Ranked: Every TV Show I Watched in 2015 – #63 thru #41

Check out #40-#27 here!

 

I’ve never done a best-of list before, and I suppose technically I’m not doing one now. In order to get around the pain of winnowing down a list I’ve decided to rank every TV show I’ve completed watching to date. I recommend everything on this list. In my opinion, it’s all worth watching or else I would’ve stopped watching it.

In retrospect I may have simply replaced the pain of narrowing down a list to a a top ten or twenty with the pain of writing a really damned long list. Anyways, here it goes:

 

63. The Last Man on Earth (Fox)

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What started as the most insanely original sitcom on television has gradually lapsed into something not unlike a typical sitcom, albeit one with unusually heightened stakes. While it remains worth tuning in for the talented cast and to see how the premise impacts the typical sitcom plots in any given week, this show no longer really needs to be a priority.

62. Community (Yahoo! Screen)

Dan Harmon’s one great stab at normality finally collapsed under its own weight. After several season’s worth of jettisoning cast members (and it’s entire home network) the show finally stopped feeling like the Community I knew and loved. Although this new show sitting in its place wasn’t bad by any means, by season six I was ready to move on. I’d be excited to watch an original show with this season’s cast and writers, but as a continuation of Community this just felt weird.

61. Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz)

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Starz jumps onto the reboot/sequel (“Rebootquel”) bandwagon with this revival of the Evil Dead franchise (the original one, not the 2013 reboot – note the lack of “-quel”). By all accounts they’re really attempting to do this thing right, bringing creator Sam Raimi on as a producer and to direct the first episode, getting original star Bruce Campbell back in the role that made him kinda/sorta famous.

While the writing occasionally suffers from tonal whiplash (a characters parents die early in the show, which takes place over only a couple of days, and by what should be less than a few hours later she’s already moved on with a simple explanation that she’s angry and ready for revenge rather than sad and/or traumatized) and the show sometimes feels like an uncomfortable cross between a goofy action show and a genuine horror show, the amount of times it nails the horror-comedy hybrid the original series patented is downright incredible – especially when you consider that the last installment in this continuity was way back in 1992.

60. Documentary Now! (IFC)

This oddball from Bill Hader and Fred Armisen is better at mimicking documentary styles than it is at making jokes, but the dedication they put into it is mind-boggling. In the cases where I’d seen specific documentaries they were imitating the series worked like gangbusters, but it was very dependent on viewers having that context.

59. Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter ([Adult Swim])

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John Glaser is a comedic genius. While this miniseries didn’t live up to the heights of his previous masterpiece Delocated, any new Glaser is good Glaser.

58. The Spoils Before Dying (IFC)

IFC’s sequel to its miniseries-parodying-miniseries The Spoils of Babylon is superior to its predecessor in nearly every way. Most notably, while the laughs still aren’t nearly as frequent as one might expect from a show of this pedigree, the overall quality is actually so high that this practically works as a straight drama.

57. Brooklyn 99 (Fox)

The best sitcom on network television. A fantastic ensemble cast does the workplace comedy thing about as perfectly as it can be done. Andre Braugher is a standout as Captain Holt and Terry Crews/Joe Lo Truglio are workhorses. Samberg is in entertaining “Hot Rod” mode rather than annoying “That’s My Boy” mode.

56. Other Space (Yahoo! Screen)

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The best thing to come out of failed online network Yahoo! Screen was Paul Feig’s (Spy, Bridesmaids, Freaks & Geeks) science fiction sitcom Other Space. Basically a comedy version of Star Trek (or Galaxy Quest), this show had already established a fantastic comedic voice and memorable characters by the end of its abbreviated first season. A true loss.

One bonus to that loss, though: apparently every single episode is up on YouTube. So there’s that.

55. Supergirl (CBS)

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This show brings to mind two words every time I think about it. It’s not exactly surprising that one of those words is “fun”. The quickly-expanding world of live-action superhero shows on network TV prioritize fun in a way that the streaming and film options don’t necessarily feel obligated to. CW’s DC-based properties The Flash and Arrow (unrelated to the also DC-based Supergirl, but related to one another) are light and fun and episodic in exactly the way that Netflix’s Marvel offerings aren’t. Even Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter over at ABC are markedly more airy than Marvel’s somewhat-separate film MCU. All these shows (especially the DC ones) are much more episodic and reminiscent of classical Gold and Silver Age comics.

 

What is surprising is how brazenly feminist the show is – even more surprising for a show on the older-skewing CBS.  While it might seem like Supergirl would have trouble being pretty much a genuine anything – after all isn’t it pretty much just a gender flipped version of the most famous comic book character of all time, and therefore constantly defined by its male progenitor? And with an infantilizing name to boot? However, the show deals with this directly in-universe by acknowledging Superman’s existence and the way he looms large in the public consciousness. Supergirl also completely forgoes any type of male dominance. While it takes place in a largely patriarchal world, the world Kara has built for herself is almost entirely female-led. She works at a business empire led by Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant, she was sent to earth in the masculine role as protector of the younger Superman, her Fortress of Solitude-style holographic messages come from her mother, her aunt is the show’s Big Bad, her adoptive family on Earth consists of her mother and sister – who is a world-class warrior despite a distinct lack of superpowers. With the exception of DEO leader Hank Henshaw the only recurring male roles are a pair of romanic interests for Kara.

 

Simply checking off all the “right” sociopolitical ideas doesn’t make for good TV. Even a sense of light fun isn’t enough to make an impression – you will notice that neither the CW shows nor Marvel’s ABC outings are on this list, for example. The thing that puts Supergirl ahead of all those others is Melissa Benoist’s performance as Kara Danvers/Supergirl. Just about the only thing more difficult than portraying an alien embodiment of the human ideal that Kryptonians exemplify is playing the Clark Kent/Kara Danvers “secret identity” role. It comes with all the downsides of an attractive actor playing the broadest possible caricature of a nerd combined with all the problems of playing a character-playing-a-character. They have to act as the comic relief while simultaneously being your main character and a symbol of everything that the character loves about imperfect humanity. They’re painfully sincere and genuine while being entirely an act. Basically, without getting a character like this absolutely perfect in the casting, writing, and acting they’re a complete disaster – note that Man of Steel and Superman Returns both shied away from even attempting much of a Clark Kent performance. Melissa Benoist knocks every aspect of this role out of the freaking park. Acknowledging that they’re basically the same character, she’s easily the best Clark Kent since Christopher Reeve and maybe the best ever.

 

54. Marvel’s Daredevil (Netflix)

Supergirl may have brought us the second-best Kryptonian performance, but Daredevil has generally been considered to have featured the all-time best portrayal of Daredevil’s signature villain Wilson Fisk AKA The Kingpin – and that includes the comics. As if that weren’t enough, the series also paved the way for premium cable-type superhero shows with a limited number of episodes and a longform, serialized story. In addition to featuring the best villain to date in the Marvel universe, the series’ Punisher: War Zone-esque neon low-key cinematography and hand-to-hand fight choreography were the best in the entire MCU. While Marvel’s first foray into the online streaming world was a bit uneven, especially in its lead trio of performances, those strengths made this a compulsively watchable bit of darkness to counteract the Marvel films’ occasional silliness.

 

53. Bates Motel (A&E)

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A&E’s hit Hitchcock prequel really, really shouldn’t work. Even amidst the first season’s bizarre high school drama and small-town crime syndicate storylines, Bates Motel was always worth watching for Vera Farmiga’s insanely compelling turn as Norman Bates’ legendary mother, Norma. But the show has gotten better season after season, slowly turning the crime storyline into a Twin Peaks-esque surreal small-town conspiracy, giving Dylan an appropriately fucked up love/hate relationship with his father, and getting rid of the high school stuff entirely. This is the season we finally got to see Freddy Highmore do his best Vera Farmiga impersonation as Norman became Mother for the first time! Whether at its trashiest or – increasingly – at its genuine best Bates Motel is a hard show to put down.

 

52. Drunk History (Comedy Central)

Derek Waters struck gold when he came up with the formula for this show: get funny people, get them totally blitzed, have them expound on a serious subject, have a team of professionals recreate their rambling narratives down to the most irrelevant detail. It might not be rocket science but this show acts like a warm, comforting blanket for me in a way that almost no shows ever do without the help of nostalgia and having seen them a thousand times.

51. The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central)

It seems as though Comedy Central split the more message-oriented side of The Daily Show off into the old Colbert Report slot, and Larry Wilmore has proven capable of taking the reigns. The one complaint I might lodge is that, while in general I find the panel format of the final third of the show preferable to the old Stewart/Colbert interview slot, Wilmore & co. seem to fill the panel with the same few members of their writing staff more often than not and that can get a little repetitive.

 

50. Girls (HBO)

While Girls has occasionally been infuriatingly unclear as to whether the audience is supposed to empathize with the often unlikable leads of the show, the fourth season distilled the show more clearly into what I think its always been: a damned sitcom. Like Seinfeld or Always Sunny, these characters aren’t supposed to be easily likable. Yes, they’re entitled. Yes, they’re narcissistic. Yes, they’re naive, and don’t know it, and are frequently fucking up. And yes, that’s the joke. Maybe I’m thick, or maybe there was something a little different this season, but this is the one where I was finally totally sure I was in on the joke. This show has always been extremely well-made and acted, but this is the most consistent its ever been.

49. Nathan for You (Comedy Central)

If there’s anyone on TV who might be an actual, literal, capital-G “Genius”, it’s Nathan Fielder. The premise of this show is so Machiavellian it’s actually painful to watch. The show is ostensibly a “Kitchen Nightmares”/“Bar Rescue” type of reality show hosted by Nathan Fielder as an expert in turning businesses around with one genius idea. They seek out real businesses and get them to go along with incredibly ludicrous ideas that often get right at the heart of why similar business tactics are outright evil. When the ideas can’t do that they either poke fun at the business owner themselves and/or the character of “Nathan Fielder” as an incredibly socially awkward and lonely guy who is looking for any way to use his show to make a human connection. The first season’s segment called “Gas Station” is one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in my entire life.

 

48. With Bob and David (Netflix)

That this was a worthy continuation of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ legendary HBO sketch comedy “Mr. Show” is just about the highest praise it’s possible to give. This really feels less like a revival than like the uncovering of three lost episodes in an HD remaster. While they sometimes showed real improvement with the way sketch has evolved in the years since the original “Mr. Show” in segments like “Salesmen”, there’s occasionally a little creakiness as one would expect from a sketch comedy show from the 1990s. The only other negative thing I can say is that there were only three episodes.

47. Justified (FX)

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FX’s redheaded stepchild of a crime drama ended this year with far too little fanfare. This is hardly unexpected for a little-seen show that was consistently underrated by the critical community, but it’s an injustice all the same. The second season of this show was one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen, and while the show never quite reached those same heights again it remained consistently great at the things it did well. Season- and show-length arcs sometimes varied in quality and consistency, but no show on TV could hold a candle to Justified’s ability to create unique and compelling characters. It wasn’t uncommon for unnamed characters established in a single scene to be more interesting than the entire cast of – to pick a show at random – Chicago Fire.

This was an ability the show inherited from crime fiction demigod the late Elmore Leonard, upon whose characters Justified was based. Namely the character of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a snarky hothead who likes to toy with criminals in ways from playing dumb (Columbo-style) to baiting them into pulling their weapons on him so that he’s “justified” (get it!) in quick-drawing on them (cowboy-style). The other outstanding character is the series’ main antagonist Boyd Crowder (an fantastic Walton Goggins). After a few too many questionable killings, Givens is punished by being sent back to his home in the crime-riddled former coal mining area of Harlan County, Kentucky. There he has to deal with his own small-time criminal father, Neo-Nazis, the local Crowder and Bennett crime families, and anybody else who comes to fill the power vacuum whenever he weakens one group or the other.
 
The final season ended the series on one of its best seasons, pulling in big-name guest stars Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen for a final season arc and wrapping up the inevitable showdown between Raylan and Boyd in a way that was unexpected, subtle, and all the more satisfying for it.

 

46. Louie (FX)

What is there to say about Louie that hasn’t been said by a million critics at the end of every season since 2010? It’s still consistently fantastic, original, funny and thoughtful. Every episode is like getting a tiny Woody Allen or David Lynch short film. If there’s one thing to complain about it’s that after five seasons the show isn’t something so revolutionary anymore. It’s settled into its own rhythms, becoming expectedly unexpected. It’s also a little less unique in the overall TV landscape. There are other shows on the air that have picked up on what Louie did and ran with it, and we’ll be seeing at least one later on this list.

 

45. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)

Similarly, what is there to say about Inside Amy Schumer that hasn’t been debated to death in a million thinkpieces? With another excellent season of her show and the movie Trainwreck putting her in the spotlight of mainstream culture, for whatever it’s worth this was the year of Amy Schumer. This season deserves a spot on this list for the episode “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” alone. Hell, it deserves it for that title alone.

44. The Eric Andre Show ([Adult Swim])

I once heard Punk defined not as a countercultural movement, since counterculture implies a functional culture being offered as an alternative to mainstream culture, but as the only example of an anti-culture movement. The definitive punk rock documentary is called The Decline of Western Civilization, after all. To reference the main movement one thinks of when they think of counterculture, there are hippie communes. That’s a culture. They still exist as a functional alternative culture within the mainstream culture to this day. There are no punk communes. Punk doesn’t offer a functional alternative, it only seeks to destroy other cultures. It’s a cultural cancer.

With that in mind, The Eric Andre Show is the most punk rock show on TV. I can’t possibly write a better review than Brandon Nowalk’s at The A.V. Club, so here’s a shortened version: “The Eric Andre Show is a testament to television’s gaping maw, an act of creation driven by destruction. The show typically begins with Eric André rushing onto his set and tearing it apart. He tackles the drummer and they fall through the backdrop, he pile-drives his desk, and he stomps around in his birthday suit kicking whatever remains. Stagehands replace the furniture as he goes, and the band plays on regardless of his tantrum. Exhausted, André slumps onto his chair, a new curtain falls down to disguise as much detritus as possible, a new set squeaks across the floor, and the show begins. The irony at the heart of The Eric Andre Show is that he’s feeding the beast even when he’s fighting it… The audience used to be in on the joke as André and his guests would parody the form. Now, from the conspiratorial energy when André pranks a guest to the confusion of sequences like the Balfour interview, the show is really baring its teeth. There’s no superior vantage point anymore.

Every segment maintains the aggression of the intro and the interviews. André rants in his monologue. When he cares enough to pay attention, sidekick Hannibal Buress is all criticism and dead-end hype… Man-on-the-street bits are basically André getting someone’s attention and then throwing up in front of him. This is a showcase of self-destruction more than anything—stagehands can replace the set, but there’s nobody to the rescue when a clump of André’s hair falls out—and André has no qualms about spreading his misery… Eric Andre is positively apocalyptic. It can be hilarious, whether in rib-tickling absurdism, head-scratching surrender to its antics, or good, old-fashioned condescension to André’s character. But the tension that rips it apart and replaces it proves this isn’t just another talk-show satire. The Eric Andre Show has become a true anti-talk-show…”

 

43. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX)

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No show has any right to be this good when entering its eleventh season. If you somehow haven’t heard of this FX juggernaut, it’s basically the show Seinfeld would’ve had to be in order to justify a finale that famously concluded that Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer were the “worst people in New York.”

Sunny mixed up its character combinations, examined its formal structure, and reached new levels of technical accomplishments this year with standout episodes like “The Gang Misses the Boat”, “Psycho Pete Returns”, and possible series best “Charlie Work”.

42. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (BBC)

A seven-episode adaptation of a seven-hundred-page epic fantasy book set in England during the Napoleonic wars, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell moves fast. Mr. Norrell is a bookish nobleman who has spent his entire life collecting books of magic, and although real magic hasn’t been performed in England for hundreds of years he manages to put the pieces together and become the first English magician in living memory. Jonathan Strange is a cad who takes up magic by chance – or perhaps destiny – and proves a natural at it. He becomes Mr. Norrell’s apprentice, leading Norrell to fear Strange will surpass him after years of hard work and take steps to slow his progress. In time, both are tempted to summon the extreme magical power of the duplicitous faerie race to reach their goals, to strange and terrible ends.

This series proves the value of brevity. They choose to adapt the simplest form of the story, leaving the bulk of the seven hundred pages of world-building and mythos in the book to steep the show in a lived-in sense of history. A word here, a set detail there, and this miniseries feels less like a period piece and more like a world unto itself. As a bonus, it does this while looking like a million bucks and remaining consistently engaging from a plot perspective.

 

41. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS)

This fall we were finally able to stop mourning the loss of “Stephen Colbert” and welcome the real Stephen Colbert into our lives with the premiere of the new Late Show with Stephen Colbert. While the late night talk show format always has its ups and downs, Colbert is more likable and charming than ever. His monologues are second only to Conan and the addition of a news segment hosted from behind the desk is more consistently entertaining than the oddball sketches other late night shows attempt – unsurprisingly, considering their similarity to the Report.

 

That’s it for today! Check out #40-#27 here!

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