Chris's Best of 2015

2015 was a year of discovery.

I discovered that I no longer want to watch serial television. I found myself getting annoyed with all the shows I have watched in the past. I didn’t want to wait a week to see what happens next and I didn’t want to wait that week and then watch an hour of filler. As a result, I stopped watching very nearly all the shows I had been watching rather faithfully. I have no doubt that someday I will go back to some of them, but right now, they are on the back burner.

I discovered the Western this year. A show that Netflix kept insisting was one for me made me roll my eyes. A show about a young girl who works with horses? Seriously? Doesn’t Netflix know me at all? Turns out they do. Heartland is a show produced in Canada with some of the most breathtaking scenery you can imagine. Yes, it is schmaltzy at times. Yes, it can be predictable. I loved it and watched eight seasons of it throughout the summer. The most fun was watching Canadian actors whom we have all come to know and love before they hit the big time. Both Stephen Amell and Tatiana Maslany have recurring roles in early seasons.

Another Western that I devoured in less time than I care to admit was Longmire. Again, shot in some of the most beautiful places in the western US, it is a story about a sheriff in a small Wyoming town and the people who surround him. All of the characters are flawed and complex which made watching their stories so compelling. I loved this one and was thrilled when Netflix announced another season.

I discovered that I still love a good procedural. Motive, another show out of Canada, is a fantastic twist on the standard trope. The cold open shows us who the victim is and who the murderer is. The show then proceeds to show us how these two people you can’t imagine breathing the same air came to be in this situation. I loved trying to figure it all out while I watched. I failed as often as I succeeded, but the stories were almost always worth the hour of my time.

I am making my way through another procedural as you read this. My best friend called me one day and told me that I had to watch Rizzoli and Isles. From the pilot I knew why I had received that phone call. While it is a procedural show, the stores are as much about female friendship as they are whodunit. As the show is progressing, the writers are managing to take what started as two rather stock characters and make them people I recognize and want to know better. And, yes, many of the conversations they have, the fights they have, and the love they share remind me of the friendship I share with my best friend.

In spite of the two previous paragraphs, I discovered that the British still do the best crime series. Death in Paradise is a wonderful fish out of water story of an Englishman trying to maintain his dignity in some tropical island. It made me howl with laughter quite a lot while I watched the crimes being solved.

Another real winner was Grantchester. In fact, I would give this my best show of 2015 crown. Only six episodes, there is so much character development and so many surprises that even after multiple (and I mean multiple) re-watches, I always find something new to marvel at in the writing or the acting.

Although I have long suspected it, I discovered this year that Aaron Sorkin is my writing god. I made my way, chronologically, through every series he has done. I began with Sports Night. I didn’t love it and I found a couple of the characters annoying, but I could see early signs of what was to come.

Which. of course, was The West Wing, still the show I think might be the best I’ve ever seen. I have loved re-watching it as Juliette writes her posts. Studio 60 was enjoyable, but I understand why it failed to find an audience. While the two leads were wonderful and had remarkable chemistry, the surrounding players just didn’t work as well.

Which brings us to The Newsroom. In the pilot, Jeff Daniels gives a speech about why America is no longer the greatest nation in the world that I couldn’t believe got on the air. It was beautifully written and perfectly delivered. I was hooked. Unfortunately, that speech is the highlight of the entire series. I enjoyed the behind the scenes stuff of what happens in a newsroom; I loved the way Sorkin used real news stories to increase the veracity of his story, but there was a tad too much melodrama for my taste. Final verdict? The West Wing is Sorkin’s greatest accomplishment -- to date.

I discovered podcasts this year. By far, the best was Serial. Sarah Koenig, a producer for This American Life, spent a year investigating the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore. Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Masud Syed who was only seventeen at the time, was arrested and convicted of the crime. He is currently serving a life sentence, despite his unceasing claims of innocence. Is Syed innocent or guilty? This is why the podcast is worth a listen. There is evidence of his guilt and evidence of his innocence. Koenig lays it all out for us, but doesn’t steer us towards an answer. What do I think? I am not completely convinced he is innocent. I am, however, completely convinced that there was enough reasonable doubt that he should never have been convicted.

I rediscovered my love of books this year. I’ve always been a reader, but in the past few years I watched more television than I read. Not this year. While there are several books I read this year that I would recommend without hesitation, my pick for the best book of 2015 is All the Light We Cannot See. Winner of this year’s Pulitzer for fiction, it is a stunning achievement. The prose is elegant, the story is captivating, and the lead character will haunt you long after you put it down. I’ve already read it twice and I’m sure I will read it again at some point.

A wonderful year of discovery and I am already looking forward to whatever 2016 brings my way. In the meantime, I wish you and yours the merriest of holiday seasons and all the best for the new year.

PS -- if anyone knows who the artist is of the puppy painting, let me know so I can give him or her full credit for that wonderful image.

ChrisB is very excited about 2016 and all that it will bring.

11 comments:

tucsonbarbara said...

The artist's name is Jay Schmets.

tucsonbarbara said...

Oops!

It's Schmetz. :-)

Billie Doux said...

Interesting "best of", Chris. Like Heather, you mention a lot of stuff I haven't seen. Although I love, love, love The West Wing. :)

jencat said...

Yay, a mention for Motive! Which is one of my favourite shows, mostly because of Angie. And Oscar. And Betty. It has brilliant characters and an interesting structure (and the cinematography is also unusually impressive for a procedural as well).

Death in Paradise used to be a total expected treat... right up until the major cast change, and then I realised I was watching for the characters (OK, I was watching for Ben Miller being as grumpy and amusing as he was in Primeval) and after that it was kind of irritating, sadly :-(

Rizzoli and Isles I've loved since day one - it gets a little silly sometimes but it's always worth sticking with. And Longmire I've literally just started watching (while reading the books at the same time. Which is really confusing and probably not wise...).

Heather said...

Chris,
What an interesting and refreshing list, thank you for sharing it. I love, love, love Serial and anxiously await every Thursday morning during its season. Wanna tagteam an article about podcasts in the new year?

Morgan India said...

Murder in Paradise got a lot more interesting for me when they swapped out Ben Miller for Kris Marshall. Also I LOVE Grantchester and James Norton is a seriously underrated actor. He was amazing on Happy Valley and he's the voice actor for one of my favourite characters in the Dragon Age games.

Josie Kafka said...

The NY Times has an interesting article about streaming TV shows. That is, shows that are created with the knowledge they will be made available all at once, and likely binged. The author argues that the all-at-once format has created a new genre, unlike all other previous TV.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/20/arts/television/streaming-tv-isnt-just-a-new-way-to-watch-its-a-new-genre.html?ref=television&_r=0

ChrisB said...

Thank you all for all the comments. Barbara -- thank you for the name of the artist. I looked up his work and am a fan!

TJ said...

Thank you thank you ChrisB for your fantastic Best Of.

I will absolutely check out everything. I trust your judgement.

And wonderful that you mentioned Longmire...wasn't it just great that Netflix renewed it!:)

I still miss your "new shows" though. Your assessment was always spot on.

Merry Xmas!:)

mazephoenix said...

I think the show is called Death in Paradise..Murder in Paradise is something else.

ChrisB said...

mazephoenix -- you are absolutely right. All fixed. Thanks for the catch!