We’re living in the moment of Peak TV, the specter of which hangs over anybody trying to pick the top shows of the year. More than 400 scripted series aired in 2015, a ridiculous and magnificent glut ranging in quality from “True Detective” (dreck) to “Fargo” (great).
Peak TV is one of the year’s top TV trends, along with increased casting diversity, churn behind late-night desks, the continuing ascension of streaming services as original programmers and Hollywood South’s contributions to listings grids.
Let’s run those down first, then get to my Top 10.
More than 400 scripted series. Man. Here’s how you know it’s heavy: Tim Goodman and Todd VanDerWerff, two great critics writing for The Hollywood Reporter and Vox.com, respectively, managed to carve their 2015 best-of TV lists down to 46 and 35 shows, respectively.
There was a time, not so long ago, when they’d have to stretch to get to 10. Not now. Enjoy it while the bubble is still expanding.
Scripted TV is casting actors of all kinds and colors, a long overdue move that’s pushing the medium to better mirror the faces on the other side of the screen. The CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Dr. Ken” and “American Crime” and the Shonda Rhimes Thursday-night suite (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder”) are all examples of shows that would’ve been almost all alone in prime time in earlier eras, had they survived to premiere. Here and now, they’re everywhere.
The success of “Empire,” a huge hit for Fox, ensures that the trend hasn’t peaked.
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other services offering shows that arrive without a cable connection had a huge impact on TV in 2015, and that would be true if the only show on any of them had been the cool little comedy “Master of None.”
There’s more to come from these non-networks. Much more. Get connected.
If there’s an upside to the late-night TV show shuffling — Stephen Colbert for David Letterman, Trevor Noah for Jon Stewart, James Corden for Craig Ferguson and Larry Wilmore for Stephen Colbert — it’s that New Orleans’ Jon Batiste landed on nightly national television.
Colbert’s bandleader is a joy machine.
Batiste included, so much TV was Louisiana-made in 2015 that 2016 and thereafter will have a hard time matching it, in screen time at least.
Uncertainty about tax credits may have something to do with any decline, as well, but the state’s list of recent title credits is undeniably impressive.
ABC’s “The Astronaut Wives Club” looked at the home-front warriors of the space race. CBS’ “Zoo” imagined a gorillas-gone-wild world of hostile-to-humans critters.
AMC’s “Into the Badlands” was a stylish steampunk martial-arts epic. CBS’ “NCIS: New Orleans” steamed into its second season with an expanded cast and continuing ratings success.
Fox’s “Scream Queens,” FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” WGN America’s “Salem” and MTV’s “Scream” all traded in darkness, though sometimes with a campy wink.
New and on tap for the future from Hollywood South: A multi-network remake of “Roots,” WGN America’s “Underground,” Sundance’s “Hap and Leonard,” Cinemax’s “Quarry” and — maybe a sneaky hit in the making, drawing on vibes from both “True Detective’s” first season and the podcast “Serial” — the unscripted Discovery docu-reality series “Killing Fields.”
My Top 10 for 2015
I’ll put the near-misses in front instead of at the end just to pre-disappoint fans of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “The Leftovers” and “The Jinx” and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” NBC’s “Hannibal,” the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” PBS’ “Downton Abbey” and “American Experience: Walt Disney” and “Wolf Hall,” Showtime’s “Episodes” and “Homeland” and “Masters of Sex” and “The Affair,” ABC’s “Black-ish,” Starz’ “Outlander” and FX’s “Justified” and “The Americans” and “Louie.”
Taking a breath here.
Also Sundance’s “Rectify,” Amazon’s “Orange is the New Black” and “Catastrophe” and “The Man in the High Castle,” Cinemax’s “The Knick,” WGN America’s “Manhattan,” AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” and “Better Call Saul” and “Mad Men,” FX’s “You’re the Worst,” Netflix’s “Narcos” and “BoJack Horseman” and “House of Cards” and “Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” Lifetime’s “UnReal,” Fox’s “The Last Man on Earth,” Comedy Central’s “Broad City” and “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Review,” CBS’ “The Good Wife” and IFC’s “Documentary Now!”
Seriously, these have all made their way onto best-of lists elsewhere, deservedly so. Just not mine, not this time.
Peak TV, people. It’s a thing.
Disclosure: My list leans hard on dark comedies. It was that kind of year for me.
My Top 10 list:
10. Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”: Originally developed for NBC, this sweet little comedy is as savvy and brisk as you’d expect, considering it comes from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who earlier conspired to make “30 Rock.”
This is one of the shows I mention when someone asks, “What do I binge-watch next?”
9. Netflix’s “Master of None”: Aziz Ansari’s comedy might be pegged as a Millennial “Louie,” but the stories and performances — love Noel Wells as the love interest, and Ansari’s real parents as his character’s parents — make it its own thing.
8. Amazon’s “Transparent”: Though it features an awesome performance by Jeffrey Tambor in a key role, “Transparent” is an ensemble show all the way, with New Orleans’ Jay Duplass as part of the ensemble.
7. TV Land’s “The Jim Gaffigan Show”: Also developed for a broadcast network, this comedy borrows heavily from the title comic’s bio.
The result is a family sitcom that’s not quite family-friendly viewing, though very funny.
6. HBO’s “Togetherness”: A tender comedy from New Orleans’ Mark and Jay Duplass, it lives in the life-stage when the question “Is that all there is?” becomes a daily, sometimes hourly, preoccupation.
5. HBO’s “Silicon Valley”: A detailed takedown and/or celebration of tech-titan culture.
4. HBO’s “Veep”: The nastiest and funniest political satire ever.
3. HBO’s “Show Me a Hero”: David Simon’s “Treme” follow-up turned a civics lesson into captivating drama.
2. USA’s “Mr. Robot”: Rami Malek’s performance as a tech genius who may be imagining the whole show was a stunning breakout.
1. FX’s “Fargo”: The second season of the anthology drama — with setting and attitude, but not much else, borrowed from the 1996 Coen brothers film of the same title — doubled down on darkness, which was astonishing given how dark Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo was in season one. A glorious accomplishment.