In many ways, 2015 was pre-ordained to be a massive year. After a down year at the box office in 2014, pundits predicted 2015 would be huge, given the releases of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the final “Hunger Games” movie, and “Jurassic World.” And (for those that have been released), those movies delivered well at the box office (including “World” setting an opening weekend record, and then, you know, “Star Wars” demolishing it.). But there were a number of pleasant surprises that pundits didn’t see coming, and that’s what made 2015 quite an impressive year for entertainment. These are my favorite pieces of entertainment from 2015, presented in no particular order, but, for sake of readability, I’ve broken my list down by categories. Let me know what I missed, or what you enjoyed, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading this blog – and I hope you’ll stay with me in 2016.
Lots of great new shows this year, and quite a few on Netflix.
Mr. Robot: Wow. Really, what more can I say? This may have been the most addictive show of the year, and wins my informal award for show of the summer. Rami Malek’s performance is top-notch, the show is paced so well that no scene feels forced or merely expository, and it’s made Christian Slater a star again.
Master of None: Aziz Ansari’s semi-autobiographical Netflix sitcom feels like the most real thing on TV. Ansari’s Dev hangs out with friends, goes on dates, and lives a relatively mundane New York City life (with the occasional jaunt to Nashville, or the set of “The Sickening.”) His exploration of late 20s/early 30s romance, immigration, and racism are sharply focused, but he also finds a kernel of humor in each.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp: Most of my college friends and I were devotees of the original film, and this series managed to outdo the weirdness and quirkiness of its predecessor. The fact that all of the major players returned (including now-famous Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, and Amy Poehler) made the show that much more enjoyable, but seeing these characters so old in real life play so young never failed to yield a laugh.
The Last Man on Earth: Ostensibly, this is a sitcom, but with one of the most bleak premises you’ll read: seven billion people died, and (as far as we know), less than ten have survived. Yet, the show wrings laughs not from survivalist humor or desperation in searching for supplies or group politics, but rather from the mundane: Todd hoarding bacon, Tandy leaving Carol behind at a gas station, or any of Will Forte’s line deliveries. My personal favorite?
Carol: That’s boloney on rye, Phil.
Tandy: No, Carol, that’s truth meat on honesty bread!”
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Catchiest theme song of the year. Ellie Kemper’s performance is bubbly, personable, and above all the show has the lightness of “30 Rock” despite a serious-sounding premise (former cult member escapes and lives a charmed New York City life).
The Slap: Just kidding.
Honorable Mentions: Marvel’s Agent Carter, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Casual.
Four of my five favorites? HBO shows.
Veep: Consistently the funniest show on television. A show whose ensemble cast is well-served every episode. And a show that can provide us with clips like this:
Silicon Valley: The first season had ended on a happy-ish note, with Richard and co. winning the coveted $50,000 prize, only for Richard to realize that life was going to get that much more difficult with a little bit of success. Season 2 made for anxiety-inducing comedy: every episode had me cringing about a Pied Piper predicament. But every week also had a hilarious moment or three (usually from Erlich or Dinesh or Gilfoyle, but yeah, mostly Erlich). I didn’t need to SWOT to see if this show made my “best of” list.
The Leftovers: I was one of a few who enjoyed the first season, but the second season of this bleak, depressing show went to a different, much-improved level. There may be no miracles in Miracle, but miraculously, this show was one of the best of the year.
South Park: This most recent season of South Park differed from years past, as it was its most serialized. The through lines, about advertising taking over our news coverage, gun accessibility, PC culture, and gentrification, were all handled as only South Park’s satirical nature can, but each episode also had a fair share of humor.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Unlike Janice from accounting, I very much enjoy this show.
Honorable mentions: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Simpsons, Brooklyn 99, Once Upon a Time, True Detective: Season 2, BoJack Horseman.
TV (Special Events):
SNL40: Wow, was this good. A show that was dedicated to the history of the Not Ready for Primetime Players, I only wish they had given it an extra hour. The special edition of Celebrity Jeopardy was great, as was the Wayne’s World. If only Taylor Swift hadn’t ruined the Californians sketch, this show would have been a perfect 10. [Note: SNL in general was phenomenal in 2015, most especially in the Tracy Morgan episode, #WelcomeBackTracy, and in the greatest Christmas video ever starring Ryan Gosling, Santa Baby.]
Show Me a Hero: David Simon once again proves he’s the finest TV show runner out there. Oscar Isaac’s performance is captivating, but to me Catherine Keener was the standout of this HBO miniseries. Material that could have been extremely dry (public housing) is gripping, compelling television.
This year saw a number of my favorite shows sign off the air. Each one maintained its consistency until its final moment.
The Late Show with David Letterman: Dave’s heartfelt goodbye, as he explained how the Foo Fighters helped him recover from heart surgery, was the most emotion he’s shown on his show in decades.
The Soup: Never the highest rated or highest brow show, Joel McHale’s weekly send-up of all things reality (and Kardashian) will be sorely missed.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: While the show lives on with another host, nothing will replace Stewart’s take on politics and, more importantly, Arby’s.
Parks and Recreation: In 2014, you could see the quality of Parks and Rec slowly start to wane. And so I was stunned when its penultimate season finale jumped ahead in time three years. Cut to this final season, all of which took place in 2017, and each episode was filled with urgency (as well as fun guesses as to what 2017 would actually be like). Bonus points for an extremely satisfying series finale.
Community: Who’s to say if we’ll ever get that movie, but at least we got the six seasons we were promised. While the show in later years will be remembered more for cast reshuffling (goodbye, Yvette Nicole Brown, hello, Paget Brewster) than key plot points, the sixth season managed to recapture the spirit of the show’s golden years. [Note: this is the first of three appearances for Alison Brie on my best-of list. My friend Jeff will be pleased.]
Mad Men: [And here’s her second appearance] Mad Men was a show whose quality never dipped in seven tremendous seasons, and yet, I was still nervous as to whether or not the show could “stick the landing” for the finale. Was I ever wrong to doubt. That was as close to a pitch-perfect finale as you could ask for: some bittersweet moments (especially Betty, given her diagnosis), but Don meditating and coming up with, arguably, the greatest ad of all time, is as fine a point to end on as anything else Weiner and co. could have imagined.
Music (Formerly of Oasis):
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Chasing Yesterday: Because when my favorite artist releases an album, it’s going to be on the best-of list for the year.
Music (Artist of our Generation):
Carly Rae Jepsen, E-Mo-Tion: Because when my favorite artist releases an album, it’s going to be on the best-of list for the year.
Much like the Golden Globes, I’ll break movies up into genres, only there is no way I’m having a category for musicals.
Inside Out: Some animated movies seem like the voice actors were hired because they were famous, and not because they particularly fit the roll. The exact opposite of that? Inside Out. Amy Poehler’s Joy, Phyllis Smith’s Sadness, Mindy Kaling’s Disgust, Lewis Black’s Anger and Bill Hader’s Fear were perfectly cast. No movie has ever gone so well inside someone’s mind and, as usual with Pixar, the movie did an incredible thing while retaining heart and humor.
LeBron James in Trainwreck: Because he says with a straight face that Miami and Cleveland are exactly the same.
Michael Pena in Ant-Man: In a movie about heists, he stole the film.
Sleeping with Other People: Alison Brie [There’s the third] and Jason Sudeikis have insanely good chemistry as friends doing the dance Harry and Sally perfected all those years ago, namely trying to see if a heterosexual man and heterosexual woman can be just friends. (Ironically, the movie that did the weakest job of exploring that idea is “Just Friends.”)
Entourage: Kidding. Glad the movie exists to answer all those questions we had at the end of the series finale. (Spoiler: Vinnie did the movie.)
Spotlight: With the caveat that I have not yet seen all of the “Oscar” movies, I’ll simply say this: Spotlight is the best movie of the year by a mile, and is a worthy successor to All the President’s Men as the best journalism movie of the last few decades.
Creed: If you had told me a year or two ago that we needed a seventh Rocky movie, I would have said, “Yes, about as badly as we need a fourth Jurassic Park, a seventh Fast & Furious, and a spin-off about those Minions from Despicable Me.” Well, past me, you got your wish, and luckily Creed lived up to the hype. Michael B. Jordan made people stop talking about the flop that is Fantastic Four, and that’s an accomplishment all its own.
Southpaw: What a year for boxing movies. Gyllenhaal is great in this (and he was pretty good in Everest too, although that movie ended up being two hours of bleak snow isolation (snowsolation?), and bonus points to 50 Cent for actually having a decent acting performance. Guess he has to pay the bills somehow. [Ed. note: I think he is still technically “bankrupt.”]
Going Clear: A bit of a cheat, since it was an HBO movie. As many readers of the blog know, I am obsessed with (the sheer craziness of) Scientology. Tell me all about the Sea Org, their belief in Xenu and Thetans, or how David Miscaviage’s wife has been missing for years and no one (especially Leah Remini!) is allowed to talk about it, and I’m there.
Straight Outta Compton: A well-presented music biopic that didn’t always follow the traditional beats, much like the rappers who were being portrayed on screen. Bonus points to Ice Cube’s actual son for being a dead ringer for his father.
Back to the Future Day: This fall, everyone finally experienced what I feel nearly every day of my life: a celebration of the Back to the Future trilogy. While predictions from Back to the Future II did not necessarily come true (no Jaws sequel in 3D this year, no Cubs/Marlins World Series, no double neckties), the enthusiasm shown the world over for these movies made for a special day nonetheless.
The Martian: A movie filled with enough humor that the Golden Globes actually (seriously) categorized it as a comedy. Despite that, there are enough tense moments during Matt Damon’s many sols on Mars to wonder how Mark Watney is going to survive the Martian night, let alone actually get off the planet.
Ex Machina: One of the smallest sci-fi movies in years, but with a phenomenal performance by Oscar Isaac as a deranged inventor. Eerie, disturbing, and thrilling.
Movies (Vin Diesel):
Furious 7: Known primarily for two things: 1) A fitting farewell to Paul Walker, whose own brothers had to be body doubles so that Universal could complete filming of the movie, and 2) cars getting dropped out of an airplane onto a mountain. Because of course.
Movies (Star Wars):
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Here’s the thing: I saw the movie for the first time on December 17th (and the second time on the 20th, and the third time on the 24th), meaning that, for most of 2015, I was not reminiscing about BB-8, Han and Chewie back on the Millennium Falcon, and even Admiral Ackbar. But Star Wars was an event this year not just as a movie, but as a cultural phenomenon. The trailer’s viewership was news. The ticket pre-sale was news. The LEGO sets were news (and many bought by me). By Thanksgiving, Star Wars mania had hit a fever pitch. Sure, Jurassic World made a ton of money at the box office, and so too did Age of Ultron and Furious 7. But for my money, 2015 belonged to The Force Awakens.