, big and small, for 2014. I’m happy to report that some of those hopes came true. A quick rundown:

I hoped that the third season of Sherlock is every bit as delectable as the first two. It wasn’t. The seams started to show, despite great moments. Oh well.

I hoped Jimmy Fallon’s transition to The Tonight Show would be smooth and hassle-free. Given NBC’s track record, this hope seemed far-fetched, but Fallon’s ratings are through the roof, and the qualities that made him a success on Late Night remain intact in the higher-profile timeslot.

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