Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The NSV Awards 2015: Television

Hello all,
Welcome to the third category of the NSV Awards, Television! I've spotlighted 20 of my favourite series' that I watched in 2015, hope you enjoy it :)

Category 3:
Television


With over 60 individual series' watched in 2015, it was easily my biggest year of TV watching up to this point. I watched so many great TV shows that I was unable to compile just a top 10 list as I have done previously, so have expanded it to include 20 of the shows that I believe are most worthy of attention that I experienced this year. As with previous lists, this isn't just a list of shows that were broadcast in the last twelve months, but also ones that I have completed that were broadcast many years ago. This year's list encompasses a wide variety of programs from the silliest comedies to the most serious dramas, spanning from the 70s to 2015.
  However, despite increasing the list, there were still a few shows that I had to leave out. Shows that I started this year, such as Scandal, Absolutely Fabulous, The Mighty Boosh, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Danger 5, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Mom, were all very good and could've made this list, and it's possible the last two (especially Mom) might make next year's list if they keep up the quality. Also, returning favourites such as Girls, Game Of Thrones, Archer, House Of Cards, Orphan Black and Doctor Who, all could've been included here, but didn't impact my life enough to warrant a full entry.
   My saddest omissions, though, would have to be The X-Files and Mad Men. The two seasons I've seen of the former, and single season I've seen of the latter have positioned them to be some of my favourite series' of all time, but space was an issue and I will be continuing these in 2016. I would be very surprised if they were absent in next year's countdown. In 2016, I am also planning on starting ER, Drop Dead Diva, Sealab 2021, Soap, Murphy Brown, Gravity Falls, Steven Universe, Friday Night Lights and All In The Family, which might make next year's list even more difficult to compile.
   As with previous years, I have also included an anime section. While I completed 8 series, I didn't have enough to complete a top 5 list, so I've instead recommended 3 series which I believe are awesome. My anime viewing goals of 2016 are slightly smaller than TV. I aim to do more One Piece, finish Dragon Ball and start Digimon and Death Parade.

Top 20 TV Series

1. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 7
Seasons Completed: 1-7
One of the most interesting things about film and television is that the more you watch, the more you discover. When I was looking up Parks And Recreation once and someone mentioned that it's vaguely similar to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it became something I was desperate to watch, especially once I learned it was widely, widely regarded as one of the very best shows ever made. So, I saved up my money and steadily imported all seven seasons in from America. And in January, I sat down to the first episode, and it was wonderful. In December, I watched the final episode surrounded by my family and cried and I still don't think I've quite accepted that it's over yet. I haven't been this emotionally invested in a series since Doctor Who. This sitcom from the early 70s about a female producer and her friends and co-workers that were just a little bit larger than life has lodged itself into a permanent position into my soul.
   For the first couple of seasons, it's this normal, funny series about this amazingly funny and silly people, they're caricatures in a way. There's Mary Richards, the lead character, a perfect well-together woman, Lou Grant, the newsroom's manager and tough as nails, Ted Baxter, a very, very stupid news anchorman who is consistently funny, Murray, the newswriter and a balding joker, Phyllis, Mary's landlady who's absolutely bonkers, and Rhoda, Mary's self-depreciating neighbour and best friend. Watching them interact is funny, but then in the third season, the series refuses to allow them to be caricatures anymore.
   We see these characters grow with glorious shades of nuance and beautiful humanity. Mary's a control freak, Lou's a real softy at heart, Ted loves these people just doesn't know how to say it, Murray's bored and thinks his life has no direction, Phyllis is so entitled because she has a horrible marriage and Rhoda? Well, Rhoda has zero self-confidence and is broken, a bit. The moment where she realises that she actually does matter is one of the most beautiful pieces of television I've ever seen. Over the next four seasons, these characters become so nuanced, that we can pinpoint their exact motivations and their shaded, they become real people. Never before have I seen something that succeeds so beautifully in showing that we have so many sides to our personalities, that our flaws are just as wonderful as our most positive traits. It's also really, really funny and the series is clever in that it blends the dramatic and the comedy in ways that are jaw-dropping. One moment I was in tears, the next I was doubled over. The series' most famous episode, Chuckles Bites The Dust, displays this blend in an incredible way by being a really funny episode about death, yet still making that death seem heavy. It's brilliant and should be essential viewing for everyone.
   The thing about The Mary Tyler Moore Show, though, is that Finn hates it. When he reads this, he'll tell me off and say he doesn't hate it but he can't stand it, thinking it's the most dated, silly, optimistic thing ever. And maybe he's right. Maybe I'm wrong. But this series changed my life in both profound and tiny ways. It's the most beautiful, powerful series I've ever watched. When I sat through that last episode and knew that it was the end, I was overtaken by emotion. Even know as I write this, I am getting very emotional. Because once you've seen these characters grow from caricatures to real, flawed, wonderful human beings, I can't help but feel that I'm losing a family. And that's what the best TV does. When it's over, it's like you've lost a piece of yourself. And that's wonderful.


2. Rectify


Status: Cancelled
No. Of Seasons: 3
Seasons Completed: 1-2
If it hadn't been for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rectify would've easily claimed the top spot. In fact (with the end of Parks And Recreation and Hannibal and the diminishing returns from Game Of Thrones), I'd say it's currently the best show on TV. It's premise sounds like something out of a pulp thriller. A man, Daniel Holden, who has been on death row for several years for committing a murder is let out due to the discovery of new DNA evidence which suggests he might be innocent. While this could so easily have been a revenge thriller or a murder mystery or a police procedural, Rectify is instead something far more gentle and precious. It's less about finding out whether Daniel is guilty, than it is about his attempts to adjust to life outside as well the shock of being given a life. It's a slow, meditative series filled with gorgeous, unforgettable images and huge existential themes like faith and trauma and forgiveness and what it means to make something better. There are moments which are so beautiful that I've sat there awestruck and there are moments of such darkness and terror that I've had to shield my eyes. The series' pace has often come under fire for being slow (the entire first season takes place over only a couple of days) but that, to me, is the series' greatest asset. By slowing things down, we are able to see the detail and appreciate the simplicity much like Daniel does.
   The secondary characters, too, are incredibly well-drawn from the obnoxious yet weirdly symapthetic Teddy to Daniel's mother, Janet,  whose face shows the extent surrounding the tragedy of Daniel's life. The series' strongest character, however, (apart from Daniel who is usually so cut off that it can be difficult to know exactly what he's thinking, but the moments of emotion are jaw-dropping) is Teddy's wife Tawnee. A deeply spiritual woman she is drawn to Daniel in a way that is both endearing and horrifying. It should also be said that Rectify makes me cry all the time, from the simplest scenes. The big complicated important scenes are emotional, but it's those tiny moments that cause the most pain. While we have yet to find out whether Daniel is guilty (still haven't seen season 3, so those who have no spoilers), at this point it doesn't matter, as long as it continues to be the most meditative, humane and hopeful series currently broadcast.
   And then, mere days after I wrote this review, Rectify was renewed for a fourth and final season. This week's Pop Culture Picnic will deconstruct this, but at the moment this is just devastating.


3. Orange Is The New Black
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 3
Seasons Completed: 1-2

Entertaining, tragic and a true cultural phenomenon, Orange Is The New Black is brilliant. Like the first two seasons on this list, it works by expanding characters from caricatures to real people, which has now happened with most of the show's ensemble. This means that whenever's there's some sort of skirmish, you're never sure which side to root for, seeing both have been so deeply humanised. This is even more astonishing considering the whole thing's set in a prison which (combined with Rectify) forced a rethink of my understanding of crime and punishment. It actively works against preconceived ideas of criminals and prisoners by showing that anyone's life can take the wrong turn. There are so many great, iconic characters who are far more engaging than their initial appearance would suggest, including Red, Suzanne 'Crazy Eyes', Morello, Sophia, Nicky and Tucky, to name but a few, making this one of the most character-driven shows I've ever seen. Let's get this out of the way though; I personally can't stand Piper or Alex, particularly their love affair which started out as a mild annoyance before becoming ever more frustrating. That said, I understand Piper's role and there are moments she comes close to being a good character, but then she'll be pulled back into the Alex rotation and it's so annoying. Still, this series has done so much in terms of visibility for a wide range of female characters, be they straight, gay, trans, black, white or Latino, that it's easy to forgive such a niggle.


4. Breaking Bad


Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 5
Seasons Completed: 1-5
One of the most beloved, well-written and complex shows of all time, Breaking Bad is one of those shows that worms its way into your head and the more you think about it, the more interesting it becomes. Telling the story of a middle-aged chemistry teacher who, after learning he has terminal cancer, decides to cook and sell crystal meth in order to support his family, it's a show about masculinity and what it means to be a man in the 21st century. It's about pride and betrayal and thrilling action sequences. As I watched each season, I was struck by how entertaining it was and that the main characters alignments were shifting. Walt, Skyler, Jesse, Hank, Mike and even Saul, start changing in such subtle ways that you almost don't notice on a first viewing. As things starting collapsing and  barrelling towards the conclusion, it's horrifying, but it's only in hindsight that you realise just how inevitable all of this was. Everything that happens in that final season (even 'Ozymandias', the most devastating episode in the series, and perhaps all of television) had been set up neatly towards the start of the first, making this a tightly plotted tale of shifting character portraits, cool and offbeat images and true darkness. Add in the ridiculously addictive nature, memorable characters and lines ("I'm the one who knocks") and you've got one of the greatest series' of all time, no debate.


5. Better Call Saul
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
In an earlier version of these awards, I was planning on combining this and the entry for Breaking Bad into one and holding a single position, before Finn strongly argued that that would be cheating. He was right and it's for that reason that Better Call Saul is such a good show. While noticeably taking place in the same universe as BB and with a similar visual style, it's the differences that make it entertaining. In this series, Jimmy (later to be Saul) is actually a good person, not some corrupt lawyer, expanding the hints from the parent series to create another intriguing character portrait. Jimmy is actually a far more sympathetic character than Walt was, so it's much easier to sympathise with his determination and kindness. However, a heartbreaking twist towards the conclusion of the season, is already sending him to his fate. It will be fascinating to see where it goes from here, and this has easily become one of my most anticipated new shows.

6. Hannibal
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 3
Seasons Completed: 1-2
Violence is such a beautiful thing on Hannibal. From the twisted mind of Bryan Fuller (creator of, among other things, Pushing Daisies, one of my favourite programs), this free adaptation of the source material behind The Silence Of The Lambs, is so unusual that of course it had to get cancelled. When that news broke, I'd just finished the second season and had raved about it to anyone and everyone who would hear me. This was a brilliant show, a complicated game of psychological cat and mouse masking itself as a police procedural filled with some of  the most simultaneously horrifying and beautiful images ever produced. It had a perfect cast, featuring Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishbourne and Gillian Anderson, to name but a few. It was so deeply disturbing yet so addictive and heartbreaking, with a refusal to guarantee to the survival of all the characters. It's second season finale is one of the most jaw-dropping, brave, beautiful, tragic and horrifying things I've ever seen and I was looking forward to it running on and on. Bryan Fuller doesn't have the greatest track record for long running series (Pushing Daisies? Cancelled after two perfect seasons) and I became worried that this was on normal TV, not cable. But I trusted them to have faith in the series' vision. But the ratings weren't there and it got cancelled and didn't get picked up by Netflix or Amazon or HBO. And suddenly, one of the most unusual but exceptional programs ever made, was cancelled after three seasons. I still have a season to go (it comes out January over here) and watching it will be an incredible experience albeit a bittersweet one. So, those of you who've been dragging your heels on Hannibal. Get on it, it's one of the few shows that will blow your mind. 

7. Enlightened
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 2
Seasons Completed: 1-2
From one cancelled too soon series to another, Enlightened lasted only two seasons, but they shone so brightly. Amy Jellicoe (played to absolute perfection by Laura Dern) was a frustrated and angry woman until she went on a health retreat and came to  peace with herself, before realising that everyone else in the world is destroying the planet and themselves, so she makes it her mission to enlighten others. She wasn't always a likable character, but by god, she did amazing things. Her occasionally dislikeable nature confused and turned away the viewers, but they missed something spectacular. Enlightened is a series, much like Rectify, that focuses on the smaller moments, and discusses what it means to be human. It's like two seasons of meditations, with glorious observations of humanity. Amy's relationship with her drunk and lazy ex-husband provided some incredibly memorable moments and lines (such as her statement that "we can be free of our sad stories") but the show had a great supporting cast, from Tyler (a lonely man who finds a relationship with a woman played by Molly Shannon in a beautiful, relatable episode) to Helen (Amy's mother who often disapproves of her daughter's actions until the story shifts focus to her for an episode and provides possibly one of the best TV episodes of all time) and beyond. Even the minor characters had a role to play in providing memorable observations. Amy fears she may have accidentally offended a friend visiting from the retreat (played by Robin Wright of House Of Cards fame) and wonders if she'll hate her forever. But we see that the friend isn't even thinking of Amy. She didn't even notice, showing that perhaps our worst enemy is ourselves. Every episode was filled with this beautiful sort of detail but such a show as this which refuses categorisation was bound to be cancelled. And that it was. And it was a tragedy, especially seeing the creators only had one more season planned. However, this series is well-worth the watch, by focussing on what it means to be human.

8. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 7
Seasons Completed This Year: 4-7
Like Doctor Who, Buffy The Vampire Slayer is one of those things I struggle to talk about simply because it's just so awesome. I've been watching this on and off since about 2011 and I finally finished it this year, so it's difficult to quantify my feelings towards it. Simply put, it's as good as everyone says. This is one of the most emotionally involving and incredible supernatural series' ever made, but it was perhaps more influential on dramas for teenagers as well. For (arguably) the first time, Buffy refused to talk down to its viewers, presenting an understanding of the hell that is high school. As the lead character, and the viewer, grew older, the series became darker as adulthood became a more terrifying prospect. Buffy is one of the most interesting characters in television history, a woman very unwilling to fulfil the hero role, but knows what needs to be done and does it. She refused to be piously moral, making her a far more human and interesting character (as evidenced by her major depression in the sixth and bleakest season). This focus on making real, but still very brave characters spread through to every member of the main cast, who grew and changed in beautiful, realistic ways, motivated by the sometimes difficult lives they lived. Characters like Willow, Xander, Giles, Anya, Angel, Spike, Tara and (to a much lesser extent) Dawn all change in sometimes dark, frequently understandable ways between their first appearance to their last.
   However, this was still a supernatural infused series and the overarching idea of a Big Bad for each season made this possibly the first series where every year had a distinct structure and feel. While most people prefer season 2 and the rise of Angelus, I personally think the best year of the show was season 5, which had a strong linking structure, culminating in a beautiful finale. While this show was influential in terms of structure, it was perhaps more influential in bringing some of the most experimental and filmic storytelling ever seen to primetime television. Episodes such as Hush (an episode in complete silence), Restless (a story about dreams that actually feels hallucinatory and strange) and The Body (the series' saddest and most devestatingly realistic story) are all examples of a refusal to play safe and a willingness to challenge and engage the viewer in interesting ways. Buffy's lasting legacy is its impact on shows such as Teen Wolf (a very pale imitation that as it grows older seems to steal more and more of Buffy's ideas, such as an Anya-like character) and the revived Doctor Who, which it has been argued would not exist without Buffy. At the very least, without the Vampire Slayer, we probably wouldn't have had episodes as formally inventive as Turn Left, Midnight or Heaven Sent.
   No series has made me feel as much as this one, or been as relatable. It changed my life and is simply jaw-dropping, scary, brilliant and powerful television. If you see no other shows on this list, watch Buffy, watch it now. One of the best TV series' ever made. 


9. Olive Kitteridge
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
Sweeping the awards at the Emmys and described by the A.V. Club as "an epic of intimacy", Olive Kitteridge is a stunning and poignant mini-series. Over four short hours, we follow Olive, a cantankerous but caring woman, over many years. Through her eyes, we see the small town change, characters grow older, relationships shifting and falling apart, weddings and deaths. It's a series about life and there's so much vitality and depth to each of the many supporting characters that it's hard to think that we've seen it all in only a handful of hours. It works thanks to a well thought-out script (expanding and contracting a long thought un-filmable novel), a pace that is gentle without being slow and exceptional performances, not least of all from Frances McDormand. The wife of one of the Coen Brothers and the funny and likable lead of the original Fargo, she brings a world of life to Olive. Mrs Kitteridge isn't always the nicest woman, but McDormand imbues her with a humanity and a worldview all of her own. However, more than a portrait of a woman or a community, this is the story of marriage and what it means to be in a long-term relationship. While she and her husband (played masterfully by Richard Jenkins) may bicker and fight, it's clear that they love one another and will right until the end. They each have lingering resentments towards one another, but they move on as we must all do in a relationship, lest it be destroyed. But that's only one part of what makes this such a great series. It's the humanity and hope and tiny character moments that make this such a moving and transcendent experience. Truly beautiful, it gives you the perfect feeling. Part of you wants more, but the other part of you knows you have seen enough for these characters to stay with you forever. 

10. Seinfeld
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 9
Seasons Completed In 2015: 1-6
I have argued elsewhere on this blog that Seinfeld is one of the most consistently funny sitcoms ever made and that's an opinion I will stand by here. Widely regarded as one of the best-written series' ever made, it's interesting to watch Seinfeld so long after it premiered and to see how it still resonates. While something like The Mary Tyler Moore Show is gorgeous it does date slightly (as Finn vocally pointed out), Seinfeld remains largely as fresh and hilarious as it was when it first premiered. This is probably because it's such a bitter, savage and dark series so unlike anything else ever made. It's characters should be unlikable considering all the horrible things they do, but they remain lovable (even George) because their actions are rooted deeply in reality. It's the height of awkard, cringe comedy, in a way that something like Girls aspires to. However, it is different in that it's characters refuse to learn, making the same mistakes over and over again. It's mind-blowing but so realistically funny, which is even more odd considering how heightened the Seinfeld universe can appear at times. More phrases and ideas from the series, such as double-dipping, shrinkage, "not that there's anything wrong with that" to name but a few, have entered the pop culture lexicon than perhaps anything sense Shakespeare. Episodes like 'The Contest', 'The Puffy Shirt', 'The Marine Biologist' and 'The Opposite' are frequently regarded as some of the best TV ever made, and the fourth and fifth seasons are perhaps the greatest individual seasons of a sitcom that we have ever been blessed with. While I am now entering the series' slow and painful decline (meaning an appearance on next year's list seems unlikely), no-one can deny that at its peak, Seinfeld was one of the most well-observed, best-written, cringe-inducing, catchphrase-creating and laugh-inducing sitcoms ever made.

 11. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
Science is undoubtedly awesome, but the documentaries that come out about new discoveries or ways of understanding the universe can be informative, but forgettable. They exist simply to deliver the facts in an entertaining way, not caring if your left behind. One of the many, many reasons to love Cosmos is that Carl Sagan, the series' host, refuses to leave you behind. He'll explain the most complicated workings of the planets, life and the universe in simple and concise ways in a manner that doesn't talk down to the audience, but makes sure we're always in the loop. More impressively, for a series that is explicitly about space and the Earth, it is far more about us, the human race, than it is about how plants evolve (although, it's about that too). It's an ode to the power of the human mind and spirit and the drive to discover. While science series' now can have a somewhat dubious relationship to humanity (they always seem to be a bit depressing), Carl Sagan uses his series to celebrate our successes. He understands that the discoveries that enabled such a series to be made were thanks to our innovations, but also refuses to allow us off the hook for the way we've destroyed parts of our planet. By being more about who we are, Carl Sagan does the impossible, he makes this show about science not only informative and educational but also uplifting and life-affirming. The series proved to be so popular that after Sagan's death, they re-imagined it with science guru Neil de Grasse Tyson as the new host. While I have yet to see that (due largely to the fact that Carl Sagan's kind hosting style made this series as good as it was), I find it moving that his legacy lives on. Sagan taught generations about how much was involved for humanity to evolve to our current state and made us thankful for it. 

12. Fortitude
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
A very late entry to this list, Fortitude was a series I viewed towards the end of December. Before this, the TV section of my awards was only 15 long and I was debating extending it. By the end of Fortitude's final episode, I knew I had to. A series that largely went under the radar when it was released in early 2015, it appears to be a murder mystery set in an isolated arctic town populated with people keeping more than a few secrets. However, even from the very first episode things aren't quite that simple. The murder is horrifically violent and brutal and the presence of a rapidly defrosting Wooly Mammoth carcass may or may not have something to do with it. To say more about the story is to give it away, but needless to say this is far, far more than just a simple murder mystery. In the fifth of twleve episodes, we find out who the murderer is. In the sixth episode, something so disgusting and disturbing happens that the series shifts (seriously, this series is rated R for a reason. If you have weak stomachs or constitutions, please don't watch this. I've seen a lot of horror, but this scene is really, really fucked up. Stomach-churning but sort of beautiful in its own way). The series shifts and changes genre and feel so many times that it becomes unpredictable and disturbing all the way to its ingenious finale. The wintry setting makes it distinctly different from anything else on TV, while the excellent cast (Michael Gambon, Sofie Grabol, Richard Dormer, Christopher Eccleston and Stanley Tucci to name but a few) propel this series forward, making for not only thrilling, but emotionally satisfying television. It's also beautifully written with scenes of devastating clarity. After someone gets shot, his killer tells him that he didn't do anything to cause this, "it was just a thing that happened. Like cancer." It's like an alignment of the fates bringing things to an inevitable and jaw-dropping conclusion. From a series that I'd never heard of, this became something I eagerly await in the future. If it is even half-as-good as this first season, then it looks to be amazing.  

13. The Simpsons
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 27
Seasons Completed: 1-4
While I was growing up, my mum didn't allow my brother or I to watch The Simpsons. Arguably the biggest pop culture phenomenon of the 90s/early 2000s, you can imagine how frustrating this was. It became a need. Whenever my mum and dad were sick, we'd switch onto The Simpsons and marvel at it. We borrowed the movie when we stayed over at our Grandma's and watched in awe at how good this was. Worse, was the fact that my mum didn't actively stop my brother from sitting through South Park, Family Guy or American Dad, which are all a billion times worse. When I asked her the reason, she said that it was too relatable, that it was like watching our family on screen. Even now, if she knew I had watched The Simpsons, I'm fairly sure she'd tell me off. But there comes a time when every child must break free from their parents influence. For me, it was when my University lecturer made constant reference to there being a Simpsons reference for everything. Since then, I've watched the first four seasons of the show, and it's just as amazing as I always thought it would be. While I can understand my mum's point (it is very, very relatable. I'm Lisa, obviously), this is what makes it so entertaining. All of the characters are wonderfully real and human and the series is funny and amusing. It's lower position on this list is because I've only done the first four seasons (which were pretty spectacular) but I will be continuing this into 2016 and beyond. Unless my mum catches me. 

14. Looking
Status: Cancelled
No. Of Seasons: 2
Seasons Completed: 1
This is the fourth of five shows (possibly) on the list that were cancelled before their time. That's a quarter of this entire list and that's a depressing figure. Looking's cancellation, though, was one I predicted more closely. Described reductively as the gay Girls, it follows three gay men in San Francisco, all at different ages and wanting different things. Similarly to Please Like Me, it refuses to play to the stereotypical idea of gay men and instead looks at it what it means to be gay in this day and age. With a unique visual palette, a pulsing soundtrack and excellent characterisation which refused to make them all likable, Looking was about the search for meaning and a real life that you can be proud of. It just happened to feature gay characters. After I finished and loved the first season, I showed it to Finn who similarly loved it. It proved to be influential for our relationship, deciding the location for our first date (the Planetarium, which features prominently) and was just a brillaint little series. The second season was broadcast and no-one watched it, so it was cancelled. It has, however, been picked up for a feature film. While I could argue that Please Like Me's continued success means that despite Looking's cancellation, there was still at least one realistic gay series on TV, I am more inclined to argue that one is not enough. Episodes like 'Looking For The Future', featuring nothing but a gay couple walking and talking for half-an-hour, proved that Looking was an intelligent and powerful series that saw being gay as normal and wonderful. But now, it's gone and the TV landscape for queer characters just got smaller. 

15. Outlander


Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
I reviewed this earlier here, but for a while there, Outlander was the best TV show I watched in 2015. With a focus on a female character, a glorious historical setting and an emotional arc this was a brillaint escapist series. With the dark turn it took towards the end of its first season, it became a different, more emotionally involving and difficult series to watch. But it did so with reality and heart, making it one of the very few shows to deal with rape in an effective manner. While other series' I watched this year were better, few were as emotionally involving or as brave as this one.  

16. Rick And Morty


Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 2
Seasons Completed: 1
Under the entry for Cosmos, I mentioned the rise of #bleakTV. This is an increased focus on dark and emotionally harrowing series' that refuse to give the viewer a happy ending, instead reminding them that everything eventually ends and dies. While The Walking Dead may be the king of #bleakTV (season five was so hard to watch that it actually made me very, very depressed), Rick And Morty is the poster boy. Following an alcoholic mad scientist and his grandson, this is a very funny series that is also ridiculously bleak. The first series' most memorable moment sees the young Morty stating "Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everyone's gonna die. Come watch TV." It's bleak and hopeless, but funny, sad and just a little awesome. It's a series that acknowledges the darkness at its core, but also succeeds in being hilarious. It's so unlike anything else I've ever seen that it beggars belief, using science fiction themes in clever fashion. While this is a bleak show, it's never depressing, a fine line that the show treads with aplomb. 

17. The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 1
Seasons Completed: 1
Creepy, disturbing and compelling, The Jinx is quite unlike any other true crime documentary you'll ever see. Over four decades, millionaire Robert Durst was suspected of killing three people, a crime that fascinated the American public, including one Andrew Jarecki. He based his film All Good Things on the eccentric suspect and Durst loved it so much that he sat down with the filmmaker to tell his story. Over six episodes, Jarecki interviews Durst and anyone and everyone involved in the case to project a disturbing and unsettling look at a killer. Robert Durst is such a monster, but a charming one, and the evidence around him is so compelling and overwhelming, but he was only tried and convicted of one killing, which he claimed to be self-defence and got off. The man he killed was cut in pieces and thrown over the bay. These contradictions and mysteries make for compelling and addictive television, made more so by the series' stunning and haunting conclusion. After finding evidence that proves Durst's guilt, Jarecki confronts him with it. His reaction is lies as usual, but there's the sense that he's been caught. And then, he goes to the bathroom and forgets to take his mic off. What he says then is so cold, so matter-of-fact, so utterly horrifying that it will haunt your soul. When I walked into the lounge after I watched it, I was shaking and dad said it looked like I'd seen a ghost. He wasn't that far off. One of the best true crime series' ever made, with a shocking conclusion. Durst was arrested the day before the final episode aired. 


18. The Knick

Status: Ongoing (?)
No. Of Seasons: 2
Seasons Completed: 1
I wasn't looking forward to The Knick. Rated R for realistically simulated surgical violence and with a reputation for nasty and cringe-inducing scenes, I still felt the need to watch it given it's critical acclaim. I was right, The Knick was a deeply disturbing series. Set in the early 19th century and with horrific medical procedures, it's a fascinating and interesting portrait of a time. It was an era filled with racism, drug abuse, questionable medical practices, sexism and corruption. It's frequently a dark watch, easily fitting into my #bleakTV category, even in just the way it's filmed with minimal lighting and muted colours. It's addictive and fascinating, but by god, it's a hard and depressing series. Most horrifying moment? The solution to the Syphilis' patient's nose falling off. 


19. Grey's Anatomy
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 12
Seasons Completed In 2015: 8-10
After claiming the top spot in last year's awards, Grey's Anatomy continues to be an addictive and fascinating series. Seasons 8 to 10 which I completed this year were to me some of the best in the show's history. A plane crash cliff-hanger to season 8 caused major changes to the show and had reverberations throughout season 9 in interesting and unexpected ways. Then, season 10 sees the departure of many people's favourite character, Christina Yang. Her exit is moving, but her finest performance was a few episodes earlier, with a devastating Sliding Doors-esque story which proved that there was no happiness for her with Owen. I am still desperately waiting for season 11 which sees more changes to the cast and has apparently ushered in a new golden age for the medical drama. I personally can't wait for what continues to be one of the most consistently excellent series' I've ever seen. Awesomely soapy and addictive.

20. Nashville
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Seasons: 4
Seasons Completed In 2015: 2
Speaking of addictive prime time soap operas, Nashville has steadily been one of my favourite guilty pleasures for a while now. It's far from good TV, but by god is it entertaining. Set in and around Nashville, it features the soap opera entanglements of country superstars Rayna James and Juliette Barns. It was the cast that got me into this show, with stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere doing stellar work, but it's the music that's the real reason to watch this show. Each episode features some truly great country music to compliment the soapy goodness, in ways that often elevates both of them. The end of the first season saw a heartbreaking turn of events which was escalated by Juliette's excellent song 'Nothing In This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again', while each season has so far featured a stunning compliment of beautiful, moving songs. Traditionally, this is my cry watch, with the heartbreaking developments allowing me to fully immerse myself in those tears and country music feels. With (largely) likable characters, especially Panettiere's Juliette (who's bitchy exterior hides a world of inner turmoil), brilliant soapy developments and a gorgeous soundtrack, this is easily my favourite TV guilty pleasure. 

HM. Glee
Status: Finished
No. Of Seasons: 6
Seasons Completed: 6
So, you may have heard that Glee finished this year and will be probably be quite joyful. As a bit of a Glee supporter myself, I must admit that even I was happy that it was coming to an end. Ever since the characters graduated high school, the series has been rapidly declining, topped by the tragic passing of Cory Monteith's Finn. It's easy to forget just how good this series used to be, and its final year goes some of the way to remedying it's many mistakes. Worse, it introduces a new set of characters which could've actually carried the show, rather than the crappy handful of imitation New Directioners introduced in season four. But the show's true success is the way it actually made me sad that this show was over. For years, this show meant everything to me. The moment in the second season where Kurt and Blaine kissed was the moment I realised that I was gay and happy to be. The third season's finale, where the group graduated high school, prefigured my own graduation a couple of months later, and the song that played 'Roots Before Branches' became something of an anthem for me that year. When I actually graduated, it was the episode where all the characters broke up that finally allowed me to let go of my feelings. The episode paying tribute to Finn allowed me to finally say goodbye to his character. It was some of those moments that I was reminded of in that final season. Much like the rest of the show, the final year was far from perfect, with a pointless focus on Sue and a fan-baiting finale. But that finale was what I needed. It's pure fan service but it made me cry so many times and the show's final performance of 'I Lived' with every member of the cast reappearing is worth the price of entry alone. Overall, these people were my friends for a while and defined a period of my life. They were there when I needed them and then stuck around for a bit, where I finally saw why so many other people had abandoned them and then, finally, I said goodbye. In a year that was defined by goodbyes and saying farewell to things that had defined me for a very long time, such as the queer support group I was part of and which allowed me to meet Finn and my University course, it continued to be helpful to me right until the very end. While I doubt I will re-watch this show, I cannot deny its impact on me and a generation of others. I suppose that's all it needed to be. 

Top 3 Anime Viewed In 2015
 

1. One Piece

Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 17
Series’ Completed: 6-10
Making its second appearance in the NSV awards, One Piece moves up to claim first following a truly stellar year filled with intrigue and excitement. Following an interesting arc up in the sky, the series made a stunning leap-up in quality, with the epic Water 7/Enies Lobby double saga. A shocking betrayal, gorgeous character moments, epic fight scenes and a further expansion of the series' mythology make for the best saga of the series so far. It even has a truly moving end as we wish a sad farewell to one of the crew's most treasured members, which made Finn cry when we watched it together. Inevitably, the Thriller Bark arc that follows it is a letdown, but this continues to be one of the very best animes I've ever seen. Filled with memorable, lovable characters, epic intrigue and glorious fight scenes, One Piece continues to provide ridiculous levels of entertainment. With a darker turn of events to come for my viewing in 2016, I cannot wait to see where it goes.


2. Assassination Classroom
Status: Ongoing
No. Of Series: 1
Series’ Completed: 1
One of only two series that I watched pretty much live in 2015 (the other being the fun but forgettable Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE), Assassination Classroom has one of the most unusual premises I've ever heard. A yellow octopus-like thing is the perfect weapon, impervious to all attacks, created by the Government but gone rogue. After destroying the moon, Koro (the name of the octopus thing) promises to destroy the Earth in a year. In the meantime, he wishes to be a teacher to a class at a prestige school in Japan. The class is the drop-outs, the losers and the failures of the school, the so-called End Class. The End Class is instructed by the Government to kill Koro-sensei, something he actively encourages, allowing them to grow into adults and shake off the rest of the school's attempts to destroy their spirits. The problem is Koro-sensei is a brilliant teacher, strong, kind, attentive, lovable and very, very funny. He's also easily able to defeat their assassination attempts, but does so in a way that lifts their spirits. The first season (thankfully) hasn't quite gone into this dilemma, focussing on the characters and the humour, but now it has been renewed for a second season (which started Jan 7), we've got more time with Koro and his likable classroom. The idea of an End Class and the cruelty with which the school regards it with is duly explored and Koro Sensei is one of the funniest anime characters you're ever likely to watch, making for a highly entertaining series that could only be found in a Japanese anime.
 
3. Dragon Ball

Status: Finished
No. Of Series: 5
Series’ Completed: 2-3
The precursor to the more well-known Dragon Ball Z, the original series is funny, action-orientated and entertaining. Last year, I labelled this as something of a difficult task, but when this became unavailable to me, I missed it and became desperate to continue. When I finally did, I was gifted with the dull Red Ribbon Army saga. Thankfully, we've moved past that now and the death of one of the main characters should make for an interesting and exciting end to this uneven, but entertaining series. Dragon Ball Z is something I am planning on starting in 2016 (after I finish Digimon) which Finn has told me is less comedic than the original series. This seems odd to me, but I'm desperate to know what that looks like. Come this time next year, I'm likely to know the answer.
 
 
The film awards will be up later in the week, hopefully.
 
Thanks,
David Gumball-Watson

No comments:

Post a Comment