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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