Mad Men (Fraser McHale)
2015. The year that waved goodbye to Mad Men. Looking back at what has made this show so great over the years you could point to the original writing, the fantastic performances or the gorgeous set design and costume. But what has really made Mad Men great is something that I find hard to describe. The best way I have I can put it is that it is inherently ‘Mad Men’. That Mad Men has created a style unique to itself through a combination of all the things it does well. It will be used as a reference point for years to come by other filmmakers and show-runners when they want something done right. It has a consistency you see very rarely over a seven-season period and it never overstayed its welcome. There were a few flickers, namely Peggy’s profession of love to Stan in the final episode. It was a rare misstep for a show that usually tends to dodge such moments of melodrama, though this was more than made up for the final touching conversation between Don and his daughter Sally. What is remarkable about the final season of Mad Men is that while we got an ending it allowed room for the characters to continue existing. There are not many shows that treat its characters with such respect.
Jessica Jones (Lauren McNeilage)
Jessica Jones’s Kilgrave is perhaps the most frightening villain in the Marvel universe. This has less to do with his powers themselves (terrifying as they are) and more with what he represents. To many people, Kilgrave will be horribly familiar. Unlike other Marvel villains, he isn’t an alien or somebody intent on world domination. Rather, he is a controlling, entitled ex-boyfriend who will go to any lengths to get back the woman he feels belongs to him. What makes him so frightening is the fact that he is somebody many women (and men) will have met in real life, only endowed with super powers. When you strip away the superhero element, Jessica Jones is the story of a woman trying to rebuild her life after an abusive relationship. The show deals with issues like PTSD and rape in an unflinching yet sensitive way, and emerges as one of the most progressive, feminist shows ever made. Indeed, in a series whose main cast is entirely made up of women and people of colour, it’s pretty telling that its villain is a white man who feels the world owes him something.
Narcos (Simran Verdee)
Narcos is an addictive, gripping and blood-soaked experience following the life of Pablo Escobar the world’s biggest and richest drug lord, What’s most impressive is its ability to quickly hook and keep its audience. The structure of the storyline from episode to episode is so brilliantly done that you will not be able to stop watching. Each episode is given a brilliantly self-contained narrative, so you never feel this presence of “filler episodes”. Exploring the story, politics and history of Colombia, Narcos, in addition to being wildly entertaining, is also educational and revealing. Admittedly, not all the events are completely historically accurate, but there is no denying the thrill created by the idea that the shocking events in Narcos are true. The characters, dialogue and narrative all feel real, nothing feels sanitised for Television. There is this ingenious style within Narcos’ where dramatized events and character are layered between real-life images and news stories. The audience feels complicit in the uncovering of the cases. We are put in the centre of conspiracies, plots and operations that the media and government at the time would have hidden from us. We have no choice but to become immersed in this intense and ground-breaking series.
Transparent (Sophie Worning)
In a year when gender debate flourished in the media, Transparent was one of the few shows that managed to capture this discussion in a sensitive manner, while somehow maintaining a level of wit previously unseen in other shows concerning gender identity. The story revolves around Jewish patriarch Morton Pfefferman (played excruciatingly well by Jeffrey Tambor), who finally comes out as a transgender woman at the tender age of 60, sending shockwaves trembling through the troublesome and unstable Pfefferman family. After the stunning revelation of Morton actually being Maura, the show had the dangerous potential to veer into sappy melodrama. Luckily, Jill Soloway’s stellar writing, based on the circumstances surrounding her own father coming out as transgender in 2011, creates a fragile, yet well-wrought, balance of painfully dry humour and hard-hitting emotion. I often found myself giggling and sobbing simultaneously. Maura’s self-realisation is countered through the reactions of her children, who have their own struggles to overcome, often with similarly tragi-comic results. Stand-outs are Maura’s daughter Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), the eternally petulant youngest child in the family, and son Josh (Jay Duplass), who is coming to terms with the fact that his relationship with his teenhood nanny wasn’t as romantic as he remembers it. It was truly difficult to find a show as ground-breaking and heart-breaking as Transparent in 2015.
The Walking Dead (Liam Dooley)
Unlike some critics who claim that The Walking Dead is a show that’s just shows zombies tearing apart people in order to fulfill some kind of primal gore-loving fascination in the average viewer, I am not alone in thinking that it is truly one of the greatest shows on television. It isn’t just about zombies at all! In fact, it is more focused on the human side of things. It’s about how people respond in desperate situations and just how far they will go to survive. Where other TV dramas find their driving motives in things based more in reality, like Walter White’s cancer in Breaking Bad for example, The Walking Dead just finds its basis in something more supernatural. Although both of these AMC shows are brilliant in their own right, I think the balance between exploring human issues and the room for some supernatural escapism is what gives The Walking Dead an edge on other shows.