The term “peak television” has been thrown around a lot lately, and rightfully so. It’s an incredible time to be a fan of small-screen entertainment. As I did with my video games article, these are a few of my favorite things to grace my television/ipad/computer screen this year.
Show Me A Hero
I’ve made it abundantly clear to almost everybody that I know, that David Simon’s The Wire is my favorite show of all time. It’s an incredible piece of television. After The Wire, David Simon went on to do Generation Kill and Treme. Both were great. This year David Simon graced our televisions once again with Show Me A Hero.
Show Me A Hero was an HBO miniseries based on the 1999 nonfiction book of the same name by former New York Times writer, Lisa Belkin. The show details a white middle-class neighborhood’s resistance to a federally mandated scattered-site public housing development in Yonkers, New York, and how these tensions affected the city as a whole. The main character of police officer turned council member turned mayor, Nick Wasicsko is played by Oscar Isaac. (Who’s having a heck of a year with Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year – which saw wide release in January, and the upcoming Star Wars film).
Oscar Isaac is brilliant (as usual). The supporting cast also deserves a round of applause. Jim Belushi, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder, and Catherine Keener are all incredible in their respective roles. One of the strongest things about David Simon’s work is its writing. Glad to say that Show Me A Hero is no different. I’m not really into politics. I don’t watch debates, I don’t vote, and I could care less about a candidate’s campaign slogans. That being said, Simon does such a great job keeping the politics interesting. I mean, the show’s about housing laws for goodness sake. While Simon handled production and writing, Paul Haggis (Crash) directed the miniseries. They do such a great job showing you Wasicko’s rise (and fall). He’s just a man who wanted to do the right thing.
Being from New York made Show Me A Hero resonate even more. It takes place in Yonkers which is about 40 minutes (without traffic, haha) from where I grew up in Brooklyn. Brilliant performances, interesting subject matter, and a great soundtrack (headlined by numerous Bruce Springsteen tracks) makes Show Me A Hero a must watch.
The Leftovers Season Two
I included season one’s trailer so not to spoiler anything from season two.
At the time of writing this article I am less than an hour removed of just watching the season finale of the second season of HBO’s The Leftovers. What a brilliant piece of television. For those of you who might not have heard of it, The Leftovers is based off of a novel written by Tom Perrotta.
The series takes place three years after a global event called the “Departure.” The departure is an inexplicable, simultaneous disappearance of 140 million people, 2% of the world’s population, which occurred on October 14. Following that event, mainstream religions declined, and a number of cults emerged, most notably the Guilty Remnant. The story focuses primarily on the Garvey family and their acquaintances in the fictional town of Mapleton, New York. Kevin Garvey, who is the Chief of Police. His wife, Laurie who has joined the Guilty Remnant. Their son Tommy who has left home for college, and their daughter Jill who’s acting out.
Season one was phenomenal. So it’s safe to say that it’s an incredible achievement that season two is even better. The second season moves the main characters to the fictional town of Jarden, Texas. Seeing as the first season spans the entirety of the novel, the second season was written with the help of the novel’s author. This season not only continues the tale of the Garvey’s, but also introduces us to a plethora of new characters.
One of the reasons why I loved season two of The Leftovers is because it took risks. From the opening shot of the season which is a 15 minute cold-open set in prehistoric times, to the incredible stand alone episode called “International Assassin.” (Which I won’t spoil). The Leftovers was continually surprising me through its season. Each character had time to shine (some more than others … sorry Jill) and each character plays an important role in Kevin Garvey’s life (and his sanity). It’s great stuff. Also, the music is out of this world.
Both seasons are available to watch on HBO GO, and I highly recommend it. (Warning: It’s a bit depressing at times)
Justified Season Six
“This is one of them classic stories where the hero gets his man and then he rides off into the sunset.”
Well, all good things must come to an end. I’ll be the first one to say that I fall into the camp that season five of Justified was relatively weak. Sure, there were some great moments there, but overall I felt like it wasn’t up the the incredibly high standards I had set for the show. Especially coming off an absolutely brilliant season four.
That being said, I’m glad to say the season six of Justified rides off into the sunset in a blaze of glory. Unlike other seasons, there’s a singular goal … get Boyd Crowder. Yea, there’s some complications along the way and we get to meet some badass villians. One of which is played by the impeccable Sam Elliott. The great thing about Justified is seeing all of the characters act with one another. Their interactions are incredibly playful.
Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens is the star of the show. For six seasons he’s been doing incredible work and it’s a shame he was never recognized by the academy for it. An all around badass, Raylen is going to do whatever he can to get his childhood friend – turned bad guy and bring him to justice. Not to be outdone is Walter Goggins who plays Boyd Crowder. Having done incredible work throughout the whole series, he does some of his best in season six. The confrontation between the two of them is something that’s been building up for six seasons and when the time finally comes … it doesn’t disappoint. Like I said earlier, the relationship between Raylan and Boyd is really the heart of the show, so it was great to see it end on that. The final scene and exchange between the two of them is something I’ll never forget. Great Stuff.
Fargo Season Two
Oh, you betcha Fargo season two was going to make this list. Another piece of incredible ensemble television. Every actor is doing some of their best work this season of Fargo. Fargo is an anthology black-comedy crime drama loosely based off the Coen Brothers 1996 masterpiece of the same name. An Anthology means that (besides for a few connections) each season stands on its own. For instance the actors from season one (Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Hanks, and Alison Tomlin) are nowhere to be found in season two.
So, what’s season two all about? Set in Luverne, Minnesota, Fargo, North Dakota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota in March 1979, this season follows beautician Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst) and her husband, Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons), as they cover up the hit-and-run and murder of Rye Gerhardt, son of Floyd Gerhardt (Jane Smart), matriarch of the Gerhardt crime family in Fargo. Meanwhile, Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), a Minnesota State Trooper who has just returned from Vietnam, and Rock County Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) are investigating three murders committed by Rye Gerhardt. There’s a lot more to it than that, and it’s the hilarity in which these events unfold that is truly amazing.
As I said earlier, the ensemble for Fargo season two is out of this world. Dunst, Plemons, Smart, Wilson, Danson are all at the top of their game. This honestly might be the best work Kirsten Dunst has ever done. But, let’s not downplay the rest of the cast. Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice), Cristen Miloti (How I Met Your Mother), Angus Sampson, Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec) are all doing brilliant work. Bokeem Woodbine is especially great as the psychotic Mike Milligan. Oh, and Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead) plays Ronald Reagan … what more could you ask for? Funny, whitty, and dark, Fargo season two is incredible television.
Update 12/15: Just finished the final episode of Fargo. What an absolutely incredible season of television. Must Watch.
With the rise of original content coming to streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Video, Yahoo Screen, Hulu), it would be crazy for me to leave out shows that aired on these platforms. Here are a few of my favorite shows that debuted in 2015 on streaming services.
Daredevil / Jessica Jones
Marvel was on the ball this year when it came to the debut of their original Netflix programming. We were spoiled and got two phenomenal seasons of television.
The first being Daredevil. The first season of the show sees lawyer-by-day Matt Murdock use his heightened senses from being blinded as a young boy to fight crime at night on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil. Based on Frank Miller’s exceptional comic book, The Man Without Fear, the first season of Daredevil takes us along on Matt’s journey to become the masked vigilante. I once thought the best thing Charlie Cox would ever star in would be the brilliant Stardust. I was wrong. Cox is an incredible Matt Murdock. He gives a sense of humility to the character. The rest of the cast is great, but all the accolades belong to Vincent D’Onofrio and his representation of Wilson Fisk (The Kingpin). What an incredible performance. He’s an incredibly deep character who goes through even more of an arc throughout the season than Daredevil. He’s also incredibly menacing, but has a sense of morality in the things that he believes are right. It’s uncomfortable because at some points you won’t be rooting for Matt, but for Wilson. Daredevil is also highlighted by some brilliant fight scenes. One of which (i’m sure you’ve heard / seen by now) is a single tracking-shot. Great stuff.
The other Marvel series that debuted on Netflix in 2015 was Jessica Jones. Probably the darkest thing Marvel has done to date … and that’s a good thing. Whereas Daredevil was very much an “origin” story for the character, Jessica Jones is not. We’re thrown into the life of Jessica Jones after her brief superhero career comes to a tragic end. She’s trying to rebuild her life as a private investigator, and just live her life. She’s constantly drunk and very promiscuous. A case leads her back into the world of an old enemy and the show deals with the ramifications of that. Luke Cage also plays an integral part in the story, both as Jessica’s lover and as a client. The performances in Jessica Jones are top notch. This is Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad) like you’ve never seen her before. As a character, Jessica Jones goes about things in a very odd way. She’s very rough around the edges, dry, sarcastic and a total asshole sometimes. Ritter fits that bill perfectly. Jessica Jones also features the best villain in the Marvel cinematic universe to date. Killgrave, played by David Tennant (Doctor Who) is just sinister. He’s a mysterious man from Jessica’s past who made her do some truly horrific things during their time together. His main power is that he can manipulate anybody’s mind and get them to do anything he wants them to do. This leads to some incredibly horrific scenes throughout Jessica Jones. That being said, this series is not for the faint of heart. Jessica Jones is violent, depressing, and a heck of a ride.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
It’s time to lighten the mood after the seriousness of the previous two shows. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is an American sitcom created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, and is one of the funniest things I watched in 2015. Now, before I say anything else, let me warn you. 30 Rock is one of my favorite shows of all time. So when I found out that the creative team behind that were doing a new sitcom, I was all aboard.
The series follows 29-year-old Kimmy Schmidt (The beautiful Ellie Kemper) as she adjusts to life in New York City after her rescue from a doomsday cult in Indiana where she and three other women were held by Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) for 15 years. Determined to be seen as something other than a victim and armed only with a positive attitude, Kimmy decides to restart her life by moving to New York City, where she quickly befriends her street-wise landlady Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane), finds a roommate in struggling actor Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), and gains a job as a nanny for the melancholy and out-of-touch socialite Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski). It’s just as hilarious as it sounds. The writing is top notch, Kemper and company work incredibly well together and Jon Hamm continues to shine in comedic roles. My only complaint with this one was that it was over way too soon. Also, it has one of the catchiest theme songs of the year.
Shut the front door, and go watch season one on Netflix now.
Bloodline is an interesting one for me. When I first saw the trailer, I thought it looked alright. I knew I liked Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) and the premise looked interesting. What I got was more than I could ever ask for and it’s because of one particular reason. That reason? … Ben Mendelsohn.
Bloodline focuses on the lives of the Rayburn family, who owns and runs a beachside hotel in the Florida Keys. When the oldest son and black sheep of the family, Danny (Mendelsohn), returns home for his parents’ celebration of their 45th year running their hotel, he quickly causes turmoil amongst the clan, who have a dark past. When Danny gets caught up in the criminal world, he threatens to bring down his entire family and their legacy. Again, Bloodlines is very much an ensemble cast performance. The show doesn’t work if the Rayburns aren’t completely screwed up. Don’t worry … they are. Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Sam Shepard, and Sissy Spacek all are great as the dysfunctional Rayburns. However, it’s Mendelsohn that truly steals the show. What a powerful performance. He’s an anti-hero that we can all get behind. The whole show is based around that push-pull relationship with his family. They’re jerks to him, but they love him at the same time. However, is there a limit to how much can you love someone? When does that love become hate? An incredibly gripping series (albeit a little slow in the middle) and one that leads to an earth shattering finale.
At the time of writing this, I haven’t seen the second seasons of Transparent and Mozart In The Jungle, which are both brilliant Amazon Prime Instant Video exclusives. That being said, I needed to throw some love Amazon’s way, and it’s well deserved. Bosch is an American police procedural television series. It stars Titus Welliver as Los Angeles Police detective Harry Bosch and it takes its inspiration from a series of novels written by Michael Connelly. I’m a sucker for a good police show. As I said earlier, The Wire is my favorite show of all time, and The Shield is not far behind that. So it was great to see a police drama in the vein of those two shows grace Amazon’s streaming service.
I can’t give too much away because discovering the plot of Bosch is one of its many joys. A simple police case slowly begins to unravel into a huge conspiracy. It’s a pretty cool experience and one that kept me on the toes in anticipation as I binge watched the season over a weekend. Titus Welliver is doing his best work here since Gone Baby Gone. He commands the screen as troubled police officer Harry Bosch. I don’t want to give too much away. If you’re a fan of a good mystery, police drama, and high-action, then I recommend you check out Bosch.
Of course, I wish I could write about every fantastic show that aired during the 2015 calendar year, but it would tire my poor keyboard out. Here’s a few stragglers to round out my favorite shows of 2015.
Hannibal Season 3: Well this is it. Thanks so much NBC for taking a chance on Hannibal. Unlike anything you’ll ever see on network tv, Hannibal was brilliant from beginning to end. Season three played out in two parts. The first was a cat and mouse game to try and capture Hannibal while the latter was a reimagining of the famous Red Dragon novel . Both halfs of the season were great with the latter being stunning. Mads Mikkelsen is the definitive (young) Hannibal Lecter. One important part of the show is Hannibal’s relationship with Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). It’s one of the most complicated yet beautiful relationships ever told. Also, props to Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) who does and absolutely horrific rendition of Francis Dolarhyde as he transforms himself into the Great Red Dragon. If we don’t get any more Hannibal, it ended on a beautiful note. Must watch television.
Better Call Saul: A spin-off of one of the most critically acclaimed shows of all time? Sure, that will go over well. Boy, was I glad I was wrong. Better Call Saul was one of my favorite things on television this year. Bob Odenkirk continues to shine as Saul (or James McGill as he’s known in the series). Funny and tense, Vince Gilligan knocked it out of the park once again. I also believe Jonathan Banks deserved an emmy for his acting in the episode “Five-O.”
Mad Men Season Seven Part 2: An end of an era. Don Draper’s journey comes to a close in the fantastic final chapter of an incredible show. When this show launched with AMC’s Breaking Bad, who knew it would usher in the age of incredible television. Now close your eyes and find your happy place.
Agent Carter: Marvel’s Agent Carter was an incredible amount of fun. A period piece set during the 40’s, Agent Carter is tasked with clearing Howard Stark’s name of wrongdoing. A british butler, a hypnotizing nazi, and a few kicked butts along the way make for a fun season of television.
Fresh off the Boat: This is my guilty pleasure show. Growing up in Brooklyn and having a best friend who’s Cantonese, all the stereotypes presented on the show are so true … and hilarious. I love Eddie Wong and his family and think this is an incredibly fun show. Also, it has DMX and Shaq in it. Also, Also, to the actress that plays Honey. Call me.
Penny Dreadful Season 2: Another sophomore outing saw a season of television that was superior to its predecessor in every way. The second season of Penny Dreadful was just magnificent. A period piece set in Victorian London, Penny Dreadful follows around some classic gothic icons. Dr. Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dorian Grey, are just of a few examples of the many oddities you’ll encounter. Eva Green is doing her best work here and there’s a one-shot episode with Patti Lupone which is just freaking phenomenal. Highly recommend this show.
The Knick Season 2: A show i wish I could designate more of this article too. Steven Soderbergh is doing something incredible with The Knick on Cinemax. A period piece set in the early 1900’s at The Knickerbocker Hospital in New York, season 2 ups the ante in every way from season one. Absolutely Brilliant performances by Clive Owen and company. Also, Bono’s daughter is in this show and she’s fantastic. One thing I found out watching The Knick is that medicine / operations were extremely hard to do back in 1901. So many unknowns and lot’s of blood. That being said, don’t watch this while you’re eating. You can read our review of season one, here.
Orange is the New Black Season 3: I thought season three of OITNB was it’s safest season to date. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great performances here, but the escapades of Piper Chapman and her fellow inmates were just okay this season. At least we got to look a Ruby Rose for 13 episodes.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp: This stupid thing exists. I’m glad this stupid thing exists.
Well, here we are. The End of the Road. Those are a few of my favorite shows of 2015. I need to check out shows like Rectify and The Man In The High Castle and maybe update this list. Thanks for reading in the meantime. What were some of your favorite shows of 2015?