Monday, February 22, 2016

Favorite TV Shows of 2015

     Here I am, almost three months after the end of 2015, and only now I offer up this list of favorite television of the year.  Fitness and other new pursuits have caused this delay, but now I’m ready to deliver this list. 
     I will share both the top level favorites that I intend to purchase or already have purchased, and I will share the ones I’m not ready to collect but still loved. 

For the collection…

    The final season was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  There was too much of Gillian Anderson’s character who I find hard to grasp or relate too.  I knew the Red Dragon storyline was coming, so I found myself impatient for the first part of the season to resolve itself.  Additionally, knowing what was coming removed some of the tension.  I actually missed the killer-of-the-week episodes, and the masterfully macabre tableaux masterpieces were in shorter supply.  And when the Red Dragon storyline did come I found myself less transfixed than I hoped.

The classic Hannibal-investigator dynamic with Will Graham.

     One thing I love about the films is the sense of long-awaited revelation and elation when the struggling investigator finally puts the clues together to identify the killer, which is absent here.  Furthermore, the impeccable twists that the films offered were also absent from this interpretation.   
     However, the show took us through magnificently eerie catacombs and effectively redeemed the Hannibal (book/movie) characters and storyline.  The Red Dragon portion of the season, I have a feeling, will only improve with revisiting.  It was fascinating to get the instant introduction of Will’s family in the Red Dragon portion and there was an intense scene not in the book or films that gave this version a definite edge.  Even when I wanted more, I always got just what I needed from the show.  A little more “closure” would have been nice, given that the show will never return on NBC and may never return anywhere else.

Game of Thrones  
     One of the best things about this season was what wasn’t shown.  The absence of Bran and his narrative arc featuring the Three-Eyed Raven will only make the next season even more fulfilling, especially since the great Max von Sydow will be portraying this mythical character.

     Speaking of great screen presences, this season was given much by the addition of Jonathan Pryce as the High Sparrow.  At last, King’s Landing has another formidable force other than the Lannisters.
     One of this season’s high points was the first real battle with the White Walkers.  Seeing White Walker leaders mounted on horseback atop a mountain ridge is simply breathtaking as pure art. 
     There are also some hardcore moments for the dragons on the other end of the spectrum.  Perhaps the dragons are being taken for granted by some, but there role to play in the future of the story continues to be an intriguing question.
     Arya’s storyline with Jaqen H'ghar provides some of the most haunting and enthralling imagery and moods of the entire season.  Like Bran to come, Arya also has a fascinating mystical mentor and role yet to play. 
     There was much to savor, as usual, in Game of Thrones, and the balance of power is definitely shifting.  I can’t wait for Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven.    

American Horror Story
    This season got back to the roots of the first season.  Once again a haunted landmark in Los Angeles was the focus of this dread-packed season.  As one character put it, compared to the domestic scope of the first season, this season is a “rock concert.”  However, this season incorporates the supernatural diversity explored in the previous seasons and adds yet another supernatural element into the ghostly madness.  I loved it coming back to Los Angeles, which now feels like a definite ground zero for this universe’s horrors. 

Denis O'Hare as Liz Taylor.

     I found that Denis O’Hare delivered his best performance yet as the transgender Liz Taylor; an episode without Liz was always a little less than.  Lady Gaga proved up to the task as the matriarch of the hotel.  Kathy Bates remained riveting.  Evan Peters offered up genuine chills in a role that also sees him almost hamming it up at times, but you can’t allow yourself to forget that this is not an ordinary individual with ordinary behavior. 
     Newcomer Wes Bentley took my breath away.  The sinister glint in his eye is perfect for this show, and I was truly devastated at his fate in spite of his fiendishness.  Like Dylan McDermott, this show brings out the best in Wes.  Wes is the best, and it was certainly his best since American Beauty.
     This certainly ranks as one of the best.

Scream Queens
    Somewhere on the Ryan Murphy spectrum between Glee and American Horror Story is this show.  Horror comedy is one of my favorite film genres and I thought it was executed beautifully here in television form.  I also love the highly meta element to Ryan Murphy’s work and this is no exception.  

Skyler Samuels.

     This show introduced me to the radiance of Skyler Samuels (Grace) who I adored with fashionable vintage look (especially the spitfire caps, berets, beanies, and everything on her head), and all her bewilderment and frustration. 
     Of course, the big thing here is that Jamie Lee Curtis is on TV as a regular!  The original scream queen is starring in Scream Queens!  Her character was a bit of a feminist fantasy but it was delicious to behold and competently realized. 
     I love that this show depicted every major holiday of the fall, including Black Friday.  Holiday episodes are among my favorites since they enhance the experience when viewed at the appropriate time of year, and it’s nice to see how the holidays fit into the eventful lives of such quirky and deadly characters.  
    Niecy Nash plays a hilarious and ridiculous security guard who gets into a comically absurd blame war with Keke Palmer’s pledge. 
    Oliver Hudson as the father of Skyler Samuel’s Grace delivers magnificent moments that must be witnessed unspoiled to be fully appreciated.
    Say what you will, but the women are ruling the screen here.  This show also introduced me to the radiance of Billie Lourd whose adorably understated performance while in fluffy white earmuffs much of the time oozed charm and sexiness.  

Billie Lourd
          There was so much happening that I can’t remember it all, let alone write about it all, but this is the show I look forward to revisiting the most of the 2015 year.
    Apparently, this looks like yet another season-to-season anthology series.  I am very excited for and curious about what the new season will bring and hope it lives up, which it should if American Horror Story is any indication.     

Not for the collection…

    Overall, I enjoyed this season more than the first, some of it has to do with casting, and some of it has to do with the paranormal tone of the season.  Additionally, there’s a meta-fictional episode in which this story is presented in a book and narrated by season one star Martin Freeman that took the mythology to another level.

Ted Danson and Patrick Wilson.*
     Incidentally, I decided waffles would be the perfect culinary complement to this show before watching it (and so I made some), and then it turned out that the show featured a waffle house very prominently!
     Like American Horror Story, the seasons here aren’t as separate as some of us initially expected, as this season ties into the first one, specifically having occurred in the past.  I have to say that the new seasonal “anthology” approach to television is the most consistently rewarding as an audience member.
    Fargo provides an excellent sense of closure, intelligence, Midwestern charm (and deviance), Kirsten Dunst’s best work in years, more of the dignified and recently resurged Ted Danson, and wonder and awe and a sincere sense of the divine.  Then there’s the exploration of Native Pre-American identity and issues, the increasing corporatization of America and the world, and the lesson that you better damn well never sleep with the enemy. 
    The Solverson’s, the pivotal link to the first season, were the heart of the show.  Cristin Milioti as Betsy Solverson was particularly engaging and even heart-melting.  Patrick Wilson was a fine lead, made all the deeper by the connection to Keith Carradine’s season one portrayal. 
    And in this show, it seems, winter need not be coming because it’s apparently omnipresent.

The Walking Dead
    The community of Alexandria was refreshing and intriguing.  Then there’s the radiance of Alex Breckenridge…enough said. 

Alex Breckenridge...
Enough said.
Fear the Walking Dead
   I actually enjoyed this prequel show more than the original.  On one hand, this is a rare show putting the Latin community in the spotlight in a completely satisfying manner.  Once again, like American Horror Story, Los Angeles is the host to horror, this time of the undead variety.  This show made my summer in terms of series entertainment.  RubĂ©n Blades, of the similarly tense Los Angeles-set Predator 2, brought a cultural and generational mystique to the narrative that I can find no equivalent to in the original series. 

     Yes, characters behave stupidly and erratically and I got incensed often, but at least they made me care, especially when they seemed like airheads.  The recent wave of urban anti-police violence demonstrations that made the news, many in Los Angeles, also crashes the reality of this series and makes it all the more real for it.    

The Man in the High Castle
    What we have here is a literary exploration of world, and particularly American, history following an Axis victory of World War II.  This show was transfixing.  Not only is the concept inherently fascinating and fairly convincingly conceived, but the casting is solid, the presentation spellbinding, and the characters rich with many layers.

Sometimes we take our triumphant reality for granted.
     First, I’ve never read the book.  What captured me was the mystical and legendary “man in the high castle” who is apparently making these films of what would have been if the Allies won, which of course is the history that we know.  This brings many tantalizing questions.  Is it possible that history can be turned around somehow, that our history can be realized for the protagonists?  Are these specific videos merely a coincidence with another conclusion brewing, like the motivation for a victorious uprising of the defeated?   
     Rufus Sewell is absolutely chilling and yet sympathetic when necessary as a high ranking NAZI stationed in New York and devoted family man.  Rupert Evans embodies shades of grey and inner conflict like nobody else as a double agent (if that’s what he really is).  Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa had the most lasting impression on me as a meditative man of government with a profound connection to the mystical whose visions and prophecies are dismissed as superstition by his Earthbound Japanese colleagues.     
     The less you know, the better, but I found it mesmerizing and am intrigued for what’s next.  One last thing I must mention is that this series has the most realistic and chilling depiction of Adolph Hitler (Wolf Muser) ever (including the aging), it actually seemed like Adolph was alive and present on set.  And the aerial shots of Hitler’s Alpine castle fortress were magnificent.   

Better Call Saul
     I was highly skeptical about the Breaking Bad spin-off.  However, Bob Odenkirk owns the screen every bit as much as Bryan Cranston did.  Clearly, the Breaking Bad universe is where mid-level character actors are transformed into thespian legends.  Jonathan Banks who returns as Mike Ehrmantraut with the deadly gaze has arguably his best scenes here.  In particular, the flashback of what brought him to New Mexico in the first place was nail-biting even though his fate was already known.

     I love the exploitation-style main title sequence that recalls Tarantino with its warm hues, especially yellow, and the groovy music that recalls the seventies.  I just watched the first episode of the second season, and, appropriately, a reference to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is made.
     There are moments of high Shakespearean family drama and moments of remarkable physical comedy and everything in between.  One thing I liked about this series better was that it depicted less brutality than Breaking Bad, which I’m growing a bit tired of, and never really enjoyed in the first place in any series with the exception of Hannibal. 
     It is clear that Saul is a better man, ultimately, than Walter White, better natured in particular.  Sure, he enabled Water White and Ehrmantraut to do their misdeeds, but Saul is the better character to be riding along with. 

Honorable Mentions:

The Flash

Daredevil: Charlie Cox is one of the most handsome men on televison and I loved all that stuff with Scott Glenn as a Zatoichi-type warrior and mentor.  I'm very excited for the mysterious "gates" yet to open, which apparently Daredevil is completely unprepared for. 


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend:  Who knew West Covina would be the setting for such a colorful, amusing show full of heart and soul?  Rachel Bloom is quite the dame.  I loved riding my bike past all the ads in NYC, feeling that California pride. 
Teen Wolf: Kudos to "fitspiration" Ryan Kelley.  Love and hate the Dread Doctors, and sometimes it's hard to decided who's hotter: Holland Roden or Arden Cho?

Holland Roden

Arden Cho

Agent Carter: I never would've guessed Hayley Atwell would become so important to the Marvel universe, or any escapist American franchise.

The Following

Young Drunk Punk:  For obvious reasons.

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