#22: Last Man on Earth
Last Man on Earth is as far as any basic channel show (NBC, FOX, etc) will get on this list, but that doesn’t make it any less of a pleasure to watch each week. The post-apocalyptic comedy side steps the formula for modern television such as Brooklyn 99 or Kimmy Schmidt. Focusing on character development, navigating unspoken emotions, and the constant maintenance of relationships, Last Man takes no easy shots for pop culture references (I can think of one which involved MIA’s Paper Planes). Its a refreshing change of pace. None of this would be possible without Will Forte, who’s unconscionable Phil/Tandy manages to pull laughs from in between our grimaces as he awkwardly stumbles through each interaction. Kristen Schall (Carol) and Mel Rodriguez (Ted) shine too, elevating the shoe from the doldrums of Phil’s antics in the pilot (while funny at times, watching Phil meander about ghost-town Tucson seemed like a stretch from the beginning). Last Man is careful not to fill in the cracks in its story, never explaining the source of the virus that wiped out humanity or exploring the back stories of its characters. While perplexing at times, it does bring a bit of mystery to each and places the focus firmly in the here and now: its never too late to change, even if it takes an apocalypse.
Something I never thought I’d say: I wish there were more subtitles. Narcos, the Netflix flagship set around Pablo Escobar and the Colombian cocaine trade, is impressive in both its breadth of content and its execution. Spanning the course of Escobar’s rise to power, Narcos seamlessly navigates its many timelines and figures to sew together a mosaic of drug trafficking as rich as anything since Traffic. Wagner Moure as Pablo Escobar brings enormous depth and sympathy to an otherwise ruthless and heartless figure in history and well deserving of his Golden Globes nomination. While I would have watched Narcos regardless, the addition of Pedro Pascal, immortalized as Oberyn Martell in Game of Thrones, is as good a reason as any to fire up the queue. Narcos aptly fills in the blanks of much of what you do (and do not know) about the context in which drug trafficking occurs in the modern world. I only wish that the 90% of its dialogue in Spanish was a wholesome one-hundo. Narcos is ultimately told through the lens of a white DEA agent, interjecting with a Texas accented voice over and steering the story towards him and his family. Certainly this was done for accessibility, but it does subtract from the tale of South American that the region so richly deserved to be told in its own language.
#20: Halt and Catch Fire
Imagine if Don Draper took over Apple in the 80s. You would get something roughly along the lines of Halt and Catch Fire. The unbridled ambition, uncompromising vision, and mysterious past makes Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) the natural successor to Draper in a post-Mad Men world. Pace is towering as the lead desperate to build the next big computer; his enthusiasm grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you on the couch. Season 1 of Halt and Catch Fire is available on Netflix and will most assuredly be consumed in one sitting. Season 2 is a more controlled, slow-burning arc that builds upon the established relationships and sidelines the frantic desperation of Season 1. This is partially due to the AMC announcement that Season 2 would be the final season of the show; the show scatters the cast out of Silicon Prairie and ties off loose ends in the resigned fashion of a canceled show. The finale left some room for a continuation while neatly leaving its characters with a strong existing story arc. And good thing they did: Halt and Catch Fire was able to scratch its way to a renewal. As such, Season 3 is set up for bigger and better things: Joe and Co. have set their eyes on building a start up in a little place called Silicon Valley.
#19: The Walking Dead
Save for a few episodes (ahem, “Start to Finish” anyone?), our original review of Season 6 remains fairly accurate and will serve well as the review of TWD‘s placing here. This is somewhat of a cheat placing though, since thanks to AMC’s trademark splitting of seasons to cover a full year in a desperate attempt to maintain relevance, only 9 episodes of Season 6 have actually been aired. But the first returns are very promising, and with the community soon to be scattered to forests full of lurking Wolves, and with Negan on the horizon (those in the know, well, know what that means), the tail end of this season should prove to be equally as rewarding.
#18: House of Cards
I remember cautiously hitting ‘Play’ on the pilot episode of House of Cards, and after a little while, looking around the room at my friends to see if they liked it as much as I did. Such was the atmosphere in which Netflix’s first original program entered: skeptical that the equivalent of Blockbuster could make good TV. After two seasons, House of Cards was showered with awards and nominations, ushering in the era of Netflix as a serious contender on the screen and introducing binge watching to the masses. Its influence on modern television cannot be understated. But with the conclusion of Season 3 earlier this year, House of Cards has briefly lost its magic. Now that Francis has secured his long coveted position of power, the sense of direction of House of Cards is lost, leaving the characters ambling about in uninspired attempts to retain power. Its as if the writers forgot to watch Seasons 1 & 2 with the rest of us: the ruthlessness of the Underwoods has been swept under the rug, leaving Francis Underwood as a closer relative to Josiah Bartlet than Macbeth. But I still hold hope for the upcoming season in March 2016. If its anything like Macbeth, we know that the damned spot will not come out, and blood will flow freely from the throne.
#17: Making a Murderer
In 27 years, my mom has texted me about three TV shows in total. They were Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, and now, Making a Murderer (way to go mom, for having limited but excellent tastes). Her text was the understatement of the year: “i’m getting agitated.” If you haven’t had a chance to watch Making a Murderer start to finish, which trust me, all you need to do is start, then let me say this: it is a gripping and expertly crafted documentary that presents well-documented research with patience and precision. It is also a fascinating experiment in social justice with implications that Serial could only have dreamt of achieving. Since its premiere, Making a Murderer has drawn every reaction you can think of. In between the cries of bloody-corrupt-murder, omitted testimony and interviews have surfaced, implicating Steven and Brendan further, that call into question the validity and accuracy of the documentary. Its also drawn the ire of social activists claiming that such a documentary would not be made for person of color, but neither of these makes Avery’s case any less deserving of our attention. Making a Murderer questions how we react when presented with such compelling evidence of misconduct. Do we stand by or take to the streets in pursuit of integrity, regardless of the characteristics of the accused? As creator Laura Ricciardi recently mentioned, how do we respond when injustice is exposed? One thing for certain: no one will be moving to Manitowoc county any time soon.
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