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The Top New TV Shows of the Year
Television got some new blood in 2015, and stars from the charmingly naive Ellie Kemper to the hauntingly intense Rami Malek are giving veteran TV actors some serious competition. Ahead, TV Critic Jeff Jensen reveals the top 10 new TV shows that can't be missed.
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10. Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Having conquered cinema, Marvel began colonizing Netflix in 2015 with two very strong, very pulpy shows: Daredevil, a gritty vigilante saga elevated by a compelling villain, Vincent D’Onofrio’s underworld kingpin Wilson Fisk; and Jessica Jones, a grim neo noir also elevated by a complex creep, David Tenant’s mind-controlling Kilgrave. While both were entertaining, with Daredevil being the more conventionally and viscerally satisfying of the two, Jessica Jones deserves this spot for aspiring to be a protracted and deep rape recovery allegory, producing something unique. As the reluctant, damaged protagonist, a derailed superhero wannabe turned struggling P.I., the always great Krysten Ritter brought a blend of strength, vulnerability and wit to a tough-to-crack character and finally scored the next level star vehicle she’s long deserved.
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9. The Grinder (FOX)
Rob Lowe has been making mid-life millions slyly spoofing his image, from DirecTV commercials to the Archer-wannabe adult ‘toon Moonbeam City. He honed the act to giggly perfection on The Grinder playing Dean Sanderson, a vain, sunny TV star yearning for a more substantial existence now that his popular legal drama has come to an end. His sibling rivalry with more mature, slightly bitter little bro, played by Fred Savage in a skilled, adult turn, has produced unfailingly funny comic chemistry. The writing has kept a potentially limited premise fresh, showing deep imagination for the show-within-a-show parody, and in recent episodes, digging deeper into Dean's Hollywood days, which has added more dimension to him.
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8. UnREAL (Lifetime)
Skewering reality shows for being bogus? Been there, done that, too easy. (Do people not remember The Truman Show? EdTV? Freakin’ Network?!) Mocking people for their want of fairy tale romance or self-completing companionship? Hard to do that without coming off mean and cheap. Yet UnREAL managed to avoid those traps for the most part by being smart, snarky backstage Hollywood soap opera, anchored by terrific performances from Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer. It presented a progressive, timely twist on the usual Escape The Matrix narrative of most reality show satires: Here, the makers of the dope show are as much prisoners of it as the fame-chasing subjects. It also presaged a provocative trend in TV’s increase in feminist allegory attacking patriarchal culture bulls---t: women subverting women. (Also see: Supergirl, Scream Queens)
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7. The Man in High Castle (Amazon)
A woman glimpses a better world and embarks on a journey to understand its mystery. Her adventure is ours, too, but with an ironic twist: The Man in the High Castle seizes our attention with a terrible world—though a creative cut above the usual pop culture dystopia — and gradually wins our emotions with increasingly poignant characters. Adapted by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) from the novel by Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle is a bold leap into big-saga TV for Amazon and expands the scope of high-concept existentialism typified by series like The Leftovers and The Returned. It’s serious-minded sci-fi that’s stylish and strange and soulful, and only grows more rewarding over time.
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6. iZombie (The CW)
From Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas comes TV’s best comic book adaptation and most inspired zombie show. Where The Walking Dead concerns itself with post-catastrophe dehumanization (“Don’t you get it? WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD!”), iZombie entertains with post-tragedy rehumanization, which is exactly what I want from TV after a decade of miserable pessimistic antihero wallow. The show does so many things well. The performances, the finely drawn characters, the fast, funny banter, the thoughtful consideration of class, the inspired stabs at consumerism and materialism. As Liv Moore, a high functioning, brain-munching crime-solver slowly recovering the fullness of her identity, femininity and heroic agency, Rose McIver is a strong, lively, dexterous talent, capable of handling every challenge (and edible personality) Thomas and his writers throw at her. She’s a marvel.
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5. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
In a year rich with new storytelling voices, Web sensation Rachel Bloom sang her way to the front of the chorus with her winningly prickly musical dramedy. Brazenly embracing and lampooning the problematic cliché of the title, Bloom gives us an evolving saga about one millennial’s messy wander toward “know thyself ” authenticity — a new-media madwoman to replace Hamm’s old-media madman. The tunes are subversive delights, from the viral “Sexy Getting Ready Song” to the impish twang of “I Love My Daughter (But Not in a Creepy Way).” If loving Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
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4. Documentary Now (IFC)
And now for something completely different: Fred Armisen and Bill Hader breaking your heart playing wistful and weird mother-daughter recluses. Spoofing documentary classics and forms, the former Saturday Night Live costars pushed past simple parody to craft ingenious valentines to the medium of film and sharp satire about how “reality” is presented and how we represent and reveal ourselves on camera. Among gems, a masterpiece: “Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee,” a melancholy jam about easy-listening rockers living with (and capitalizing on) a lightning strike of accidental brilliance.
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3. Master of None (Netflix)
Hollywood wouldn’t think to cast Aziz Ansari as a rom-com leading man, so the Indian-American comedian and former Parks and Recreation supporting player made a star vehicle for himself. The result: a hilarious, wise, and sexy exploration of hooking up and falling in love in the age of Uber. With sharp takes on immigrant families, media representation, and (of course!) target-market horror flicks, the show furthered a movement of excellent sitcoms like black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, bringing to TV perspectives too long absent. Personal, universal, finely fashioned, Master of None was simply masterful.
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2.Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
A woman escapes a madman’s captivity, remakes her life, and gets justice. From anyone else, this is horror. From 30 Rock EPs Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, it’s a hypermodern That Girl and a rat-tat-tat comic attack on mendacity in all quarters of pop life. Humane vision and perfect casting, including Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski, grounded the flamboyant “Peeno Noir” irreverence with sincere heart. Ellie Kemper’s Kimmy was TV’s best screwball Supergirl — a blast of optimism, working out her cotton candy naïveté and “mole woman” trauma without surrendering her totally rad world-view. She was our anti–Mr. Robot — a redeemer to Elliot’s destroyer.
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1. Mr. Robot (USA)
In 2015, TV’s best moved us to feeling, reflection, and tweeting by surveying the relationship between broken people and broken society. No show pushed my buttons more than Sam Esmail’s thriller about the moral compromises and systemic injustices of our times. Elliot — a misfit yearning for coherence and connection; a cog raging against the machine that owns him — rebooted the alienated hero to electrifying effect. Rami Malek, mesmerizing, kept us emotionally invested in a mystery that entertained even as it implicated us with “kingdom of bulls---” invective. Like the striking negative space aesthetic, Christian Slater’s walking, talking gadget-play transcended gimmickry by meaning many things: a buggy coping mechanism; a corrupt fantasy gone viral. Enthralling and resonant, Mr. Robot reminded us that revolution begins under the hoodie.