There’s so much to watch. Way too much. It’s an embarassment of riches. Interesting that there are quite a few comic book adaptations here—and all are some of my absolute favorites—with female leads! That would have been unimaginable just a few years ago!
BERKELEY PLACE’S TOP 10(20) TV SHOWS OF 2015
The list is generally in the order I loved the shows, but it’s so hard to compare some of these that I’m giving out categories of awards as well…
BEST NETWORK: Netfix. In addition to the many shows below, they gave us a pretty good Pablo Escobar story in the violent Narcos and Aziz Ansari offered Master of None, a multiracial, multicultural comedy that wasn’t about being inclusive, it was just about being funny.
OUT WITH A WHIMPER: A few good shows ended with seasons that were far from their best, but, even at their worst, were still better than 90% of the other shows out there: Mad Men (AMC), Parks and Recreation (Fox), Justified (FX).
AND LASTLY BEFORE THE TOP TEN, THE AWARD FOR “IT’S STILL GOOD! REALLY! PLEASE WATCH SO THEY DON’T CANCEL IT!”: Survivor (CBS). It keeps chugging along. I don’t like professional sports. I don’t watch a lot of reality TV. But I love this show. It’s must-viewing for my family.
10. THIS SHOW IS JUST TOO WEIRD, I CAN’T WATCH IT. NO, WAIT. I CAN’T NOT WATCH IT. The Leftovers (HBO). Runner up: Mr. Robot (USA). This show can be maddeningly uneven, but one episode about a preacher with a comatose pregnant wife who is desperate to atone, was the single greatest hour of TV this year. I watched it, it ended, I paused for ten minutes, I watched it again. One incredible hour, in a season that was otherwise good, but not greatly good. Runner-up Mr. Robot was dark and brooding, and the plot often got really, really out there. But Rami Malek was exception in the main role and, once again, Christian Slater proved that when he’s a supporting actor, he’s one of the best. Don’t go into this show thinking you’ll learn a Goddamn thing about hacking or the dark web, but go in expecting a great thriller and you won’t be disappointed.
9. THE JERRY LEWIS AWARD FOR FUNNY FEMALES: Broad City (Comedy Central). Runner up: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix). “Broad” could refer to the lead characters being women or the crude, accessible nature of the jokes. Either way, I loved laughing my way through another season of this show. And as for Kimmy, I didn’t want to like this show. I found Ellie Kemper annoying-as-hell on The Office, and Tina Fey is just too successful to root for. But wow. This show was hilarious. Mad props to Tituss Burgess for overacting as a campy queen without ever being offensive, stereotypical, or, worst of all, dull.
8. THE “MY FUCKED UP FAMILY CAN BEAT UP YOUR FUCKED UP FAMILY” AWARD: Ray Donovan (Showtime). Runner up: Empire (Fox). It wasn’t the best year for the show, but it was a triumphant one nonetheless. Live Schreiber continues to prove he’s just as much of a man as James Gandolfini, only it’s easier to imagine Schreiber’s large, muscular frame actually being a dangerous, murderous menace. And the entire cast is great—a better collection of losery, homicidal misfits can’t be imagined. They all deserve Emmy nods, even the kids. And as for Empire, it’s a show about a hip hop mogul and it’s got a bunch of actors and the music is actually good? Wow. This is serialized, soapy melodrama at its best.
7. BEST DOCUMENTARY: The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO). Runner up: Documentary Now! (IFC). A reality show masquerading as a documentary. Over the course of six episodes, we get to know a homicidal sociopath in his own words, and then, at the very end, hidden under the sound of his own urine hitting the toilet, we hear his confession. Anyone who wants to write about a killer needs to study this show. And perhaps as a pallet cleanser, between episodes of the heavy and frightening Jinx, you could try Documentary Now!: A brilliant collection of satires of actual documentaries. It’s the show Saturday Night Live doesn’t have time to be, catering to a niche audience NBC can’t afford to support.
6. MOST UNCOMFORTABLE SHOW OF THE YEAR: The Affair (Showtime). Runner up: Rectify (Sundance). I know there’s a murder mystery this season, but this show is really about relationships between people who are way to pretty to be real. There’s not a likeable one in the bunch, and yet the truths they speak about all of us are undeniable. How many of us haven’t thought about having an affair? Mouthing off to the cops when we’re stopped doing something wrong? Or even sleeping with our children’s doctor? This show works because these people are nothing like us, and everything like us. I’ve paired it with Rectify because if you like The Affair, you’ll probably like this show, too. It’s a quiet show about a man released from prison and returning to his home town, but the acting is tremendous and the way people act on this show feels true to the core—even if you’ve never met anyone who has done the kind of unspeakable rapes, murders, and cover-ups that are all over this show, and are often performed in the name of God.
5. BEST REINVENTION/SEQUEL: Better Call Saul (AMC). Runner up: South Park (Comedy Central). How do you duplicate the success of Breaking Bad, one of the greatest television dramas of all time? You don’t. This show is not at all like its predecessor. It breaks cleanly, and instead exposes the seedy lawyer Saul to be a guy who is actually not so bad after all. If you’ve ever hated small-town, ambulance chasing attorneys, this show won’t change your mind—but it might engender sympathy. And as for South Park, it’s been on forever—so long, you almost take it for granted. This year, the show sent up Whole Foods and Internet Ads in a season-long, ongoing story—once again, reinventing itself.
4. BEST SIT-COM: Louie (FX). Runner up: Mom (CBS). Great comedy is self-relevatory, and each of these shows are—but in very different ways. Louis C. K. is a genre-busting buffalo who provides humiliating and moving moments at the expense of his own ego, week after week, and delivers the funniest comedy of the year. Mom is the opposite, and it’s nothing it should be. The man responsible for network TV’s most sexist sit-com, Two and a Half Men, has now created the most female-empowering one. And to top it off, it actually portrays recovery from addiction in a realistic light, without losing a beat of its humor. (The only flaw in this show is the laugh track: It doesn’t need one.)
3. BEST COMIC BOOK SUPERHERO SHOW: Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Netflix). Runner up: Supergirl (CBS). This year, the most disturbing show on television wasn’t The Walking Dead, it was Jessica Jones, based on Brian Michael Bendis mature comic about a superhero rape survivor, JJ was not just one of the best comic book adaptations of all time—it was one of the best TV shows of all time. Period. It dealt maturely with horrific violence and cruelty, never forgot that its subjects were human—even while they were doing unspeakably inhuman things—and never forgot to have a sense of humor in the face of terror. Krysten Ritter deserves all the awards. At the same time, over on a network, you could check out the wonderful, charming (and hot, according to Jeb Bush), Melissa Benoist who somehow did what DC’s movies can’t do: Remember who Superman is! In the film world, he has become a bitter, violent hero in the movies—nothing like Christopher Reeve, who was and ever shall be the first and last word on live-action Superman. Who knew it would take a show with Ally McBeal to bring out the love, heart and cheese that’s so critical to the Super-legend. DC movies, why so serious? Study this show and learn what it means to have a character who connects with her audience, inspires people to be better than they are, and truly embodies the Superman my generation grew up loving. Two superhero ladies, each at opposite ends of the spectrum, making two fantastic superhero shows.
2. THERE WILL BE BLOOD, AND GORE, AND BRAINS, AND EATING OF BRAINS: The Walking Dead (AMC). Runner up: Hannibal (NBC). A nearly flawless season for a show that seems to get better and better each year, even if its basic story stays the same: Zombies are scary and eat people, and our tight band of heroes stays together like family. And Hannibal was a show I never wanted to watch, but then I got an Amazon Prime subscription and tried it out and bam. Watched the entire three seasons in a weekend. Shows about zombies and serial killers can easily become silly and boring. In fact, TWD’s own companion show was a slow, boring trainwreck. So why do these shows succeed? Two reasons: Great actors playing great characters, and fearless writers and directors who are willing to go to those dark places you never thought you’d see on TV. Hannibal in particular could have sucked: We’ve seen these characters before, many times, and audiences could be bored. And the premise of FBI investigations of serial killings is thin—how many of these can there really be? But if you can just accept that there are a lot of people in the world who want to kill a lot of people in the world and then roll with the story, Hannibal was a fascinating show—from how to make human flesh taste like chicken to the tough psychiatric interplay, the show always kept me guessing. There were profilers profiling shrinks, shrinks profiling profiles, shrinks examining profilers, shrinks examining shrinks…Two great, bloody, violent shows about cannibalism.
1. NEWS YOU CAN USE: The Daily Show with John Stewart (Comedy Central). Runner up: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO. Farewell, sweet prince. You truly changed the world and elevated the discourse. Your replacement is still good, but not good enough that I don’t miss you. And where John S. brought us the stories of the day, John O. went much deeper. In depth newsmagazines are often spotty. The gold standard is 60 Minutes, but maybe one in three stories will truly educate you. But every week, Oliver exposed stories that would be buried deep in the back of even the most major newspapers and educated us, in spite of our short attention spans, by using humor and biting insight. I am so thankful shows like these exist to reaffirm my faith in media.