Michael Kirchhoff

The Best of 2015 – Serious Teevee

There were lots of things in 2015. Some of those things appeared on television and were super-duper serious. The best one was:

The Leftovers

At the beginning of the year, I fully expected the final season of Mad Men to occupy this spot, but surprisingly, Don Draper’s story mostly limped to the finish line (though I did enjoy the sardonic smirk of the show’s final moments).

Then, after the wrenching third season of The Americans concluded in April, I couldn’t imagine anything else coming along to dethrone it.

I guess it was a mistake to have assumed anything. I should have “just let the mystery be.”

leftovers

The Leftovers is such a dour, bizarre, and emotionally brutal show that its potential audience would always be narrow (as indicated by the show’s ratings falling off a cliff between seasons 1 and 2). Fortunately, I happen to land directly in this show’s needle-thin demographic.

The conventional wisdom is that this show made a leap in quality between its two seasons, but season one was also excellent, if a bit more haphazard. Season two takes a more centered approach, jumping focus from character to character before tying all the threads together in a glorious metaphysical knot. Only The Leftovers would be bonkers enough to make Liv Tyler, of all people, one of the most terrifying villains on television and sell it as beautifully as they did.

The final four episodes of the season were audacious in a way that could have been bugfuck disastrous (and for many viewers it was), but it all worked for me, creating moments of pain and rapture that I am still trying to digest. The third (and final) season will be a doozy.

So that was the best of the serious teevee things this year. Here are some others that were good:

The Americans

americans

One of the most admirable elements of this balls-to-the-wall amazing show is that it manages to do something that practically no other show can manage: create believable teenage characters. Paige and Henry Jennings are not one-liner quip machines, or pimply angst-ridden outcasts, or slobbering sex maniacs. They are smart people who are too young to fully understand or process their lives. Holly Taylor was especially devastating this season as a confident but immature girl who has the weight of the world lowered onto her narrow shoulders.

The two leads, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, were both excellent as usual (seriously, House of Cards people, your show is dreadful, stop winning awards please and give these two a chance). This season’s tenth episode, “Stingers,” bravely detonated the show’s central premise and launched the story in an unexpected direction that should lead to disastrous consequences in season four … which, despite the show’s abysmal ratings, exists because FX executives love the show. As any sane person should.

Better Call Saul

Making a prequel series to Breaking Bad was a colossally bad idea. It still is, to be honest.

Painting frescoes across the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was also a colossally bad idea. The point being, sometimes even a terrible idea can ultimately produce something wondrous.

bcs

We already knew that Jonathan Banks is terrific as taciturn criminal Mike Ehrmantraut (which he proved once again in his gut-wrenching spotlight episode, “Five-O”), but the big surprise was the nuanced performance of the show’s lead, Bob Odenkirk. From his Mr. Show days, we already knew that Odenkirk is a world champion of screaming “Goddammit!” but we didn’t know he was capable of selling the emotional beating his Slippin’ Jimmy character endures on his way to becoming Saul Goodman.

Game of Thrones

WhiteWalker_(Hardhome)

Game of Thrones leaned down hard on the accelerator in season 5, zooming through the fourth and fifth books (and a bit beyond) of George R. R. Martin’s source material in a single go. The show-runners had some good ideas, such as chucking out most of the bloated storylines that made reading A Dance With Dragons a bit of a chore, as well as some not-so-great ones, such as stranding Jaime and Bronn in Dorne with little to do. It made for an uneven adaptation of a couple of uneven books.

But when Game of Thrones wants to serve up a “holy shit!” moment, they do it better than anyone, and the White Walker invasion that takes up the final half of “Hardhome” was as heart-spasming intense as anything I’ve ever seen on television. That terrifying half hour alone gets this show onto this list.

Also great, but I don’t feel like writing a bunch of stuff about them:

Hannibal – This gloriously artsy nonsense was shown on network television for three years. How the shit was that allowed to happen?

Rectify – This shorter, more plot-driven season didn’t reach the emotional heights of previous ones, but was still lovely and riveting. Season four will be its last, which feels right.

Bloodline – Amazing acting, but boy, those Rayburns sure like to say “fuck” a lot.

Narcos – By the end of this, I actually started to understand Spanish.

Penny Dreadful – Eva Green. That is all.

Show Me A Hero – Ex Machina, Star Wars, and this. Oscar Isaac had a pretty good year.

Fargo – Lotsa folks seem to be gettin’ themselves shot in the head, dontcha know?

Orphan Black – The story makes absolutely no sense, yet the show remains engrossing because of Tatiana Maslany’s amazing performance(s).

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