Top 10 television shows for 2015

Mad Men 2015

It’s December, and the thing the internet loves the most at this time of year is the end-of-year Best Of list, so they can disagree with them. This is my first time writing such a list, and it’s difficult. I thought about writing a separate list for Australian shows, but I don’t want to ghettoise them, so they’re in here too. There are things that aren’t on here because I don’t watch them (The Walking Dead, Hannibal) or haven’t had time to catch up (Transparent, The Leftovers, Parks and Recreation), so just know I haven’t forgotten them. I didn’t forget anything, there’s a reason I left it off. Fargo isn’t on here because while I thought it was very good, I didn’t love it – although Kirsten Dunst did give one of the best performances of the year. My favourite show of the year has the top spot, everything else is in alphabetical order. Hopefully the shows I’ve collected here are a good range of the different things I’m enjoying right now. Writing a Top 10 list is hard, and while I’m only super passionate about half to two-thirds of the shows on this list, they’re all here for a reason. I’ve written about all of these shows previously, so there’s just going to be a paragraph about why each one is there, with some links to some things I’ve written. My only warning is that if you watch the “Best episodes” of the show, you will be spoiled for some plot developments.

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Television Review: The second season of The 100 recognises that you can’t save everyone

No one is innocent – Maya

Maybe there are no good guys – Abigail Griffin

The 100 is one of those delightful television shows that you hear is really good, so you watch it. By the end of the third episode in the first season, I was hooked, and the show only got better from there. This is a show about people who are trying to survive. The one thing that unites the Sky People, the Grounders and the Mountain Men is that they’re all trying to survive, and they all need each other. But what’s left of the 100 don’t need the adults. They established a working society, and then The Ark made it to the ground, and Cain was arresting Bellamy for beating up Murphy. To Cain it doesn’t matter that Murphy killed others, it matters that Bellamy is resorting to ‘savage’ actions. The status quo has changed, and even though the 100 were at war with the Grounders, the Ark’s government has immediately established them as Other. That categorisation didn’t really help when Finn lost it and started shooting innocents at the Grounder village. One of the many reasons that The 100 is a good show, in addition to interesting and believable sotries and characters, is that it doesn’t make excuses. Sometimes the only way out is something you used to think was inexcusable. It separates the leaders from everyone else, particularly in times of war.

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Beginning of April Roundup!

So it’s Good Friday tomorrow and I just went out to dinner with a group of school friends, most of whom I’ve only seen once in the past year. It was great! I spoke to an actor about Birdman, and it was really good to get a different perspective on it. What this means is that I don’t feel like writing a really long review of anything in particular, so this is just going to be a /Filmcast What I’ve Been Watching-style post, which is all the usual things, as well as some things I’m catching up on. There are spoilers for these shows, so if you see something you don’t want to be spoiled on, move to the next section.

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Television Review: The 100, Season 1

I’m Australian, but I mostly watch American television. Occasionnally there’s an Australian show I love (hello Party Tricks, it’d be really nice if you were renewed), but there’s something about the quantity of scripted television in the United States that makes it really easy to find something that’s quality. But my tastes have changed over the past three years. Three years ago I preferred to watch a comedy than a drama, and most of what I watched were network sitcoms. I also really hated genre television, but now I’ve seen enough good genre television to know that it can be really good when well written and acted. I’ve also found that I’m starting to watch more cable dramas, because they’re much better than network dramas, except for a small handful, including The Good Wife, the late Parenthood, and now The 100.

I bought the first season of The 100 on DVD because I’d heard good things about it and also because there was a sale on at JB Hi-Fi. Since I’m not a fan of genre (although that seems redundant now that I like a lot of sci-fi, but only specific kinds), I was pretty wary, but I went ahead with it anyway. Last time I wrote about this show, I had only watched the first three episodes, which acted as the first chapter of the series I watched. In the remaining ten episodes of the series, a lot has changed. I worry about shows that burn through plot too quickly, but it made sense in The 100. One hundred juvenile ‘criminals’ were sent down to Earth to see if it was survivable, 97 years after they had evacuated the planet due to nuclear warfare. As luck would have it, Earth is survivable, not just because the 100 survived, but because people survived on the ground despite the evacuation. Like all the best shows, The 100 is a show about building a community. In this case they’re building a community from scratch, where hardly anyone knows anyone else and they have no idea who they can trust. In that way it’s like Orange Is the New Black, one of my other favourite shows.

I would say that the best science fiction provides an insight and reflection into our own society, and The 100 is full of social issues that pervade contemporary society. From the first episode, the audience becomes aware of class issues; Wells Jaha and Clarke Griffin are children of some of high profile government officials who were responsible for imprisoning them and killing their parents. This theme is further explored (though not enough, because Abby blows up the ship) when Diana Sydney, a former Chancellor on The Ark, gathers the working class on The Ark to start a communist revolution/coup. Issues of gender are briefly explored in the relationship between Bellamy and Octavia Blake, as Bellamy has fairly standard big brother issues when it comes to his sister’s sexual activity. Eh. But the need to survive is greater than gender roles (also Raven is a kickass mechanic, there is at least one former female Chancellor and Abby Griffin is the Chief Medical Officer on The Ark), so it ultimately doesn’t matter.

The most fascinating issue was that of colonialism. It’s true that the 100 were unaware that there were people living on the ground when they landed, but it’s understandable, given European history, that the Grounders would see it as an act of war. Australia’s national holiday, Australia Day, is celebrated on January 26, the anniversary of the First Fleet landing at Botany Bay. We’re a country founded by criminals too. Once again, the need to survive is greater than any other considerations the 100 might have, but if they weren’t at war with the grounders, they’d see that it was no different than aliens invading The Ark.

Speaking of The Ark, they’re dealing with finite resources, a too large population and political skulduggery. It’s great. What makes all of the plot and story elements of the show work is that they’re grounded in believable characters. When I first wrote about the show a week ago, someone told me that I should stick with it, because none of the characters are static, and that’s one of the truest assessments of The 100 I’ve read. I don’t have much time, so I’m just going to focus on Clarke, who over the course of the season transformed into a pragmatist who is concerned with survival over peace, rather than the privileged pacifist and idealist who landed on the ground. There’s so much good stuff in this show that I’m really excited to watch more, especially now that the Mountain Men are on the scene.

Other thoughts:

  • If someone asked me to explain the show to them, I’d end up saying that it’s a cross between Battlestar Galactica and Lost, two shows where the fans hated the endings, so who knows where this could go.
  • The Lost parallels come so easily when you examine Mount Weather, the Grounders and the Mountain Men. It’s just like the Hatch, the Dharma Initiative and the Others (I think, I’m still only on the third season of Lost, no spoilers please). Also there’s Henry Ian Cusick.
  • Love triangles are bound to exist on any television show, and I hate love triangles, but this one wasn’t done too badly. I liked that the show didn’t beat around the bush with Clarke admitting to Raven that she slept with Finn, and while I’d like to know a lot more about Raven (she’s my favourite), I still kind of want the love triangle to be over.
  • Jaha was always going to be the one to manually override the system in the season finale. This was about the third time that he tried to sacrifice himself to save his people, and he wasn’t going to fail this time, damnit!
  • The most heart-wrenching episode of the show was its fifth, when people sacrificed their lives so that everyone else would have enough oxygen.
  • Henry Ian Cusick seemed like a classic antagonist at the beginning of the episode, like The Ark’s version of Murphy, but I’m really glad he ended up being mroe than that.

Despite some clunky dialogue, “The 100” is a fantastic piece of post-apocalyptic science fiction

When it comes to science fiction, I have my biases. Mainly post-apocalyptic, dystopian science fiction that has a political element. Spaceship shows and movies are pretty much always better if there are politics involved, hence my love of Firefly and what I’ve seen of Battlestar Galactica. For me, the novels of George Orwell are the roadmap, but I like my sci-fi to be enjoyable as well as thought-provoking. We live in an age where, thanks to The Hunger Games (which I love), there is no shortage of post-apocalyptic fiction. The 100 reminds me of Lord of the Flies, which has teenagers attempting to create a society, as well as Hugh Howey’s Silo trilogy, which dealt with environmental destruction that made the Earth uninhabitable, so they moved underground, and had similar population problems. I’ve seen the first three episodes of the first season (it was a mistake to watch them just before I went to bed), and despite some clunky dialogue, I loved it.

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