2015 was an incredible year for television, particularly due to the growing emphasis on 'television' no longer meaning the medium with which we watch on, but rather the content itself, which can now be accessed on an incredible array of digital platforms. Despite the ever-growing number of options I had to pick from, my choices for a top 10 list were not all that hard to produce. I stuck with what I loved this year. And what I loved was strong female characters (as cringe worthy an expression as that is) and smart, well written dialogue that doesn't remind you that you are watching a fake room on a big set with multiple cameras. I've particularly loved shows that were built on terms of endearment and sincerity and which work towards creating a better looking contemporary television landscape.
I have to be honest though, I watch a lot of television, but I don't watch it all. Because of this, I have to admit there is a HEAP of great television that has not made it on to this list. The latest season of Game of Thrones, Narcos, Better Call Saul, season 2 of Fargo and the final season of Mad Men (along with all the seasons that preceded it) are just some of the television shows I need to catch up on. Unfortunately, with another television season always looming, it seems I will only ever fall further and further behind in this ongoing battle.
But for now, here are 10 reasons that I loved television in 2015...
10. Parks and Recreation, Season 7
The final season of Parks and Recreation that aired earlier this year was the show's well deserved victory lap. Seven seasons of hard work and dedication from everyone involved culminated in a season that was equally an ode to the cast and crew, as much as it was made for the fans, and that's just what the fans would want. It seems as though Parks and Rec never received the ratings it deserved but I can only hope that now a series box-set is available, more and more people with become acquainted with the people of Pawnee. Centred upon the small town's local government Parks and Recreation department, it was this group of people who were so incredibly earnest, heartfelt, funny, sweet and tremendously endearing, that gave the show its heart right until the end. With its cult like following, Parks and Recreation has undeniably impacted the pop culture landscape of the twenty-first century ("Treat yo self!" anyone?). Few shows go out at the top of their game, but Parks and Recreation's masterful final season allowed it to do just that. As wonderful an ending as it was, however, it hasn't made the goodbye any easier. Bye, Bye, Li'l Sebastian, and the rest of you in Pawnee.
9. The Jinx, Season 1
Following on from This American Life's unexpected podcast phenomenon Serial, an addiction that took the world by storm in late 2014, HBO's brilliant 2015 docuseries The Jinx nailed true crime television better than anything that came before it. While the story of accused-but-never-convicted murderer, wealthy real estate heir Robert Durst, can all be found online with a plethora of newspaper stories documenting the case, Andrew Jarecki's incredible six-part series is more engrossing than any late night Wikipedia rabbit hole ever could be. There have been plenty of true crime documentaries, but this one stood out from the beginning, with its detailed revisiting of the unsolved disappearance of Durst's wife, the execution-style killing of his friend, and the death and dismemberment of his neighbour. Then, when it became clear that Mr. Durst was a willing participant in the series' making - much like the accused, Adnan Syed in Serial - the show found a unique place in the docuseries world. Jarecki's storytelling was chillingly empathetic, painting a portrait of a man who you realise probably committed these crimes but still reads as the slightly crazy old man next door (in his huge mansion, obviously). As put so well by Neil Genzlinger: "lots of documentaries illuminate something in the news, but not many become the news."
8. Difficult People, Season 1
Hulu's Difficult People is the most undeserving show to fail to receive critical recognition this year. Starring creator Julie Klausner alongside Billy Eichner (better known as Billy On the Street) as two thirtysomething friends trying and repeatedly failing to make a living in comedy, the show has a specificity and awareness of its world as evident through the seemingly effortlessness of Klausner's writing. Whether Billy and Julie are bemoaning "participators" (those who are all too eager to be an audience volunteer) or mercilessly critiquing child actors, there's a repeatedly engaging repartee to all their interactions. The show is self-aware enough to ask viewers to laugh at Billy and Julie as much as with them. At its best Difficult People finds just enough heart - particularly in its loving central friendship - to balance out all the snark.
7. The Knick, Season 2
What makes Steven Soderbergh's The Knick so special is that it can transport the viewer to the turn of the twentieth century without so much of the fakeness that most period dramas possess. Most period dramas, particularly those of the Downton Abbey persuasion tend to remake the past into something gorgeous and aspirational. The Knick instead gives us the uncomfortable truths about life in New York back then, with all its grime, racism, illness, and poverty. The character study of Clive Owen's drug-addicted surgeon John Thackery is essential to what makes the show so immensely engrossing. Season two explores issues relating to immigration, race relations, abortion and political corruption, and still manages to find modern resonance. Soderbergh's style, made up of the eccentric combination of electronic music and horse-drawn carriages makes it among the weirdest watchings on TV, but culminates to produce a level of previously unreached cinematic triumph on the small screen.
6. Comedy Central Duo: Broad City, Season 2 and Inside Amy Schumer, Season 3
Can I get a "Yas kween" for Broad City's Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer? Revolving around two of the most bad-ass broads living New York, week in and week out audiences continue to fall in love with their antics. Whether they're living the dare-dayumn lifestyle or being concerned about the environment: "Reduce, reuse, recycle, Rihanna" Broad City's wildly infectious energy, inventive spirit and 'anything goes' attitude is invigorating. Very few TV shows depict female friendship at all, let alone well, but this gem is on a mission to correct that imbalance. That this show has rejected TV's standard female stereotypes to portray a pair of wonderfully original characters just makes this show even more essential viewing.
Combine this with Amy Schumer's addictive sketch comedy Inside Amy Schumer and Comedy Central is surprisingly almost the pinnacle of where television should be heading. Now in its third season, this year's batch of Inside Amy Schumer episodes stood far above those that preceded it. Like the Broad City gals, Schumer took the tired female stereotypes that have long pervaded comedy, and submitted them to fierce satire. The epitome of these episodes was the episode-long black and white spoof of the film "12 Angry Men" in which 12 angry - and absurd - men debate whether or not Schumer is hot enough to be on television. Accompanying this are gems like the Emmy award winning song "Girl You Don't Need Make Up," the unforgettable "Last Fuckable Day" sketch with Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette commenting on ageism in Hollywood, and the Friday Night Lights-themed "Don't Rape" speech. Audiences were continually confronted with a show that had a lot to say while making them laugh uncontrollably.
5. Master of None, Season 1
It took me a little while to get into this one but I felt so silly for not immediately jumping on the bandwagon when I started to bingewatch from episode four. One of the most genuine and brutally honest comedies of the year, there is so much to celebrate about Parks and Recreation alumni Aziz Ansari's Master of None. Ansari stars as an Indian down-on-himself struggling actor in New York who explores everything from modern relationships, gender equality, race relationships, and what it's like to be the child of immigrants (in an episode which guest stars his actual parents!). The show co-written by Ansari and fellow Parks alumni Alan Yang, is sharply funny and while it immediately earned comparisons to Louis C.K.'s own Louis, it stands on its own as a show that pits millennial trivialities against serious truths. An endearing first season of comedy, I can't wait to see where Ansari and Yang's fresh point of view will take us next year.
4. Please Like Me, Season 3
Whilst it does pain me that there isn't more great Australian television to include on this list, having a show as great as Please Like Me now in its third season does almost make up for it. There is so many fantastic things about Josh Thomas' ABC dramedy, which all boil down to its authenticity and heart. It consistently strikes me as honest and insightful to the experiences of the current generation, particularly those living in Australian suburbia, with its bold focus on realistically depicted young relationships and friendships. I've been a fan of Josh Thomas for a while so it was refreshing to finally receive a season where the stories portrayed weren't so similar to the stories he told in his stand up or during his podcasts with best friend and Please Like Me co-star Tom Ward. It truly is 'quality' television with its bold emphasis on broad ranging representations of the people it displays and the issues it discusses. A season, if not a series, highlight was the episode in which Caitlin Stasey's character tactfully - but also beautifully and seemingly much more naturally than most other television depictions, decided to have an abortion. Thomas' writing can't help but make you smile and laugh, a skill so essential when writing about serious issues such as abortion, sexuality and mental illness in such a relatable manner. I only hope it creates a path for more Australian television to be so accessible and relatable to Australian audiences.
3. You're The Worst, Season 2
You're The Worst is the rawest of television rom-coms. Aya Cash's Gretchen and Chris Geere's Jimmy star as a "couple-or-whatever" who share "I don't do feelings" as a way of life. Steven Falk's cult hit hits even harder in its second season, as these two find out each other's dirtiest secrets. Humans are inherently terrible; humans in love even more so, and Gretchen and Jimmy are the epitome of this. Falk's critically beloved but low-rated comedy is deftly written with a very contemporary feel, and season 2 continues to explore the terrifying concept and crazy particulars of romantic comedies and sexual relationships. Where it stood out amongst the plethora of made-for-tv romantic comedies this year was in Falk's decision to explore clinical depression in perhaps the most real depiction on television ever, but still managing to be laugh-out-loud funny. You're The Worst is the sharpest depiction of dissonance in the lives of a certain class of educated, young people that television screens have ever exhibited.
2. The Leftovers, Season 2
The first season was a sombre portrait of a grieving town after two percent of the world's population mysteriously disappears. I was unexpectedly captivated by it and left wondering why for weeks after it finished. When I encountered its second season, however, my unsettling affinity for the show was instead replaced by a previously unfelt satisfaction in the show's mysterious premise as I began to accept its vagueness and ambiguity as its greatest strength. Season two turned out to be riskier, rawer, less reverent, and an infinitely livelier story. Set now in the one place in the world completely untouched by the Sudden Departure, Justin Theroux and the rest of his family move to 'Miracle' only to find that grief has followed them. The stranger it got (that afterlife-as-a-1970s-spy-thriller episode!), the more emotionally accurate it felt. Embracing its ambiguous story beats and emotional turmoil, the show's fantastic cast produced the most magnified personifications of emotions on TV. Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta took banality - "bad things will happen, and you will never know why" - and made it into art.
1. Transparent, Season 2
More so than any other show on my top 10 list this year Transparent is resonant and beautiful and magical and evocative and progressive and wonderful. Jill Soloway's series succeeds like no other in bringing an indie-film approach to serial comedy. Centred upon the Pfeffermans - a Californian family coming to terms wit the revelation that patriarch, Mort Pferfferman (played by the magnificent Jeffrey Tambor), is actually Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman still working through her transition. Season 2 truly went into so much more than 'the trans thing' exploring a whole range of issues surrounding gender, sexuality, family and genetic history. The show ventured into an intensely personal but also far-reaching cultural anthropology, flashing back to Weimar Germany as historical truths of an early trans community work to fuel a contemporary story. As the ever-broader cultural definitions about identity leave most of us dazed and confused, Transparent brings clarity to an often unfairly stigmatising world.
Honourable mentions: Last Man on Earth (Season 2), Orange Is the New Black (Season 3), Life in Pieces (Season 1), Black-ish (Season 1), Billy and Billie (Season 1), Togetherness (Season 1), Girls (Season 4), Marvels Jessica Jones (Season 1), Jane the Virgin (Season 2), Documentary Now! (Season 1), Catastrophe (Season 1).