I watch a lot of TV. I’m not always up to date with them as they air, but thanks to DVR I can get to a lot more shows. And even though we are in what is called the era of “Peak TV”, not every program can be a winner. Even shows that were at one point dominant and heralded shows can just fall to the wayside. This was a year where I dropped more shows than usual. Some of those shows that were quite respected in my esteem but have fallen up their own asses, making some of the most unwatchable TV in my television diet. And somehow, they were bad in all different ways. Other shows stayed watchable but disappointing overall. And others just worked like gangbusters from beginning to end. We said goodbye to some shows and hello to others. It really was a great year of TV and one I enjoyed immensely. So with the year ending, it’s time to look back at the shows I watched and rank them for y’alls entertainment.
Agents of SHIELD Season 2 (ABC)
This was a show that had a lot of potential coming out of the gate. Marvel’s first TV show that would tie into the MCU they had built, and a show created by Joss Whedon to boot. Sure, he didn’t shepherd the show past the pilot. But still, it had a good pedigree. And yet from the very beginning, it was always a show that was all promise and no delivery. Every episode ended and you’d hear from people “Give it time, maybe it’ll get good”. The end of the first season had some good stuff to it, but was too little too late to save the show from utter mediocrity. Season 2 was promised to see an upswing from the creators. And being Marvel, it was given some slack so season 2 was given some leeway. And it started off pretty good. Still never soared to must watch tv, but became moderately watchable. Then the second half just shit the bed and sunk the show. And it sunk my interest in it. I will not be partaking in further seasons of a show that looks like a cheap 90s show with no visual panache, bland characters that can only be referred to as “the scottish one” or “the big black one”. Plotting that either takes forever to rev up or ends with a whimper, the show just became too boring to have any opinions stronger than a mild shrug.
Girls Season 4 (HBO)
Season 1 of this show was legit great. It was funny and unique and showcased a segment of life not typically seen on TV. Season 2 was divisive but I liked it a bit. Season 3 tested my limits a bit but Adam Driver and other small elements kept me into it. But this season was the one that finally killed my interest in the show. It got way too self satisfied, failing to make any interesting storylines other than “edgy” stories that want to be realistically bleak but end up being slightly darker power fantasies for Lena Dunham and her friends. It stopped being funny or enlightening and became unbearable. The smug levels of this show became too toxic and I have no interest in clawing through the lumpy levels of Lena Dunhams asshole to watch this anymore.
Fargo Season 2 (FX)
For 8 1/2 episodes, this was a show that would end in in my top 5 of the year. It was a tight, focused show with a healthy mixture of humor and darkness. A good little Coen brothers story, but on TV. Than episode 9 delivers one of the worst twists in any storytelling medium I have ever witnessed in my life. I won’t spoil it for you guys here, but just say that it fundamentally breaks the show and delivers one of the worst Deus Ex Machinas ever. And then the finale just fizzles out, taking an hour to end a story that would be 15 minutes in a movie and speaking aloud the themes of the show right to the camera. I’ve argued with people that the twist and the ending shouldn’t hinder my enjoyment of the show. But that’s a bullshit argument from people desperate to love this show no matter what. When a show is an anthology, with each season being it’s own story, and the seasons being super serialized, the ending is very important. If you don’t stick the landing in a story, than the whole thing proceeding it is ruined because you know the journey doesn’t payoff in any enjoyable way. It’s why shows like Dexter and Lost have a tainted rep. So yeah, the wrap up off this show was so bad it is now retroactively a bad season of television. It devolved into a 10 hour Coen Brothers cover band, and a shitty one at that. Mixing and matching shit from their movies to tell a story that didn’t need such blatant ripoffs. And with the twist that was delivered and Noah Hawley’s explanation for it, I have had enough of this smug and too clever by half show. What a baffling season of television.
True Detective Season 2 (HBO)
By all accounts, this show should be nowhere near Fargo on a list of television in a year, unless it’s about anthology shows of 2015. But that ending of Fargo is so much worse than anything that this much maligned season of TV shat out. This was not a good season by any stretch. It had it’s moments and had good work by Colin Farrell and Rachel MacAdams. But overall, it was such a dour and overly drawn out story of corruption told in such a convoluted way that it still really doesn’t make sense after months of reflection. This was such a let down after the massive success of the first season. It shows us that Nic Pizzolato shouldn’t write every episode of the show anymore since he doesn’t have the same amount of time to write it that he did season 1, and that maybe having one director for the whole thing like Cary Fukunaga helps to center the show. I’ll have a soft spot for the show because it’s like the cinematic equivalent of a dime store mystery and I like those kinds of books. But I wouldn’t say it was good. And yet somehow, I’d rather watch it more than Fargo.
Arrow Season 3 and 4 (CW)
Season 2 of Arrow was an amazing piece of comic book storytelling. I didn’t even watch season 1, but 2 was fantastic. So it’s a total surprise that a show that made an immense season of TV with Deathstroke as the villain managed to somehow fail in a story with the big comic villain Ras Al Ghul as the season big bad. Season 3 was a stretched out, boring season of television that didn’t know what to do with the majority of it’s cast or it’s runtime. It had it’s moments but, for the first time, felt like Marvels flagship show and just petered out. Things weren’t helped none by the season long arc that is just fan fiction shoved into the story, the romance between Oliver and Felicity. It stops the show to a crawl to go through the motions and none of it feels earned. But thankfully the show has bounced back (for now) in it’s 4th season. That’s due in part to moving Oliver forward from the moody bitch he was for 3 seasons into a more trusting, lighter person. Another DC show may be responsible for the show moving towards the light. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Adding mysticism to the show livens things up from another fight against masked ninjas before the fight with the big bad. Neal McDonagh has been a great addition to this show, truly relishing the villain role that’s similar but not an exact copy of his role from Justified. And either way, season 4 would be better than season 3 if only for the episode where John Constantine shows up, played by Matt Ryan from the now cancelled NBC show. Hopefully the show can keep up it’s new lease on life when it returns for it’s second half in 2016.
Game of Thrones Season 5 (HBO)
Game of Thrones came off a high point with season 4. It was the best the show had been and promised some big things for the future. Well the promise wasn’t specific, because nothing happened this season for the most part. Had to wait till the last 3 episodes for anything of interest to happen, and even then the finale was a split between cool and really bad. The only consistently good story through the season was Jon Snow and they even managed to make the end of his run this season seem really perfunctory and almost laughable. And even with the lax ending for him, he has the best episode the show ever did with the big ass battle with the zombies north of the wall. Everyone else did nothing for the most part. Dinklage didn’t do anything till episode 9, so his award for best supporting actor is laughable. Cersei was super repetitive, until she got captured and even then it got repetitive. Jamie was barely in the show, and when he was it was in the supremely shortened stuff at Dorne. Dorne was executed like crap too, featuring a stunning 4 people as their way to make it feel lived in. The first time the show has felt cheap since the first season. It wasn’t ever terrible, but it was very much one of wheel spinning. They’ve gotten to the point where the books started to suck and now, even with the changes they make, are still stuck in the same quagmire of stretching everything out. Hopefully they can get better next year, moving past the problems that plagued this season.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Tina Fey does not make things I can completely love. That’s what I take away from this show. Much like 30 Rock, there is some stuff in here that I like and other stuff that just bores me to tears. I really liked the show in the beginning, but got over it by the end of the season. I just got tired of it. I’ll give season 2 a shot because Ellie Kemper is too fun to watch. But then there’s Titus Burgess who makes me wanna cancel my netflix subscription. The show is just too hit or miss for my tastes, and it’s way too cute and self satisfied for my tastes. And Tina Fey’s guest role was one of the worst things she has ever done. A frustrating show to say the least.
This show has been very divisive since it’s premiere, but it’s one that I’ve been a fan of while fully acknowledging it’s soap opera with an elite execution. This is no realistic look at politics. But this is the first season where I got a little bored by the whole thing. It went in circles, just beating the same drum over and over. Doesn’t even have some of the schlocky twists of the first two seasons. It kinda felt very humdrum. I like that it tried to show how the president really doesn’t have all the power one would assume. But it didn’t do it in a particularly interesting way. And the dissolution of the marriage of the Underwoods didn’t feel very natural to me. Hopefully season 4 can right the ship.
Agent Carter Season 1 (ABC)
This was the first show Marvel has done that can be considered consistent. Even now, it’s only one of two shows that falls into that category. It doesn’t really have any highs to make it a must see or a classic show. But it is a very good spy story with a good period piece feel and some decent stuff regarding misogyny of the time. Hayley Atwell makes it all worth it, perfectly playing the determined and super qualified woman having to fight in every aspect of life. It’s got a nice visual look to it as well, not looking like a cheap 90s show. It’s got style. Again, it doesn’t have the crazy highs to make this a top tier show. But for the few weeks it was on, it was a hell of a distraction.
Daredevil Season 1 (Netflix)
Yet another show from Marvel. This one falls into the inconsistent category since it kinda peters out at the end. But the highs of the show are very high. Action has not been the high point in the Marvel canon, but this show makes it all about the action. It wasn’t the story, since it runs out of it at a certain point a little more than halfway through. It manages to also make the show look not as cheap as Agents of SHIELD, yet undercuts itself by making the show so dark you can barely see anything. Another one of those highs was Wilson Fisk, played brilliantly by Vincent D’Onofrio. Charlie Cox is very good as Matt Murdock. The whole cast is good outside of Eldent Henson, who was immensely miscast and feels like he’s in an entirely different show. The show tries to be a grown up tale and overcompensates in such an obnoxious way, with completely over the top violence that feels forced. Overall I really like the show but it’s flaws are very obvious. Hopefully with the arrival of The Punisher and Elektra, season 2 can see a nice leap in quality to become the elite show it so wants to be.
IZombie Season 1 and 2 (CW)
This is a show that I forget how good it is when I’m not watching it. But actually watching it, this is a damn good show and one that gets better every week. 5 years ago, this would have been the kind of bland show the CW puts out every week with bland looking youths in the roles to just shift each character around into different sex partnerships. But in this new, surprisingly strong CW this show is much more than that. It may have some relationship stuff in it, but not the typical CW pap. It’s good and well written. You get why these people like each other and why they’re friends and all that. The world building is great here too, making it feel like a zombie show but with it’s own little twist. Season 1 ended amazingly, setting up some great stuff for season 2. And thus far, season 2 is nailing it in. Season 2 has been an amazing year for the show, building everything up and tightening the screws and making everything much weightier. I didn’t think I’d be into this show but here we are.
Veep Season 4 (HBO)
This was a bit of a step down from the prior season, but it was still absolutely hilarious. The cast is still as on point as ever. The writing was the vulgar poetry we all expect it to be. It took some nice steps at shaking things up with the cast too, and adding Hugh Laurie is a stroke of genius. It ends on a nice note of a new way to fuck over Selina out of what she wants. It’s a damn good season of television but something in it left me lacking a little, in comparison to past seasons at least.
Silicon Valley Season 2 (HBO)
What an immense leap in quality this show saw. I really dug season 1, but it definitely was a show that needed to grow over those few episodes. And now in season 2 it has the thing all figured out. This show is just a comedic powerhouse. Mike Judge should never be slept on because he will just drop some fire on us all. This season was all about kicking the guys while they were up. The win at the end of last year wasn’t the end of all troubles and the myriad ways they got ass kicked this year was great. There’s no show, to me, funnier this year.
Penny Dreadful Season 2 (Showtime)
This show was one that had a pretty good debut season, but came back in its second season having stripped away any of the weaknesses and delivered a great season of tv. A weird gothic horror show about sexual deviants finding a family within their little cabal. It gets darker, richer, more romantic and more tragic than the first season. It builds up all the characters and leaves them at sad places, setting up the arcs for season 3 without making the season feel incomplete. Despite the premise sounding like a surprising amount of shows on tv today, there is nothing like it. Hopefully it doesn’t go the way of every other Showtime show and overstay it’s welcome.
Bates Motel Season 3 (A&E)
This may be a controversial placement. Like a show higher up on this list, this shouldn’t work. A prequel show to a landmark horror movie just sounds like a bad idea. But somehow, this show managed to work. Season 1 wasn’t perfect and had some rough elements. But season 2 lost most of the rough elements and heightened the strong stuff. And season 3 had lost all of the weaknesses and became a hella good show. By focusing on the really messed up dynamic between Norma and Norman Bates, we get a good sense of what this kid is gonna become without the knowledge of the movies. And they do the relationship in such a way as to make it not totally Norma’s fault while also not taking blame away from her. Complexity is something I didn’t expect to see from this show but here we are. And the sexuality of Normans psychosis comes even more into play here with the “Mother” persona finally blooming into a split personality. It’s a fitting show into the Psycho legacy and one that, while not better than the original movie, is better than the surprisingly good Psycho II.
The Knick Season 2 (Cinemax)
Steven Soderbergh helped to craft one of the most visually dynamic shows in TV, which helped to differentiate itself from other white anti hero shows. The show itself helped in that regard, but Soderbergh gave it that kick to make it stand out than the bland shows it could have been lumped with. And this season helped to stand apart from those other shows by putting everyone through the ringer. It’s a show about progress and how it can hurt, while this season pushed that forward by making those characters that want to make progress be beaten down by their inability to get over their bullshit. All the stuff they let haunt them from their past comes and crushes them in some way, while the bad guys adapt to the world and use it to further their gains. And it has one of the ballsiest endings to a show ever, leaving the fate of the show up in the air. As is, I’d be ok with it ending here at such a powerful moment. Cause this was a powerful season of tv, if not hitting at as high a quality as season 1.
Jessica Jones Season 1 (Netflix)
This show is so good that there’s no real reason to feel bad for it. Yet I do, because it’s astonishing that this isn’t the best comic book show on TV right now. That’ll come in a bit. But forgoing any of that shit, this is a fantastic show. And what’s astonishing is that Disney/Marvel allowed a show to be made that is so explicitly about rape but done in an artistic and not exploitative manner. But that doesn’t mean this is a slow moving show that’s all about people talking about feelings. This is a noir show with humor and fighting and all the elements one would need to watch a show without it becoming a slog of misery. The cast is perfect with a special shout out to David Tenant as the best villain Marvel has done yet. The writing is superb, handling all the delicate subject matter with grace. The visuals are great, if only because you can actually see what’s being shot unlike the prior Netflix Marvel show. Just a fantastic show that finally delivered great Marvel on TV from beginning to end.
The Americans Season 3 (FX)
Probably the most slept on show to air on TV. With any justice, this should be an awards darling on par with Mad Men or Breaking Bad. But it airs on FX, a channel that seemingly gets no respect in the awards departments. It’s one of the most well written shows to air on tv. The way it mirrors the cold war and spycraft within the confines of a marriage is brilliant and it pulls no punches. Everything works and everything goes towards the themes in a great way. The acting is superb, the tone is astounding and feels perfectly 80s without being obnoxious about the period details, and it is the most morally grey show on TV. It has been since the beginning and each season has upped the ambiguity and the quality.
The Flash Season 1 and 2 (CW)
And we have finally reached the Apex of the Comic Book boon that television has been going through with this unreal show. In a season and a half, there has been one bad episode and it isn’t even that bad. Not Gotham bad, not season 3 of Arrow at points bad, not even fucking Agents of SHIELD bad. Just bland and forgettable. And it’s astonishing that the best one of these shows is the one that requires the most effects work and the most crazy sci fi elements including super speed, time travel, and multiple dimensions. And yet even with all the work that has to go into this kinda stuff, they still were able to make one of the most emotionally satisfying shows on TV. Action, emotions, storytelling. All top notch, even outside of it’s comic book roots. Just in general, this is one of the best shows on TV. It’s also interesting to me that the best comic show is the one dealing with an A list character, one from the Justice League. Not some B list, C list scrubs. It makes this an elite show that stands above the other shows.
The Jinx(HBO)/Making A Murder(Netflix)
I’m merging these two shows together because they show the absolute flip side of the absolute bullshit that lines the justice system in this country. One side, how the rich get away with murder (literally). The other side, how the poor can get absolutely buttfucked because they have no power. The former is The Jinx and the latter is Making A Murderer. Both are absolutely riveting documentaries that really dig deep into these unreal stories of corruption/malfeasance of different angles. And the way they came about is riveting too. Having the madman at the center of The Jinx responsible for the show becoming a reality because he’s an attention whore. And then having a documentary crew around to document the man who was freed from a wrongful conviction be sent up for another crime he may not have committed is just the least insane thing about Making A Murderer. Plenty of wild twists and turns in each of these, elevating themselves over simple Cold Case episodes they could have been.
Better Call Saul Season 1 (AMC)
This shouldn’t have worked. A spinoff prequel show to Breaking Bad that focuses on the comedic relief character of Saul Goodman just doesn’t scream quality. It screams desperation for ratings. But somehow, this show became one of the best shows on TV by striking the right balance of being its own show while feeling like it’s in the same universe of BB. It’s a funny show, a dramatic show and a very tragic show. Basically, it’s Vince Gilligan undiluted. Showing us how Saul became Saul shouldn’t work, but they make it such a horribly human tragedy, a man trying his hardest to do the right thing but failing because no one believes he wants to do right. Just stunning work all around, with special shoutout to Jonathan Banks getting the best work of the show.
Mad Men Final Season (AMC)
Well, the juggernaut has come to an end. And it did it on it’s own abstract terms. Never say Matthew Weiner ever cow towed for commercial gains. A highly divisive finale just on the sheer fact that it wasn’t an obvious ending, but it was the right ending. Because it ends without killing people or any typical finale pratfalls. It just shows a nice progression for everyone, showing where they are as the 60s ended and how they might change in future. Don Draper has gone through a hell of a personal odyssey in this shows run, coming to what can arguably be seen as a horribly cynical but justified ending to the show. This isn’t a run that will convert anyone. But for the faithful, there was no other ending that we deserved.
The Leftovers Season 2 (HBO)
HBO’s most divisive show ever. That can’t really be denied at this point. Damon Lindelof is apart of the show, so divisiveness was never a surprise. But the amount of such divisive opinions is staggering. Watching the show I get it though. It’s a purposefully distancing show, doing everything it can to not do the easy thing. A very tough show about the unknown, about depression and faith and all sorts of heady stuff in the most aggressively singular sci fi show on tv. There’s a lot to chew on in a single episode and by the end of a season, the emotional wringer the audience is put through is rough. It’s a very poetic show, but human at the same time. The balance of high minded storytelling in regards to the mystic and the human scale drama at the center of everything is astounding. With season 3 being the final season, it would be nice for it to wrap up in a Leftovers satisfying way.
Hannibal Season 3 (NBC)
Not only is this a show that shouldn’t work, but it’s a show that should not have made it past it’s first season. It finally got cancelled this year due to it’s consistent for 3 years low ratings, but this has been a miraculous run. It’s a show about Hannibal Lecter before he was caught by the FBI, when he was working with them. And only until this season have we gotten to anything done in the books. Some elements of Hannibal Rising (altered to this shows very specific wavelengths) and doing the entirety of Red Dragon (again, altered slightly), this show finally got to the stuff we knew. But it did it in a way that was still artfully done, in such an aggressively brutal and uncommercial way, that it’s not surprising it wasn’t a smash hit. And the fact that NBC aired the most brutal show on all of tv, HBO and the like included, is wild. The show may have been a slight dip from season 2, but it’s such a minute slip. A weird, wild show that merges serial killer storytelling with an artful and abnormal relationship that may or may not be romantic, nothing is like this. It’s wild that it works. It doesn’t hurt that they have the now definitive Hannibal Lecter in Mads Mikkelsen. No show is as visually gorgeous as this show. Nothing about it makes sense, and it beat all the odds. Hopefully it has a life after death, in movies or mini series returns. If not? It reached such a Hannibal ending, that I’m good with such a complete tale they pretty much told.
Justified Season 6 (FX)
And finally, we have reached the top spot of 2015. We’ve said goodbye to many shows this year, but none has hurt me as hard as this loss. Getting 13 hours of Elmore Leonard goodness for 6 years had been an absolute treat but all good things have to come to an end, especially if they wanna end good. So the silver lining here is we never got to see it overstay its welcome like Sons of Anarchy or Dexter or every season of American Horror Story. In it’s final season, it does 13 episodes of pure serialization. The past seasons has been serialized too, but with standalone episodes too to shake things up a bit. But with the end in sight and the battle between Raylan and Boyd brewing for the final time, nothing else mattered. Raylan has one goal, so we have one goal. And the journey was fucking righteous. A seriously perfect ending for the show. There’s no doubt it was a step up from the sadly disappointing season 5. But for it to go out on arguably it’s best season is a treat. And the series finale itself is one of the best endings in TV history. Very Elmore Leonard and very poetic and very human. It was an absolute treat spending 6 years with this show. Having no more to look forward too hurts and makes me feel like TV won’t be the same for me for a while. In a year of stellar TV, this was the peak for me.