Top 33 TV Shows Of 2015: #2 & #1

#2: Fargo

When the aliens come bearing down on us in their flying saucers, I can only hope we take it better than Hanzee and the Blumquist’s. With Ed (Jesse Plemons) and Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) on the run from the rampaging Hanzee (Zahn McClarnon), the arrival of intergalactic aliens is only enough to distract Ed for a moment before Peggy mutters “It’s just a flying saucer, Ed. We’ve got to go.” While you could write volumes on the meaning of Fargo‘s extraterrestrials, one thing is for sure, we can ignore anything to justify our violence (and that only on Fargo could any of those past sentences exist). Armed with their signature disarming accents and inclement weather, the citizens of the North would just as soon pass you a tissue as they would stab you in the back while you sneezed. It’s all a matter of perspective; the moral relativism of each of Fargo‘s characters is enough for them to justify each and every action. The accent is just a smoke screen that blurs the reality from both outsiders and from themselves. Already explored during our Fall TV PreviewFargo cemented its top spot with a stunning conclusion, paying homage to the Coen Brother’s source material in elegant fashion. The feud-turned-war between North Dakota’s Gerhardt family and the Kansas City mob finally broke the seal, but when the bullets started flying, the intended targets were rarely the ones at the receiving end of the machine gun’s malice. The shootout in Sioux Falls is a crossfire bloodbath that catches plenty of innocents to lay next to the guilty (director Adam Arkin lingers on an old man who’s killed during an attempted car jacking, another senseless victim to add to the pile). Fargo spoke volumes about the nature of violence and painted a layered portrait of the violent-overthrow outlook of the 1970’s bleeding into the modern era. No show so well juggles the quirky, hilarious, shocking, and disgusting torches that Noah Hawley does each week on FX. What sets Fargo apart is the ensemble: each member so richly brings to life the well-drawn characters that inhabit our frozen tundra (Bokeem Woodbine is perhaps the breakthrough performance of the year and winner of best name of 2015). It would be faster to list the actors who aren’t excellent: there are none.

#1: Mr. Robot

If we all fully realized (or accepted) the fragile state of assumed anonymity and privacy in which we live, paranoia would consume each moment of our lives. Mr. Robot flings us so wholeheartedly into the cracked mind of hacker Eliot Alderson that each demented thought, told through seamless voice-over and fourth wall breaks, seems completely and totally reasonable. We are the only ones let into Eliot’s demented, drug-addicted perspective, so we empathize with almost everything he thinks, feels, and does, even when we manage to break free of the trance to notice how despicable a lot of it is. Mr. Robot draws you in so viscerally that things like hacking your therapist’s email and profiles or plotting to overthrow a corporation isn’t out of the ordinary; its the natural response to a digitized world where your personal information is the most valued currency on the market. This consuming paranoia is captured within each frame of Mr. Robot. Conversations are quick and offsetting as Eliot struggles to maintain any semblance of social competence. Characters are subdued to the corner of the frame at every opportunity, further placing them as annoying distractions to our paranoid perspective. The camera tunnels through servers and social profiles, through tinted windows and transparent office doors, as Eliot pines after his cute childhood crush one minute and cracks into her personal emails the next. We’re also subjected to unexplainable jumps in time and logic, flowing solely at the mercy of what Eliot’s surely mentally-ill-mind can muster at any given moment. And of course, none of this is possible without the singular performance of Rami Malek (who fully deserved every award this year, but the Emmy’s apparently just figured out that Jon Hamm should’ve had a few statues already). We are transfixed in each moment as he struggles to understand what’s going through his head or how to say a simple hello to a co-worker or where the hell he was last night. From our comfortable computer armchairs in Eliot’s psyche, we only view Rami’s reactions through the lens of others, and what we see is more often than not a mirror of ourselves: struggling with furled brows to piece together bits of conversation and understand how we’ve managed to get to this point and place in time. Eliot can never fully trust what his mind is telling him (sometimes he’s not even sure, begging us “please tell me you’re seeing this, too”, and then complaining how he’s “talking to an imaginary person”: us.) The season culminates in a revolutionary finale, but we don’t get to see it. Eliot has lost that memory, that part of his mind, where those crucial moments resided, leaving him and us scrambling to figure out what happened even when we were the ones typing it all in. We can never fully trust that what Eliot is telling us is right. We’re handcuffed to an unreliable narrator and can only hang on for the ride in hopes that we too aren’t driven to madness. There’s more.

Creator Sam Esmail inserts another superbly crafted character with tech executive Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom). Tyrell isn’t so much the villain as he is Eliot’s foil: where Eliot is awkward and stuttering, Tyrell comfortably dominates a boardroom and establishes physical dominance. The slicked-back-blonde-hair-snake slithers through corporate structures, working the angles and angling for position at E Corp (it’s called something else, but we only know it as Evil Corp, because that is the only name Eliot calls it by). Tyrell is the Y2K equivalent of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. But while we distrust and are wary of Eliot because of just how much we know about him (we are his consciousness, after all), Tyrell is more terrifying solely because of the lack of information surrounding him. In comparison, Eliot’s warped, anything-is-justified perspective is a cushy, comfortable blanket compared to the complete mystery of what drives Tyrell or motivates him to carry out equally despicable acts as our protagonist. He is the embodiment of the nameless, faceless evil of corporate America, who mines our data and treats our lives like simply binary code, plus and minuses on spreadsheet. Mr. Robot forces us to choose our devil: the terrorist hacker or the nameless corporation. When we so freely offer our personal lives to the world, its simply a matter of when it will be compromised; so who would we prefer to do it? (Anonymous or Apple? Both operate with impunity, one in a hoodie and one in a suit. Can I ever really trust a corporation?) No show so elegantly captures the frantic and fragile state of the world, and Mr. Robot never once needs to mention the NSA, or Snowden, or Facebook to build the world we know we already live in. I am constantly astonished at just how much Google knows about me. Maybe I should be worried instead.

(P.S. All hail the return of Christian Slater.)

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