Top 10 TV Shows of 2015

My favorite television shows of this year, of which I watched more than any other year. Shout outs to The Genius (a Korean reality show that is brilliant, but I didn’t have time to catch up with completely) and to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (a musical comedy that showed half of its first season in 2015,  but will continue into 2016, thus disqualifying it.)

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10. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 1)

I have many well documented opinions about this show, which I found fairly uneven, but also so enjoyable. I can’t help but think the show will only grow, making use of its Netflix freedom and the wonderful cast of characters it’s created. Titus’ “Pinot Noir” and rendition of “I’ll Make Love to You” at a funeral might be the two funniest moments of television all year.

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9. Fresh off the Boat (Season 1)

Another show that is fairly uneven, but is elevated by how likable every character is, plus Constance Wu’s Jessica Huang is probably the best new character on television. It’s a show with a unique perspective (literally only the second show to star an Asian-American as a lead ever) and it’s definitely worth the watch.

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8. Nathan for You (Season 3)

I’ve went through all three seasons of Nathan for You in the last month, so forgive me if I’m incapable of differentiating the three, but Nathan Fielder’s comedy spoof on business reality shows is both a brilliant sort of cringe comedy and a commentary on capitalism. Season 3 showed Nathan continuing brilliant ideas (Best Buy return policy, being a hero, weight loss through a moving company) and continued to mock viral media.

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7. Master of None (Season 1)

Aziz Ansari turned into an auteur this year with a show about all of the ideas that interest him. It’s definitely a product of the 21st century and could almost be given as a primer to adults who don’t understand those in their 20s. Ultimately though, Master of None, succeeds because of Ansari’s charm and the amount of heart he puts into each character’s story arc.

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6. Review (Season 2)

Review is premised off of a man reviewing everyday life via audience suggestions for a tv show. In actuality it’s an absolute farce, with Forrest MacNeil ruining his life episode by episode because of his commitment to following through with each review (the episode where he reviews giving something 6 stars is particularly hilarious). For being such a ridiculous show it actually is quite dark, like watching Job inflict himself with the punishments of God.

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5. Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chances

The season was really great, my favorite all-stars season ever (I’m also not the hugest Heroes vs. Villains fan), but what really made it was all the hype leading into it. For the first time ever Survivor allowed fans to vote in returning players–this lead to a barrage of campaigning and pre-gaming like has never taken place before. When the cast was announced at the Worlds Apart finale, it was torture knowing that each and every day the players you voted for were out playing Survivor. When we finally saw the product it was worth it, with some of the most fluid and impassioned gameplay in the show’s 31 seasons.

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4. The Americans (Season 3)

One of these days The Americans will be my number one show (it’s finished 2nd twice and now 4th), but it’s a consistent show for its intense spy games and the layers of relationships it creates whether they be familial, friend, or work. This season saw Clark and Martha more strained than ever, Paige going to a whole new character level, and all sorts of new vulnerability across all the leads.

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3. Fargo (Season 2)

Some people have hailed this as better than season 1, I’m not sure I agree (it was my favorite last year), but boy is this the most inventive show out there. It’s an anthology series so there were little ties to the first season (the connections that were there, played out brilliantly), but thematically all of the same ties are there–the fight for good in an evil world and the corruptibility of humanity when given the chance.

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2. Show Me a Hero

David Simon (creator of The Wire) brought a new mini-series to HBO about low-income houses getting brought into the suburbs of New York and the resulting political ramifications. Like Simon’s past work the show is complex, following a multitude of characters and how the placement of low-income housing affects each of their lives. If you know The Wire, you’ll know exactly how this turns out and Simon is a master of creating stories out of deep political and socioeconomic divides.

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1. Parks and Recreation (Season 7)

I mentioned that this was my favorite tv show of all time on the best episodes list and this year they put out one of their best seasons. It’s an encore that highlights each of its characters best qualities, making every episode feel like an event. It’s an emotional roller coaster that ends a great series just about better than any other show.

Honorable Mentions: Veep (Season 4), Community (Season 6), Bloodline

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2015

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10. Fargo – “Did You do This? No You Did it”

All of the Fargo episodes are fantastically edited and feature unique sequences that are quite memorable, but each episode’s main content is fairly similar, meaning any episode could be in this spot. This one makes the top 10 because the end of it truly shocked me like very little does in television.

9. The Last Man on Earth – “Alive in Tucson”

A unique sitcom that eventually grew tiresome, The Last Man on Earth‘s pilot featured a solo Will Forte making his way around the earth like Will Smith in I Am Legend if Will Smith’s character had been a Judd Apatow-esque slacker. It left the audience wondering just how long its creators would try to pull this off (answer: not long enough).

8. Nathan For You – “Smokers Allowed”

Nathan For You episodes either rely on people’s reactions to his awkward questions and suggestions or the strange experimentations he comes up with. This one starts with the former (getting a bar owner to change her bar into a theater so they can exploit the theater loophole that allows smoking), but changes to the latter (hiring actors to reenact the “performance” that took place word for word and action for action and getting people to pay to watch it).

7. Show Me a Hero – “Part One”

David Simon’s mini-series is the most David Simon series possible, a political drama taking on the addition of low-income housing into the city of Yonkers and all of its consequent repercussions. Episode one sets us right into the action, portraying all of the sides, investing us into the lives of the characters, and scanning through the important events of the story.

6. Togetherness – “Family Day”

“Family Day” begins with a family of four planning a day to the beach and ends with two of those four plus a best friend and sister sitting in a van drinking cheap wine. It’s the best of Togetherness, setting the tone of a show that views marriage, family, and life through a lens of joyful melancholy.

5. The Americans – “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”

I almost picked “Walter Taffet” here for its brilliant use of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, but I was forced to pick “Electric Sheep” due to how uncanny an episode this was for The Americans. The episode takes place with Phillip and Elizabeth on a mission, but instead of hurrying it along, it spends the episode’s length there, allowing us to experience it moment by moment. When someone unexpected shows up, we are forced to truly confront how we feel about these characters and just how much their allegiance to what they do motivates their every action.

4. Review – “Cult; Perfect Body”

Note by note a perfect picture of what Review is all about. “Cult; Perfect Body” has Forrest review both those things, building one on top of the other as he builds a very successful cult, then loses it only to show back up with his “perfect body” culminating in an all out war, the loss of another girlfriend, and forcing his dad to once again change living facilities.

3. Parks and Recreation – “One Last Ride”

The finale to Parks and Rec may have forecast utopian bliss for each of its characters, but it really was the ending we all deserved. This show is probably my favorite comedy of all time and here it reminds you that its heart was always as big as the laughs it gave.

2 . Master of None – “Mornings”

Master of None’s weakest moments were scenes of characters walking or talking at a bar, seemingly reading straight from the script rather than acting out those scenes. “Mornings” is the antithesis of that, a montage of  mornings between the recently cohabitated Dev and Rachel. It showcases the joys and struggles of living alongside someone you love in a way that touches the cinematic.

1. Parks and Recreation – “Ron and Leslie”

Earlier this year I named this my favorite Parks episode of all time and considering I consider it one of the best shows, it’s only fitting it ends up here. “Ron and Leslie” takes what is perhaps the show’s most important relationship, estranges it, and then literally forces them in a room together to work out their differences. Ron and Leslie were always in opposition and it only makes sense that this would one day lead to some sort of falling out, considering just how stubborn each was. The way it has them come to resolution will have you believing in the power of friendship like no other piece of culture could. Grab your tissues.

Honorable mentions: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – “Kimmy Goes on a Date”; The Americans – “Walter Taffet”; Fresh Off the Boat – “So Chineez”

Pop Culture This Week: 7/27

What’s happening this week in popular culture! Read last week’s here.

MUSIC:

Titus Andronicus “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”

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The punk group comes out with their fourth album this week, again taking a genre known for its simplistic chord progressions and rapid paced songs and evolving it to its most literary and sprawling. For those who thought their third record “Local Business” was too short at 49 minutes, “Tragedy” comes in at over 90 across its 29 tracks–a full blown rock opera. Sure to be filled with hooks, liturgical-like rhythms, and plenty of musical interludes, it’s worth checking out for those who enjoy punk rockers inspired by Shakespeare.

Migos “Yung Rich Nation”

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The rap group’s first official album (though at this point can we just accept mixtapes as albums? I mean c’mon) promises to feature more of their weird brand of auto-tune heavy hip-hop.

Lianne La Havas “Blood”

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The sophomore album from the British singer-songwriter–this one looks to be a departure from the confines of the acoustic guitar–with her experimenting in other genres. The couple songs I have heard are pretty chill, with funky jazz musical influences ripe for any coffee shop, without ever devolving into cliche.

Others: CFCF “Radiance and Submissions”

MOVIES:

The End of the Tour

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Based on a true story, Jesse Eisenberg plays a reporter sent to interview and spend time with author David Foster Wallace. Early reviews are good, but there has been a little bit of backlash as to how this movie and the wider culture views Wallace’s legacy (he committed suicide at the age of 46). Jason Segel stars as Wallace and hopefully the movie will have interesting things to say and isn’t a sappy tribute, either way Wallace is a GOAT writer so at the very least it should get people checking out his great work. (GQ–lovely cultural curator that they are–has some pretty accessible suggestions of what to read before you see the film here)

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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I’m beginning to develop a theory about these action movie sequels that have been appearing to great reviews lately. As a culture we have become more accepting of the fun parts of action films; when movies meet these tropes–adding great action set pieces along the way–we now see them as great pieces of filmmaking even if they aren’t necessarily breaking ground artistically. The latter Fast & Furious movies are prime examples with almost every film climbing up in Rotten Tomatoes percentage. Similarly, almost every Mission: Impossible film has grown in this percentage (in chronological order: 61 to 57 to 70 to 93 to Rogue Nation at 96% during this writing) and though it could be that both of these franchises have gotten better over time, it could also be that the originals were underrated because they were seen as low-brow entertainment. Die Hard is now a straight-up classic and it’s no longer critical career suicide to declare action films as some of the best of the year. It’s clear now that the combination of charismatic leads with wild set pieces is a formula that not only works well to get people to see your film, but that it actually makes good movies.

Best of Enemies

A documentary showcasing debates that took place in the late 60s on ABC between representatives of the political right and left. It’s the first time this sort of debate took place on a national level and the movie will no doubt present this as the foreground of the way we currently squabble over politics today in our very partisan and segregated camps.

Vacation

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Your favorite traveling family is rebooted and they are headed back to Wally World! There’s very little chance a Vacation reboot will work, but I suppose there is a chance…

That Sugar Film

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Super Size Me but with sugar because our dietary fears change every ten years or so apparently.

Listen to Me Marlon; A Lego Brickumentary; I Am Chris Farley

A trio of documentaries about very specific subjects (Marlon Brando, Legos, and Chris Farley) that will likely please fans of each.

Others: Five Star; The Kindergarten Teacher

TELEVISION

7/30

Review (Comedy Central)

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One of last year’s funniest (and craziest) shows returns to Comedy Central, starring Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil. It’s a show that is willing to take its characters as far as it needs to in order to get you to laugh. Forrest stars as a TV host for a program where viewers give him suggestions of things to review. The things that Forrest ends up reviewing aren’t run-of-the-mill, leading him to doing things like heroine, be a racist, and try to seduce Ashley Tisdale. The show refuses to separate Forrest’s home life from the his actions on the show and subsequently each of his reviews have in-life consequences, taking the show to very dark and unexpected places. If this sounds like your brand of comedy, check it out.

7/31

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix)

I previously wrote about this show two weeks ago, mistakenly. If you didn’t see that or need a reminder, here it is again: For the uninformed, back in 2001 Michael Showalter, David Wain and a bunch of their friends released a parody of a summer camp movie that was a complete flop. However, over the last decade, as its stars have gone on to be in just about every comedic thing out there, the film has taken off and has been recognized as a really great comedy. I just watched it a couple weeks ago for the second time and it is really funny. If that doesn’t convince you to see it and then watch this, then perhaps its original cast will: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofolo, Molly Shannon, David Hyde Pierce, Ken Marino, Joe lo Truglio, Judah Friedlander, etc… On top of this, the eight episode prequel will feature guest spots from: Jon Hamm, Jason Schwartzman, Kristen Wiig, Chris Pine, Randall Park, Paul Scheer, Lake Bell, Josh Charles, Rob Huebel, Weird Al, Michael Cera, etc… Don’t miss out.

Descendants (Disney)

This may be a strange pick, but it’s one that peaks my interest. It’s a Disney Channel original movie sparked by our obsession of seeing all our favorite characters collaborate together (really though, look at this list at how often this is happening now: Avengers–and the whole Marvel universe–, Suicide Squad, Batman vs. Superman, The Lego Movie, Wreck-it Ralph, Pixels and the two properties that likely very specifically inspired this: Once Upon a Time and children’s book series The Kingdom Keepers). This musical follows the son of Beast and Belle as he allows the children of Disney villains (such as Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, Jafar, and the Evil Queen) to come off the island they are imprisoned on and attend school with the rest of the heroes. The movie seems to follow the villains as the protagonists and will likely feature a lot of tension between their new freedom and the parental expectation of being villainous. The tone feels like teen Disney kitsch, but Kenny Ortega of High School Musical fame directs and apparently he was the one who made the decision to turn it into a musical, and hey why not?

OOPS I MISSED THIS LAST WEEK:

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Well I didn’t really miss it, but Wilco surprised us all with an album, it’s called Star Wars

Future “Dirty Sprite 2”

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It was a little confusing as to when this actually was coming out, but Future released an “official” album this week (as compared to the two other mixtapes he’s already released this year). I haven’t listened to it yet, but the mixtapes are really good and this record has gotten great reviews.

CURRENT JAM

Kurt Vile “Pretty Pimpin'”

This new track from his upcoming album is soooooo chill man.

Podcast Review: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim

I’m going to start trying to write more reviews of the things that I consume. My first one, albeit a strange medium to review (Ira Glass just tweeted about this), is going to be a podcast review. I listen to over 25 podcasts on the regular and rarely have the time to consume any more, but find myself consistently browsing the iTunes podcast section. Last week as I was browsing, I came across one titled Good Muslim, Bad Muslim and decided to give it a listen. Here are my thoughts on it:

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim is hosted by two comedians: Tanzila ‘Taz’ Ahmed and Zahra Noorbakhsh, both women who grew up in the United States as Muslims, but feel varying degrees of connection to the religious practice today. However, they remain strongly connected to their families and culture from which their religion is inextricably tied, even if their personal practice has dwindled over time.

The title refers to this idea that, as Ahmed and Noorbaksh explain, there are varying expectations thrown around as a Muslim from both inside and outside the Muslim community. To be a good Muslim according to Muslims has to do with following the guidelines set by the religion, but to those outside the religion a good Muslim may be someone who doesn’t hold onto what they see to be strict guidelines and rigid belief. This is the world that many third culture kids have to inhabit, that of their parents who bring in expectations from their own worlds and of their new friends who are from a different culture, experiencing their own youthful rebellion and world exploration.

Not only is this tension a fascinating one, but the hosts explore it with great humor and wit. The show is more of a comedy podcast than a cultural or religious one–each revelatory point is met with funny anecdotes that allow it to flow from topic to topic. This ability to make fun of people on both sides allows any outsider (like me) to enter in, understand, and perhaps relate to their lives.

I found myself–raised an Evangelical Christian and still a practicing one–relating a lot to their world. Though I wasn’t raised in an outside culture, Evangelicalism is known to create its own separate way of viewing the world, one that can be quite at odds with what popular culture is doing, even with American culture’s ties to Christianity. There lies a tension–easier than being a Muslim in America I’m sure–to either be a ‘cool’ Christian, one who constantly says “I’m a Christian, but I’m not like those other Christians”, or to lean the other direction toward a more fundamentalist rigidity.

There’s an incredible cognitive dissonance required to walk through the world like this. Respecting the authority of your parents and their religion (who tell you to reject those who tell you your beliefs are wrong) and your peers on the outside (who may not tell you to reject it, but have no understanding as to why you should live that way). Good Muslim, Bad Muslim reaches right at the center of this, doing so with humor and empathy, shedding a light on globalized America.

(Oh I didn’t mention that they talk about Serial a bunch, giving the perspective from someone raised by immigrant Muslim parents–like Adnan–presenting, perhaps, an entirely different way of thinking about the show.)