I don’t mind the term peak TV, at least in the way Willa recontextualized it, but I was surprised how quickly Landgraf’s term spread without acknowledgments that it’s in John Landgraf’s best business interest to say there’s too much television right now. FX has a lot of imitators, many of them very good; that’s bad for FX. FX’s relative position remains better with less competition. And while we’re perhaps reaching a cultural saturation point on white dude shows (FX’s onetime bread and butter), we are nowhere near cultural saturation for shows by and about everyone else.
I’m as guilty as anyone of overusing the phrase TV landscape, but these days I’m inclined to think of TV as more of an ecosystem, one whose living bodies are moving quickly and constantly, even if wide-scale change takes a little while to become apparent. Antihero shows used to sit comfortably atop the critical if not popular food pyramid, but like anything else—newsmagazines, prime-time game shows, cop procedurals—no one genre stays dominant forever. We don’t have our new apex predator yet, and maybe we won’t for a good long while. But pockets of specialization have emerged, and subgenres like auteur-driven comedies (Master of None, Broad City), shows on unexpected cable outlets (Mr. Robot, Unreal), and series that are fundamentally not hero-driven (Game of Thrones, Fargo) all owe at least a little something to their antihero predecessors.
So if abundance is the defining factor of good TV in 2015 and perhaps the next few years, I’m thrilled. I, you know, really love TV and always have, and so having “too much” good TV is actually a dream come true. I am TV greedy. TV gluttonous, even. I hope someday to die of TV gout from too much TV rich living. My top 10 list barely cracks the surface of what I loved this year, but here goes:
1. Mad Men
3. The Americans
4. Jane the Virgin
5. BoJack Horseman
8. The Last Alaskans (I was the only critic in the HitFix poll to vote for this doc series. It’s utterly riveting; it tells thoughtful, individual stories and contrasts them with some of the best documentary cinematography on television. Just a gem of a show.)
9. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
10. Broad City
And my honorable mentions in alphabetical order: Being Mary Jane, Bob’s Burgers, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Deutschland 83, The Fosters, Girls, The Great British Baking Show, Hindsight, Inside Amy Schumer, The Jinx, Key and Peele, The Leftovers, Master of None, Mr. Robot, Narcos, Orange Is the New Black, Playing House, Rectify, Silicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep.
Those shows represent such a tiny fraction of what thrilled me this year. My devotion to Degrassi: The Next Generation is unflagging, and I am excited to see it in its new Netflix incarnation in 2016. Teen TV in general is something I seek out: Switched at Birth I love, and Finding Carter and Awkward I like. Grey’s Anatomy had a creative resurgence this fall, and while it’s not at the heights it once was, it’s still a show I treasure. I’ve never regretted watching Drunk History. I genuinely think Going Deep With David Rees can change the world. I’ve seen every episode of America’s Next Top Model, and even though it’s been lousy for a while, I’m sad to see it go. RIP, smize.
I still like CNBC’s The Profit, even as I find it increasingly contrived. Every Catfish, every Intervention, forever and ever. I watch Botched; I like tales of redemption. The British import Humans really impressed me, even though I kept accidentally calling it Robots. The 100 does not get enough credit. Neither does Survivor’s Remorse. This fantastic revival season of America’s Best Dance Crew featured the best reality TV judging in a long, long time. Like Willa, I also loved Younger. My passion for skill-based reality contest shows remains unabated: Project Greenlight, Face Off, Top Chef, Project Runway, Project Runway All Stars, Project Runway Junior, Ink Master, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, Food Network Star, Masterchef Junior, Framework, WWE Tough Enough, American Idol, Ellen’s Design Challenge ... I watched every single episode of all of these shows. I want to give a special shout-out to the genre-bending America’s Next Weatherman, which combined a contest show with the weirdness and confusion of a Nathan for You thanks to bizarre challenges and host Matt Oberg’s deliberate strangeness. A joy. In terms of singular episodes, the Francis Mallmann installment of Chef’s Table really knocked me out, and became such an object of fascination that I attempted to wear a neckerchief. (Abort! Abort!)
But ... I don’t want to congratulate the industry too much: There are still nights when it feels like nothing is on, or weeks were the DVR feels barren. There’s still plenty of garbage television, and plenty of shows that cause genuine harm to our society. That’s the part that bugs me about peak TV—the idea that we’re at the top of something. Both the optimist and the pessimist in me are convinced there’s still a lot of terrain left to climb.
What say you, Joe? Are you at a personal peak for TV, or are you, like me, still ready for more more more?
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