Every time I think back to the past year in television, I’m reminded of Andy Samberg’s clever introduction to the 2015 Emmy Awards: he suddenly escapes to an underground bunker and resurfaces a year later after finally watching the top shows of the year.
Never have I’ve been so exhausted sitting on the couch than I was this year. Binge watching has become the norm in our household because we can hardly keep up with our favorite shows. Combine our maxed-out DVR with the ever-growing stack of newspapers and magazines under the coffee table, and it’s a shock we even make it out of the house!
I’m not here to tell you which show was better than the rest. How could I? From cable, to network television and Netflix to Amazon, the deluge of content makes it nearly impossible to name a top show. If this so-called Golden Age of television has done anything, it has made it easier to weed out all the bad stuff on the tube—and they are legion.
Here’s a brief recap of my favorites from this past year:
During each awards season I mine the list of nominated shows carefully to see if The Americans has finally received its just due. Alas, FX’s incredible Cold War spy drama has been left out in the cold once again. You’d think those people responsible for nominating the top shows are still suffering from Cold War-fatigue. Their failure to give a nod to The Americans is proof that the award season is a bunch of corporate-manifested garbage designed to drive viewers to a supreme state of anxiousness so they fly to their TV screens and consume everything their advertisers so badly want them to watch. But I digress. For the uninitiated, The Americans follows Russian KGB spies Elizabeth and Philip in 1981 as they deftly balance their perceived ho-hum suburban life with their responsibilities to the Soviet Mother Land. Instinctively you want to hate the couple for their murderous misdeeds, but we’re left to root for them, if not for their sake, but for their two innocent children, one of whom has already been partly sucked in to their life of lies.
Game of Thrones
[SPOILERS!!] After four long seasons we finally got to see what winter looks like, and it’s a hell of lot scarier than we ever imagined. The destruction heaped on the Wilding enclave of Hardhome by the White Walkers was nothing compared to season five’s final scene in which a know-nothing Jon Snow is lured into a trap and stabbed repeatedly by fellow members of the Night’s Watch because they think he’s committed treason. The season was not without controversy, as it again featured brutal rapes of women and went too far, even by GOT standards, when a poor child was burned at the stake. We can’t wait to see where we go from here. Will Jon Snow return? Probably. What will come of Daenerys? And what does the return of Bran Stark mean for Westeros?
After the show’s premiere, we wrote that Mr. Robot would save our summer. The USA series more than lived up to the hype. The show was so dark at times that the week in between episodes served as a much-needed reprieve. Mr. Robot went where no show has gone before it by ushering into the mainstream the shadowy world where hacktivists—digitally savy Robin Hood types—who use their talents to upend the status quo and seek to expose our corporate overlords with the hope of spawning a long-delayed, but much-needed revolution.
Better Call Saul
No show had more pressure to succeed then AMC’s Better Call Saul, the much-hyped Breaking Bad spinoff written by Vince Gilligan himself. Bob Odenkirk’s depiction of lowlife attorney Saul Goodman, Albuquerque’s slimiest criminal defense lawyer, was so masterful that AMC knew fans demanded more. Now we get the back-story of how Jimmy McGill, a career con man turned struggling lawyer, becomes Saul Goodman. McGill’s early pitfalls explain a lot about Breaking Bad’s Goodman, and now it’s easy to see why he and Walter White, although sometimes hostile toward one another, were a perfect match. Both yearn for greatness. Each probably has the talent to break the bonds of mediocrity, but instead chooses the easy way out. Sometimes a person can only take so much.
The CIA thriller became such a disappointment after its first season that even I couldn’t justify hanging on for another year. I was so down on the show that I didn’t even know the season 5 premiere had aired until a colleague reminded me that Carrie and her quivering lip had returned to Showtime. Give it a shot, she told me. And so I did. Three weeks ago we documented why we fell back in love with the show, so I won’t be long-winded. Taking Carrie out of the CIA and placing her in Germany to work as a civilian was exactly what Homeland needed. The season felt more like a reboot than a continuation of season 4, which was marred by uninspired writing and unnecessary rage-inducing scenes, Carrie’s near-drowning of her baby daughter chief among them. But this time we had three strong women who took it upon themselves, it seemed, to save the series. The showrunner’s ability to navigate modern day politics also moved the show back on track. Let’s hope it doesn’t careen into TV oblivion once again in season 6.
Master of None
Aziz Ansari is well on his way to cultural iconic status. The Parks and Recreation star has been busy since NBC’s hit show completed its 7th and final season last February. He navigated a comedy tour and had his first book published, which turned into a best seller. Ansari has not grown complacent. Master of None, released on Netflix in November, follows Ansari’s character, Dev, as he contemplates important societal and cultural issues from one episode to the next.
The Man in the High Castle
Let the streaming wars begin! Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle is the latest binge-worthy show to hit our digital library, and it may very well be one of the best. The show, based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, documents an alternate history in which the United States and its allies lose World War II and is subsequently conquered by the Nazis. The Nazis share the US with Imperial Japan, and as the show moves we see tension arise as the Japanese suspect that Germany may soon renege on the agreement. A small but persistent band of resistance fighters eager to see America rise once again are in pursuit of explosive propaganda videos created by the so-called “Man in the High Castle,” that if viewed by the general public could incite mayhem.