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.
Bojack (left, voiced by Will Arnett) and Diane (right, voiced by Alison Brie) in Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman.” Photo courtesy of Netflix.
BoJack Horseman is about BoJack Horseman, the washed-up star of a popular 90s sitcom who lives in Los Angeles, spending his days grappling with the reality of his dwindling fame and chronically minimal self-esteem. He has a cavernous home, a loyal roommate, an enterprising agent, no friends, inconsistent job prospects and a streak of self-destructive behavior that keeps his closest acquaintances and confidants at a remove. He’s sad, lonely, bitter, sarcastic, self-serving, unfaithful and deeply, painfully, perpetually depressed.
If he were the subject of a live-action comedy or drama, you might find him deplorable, or at least unwatchable. But the key is, he’s not just a man. He’s also a horse. And the show around him is a horse of a different color.
Community has ended several times. First, in season 3, it completed a trilogy of excellent seasons of often genre-bending, frequently fourth-wall-breaking, occasionally tearjerking comedy on NBC. Then the network unceremoniously dumped the show’s creator and guru Dan Harmon, leaving the show’s rabid fan base with a superficial shell of a fourth season that retained the show’s stylistic inventiveness but lost nearly all of its humanity. It ended on the show’s worst episode to date, a sour end to a misguided attempt at brand extension from a network and production company that had clearly misunderstood what viewers actually wanted out of the show.
But then, miracles of miracles, the show returned again, and Dan Harmon with it. The fifth season was bumpy, especially because it had to deal with the loss of integral cast member Donald Glover and his lovable teary-eyed jock-turned-nerd Troy Barnes. But it was the show again. And then it ended, somewhat unremarkably.
Except it didn’t end, thanks to the #NewRules of television economics.
The Lego Movie practices what it preaches: creativity, imagination, originality, distinctiveness and daring. That it accomplishes such feats while reinvigorating the endlessly profitable Lego brand and providing a showcase for famous actors in uncharacteristically self-deprecating guises and reaffirming that Phil Lord and Chris Miller are two of the most valuable assets to mainstream Hollywood filmmaking is nothing short of a miracle. The Lego Movie appeals directly to our most basic desires for boisterous spectacle without sacrificing intelligence, wit or pure sensational pleasure.
Watching last night’s two-part season premiere of Community was like greeting an old friend who just returned from a long trip around the world. He’s a little different than you remember, and he hasn’t quite readjusted to the rhythms of his old life, but he’s happy to be back and he’ll readjust soon enough.
Of course, Community didn’t go abroad last season – it went adrift. After Sony unceremoniously dumped the show’s idiosyncratic creator and showrunner Dan Harmon, replacing a singular voice with two journeymen Moses Port and David Guarascio, Community turned into an awkward hybrid of generic two-dimensional sitcom and desperate Community imitator. Aside from the dreadful premiere and finale, the show rarely fell above or below average, with a few episodes landing reasonably well but without the soaring heights of the show at its peak. Sony’s attempt to broaden the show’s audience failed – the show’s audience wasn’t ever going to expand no matter how many changes were imposed, and the loyal fans were unsatisfied with the subpar performance of the show in its unlikely fourth season. In a desperate attempt to win back the show’s jaded audience, Sony rehired Harmon in an apparent first for network television, hoping to stretch the show to syndication without alienating its core fanbase.