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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Great AACTA results, but comedy still gets short shrift

The Australian Academy of Film and Television Arts (formerly the Australian Film Industry) hosted their annual awards last night in Sydney. Despite many Australians loving The Dressmaker (which I haven’t seen), Mad Max: Fury Road took out the top award for Best Film, as well as technical awards for director George Miller (this award was sponsored by Hyundai), cinematographer John Seale and editor Margaret Sixel. Having finally been able to watch Fury Road last weekend (mini review: I didn’t think I was that invested in it, but then I cried at the end), this is a great result, even though I haven’t seen any of the other nominated films. The Dressmaker didn’t go home empty handed, as Kate Winslet and Hugo Weaving both won acting awards for their performances. After last year’s (well early this year) controversial tie, it’s good to see the AACTAs are awarding good films and good performances. My knowledge of Australian film is very slim, but I have some observations about the television categories. A full list of the winners can be found here.

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Utopia, Series 2 Episode 8: “Summit Attempt”

Image courtesy of Working Dog Productions

Image courtesy of Working Dog Productions

This is the description for the second series finale of Utopia on the official website, and it’s fantastic:

Tony’s attempt at a holiday is derailed by the arrival of a new minister, a Wi-Fi upgrade and Rhonda.

If Utopia comes back (this is the ABC, and it gets great reviews, so if it doesn’t come back that will most likely be a decision made by Working Dog), I am going to read every episode description on the ABC website. It’s to the point, and at the same time of course Rhonda is one of the reasons that Tony’s holiday is cut short. He got one whole day in Byron Bay, between the Senate Committee hearing and the new Infrastructure Minister, who asks everyone to call him Brad, insults the junior MPs in his own party, and likes to announce things. And now he has to rewrite all of his Christmas cards.

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Utopia, Series 2 Episode 7: “Reporting for Duty”

This week on Utopia we returned to my favourite interaction on the show, which is between Nat and Human Resources. The performance review episode last year was a highlight of the show, and earlier this year, Nat had to do battle with HR in order to hire her preferred candidate for the Brisbane office. We also had a quick look at the ‘independent’ review process following a tunnel in Sydney being canned by the media after its cost-benefit analysis had a ratio of 0.65, Amy’s second career as a barista, and the process of taking photos for the annual report, which was as ridiculous as it sounds.

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Utopia Series 2 Episode 6: “Starting the Conversation”

Bravo, Utopia. I asked you to give me an office storyline that I couldn’t nitpick, and the social media one felt very true, and I don’t yet know enough about indoor plants to nitpick that one either. This week on Utopia, everything felt connected thematically, even though Nat and Tony were, as usual, dealing with completely separate projects. Nat only became involved in a project because of Rhonda’s decision to get the NBA involved on social media. Environmental groups were outraged about a highway in Queensland going through a rainforest (what Nat referred to as scrub), while Tony was trying to convince Jim that he couldn’t interfere with State planning regulations, which is true.

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Utopia Series 2 Episode 5: “Terminal Problems”

Thanks to iview, I finally managed to catch up on last week’s episode of Utopia before the next one airs tomorrow night. Given that Australia got a new Prime Minister the day before (that’s when he was sworn in) “Terminal Problems” aired, it was impossible to watch the episode without that knowledge in the back of my mind. The NBA has spent six months writing a report on the viability of a second airport in Sydney, and just as they finish it, the Prime Minister wants to delay it because there are marginal seats that will be affected. Of course this project was the backbone of the Prime Minister’s election campaign. This of course is a hypothetical Prime Minister, but the fact that Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t elected by the people of Australia is irrelevant: it’s exactly the sort of thing that would happen leading up to an election. Also, if there’s not a Turnbull soundbite in the opening credits, there will be in the event of a hypothetical third season.

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Utopia, Series 2 Episode 4: “Dot Dot Dot”

I’m really slacking on the writing front this week for various reasons, and I watched Utopia over 24 hours ago so this is all going to be written from memory. There is less planning than usual going into this particular post. In “Dot Dot Dot”, the office has a new over-zealous security guard because they’re working on a submarine, the government wants Tony to create education policy out of the slogan “Education Nation” and a press release, and Nat has to try and figure out the loopholes of the Freedom of Information Act. Oh, and Tony was on #qanda, and the joke about the tweets is already outdated.

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Utopia, Series 2 Episode 3: “Keep Out – Public Property”

I didn’t love this week’s episode of Utopia as much as I did last week, but this is one of the most entertaining shows on television right now. Last Sunday I was at an event for the Melbourne Writers Festival about how we watch television, and Benjamin Law asked the panelists what Australia does well (we spent a lot of time talking about American shows). One of them (I’m so bad at remembering names) responded that we’re doing better with comedy at the moment, and used Utopia as one of her examples. This week it’s Healthy Heart Week at the office, Nat is trying to get some contracts delivered from Adelaide, and Tony is dealing with government interference in an independent selection panel.

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Utopia, Series 2 Episode 2: “Shovels Ready”

This week, Utopia took on the controversial East-West Link while managing to be completely apolitical. People who work for the public service, including the ABC, have to be apolitical, which means they can’t express their opinions about government policies in public. The staff of the Nation Building Authority have no time to express their opinions on whether the tunnel under Melbourne is a good idea or not, because they’re so busy trying to get it built. His main obstacle is Rhonda, who works for the Prime Minister in some sort of communications capacity, as she wants to launch the construction of the tunnel, which gets completely out of hand. Meanwhile, Nat wants to hire a manager for the Brisbane office so she doesn’t have to keep flying between Sydney and Melbourne, and for some reason HR gets involved.

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Utopia, Series 2 Episode 1: “A Fresh Start”

For some reason we’re only seeing scripted comedy on the ABC and SBS in Australia. I’m not sure why; it’s cheaper to produce than a drama, but still more expensive than reality television. It makes no sense. In an era where Channel 7’s flagship reality show for the Spring, Restaurant Revolution, failed in its timeslot and was replaced by Cats Make You Laugh Out Loud which attracted 1.5 million viewers, I yearn for some local scripted comedy. The ABC has some great offerings, including Upper Middle Bogan and Utopia. I know people who don’t like the show because the two main characters are often getting frustrated at the nature of bureaucracy, but that’s the entire point.

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