December 31, 2015 1 Comment
This year, for really the first time, I spent about as much watching TV as I did watching films. As a result, I have watched more new series than ever before, more often than not finishing each season that I start — Doctor Who being the main exception, because who on earth has the time for that?
However, the more television I watched the more I began to compare and contrast the shows that I was seeing, rating each new episode, and ranking the respective series against one another. With no outlet for these burgeoning opinions, and with no real inclination to create another blog, I thought I’d squeeze a quick top ten in here. Any excuse to microwave some popcorn at home on a cold winter’s eve.
These days it seems as though every movie is at some point destined to be rebooted as a television series, whether directly tied into the source material like Limitless or as barely recogniseable as Teen Wolf to the 1985 film. The best, more often than not, fall somewhere in between, where the essence of a story is captured even if it takes place within a new and exclusive continuity. Many took issue with Scream‘s recalibration as a teenage soap opera, but the initial involvement of original director Wes Craven and a keen sense of the franchise’s MO meant that it still felt like Scream even if it didn’t follow exactly the same formula.
When it comes to nature documentaries, panel shows and period dramas, UK TV is often the place to be. For every other genre of television, however, it rather drags behind foreign productions. There were two notable exceptions this year, and while London Spy never made this list it was undoubtedly an engaging mini-series made all the more remarkable by the fact that it came from the BBC. Perhaps even more astonishing, however, is the fact that our shores also produced one of the best romantic comedies of the year in Channel 4’s Catastrophy, a dry relationship drama starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, with supporting turns from Ashley Jensen and Carrie Fisher. We got two seasons of it this year, and both impressed equally.
8. Marvel’s Jessica Jones
Marvel’s second 2015 collaboration with Netflix, and the next instalment in its would-be Defenders franchise after Daredevil, Jessica Jones pitted Krysten Ritter’s private eye against David Tennant’s hypnotist in one of the studio’s more risque productions. Whereas Daredevil pushed the studio’s violence quotient to the point that characters were having their heads smashed in with car doors, Jessica Jones focuses on other adult themes while still dropping the fantasy from fantasy violence. This is a comic book adaptation that deals with sexuality, sexual consent and PTSD, and which does so in an intelligent and thoughtful way. All eyes are now on Luke Cage, as played in Jessica Jones by Mike Colter, who is set to headline his own miniseries in 2016.
7. American Horror Story: Hotel
Although I have enjoyed every iteration of Fox’s anthology serial American Horror Story to date, I have come to accept that I’ll never love the show (or any show, for that matter) quite as much as I did AHS’s second season, Asylum. The news that Lady Gaga was set to replace series stalwart Jessica Lange in the main role did little to raise expectations, though in the end Hotel proved that she was more than a match for the material. All of the usual players returned, including Ryan Murphy as showrunner, but there’s something even stranger than usual about the Hotel Cortez — and it’s not just the guest sewn into their mattresses.
6. Game of Thrones: Season 5
Has the novelty begun to wear off? Or are we simply growing desensitised to Game of Thrones continued, nigh predictable excellence? Either way, there was the sense during Season 5 that the best was maybe behind us, as it arguably lacked the dramatic clout of previous seasons. At least, talk seemed to turn from the latest shocking developments to the showrunners’ worrying preoccupation with sexual violence. That said, the acting and action were still faultless, and it was a delight to see the once essentially exclusive narratives continue to intertwine as Tyrion Lannister set off in search of Daenerys Targaryen.
5. Marvel’s Daredevil
As Marvel’s Cinematic Universe continues to balloon with new characters and spin-offs, the studio’s television division seemed to be making efforts to streamline its content. Marvel’s Agents of Shield might have been busy establishing a film nobody would see until 2018, while Marvel’s Agent Carter went back to explore the fall-out from one of its 2010 releases, but Marvel’s Daredevil — their first collaboration with Netflix — went back to the drawing board as it attempted to establish another shared universe within a universe, or a microverse, focusing on smaller acts of heroism and adding a bit of texture to a franchise that worked overtime to iron out every wrinkle.
4. The Great British Bake Off
I’ve never really been one for reality television — I’m not sure I’ve ever truly recovered from the injustices of Pop Idol — but I’ve always made an exception for The Great British Bake Off. With its low-stakes competition and likeable contestants, GBBO has since its inception been the complete antithesis of something like X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent — to date the closest the series has come to a scandal was when one of the bakers took another’s Baked Alaska out of the freezer. This year’s series was particularly undramatic — there was nary even a soggy bottom to be found, while the contestant everyone thought would win actually won, deservedly — but that did nothing to diminish the joy of watching nice people bake pretty cakes.
3. The Hunt
David Attenborough has narrated some of the most astonishing scenes to ever grace British television, or any television for that matter, from pack-hunting orcas in Frozen Planet to Africa‘s showstopping giraffe battle. This year’s offering, BBC’s The Hunt, dealt with predators across various environments, from the forest to the ocean. Perhaps the most amazing episode, however, was Race Against Time (Coast), which featured traditionally aquatic animals such as dolphins and octopi leaving the safety of the water to hunt their prey on or over land. The surreality didn’t sop there, either, as monkeys and wolves took to the coast to feed on fish.
2. Scream Queens
As good as American Horror Story: Hotel was, it wasn’t the best genre show from Ryan Murphy and frequent collaborator Brad Falchuk to be released this year. Poaching talent from both of Murphy’s previous shows (including AHS: Coven’s Emma Roberts, promoted to star, and Glee’s Lea Michelle, recast as a psychopath in a head-brace), casting decisions emblematic of a wider wedding of tones, Scream Queens feels fresher and more focused than any of his previous work. A love letter to the slasher genre, or rather the very worst of the slasher genre, it’s shrill, schlocky and stupidly smart.
As their latest movie, Jupiter Ascending, was kicked around town by critics, the Wachowskis first foray into television received a more positive reception. Taking a leaf out of Cloud Atlas‘ book — their masterpiece, and in my opinion the best film to be released in 2013 — Sense8 was another ensemble piece that sought to bring a diverse and disparate cast of characters together even if few of them ever actually met in person. Able to share knowledge and experiences with others in their cluster, whether based in Germany or India, the characters assist one another in their day-to-day lives while simultaneously scheming to overcome a threat to their larger group. The result is a series that is unusually resonant, its emotional beats emphasised eight-fold.