Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Year in TV, 2015

As TV Club put it so eloquently a few weeks ago, we have achieved "peak TV." Not only is it impossible to watch every TV show you hear about, it's now possible that your list of favorite current TV shows will bear no resemblance to your friends'. It also occured to me that the number of network shows I watch has dropped axiomatically; most of the shows I watched five or six years ago have either depreciated in quality or have faded into the sunset. (Not SNL, which is starting to find a groove after that awkward cast transition two seasons ago.) Juggling that with the surplus of options on basic cable, premium cable, and streaming serves only to cut further into the entertainment pie that ABC, CBS, and NBC domineered just three short decades ago. If you only have a converter box or subscribe to Hulu or Netflix without owning a TV, then your list is going to look vastly different from mine.

Here's my top five for 2015:

1. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix. Tonal issues aside, this might have been the most revelatory new comedy of the year. A 29-year-old woman (played with positive gusto by Ellie Kemper) escapes an Ariel Castro-meets-Warren Jeffs scenario and creates a new life in New York City.  It doesn't work as a "hangout" or "workplace" or even "family" sitcom nor wants to do so; it's a witty comedy about a woman reinventing herself and the makeshift group of people that support her along the way. Memorable Episodes: "Kimmy Goes Outside!" (pilot), "Kimmy Goes to School!," "Kimmy Goes to Court!"

2. Mad Men, AMC. The admen of Sterling Cooper & Associates --er, uh, McCann Erickson-- entered the 1970s in one piece but not worse for wear. The cultural changes and personal strife they battled in the previous decade (and 6 1/2 seasons) completely altered the lives of everyone in the agency, from the aging rascal Roger Sterling to hapless short-timers like Mathis. At its core, however this was the story of how Don Draper found peace within himself. Memorable Episodes: the final half-season only had seven episodes, all of which were exquisite, but "Lost Horizon" was probably the true masterpiece of the bunch.

3. Broad City, Comedy Central. The dynamic duo of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson were not deterred by hype or lofty expections, and even if the show went down a peg or two from last year's list, season two goes toe-to-toe with the highest peaks of season one. Casting Susie Essman as Ilana's mother was a brilliant move. Memorable Episodes: "In Heat," "Knockoffs," "Coat Check"

4. Bob's Burgers, Fox. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. That old saying rings true for the continuing low-scale misadventures of the Belcher clan, who are now halfway through Season 6 and just keep doing whatever they've been doing since the beginning. That's not to say there wasn't growth or progress: Tina finally got over Jimmy Jr., and Bob isn't as much of a sad-sack as he used to be. Memorable Episodes: "Hawk and Chick," "Sliding Bobs," "Nice-Capades"

5. The Last Man on Earth, Fox. Speaking of ambitious, arguably the most off-kilter show on network television right now is a showcase for the unique comedy talents of SNL alum Will Forte. Equally bleak and uproarious, LMOE is the story of an immature also-ran (played by Forte) who somehow becomes of the last survivors of a virus, piecing together a new life in the unforgiving Arizona desert. Memorable Episodes: "Alive in Tucson," "Screw The Moon," "Silent Night"

Honorable Mentions: Childrens Hospital, Cartoon Network; Adventure Time, Cartoon Network; Review, Comedy Central.

Also, my five favorite TV moments:

1. Alcides Escobar's inside-the-park home run, Game 1, 2015 World Series. Were you expecting me to pick non-Royals related for my top pick? I could've chosen the Astros falling apart in Game 4 of the ALDS or the Mets' various bullpen failures, but the first Fall Classic inside-the-park tater since 1929, on the first pitch the Royals saw in the series, takes the cake. The Mets were behind the 8-ball literally the entire series.

2. Stephen Colbert interviews Joe Biden, The Late Show. The defining interview of Colbert's career arrived a mere three days after he took the reins of CBS' flagship late night talk show. As much as people wanted Vice President Biden to run for president, it was obvious from this deeply personal sitdown that his heart was somewhere else.

3. The "12 Angry Men" parody, Inside Amy Schumer. Paul Giamatti earned an Emmy nomination in this homage to the play and movie, a riotous rebuke of anyone who has criticized Schumer as being too portly or unattractive to carry a sketch comedy show. Schumer barely appears in this episode, but the roster of guest stars (Vincent Kartheiser, Dennis Quaid, and John Hawkes, among others) more then makes up for her off-camera seething.

4. David Letterman bids farewell, The Late Show. A talk show icon for not quite 35 years (a few months in daytime, then over 33 years in late night), Dave combined surrealism with realism and shattered the perception of the always cheerful host. After 5 1/2 weeks of greeting old friends and favorite guests, a decidedly unsentimental Dave gave the audience an earnest "thank you and good night" as a clip montage set to Foo Fighters' "Everlong" played him out.

5. "Meet Your Second Wife," Saturday Night Live. The best sketch of the calendar year somehow waited until the Christmas show. Hosted by Helen Walsh (co-host Amy Poehler) and "Tina Fey" (co-host Tina Fey), three unsuspecting contestants meet their trophy wives many years before their marriage. (A close second place goes to the alien abduction sketch from Gosling/Bridges.)

I'm still behind on my DVR, but I look forward to what 2016 offers on the small screen.


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