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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My Top 20 Favorite Shows of 2015

20) Fargo (FX)
Season 2
Created By: Noah Hawley

Thoughts: I have no doubt that Season 2 of Fargo will end up being #1 on many people's year end list, but for me, the FX show almost didn't crack my Top 20. However, I started comparing it against other shows for this last spot (Catastrophe, You're The Worst, Community) and I realized no other show in competition with Fargo made me tune in every week to see what fascinating and exciting new adventure was awaiting me. I absolutely believe that season 1 of Fargo- as a result of better and more interesting characters (both main ones like the ones played by Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, and Allison Tolman, but also the minor characters like the ones played by Glenn Howerton and Kate Walsh)- is better than this current season, but that shouldn't take away from my enjoyment for what Noah Hawley and company created in 2015. Also, please give Bokeem Woodbine all the awards.

19) Mr. Robot (USA)
Season 1
Created By: Sam Esmail

Thoughts: When Fargo's Noah Hawley spoke with Andy Greenwald to promote his show, he never referred to his product as a "show"- he always referred to it as a movie. Television shows have become more serialized than ever nowadays that they basically are 10-13 hour long movies. This concept couldn't be more true than with Sam Esmail's great, of-the-times masterpiece Mr. Robot. Esmail starting writing a script for his new movie that was so long that he just decided to make it a television series. Season 1 of USA's amazing new show about a schizophrenic hacker trying to take down the fictional E-Corp was just Esmail's first act. If this is just beginning, then I can't wait to see what's in store for Seasons 2 and 3. Also, check out Sam Esmail's interview with Andy Greenwald, but only after you've been on the exhilarating roller coaster that was Season 1 of Mr. Robot.

Click here to read my thoughts on how Goodfellas influenced Mr. Robot's voice over

18) Other Space (Yahoo!)
Season 1
Created By: Paul Feig

Thoughts: I originally came to Other Space thanks to Yahoo! airing the sixth (and hopefully final) season of Community, but I stayed thanks to Paul Feig's (you know, the guy that brought us Freaks and Geeks and Bridesmaids) simple yet hilarious new show. While I don't expect Yahoo! to air a second season of Other Space thanks to the massive amount of money they lost trying to get into the television game, I still enjoyed the 8 episode first and final season. The premise of the show is straight-forward, a small group of 20-something's in a Star Trek -esque Star Fleet Academy get lost in space and attempt to get back home; however, the success was in the execution. The humor works thanks to the relationships the show was able to give us from the get go, and it turns out those actors you see in commercials are actually great when given a larger opportunity.

17) House of Cards (Netflix)
Season 3
Created By: Beau Willimon

Thoughts: I have had a rocky relationship with House of Cards. I absolutely loved the first season, but I loathed the second season. I hated season two of this show so much that I almost refused to watch this season. Yet I watched anyways, and I am glad that I did. The show dialed back the crazy and created legitimate obstacles for its lead Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) to conquer during this third season. The show also didn't make it incredibly easy for Frank to win all the time, and it felt like an uphill battle for him. This ultimately created a more satisfying experience for the viewer. House of Cards still doesn't know if it is a darker West Wing or if it's an over-the-top political thriller more in tune with a Shonda Rhimes show; however, the fact that season three was mainly the former with a just dusting of the latter made me a believer of the show again. I enjoy the West Wing stuff a lot more than the Frank-is-a-murdering-psychopath-and-gets-whatever-he-wants stuff, and season three of House of Cards gave me just enough of what I liked to earn a Top 20 spot on this list.

Click here to read how House of Cards created the Wonderful Dominance of Netflix

16) Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix)
Season 1
Created By: David Wain & Michael Showwalter

Thoughts: I was never a huge fan of the original 2001 cult indie film Wet Hot American Summer, even though it holds up surprisingly well in 2015, but I did enjoy the 8 episode prequel. This Netflix show still managed to mock the 80's camp movie tropes that made the 2001 film a classic while still providing a satisfying arc for almost every character to get them from the first day of camp of this Netflix show to the last day of camp which was the 2001 movie. The show had an enormous amount fun having actors age 15 years while technically playing a character three months younger, and that was a great talking point among the Kaplan household. The show also managed to have a cameo from every single actor in Hollywood (and everyone from the set of Mad Men seemed to pop on by after their show wrapped up) which was a delight. However, the most impressive feat was that Bradley Cooper, who was an unknown back in 2001 and is now a mega-superstar, managed to appear in all 8 episodes despite only being available for one day of filming.

15) Marvel's Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Season 1
Created By: Melissa Rosenberg

Thoughts: Despite the fact that Jessica Jones is based on a Marvel comic book, the show is basically a gritty film noir about a private detective that happens to have superpowers. Rosenberg and company use powers as a metaphor for its two main characters (the titular character played by the great Krysten Ritter and the series' Big Bad Kilgrave played by David Tennant). This is similar to what Joss Whedon did on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and was a great approach here to enrich this dark story and help us better connect with the characters. At its core, Jessica Jones is about an alcoholic who struggles with her PTSD, but is also about surviving and proving your self-worth despite enormous odds against you. The show does have some flaws, mainly it fits 8-10 episodes into a 13 episode season, but ultimately the binge is worth the watch.

14) Brooklyn Nine Nine (FOX)
Season 2b / 3a
Created By: Dan Goor & Michael Schur

Thoughts: Brooklyn Nine-Nine might be the last of a dying breed. A funny sitcom on one of the four major networks that got debuted and is still airing during Peak TV. The show got picked up for a second season thanks to a Golden Globe win despite poor ratings, yet here we are almost two years later and the show is going strong and just as funny as ever. Mindy Kaling recently told Alan Sepinwall of, "If a couple gets together and its boring, the characters are bad." Kaling's point is proven with the beginning of Season 3 as the will they / won't they between Detective's Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Santiago (Melissa Fumero) finally reach the "they will" point in their relationship and the show is just as good as it ever was. In an age of dying sitcoms, Brooklyn Nine Nine shines bright like the star atop of a Christmas tree.

Click here to read about The Death of the Network Sitcom

BONUS: 7 Days in Hell (HBO): 7 Days In Hell is a faux 30 For 30- esque mockumentary starring Andy Samberg and Kit Harrington as tennis players who played in the longest tennis match in history. It's a 43 minute mini-movie, and while it's not quite a TV show, it's absolutely one of the greatest things I've seen on television this year. If you're a fan of Andy Samberg's style of humor (or frankly humor in general), this will be right up your alley.

13) Mad Men (AMC)
Season 7b
Created By: Matt Weiner

Thoughts: Mad Men was probably the toughest show for me to rank on this list just because I enjoyed listening to people's thoughts on each episode more than I did watching the episode itself. I would read Alan Sepinwall's recaps right after the episode aired, then I would listen to Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan discuss it on Grantland's Hollywood Prospectus podcast, before finishing it off with Matt Zoller Seitz and Margaret Lyons's always insightful and riveting takes on the Vulture TV podcast. It's fascinating to me that three separate outlets can all have different takes on one episode and all three takes are brilliant and unique. Normally, when I find entertainment consumed this way it's because the artistic product itself is pretentious (and in some ways Mad Men certainly is pretentious) to the point of fault, but for Mad Men it just worked for me. Now who wants a Coke?

12) Game of Thrones (HBO)
Season 5
Created By: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

Thoughts: Game of Thrones deserved all of the criticisms that was thrown its way in 2015. From its deplorable depiction of women and rape to killing Jon Snow and keeping up the charade that he's gone for good, HBO's big-budget fantasy epic pissed a lot of people off in 2015. Yet despite having a "down" season, Game of Thrones easily makes my Top 20. I will not defend many of the things Game of Thrones has done wrong and needs to (still) learn to get better at; however, it has done many things well and those things are the reason I keep coming back to this show, and the reason people get outraged when Game of Thrones does many things so wrong. It is also difficult to defend the notion that Game of Thrones was the best television program of the year, yet its Emmy win for Outstanding Drama Series was well-deserved based upon the plethora of unrewarded work it has done in the past. Plus, Breaking Bad wasn't nominated, so... what else was supposed to win?

11) BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Season 2
Created By: Raphael Bob-Waksberg

Thoughts: BoJack Horseman might be secretly brilliant and the best comedy currently on television, but because it's on Netflix it just comes and goes through the zeitgeist. Starring a depressed former 90's sitcom star, BoJack Horseman tells the story of fame, addiction, and mental illness while still being laugh out loud funny (and is executing this type of story 1000% better than You're The Worst is currently doing). It has these incredibly raw, human moments while still telling a layered and funny story. BoJack Horseman also pulls a page out of the Arrested Development playbook and has these complex call backs that always leaves me with a smile on my face. The fact that everyone calls Hollywood "Hollywoo" just because BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett) stole the "D" in the famous Hollywood sign back in Season 1 still cracks me up.

10) The Flash (CW)
Season 1b / 2a
Created By: Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns, Andrew Kreisberg

Thoughts: The Flash earned a spot on my Top 14 Shows of 2014 list thanks to its lighthearted Marvel-esque style of superhero tone. The show skyrocketed up to a borderline Top 5 show thanks to "Out Of Time" and the incredible way the second half of the first season ended. By focusing on the war between Barry Allen and his team versus Harrison Wells (aka The Reverse Flash), the episodes of The Flash that aired in 2015 were outstanding and a fantastic roller coaster ride that I never wanted to end. Unfortunately, The Flash also aired the first half of Season 2 in 2015, which dropped the show down a bit in my rankings. Season 2 in 2015 seems more interested in setting up Legends of Tomorrow than telling its own story, and analogous to the recent creative decline of the Marvel films, The Flash is also suffering by telling other people's stories over its own. However, I am choosing to have the good outweigh the bad and I am still keeping The Flash in my Top 10.

Click here to read my thoughts of how The Flash pulled ahead of Arrow as the best superhero show

9) Narcos (Netflix)
Season 1
Created By: Carlos Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro, & Paul Eckstein

Thoughts: I'm still not convinced that Narcos is actually a good show, and it certainly doesn't fit the auteur brand of television storytelling that has been a quintessential hallmark of The Golden Age of Television. Hell, look at how many creators I had to list up above. But you know what? Who cares. I really enjoy this show, and so does everyone I know who was lucky enough to set their eyes on this under-the-radar Netflix instant classic. This 10 episode season (or 8 episode season with 2 epilogue episodes as I chose to think of it) is the origin story of Pablo Escobar's rise to power (played phenomenally by Wagner Maura) in the vein of Goodfellas. It uses the voice-over of DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) who, along with his partner played by The Viper himself Pedro Pascal, tell the story of how a low level criminal became The King of Columbia.

Click here to read the influence of Goodfellas voice over on Narcos

8) Marvel's Daredevil (Netflix)
Season 1
Created By: Drew Goddard

Thoughts: At the end of 2015, the creative success of Daredevil shouldn't be that much of a surprise. Drew Goddard, who's main claim to fame was the great The Cabin In The Woods, also penned the highly successful Matt Damon film The Martian. He also gave us the best superhero show currently on "television." I prefer Daredevil over Jessica Jones just because its weak spots are so minimal compared to the glaring ones on Jessica Jones. Plus, I prefer action in my superhero viewing, and that just so happened to be Daredevil's strong suit. The 3+ minute oner hallway fight scene in its second episode was the pinnacle of the raw, gritty show we were in store for. The show was also able to find the human emotion in devout Catholic Matt Murdock's (Boardwalk Empire's Charlie Cox) struggle of causing gruesome harm and violence in order to save the greater good. Daredevil was able to tell these deeply human stories while also giving us intense action sequences, and that's why I ranked the show in my Top 10 and my #1 superhero show of 2015.

Click here to read about Marvel's self-contained Netflix success

7) The Leftovers (HBO)
Season 2
Created By: Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta

Thoughts: The Leftovers is based upon Tom Perrotta's book about the random disappearance of 2% of the world's population. After blazing through the entire book in the show's excellent first season, Damon Lindeloff and team picked up their shit and moved completely across the county to fervently tell their own story- and picked up a handful of new main characters along the way. Instead of setting their story in a town surrounded by loss, they moved to a town completely unaffected by The Disappearance. Instead of using their decently big ensemble cast in each episode Game of Thrones style, each episode is basically seen through a different character's point-of-view. A lot of people are calling this season one of the All-Time greats, and I don't know if I'd go that far, but I do enjoy this show tremendously.

I think the main reason that I am not fully on board with the All Time Great notion is that it was jarring getting used to this new version of the show. I seem to be one of the few who genuinely loved the first season. Maybe when I go back and re-watch this season knowing where things are heading I'll enjoy it more. Despite that, I hope all of the hyperbole surrounding this past season gets people to binge the show in order to convince HBO to renew it for a third season. I really love this show and I'll be sad if I won't get any more of it while there's still plenty of story to be told.

6) Better Call Saul (AMC)
Season 1
Created By: Peter Gould & Vince Gilligan

Thoughts: I am one of the biggest Breaking Bad fans there are. Even though I was tardy to party and binge watched more episodes than I watched live, I, like most Americans, freaking love Breaking Bad. I think that's why I am such a huge fan of Better Call Saul. Despite the fact that the two are completely different on the broadest of perspectives, both shows are very meticulous (everything from the dialogue to what color people are wearing is an exact science) and will spend as much time as they need to in order to tell their story. After the first couple of episodes of Better Call Saul, it split off from its predecessor and became its own, enjoyable thing while still giving me that warm Breaking Bad nostalgia. The change from Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman won't be as dramatic (or as bloody) as Walter White turning into Heisenberg, but based upon this first season of Better Call Saul, I am confident it will be just as good.

Click here to read about the fantastic Been There, Done That feeling of Better Call Saul

5) Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Season 1
Created By: Tina Fey & Robert Carlock

Thoughts: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show that Tina Fey and Robert Carlock originally wrote and produced for NBC about a young girl (played perfectly by The Office's Ellie Kemper) who is finally free and out on her own after being imprisoned for over a decade inside an underground bunker. It is an incredibly dark and twisted premise that Fey and Carlock were able to pull off- and were helped tremendously by the upbeat spirit and energy that Kemper brought to her performance of Kimmy Schmidt. I can see why NBC would pass on a show like this (although what compelled them to finance shooting everything is beyond me), but I'm incredibly grateful Netflix was able to come in and swoop it up so the world can see what a great show NBC had on their hands. Ultimately, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is just hysterical, and cracks the Top 5 of my best of list because of it. Plus, Peeno Noir.

Click here to read about the fantastic Been There, Done That feeling of Unbreakbale Kimmy Schmidt

4) The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO)
Season 1
Created By: Andrew Jarecki

Thoughts: Remember when we were all obsessed about The Jinx and Robert Durst earlier this year? Remember when people got mad at the news for reporting Durst got arrested claiming real life spoiled their docu-series? Remember how engrossed we all got about a six-part documentary TV show interviewing a charming sociopath serial killer? I do, and that's why I have The Jinx so high on my list. The show got so big that it created a backlash against documentarian Andrew Jarecki about how the final two episodes of the show, including that incredible final moment with Durst in the bathroom, were filmed out of order for dramatic effect. Here's the thing though, I don't care about any of that because, while true, it made for some damn good television. Here's the other dirty little secret, you don't really want the truth in your documentaries as it happens in sequential order, because that's real life, and real life is boring. Whether you mean to or not, you expect and crave a certain narrative structure when you're watching a documentary. Andrew Jarecki knows this, and like he did with his first film, the documentary Capturing The Friedmans, he strategically places when he reveals facts in order to create amazing cinema. I think Andrew Jarecki is a great filmmaker, and I think the The Jinx is brilliant. Now I guess I have to go listen to Serial, huh?

Click here to read full reviews of the 5 biggest documentaries of 2015, including more thoughts on The Jinx and Capturing The Friedmans

3) Bob's Burgers (FOX) 
Season 5b / 6a
Created By: Loren Bouchard

Thoughts: When I first created this list, I barely had Bob's Burgers in my Top 20. But then after I thought about it (and after some razzing on Facebook), I realized that very few shows give me as much pure joy and entertainment as Bob's Burgers does. While I have absolutely no idea which episodes I saw as reruns on Netflix or which episodes I saw On Demand from this new season in 2015, what I can tell you is that every episode of Bob's Burgers is excellent. Maybe if this list was an "objective" take on television I wouldn't rank this show so high; however, this is a list of my favorite shows, and Bob's Burgers is truly one of my favorites. I do find it troubling that I can't really quote lines from this show as I can South Park or The Simpsons, but like my #2 show on this list, it is just so consistently funny, and does so on such a high level, that I don't want to live in a world without Bob's Burgers in my life. I mean, I love the show so much that the wife and I will do this:

2) Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Season 7
Created By: Michael Schur

Thoughts: Now that it's all said and done, Parks and Recreation will go down as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. I will argue that it's even better than The Office, because Mike Schur's former show had bad to horrific seasons; whereas Parks and Rec didn't have a bad one since it's six episode first season. Last year, Season 6 for Parks and Rec wasn't the greatest, but it most certainly never reached The Office bad. In order to avoid any talk about how this show Jumped The Shark, and to prevent this final season from being worse than Season 6, Michael Schur did a really genius thing- he time jumped three years into the future. This allowed the show to reset and create a new status quo while still keeping the core characters and their relationships in place. That also allowed Parks and Rec to go out on a high note and finish with the delightful bang it deserved.

Click here to read my Farewell to Parks and Recreation

1) Black Mirror (Channel 4 / Netflix)
Seasons 1 & 2, Christmas Episode
Created By: Charlie Booker

Thoughts: Black Mirror is an anthology series from the U.K. that tells the delightfully horrible side effects of technology. The easiest comparison of this show is The Twilight Zone, which is fair and it isn't. Black Mirror is pure science fiction that will most certainly not scare you (nor is it meant to), but like The Twilight Zone, it's a bloody masterpiece. I would recommend everyone start off with Episode 3: "The Entire History of You". It's episode where everyone has cameras in their eyes and everything they see and hear gets recorded and logged and can be pulled up later for future use. It might be the single greatest television episode of all time. While the other six episodes of Black Mirror are not as good as "The Entire History of You", they are still so good that you need to stop what you're doing and binge Black Mirror immediately. Then, you can get incredibly excited that Netflix is bringing the show back for 12 brand spanking new episodes in 2016.

Click here to read my recap of the 3 episodes in Season 1 of Black Mirror

Black Mirror is by far and away the best television show that I watched in 2015. However, it's a show that aired its first two seasons in the U.K. in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and aired its Christmas episode in 2014. The show also premiered in the U.S. via Netflix in 2014 (granted, very, very late in 2014, and certainly too late to both watch the show and put it on a year end list). So realistically, if you live in the states, you, like myself, consumed Black Mirror in 2015. But, I'll concede having this show on here is a cheat, leaving room for my real #1 which is...

1) Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Season 3
Created By: Jenji Kohan

Thoughts: If you really want to read my thoughts about how Orange Is The New Black became the best show on television, then knock yourself out. And kudos to you for reading this far and still wanting to read more. But instead, I am going to cede time to myself to defend Piper Chapman. Part of the problem with Netflix shows is that not everybody is watching at their own pace, which means I never got to properly respond to all of the negative Piper comments I saw. I get that Piper was never the most likable character to begin with, and she was always annoying and narcissistic. But Jenji Kohan realized that and made Piper and her family less and less a part of this world as the world inside the prison grew bigger and bigger. But Piper Chapman is still our lead character, and you can't just write off your lead character completely. You may think you can, but you can't. Look how well shows like The Office, Two and a Half Men, and That 70's Show did after they wrote off their main character; you just can't remove your lead character and have everything run as smoothly. You need your lead character for better or worse. And here's thing, you don't hate Piper Chapman, you love to hate her. There's a difference. For all of Piper's flaws, she's at least interesting. Her actions have become compelling and worthwhile watching. I personally actually enjoy watching Piper and love what a phenomenal job Taylor Schilling is doing with this character. If you don't like her, oh well, you best at least get used to her.

Click here to read how Orange Is The New Black became the best show on television.


21) Master of None (Netflix)
22) Broad City (Comedy Central)
23) The League (FXX)
24) Community (Yahoo!)
25) Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
26) Catastrophe (Amazon)
27) South Park (Comedy Central)
28) You're The Worst (FXX)
29) The Last Man on Earth (FOX)
30) UnReal (Lifetime)



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