Friday, May 8, 2015

TV Spotlight – The 25 Best Series on Television – May 2015

It is that time of the year again when we find out what will be on TV in the Fall/Spring/Summer 2015-2016 and what will not be. It is a good time to discuss the best series on television (or, what is on HBO, AMC, FX, and Netflix).

Let us start with HBO, which boasts TV’s best lineup of dramas and comedies. Also on HBO are television’s best two news programs Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Vice (forget your local and national new coverage, it is pointless and severely lacking by comparison).

Game of Thrones is the most popular series in the world and it is maybe television’s only true must-see series (particularly for fantasy/adventure genre fans). Its popularity has given HBO the ability to become autonomous with their HBO Now service.

Girls is the brilliantly funny and resonant dramedy from Lena Dunham. The series began as sort of a Sex and the City for a new generation, but I think it has become so much more, really getting at the meat of these characters and what it is like the grow up and become an adult in a much more substantial way. It is also good fun to watch.

Veep is Armando Iannucci’s hilarious political comedy (that feels very much like an extension of his film In the Loop). Sadly, he is leaving the series at the end of Season 4 (its current season), but the great mix of characters/actors and its sharp wit make it one of TV’s best comedies.

True Detective is an anthology series, with new characters, location and a case each season. Season 1 was incredible; Season 2 looks to be primed to be just as good. Nic Pizzolatto has assembled a wonderful cast for Season 2 (but it is still hard to imagine it eclipsing Season 1, which was probably the best thing on television in 2014).

Silicon Valley is a satire from Mike Judge that seems to perfectly capture the culture of the high-tech landscape in Silicon Valley, while remaining biting and hysterical. I am really interested to see where this show with go in the future, as things so far have moved relatively slowly (in terms of pushing the plot forward in a major way).

The Leftovers is fantastic on a character level, as it looks into the lives of the people left behind in a small suburban community after what could be called the Rapture. Opinions are rather mixed, probably due to the religious overtones associated with the series, but personally I think it is an excellent series.

Togetherness debuted this year, telling the story of a couple whose marriage seems to be falling apart. There series is funny and dramatically engaging, but really it is Season 1’s finally that really makes this a must. It is electric.

Moving on to Netflix…

House of Cards is Netflix’s biggest series, but with each season it seems to be losing what made it so good – its characters. At the end of Season 3, we are left with a bunch of unlikable people that we do not really even want to root for and thus do not care about. Watching House of Cards has become more about what will happen next in the plot and not because we are interested in where the characters will be taken next (on a character level). That is too bad, but maybe everything will turn around in Season 4. Otherwise, this might fall out of the top 25.

Orange Is the New Black is probably the best series on Netflix now. It is different from anything else in the medium. The only question I have is how do the show’s writers keep it fresh when the characters are so confined?

BoJack Horseman is a weird and wonderful animated comedy about a washed up sitcom actor who also happens to be a horse. It is a bizarre series, but infectiously funny.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the new series from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. In many ways it feels a lot like 30 Rock in tone and comedy style, though I would argue that it is superior. It too is infectious and addictive.

Daredevil is the first of four planned collaborations between Marvel and Netflix. It is the best superhero series on television (and better than most of the Marvel films as well). As the beginning of watch will eventually become the Defenders, I cannot wait to see how AKA Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist turn out (after the brilliance of Season 1 of Daredevil).

Moving on to Yahoo Screen…

Community was cancelled by NBC only to find a new home on Yahoo Screen. The result is a show that is mostly the same as it was before – very funny, odd and among the greatest things the sitcom-like format has to offer. Will we get a Season 7 or just go straight to the movie?

Moving on to AMC…

With Mad Men ending this year and Breaking Bad ending last year, AMC needs to develop some new great show to take their place (a tall order, given that during their runs both were in the top five of almost every critic’s list).

Better Call Saul is an easy answer, being the prequel to Breaking Bad centering on the unscrupulous lawyer Saul Goodman (or as he is known on this series Jimmy McGill). Thanks to the tireless work of Bob Odenkirk, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. This series is excellent, living up to the seemingly high expectations.

The Walking Dead is AMC’s other heavy hitter, and maybe their most addictive series (I usually wait until it is on Netflix because every episode is a cliffhanger). It is amazing that this show has not become tired and boring given that every episode or storyline seems to go the same way (things kick off and then zombies show up to add extra tension). It has its slow moments, but it also has it fantastic, edge-of-your-seats moments.

Moving on to Cinemax…

The Knick is a medical drama that is also a period piece, and so far that formula is working very well, especially on premium cable, giving it an edge over what similar networks shows can even attempt.

Moving on to Comedy Central…

Inside Amy Schumer is hilarious and has made itself mandatory pop-culture viewing (but I do not really think of it as a series, thus it is disqualified from this list); however…

Broad City is also mandatory pop-culture viewing. It is works as a great companion series to Girls, as it too is about young women making a go of it in New York City. It is not nearly as dramatic as Girl, but probably stranger and often funnier. I recommend watching both.

Moving on to FX…

FX is also losing many of its standout dramas with Sons of Anarchy and Justified (a personal favorite) ending.

Fargo is their big dramatic series now, also working as a black comedy. It was promoted as an anthology series, but I expect to see some of Season 1’s characters show up in Season 2.

Archer is an animated spy series comedy that just builds on itself to such an extent that it feels like the whole show has become a series of inside jokes, which is fantastic for its fans that have been with it since the beginning. The voice-acting and jokes are tops (and often insane).

Louie is a comedy series from Louis C.K. that often feels like a drama and seems to resonate on a much deeper level than one would ever expect. Yes it is funny, but more so it is thoughtful and shows us life as it is (which is something that seems to be strangely missing from TV dramas).

Moving on to Masterpiece Theatre…

Sherlock is returning in 2015 with a Christmas Special, and Season 4 in 2016. I cannot wait.

Downton Abbey, everyone’s favorite period soap opera, is ending with Season 6, which will give Julian Fellows the ability to do almost anything with his characters, which should make for great television.

Wolf Hall tells the same story as The Tudors. You could just watch that, but Wolf Hall tells it so well and has such a great cast that it is well worth visiting the exploits of King Henry VIII yet again.

Moving on to NBC…

Hannibal is the only network series on this list. It is also one of the five best series in any format. It is incredibly stylish, well-acted and features wonderful writing and directing. I think it is the best iteration of the characters so far.

And finally, moving on to the Sundance Channel…

Rectify is a slow burn character. It is the opposite of most TV series. It asks you to invest in its characters as it slowly builds the tension without giving you much action or twists or soap operay moments (House of Cards should take notes, as it has delved into full on soap opera theatrics).

There you have it. The 25 TV Series that I think are the best currently on TV for the 2015-2016 season.

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