The State of the Art: Television 2015

I should never have tempted Fate. Last year, I was grousing because it was tough to choose my top five when it came to television. There were plenty of good shows to choose from, but even some of my favorites were still in the B-range of grades. This year? I gave A-range grades to ten shows. How on Earth am I supposed to pick a top five now?

I'm pretty stingy when it comes to the A-range, so it must have been an absolutely incredible year for TV. Television is an embarrassment of riches right now, and it doesn't show any signs of abating as the entertainment genre to beat when it comes to quality. Step up your game, movies! And all this wonderful programming is just the shows I got to - people are falling all over themselves to talk about things like The Americans and Fargo, which I haven't gotten around to starting yet.

So, it looks like my queue will be filled for a long time to come. In the meantime, let's check out the shows that blew me away in 2015!

#1: The Great British Baking Show - Seasons 1 & 2

It looks like non-fiction rules for the second year in a row. Nothing but The Great British Baking Show could possibly aspire to top my list. It's essentially the perfect show, even if it is a reality competition. The judges are fair. The hosts are engaging. The contestants are the kindest people you could ever hope to meet. The challenges are well-designed. The food photography is second to none. It's fun to talk about with other fans. It's a warm, friendly, exciting show, and gives fascinating insight into the history and culture of British baked goods. I'm usually pretty good at nitpicking tiny imperfections in shows - even the ones I love - but in the case of The Great British Baking Show, I wouldn't change a thing.

#2: BoJack Horseman - Season 2

I was completely unprepared for this one. Season 1 of BoJack Horseman was fine, but nothing to get too giddy over. It was good enough to check out Season 2, though, and thank God I did. It's amazing how much television has changed in the recent past, because can you imagine trying to describe this to someone even ten years ago? "So, it's a cartoon, set in a universe where anthropomorphized animals and humans co-exist, and it winds up being one of the cleverest, most heartfelt, sharply-written depictions of depression on the air. And it tackles some of the thorniest social issues of the day. But it also features two kids in a trenchcoat wooing a cat who thinks she's being romanced by an adult." You'd get a lot of blank stares before they carted you off to the madhouse. It is intensely difficult to blend good comedy and good tragedy into a single work, and somehow, BoJack Horseman did it seamlessly this year. You could easily go from a belly laugh to a gut punch within a single episode, and I can't think of a single other show that's so successful in wildly varying its tone.

#3: Parks and Recreation - Season 7

C'mon, how could I not? It can be very difficult for a show to stick the landing, but Parks & Rec carried it off without a hitch. Jumping a few years into the future had all sorts of benefits, from the jokes at future tech to being able to jump over the triplets' babyhood completely. Whew. As always, though, where the show really shined is in the relationships between its characters. In the final season, we find Leslie and Ron at odds with each other, and exploring why that is, along with how they repair their friendship, was masterfully done. Parks & Rec never lost its sense of humor, even when tugging hard on the heartstrings. Its characters move on: They get married, they leave for other cities, and they pass away, but at the end, it puts a smile on your face as well as some tears.

#4: Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Season 2

Where Parks & Rec excelled at hitting me in the heart, Brooklyn Nine-Nine concentrates solely on the funny bone. Far and away the best workplace comedy in recent memory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine makes excellent use of its ensemble. Everyone plays off each other perfectly, and I liked that far from being bumbling incompetents, the precinct detectives are actually capable cops. The addition of Kyra Sedgwick as Captain Holt's nemesis added another layer to his deadpan hilarity, and she was but one of several guest stars who knocked it out of the park. Really, the best way to gauge a comedy is how much it make it makes me laugh, and when you're guaranteed two good belly laughs per episode, you know you've got a winner on your hands.

#5: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 1

This is the only truly "new" show in my top five, but there's no way I couldn't include it. When I first started watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, my intention was to watch one or two episodes a day, so that I could draw out the experience. Nope, didn't happen; I shotgunned the whole season in two sittings. Brooklyn Nine-Nine mines comedy out of realistic situations, while Kimmy Schmidt goes straight for the absurd. It never lets up on the jokes, and a great majority of them were flawless. Quotes from this season have already infiltrated my daily speech, and though it's the last of my top five, it's the show for which I'm most looking forward to new episodes. Season 1 may have somewhat run out of steam towards the end (witness my comment about difficulty in sticking the landing up there in the Parks & Rec entry), but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is reliably hilarious, and has the catching theme song I've heard in my entire life.

Honorable Mentions

Normally, I'd just lay out my top five, but as I said, there were five others that also got at least an A- this year, so it seems a shame not to mention them. I'd highly recommend all of them!

Steven Universe - Season 1: Ineligible, since it didn't air this year, but a remarkable show that actively made me cry a few times, despite it being a good-natured, silly cartoon.

Black-ish - Season 1: Ineligible, since it's already mentioned in the Best of 2014 post. I wrapped up with it this year, though, and it remains one of my favorite shows on the air. Season 2 is already proving that there's no sophomore slump in the offing for this one.

Sense8 - Season 1: An extremely fascinating show that took its time to develop a backstory, and managed to make eight wildly disparate characters equally interesting.

Scrotal Recall - Season 1: A terrific show with a terrible title. Romantic comedies are often silly to the point of being stupid, but this one is firmly grounded in real human motivations.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day at Camp - Season 1: Made me laugh a billion times. What more could I ask for?


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