Dear Gentle Reader,
So much has happened to us this year. Is God angry with us? He seems to be angry. But remember that, like beer, he provides millions of hours of stories to mollify us, to soothe us, and brush our hair out of our eyes. Perhaps a new fear tingles just behind your lips, unspoken for fear of manifesting it : are we approaching peak TV? Luckily for you, we’re probably already way past the event horizon of content creation. A bajillion new shows were green lit this year, and about a kajillion were critically lauded. TV is stored for years to come in online streaming apps, though they, in turn, exasperate the problem by pumping fully-loaded seasons directly into your home with minimal warning. Netflix is itself stewarding almost 40 series right now (a large chunk of which are successful mature dramas or comedies) and Hulu and Amazon are jumping into the pool too. It’s a good problem to have, so I hope you will wade through some of the muck with me in this year’s first installment of the Synthetic Error Best of 2015 articles. What’s been going on in television this year?
Show of the Year
Ash vs. the Evil Dead
It seems like the money train has finally slowed down for Raimi, letting him take some long walks in forgotten pastures occasionally. One such walk takes him near the films that put him on the map, Evil Dead. These were the original DIY cabin in the woods flicks. His initial attention came in the form of approval for an Evil Dead remake (by way of torture porn), a grim update that managed only slightly more than a wet thud upon arrival. However it seemed to remind Raimi that the first cut is the deepest, as he then went on to produce this Starz show. He even managed to woo back Bruce Campbell, the original chin of destiny, in a full scale revival of the original story. Where the remake mostly wanted to make you squirm, the show is more concerned with glee. Ash, the chainsaw-handed idiot protagonist, has only gotten softer in the head since putting down some deadites many years ago and manages to somehow accidently restart the Apocalypse. The blood spray that follows is intense, but more important is the sarcastic quipage that accompanies it. Ash vs. the Evil Dead captures the goofy heart of the last two films, cussing away as Ash and company manage to short out terrible problems with inadequate solutions. This is the only place on TV right now that can sell a line like “shoot first think never!”
Best Jokey Cartoon Thing
Rick and Morty
It happened quite subtly. Live action dramas became farces, only successfully tempered by intentional comedy lest that become schlocky melodrama. Meanwhile, the zany seas of animation calmed and revealed their poignant secrets. Using their ability to create, well, anything, many modern animated shows strike right at the heart. Shows like Adventure Time, Bojack, and this year’s favorite, Rick and Morty, have grown more confident, more willing to make bold statements. These are inroads first suggested by the crowd-pleasing yet often emotional Futurama, or the lava-hot satire of Moral Orel. Rick and Morty in particular has integrated the lessons of animation that came before, with clear defined characters who generate problems by acting on their instincts. That these problems happen to involve new dimensions, sex bots, and the Devil are just casual details of the setting that Rick and Morty race by on their way to the juice. It can seem freeform at times, light riffing and shrugging just-go-with-it setups, but look out for the gut punch. Rick and Morty look for the the bits of glee in the inevitable doom of life, a depressed comic’s sci fi suburbia.
Best Show That Just Nails It
Every once in awhile a show comes along that teaches us about an unfamiliar culture, easing us into their customs and, over time, revealing to us that oh yeah, we hate those guys too. Something always itched me the wrong way about the startup generation but Silicon Valley nails it; the heart of the tech industry is bloodthirsty cash craziness but for PR reasons it’s wrapped in about thirty layers of bullshit which pervade out into the rest of the world. Why do we know so much about Zuckerberg, as if we’re waiting for him to choose the right Grail? It’s all part of the spin, which requires everyone to treat themselves as the savior just to get capital. Silicon Valley follows the bullshit down river from Network and The Player to find a new encampment just as desperate to brainwash the masses.
Best Really Funny Show Which Probably Isn’t As Good as the BBC Original
I probably never laughed harder this year then at the denouement of Pancake, Divorce, Pancakes, a wholly unexpected meta-riff that perfectly aligned the absurdity of Yelping life experiences and Andrew Daly’s put-upon dedication. Daly plays a dull unimaginative Dad, who is driven by his job to try cocaine, space travel, and a few pancakes at the whims of fickle call-ins. Review is high concept, comedy expertly milked from modern obsession with mundane criticism and internet impetuousness. Although it faces fierce competition from its sister show, the occasionally stunning Nathan For You, Review is consistently, darkly funny. You’re welcome to be super hip and say you like it but prefer the Australian original, if that’s your bag.
Jessica Jones was the best Marvel show this year (despite having an actress that couldn’t convincingly toss a ping-pong ball), due to great interest in character building but mostly it’s David Tenant’s fault. His mesmerizing creep is somehow repellent and sympathetic simultaneously, and nearly always hypnotic while on screen. In the loser’s circle, Daredevil started strong but landed with a thud.
Great comedy shows that just keep on greatin- Bojack Horseman, Veep, Schumer, Always Sunny in Flippidelphia
Best use of ending spoiler as PR- The Jinx. Could we not do it this way in the future?
That’s all folks. Perhaps nothing too surprising, but I missed the fifth season of that staticy red room BDSM channel which probably would have topped the charts. Stay tuned for our review of the gritty reboot of Petticoat Junction, and for the Best of Games, Music, and Movies for 2015.
Originally published July 18, 2016