I sadly didn't get to make it to the theater very many times in 2015, and for this I am ashamed. I hope to atone for this in 2016, and I'm always looking for movie buddies to assist in my promise.
However, I did watch an amount of television that might border on the unhealthy. I totally blame Netflix for this. I think if "affluenza" can be a mental condition, then so can "flixing." The first step is admitting you have a problem.
Anyways, all I can say is that I love the direction that television has taken. Because it is much easier to do a lot with very little resources, television is mastering the art of telling longer stories.
TV writing used to feel more like telling the same sorts of stories every week until they run out of ideas, because formula makes good economic sense. There didn't used to be as much of a motivation to have an ending in mind before starting the show.
But now, the formula includes the freedom to try things. Because some shows are released all at the same time, there is more emphasis on telling it right the first time without pandering to the audience.
I love all the changes, and I love that serious actors are getting more serious roles to sink their teeth into. I love that serious filmmakers are taking television seriously. And I love that there are literally too many shows to choose from.
So I started watching as many as I could. I watched shows that everyone is talking about, but also a few that people seem to be missing.
This is what I watched, in no particular order.
Walking Dead (Season 6 - AMC)
This has got to be the best season of the show. It is not sluggish like previous seasons have been, and I love that they continue to tell the story in vingette-style, with each episode focusing on a few characters at a time. I love that. I also had no issues with the Glenn cliffhanger, unlike most people (for some reason). Overall, though, it is the arc of the season that gets the props for me. Usually there isn’t such a clear trajectory on a show like this. The particularly brutal introduction of the Wolves was also gut-wrenching. Very good stuff.
The Strain (Season 2 - FX)
Not enough people talk about this show, and that breaks my heart. It is vampires like you’ve never seen them. It's the Vampire Apocalypse. I really didn’t like the new kid they brought in to replace Eph’s son, and I thought his character was way too bratty. That’s the only thing I remember disliking, though. The more we learn about the master plan, the better it gets. Eichorst and Palmer both were very interesting characters to watch, and I’m also interested to see where Gus’ loyalties wind up. I’m pretty sure he’s being played.
The Man in the High Castle (Season 1 - Amazon)
This is by far the best show I watched this year. I'm not joking or exaggerating at all. It is based on the Phillip K Dick novel about what happens in an alternate reality where the Axis won WWII. The Reich controls everything east of the Rocky Mountains, and Japan controls everything west. It’s 1962, and the fuhrer’s death is imminent, which means another Cold War scenario may be on the horizon. But the really interesting thing is how the propagandists treat the growing rebellion, which is the center of the story.
The acting, the writing, the special effects, and in particular the production design, are all amazing. It’s so convincing, it’s like watching a nightmarish version of America. Honestly, I could go on. I cannot recommend this show highly enough.
Dark Matter (Season 1 - Syfy)
This show is on Netflix, and it’s worth a look. It may not be groundbreaking science fiction, but it’s competent and even has a few surprises. The premise involves six crew members that wake up on a ship with no memories. They soon find out pieces of who they were, but the mystery of who wiped the memories remains until the very end. But the main point of the show is the age-old question of tabula rasa: if you gave someone a clean slate, would they just make the same mistakes all over again? If if so, is it instinct, or something else? They also revisit familiar sci-fi questions like, where is the line between life and A.I.? What role should a governing body play when scientific research puts lives in danger? Etc, etc.
Jessica Jones (Season 1 - Netflix)
I personally liked this show more than Daredevil. Not necessarily because it is darker, but because of the overall execution of the show. The performances are stellar, and it isn’t afraid to up the stakes at any point. No one attempts to write Jessica as a traditional hero, either. I like the fact that, prior to the beginning of this show, Jessica Jones made a failed attempt to be an actual superhero. The fact that she failed (or at least thinks she failed) is what make her so interesting. That, and David Tennant playing a villian that is likely to make anyone absolutely terrified. The visuals and tone are also totally engrossing.
House of Cards (Season 3 - Netflix)
I’m with the critics on this one: this season pales in comparison to the previous ones. The main problem is that Frank Underwood is more interesting to watch when he is under unbelievable pressure and there seems to be no where left to go but to turn around and go back. But now he’s president, so his obstacles are few and far between.
This is why the only significant obstacle left, and the part of the season that everyone loved, was Russian President Petrov. He is glorious to watch, because he is Underwood’s match. Sadly, though, he is more interesting to watch than Frank this season. The cliffhanger is also not very compelling to me.
Gotham (Season 1 - Fox)
The real treat of this show is the approach to corruption. It is very similar to a gangster story, but it is told in the context of justice and heroism. Detective Jim Gordon is like Mr. Smith going to Washington, and he’s all alone. Even his partner expects him to get with the program, because who is he kidding thinking he can change the system?
This show seriously had an impact on me as a writer, too. Someone once told me that good writing means trying to write yourself into a corner, and then trying to write yourself back out. It’s another way of saying if your hero can get out of any situation, it’s too easy. But one man trying to clean up deeply entrenched corruption from the ground up is something to see. The performances are pretty darn good, too. Penguin is the real star, as it turns out, but Fish Mooney and Edward Nigma are pretty amazing too.
Skins (Season 1 and 2 - E4)
This British drama is another hidden gem that I found on Netflix. I've scrolled past it several times before and decided to try it. It basically follows the lives of teenagers in England, and all of the crap that they go through. I think it's safe to say it's more like a show about life and death that happens to center around teenagers. The second episode, "Cassie," was the one that actually got me hooked. I've watched the first 8 minutes of that episode a couple of times, because it worked wonders on me. It worked because it was cinematic, which is a rare quality to find on television anywhere.
I love shows in which every episode feels like a movie, with all the visual subtlety and craft of a movie. In fact, the thing I like the most about this show is how it conveys so much information visually, which TV is not really known for doing. The episode, "Chris," is another good example. This show's worth a look.
Sherlock (Series 1 - BBC)
The greatness of a show like this is not limited to the amazing performances by its cast, especially Benedict Cumberbatch. This show also feels like a series of movies. Actually, it pretty much is. Each episode is filled with long scenes where it seems like the characters aren't actually in a story at all. It's like a John Ford film, where we just sort of hang out with them until one of them makes a decision, and the story gets going again. But I like those moments. It's not like the story is going no where. This is just what it's like when the story is entirely character-driven, and that's saying a lot for a show that is basically a procedural. I had a screenwriting teacher tell me in college that Law and Order was a character-driven show - an idea that I think is laughable if you've ever seen the show. I've never read any of the famous mystery novels, but if they are anything like the character in this show, I can certainly see why Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant sociopath, is such a fascinating character. And Watson, the Yin to Sherlock's Yang, is just as interesting.