Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to praise TV, and then to bury it.
(If you’re just here for the list and not the navel gazing, feel free to scroll down.)
This may be the last time I watch enough shows to make a top ten list, so allow me to wax nostalgic. My relationship with television started, like most, as a kid. I didn’t grow up in front of a TV (I was busy collecting bruises and scabs outside), but I always woke up by 7:58am for Saturday morning cartoons and stayed glued until noon. When I didn’t have homework, I stayed up to watch “adult” shows (shout out to Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Charmed) and occasionally made it to the ten o’clock news. Then I went years without watching TV until high school when a friend got me hooked on House—the first show I watched every episode of. I started watching Gossip Girl (when it was actually good) and Glee (again, when it was actually good), but quickly lost interest as the quality dropped after one or two seasons.
Which brings me back to nostalgia. In the height of my cinephilia (watching ~200 movies a year), it was Mad Men, a TV show unlike any other, that made me take television “seriously”—whatever that means. Mad Men was the gateway show that led to 30 Rock, The Wire, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and other great shows. Mad Men premiered during my high school years and finished its remarkable run this spring, years into my professional career.
I know I’ve said this in previous years, but there is too much good TV right now. We’ve reached, as John Landgraf coined, “Peak TV.” For me, that is no longer a good thing or—to run with the metaphor/pun—a mountain I want to keep climbing. Not only because of the sheer volume but because of the culture it’s created. Binge watching turns shows into chores on a deadline and stunts nuanced conversations. The latest new show becomes Water Cooler Talking Point #2 (after the weather) for a hot minute and then, for the most part, loses its cultural significance and falls out of the periphery. I cringe every time I see or hear “SPOILER ALERT!”—great shows shouldn’t be ruined just because you know what happens on a narrative level and if you still don’t want to be spoiled, don’t engage. How often do we overlook shortcomings in favor of cultural relevancy? Yes, there are too many good TV shows right now, but how many of them are truly great? Here are some—my ten favorite TV shows of 2015:
- Mad Men, Season 7 (Part II), AMC
- Transparent, Season 2, Amazon Studios
- Rick and Morty, Season 2, Adult Swim
- The Americans, Season 3, FX
- Fargo, Season 2, FX
- Catastrophe, Season 1, Amazon Studios
- Veep, Season 4, HBO
- Louie, Season 5, FX
- You’re the Worst, Season 2, FXX
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Season 2, HBO
Honorable Mention (alphabetically):
- Chef’s Table, Season 1, Netflix
- Game of Thrones, Season 5, HBO
- Master of None, Season 1, Netflix
- Orange Is the New Black, Season 3, Netflix
- Parks and Recreation, Season 7, NBC
- Show Me a Hero, Limited Series, HBO
- Community, Season 6, Yahoo! Screen
- Girls, Season 4, HBO
Dishonorable Mention (alphabetically):
- True Detective, Season 2, HBO
*Rankings are based on the particular season of the show that aired in 2015 (i.e., I think Louie is a better show than The Americans, but The Americans had the better season this year).
My heart is in the coffin there with
And I must pause till it come back to me.