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.
Courtesy of AMC
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.
Relatively few Americans are watching the final season of Mad Men as it airs live. Unlike with Breaking Bad, AMC’s other prestige drama that ended on a bifurcated episode order, the availability of Mad Men on streaming hasn’t brought the show any closer to the phenomenon status of Game of Thrones or the megablockbuster spoils of The Walking Dead. It seems the slow pace, narrative digressions, literary allusions and absence of obvious narrative momentum aren’t driving people to furiously binge-watch and catch up as they did, urgently, for the end of Breaking Bad.
The show has few, if any, loose plot threads to tie up, and its characters hardly appear close to the happy endings some viewers might be expecting. But with the instant-classic episode “Time & Life” (which aired on April 27; yes, I’m behind), creator Matthew Weiner proved once again that he is singular among television writers for creating drama out of circumstances that seem to have passed their expiration date.
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.