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[01.01.2016]

The Best Television Series of 2015

Peter Breedveld

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Here follows a list of the television series I’ve been enjoying the most in 2015. It is very subjective, because I have only seen a few series and skipped many that people where very enthusiastic about.

I have never seen an episode of Mad Men, nor of House of Cards. I have seen an episode of Borgen once and found it so dull I scratched my face open to at least feel something.

I do not watch television to learn, I watch it for the purpose it was intended for: to drug myself and forget what a drudgery my earthly existence is.

This does not mean I don’t like intelligent drama or that I turn the TV off when an important social issue is addressed. Such things are just not my criteria for enjoying something.

10: The Walking Dead

There is never a perfect season of this series. There are always highlights and low points. For instance, season 4 started with a bang and then quickly caved in and picked itself up again towards the ending.

There are always characters I cannot wait to be torn apart by zombies. Not because they are mean villains, but because they are self-righteous saints being kept alive by the very man they feel so morally superior about.

This is about zombies but it’s mainly about people and what they do under extreme conditions. It is a pulp incarnation of Albert Camus’ La Peste. Above all it is very well-made, with the most fantastic looking zombies in any movie or series I have ever seen. They look a little like they were designed by Bernie Wrightson (google him, I had dinner with him and his wife once).

The sultry atmosphere is also great. I think this is filmed in Louisiana or some such. It’s seldom winter in The Walking Dead, always summer and you can feel the heat and the sweat-soaked clothing stick to your sore body just watching this. I can never remember the names of the characters, just Rick, the main character, who is an asshole and who moves his head like a cock about to engage in a fight when he speaks to people. My favorites are the black woman with the samurai sword and the red-neck with the cross-bow. I have been praying the Korean guy was not killed by the zombies when he seemed to be in the first half of the current season and went missing for a few episodes.

 

 

9: Gotham

This is about Gotham City before Bruce Wayne became Batman. He is still a boy living in his freshly murdered parents’ mansion with his guard, Alfred Pennyworth. Commissioner James Gordon is the main character here. As you see, I remember all the names because I grew up with them. We see how the Penguin came to rise as a kingpin of crime, we see Cat Woman as an adolescent and Edward Enigma turn into the Riddler and we thought we saw the origin of the Joker but it turned out we were played by the makers of this series.

Liberties are taken and the Batman mythos is not always respected, and that is just fine. I always read Batman mainly for the atmosphere anyway.

Gotham is chock-full of references only the most seasoned comic readers will recognize, but it’s mainly a thoroughly enjoyable crime series in which the criminals are traumatized freaks, played by actors who try to outdo each other overacting. It’s totally crazy but the look of it, Jesus, the gothic art nouveau design of the buildings and interiors in Gotham is just awe-inspiring. Also the lighting is never less then perfect, not in any scene.

 

 

8: Penny Dreadful

Penny Dreadful is kind of a rip-off of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: different famous characters from literary novels and pulp fiction are brought together and form a team to battle super-natural menaces like vampires and witches in Victorian London. In Penny Dreadful they are, among others, Dorian Gray, Victor von Frankenstein, his monster, the Werewolf and a Alain Quartermain-like character played by Timothy Dalton.

Penny Dreadful is quite wordy and sometimes tedious, it’s not particularly gory but it’s ultimately gratifying. Also the atmosphere and the design are impeccable.

Eva Green plays the main character magnificently, a deeply religious woman with considerable supernatural powers, torn by guilt over something. In the first season she has a great scene as a medium, pulling out all the stops playing she’s possessed, it’s hilarious and exhilarating.

There’s quite some explicit sex in this, also between men and one of the great things about Penny Dreadful is that it does not judge. We don’t see a homosexual sex scene because it’s politically correct, but because it serves the story and it is quite erotic as well. There is a very convincing, round transgender and a woman taking horrible revenge on the men who have been exploiting her in her youth, but you can’t help feeling sorry for these men, who are egotistic villains, because she is quite scary and extremely cruel. I like that, this notion that being a victim does not necessarily make you likable.

I was surprised but glad to read there will be a third season this year.

 

 

7: Mr. Robot

I watched this series mainly for the actor who plays the main character, with his huge eyes and his sonorous, hypnotic voice. He is Rami Malek who is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Sometimes he looks like Boris Karloff and sometimes like a Moroccan Buster Keaton.

It’s surprising this got to be such a huge hit because the story is about a bunch of activists (or terrorists, if you will) who plan to destroy the Western world by simply hacking the computers of a company subtly named EvilCorp or something and wiping out every debt of every American citizen.

If I understood that right, that is. Much of the hacker talk went way above my head. I like the subversiveness of Mr. Robot though although it tends to get overly politically correct and I saw the huge plot twist coming right from the beginning, having seen,of course, the film Fi.. Okay, no spoilers. Sorry.

 

 

6: The Knick

Sublime, very intense drama about a hospital in New York in the early 1900’s. It’s run, of course, by a bunch of racist, sexist and ego-maniacal white men, who are nevertheless brilliant surgeons dedicated to the further development of medicine, even if a few patients have to die horrible deaths serving as guinea pigs. Some operating scenes are so explicit and realistic I have to look away at times, and I do watch a lot of horror.

The Knick has everything, from operating room horror to doctor/nurse romance and issues like the exploitation of the poor by the rich and the empowerment of ambitious women cast aside by the surgeons when they no longer have use for them. There is a genius black doctor fighting the racism by which he is not only humiliated and hindered in his career, but which also costs patients their lives, simply because white doctors will not take advice from a black man.

It is a pity though that while racism against black people and sexism is strongly denounced in The Knick, the Asian characters seem to come right from the racist pulp novels of that time. An Asian in The Knick is either a whore or an opium dealer who can also fight like Jackie Chan.

Clive Owen is fantastic as a hyperactive, talented and ambitious surgeon with a monkey on his shoulder but the real gem here is Eve Hewson, who is the daughter of the despicable Bono, but has a face like she belongs in the early 20th century. She plays a nurse who is Owen’s lover and she does almost all her acting, the sadness and anger and pain of existing with those wonderful sea-green eyes of hers (taking a risk here because I am color-blind).

 

 

5: Daredevil

My expectations weren’t high for this but Daredevil is the first series ever that I binge-watched, that is how hooked I got.

Daredevil became a hugely popular comic when Frank Miller started to write it, that’s when it got that grim, gritty quality.

My favorite Daredevil writer is Ann Nocenti, whom you’ve never heard of but who elevated the character above the one-dimensional revenge machine hampered by Catholic guilt that Miller made him.

Nocenti also gave Daredevil a believable female supporting cast (Typhoid Mary being one of my favorite super-villains ever) and some social and environmental themes. I remember the angry letters Marvel got after Nocenti had handled Daredevil for a while.

This TV-series is a perfect mix between Miller and Nocenti. The fight scenes are superb, the tension is nail-biting and Vincent D’Onofrio, who I always found a ridiculous actor, an overgrown toddler, is a very impressive Kingpin.

Looking forward to the next season, starring Elektra about whom Frank Miller has already stated she is not the ‘real’ Elektra. This proves islamophobia really eats your brain away.

 

 

4: Fargo

The second season of Fargo is even better than the first, but I guess you read that already somewhere else. What I like most in this series is not the misanthropic, dark humor but the charismatic villains.

In the first season that was Billy Bob Thornton, obviously, in this season it’s Bokeem Woodbine, a coldblooded killer who is charming and scary at the same time because he confuses his victims with his eloquent explanations full of literary references that only he understands, being by far the most intelligent man in town.

That woman who played Mary Jane in Spider-Man, she’s hilarious as a totally self-centered air-head babbling about self-realization and empowerment, too stupid to realize how stupid she is but with an instinct for survival that makes her an adversary to be reckoned with by even the most efficient, merciless killers.

Fargo gets very intense at times, with many scenes of nail-biting tension that are hilarious at the same time. Like for instance when Karl Weathers, the always drunk lawyer, very eloquently and wittily reasons his way out of getting killed by a very angry psychopath, seemingly soiling himself while he does it.

And there’s a flying saucer in it.

 

 

3: The Leftovers

This is the most poetic TV-series I ever saw. It’s about the state of the world after a huge tragedy that is never explained (and if you keep insisting you want an explanation this series is not for you; go watch Game of Thrones or something), in which one of every four people in the world just suddenly disappears. Nobody knows where they went and how it happened, they were just gone. The Leftovers are the people who did not disappear. They have to deal with their loss, because virtually no one is unaffected.

I could describe what happens in the two seasons shown so far, but that would be pointless. The main character is a police man trying to suppress not only the madness simmering in his town, but also the madness in himself. There is always the threat of horrible violence darkening everything, but there are also always instances of tenderness.

The Leftovers is about malevolence and misunderstanding, people hurting each other for no purpose at all, people locked up inside of themselves with no means of escape, about guilt and grief and the danger of strong convictions. It gets pretty absurd, really very surrealistic but within its own confines it all somehow makes perfect sense.

 

 

2: Transparent

This is an incredible TV-series about a family of self-obsessed, smug, Californian Jews, the Pfeffermans, constantly colliding with each-other and with everybody else. They suck the energy out of everybody, like emotional, hyperactive vampires.

It’s hilariously funny, deeply touching and totally shameless. It’s very sexy too. The first season starts with the pater familias, confidently played by Jeffrey Tambor (Hellboy’s boss in the Hellboy films and if you’re over 40, you’ll remember him from Hill Street Blues), finally coming out as a transgender woman well in his sixties.

The revelation is not as big a shock to his ex-wife and children as he expected, but it does work as a catalyst for the sexual self-discovery of his two daughters, one of whom leaves her husband and children for the college female friend she always had a crush on. His son gets involved with a rabbi (a woman) and discovers for the first time he has an adult Catholic son with a woman he has not seen for years.

The acting, the dialogue, the writing is very natural, very matter-of-fact and the second season is even better than the first one, having a parallel story about Jews coming to terms with their sexuality in Berlin in the 1930’s.

What I love about this series is there are no abnormalities, everything is acceptable. There’s lots of very un-American, casual, normal people nudity in it and nobody is the bad guy and nobody is the good guy. Everyone makes a mess of his or her life and of the lives of others, nobody is without prejudice and that causes pain, but it’s okay because that’s how people are so you might as well have a laugh about it and if you want to cry, that’s okay too.

“You are all monsters!” one of the victims of the Pfeffermans, stricken with grief, yells at them at a party. – “That’s a tad dramatic!” mss Pfefferman replies. I laughed so hard I almost choked.

 

 

1: Wolf Hall

I wanted to put Transparent on the number one spot and then I saw Wolf Hall, based on the books of my favorite living writer, Hilary Mantel, about king Henry VIII’s personal advisor Thomas Cromwell (I interviewed Hilary Mantel long before she got her two subsequent Booker Prizes, and you can read it here).

Man, I didn’t know this was possible. Wolf Hall is a costumed, historical drama but it’s mainly people talking. There are no action scenes at all, although this plays in one of the most violent periods in English history, with people being tortured and burned at the stake just for possessing a Bible, but the tension is murdering. It got me at the point of my chair, six hours on end because I watched the series in one go.

The acting is so flawless, so powerful, the dialogue so witty, the directing is so smooth, everything is so intelligently done it’s breathtaking. This, dear people, is television at its best. Also it is a nice change from the excellent but always hyperactive American television dramas.

On a side note: the main actor in Wolf Hall, Mark Rylance, also played the main character in Intimacy, a powerful film about adultery from 2001. He played opposite Kerry Fox, who performed unsimulated fellatio on him in the film. For her it virtually meant the end of her film career, but apparently the sex scene did no harm at all to Rylance’s career.

 

 

English, Peter Breedveld, 01.01.2016 @ 17:56

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11 Reacties

op 01 01 2016 at 22:21 schreef Maurice:

Nice list! The series I know from this list I like a lot and I agree with the descriptions. I will check the other series.

Meanwhile, House of Cards remains a big recommendation.

op 02 01 2016 at 15:56 schreef Rena Breed:

I agree with Maurice, House of Cards is a must see.

op 02 01 2016 at 19:35 schreef Steven:

I third that.

Also : The Americans.

op 02 01 2016 at 19:44 schreef Murat:

Boardwalk Empire. Ook een aanrader.

op 03 01 2016 at 00:43 schreef Sasha Berkman:

Luther had een update.

ook goed: https://kat.cr/usearch/frankenstein%20chronicles/

op 03 01 2016 at 21:17 schreef Anoniem:

Mooi lijstje.

Zoals hierboven aangegeven Luther is simply brilliant.

En Mads Mikkelsen in Hannibal is fukcing creepy.

op 04 01 2016 at 10:04 schreef Emma:

House of cards is inderdaad obligatory voor iemand zoals jij. Homeland ook trouwens. Dat wordt dus toch een Netflixabonnementje ;-)

op 04 01 2016 at 20:40 schreef Sasha Berkman:

homeland is racistische shit. Ik ben er mee gestopt.

op 05 01 2016 at 00:36 schreef Maurice:

De serie Homeland schijnt naar mate de serie vordert als een kaartenhuis in te storten.

The Walking dead raakt naarmate de seizoenen verstrijken steeds meer uitgebalanceerd.

Penny Dreadful herbergt inderdaad een meesterlijke gothic horror sfeer, beter dan bijvoorbeeld het vermakelijke Sleepy Hollow.
Voor een Sasha Berkman is het handig te weten dat er een donkere bediende in voorkomt.

Dat het tweede seizoen van Fargo zelfs beter is dan het eerste, welke af was, maakt benieuwd.

Overigens was het tweede seizoen van True Detective (ook per seizoen een afgerond verhaal) ook erg vermakelijk, maar ik vind het eerste seizoen de geniale aanrader.

op 05 01 2016 at 11:30 schreef Anton:

Only season 1 of house of cards is a must. Season 2 is just fun. Season 3 is inconsistent rubbish where suddenly frank and especially claire are no longer the narcisistic pragmatic powerhunters they used to be.

op 05 01 2016 at 15:23 schreef Salpeterzuur:

Homeland is inderdaad racistisch. Kon het niet aanzien. Fargo seizoen 2 is inderdaad beter dan seizoen 1 en die is al erg goed. Die huurmoordenaar in seizoen 1 was vooral erg goed. “I have two question for you. One…”

Ben sinds het lezen van je top 10 lijst begonnen met The Leftovers. Creepy. Die sekte van vrouwen in het wit is vreselijk, haha. Bedankt voor de aanrader.

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