2014-15: The Television Year In Review

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The Emmy nominations are just a day away and so it’s that time of year again where I take a look back on the television year that was. A few of my all-time favorite shows left the airwaves, some newcomers had me hooked from the get-go and others left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Without further ado, these are the shows that left a mark on me throughout the past year.

Series I still need to check out: Orange is the New Black, The Americans, Hannibal, Veep, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Knick

Best Comeback

The Walking Dead

(AMC. 2010 to Present)

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A show that has consistently frustrated me throughout its run like no other is AMC’s The Walking Dead. And so it was with great caution that I approached its fifth season, fearing that once again it would be a jumbled mess, highlighted by random character motivations and walkers getting their heads sliced open without much thought as to why. Well for once, Rick Grimes and his crew actually delivered something unexpected: a season that fully explored the dramatic possibilities of the mental and emotional toll being a part of the zombie apocalypse could take on a human being. Andrew Lincoln’s Rick grew increasingly unhinged as the season wore on, and it actually made sense. He’s been put through the wringer and been so focused on making sure his group survives that he’s never stopped to think about at what cost do his violent and paranoid actions come? Exploring this is why season five is perhaps the strongest run the show has ever experienced.

Biggest Disappointment

House of Cards

(Netflix, 2010 to Present)

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Season 3 of House of Cards begins with Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood finally having achieved his ultimate goal in becoming the President of the United States. Now what? Well, I think Beau Willimon and his staff of writers are still trying to figure that out. Much of the third season feels like a retread for Frank, trying to balance the power he wields as a politician with the power he’s been trying to maintain in his relationship with his wife Claire (Robin Wright). Sure, the stakes are raised now that he’s the Commander in Chief and a particular storyline involving his conflict with the Russian President Viktor Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen) is a highlight, but as the season wears on you can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen most of this before. Spacey and Wright are as good as ever but an anticlimactic ending to the season further highlights these issues. Well, at least Doug Stamper is still doing his thing.

Best New Comedy

The Last Man on Earth

(Fox, 2015 to Present)

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Perhaps the most divisive new show of the year, The Last Man on Earth begins as a one-man showcase for the off-beat comedy of SNL alum Will Forte. Starring as Phil Miller, who believes himself to be the last man on earth, Forte is really the only actor who could pull off this kind of role. It’s one that revels in the strangeness and insecurity of an incredibly lonely man who quite simply doesn’t know how to interact with other human beings. Phil Miller certainly isn’t a hero, and he may not even be a good person. He’s selfish and he’s only ever interested in what he wants. That to me is what sets this show apart from all the others on network television. It sets out to show us a man warped by his own self-interest and never shies away from doing so, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for a typical television audience to watch play out. It may not always work, but when it does, The Last Man on Earth is one of the best shows on network television, period.

Best New Drama

Bloodline 

(Netflix, 2015 to Present)

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Note: There was another show that truly was the Best New Drama of the year, but to spread the wealth, it’s not here. You’ll see why shortly.

While it’s certainly debatable whether Bloodline is among the absolute best TV dramas following its first season, what is undeniable about Netflix’s latest original series is that it contains one of the best performances of the year. Ben Mendelsohn’s performance as Danny Rayburn, the eldest son and black sheep of the Rayburn family who returns home to the Florida Keys and upends his family’s lives, is magnetic from the show’s first frame to its last. By the end of the first episode you know exactly where the season is heading, and its a testament to Mendelsohn as well as the always exceptional Kyle Chandler that you’re as mesmerized by the journey there as you are. Now I come to the hard part. Is it possible to love a television series’ first season but to also not be anticipating that series’ second season? Cause that’s the place where I find myself currently with Bloodline. Check out the series and I think you will understand why.

Special Mention

Inside Amy Schumer

(Comedy Central, 2013 to Present)

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If you’re someone who spends time on the internet every day, I’d be pretty surprised if you said you didn’t come across at least one sketch from Inside Amy Schumer at some point in the last couple months. From defending Bill Cosby in “The Court of Public Opinion” to discussing a Hollywood’s actress’ last f**kable day, no topic is off-limits to the brash comedienne in her Comedy Central sketch series. Her crowning achievement this year was her rendition of 12 Angry Men, in which the likes of Paul Giamatti, John Hawkes and Vincent Kartheiser played jury members debating whether Amy Schumer herself was hot enough to be on television. Yeah, it’s not exactly hard to see why some are declaring 2015 the year of Amy Schumer.

Best Shows

Honorable Mentions: Louie,  It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Derek

Community

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Dan Harmon’s ode to the misfits and outsiders of the community college scene, Community has long been one of my favorite comedies on television. While its sixth season certainly wasn’t as anticipated as previous seasons, much of that having to do with some combination of losing cast members and moving from network television to Yahoo!, it delivered yet again a season of strange genre parodies and paintball madness. It’s finale was touching, heartfelt, and oh so weird and if this proves to be the final time we see the study group, I’d be okay with that. But alas, six seasons and a movie?

Silicon Valley

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HBO’s nerdy answer to EntourageSilicon Valley succeeds thanks to its disregard of typical sitcom tropes and decision to focus on the unique comedic stylings of its ensemble cast. T.J. Miller is absolutely hilarious as Erlich Bachman, one of Pied Piper’s board members whose arrogance knows no limits, but its truly the lead performance by Thomas Middleditch as Richard that makes everything work. His neuroses are constantly on full display, but its a testament to Middleditch that no matter how many inane decisions Richard makes, we still root for him to overcome the technological bigwigs biting at his heels.

Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones endured its fair share of controversy throughout its fifth season. From many decrying its treatment of some of the female characters to a certain subplot in Dorne that appeared to be directed like a made-for-TV movie, it’s truly a wonder that this latest season was as well-received as it was. But such is the case when you deliver an all-time classic television episode like “Hardhome” and a finale that left many non-book readers in a state of shock. While overall season five wasn’t the show’s strongest run to date, it perfectly set the stage for what is sure to be an eventful sixth season.

Parks and Recreation

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Without question one of my all-time favorite television comedies, NBC’s Parks and Recreation left the airwaves for good in 2015, and boy did its final season ever deliver. Fans were treated to an entire episode of “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show”, a series finale which gave fans a glimpse into the future lives of its colorful cast of characters and a tear-jerker of an episode which gave us insight into the complicated relationship between Amy Poehler’s Leslie and Nick Offerman’s Ron. If someone was to ask me what television show has given me the most pure enjoyment in my short life, I’d think about it for a second and then promptly give my answer: Parks and Recreation.

Broad City

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There have been a great many iconic comedic duos throughout our time, but none have quite captured the experience of living in present day America quite like Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Now some may laugh at that statement, but it’s true. The Broad City girls have created a show that is a perfection reflection of a specific group living in today’s society: struggling twenty somethings who would sometimes rather smoke a joint than deal with all of life’s responsibilities. Morons who somehow still cling to the notion that women aren’t funny need look no further than Broad City. 

Rick and Morty

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The second Dan Harmon creation to make my list, Rick and Morty is the twisted tale of an alcoholic scientist who drags his immature grandson along on interdimensional adventures. I mean, if you’re not hooked by that pitch, what is wrong with you? Equal parts hilarious and disturbing, Adult Swim’s latest animated series intended for mature audiences is sort of a twisted version of Back to the Future, with a heavy dose of in-family fighting. Like CommunityRick and Morty also relishes in meta storytelling and takes on elements of classic movies and TV shows to unleash its particular brand of comedic insanity. With Season 2 set to premiere July 26th, I can’t recommend more highly heading over to the Adult Swim website and catching up on Season 1.

BoJack Horseman 

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A show I have dubbed “A Study in Equine Depression”, BoJack Horseman is one of the more unique television series currently airing because it tackles issues that most shows, let alone an animated one, wouldn’t dare. It stars Will Arnett as the titular character, a washed-up sitcom actor (who just so happens to be a talking horse) whose self-hatred and alcoholism have left him lonely and without work. The first season revolves around BoJack’s attempt to bring himself back to relevancy by writing a tell-all biography, but it becomes a bit more complicated when he falls for his ghostwriter Diane (Alison Brie). Now I will say that if you’re planning to dive into this series, you have to give it time. It takes a little while to find its footing, but when it does it’s a strange, depressing and hilarious story about a horse trying to come to terms with himself. And oh yeah, it has the catchiest end credits song around. Season Two premieres this Friday on Netflix.

Marvel’s Daredevil

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A series I’ve already talked about in-depth here at Morbidly Amusing, Marvel’s Daredevil is most definitely one of the best television series of the year. Who would have predicted that six months ago? Charlie Cox is pitch-perfect as Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer who moonlights as a masked vigilante, but it’s Vincent D’Onofrio who truly steals the show as Wilson Fisk, a businessman who like Murdock is trying to make Hell’s Kitchen a better place, but goes about doing so in a much different manor. If you want to hear my extended thoughts on Marvel’s Daredevil, you can check out my full review here.

Justified

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A show that never quite got its proper due throughout its brilliant six season run, FX’s Justified came to a close in 2015 with one of the greatest series finales of all-time. From the series’ very first episode, showrunner Graham Yost pits lawman Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) against childhood friend and everyone’s favorite Harlan criminal Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Fittingly, he chose to end the series by doing the same, putting Raylan and Boyd face to face one last time in what can only be described as an absolutely magnetic scene that lets you know without a shadow of a doubt that while one serves to uphold the law and the other to upend it, these are two men who are not all that different. “We dug coal together.”

Mad Men

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What more can possibly be said about one of the greatest television series that ever was? Well, a whole lot actually. Over the course of seven seasons, AMC’s Mad Men led us through the 1960s through the lens of an ad man who, more than anything else, just wanted to figure out what it actually meant to feel happy. Jon Hamm’s mesmerizing performance as Don Draper is one of the greatest to ever grace a screen of any size, and the rest of the cast is just as memorable. I’ve long debated within myself whether a show could ever top HBO’s The Wire on my list of the greatest television series ever. Well, the debate is over, and the answer is yes. Mad Men is my favorite television series of all-time.

Television Series of the Year

Better Call Saul

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As big a fan of Breaking Bad as I was, I was never quite sure how I felt about a prequel series about Walt’s ambulance-chasing lawyer Saul Goodman, as played with comedic gusto by Bob Odenkirk. Sure, I adore Odenkirk and the fact that Vince Gilligan was also set to be a major creative force behind Better Call Saul only added to the possibility of them achieving something great, but I still couldn’t get over the question that was running around in my mind constantly: why was it necessary? Well, by the end of the pilot episode of Better Call Saul, that question had already faded from my mind.

Telling the story of how low-rent scam artist Jimmy McGill becomes lawyer Saul Goodman, the series serves as the perfect showcase for Bob Odenkirk. He is not only hilarious in the role, but he also gives Jimmy an emotional core that winds up resulting in one of the best acting performances of the year. Michael McKean is also fantastic as Jimmy’s brother Chuck who suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity and Breaking Bad alum Jonathan Banks returns as Mike Ehrmantraut and delivers as only he can.

The biggest compliment I can give Better Call Saul is that a few episodes into its first season, you are so hooked into its story and performances that the shadow of Breaking Bad is long gone. It’s a series that completely stands on its own and although there are some call-backs, they tend to be minor and never take you out of the experience. Honestly, when I sat down to make this list, I wasn’t sure what series would top it. The more I thought about it though, the clearer it became. Better Call Saul is the best television series of the year.