In an era of Peak TV, for which we need a new and less overused buzzword, a Top 10 list for the year’s best television simply isn’t enough. What follows is a collection of good-to-great shows that, for a variety of reasons, just missed my marquee year-end list. I’ve organized this two-part guide to TV’s wide range of greatness in 2015 through the lens of one key episode per show. Some of these episodes are the best of their respective seasons. Others are the most emblematic of their respective series’ strengths. All of them are worth watching, if you’re so inclined.
(Note: I didn’t include episodes of shows that appeared in my top 10. But if I had, I’d have included the Edward Snowden interview on Last Week Tonight, the Broad City finale “St. Marks” and the Mad Men stunner “Time & Life.”)
Diversity of many varieties was on the brain for many spheres of television this year. Network executives, showrunners, critics and audiences alike engaged in thoughtful discourse about what it means to make diverse television in 2015. There are more places than ever to watch TV, and more places than ever to distribute it. It makes logical sense that TV offerings this year would touch on a wider range of issues, feature a wider range of character types and demographics and explore a wider range of stories and universes than ever before.
But with great power comes great responsibility. My favorite shows in 2015 were the ones that used the expanding boundaries of what’s possible on television to their fullest advantage, crafting rich and surprising worlds, telling stories that dovetail with the themes, ideas and controversies guiding our daily lives. In relatively arbitrary order of preference (who’s to say whether a dark comedy about an animated horse is superior to one of the most beloved drama series of all time?), here are my ten favorite shows of 2015.
I’m not the right age to have Star Wars imprinted on my DNA. I’m too young to have seen the original movies when they stormed theaters from 1977 to 1983, and too old to look past the tonal and narrative flaws of the prequels. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a movie I wasn’t particularly clamoring for and didn’t really need. I like the originals just fine and found the prequels interesting as a fill-in-the-blanks exercise, but the cultlike devotion to the franchise has always eluded my grasp.
That’s not to say I wasn’t swept up in the multimillion dollar hype machine for this decade-in-the-making sequel, the first Star Wars movie produced without the guiding hand of creator George Lucas. I’d have to be made of stone not to feel some enthusiasm the sight of the movie’s young stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega parading across the late-nighttalk shows or the typically taciturn Harrison Ford grinning from ear to ear at the climax of the teaser trailer. But I watched approvingly from the margins, regarding the entire spectacle as another uncomfortable mix of creativity and commerce. I never fully engaged with the excitement, even as I recognize, respect and appreciate that others did.
(Avoid reading the rest of this review until you’ve seen the movie. I spoil some things.)
On this episode of The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I welcome Chloe Johnson for her fifth guest appearance. This time around, we review the excellent journalism movie Spotlight and reflect on the second season of FX’s anthology series Fargo. We had a lot to say, so we split the episode in two parts for your listening enjoyment.
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Peruse the M&M Report category page for previous episodes of the podcast. Thanks for listening!
Some of 2015’s buzziest dramas stumbled when they were expected to soar. True Detective followed up a thrilling first season with a turgid retread. Game of Thrones tested viewers’ patience with an uncomfortable rape scene. The Walking Dead “killed” a fan favorite character just long enough to convince people he had actually died before bringing him back to life.
Defying the trend is HBO’s The Leftovers, whose second season has delivered one extraordinary episode after another. Read the rest of my essay at The Week.
Taken in isolation, those are all valid responses to this news. You have every right to think that you will not enjoy a Coldplay set during the halftime show. But there’s a point at which this frustration becomes futile and draining.