2015 has been a sort of strange year for television. On the one hand, there were quite a few shows that I was excited about at the beginning of the fall season, but when it came down to it I found that I just didn’t have time to watch all of them (The Last Kingdom and The Bastard Executioner were two that didn’t make the cut). Of the ones that I did watch, a couple turned out to be totally unwatchable disappointments (Scream Queens and Heroes Reborn fell into this group). And a couple of the shows I was most looking forward to (X-Files, The Shannara Chronicles, Lucifer, The Magicians, Shadowhunters) don’t actually premier until January. Most of what I’ve watched this year, then, has been things that I was already watching and enjoying. Only a few of the year’s new shows really stuck, and at least one of those is almost certainly not getting a second season.
This Netflix gem is kind of objectively the best new show of the year. It can be tough to watch, with its themes about rape and abuse, in spite of the fact that none of the sexual violence is ever actually shown on screen. Jessica Jones is a deeply compelling character who fits a lot of common noir tropes, but a lot of that is subverted by her journey being one of personal healing rather than a revenge tale. In the end, Jessica wants mostly to protect others rather than just avenge herself, making her a complicated and fascinating feminist hero. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
This year CBS gave us a very different kind of feminist hero in Supergirl, and I love that we now live in a world where both Kara Danvers and Jessica Jones are getting their own vastly different shows. Supergirl is much more overtly and earnestly feminist than the Netflix series, which can be frustrating at times, especially when the show garbles its 101 level messaging, but Melissa Benoist carries the whole show on her super-strong shoulders by creating a Kara who is tough and brave, but most of all deeply kind. When Strong Female Characters are often imagined as ass-kicking fighters, it feels pretty revolutionary to have a super-powered woman on television who is as deeply empathetic and caring as Benoist’s Supergirl.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show that I almost didn’t watch at all because I found the title so off-putting. It’s also the show that’s been, by far, the most pleasant surprise of the year. Hot shot lawyer Rebecca is so miserable with her life that she makes a totally bonkers decision to move to a small town in California where her ex-boyfriend, Josh, lives. It’s an absurdly silly premise, but I haven’t related to a character this much in a very long time. I, too, struggle with mental illness, and I, too, have often thought that making some enormous and ill-advised change in my life would somehow magically fix everything. Essentially, this show is a humorous take on how this kind of insane decision could work out for someone. Spoiler alert: everything is terrible-ly hilarious. Also, there are songs, because everyone involved in the show is a musical theatre nerd.
It’s great to see SyFy actually getting back to its roots and producing more, well, sci-fi. I didn’t love their adaptation of Childhood’s End (although I appreciate the attempt), but The Expanse is truly excellent. It’s space opera, but also a sort of mash-up with a noir detective story and a futuristic political drama. There are several notable women characters, including Chrisjen Avasarala (played by the incomparable Shohreh Aghdashloo), who I am certain is going to end up being the iconic character of the show. It’s worth watching just for her parts, but the rest of it is pretty great, too.
Into the Badlands
For some reason, almost no one seemed to talk much about Into the Badlands during its six-episode first season on AMC, but it’s a fucking excellent show that has surprisingly feminist sensibilities as well as some of the most incredibly choreographed martial arts fight scenes I’ve ever seen on television. Just in general, Into the Badlands is a gorgeously imagined and shot show, with highly saturated colors, striking cinematography, and great costumes. It’s also got a relatively diverse cast headed up by two Asian men (Daniel Wu and Aramis Knight) in the lead roles. A black woman (Madeleine Mantock) is the main character’s love interest, but she’s also a doctor and a revolutionary of sorts in her own right. The numerous other women on the show also eschew stereotyping, and while they exist in a fairly sexist fictional world, their roles and struggles aren’t entirely dictated by that. The only negative of this show is that it’s only six episodes for now and a second season hasn’t been confirmed, which makes the cliffhanger ending at the end of episode six potentially very frustrating/upsetting.
This show had tepid ratings and mediocre reviews and is the abovementioned likely-cancelled show, but I enjoyed it. The actors had a decent chemistry, though the writing could have been stronger all around, and I’d have liked to see the show explore more of its bigger ideas instead of adhering mostly to a case of the week format. Sadly, Fox has a tendency to invest in development for interesting sci-fi shows but then cut them off quickly if they don’t perform well, and that’s what happened with Minority Report. The news that their episode order had been cut from thirteen to ten after something like episode three of the first season didn’t help ratings. Still, the show was entertaining and had a lot of promise. It even managed to wrap up episode ten in a way that will act as a reasonably satisfying end to the story if there are no more episodes. It’s still available for binge watching on Hulu if you run out of other things to watch.