Monday, 19 January 2015

The NSV Awards 2014 Category 3: Television

Hi all,

In contrast to books, television is a behemoth in my life. With 48 individual series watched, I found it truly impossible to pick just five. Even picking ten was a monumentally difficult task which forced me to exclude some of my favourite series’ of the year. So sorry Archer, Teen Wolf (which would’ve made it had I had a chance to finish s3 before the end of the year), Waiting For God, Nowhere Boys, Queer As Folk UK, Vikings (a particularly hard choice), Vicious, The Returned, Wizards Vs Aliens (another almost impossible exclusion), True Detective, United States Of Tara and Nashville. While all of these were excellent, they just didn’t have the same impact on my life as these 10 series’ did. Also, coincidentally, no shows which made my list last year are featured on this year’s list. So while the second seasons of American Horror Story, House Of Cards and the third season of Game Of Thrones were good, they just didn’t have that extra kick to make it a second year in a row. Oddly though, if last year had been a top 10, one of the shows would’ve made it. Whether any of these series’ return next year is unknown yet, but what I do know is that some of the series’ that I will be watching in 2015 are also up for grabs. These shows include Enlightened, Breaking Bad, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mad Men, Hannibal, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Avatar: The Last Airbender, so it looks to be another excellent year in TV viewing ahead.
   It was also an excellent year in regards to anime, with the completion of some high-profile titles like Attack On Titan, but also the commencement of one of the longest running anime’s of all time in One Piece. I’ve also started to see a lot more web content, so this category ends with a few awards to them. All in all, this has been probably my greatest year of television viewing ever.

The Top 10 TV Series
1. Grey’s Anatomy
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 11
Series’ Completed: 1-7
The most influential, most personal, most addictive show I’ve seen all year is also the one I’ve seen the most of by far. With seven seasons under my belt, I’ve had to force myself down to watching a season a month or I’d never get anything else done, but it didn’t start out that way. After watching the first season in January, I abandoned it until my boyfriend was hospitalised and then I haven’t looked back. Ostensibly about the lives of surgeons and their strange medical cases, it’s far more than that, it’s a series with such vast appeal that it’s impossible to ignore. It’s high-point is still the second season, where the personal lives of the doctors was reflected in the lives of the patients most accurately, but almost every season has been compulsively watchable. I say almost because the fourth season almost made me give up on the series completely before I received word that it got good again after that and it really did. I’m the first to admit that it’ not the best series ever made. It’s melodramatic and obvious and just a little bit trashy. It wrings every little moment of emotion until you’re crying just because they tell you to. But somehow it works and it works really, really well. It could be the use of songs, many of which I’d never heard of but some of which have become important at times I really needed a sad song and etched into my memory. It could be the cases, the stranger and more impossible the better, but most of all, I think it’s the characterisation. Meredith, the lead character, annoyed me until I realised she was just like me, all dark and twisty and broken. Her journey from pain to happiness has been inspirational and helped me fight my own depression. She saved the broken ones. Other characters like Bailey, Yang, Izzie, Karev and Callie have worked their way into my heart, simply because I’ve watched them change and grow over seven years, so much so that when the shooting happened at the end of season six, I felt their trauma and their terror. Grey’s Anatomy is a miracle which I’m so glad to have found.
   Contrasting this to Private Practice, Grey’s troubled spin-off, is problematic. Taking Addison, one of my favourite characters, and placing her in a new place proved to be frustrating, bringing out her worst characteristics. Add to that the fact that I don’t like many of the characters like Naomi who’s the worst of the lot. She will be all about making a moralistic stand against abortion, for example, until her daughter gets pregnant and she wants her to have an abortion. It makes her seem pious and hateful. And she’s put forward as though she’s the moral centre of the program. And the characters I did like, Violet and Charlotte, are treated horrifically. It’s a frustrating experience, but I will stick with it until the bitter end. Shonda Rhimes, why you so mean?

2. Parks And Recreation
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 6
Series’ Completed: 1-5
The most uplifting, most gleefully happy and wonderful show I’ve ever seen, Parks And Recreation is like watching pure joy. Unlike most sitcoms, it’s kind-hearted with all of the characters seeming to genuinely like one another. They have fun together which proves to be infectious. However, many of the people I’ve spoken to have told me they’ve only seen the first season of this glorious program and gave up on it. Please don’t do that. The second season is better and it just keeps improving exponentially until it became the series I most looked forward to viewing. I own every season of this show now (extremely rare for me to do because libraries are free) and I still re-watch some of my favourite episodes, many of which were helpful at times which tested my patience. Most of the seasons I watched while dad was in hospital and they kept me sane. Parks And Rec even added to my boyfriend and I’s story when we viewed the gay penguins episode. For months afterwards, we called each other little gay penguins. It was sort of adorable. In fact, writing about this after Grey’s Anatomy is an interesting experience, because while the former show has dumb plot developments and characters which I despised, this show got all of that out of the way early. After the departure of Mark Brandonoquitz, every member of the cast became my favourite character and every minute I spent with them was brilliant. To pick a favourite episode is another near impossible task, but the wedding would most definitely have to be up there. It was a beautiful tear-jerking episode that I adored. Sadly, this series is ending next year after its seventh season. This is heartbreaking to me and it will be a show that I will miss deeply, but it’s also one that I won’t forget. It’ll be something I re-watch whenever I’m feeling a bit down. Because in a way, it has a much harder task. It’s very easy to make someone feel sad, but it’s almost impossible to make them smile from ear to ear after every single episode.

3. The Big C
Status: Finished
No. Of Series: 4
Series’ Completed: 1-4
The Big C is a show with a predetermined ending. Cathy, the main character, has terminal cancer. By the end of the series’ four seasons, she will be dead, but I really didn’t want her to be. Before Finn, there was The Big C. This show about the end of a life was the start of the beginning of mine. Cathy was my inspiration, my reason to keep living. I know this sounds silly, but it’s true. This show, in all it’s impossible sadness and beauty, gave me hope. That’s not to say it wasn’t extremely depressing. It was, frequently. It hurt like hell to watch this, with a main character dying every single season. I progressed through the seasons very, very quickly, until I got to the last four episodes. I didn’t want this series to end. I thought that I could somehow make it last forever. I heard the theme song in a store and had to get out because I thought I was going to cry and I knew I had to see it end. I took the unprecedented step of watching it with my family to provide emotional support, but by the last episode I knew I was going to need something more. So, I asked my boyfriend to watch it with me. In his bedroom, on his computer, I sat down and watched Cathy die, all while Finn held me. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and I loved it. I grieved and I forgot. I took the lessons I had learned and started to apply them to my life. Even now, I’m finding it hard to talk about. It’s like I knew her, because it changed my life. It made me better and The Big C will always be that show. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to re-watch it, I just know it means everything to me. So, in the words of Cathy; don’t delay the happy.

4. RuPaul's Drag Race
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 6
Series’ Completed: 1, 3
RuPaul’s Drag Race is a phenomenon and quite possibly the most important show I’ve ever seen, because it helped Finn and I grow closer. He’s quite a fan of drag culture, so only a few weeks into dating, I told him that SBS2 was showing the show’s third season every Friday. Every week, he and I would go to one of our houses and watch bitchy drag queens battle it out. It became date night and it was the highlight of my week. It helps that RuPaul’s is the gayest show you will ever see. It’s not just a show, it’s a state of being, a glorious two-finger salute to all the haters. It’s not afraid to dive headlong into gay culture and be damn proud of it. It’s furious and fabulous and wonderful, helped in no small part by the charismatic host(ess) RuPaul and her gaggle of queens, some of which have gone on to become important parts of gay culture and my relationship with my boyfriend. I’ll never forget my boyfriend and I’s shared horror at Ongina being ousted in the first season or watching the Lip Synch For Your Life where one queen lifts her opposition over her head. The effect has even extended beyond the show with Finn and I going to see Detox & Bendelacreme live, and we’re going to Willam later in January. Drag Race is a giant f you, a fudging of gender roles and a gloriously fun celebration of gay culture. Basically, I LOVE this show.

5. Monkey
Status: Finished
No. Of Series: 2
Series’ Completed: 1-2
Monkey Magic is just plain weird. It’s also very, very lovable because it is so crazy. A Japanese adaptation of one of the most important novels in Chinese culture, it features Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka (a priest) in search of holy Buddhist scrolls. Tripitaka is constantly referred to as male, yet is played and voiced by a woman. This could be because he’s constantly playing the ‘damsel in distress’ with Monkey always having to rescue him. Furthermore, it’s dubbed in a ridiculous accent which just makes the odd images of the series even more strange. Add to that the catchy opening and closing titles and you’ve got one weird show. But that’s not even the start of it. Buddha is played a giant woman, Monkey has a flying cloud, Pigsy is obsessed with women and the whole quest at the centre of the series is never completed. Most of the 52 episodes are fairly similar with the quartet entering a town which appears deserted until either Tripitaka is captured, Monkey is sent away for saying there’s something wrong with the town or Pigsy’s lust gets them all into trouble. There’s inevitably a demon behind it all which Monkey will defeat with his staff. It’s all ludicrous, completely and utterly bonkers, but that’s what makes it so damn good. After watching the first episode, I realised this was something the whole family could benefit from. Initially, mum found it too silly to take seriously, but after about halfway she started to love it just as much, even dreaming about the characters. She eventually even started calling Trippy ‘he’ and shipping him with Monkey. Literally, this series is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, a cult classic that’s simply too silly to pass up.

6. Please Like Me
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 1-2
Series’ Completed: 1-2
While I technically watched the first season of this show last year, both seasons were still classifiable for the 2014 period because I watched it again. Knowing that the second season was coming out very soon, I decided to re-watch its first year. Coincidentally, my boyfriend was over for the day, so I decided to introduce it to him. Like most Australians, he hadn’t heard of it, despite it being lauded as one of TV’s best comedies by international reviewers. But after watching all six episodes, Finn fell in love with it. Josh Thomas’ comedy is simply one of the most awkward, painful and accurate representations of what it means to be queer in Australia today. More than that, though, it’s about family and mental illness and the moments that make life worth living. Before Finn, my overwhelming personal memories of this show was trying to show it to my mum and her getting furious because there was references to gay sex. She got so mad that she ended up walking out. It was her loss, because Please Like Me is the best Australian show in decades, combining traditional values (family, the working man, mateship) into today’s changing culture (the painful awkwardness of gen Y, queer issues, mental illness). In this way, it creates something which is both uniquely Australian and universally relatable. Its finest episode so far was a two-hander between Josh and his mum as they walked around some of our most beautiful landscapes, allowing both characters to become real people. Both hilarious and heartbreaking, Please Like Me is one of the most comforting and relatable shows I’ve ever seen.

7. Fargo
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 1
Series’ Completed: 1
Undoubtedly one of my favourite movies, Fargo is a marvel, contrasting the true evil of the criminals with the niceness of the film’s stand-out character, Marge Gunderson. What the TV adaptation does so skilfully is to take this premise and widen it out. The criminals become one man who is both truly evil and incredibly charming who, through his ability to manipulate everyone around him, sets the entire plot in motion. However, it’s with the villagers that the series really succeeds. By adding nuance to the way the Minnesota characters are portrayed, it becomes an enthralling and addictive character piece. The character Martin Freeman plays has one of the most realistic and interesting character arcs in modern day television, while the female policewoman becomes both a heroic and tragic figure, trapped in a town that is so nice, it’s bordering on dumb. Beautifully filmed, filled with melancholy but also hope, this is one of the finest of the current trend of film to TV adaptations.

8. Orphan Black
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 2
Series’ Completed: 1-2
The reason this series is so good can be summed up in two words: Tatiana Maslaney. In something centred around the concept of clones, you really need a person skilled enough to create multiple versions of themself and that is where Orphan Black succeeds. Maslaney’s portrayal of several clones is exceptional, making each clone both slightly different and slightly similar. Each of them has their own individual mannerisms so it’s often easy to forget they are played by the same person. However, it’s also a gripping story, filled with jaw-dropping twists and turns which take the series into new and unexpected territory. Thinking back on it, I realise how much of an impression these characters made and how much I miss watching their story. Ending on a truly epic cliffhanger, I wait both patiently and desperately for the new season later in the year.

9. Over The Garden Wall
Status: Finished
No. Of Series: 1
Series’ Completed: 1
Literary, mature and often depressing, Over The Garden Wall is a mini-series told over 5 15 minute parts, meaning it can be easily digested in a single sitting. What I loved most about this series was not the beautiful animation or the character development, it was the way it feels like nothing else I’d ever seen before, yet was familiar. Like a Ghibli movie, it makes a new, emotionally resonant story and makes it feel like a fairytale. In terms of sheer emotional content, this was one of the most mature and heartbreaking things I watched all year and as it ended, I shed more than a few tears. While some members of my family complained that it’s ending was unsatisfying, I was blown away by how much it said by saying so little. Part of me wants a sequel, but the better part of me knows that this small, beautiful show is perfect, simply because it goes for so little time. Undoubtedly the finest mini-series I watched all year (I’d debate Fargo, True Detective and American Horror Story as mini-series. To me, they’re more anthology narratives, working with the same sort of atmosphere as their earlier seasons).

10. The Walking Dead
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 5
Series’ Completed: 1-4
Recommended to me by a friend who’s obsessed with it, The Walking Dead is one of the most brutal and unapologetically gory things I’ve ever seen. Let’s get the problems out of the way first. Some of the surviving characters are deeply annoying (Carl, I’m looking at you) while the characters that died were some of my favourites. It also suffers a similar problems to some of the most popular ongoing shows at the moment (like House Of Cards, Vikings, Breaking Bad) in that it doesn’t have a worthy adversary to the main character. It’s also bleak and depressing, with hope and happy moments short-lived. It’s also not as a kind to its female characters as it thinks it is, with Carol being the only one who is truly likable (although... season four). But, that’s not to say that this show isn’t amazing. The character development is often interesting and, like many of the other shows on this list, it’s beautifully shot. It’s also extremely exciting, hardly ever dull and is not afraid to kill major characters, meaning that you’re always on the edge of your seat, knowing that there is a risk. It’s this last factor that is perhaps key to the series’ success. Unlike something like Doctor Who, where you always know the Doctor and his companions are going to make it out alive (unless it’s the finale), The Walking Dead makes no such promises and benefits as a result.

Status: Completed
No. Of Series: 8
Series’ Completed: 1-8

Since the end of 2012, I’ve been marathoning Will & Grace with my family. It was the first series with a gay lead character that they enjoyed and wanted to keep watching. Over 8 seasons, we watched the characters’ difficult and hilarious love lives and I watched as my parents grew steadily more accepting of gay culture and I loved it. That’s not to say the show’s perfect, far, far from it. Will and Grace are the show’s most boring characters, it grew progressively less funny as the series went on (resulting in a pretty terrible finale, which still made me cry) and it’s worth as a piece of gay activism is arguable (there’s one memorable gay kiss, and that’s between Will and Jack). However, what it does get right, it gets really right. Karen is one of the funniest, most memorable and most likable sitcom characters ever created (and the actress did it again on Parks and Rec with Tammy) and its depiction of friendships was real, even when it was heartbreaking. The series’ finest episodes are still the bottle episode which featured only the four lead characters talking about their lives and the big Will and Grace fight on a jumping castle. They were both hilarious and downright depressing. As a piece of gay culture that grew in its significance as I watched every episode with my parents, Will & Grace’s importance cannot be overestimated. But as a piece of television, it became something more. It became truly unforgettable.

The Top 5 Anime
1. Attack On Titan
There is something so satisfying about watching an action intensive series like Attack On Titan, watching a group of people battle against a massive, impossible to defeat enemy. It resulted in some of the most memorable and terrifying anime images I’ve ever seen (the Titans themselves being a particular good example) and is simply wondrously, gorgeously epic. Filled with memorable (not annoying) characters who you come to root for and an amazing score (with the best anime op ever, bar none), it’s amazing to think that the series really only shows two battles (both of which take over 8 episodes) and is still ridiculously good. This one series you really should believe the hype about. The only real problem with this series is how long we have to wait till the sequel (2015, goddamit!).

2. One Piece
To be honest, I only started One Piece because during our first phone conversation, I learnt it was Finn’s favourite show. Since then, I’ve watched just under 200 episodes and still have over 450 to go. But what’s amazing about this series is that it doesn’t feel like a moment’s been wasted. Everything I’ve seen so far in this series feels like it’s building up to something bigger, with every arc actively advancing character and narrative development. While this doesn’t sound like a big achievement, this is extremely rare with long-running anime series’ (for example, I also started Dragon Ball this year. It’s a struggle). What makes One Piece so good is that it’s not only exciting; it also has some very likable characters with all 7 current members of the crew (Robin was the latest to join) coming across as well-rounded characters and not just caricatures. Add to that the skill with which the narrative is written, with several mysteries introduced, some of them resolved, some not, resulting in something deeply intriguing, and the sheer fun of the fight sequences, and you have one of the greatest anime series’ of all time. I’m still continuing this into 2015, so I’m sure that this will appear again on next year’s list, possibly even higher.

3. Nichijou
One of the most random, most amusing and downright surreal series’ I have ever seen, Nichijou succeeds simply by being completely hilarious. Part of this comes from the likable characters, but a greater part of the series’ appeal is the fact that throughout most of the time you’re watching the series you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next, you just know it’s going to be side-splittingly funny. It’s also memorable, with a talking cat and an explanation of the blue-haired girl’s beads being some of the series’ most exceptional work. This was a series I loved and finished quickly because it was just amazingly funny.

4. Chihayafuru
A game about a Japanese poetry card game doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for success, but through a mixture of heart and genuine excitement, Chihayafuru proved to be one of the better series’ I watched this year. All of the characters are well-developed and, like Free! before it, it’s filled with potential shipping opportunities which changed as I watched the series’ 20 or so episodes. However, it’s the game play sequences that really make the show. Exciting, tense and brilliant, they also work as windows into the characters. It was while they were snapping cards that I got the clearest sense of who these characters were and how they related to one another. Lovable and gripping, I can’t wait for the series’ next season.

5. Love Stage!!
Love Stage was the only series I watched more or less on a week by week basis. This was largely because of my laziness (I started Free! Eternal Summer, DRAMAtical Murder and Parasyte – The Maxim, but never finished them. Expect at least one of those titles to appear on next year’s list) and because it only has 10 episodes. This, however, was both a blessing and a curse. As a gay anime, it had two likable stars which I shipped hard, but the series’ biggest problem was that it waited until episode 9 to actually get the two of them together. With no hint of a sequel, it seemed like the series was only half finished and I was left with a solution that was both wonderful and unsatisfying. That’s not to say this wasn’t a good anime. The chemistry between the two characters works well and it’s genuinely funny. However, if you’re looking for a great gay romance, I would suggest looking elsewhere.

Best Webseries
Carmilla was something I’d heard a lot about before I actually got down to watching it. Some people said it was the best new show of 2014 while others compared it to the excellent Welcome To Night Vale. When I started it, I realised much of this hype was justified. Filled with lovable characters and a genuinely intriguing mystery at its core, it also proves that something can be exciting even if it does take place in only one room. The series is exciting and action-packed despite the fact that we actually don’t see any of the mysterious goings on. It also features shippable characters and a range of sexualities which makes it feel both inclusive and addictive. Put simply, this series is amazing and the finest supernaturally themed series of the year.

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