(Part one is here.)
@Midnight (Comedy Central) proved to be a compatible web-culture nightcap following Stewart and Colbert; the internet is ridiculous, so why not make a game show out of it? And regardless of how you feel about Chris Hardwick, he’s the perfect ringmaster for this circus.
24: Live Another Day (Fox) brought back Jack Bauer and ended up having what may have been the best overall season of its entire run by trimming down to 12 episodes and keeping the story tight and focused. If that turns out to be the last we see of Jack and Chloe, I’m much more satisfied with how they wrapped things up than I was at the end of season eight.
BoJack Horseman (Netflix) deceptively presented itself as a goofy comedy about a bitter, washed-up sitcom star (who happened to be a horse) and edged into the melancholy (but still very funny) story of his struggle with depression and isolation.
The Bridge (FX) ended up getting canceled after two seasons, but its second did a nice job of enriching the world on both sides of the US-Mexico border, and gave viewers a memorable figure in Franka Potente’s Eleanor Nacht.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) showed there’s still plenty of life in the multi-camera sitcom format when it’s executed well. The ensemble started meshing and clicking pretty early in the first season, allowing B99 to escape the growing pains many shows experience early on, but above all, each time I watch I thank the TV gods that the producers had the sense to cast Andre Braugher as Captain Holt: his deadpan delivery cracks me up every time.
Community (NBC) redeemed itself from its disappointing
gas leak year fourth season only to get kicked in the nuts with cancellation as soon as its fifth season ended, but was “saved” yet again, this time by Yahoo. The loss of Yvette Nicole Brown and a couple of supporting actors raises questions about whether or not it can continue to be the show we’ve loved and how much longer it can keep going, but for now we have our “six seasons” and maybe—fingers crossed—we’ll even get that movie.
Enlisted and Surviving Jack (both on Fox) were a pair of one-and-done comedies that deserved better treatment. Enlisted found humor in its military-base setting while treating its characters with the utmost respect; Surviving Jack was a nostalgic comedy about family life set in the early 1990s that could have been a new generation’s Happy Days, only better than that show ever was.
The Honourable Woman (SundanceTV) wove a tale of deception and intrigue around Maggie Gyllenhaal’s layered and compelling performance as a businesswoman finding it increasingly difficult to do the right thing for either her company or her family.
Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central): I enjoy the show’s blend of interviews, on-the-street segments, sketches, and standup bits. The way Schumer uses her stage persona to skewer attitudes and behavior is particularly incisive, and the sketch writing was some of the sharpest anywhere on TV this past year.
Kroll Show (Comedy Central) took a different approach to a sketch show, creating a gaggle of ridiculous characters and rotating among them, advancing their stories in small increments across the episodes and the whole season. (Its third and final season premieres January 13th.)
Louie (FX) experimented with form and format in its fourth season (one story spanned six episodes, while another, a high-school flashback that didn’t even have Louis CK in it, stretched a single episode to 90 minutes) as it continued to examine the complexities of relationships and the struggle we all face in finding meaningful connections with others.
Manhattan (WGN America) made a character study of the scientists involved in creating the atomic bomb and those in their lives into a tense, moody, and sometimes even sexy period drama (if not exactly a historically accurate one), aided by starkly gorgeous New Mexico filming locations.
Married (FX) presented a rather pessimistic take on relationships and middle age, unafraid to show its characters’ less flattering attributes. Some critics expected this show to be the show that You’re The Worst ended up becoming, but even if it didn’t quite reach that show’s level, it still features a cast doing top-notch work (Judy Greer, Nat Faxon, Jenny Slate, Brett Gelman, and a knockout Paul Reiser practically eclipsing all of them in far less screen time) and has me looking forward to more.
Review (Comedy Central) took viewers by surprise by using the framework of a show about a man who critiques “life experiences” (stealing, being a white supremacist, participating in an orgy) to propel comedy of discomfort to places it had never gone.
There’s some stuff I would have watched if I had access to premium cable, some of which would likely be on the above lists: The Affair; The Knick; Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; Masters of Sex; Penny Dreadful; Silicon Valley; True Detective; Veep.
If I had Amazon Prime, Transparent would almost certainly be on the first list. I watched the first episode during the “rate these pilots” period and was a bit put off by the emotional immaturity of the children, but I was nonetheless intrigued, Jeffrey Tambor was excellent, and I very much want to see the rest of it at some point. I have some issues with Amazon as a corporate entity and try not to buy things from them, but between this and the upcoming Bosch (based on Michael Connelly’s LAPD detective novel series) I may have to break down and spring for the individual shows.
Sleepy Hollow (Fox) squandered most of the good will it earned during its first season by introducing a completely superfluous character, and by making Katrina an unfortunate lump of dead weight. I’m still watching, but it feels like diminishing returns. Extant (CBS) had Halle Berry, great production value, and a suitably eerie premise, yet the resulting show was only a bland sci-fi stew. The Strain (FX) rescued vampires from the sparkly purgatory of Twilight, but committed a far worse sin by turning out to be one of the most boring goddamn shows I watched all year. Halt and Catch Fire (AMC) couldn’t make up its mind what sort of show it wanted to be from one week to the next, and I was genuinely surprised that it got picked up for another season. (Those last three shows were all on during the summer, which made for a couple of months of tedious and frustrating viewing.)
Looking over the lists, I notice that no ABC shows are represented. I think it’s just more of a demographic thing than anything else, as ABC is working at drawing mainly younger female viewers these days and I am neither of those, so I’m not interested in visiting Shondaland or Nashville or the magical kingdom where Once Upon a Time takes place. But I like blackish, and Fresh Off the Boat looks promising, so we’ll see how things turn out next year.
Comedy Central is on fire; in addition to all the sketch shows mentioned above, I’m looking forward to The Nightly Show (premiering January 19th) and Larry Wilmore’s take on news and current events.
Netflix is looking unstoppable (I wish I’d invested in the company a decade ago), with new shows premiering at least once a month. Obviously not all of them are going to be as good as BoJack or OITNB, but since they don’t have to worry about pleasing advertisers, the level of viewership that constitutes a successful show for them is far lower than even a cable channel like TBS or USA, and perhaps most crucially, they have the financial resources to invest in original programming. I imagine there are plenty of network executives who aren’t sleeping so well these days.