#16: Master of None
Check out our full review of Master of None from back in November. The interesting news recently is that it has yet to be renewed, but Aziz is going to be sure to take his sweet time writing the next episodes. Aziz seems well aware of the first album syndrome: you have your whole life to write your first album, but only a few years to write your second. With the final moments of Season 1 fresh in our minds, Master of None has a clean slate to take the show in virtually any direction they seem fit.
#15: Better Call Saul
Following up the most beloved show of the past decade is hard. Putting to rest the doubt and pessimism of such a spin-off is even harder. Better Call Saul smashes our expectations with the force of a wheelchair bomb. A prequel to the life of Jimmy McGill, AKA Saul Goodman. Though it doesn’t (yet) have the same stressathon quality as its predecessor, Better Call Saul delivers on the signature style and atmosphere of Breaking Bad: the cinematography of a graphic novel and the thin veil between legal and illegal (and safe and oh so very sorry). I find it fascinating that Saul has no “gimmick”. Breaking Bad was a chemistry teacher… who sells meth! Saul stands as solely a show about a struggling lawyer (but with the benefit of being a distant relative, its likely only stands at such due to the promise of the future carnage and cameos). Odenkirk, who is excellent as the timid alter ego we know him for, is flanked by an excellent supporting cast, particularly Michael McKean, who plays Jimmy’s brother Chuck, and Julia Ann Emery, the money embezzling housewife. Better Call Saul stands on some very tall and broad shoulders, but manages to carve out its own chip not only in the Breaking Bad universe, but as a standalone show. It will be interesting to see if Better Call Saul plays well with first time viewers unfamiliar with the world forever changed by Walter White.
#14: Mad Men
Lets get it out of the way: the ultimate season of Mad Men is NOT GREAT, BOB, as such its placement here is as a standalone season. As a series finale, I struggle to find any better. Mad Men marked a new era of television (in the same way that The Sopranos and The X-Files, and as previously stated, House of Cards) and can assuredly be a jumping off point for the current golden age of television. It was the first show on a network where ratings mattered (HBO doesn’t count) that entered the zeitgeist and permeated culture to an extent that made such ratings irrelevant. What mattered was how Mad Men executed its vision despite how the ratings played out (Breaking Bad garnered three times as many viewers in comparison). Mad Men kicked off an era of high quality television with clear and thought-out visions that were not shackled to a Nielsen rating or viewer count. Now, thanks to the expansion of on-demand services, premium channels chugging out material, and traditional cable channels chucking the numbers for the characters, the formula of Mad Men is firmly the standard by which shows are measured. Though not its best season, the Mad Men farewell still holds the shows place among the greats.
Louie is the biggest box of chocolates on the telly. Its a fascinating endeavor happening over on FX; each week offers something different but of the same high quality. Big laughs, big life lessons; Louie is full of the unfiltered, ugly heart of its creator. The massive swings in tone week-to-week accounts for its widespread critical appeal and simultaneous lack of popular viewership. I’m not a strong advocate of auteur theory, but Louie CK is the embodiment of this ideal. Writing, editing, directing, and starring in each deeply personal capsule of himself. Season 5 is the further extension of its creator; flying off in eight different directions at once, awkwardly stumbling from each encounter to the next. There are only a few threads throughout the entire series, and Season 5 cashes in on the longest running one, finally bringing Louie and Pamela into a oft spoken but never realized relationship. (As a side note, Michael Rapaport absolutely crushed in episode 3 “Cop Story”. Just utterly killed it. He easily would get my pick as a Best Guest Appearance nominee.) Louie is a giant of comedy, or drama, or whatever it is, its the most unique experience currently airing.
#12: Silicon Valley
The very best characters can raise the stakes of whatever they’re doing to nail-biting levels. Even just sitting at a computer, trying to keep the servers running or frantically coding for a deadline while your fingers are lined with Cheetos dust, can be a practice in steel resolve. Silicon Valley manages to bring so many rich characters to life that each of its even shallowest storylines bring an immense weight to the audience. Who knew sitting at a computer could be so stressful? (more on that during our Mr Robot review) Most impressive, Silicon Valley masterfully strikes an absurd balance between this digital suspense and absolute absurdity. In between these moments of hire-wire antics (Erlich strapping on his computer gloves to save the day) and genuine tenderness (Richard’s plea in the Hooli courtroom) are some of the most ridiculous, low-brow jokes you can think of. A monkey with a robot arm? Sure. An app that tracks bare nipples? Okay. But still the hardest I laughed in Season 1 was during the discussion on how to most efficiently give a room of people hand-jobs (the solution is middle-out, by the way). Silicon Valley never takes itself too seriously, giving it immense elbowroom to drop exciting, genuine, and real-smaht moments (seriously, I learn more about technology in an episode of Silicon Valley than in any Wired article) in between its abundant dick jokes. It borders on thoughtful satire, examining the motives of our most beloved tech companies. It holds a very pale candle to satire giants like South Park and The Simpsons, but Silicon Valley is an incredible exploration of culture that isn’t afraid to show off its IQ (or its disgusting hairy chest).
Bryan Fuller is, no joke, my TV hero. The extent to which his oddball concepts are executed with creative precision results in some of the quirkiest shows we’ve seen, including Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, and Pushing Daisies. Fuller’s magnum opus, however, premiered a few years ago, and if you have not had the pleasure, you should first be warned of the graphic, and I mean real graphic content (as if the cannibal back story wasn’t enough to tip you off). Hannibal is stunning in every sense of the word and its visual aesthetic is unmatched. James Hawkinson’s cinematography is a kaleidoscope that perfectly mirrors the psychology of Hannibal and Will Graham. The gore drips from the screen, and each precise meal is an visual art form enticing you to try, just once, a little bit of the man that was used in the recipe (I will never forget Hannibal carefully selecting a meal by matching the dish’s ingredients with his rolodex of cannibalized corpses). The mutilated victims have you reeling in disgust but leaning in for more out of sheer fascination with the work that Hannibal has crafted (to quote Mikkelsen: “For me, he’s the fallen angel: Satan on Earth, a man who sees beauty where the rest of us see horror.”) And to top it all off, Mads Mikkelsen creates a Hannibal unlike any we’ve seen, but just as we would have imagined. His visceral physicality brings a new terrifying dimension; if his sophistication, genius, and seduction isn’t enough, brute force at the edge of a shearing knife will do just fine. There’s an entire love-story subtext between Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy that is played almost entirely through their unspoken interactions; its alluded to in written word, but the complexity of the central relationship is a result of the enormous respect and talent of the leads. And yet, for all of its art-house, philosophical glory, Hannibal could rise to the standard of NBC ratings (cancel Hannibal at your own discretion though, as Lecter says: “When feasible, one should always eat the rude.”). I for one was a bit disappointed with the last season (Seasons 1 and 2 would make the Top 5 without blinking). The repeated dialogue of the Manhunter series, echoed in Red Dragon, once again found its way into The Tooth Fairy arc of Hannibal (this article draws interesting parallels between the finale season and the path of the show’s cancelation). It felt repetitive, a simple retelling, and to call it what it is, a spin-off. Hannibal is anything but a retelling. It breathed life into Hannibal Lecter and revitalized a terror not seen since The Silence of the Lambs.
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