This is a first. Every year, or at least for the past five, I’ve done a write-up of my ten favorite movies from the year. When I first started doing those lists it would have never occurred to me to do a list of television shows. But with each passing year, it becomes more and more obvious that we are in the middle of a new golden age of television.
There are more varied types of programming than ever before. Even someone like me, with a penchant for gore and twisted humor, has programs catering to their tastes. I now find myself getting as excited for upcoming TV shows as I do for movies.
So here are the shows that I enjoyed the most in 2015. I don’t watch everything, so if your favorite series isn’t on this list I might not have seen it. Or maybe I just didn’t like it.
I would like to address that there are three shows that probably would have made my top ten list but I didn’t get to finish watching them and I most likely won’t until into the new year – AMERICAN HORROR STORY: MOTEL, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, and DANGER 5.
Honorable Mentions: SILICON VALLEY, BROAD CITY, BOJACK HORSEMAN, and RICK AND MORTY
10: BLACK JESUS (Aaron McGruder and Mike Clattenburg, Adult Swim)
From the creators of THE BOONDOCKS and TRAILER PARK BOYS, BLACK JESUS is a brilliant satire about the second coming of Jesus happening in modern day Compton. It would be easy for this to become mocking religion week after week but the show never takes that lazy way out. Instead it takes on poverty, authority, race, and how modern people would react to someone preaching Jesus’ teachings of peace and providing for the poor. Of course all this is done to an extreme, but smartly subversive, degree. Adult Swim proves that they are still on the cutting edge of insightful and weird adult comedy.
9: SCREAM QUEENS (Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, FOX)
Another season-long anthology horror series from the people behind AMERICAN HORROR STORY and GLEE. It almost acts like a spin-off of both shows but with a focus only on absurd horror-inspired humor. The story can get a bit weak at times but each episode always has scenes crammed with surreal comedy and off-beat references. Hell, the first episode ends on a MOTEL HELL shout-out. This show is made for people like me.
Oh yeah, Jamie Lee Curtis totally steals the whole show.
8: DAREDEVIL (Drew Goddard, Netflix)
Netflix’s first foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe took everyone completely off guard. Just like many of the MCU’s recent new additions (I’m looking at you, Guardians and Ant-Man), Daredevil was much loved by comic fans but mostly written-off by the general public. However, no one was expecting Netflix and Marvel to deliver a show this gritty, dark, and true to what makes Daredevil great – but they did. Not only was Murdock translated faithfully to the screen, we also got the best version of the Kingpin-I’m sorry-Wilton Fisk in maybe any medium (yeah, I said that). Instantly, the world went from disinterested to riveted to find out what Netflix and Marvel were going to do next in their DEFENDERS universe. Which we’ll get to later on in this list…
7: TRAILER PARK BOYS (John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells, and Mike Smith, Netflix)
There’s nothing really new to say about this show. Season nine debuted this year on Netflix and even though series creator/director Mike Clattenburg left a few seasons ago (he’s now on BLACK JESUS), Tremblay, Wells, and Smith have continued on the white trash/stoner/crime format. I’d argue they’ve actually perfected it. In addition to just another fan-fucking-tastic and shit-splitting hilarious season, this franchise is really experimenting with the cross medium potentials that the internet offers. This year, in addition to TV show, there was an online only “half-season,” a Netflix special, and a podcast – all taking place in the TRAILER PARK BOYS universe. If anything, these boys are showing what is possible in new media with DIY artists willing to experiment.
6: BLUNT TALK (Jonathan Ames, Starz)
Take noted nerd thespian/star Sir Patrick Stewart, combine him with series creator/head writer Jonathan Ames (BORED TO DEATH) and executive producer Seth MacFarlane (FAMILY GUY and a ton of other stuff) and you have comedy brilliance. Stewart plays an aging newscaster hung-up on Shakespeare, women, and every drug under the sun in a show that is essentially a cheerfully dark character study. It’s funny, bittersweet, and wonderfully handles the challenges of aging while still wanting to make an impact on the world—be it politically or just with one person you consider a friend.
It’s a hidden gem that I expect to blowup in the next season or two.
5: BETTER CALL SAUL (Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, AMC)
I couldn’t have been more suspicious of this show when it was first announced. I have an inherent hatred of spin-offs and prequels – and this was both! Plus, while I enjoyed BREAKING BAD, it was never one of my favorite shows. But I gave it a shot because I love Bob Odenkirk and I’m so happy I did. Smart, funny, thrilling, and shockingly original considering its origin. Gilligan and Gould really defied the odds and, along with Odenkirk in what I bet will become a breakout role, created a true surprise hit.
I’m excited to follow Saul’s journey for the coming years.
4: ADVENTURE TIME (Adam Muto, Cartoon Network)
Every season of ADVENTURE TIME completely blows my mind. No other show is so consistently inspired, surreal, and well-written. Each eleven minute episode will show you something to delight and amaze. Be it an adventure with the main characters that reveals a simple truth of life, an episode devoted to an experimental animation/story-telling style, or a deep study of a minuet background character. ADVENTURE TIME is nothing but pure creative madness and the most bizarro show on TV. This year continued the show’s exception run on quality and delivered a fascinating season-long arch about (among many, many things) an oncoming asteroid about to impact the planet.
When ADVENTURE TIME’s run eventually ends, I’ll already preparing to argue for it being the greatest television show of all-time.
3: THE BRINK (Roberto Benabib and Kim Benabib, HBO)
This is the greatest show of the year that nobody watched! An all-star cast including Jack Black, Tim Robbins, Aasif Mandvi, and many others told a global story of how World War III could start if just everything, everywhere went wrong at the worst/perfect time. The show took a few episodes to get going but once all the pieces got into place it was one of the most hilarious, intense, and well-written seasons of a TV show I’ve ever seen.
This worst case scenario story has its tongue firmly placed in cheek but make no mistake, the show is dealing with real issues. It addresses race, economics, and religion on a global political scale in a surprisingly astute and sardonic way. While draped the whole time in pitch-black humor (the stakes are WWIII, after all).
I’m crushed that its story will not be finished as HBO has chosen not to renew the show. However, I still recommend that you seek out the first, and only, season. It’s a fascinating glimpse at what could have become the next WEST WING.
2: ASH VS EVIL DEAD (Craig DiGregorio, Starz)
I’m not going to try and convince you to watch this show. You’re either on board and loving the trashy gore and humor every week. Or you’ve never heard of the franchise and this isn’t the place to start. Or you hate THE EVIL DEAD—in which case I have no idea why you’d be reading a top ten list written by me.
Bruce Campbell brings back Ash but updating him into a middle-going-on-late-age loser that is a joy for this long-time fan to watch. The writers smartly embraced the character’s racism and sexism and contrasted how out of place the character is with the modern world for maximum comedic effect. And it’s not just Ash, every new character perfectly fits in with Raimi’s ridiculous, cruel, and gory world. Pablo is my favorite.
Fuck, I’m going to love any show that gleefully kills innocent people (even kids), has the heroes getting drunk and stoned, and features faces getting mangled in meat-slicers!
This is my kinda shit.
1: JESSICA JONES (Melissa Rosenberg, Netflix)
After DAREDEVIL, everyone was thrilled but wondering how the hell Netflix/Marvel was going to handle their next series which was based the most obscure Marvel character was giving a starring role to yet. They answered with giving what many (including myself) to be the best live-action superhero media every made. This is not a show about superheroes, this is a show about people who happen to have superpowers and all the trauma and pain those powers could bring.
The story is about Jessica Jones who has very basic super strength/high jump powers and is an alcoholic private detective. Her life is in shambles after being previously held as, bascially, a sex-slave by another “gifted-person” named Kilgrave, who has mind-control powers (to put it very simply). A new case brings him back into her life and they begin an elaborate cat-and-mouse hunt to satisfy their old grudges.
Netflix and Marvel took a D-list villain with the Purple Man/Kilgrave and an unknown but to superhero nerds, Jessica Jones, to tell an elaborate, thoughtful, and, at times, shocking story of PTSD, addiction, and abuse – be it emotional, physical, or rape.
This is exactly the type of intelligent genre television that I want more of. I couldn’t be more thrilled that a studio best known for IRON MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY gave us a thirteen hour exploration into the personal impacts of cruelty and self-destruction. And there’s not a single dumb costume. Well, expect for that one scene…
WHAT AM I LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2016?
MR. PICKLES was the best show of 2014 that no one watched and, thank Satan, Adult Swim is bringing it back for a second season in 2016!
If you didn’t watch the show (and most didn’t), it’s a eleven minute cartoon done in thick black lines and garish colors that invoke EC Comics. The story is basically Lassie but if Lassie was possessed/inhabited by Satan and with a ton more ultra-gore, BDSM, and complete disregard for any sense of good taste.