Devin and I untangle our recent lack of enthusiasm for TV and explore the current state creatively and commercially of the television landscape.
Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: on three of the best “prestige” dramas, women rule the roost.
Better Call Saul and Mr. Robot are as driven by their respective leading men as shows can be, a fact the titles make abundantly clear. The Americans has a dual focus on its central couple. But on new seasons of each this year, the MVPs were the women.
Nothing against Bob Odenkirk or his character Saul Goodman, a slippery con man who’s constantly caught between good intentions and material desires. Nothing against Rami Malek, who brings aching vulnerability and disaffected sensitivity to the role of Elliott Alderson, a hacker struggling with mental illness and revolutionary impulses. And nothing against Matthew Rhys, who deserves far more than the one Emmy nomination he secured this year for the shape-shifting masterstrokes on display as Philip Jennings, the KGB operative who always has going straight deep in the back of his mind.
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.
Here’s my conversation with Devin Mitchell about “Person to Person,” the series finale of Mad Men.
Mark: Before we start our deep dive into “Person to Person,” the series finale of Mad Men, let’s get a few caveats out of the way. Here are mine:
- Regardless of my positive or negative reactions to this episode of television, I love and respect Mad Men, and I’m very sad it’s over.
- There are no right answers. Even if Matthew Weiner were to give twelve interviews today explaining all of his decisions, what’s onscreen is up to each viewer’s interpretation.
- I don’t like Coke. Or drink soda, ever.
Devin, feel free to add any of your own caveats to my list. Before you do, I’ll offer some insight into my first reactions at the end of last night’s episode. I was moved to tears several times. I laughed out loud four or five times, sometimes at a funny line of dialogue, sometimes at the prospect of the show ending in twenty — no, fifteen! — minutes. I definitely laughed at the Coke ad, though I wasn’t sure why and I’m still not.
The key takeaway is that nearly all of my reactions to this ambiguous, unusual episode of television were emotional. The intellectual responses came later, especially when I logged onto Twitter. But for a few moments, I was happy to care only about how the episode made me feel, not what it was trying to say.
Your turn, Devin. What were your visceral reactions to the finale? And where do you want to begin discussing specifics?
The series finale of Mad Men starts in just over four hours on the East coast. This show is one of my favorites, to say the least. I started watching the first season while the fourth season was airing, which means I saw some reactions to “The Suitcase” months before I finally got to see it for myself.
“The Suitcase” is the seventh episode of the fourth season, and the show’s 46th episode overall. Written by series creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Jennifer Getzinger, it comes at the precise midway point of the series, though when it aired, Weiner hadn’t set the end date or even renewed his agreement with AMC. It’s widely considered the best episode of the show’s run.
Presenting the second half of my mock ballot for tomorrow’s Emmy nominations. I’m looking forward to seeing the majority of my hopes crushed in favor of mediocre or unsurprising choices. But that’s the game Emmy fans play. Check out the first part of my ballot for my thoughts on the supporting categories.
Without further ado, the nominations are…
Mad Men has never won an award for Lead or Supporting Actor or Actress at the Primetime Emmy Awards. That one of the greatest television programs in recent and not-so-recent memory might leave the air without ever receiving industry recognition for the brilliance of its sterling cast is nothing short of a pop-culture injustice.
Much of the discussion of the acting on Mad Men stops and ends with Jon Hamm, for understandable and honorable reasons. Hamm is a force to be reckoned with, conveying dozens of emotions with a single facial gesture and portraying states of embattled loneliness and embittered aggression with equal force. His Carousel and Hershey speeches (in the pilot and the sixth season finale, respectively) rank among the most memorable, poignant, layered dramatic moments in the show’s seven-season run. There’s also the not-insignificant matter of Hamm’s dazzling good looks, which enhance the irony of Don Draper’s interior turmoil hiding behind the facade of a confident heartthrob.
But Hamm is just one piece of a much larger ensemble.