“There is skill to [making TV]. More importantly, it has to be joyful, effortless, fun. TV defeats its own purpose when it’s pushing an agenda, or trying to defeat other TV or being proud or ashamed of itself for existing. It’s TV; it’s comfort. It’s a friend you’ve known so well, and for so long you just let it be with you, and it needs to be okay for it to have a bad day or phone in a day, and it needs to be okay for it to get on a boat with Levar Burton and never come back. Because eventually, it all will.”
– Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), Community
Usually I stick with movies when doing my best of lists of the year. In fact I usually take it way too long and take it way too seriously for a blog few actually read. Still I have decided to expand into my Best Of picks into television. Admittedly my taste in TV is even more limited than it is in movies (already a bit limited) so expect a lot of the same genre. Regardless here it is, for the first time, My Top 6 TV Shows of 2015.
6- Ash vs Evil Dead
This has been teased for a long time. Since I can remember Evil Dead 4 was always on the back burner. Lo and behold, over 20 years after Army of Darkness, it’s here. Even more surprising is how good it is. Led by a returning Bruce Campbell it straddles the line between horror and comedy beautifully. More importantly the show has expanded the world Sam Raimi created with new characters and locations. All in all its a solid continuation of the Evil Dead trilogy.
5- Lucha Underground
2015 was pretty awful for professional wrestling in North America. WWE hit record lows in the ratings while TNA struggled to exist. Then, like a beacon of hope, came Lucha Underground. Starting in late 2014 on the El Rey network LU has quickly become the place for wrestling action. Using a mix of luchadors and indie wrestlers it features some of the best action on US TV. More importantly with Robert Rodriguez producing Lucha Underground has some of the stupidest, goofiest and entertaining storylines in wrestling, heck all of television, today. I mean where else will you find a monster that kills wrestlers, a death cult led by a man who can’t die and a wrestling dragon? It is absolute insanity and some of the most fun you’ll have watching people fake fight.
I find it hard to describe why I think Review is so great. Mainly because it makes me sound like a dick. Do I say it’s because I like seeing Forrest MacNeil ruin his life? Or the other lives he hasn’t ruined? How about seeing someone forced to murder because they are a “life reviewer.” In actuality the reason to watch has nothing to do with schadenfreude. The reason to watch Review, and why it’s one of my picks for best of the year, is Andy Daly. While a bit player on other shows Review has been the perfect showcase for the comedian. Not only is he funny but Daly does an amazing job of making a character endearing despite the fact that he does some truly terrible stuff. Ending the season on an epic cliffhanger it’s one of those rare shows where I would love for a new season but would be fine seeing Forrest MacNeil left to his hilariously tragic fate.
3- Comedy Bang! Bang!
Last year it was announced that Season 4 of Comedy Bang! Bang! would be 40 episodes. To put this in perspective Saturday Night Live only does 20 episodes a year. Even worse it was announced that band leader Reggie Watts would be leaving the show to do the music for the Late Late Show. Needless to say things looked a bit rocky for the sketch show. I have to say I’m impressed by how well the show did. Despite the large amount of episodes the show was able to consistently stay fresh with a variety of gimmick episodes. They did it all from having a Rocky Horror tribute to an entire episode done in a single take. It was like what Glee eventually became without sucking. As for Watts leaving the blow was softened by a surprisingly game Kid Cudi. After a fun appearance as a guest the Grammy-winning musician fit right into this insane, improved world. While not every episode is a slam dunk (or a Scott Aukerman annual three-point basket) it provides at least a couple of laugh out loud moments every episode which is more than most comedies today.
2- Z Nation
A couple of months ago I gave the second season of Z Nation a rating of “B++++.” My reasoning being that while it had improved I couldn’t consider it a good show ala The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad. Now that the season has ended I can admit I was wrong. Despite the odds it is now a legit good show. While I have no real proof I attribute this to frequent writer and director John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning). Like the Universal Soldier series Hyams has elevated Z Nation with a mix of engaging (and funny) dialogue and great camera work. No longer relying on solely crazy zombie kills Z Nation has become a show with likable characters, an interesting universe, and honest-to-goodness emotional stakes.
Not to say it isn’t still ridiculous. Since the mid-season review a few months ago we have had aliens, a great set piece at the Grand Canyon and a Mexican Cartel trying to control the cure. Sure there aren’t the weighty moral dilemmas of other “prestige” shows but Z Nation provides what those shows sometimes lack, fun. I don’t get frustrated or over examine certain characters. I just sit back, turn off the lights, and watch the insanity unfold. While the ratings may not show it this is what makes Z Nation not only the best zombie show but one of the most underrated shows on period.
When I started my On Patrol columns (formerly the less awesomely titled News and Notes and Such) one of the core pieces to it was Community. Having just been cancelled I followed it’s ups and downs of renewal like every other obsessive fan. With a new lease on life thanks to Yahoo! I sat with baited breathe wondering how it would do. Could it survive a switch to online? Would the magic still be there despite it’s depleted cast? Would I fall in love with a character with an ice cube for a head? The answers were yes, yes and somehow despite all odds, yes.
While we did lose even more cast members (Yvette Nicole Brown did make some guest appearances) the cast was quickly rounded about by Paget Brewster and Keith David. While partially there to fill in for characters Pierce (Chevy Chase) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) the two veteran actors were able to quickly make their characters their own, blending beautifully with the rest of the cast. Brewster shined as the straight man to the insane world of Community as the stern Frankie. On the flip side was Keith David as a behind-the-times wannabe tech giant. What could have been a one-note gimmick turned into a hysterical character that was better than it had any right to be. The two melded perfectly with an already great cast.
As for the move to Yahoo Screen, I think it worked out quite well. Without the restrictions of network TV it allowed creator Dan Harmon to explore the crazy, and sometimes quite dark, world of Greendale. Never going too R-rated the show would most push the limit with the end tags during the commercials. Whether it was seeing the development of a Yakuza kingpin to Dan Harmon venting everything in the finale (in the best way possible) it took a silly sitcom trope and turned it into a mini movie.
What sold me on this being my favorite show of 2015 was the finale, Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television. Clearly seeing a proper end in sight writers Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna did a series finale only Community could pull off. Dealing with the series’ longest running storyline, Jeff Winger having to mature and deal with his friends leaving Greendale. As corny as it sounds it taught Jeff, and by proxy the audience, that it’s okay for things to end. It was meta, funny and surprisingly touching. Was the season perfect? No, there were definitely some misses (relative to Community anyway) along the way and the cast’s contracts ending after this season guarantees it is permanently gone. But for a show constantly on the bubble to end with one of the funniest and most touchi ng episodes of it’s run? That’s definitely something special.