2015 in television

Now that 2015 is more or less over, I thought it appropriate to summarize the year that has passed somehow. A list of some kind seems appropriate, I like list, and fittingly enough a number of television shows have been released this year, some of whom I’ve wanted to write about but could never find the time for. To mark the passing of 2015 I will therefore list what I consider to be the best shows of the passed year, along with some explanations as to why some of them are better than others.

By released this year, I mean that one season of the show in question was released this year, the show might of course have premiered earlier than that. Note also that I only list the shows that I have watched, if there was something released this year that I have missed and that you believe belongs on the list then please let me know in the comment section below.

That being said, here is this year’s list. Observe that the following text includes spoilers for some of the shows that are being discussed.

7. Narcos: I don’t really have much to say about Narcos. In theory it could have been a much better show, the format itself was something I haven’t seen before, I like how heavily it connected to actual history and so on. But we never got attached to any characters, the crew around Pablo Escobar somehow felt irrelevant and interchangeable. Maybe they tried to cover too much in a too short time span.

I watched it so it has to be on the list but it most certainly finishes last.

6. Game of Thrones, Season 5: I wrote a lot about the fifth season of game of Thrones earlier this year when reviewing it episode by episode, those reviews can be found on this site and I recommend them for anyone who likes the show. Having reviewed the show thus, I’d rather not spend much time on it here. I will just say that the season lost somewhat in quality after the fourth episode, up until then it was quite good. The parts on and beyond the wall were the best, had they been representative of the rest of the season it would have earned a better place on this list. And also, the way they handled Stannis’ storyline was an abomination.

5. Daredevil, Season 1: In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of Marvel or superheroes in general. I didn’t like any of the Avengers or X-men or Spiderman movies or the like, and I have never read the comics. That being said, recently I’ve started paying more attention to Marvell on account of two new television shows adapting their work, the lesser of these two shows being Daredevil.

I liked the first season of Daredevil, I liked it quite a lot. The characters were well made, both the hero, the villain and the various side-kicks were really interesting. The take on the main villain in the show, in particular, is something new and different. We got the usual back story, the villain came from a troubled family, had an abusive father and so on, this is not what I mean with new, this is a typical back-story trying to make the villain more sympathetic or at least understandable. But the villain also gets an ongoing family story in the form of a genuine romance, which makes things a little more complicated. The subversion of the usual trope of having villain’s beloved turning away in horror when she finds out the truth about him also helped the show somehow feel different and new.

In addition to the portrayal of the main villain, the presentation of the hero is also quite well done. The actual super powers of the hero are to be honest ridiculous, but that has to do with the source material and not this show, so lets leave that aside. The way that Matt Murdoch is channeling his father throughout the show adds a certain feeling to the story, makes it somehow more serious and somber. In particular the confession scene in the first episode is quite good at setting the mood.

Murdoch is talking to a priest about his father ‘s boxing career, and how he had a very particular style of fighting. He says that his dad often lost but that there were fights when something happened, when he suddenly got a different look in his eyes:

And the other guy, he’d see that look and try to get away from him. My dad, he’d catch him and trap him in the corner. Let the devil out.”

I wish that the particular atmosphere of that scene would have remained throughout the show, it would have been beneficial for Daredevil’s ranking on this list. The entire scene I’m talking about can be found here.

Having pointed out the scenes like the one above as the high-point of the show, I also have to mention that there were a couple of really deep lows in this season of Daredevil. One of those took place in the third episode, in the end when Murdoch had managed to beat a guy into revealing Wilson Fisk’s name. The guy in question then says something about how Fisk will now kill him and his entire family, and then promptly commits suicide.

This is done to make Fisk look particularly scary, to show that even his underlings fear him, but the whole scene is obviously fucking absurd. How would Fisk magically know that his underling had betrayed him? Does he assume that Daredevil will rat him out? There are a few more misses like this in the show, and we could do without all of them.

4. Better Call Saul, Season 1: First of all I have to a admit that I watched this show more or less like an extension of Breaking Bad. Not surprising, it is a spin-off, but I might as well admit it right away so we know where we stand. That being said, it was relatively solid, with few major lows and some real highs. They basically took the best characters from Breaking Bad (not counting Walter and Jesse) and gave us more stuff with them. More of a good things is, I maintain, a good in and and off itself.

3. True Detective, Season 2: The first season of True Detective was art. I find that to be the only fitting description for the way in which the setting, the story, the play with time and the dialog were fused into perfection. Sometimes dark art, perhaps, but definitively art and not just entertainment, like the rest of the shows on this list. My expectations for the second season were therefore, as you can guess, sky-fucking-high.

I was thus left disappointed, this season of True Detective wasn’t the masterpiece that the previous one was, but the dialog and the acting were still fantastic, given this particular plot including these particular characters it was executed as well as it could have been.

2. Penny Dreadfull, Season 2: I wrote a larger piece on among other things Penny Dreadful some time ago on this site, I will simply re-post an excerpt of what I wrote about this show then.

…in terms of aesthetics it is beautifully shot, though it at times portrays scenes that in themselves are grotesque. Everything from costumes to special effects is crafted in a way so as to give the viewer a certain feeling of, well, something, say something dark and diabolic. It it not just that advanced technology was used to make the show and that it’s an orgy in special effects, what I mean is that in this show these things all work towards a common theme in an almost perfect manner, the show maintains a certain mood consistently throughout each episode. One of the few other shows I can think of that does this is Deadwood.

Keep in mind however that I watched both seasons of Penny Dreadful back to back this summer, and so I have no distinct impression of season two, this show’s rankings might depend on me taking both seasons into consideration in a way I don’t do for say True Detective.

1. Jessica Jones, Season 1: Here then, finally, we have the pinnacle of television of 2015. Like Daredevil, this is a modern take on a Marvel superhero comic, but comparing them it quickly becomes clear that the first season of Jessica Jones was much better. Considering that I actually liked Daredevil, as can be seen by its place above on the list, that does say a lot.

There reasons for why Jessica Jones ended up in first place here are legion, and in the interest of brevity I shall just cover a few of them. This show is the continuation of a relatively modern movement away from stories of the monster-of-the-week variety. The first season of Jessica Jones is almost entirely made up of one long story arc. There are of course a few sub-plots that stretch over a couple of episodes each, but gone are the days of introducing a new villain at the start of the episode, having some shit go sideways in the middle and the villain being defeated towards the end before the heroes meet at a pub to celebrate and another villain is introduced in the next episode.

I cannot stress enough how much of an improvement I consider this to be for television as a medium. Contrast this with the first season of Gotham, which I also watched recently but which didn’t make the list because it was released in 2014. Had Gotham qualified for the list it wouldn’t have scored well, to put it mildly. The reason for this can be clearly illustrated by bringing up the balloon man, the spirit of the goat, the electric mother fucker and so on. Each of these are irrelevant to the main story and to any subplot, they are pure filler, discarded on a weekly basis, and I’m glad that Jessica Jones is relatively free of that bullshit.

Likewise, Jessica Jones lies out the groundwork for coming seasons in the first one. The disappearance and inevitable return of Simpson as well as the flash-drive containing information about the origins of Jessica’s powers will probably play a large part in season two. Had this been some other show, we might have had a new villain being showed “returning to town” when the next season starts or something, and then had to pretend that he was part of the story all along.

Besides handling continuity in a nice way, Jessica Jones also a story that is quite great in its own right. This first season was in a way much more the story of Killgrave than Jessica, seeing how we now know more of his origins than hers and seeing how his story is, to put it mildly, over. That’s ok though, David Tennant’s portrayal of Killgrave was so fantastic that it deserves his own story. Also, the way Killgrave started out as a dark menacing force in the background (consider how scary he was when he made that phone call to the radio show in the third episode) and ended up as a desperate twat. That is character development, of a kind.

Krysten Ritter was as good as Jessica as Tennant was as Killgrave, and I look forward to the next season, when and if we get one, assuming that they don’t bring in some marvel weirdness of the less serious kind.

2015 was, unfortunately a step in the wrong direction from 2014 when it comes to the topic of television. The seasons of Game of Thrones and True Detective released last year were much better than these ones, and 2014 also had some other major hits like the final season of Sons of Anarchy and season 2 of Penny Dreadful. Nevertheless, there has been some good stuff released this year and I maintain that we are indeed living in the golden age of television shows, whatever else might also be going on in the world.

Like I said at the start of this post, the list only contains shows that I have actually watched, if there is something that you feel I should have watched and ranked, or if you disagree with the rankings, let me know in the comments below. And also, for those who have missed it, you can follow me on twitter at @PromethiumWings.

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