Keeping up with “Peak TV” is starting to feel more and more like a second job.
While consuming immense amounts of quality programming part-time can often be more stressful than making it full-time (heartwarming human interest/home renovation shows don’t produce themselves), I wouldn’t have it any other way.
2014 was a historic television year, but 2015 has taken my side gig (as some kind of former aspiring ex-Grantland-esque pop cultural commentator) to another level.
Though I’d have to quit competing for local Emmys and pull a Primetime Emmys Andy Samberg to binge-watch everything, I’m proud of how much additional “work” I’ve taken on before my year-end review.
‘Tis the season for Top 10 lists, so I hope you enjoy this labor of love.
10. Transparent – TV’s most dysfunctional family is slightly less fun this time around. It’s nearly impossible for the rest of Season 2 to live up to its raucously affecting premiere. Jay Duplass is officially my favorite Duplass (sorry, Mark!).
9. You’re the Worst – “To be a slave to an idea of coolness is why some of your friends never grow and in the end are actually less themselves, and counter intuitively live less authentic lives than the buyers-in.”
My very favorite 2015 quote appears in YTW’s strongest episode to date. With unprecedented emotional/narrative focus on mental health, FXX’s best began provoking as many discussions as laughs. It should be the network’s signature series. Will anyone catch up before Season 3?
8. Rectify – A series so self-aware of its methodical pace that one of the season’s emotional climaxes occurs while the audience and protagonist are literally watching paint dry. Sold yet? Rectify revolves around a recently released inmate, but seeing breakout supporting characters (especially Clayne Crawford’s Ted Jr.) also seek redemption has been truly extraordinary.
7. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Jeff the Diseased Lung is easily 2015’s most riveting anti-Big Tobacco ambassador. And those Johnny Flynn bobbleheads? Praise be. Praise be.
6. Show Me a Hero – David Simon’s soul-crushing HBO miniseries deserves The Wire-esque praise and scrutiny. Let’s not wait eight years to talk about it. Something tells me True Detective’s Frank Semyon would’ve loved this far superior exploration of city planning’s complexities and mundanities.
Oscar Isaac is wide awake. His 2011-2015 rivals The McConaissance.
5. Halt and Catch Fire – My favorite 2015 binge. As James Poniewozik articulates, this series legitimately fills some Mad Men voids. Mackenzie Davis is such a magnetic performer. When AMC eventually decides to Ctrl+Alt+Del (likely after next season), I can’t wait to see where she lands next.
4. Better Call Saul – While somehow/simultaneously honoring and enriching its predecessor’s legacy, this Breaking Bad spin-off has been taken for granted. Tonal inconsistency plagues so many shows, but Better Call Saul’s comedic and dramatic depth help showcase (and justify) Bob Odenkirk’s leading chops. And he isn’t alone.
“Five-O” may have been television’s single best hour since “Ozymandias.” Jonathan Banks broke me.
3. Mad Men – Form-fitting end of a classic television era. While I believed this series would conclude at Glen Bishop’s funeral (with Matthew Weiner concurrently burying both of his babies), Don Draper’s spiritual quest leaves me at peace with a drama that routinely illuminates how the pursuit of clarity often breeds ambiguity.
2. The Leftovers
Justin Theroux is one of the most interesting TV stars of our time (friendly reminder that the dude wrote Zoolander 2). His unrivaled physical and emotional reactivity are rooted in vulnerability. I’ll never forget what Jovan Adepo, Amy Brenneman, Kevin Carroll, Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, Christopher Eccleston, Liv Tyler, Regina King, and others excavate from Theroux (& Damon Lindelof) during this tonal experiment’s sophomore/penultimate run.
Casting Eddie Winslow as a seer foreshadowed this remarkable season’s thesis (Family MATTERS) in the same way Theroux’s “Homeward Bound” karaoke session underscores the deeper meaning of Kevin Garvey’s journey (he must take on Simon & Garfunkel’s irreplicable harmonies in order to find harmony).
I would’ve been just fine with Lindelof dropping his mic after a masterful season finale that couldn’t have been more hilariously dark and optimistically cynical. This, “No Room at the Inn,” and “International Assassin” are all-timers.
2014’s best show got even better by drawing more from No Country For Old Men than its Coen namesake. Few shows radiate more visual (and casting) confidence. Although Fargo is a fully actualized breath of fresh, Midwestern air, it’s truly out of this world (in more ways than one).
First alternates: The Grinder, Nathan For You
Honorable Mentions: The Americans, Broad City, Catastrophe, Daredevil, Deutschland 83, Humans, Fear the Walking Dead, Fresh Off The Boat, Game of Thrones, Girls, Inside Amy Schumer, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, The Knick, Project Greenlight, Making a Murderer, Master of None, Masters of Sex, Mr. Robot, New Girl, Orange is the New Black, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Real Time with Bill Maher, Red Oaks, Silicon Valley, Scrotal Recall, The Carmichael Show, Togetherness, True Detective*, Undateable Live, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
*Farrell and McAdams (plus Pizzolatto shamelessly throwing shade at Fukanaga) made this dumpster fire Californoir worth watching
All-Bank First Team: Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Nathan Fielder (Nathan For You), Oscar Isaac (Show Me a Hero), Justin Theroux (The Leftovers)
All-Bank Second Team: Chris Diamantopoulos (Silicon Valley), Kerry Bishé & Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul)
Unsung Heroes: Clayne Crawford (Rectify), Daniel Ings (Scrotal Recall), Joshua Leonard (Togetherness), Nick Sando (Orange is the New Black), Martin Wallström (Mr. Robot), Collette Wolfe (You’re the Worst)
Rookies of the Year: Munro Graham (Game of Thrones flasher), Connor Kalopsis (The Grinder), Trevor Larcom (True Detective)
There’s Always Next Year (Stuff I Couldn’t Get To): Empire, Hannibal, Narcos, Parks and Recreation, Penny Dreadful, Veep, The Returned (Season 2), Review, and MANY more.