It is quite a comment on the quality of television at the moment that this review features so many shows both old and new, free to air and pay to view. The list is so long it may also mean the reviewer needs to get a life, especially as this list is not exhaustive, barely scratches comedy, and ignores documentaries. I need to eat, sleep and work as well, but the screen keeps calling me. TV is the new rock and roll…
Luckily for you my early-rising insomnia means I get to watch the stuff you won’t have to. Here is my selection you won’t regret spending hours of your life catching up on. Any one could have a paragraph to itself. As it is I will have to limit myself to 10 from each category, (with a little cheating).
NEW IN 2015
The year network audiences switched off
Audiences were historically low for all the new launches on the traditional networks, with none of the newcomers capturing the metrics of last season’s hit, the clunky and conventional ‘Empire’. But what treats were in store nonetheless.
Seditious, seductive, scintillating, with a bravura performance by the new Anthony Perkins, Rami Malek who ensured you just could not take your eyes off him as underground resistance hackers of global capitalism sucked him out of his
addicted introversion into something much, much darker.
An airless pall of utter despair with those who fall foul of crime hangs over every single second of this series. It shares the intensity of the first ‘True Detective’ but like “Breaking Bad” examines every explosion in the chain reaction that can be set off with one act. Felicity Huffman is jaw-droppingly good.
A Franco-British produced gem centred around a French crime scene cleaner married to Miranda Raison and living in London with their children. Then his larger-than-life brother reappears and all hell breaks loose. Funny yet filled with menace and great moral dilemmas and with great little performances from the children, too.
The BBC pulled the stops out for this and ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell’
and managed to lose little of the literary originals’ brilliance. Mini-series both, so they share an entry in this list, but still absolute nail-on evening viewing you would set your phone alarm to remind you not to miss. The BBC ended the year strongly, too, with ‘London Spy’.
Delicious addition to the zombie canon with Rose McIver chomping and charming her way through Seattle’s plague of zombies as a medical examiner struggling to come to terms with becoming a zombie, losing her boyfriend, keeping her terrible secret, and fighting crime. Funny and genuinely touching, it’s lighter fare than the previous picks, but great entertainment.
The Wachowski brothers are given free range for their ambitions and hours of television time to conjure a beguiling vision of an extra-sensory future. Sense8 features the pair’s usual tropes, and gives them enough room to properly develop their ensemble cast beyond the cyphers that have populated their cinema outings. Visually stunning.
The tiresome Hollywood fascination with the world of Marvel superheroes continued its march into TV, but turned up two nuggets in this and ‘Jessica Jones’. Charlie Cox gave a knockout turn as the blind crimefighter, everything looked great and tension and atmosphere built to a satisfying climax promising more thrills from season 2. Despite being about a fantasy masked man, what came across was the sobriety of it all.
Loosely based on the events around Charles Manson’s ‘family’ in hippy-dippy civil rights and Vietnam-stressed California, it caught the tone and the madness of the time and had David Duchovny’s star power as the police officer caught between two eras; too young to be the establishment, too old to be groovy. It looks and sounds great, too.
Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll
Denis Leary runs riot in a half-hour comedy vehicle where he gets to play an ageing might-have-been legend devoted to excess, his girlfriend, and his newly-discovered daughter who wants to follow in his footsteps without the *uckups. Leary’s music is awful
but the comedy is rich and as accurate as anything about the lifestyle as anything previously on-screen.
Better Call Saul
The last in this list of 10 but by no means the least, Bob Odenkirk takes his BB character
and fleshes out Saul the corrupt lawyer, showing his backstory struggle to make it without bending the rules while fools cheat, succeed, and get ahead all around him, and he is betrayed or let down by the few people close to him.
For reasons of lack of space these don’t get a paragraph, but boy, were they good, too!
The Last Kingdom
The Man in the High Castle
Show me a hero
Flesh and Bone
Or going out with a bang…
2015 saw the end of great shows like ‘Justified’, ‘Hannibal’, and the one-season and charming ‘Forever’, but there is still a host of other heavy-hitters around who intend to be with us for at least another series.
This was stunningly concluded by NBC, who stuck by it despite poor ratings, realising that that they had something rare and incredibly precious on their hands. Cannibalism has never been cooler, and ‘Hannibal’ went beyond the TV format, sometimes abandoning all convention simply to glory in tableaux of form and colour, becoming a work of art. I kid you not.
Thrillingly the KGB sleeper couple are now being demanded by Moscow to initiate their children into working for the Soviets while they remain just one step away from discovery yet continue to slip through the net the CIA is desperately trying to throw over them. How long can their loyalties survive in this terrific cold-war thriller set in Reagan’s America?
American Horror Story – Hotel
After the series lost its mojo somewhat season 5 checked in at the Cortez Hotel where Lady Gaga, in a role she was born to play, is the Countess staying young and beautiful on the blood of guests. The decors are gut-turningly lavish and the cast of freaks and fragmented souls mesh in a giddying exercise in style, grande guignol, blood and body fluids. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…
Returned strongly for its latest season revealing more about the clones’ backstory, introducing new characters and plotlines as the complex sci-fi thriller continued to satisfy and Tatiana Maslany developed her multiple roles with aplomb. High time she won an actress award for her work on this show.
The Sean Bean vehicle entered Bourne territory for season two, dropping the separate story format for a 10-episode arc as the undercover agent tries to find out who he is and save his adopted daughter while staying one step ahead of the intelligence agencies who want him jailed. Staying in one character maybe gives Bean less to do, but he does what he does magnificently.
Stephen Soderbergh’s hospital drama set at the dawn of the 20th century continues to be one of the most absorbing watches on TV. Clive Owen struggles with his demons as he tries to save lives and make surgery safer, but continues to lose as many patients as he saves. Strong on character development, mordant humour and moments of the bleakest tragedy, this is TV for grown-ups.
French TV is pretty rubbish as cinema gobbles up all the talent there, but this long-running series from the state broadcaster is one of the best anywhere, examining every aspect of the criminal justice system and how it is undermined by human frailty, ambition, politics and in-fighting. Somehow more real than most of its competitors, and often more shocking despite a lower body count.
One of the slickest series of the bunch, Ray is continually submerged in the cesspit of Hollywood Babylon while trying to do the right thing by his family as he is destroyed by the compromises he has to make to help his clients escape the justice they so often richly deserve. Liev Schrieber owns this gig and is making an icon out of it.
It is still pretty preposterous but Banshee remains crack cocaine for the senses. It briefly threatened to become a fighting and *ucking show, but its action sequences have never stopped trying to outdo themselves and in the penultimate season reached new heights. One fight scene in, around, over, under and through a Rolls Royce would have been worthy of any Bond movie and deserves to become a classic of its kind.
Carries on building on the Cohen’s mythical imagining of people up to no good in the heart of the American wilderness, the mid-western monotony of life shattered by organised crime, everyday stupidity…and aliens. Happy to throw itself in all directions and step back to admire the chaos as the forces of law and order try to make sense of it all.
The narrative structure of multiple, overlapping viewpoints remains one of the strongest features of this drama, and now intrigue has been introduced with the upcoming murder trial series 2 is if anything even stronger than series 1. Dominic West has raised his game but it is still the women who steal the show.
How can I leave these out? There is no justice, but choices have to be made. Watch them anyway.
Person of Interest
Halt and catch fire
Masters of Sex
Hell on Wheels