TMINE’s about to take its traditional Christmas and New Year break. I’ll be back on January 4th with the Daily News, reviews, a competition, event round-ups and more. But I’m going to leave you with a question to keep you occupied: what were your favourite shows of 2015? They can be old shows or new shows, but let everyone know your reasons below or on your own blog.
For the record, here’s my Top 9 (yes, 9), in no particular order other than the order I remembered them in…
1. Limitless (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living)
Initially, a rather derivative proceduralised version of the Bradley Cooper movie of the same name, in which a down-at-heel schmuck takes a somewhat lethal drug so he can access 100% of his brain capacity, Limitless more or less dumped its dark, dramatic format from episode two to suddenly become a comedy – a new and improved version of Chuck. It’s also routinely come up with a new way to tell proceduralised stories every week, ranging from puppets, montages and talking to camera, through to full-scale lifts of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pulp Fiction and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Genuinely one of the most innovative shows on TV.
2. Legends (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
I’m more or less going to repeat what I said last week on this one: six months ago, if you’d told me that one of this year’s best shows would:
- Be Legends
- Have reasonably good flashbacks to the University of Leeds in the 80s
I’d have smacked you in the face with my gauntlet. But it is, thanks to a ‘hard reboot’ between seasons one and two in which virtually all the cast were dumped, location changed and format ditched to make it less NCIS, more The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. While arguably the change of Sean Bean’s character from super-chameleon to an almost Callan-esque weary spy, trying to protect the innocent from the clandestine world of spy agencies that he can’t control but want to control him, has made him a lot less interesting and robbed the show of a lot of its narrative drive, it is equally arguably one of the best, most realistic spy shows US TV has produced in decades (bar perhaps Rubicon), all the more surprising in that it’s now set in Europe. It even feels like a European show. Shame it’s been cancelled, really.
3. The Bridge (Bron/Broen) (Sweden: SVT1; Denmark: DK1; UK: BBC4)
Third seasons are rarely good, particularly of ‘high concept’ shows, but Sweden and Denmark’s Bron/Broen (aka The Bridge) continues to excel, despite having lost 50% of its main cast at the end of the second season. Largely, that’s down to the acting Sofia Helin, who plays the iconic Saga Noren – it’s notable that neither the US nor the UK/French adaptations have even close to matching her, both in terms of character and performance – but the writing manages to tread a thin line between sublime and ridiculous, the photography continues to weep beauty, and more importantly for Nordic Noir, it’s also funny.
Reviews: First episode
4. Fortitude (UK: Sky Atlantic; US: Pivot TV)
I’m not sure that Fortitude is as much a great show as a brave show. But what bravery. A prestige, beautiful-looking, Icelandic-shot, star-filled show designed to be Sky Atlantic’s calling card to the world, Fortitude is absolutely bonkers, the closest thing to Twin Peaks since Twin Peaks. It switches between genres from episode to episode seemingly at the toss of a coin, becoming murder-mystery, then fish-out-water drama, then comedy, then horror and even science-fiction show. Almost as impressive was its propensity for killing off its big names almost at random. Truly mind-boggling.
Review: First three episodes
5. American Crime (US: ABC)
An anthology series about the American crime justice, depicting how events spiral out of control as systems and ideas force events to take place that no one truly wants. Had it been on premium cable, it would rightly be hailed as probably the true heir to The Wire, unremitting in its dedication to realism, telling it ‘like it is’, its grimness and lack of hope, with scenes every bit as devastating as those in Requiem to a Dream. Instead, airing on the ABC network, it was largely ignored by everyone. But that shouldn’t diminish its power.
6. Mr Robot (US: USA Network; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
Probably the best show of the year, but also one of the most bewildering. Told from the viewpoint of a vigilante hacker who’s recruited by an underground society to destroy a multinational corporation, it takes the concept of the unreliable narrator to the max, giving us a show where literally nothing that you see can be trusted and which knows what theories you’re probably going to have and is happy to play with them – and you. As well as copious Fight Club homages, it also features a wonderful dedication to technical accuracy, some magnificent acting and a truly fabulous soundtrack.
7. Glitch (Australia: ABC)
The latest and probably the best of the “dead are coming back to life shows”, Glitch gave us a relatively unique slice of ‘Australian gothic’, where the returned came back to tell us something about Australian history, as well as people and possibly about the importance of death itself to the universe, with a bad guy who might have a point. With some genuinely spooky moments, its second season is going to be much anticipated.
Reviews: First episode
8. Narcos (Netflix)
Slipping under most people’s radars like so many Cessnas heading into Miami from Colombia during the 1980s, Narcos is a dramatisation of the story of Pablo Escabar’s reign as a drugs lord, starting from the late 1970s when he sees the potential in exporting new drug cocaine into the US before making its way through the events of the 80s and early 90s that rocked Colombia and eventually other parts of the world.
Initially, the show feels like GoodFellas, with DEA agent Boyd Holbrook providing a helpful voiceover that’s at times comedic. But while it does occasionally jump around in time, the show quickly becomes almost documentary-like, with little of the standard tropes of drama: there’s no strong narrative drive, no “good guys win, bad guys lose” and no themes illustrated by suitably balanced scenes.
Instead, Narcos retells the events in all the real-world’s messiness, showing just how much of a war was going on in Colombia in the 80s, a war almost reminiscent of the IRA’s similar campaigns in England at the time. Perhaps the show’s only real directorial flourish is the use of the original photographs and footage from events, rather than mock-ups featuring the actors, whenever they appear in the story. And Holbrook’s narration quickly becomes hardened and surprisingly anti-Reagan for a show that’s made in a time when half of America seemingly reveres the former president in the same way they revere Jesus.
Like a lot of other Netflix shows (eg House of Cards, Marco Polo, Daredevil – which almost made it to the coveted tenth spot of this Top 9), Narcos revolves around one absolutely stonking central performance – in this case, Wagner Moura, who plays Escobar. It’s a mesmerising affair that manages to convey Escobar’s friendliness, ambitions and his capability for extreme violence that makes him seem like a modern day Kublai Khan, despite being perpetually clad in tatty shirt and trainers.
What’s even more extraordinary about Moura’s performance is this is effectively Netflix’s first Spanish language show, with about 80% of the dialogue in Spanish, and Moura is Brazilian and didn’t speak any Spanish until six months before production started. The show’s come in for some criticism from Colombians, because despite being lavishly shot in Colombia and the rest of the cast being almost universally Spanish speakers, they’re either not Colombian or not doing the right accents. Nevertheless, it’s to Netflix’s credit that it’s making something so heavily subtitled because the story demands it.
With Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones)’s more nuanced DEA agent providing a strong counterpoint to both Holbrook and Moura, this was Netflix’s best new show in quite some time and heartily recommended. Season two’s already been commissioned, in case you were worried.
9. Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Possibly the first superhero TV show or movie made by and for women, Jessica Jones is a tour de force subversion of the superhero genre that makes all other such shows look like childish male power fantasies. It gives us a former superheroine turned PI (Krysten Ritter), traumatised by a supervillain (David Tennant) with the power to make others do whatever he wants them to do just by speaking to them. A metaphor for rape, abusive relationships and more, the show is particularly notable for eschewing fight scenes and the other trimmings of superhero shows, in favour of the horrifying claustrophobia of being on the receiving end of a stalker and the real-world problems of the use of (super)power.
Review: First episode