My head is reeling from perusing the overload of lists by too many popular culture commentators, proclaiming their 10 or 20 best/worst tv series for 2015. Some of these lists I tend to agree with, by and large, while others I wonder what planet they are on. But that isn’t the point here; in the best ‘seeingmeout’ blog tradition over the past several years, I am shamelessly contributing to the overload, boldly placing my television highlights list in the mix, for dialogue, for enjoyment, for serious thought about the delights of a year’s viewing. I will publish my 2015 Best Film list sometime soon.
I now have Netflix, Foxtel and free-to-air television available, along with web/internet fare via the computer. This is definitely overload binge mania potential indeed, although I think my efforts are pretty small scale, compared with some other people’s secret indulgences. This glittering multi-platform flexibility both enriches and muddies my viewing experiences on the small screen. I am also still having some problems with my technological setup here at home. Hence, I think I will need to acquire a new tv set with some more whizzbangery. Hopefully, this will eventuate in the not-too-distant future, if the budget will allow such indulgence, if I can find a willing, non-patronising whizz kid to help me set it all up, if…
THANK YOU TV GOD: SBS & the ABC are still standing, wobbly though they may be
I mainly watch the ABC and SBS on the free-to-air viewing option. The highlights of television drama viewing for me in 2015 on free-to-air, definitely came courtesy of SBS. It is hard to rank these particular gems, but I will try. The ABC drama was not of quite the same overall standard, though I am enjoying the very promising Exile early this year.
Probably the best drama for me was FARGO series 2. This series became better and better as it progressed to its dazzling finale. The delights were manifold: the antics of Kirsten Dunst and her butcher spouse; the grimness of the real villains on both sides engaged in their epic fight to the death; the folksy homespun goodness tinged with tragedy of the lawman and his sweet family, including his father- in-law, played by Ted Danson…
A close second was a very different drama from Denmark called THE LEGACY, concerning the vicissitudes of a family in crisis after their artist matriarch dies. I liked how it was written, acted and directed so flawlessly – the viewer’s sympathies were often twisted around in unexpected ways. I trust that series 2 will be forthcoming very early in the new year.
Next on this sub-list is the US TV police procedural series, BOSCH, based on the Michael Connelly books. As I have read all the Bosch books over many years of dedication, I had my own image of my favourite character Harry Bosch of course. The actor in the central role, Titus Welliver, didn’t really live up to my own image of Harry, although I did warm to Titus more as the series progressed. While the plot lagged a little at times, and the love interest was rather limply handled, the production values were high. The mood was gritty LA noir, although not as darkly existential as the variable but interesting True Detective Season 2.
A very good Australian series was THE PRINCIPAL, with old favourite Alex Dimitriades in the leading role. Like East West 101, this was a standout gritty multicultural drama. I am also anticipating similar high quality in a different way, with The Family Law sitcom series coming up very soon in the new year.
The ABC excelled for me in 2015, particularly in the arena of well-produced shows which struck just the right note – e.g. the engaging Please Like Me, and the witty, satirical fare of Utopia, Gruen, and Sean Micallef’s Mad as Hell. These shows rarely disappointed.
Of course, the news and current affairs offerings from the ABC were largely superlative. My evergreen favourites were Insiders, the 7.30 Report, Four Corners, and the Drum.
Other free-to-air fare
Channel 10 continued to screen the new series of The Good Wife, a legal drama that I enjoy following.
And thank heavens channel Eleven screens The Late Show with Stephen Colbert; I was missing his wonderfully outrageous wit and interviews when The Colbert Report finished on Foxtel during the year. In the new format, he is particularly acidic and insightful on the current presidential race, and has some great guests. While he is rather trapped in that standard late show format that Americans seem to love, he manages to break some of the corny rules and embed his own classy imprint on the genre.
NETFLIX: one free month slipped into a subscription…
On Netflix, fairly recently acquired (the line of least resistance), I find the pressure to binge is not working too well. However I have thus far enjoyed GRACE AND FRANKIE with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson. What a sterling cast for this entertaining and quite moving comedy drama. I am looking forward to Series 2.
Another favourite has been NARCOS. It is hard to beat a ‘true’ story about the Columbian drug cartels in the time of Pablo Escobar and Ronald Reagan. On the downside, the rather highhanded voiceover narrative can be a bit irritating. This patronising device supposedly emphasises the subjective, verisimilitude factor, but can also be used to underline the key points, just in case the viewer is a bit slow in grasping it all. However, overall, I have found Narcos a quite fascinating and gripping drama. I have always been a sucker for mafia-style crime stories, hearkening back to that great Italian series The Octopus (La Piovra) which ran from 1984 – 2001; and of course the superlative HBO series The Sopranos.
RITA has its flaws, yet this is quite an eye-catching Danish series, particularly if you aren’t up to the challenges of more demanding fare all the time. When it comes to tv production, the Danes certainly have class, e.g. Borgen, The Killing, The Bridge. On the other hand, Rita is more melodramatic, more mainstream than those superlative dramas. While each Rita episode isn’t always a stunner, there are some great moments. The key protagonist Rita is a feisty woman teacher in her forties, who has always made a mess of her private life, but is inspirational with her students – pleasant viewing for a rainy afternoon. Also it was heartening to find some non-American international TV programs on the frustratingly limited Netflix suite offered here in Australia.
I also enjoyed LONGMIRE, a police series with a difference. It doesn’t measure up to JUSTIFIED (Foxtel), which is also part cop show, part contemporary Western. While Justified is well written and fastpaced, with the bonus of a gorgeous main protagonist, Longmire moves at a slower pace. However the characters are involving, and while the plot lags at times, this series did engage and earned some pretty high points from me.
I started the British series RIVER about a world-weary detective who sees and engages with dead people. It is worth further exploration, as is BLOODLINES, with Ben Mendelsohn. Time is of the essence here. Again bingeing isn’t quite my thing…
THE FOXTEL SMORGASBORD: SOME 2015 HITS
The most extraordinary television experience overall for me this year was definitely the HBO series THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST. This brilliant documentary series was actually watched by me on the long haul flight from Brisbane to New York. On my return home, I fortunately caught the episodes again on Foxtel, and I was just as captivated the second time. Unmissable.
THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH is also unmissable. It used to be hosted but the extraordinary Jon Stewart, of course, but the handover occurred in 2015 when, much to my dismay, Jon decided to step down. However, the youthful South African seems to be filling the role creditably. Also AMY SCHUMER’S stand up routines, as well as her own comedy series, have been very entertaining. I also didn’t want to miss the new series in 2015 of LOUIS CK. While Louis seemed to be perpetually in crisis, and the series was often quite dark and even difficult to watch, this is still innovative television.
Another enjoyable program I discovered last year on Foxtel channels was the cop show BABYLON, about an American communications hotshot, trying to work on changing the image of the Metropolitan Police in London. Sadly I think this one isn’t continuing into a second series. Meanwhile, I have been enjoying the droll comedy drama THE DETECTORISTS about two bungling guys with their trusty metal detectors looking for mediaeval treasure troves on the fields of England. THE SYNDICATE is another well-crafted British series I have been following, concerning the plight of those who win the lottery and how things don’t always turn out as planned. There is excellent casting on all of these British series.
I also have tuned into the program SCREEN, hosted by Margaret Pomerantz and Graeme Blundell, who review the latest TV and films. They are joined by a bright young internet program reviewer, whose name currently escapes me. Informative and quite enlightening.
The Best Viewing, Spoiling the Best and Failing Memory
And last, but not least, I have to mention MR. ROBOT – a highly recommended American series about computer hacking and capitalist corruption that I started watching compulsively, after an initial resistance to the title. However the problem now is that I ceased watching it rather abruptly, when the program started getting rave reviews on many Best TV of 2015 lists. Much to my horror, one reviewer casually gave away a crucial spoiler, thereby indeed spoiling my viewing pleasure. Subsequently, I can’t really include this in my final list. I will no doubt return to the series, but…
I have sketched here my small screen highlights overall. No doubt I have forgotten some good ones along the way. I find it hard to recall when, for instance, the excellent Broadchurch screened here. Was there a new series in 2015 or am I thinking of the repeat, or the American remake version? I know I shouldn’t let things slip in my viewing / tv research memory, but that is how it is for now. I am starting to think my short-term memory (i.e. second half of 2015) is more functional.
In any case, with all these reservations, I guess my Top 10 ranked list would be:
The Jinx, Fargo, The Daily Show, The Legacy, Bosch, Grace and Frankie, Utopia, Amy Schumer, Please Like Me, The Principal.