Here we are once again at the end of this series, the time having just flown by into some sort of void (there’s a Doctor Who story idea for you). For the last two months, I’ve discussed what shows and actors I thought worked and didn’t work during the most recent television season, but I haven’t yet listed my absolute favourites thus far. Until now, that is.
In this concluding part of this series, I’ll round things off by listing what my top five favourite–and least favourite–shows of the year were, as well as my favourite actors from the season. I’ll also have a post following discussing my ten favourite moments from the entire season. (I was intending on only choosing five but let’s be honest and accept the impossibility of that.) I love television and I love lists, so constructing this post was immense fun, even with the difficulty.
Also, because lists are one of the best things ever, please feel free to make your own and post them in the comment box below.
TOP FIVE SHOWS OF THE SEASON
5 – New Girl
Choosing between New Girl and Game of Thrones to occupy this spot is a frustratingly hard choice, but ultimately the sheer and sizeable increase of quality from the former’s first season to its second is enough to usurp the latter.
I’ve already discussed in this series how impressive and well structured New Girl‘s second season is, but I’ll reiterate the point: it really is that good. The messiness and problematic nature of the show’s first season is either replaced or repaired with something far better. Something that makes the show feel like what I had always suspected it was capable of being. And it works.
4 – Breaking Bad (season 5.1)
The first half of Breaking Bad’s final season is a terrific achievement from beginning to end. It puts the show’s lead character into new territory, turning him into a pure monster in the pursuit of immeasurable wealth and power, and ends with a scene that the whole series has been building towards for years. It’s clear the show knows it’s approaching the final hurdle, and it isn’t afraid to go all out.
There is a reason why Breaking Bad is widely lauded and held on a pedestal, and the way it handles the first half of its endgame demonstrates just why it’s held in such high regard.
3 – Orange is the New Black
From the moment I first heard that fantastic theme song I knew that Orange is the New Black would be a winner. And I wasn’t wrong. What premiered without much fanfare is now one of the strongest shows the entire season has had to offer, with one of the most diverse casts I’ve seen in years, all being explored so well that none of them feel secondary or inconsequential to the story. It all forms part of the same, incredibly strong, whole that even on its worst day is better than most other shows on television.
If you have a Netflix subscription and haven’t yet watched the show, your life won’t be complete until you do. Take my word on that.
2 – Scandal
It’s really not difficult naming Scandal my second favourite show of the season. Yes, it’s outlandish and often roams so far outside the barriers of reality that it’s a miracle it ever finds its way back, but the show is made all the better because of this. Season one was merely the experiment to test the waters; season two is the completed product, laid bare for everyone to see and appreciate.
I’ve stated many times before–including in this series–that Scandal is such an enthralling experience because of how it demands your attention. It hooks you in and unleashes twist after twist while it has you ensnared. There’s simply no way of breaking free when it remains as brilliantly compelling as season two is, and while Scandal has never approached the levels of quality shows like Breaking Bad have reached, its successes come from elsewhere. Like stories about election rigging, presidential assassinations, secret CIA torture, and so forth–all of which aid in season two being such a remarkable achievement in television.
1 – Orphan Black
I deliberated heavily on choosing this show as my favourite from the entire season of television, but eventually it became a no-brainer. A lot of new shows have impressed me this season, whether old or new, and in various ways, but Orphan Black left such a profound impression on me that I simply had to put it at the top of this list.
To put it as simply as possible: I adore Orphan Black. I am in love with the flawless Tatiana Maslany and her skill at playing two-thirds of the cast that goes far beyond what would be considered achievable for any actor in the field. I love how twisty and insane the narrative is, and how utterly compelling it is to see unfold. But most of all, I just love how everything seems to work in conjunction with one another to form this vibrant, unique machine that chugs away so effortlessly.
It wasn’t easy picking out this show–especially one this new–as my favourite of the entire season, but ultimately the strength of its debut offering, and how it has emblazoned itself onto the landscape so easily, swayed me in the right direction.
Orphan Black IS fantastic. Go watch it right now if you haven’t.
(Very) Honourable Mentions: Parenthood, Game of Thrones, The Americans, Southland, Hannibal.
TOP FIVE LEAST FAVOURITE SHOWS OF THE SEASON
5 – Revenge
Season two doesn’t manage to recapture that same sense of compelling, if nonsensical, fun that it debuted with. Instead, it throws in a story arc that feels alien to the show’s atmosphere, removes the very thing that makes the show so enjoyable to watch (the many clashes between Victoria and Emily), and tries far too hard to be something it simply is not. All while actually failing to be exciting to watch.
I sincerely hope season three restores the balance for Revenge, because a third season of off-the-scale convolution won’t be good news for the future.
4 – Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey can be good when it wants to be. Sometimes it can be really good, although not often. But sometimes it can just downright stink, and season three is the grungiest that the show has ever been.
We generally know what to expect when it comes to Downton Abbey. Usually it’s not much, and that’s fine, because it’s extremely easy to watch when it’s just a period drama wrapped in soapy linen. But season three is just so incredibly tedious, so uneventful for the majority of the time (and even more frustrating when it’s being eventful), that it’s a chore to watch. And that’s not even taking into consideration the frankly awful Christmas special. (After a long day of eating, unwrapping and vomiting, two hours of television that attempts to talk you to sleep is kind of a blessing in disguise, but that’s besides the point.)
Admittedly I do like Downton Abbey even when it’s trying so hard to be so tiresome, but I cannot label season three anything but a flop.
3 – True Blood (season 5)
When it comes to discussing True Blood’s fifth season, it’s easier to list what it does wrong as opposed to what it does right. Because in its most simple form, season five is a huge unmitigated disaster from start to finish.
I could start from a whole variety of angles in discussing season five’s many, many faults, so instead I’ll just simplify things: nothing works. The new characters they (needlessly) introduce fail to make an impact, the story arc they choose to form the spine of the season flails and breaks upon the merest touch, the insanity is powered up to lethal levels, and the combination of all these elements makes for a truly horrible season that would test the loyalties of even the most faithful viewer.
On the plus side, this summer’s sixth season has been a monumental improvement despite carrying over many of its predecessor’s faults, but I cannot deny how exquisitely awful season five is.
2 – Hemlock Grove
If you’ve visited this blog before you’ll have seen how vitriolic I’ve been towards Hemlock Grove in the past. So it may be a surprise to see that it’s not my least favourite show of the season. However, that’s not to give the show any undue credit, because Hemlock Grove is so effortlessly bad that it’s almost an achievement in itself.
I’m not going to list all of the show’s problems in this post because we could be here all day. Instead, I’ll just say that the plot, the characters, the acting, and the pacing are all so off-key to the point where it’s almost amusing. And that’s not even scratching the surface with the show’s failures, because the list goes on and on.
I am always genuinely surprised when I see people who have managed to reach the end of the season because I am, quite simply, in awe of their resilience. It’s not easy being this bad, but it’s even harder to withstand that awfulness. If you’re one of those people, I salute you.
1 – Once Upon a Time
And here we are at my least favourite show of the season. It was difficult to choose between this and the former, but with Hemlock Grove, I didn’t have any expectations already cemented in place about how I expected it to be. With OUAT, I did–and they were crushed so far into the ground that they became invisible to the naked eye.
Oh boy, where do I even start with this show? Well, I suppose with the fact that the writing takes a monumental nosedive as the season progresses. The resolution of plot developments that are deemed too tricky to conquer the traditional way are simply flicked away, while characters become imbecilic to the point where it’s clear the only reason they’ve survived thus far is due to the even more imbecilic opposition. Then we have the fact that new characters are being introduced all the time, diluting the narrative.
As I said before, I don’t deny that Hemlock Grove is, at its core, a much worse show than OUAT, but the latter does something worse than the former: it runs its already established foundation right into the ground. I enjoyed season one, even with its faults, but season two is just so disastrous a season that my loyalties have practically changed polar positions. To do that in so short a time is a testament to its failures.
Things have gone horribly wrong for OUAT, and no amount of contrived plot developments can eliminate the problem.
(Dis)Honourable Mentions: Falling Skies (season 2), Community, The Vampire Diaries, Nashville.
TOP FIVE PERFORMERS OF THE SEASON
5 – Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones)
Turning a character almost universally seen as an incorrigible villain into a sympathetic anti-hero is not an easily accomplishable task. It requires a certain skill in writing and in acting, and it requires precision as to not make it obvious that this is what you’re doing. And yet, in Game of Thrones’ third season, the combined talents of both the writers and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau make Jaime’s transition, from a child-disabling bastard into somebody who’s fallen so far we can see his inner core, seem like an effortless affair. It’s magnificent to watch unfold, and Coster-Waldau manages to delve so far into his character in ways he hasn’t been able to before–to extraordinary effect.
4 – Jake Johnson (New Girl)
New Girl’s second season is one of the most improved outings of any television show in the entire season. And while a lot of that sense of refinement and repair can be attributed to an increase in script quality, a lot of it also comes down to the performances of its two lead stars: Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson. But it’s Johnson that’s perhaps the arguable MVP of the season, because his comedic timing is always spot on, and the chemistry he shares with Deschanel makes the show’s central relationship one that’s frustratingly easy to root for. He still doesn’t have an Emmy nomination to his name (let’s not talk about this anymore *angry face*), but he deserves all the recognition that gets thrown his way.
3 – Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)
It’s usually always the male stars of Breaking Bad that (deservedly) capture most of the attention and praise, but for a long time I have felt that Anna Gunn hasn’t seen the kind of recognition she deserves for her time on the show. Not anymore. Gunn’s work in the beginning of Breaking Bad’s final season is nothing short of exemplary and award-worthy, with many of the scenes she’s involved in (such as the breakdown at the carwash, or the innumerable scenes with co-star Bryan Cranston) being above and beyond anything else currently on television. She is one of the medium’s finest actresses that’s currently on the air, and if that Emmy award isn’t hers come September, my frustration will be felt across the ages.
2 – Monica Potter (Parenthood)
There’s a beating heart of the centre of Parenthood’s familial foundations, and it survives even the strongest of attacks. But it’s in those attacks where the show excels at producing emotionally crushing drama. So you can imagine how phenomenal the show’s recent cancer storyline is, especially with somebody as talented as Monica Potter at the helm.
Potter’s interpretation of a devastated mother and wife fallen victim to breast cancer is never anything less than incredible. The pain she feels at knowing she could leave her family behind and never see her young child grow up and thrive is palpable at every point. Testing the show’s beating heart in such a traumatic way is always going to produce drama that’ll drive you to tears, but with performances like the ones Potter provides, it’s going to reduce you to a quivering shell.
1 – Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
Oh come on, you’re not surprised are you? Tatiana Maslany’s skill at playing the character she’s been given goes above and beyond anything anybody else has produced in the entire season. Because she’s not just playing one character, or even two, but in excess of FIVE. Alternating between different personalities and mannerisms on the fly is something that’s so unfathomably difficult to comprehend that it’s a wonder Orphan Black even attempts to go there. But Maslany not only does so with such ease that it’s almost unnerving, she does so with multiple characters AT THE SAME TIME. What she manages to accomplish with Sarah, Alison, Helena, Cosima, Rachel and vice versa is quite simply genre-defining, and if you haven’t seen her in action for yourself yet, do so immediately. You won’t appreciate the scale of what I’m talking about here until you do.
Honorable Mentions: Elisabeth Moss (Top of the Lake), Michael Cudlitz (Southland), Kerry Washington (Scandal), Bryan Cranston/Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), Keri Russell (The Americans).
And that brings things to a conclusion for this series, and for this year. If you’ve kept track with these posts as and when I’ve posted them, thank you. If not, please feel free to visit the following links if you would like to.
Also, the hiatus is almost at an end, so embrace the joyous news of which I have just shared!