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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 TV Winners and Losers

A look back at the highs and lows of 2015 television.

By Brandon Wolfe


1. Fargo (FX)
Last year’s biggest surprise has evolved into television’s most consistently excellent and creatively energized series. In its second year, Fargo unleashed a boldly complex, tightly interwoven narrative concerning a brutal gang war in 1979, the hapless couple (Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) who unwittingly ignite the fuse between the warring factions and the decent cop (Patrick Wilson) trying to keep order amidst the chaos and bloodshed. With a knockout cast, superb humor, delightful characters, defiant weirdness (those UFOs!) and more Coen Brothers references than you can shake a snow shovel at, Fargo is the best thing on the air right now, you betcha.

2. Justified (FX)
After a penultimate season that seemed muddled and confused, FX’s contemporary Western came roaring back with its guns a-blazing, brimming with renewed purpose. The ballad of Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) finally reached a fever pitch as the two frenemies waged war against one another over a vault full of money, over the soul of wayward femme fatale Ava (Joelle Carter), but really over nothing more than the deeply entrenched positions they’d each dug on opposing sides of the law. Their complex relationship arrived at a surprising and immensely cathartic crescendo in a final scene so satisfying that it instantly placed the finale in the company of the all-time greats.

3. Better Call Saul (AMC)
That Walter White’s hilariously unscrupulous lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) received his own spin-off wasn’t much of a surprise. That said spin-off hit many of the same complexly dramatic and deeply painful notes as its parent series was. What seemed likely to be a sleazily amusing legal lark wound up as more of a proper companion piece to Breaking Bad than anyone could have thought possible, bringing depth to a character that no one might have guessed had the capacity for it.

4. Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Marvel’s TV track record has stood in inverse proportion to that of its bellwether cinematic output, alternating between insipid and dull with no middle ground between the two. That ended with Jessica Jones, a series as sharp and clever as the Marvel Cinematic Universe at its best. Krysten Ritter’s portrayal of the embittered protagonist is great, but David Tennant as the brainwashing Kilgrave gave Marvel its greatest villain yet, on any size screen.

5. Silicon Valley (HBO)
It was never going to be smooth sailing for the code-writing underdogs of Pied Piper, but in their second season, the gang never caught a break, fighting lawsuits, financial woes and intellectual property theft. Their struggles, however, led to our entertainment, with a follow-up year that built on the comedic promise exhibited in the first. This is the best comedy ensemble on television right now, backed up by the strongest comedy writing. And even though they didn’t need the assist, they got it anyway from Chris Diamantopoulos as financial backer and Über-douche Russ Hanneman, who walked away with every scene he had, a mighty feat given the company he was in.

6. Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Our Pawnee gang finally departed the airwaves this year with a sendoff as bright, endearing and hilarious as they, and we, deserved. If this winds up as the last truly classic network sitcom, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer show.

7. South Park (Comedy Central)
In its 19th (!!) season, the venerable animated series has reclaimed its status as the most relevant and incisive satire on television, taking aim at heightened PC culture, gentrification, Donald Trump, and just about everything else in the zeitgeist right now. It also embraced continuity in a manner in which it only previously occasionally flirted, crafting a deftly constructed season-long story arc instead of seat-of-the-pants stand-alones. Show me another nearly 20-year-old show with this much vitality still flowing through its veins.

8. Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz)
Fans have patiently waited over 20 years for a fourth Evil Dead and they finally received a long-form version of it courtesy of Starz. Buffoonish badass Ash Williams is puffier and greyer than when we last saw him, but that’s about all that’s changed. Bruce Campbell steps back into his signature role without missing a step and the series built around him has a zippy, giddy, gory kick to it. He’s also abetted by a game supporting cast of plucky, endearing demon hunters. Every decades-overdue franchise resuscitation should be this good.

9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Having decided the beloved 30 Rock wasn’t sufficient enough to cement her sitcom legacy, Tina Fey struck back with another half-hour comedy, this time on Netflix. Starring Ellie Kemper as a relentlessly cheerful woman readjusting to society after having spent the better part of her life locked in a bunker by a cult leader and convinced that the world had ended, the series turned a dark premise into a wellspring of laughs, while also having something to say about PTSD and abuse. The jokes come piled one on top of the other at a pace almost too fast to grasp them and Kemper is a sunny delight.

10. The Leftovers (HBO)
The first season of The Leftovers was a dreary downer, wallowing in despair without finding a way to make us care about any of it. Depicting a world touched by the fantastic and inexplicable, the show showed a stubborn resistance toward examining any facet of it that might be of interest. Yet in its second go-round, the series quietly cracked the code of how to make itself gripping while also remaining morose, with a storyline about a small town in Texas that had been spared from the Rapture-like Sudden Departure and subsequently became a walled-off mecca. Damon Lindelof let loose with many tricks from his old Lost bag, but most of them were the good ones. On a show about people struggling for redemption, The Leftovers fully earned its own.


1. True Detective (HBO)
Last year’s phenom smacked into the wall hard in its sophomore outing. Trading in the breathtaking Southern-gothic scenery, the eerie occult-tinged atmosphere and a one-for-the-books performance by an ascendant Matthew McConaughey in favor of drab Los Angeles freeways, a labyrinthine conspiracy storyline that is never remotely in danger of becoming interesting or cohesive and a collection of despondency tics masquerading as actual characters, True Detective lost sight of every single aspect that once made it so unique and captivating. The circle has never felt flatter than this.

2. Fear the Walking Dead (AMC)
The Walking Dead has gradually emerged into a solid show, barring the occasional misstep (like the obnoxious shell game it played with Glen’s fate this year), so the prospect of showing us the previously unseen point of society’s initial infection leading up to its ultimate collapse seemed a worthwhile pursuit for a spin-off. But then Fear saddled us with a bunch of colorless drips for characters and a storyline that locked itself into tedium when it should have hummed along with dread and suspense. The Walking Dead took its sweet time to become an actual good show, but never was it as bad as this.

3. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
As always, the nadir of the Marvel enterprise. And given that it barely even bothers to intersect with the movies anymore, as it didn’t in any impactful way with Age of Ultron, absolutely pointless. I’d say Marvel should be embarrassed of this show, but I doubt they’re fully aware that it’s even still airing.

4. Community (Yahoo)
The unkillable cult sitcom finally ran out of lives this year. Maybe it was losing one too many of its original cast members, with the departure of Yvette Nicole Brown’s Shirley. Maybe it was the banishment to the glitchy, untested wilderness of Yahoo Screen. Or maybe it was just that there was only so much fuel left in creator Dan Harmon’s meta-spoofy tank. In any event, the end result was a show, and cast, that seemed lost, confused as to why it/they were still around.

5. Marvel’s Daredevil (Netflix)
This was well-received by fans, who applauded its bone-crunching brutality and too-dark-for-the-multiplex adult themes. And those things were worth applauding for a few episodes, but glacial pacing, a dead-in-the-water real-estate storyline and an awkwardly conveyed villainous performance from Vincent D’Onofrio made the trek to the finish line a slog. I’m fine with justice being blind, but there’s no reason for it to be boring.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.


  © Site Graphics by Randy Jennings by http://www.artfreelancer.com/ 2009

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