Thursday, May 19, 2016

The 9 Best Shows of the 2015-2016 Season

Television is currently at a high in terms of quality. I haven't been writing about it as much as movies because there is almost too much to write about; It's hard to figure out where to even start. So this is my list of the very best of this year's television season - going by the "old-fashioned" timing of shows (fall-spring), so it doesn't include incredible shows such as Mr. Robot. Also, in order to narrow it down, I haven't included premium channel shows such as The Affair, or shows from other countries like Broadchurch, or shows on streaming channels like Jessica Jones. So, that being said, here goes: 

1. The Americans - This and Mr. Robot are the best shows on television right now. This show is the epitome of "slow-burn" storytelling. It takes patience and a willingness to empathize with every character, and boy does it pay off. Now, in its end of its fourth season, the show has never once "gone off the rails", or killed a character for pure shock value (although major characters have been killed, it's always been organic and true to the story), nor has it backed down from the fact that these characters are murderers and a threat to the American ideal (which seemed clearer in the 80s as compared to now). The series showcases its terrific writers with every episode simply by the fact that the "enemy" of our main characters LIVES ACROSS THE STREET, and not once does it seem dumb or contrived. A show with less than astute writers would not be able to pull that off. The show has also provided us with nightmarish, unforgettable scenes - the suitcase scene from last season still haunts me, I don't think it will ever go away. Keri Russell has been terrific from the very first episode and deserves some Emmy recognition. And the guest actor list just keeps getting better - Frank Langella, Margo Martindale, Dylan Baker.

2. Bates Motel - In its early seasons, I questioned Freddie Highmore's acting ability, especially compared to the sublime performance that Vera Farmiga was giving in every single episode. However, as of last season, Highmore has successfully grown into the complete and utter psychopath that is Norman Bates. The show does a great job at mixing old and new aesthetic; it's a perfect combination of vintage and modern storytelling ranging from the costume and set design, to the Hitchcockian level of suspense mixed with modern day psychological thrillers. It's all very cool to watch. *spoilers ahead* The recent episode, in which Norman goes full "psycho" is perhaps the best of the series, and surprisingly, not even a season finale. I always assumed that Norma's death would end the series, so I was definitely surprised by this turn of events. It's a genius move to have it happen at this point in the story because then we get to see Norman's descent into an even deeper psychosis. Plus, I don't think the character is going anywhere; she is still a part of Norman's world, even if it's just as a corpse.

3. The Grinder - I'm so glad that I decided to watch this show. It was sort of a last minute decision, as I noticed that my viewing schedule was light on sitcoms. It's really sweet, funny, and witty. The characters are great, even the kids are given properly hilarious story-lines. The show reminds me a little of late 90s/ early 00s sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond, which isn't even a show I really liked, but every time I watched an episode, I would laugh and feel joy. That's what this show is - joyous. Fred Savage is great, and he has wonderful chemistry with Rob Lowe, as his brother, and Mary Elizabeth Ellis, as his wife. I'm so sad that it didn't get picked up for a second season, but at least the season finale brought closure to the story.

4. Supergirl - Ok, so I'm now fully bored with the CW superhero shows. Arrow was freakin' fantastic for the first two seasons, and now it's a big dull dud. The Flash had an excellent first season, but is slowly declining with its repetitive plots. Legends of Tomorrow had a fun premiere and a few great episodes, but overall...again, repetitive. Supergirl had one terrific first season, and I am hopeful we don't see a decline that these other shows have fallen to (and now that it is apparently moving to the CW, I have my doubts). It's super fun, sweet, and best of all, it has a really fast pace. A lot of the reveals could have been dragged out for seasons, but instead they just plow through revelation after revelation, and then move on to a resolution. Melissa Benoist was absolutely horrific on Glee, but she's so adorable on this show. Adorable and also strong, which I think is a hard combination to master. I love the supporting cast, too. Specifically, Chyler Leigh is terrific; I love that she is recognized as a hero even though she doesn't have super-powers.

5. Gotham: Rise of the Villains - I was super negative about the first season of Gotham, but I could just *feel* the potential that the show had so I stuck with it and *BAM!!!* now it is fantastic! The whole "Rise of the Villains" story has been one win after another. The first season focused too much on Penguin (who was great, but it was overkill) and Fish Mooney (who was absolutely the worst part of the show). I'm upset that they brought Fish Mooney back - sorry if that's a spoiler, but it was heavily advertised which gives me the impression that the creators think people are fans of this character. I think they are mistaken, I've seen ZERO excitement around her return). Hopefully, they will continue the focus on the other villains - my favorite is Edward Nygma. I also love what they did with Barbara Kean, because I hated her in the first season, but she is awesome as a villain. The show is fun, while still being "DC dark", and ultimately has surpassed all of the other superhero shows on tv right now.

6. Mom - I can't think of another comedy show that causes me to cry this much. It's a good, emotionally fulfilling cry, too. And yes, it's also a very amusing show. It's not hilarious, but I usually laugh a few times. It reminds me of Roseanne, in that it is set in a more "realistic" atmosphere. It's about the heavy subject of alcoholism, and it never shies away from that fact, but it also is never preachy or judgmental. I don't know many shows that can kill off a character via overdose and still be funny. Anna Faris and Allison Janney are the perfect mother/daughter. Bonus for The West Wing shout-out in one of the recent episodes.

7. Better Call Saul - So, obviously I am a big Breaking Bad fan (who isn't, really?), so I am automatically a fan of this show because I love these characters so much. I especially love all of the scenes with Mike because he was one of my favorite characters. However, it's really become its own show, even without relying on its BB background. My favorite character is Kim, and she has nothing to do with BB, but I am so interested in finding out why. It's really interesting knowing where the story ends, and putting the pieces together to figure out how they all get there.

8. The People v. O.J. Simpson - The murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman occurred when I was 13 years old. To be honest, I didn't really follow the hoopla surrounding it, at first. I don't remember where I was during the bronco chase; I don't even think I watched it live as millions of people did. From what I knew, it seemed like an open and shut case. I started following it more closely when the case started to fall apart, and people started assuming that he was going to be found "not guilty". Without going in to detail about my childhood, let me just say that I felt personally distraught over the fact that this man could get away with murder and the world was just going to let it happen (and even worse, he had a very large group of supporters). This was the turning point for me in realizing that my mother did the right thing in escaping her abuser instead of going through the legal process. And this made me angry. It still does. It shouldn't be safer for a woman with a child to escape with barely any money, no home, no job, etc. than to go to the police. When the verdict was announced in 1995, my school was under a lock-down. This case had suddenly turned into a race war, which was a brilliant but ugly defense strategy, and school officials were scared that if he was found "guilty" students would riot (I went to a school with a large population of minorities). When the "not guilty" verdict arrived, students cheered, and I wept silently for fear that I might seem racist for being upset that a man just got away with murdering his wife. 21 years later, it still hurts. I won't deny that the cops in the case were racist, and also idiots. 21 years later, and the war between cops and black people has gotten significantly worse. This show is almost perfectly timed with the current state of the country right now. It focused a lot on what went wrong with the trial, the complexities of having someone as famous and well-liked as O.J. Simpson being accused of murder, and of course, the race issue. I also think it did a fantastic job at changing the negative perceptions of Marcia Clark. It certainly was not her fault; she wasn't prepared to handle a case about racism, instead she was prepared to present the evidence of O.J.'s guilt. She was the only one who seemed concerned about letting a murderer go free. Sarah Paulson gives the performance of her career (which is saying a lot, because she is always excellent). She is pretty much guaranteed an Emmy in a very competitive year. I think everyone in the cast will be at least nominated - but the other standouts for me were David Schwimmer and Sterling K. Brown. I loved the way the story gives all of the "players" their own "stories", including the jury. It was surreal to watch it all unfold again, and definitely interesting to watch it as an adult. Yet, 21 years later, hearing that verdict, it still breaks my heart.

9. Fargo - Honestly, I thought the first season of Fargo was a fluke. It was almost too good to be true. I'm not even that big of a fan of the movie. It's good, yes, but some put it on a pedestal. But this show is just sublime. This season, had an impeccable cast, all giving the best performances of their career (especially Kirsten Dunst). The way they intertwined the different plots was just genius, and the final episode was mind boggling (in a great way). There were so many scenes that were so cinematic and memorable. I can't wait to see what season 3 brings.

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