Out of the Box

Out of the Box

We watched a lot of television this year. So much so, that we launched a column devoted to it. With the birth of streaming content and the expansion of cable as well as their combined influence on the quality of standard network television, there are hardly enough free hours in a day to satiate our hunger for more.

It’s TV’s second golden age and we’re not mad.


Here is a partial list of what kept us glued to the tube (or streaming device) in 2015.

 

Emily Dodi

The Detectorists
(Netflix)

Like the ancient artifacts they seek, The Detectorists is a comedy you might miss if you’re not looking. Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones play men who spend their free time (and they do seem to have a lot of it) combing the English countryside with metal detectors. Written and directed by Crook, it dares to be quiet, odd and bittersweet. It may be about men in search of treasure, but what they’re really looking for — happiness, meaning, love — is even more elusive.

Grace and Frankie
(Netflix)

They had me at organic yam lube. Actually, they had me the minute Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin appeared onscreen. Such towering legends could have been too big for the small screen and, to be honest, it did take a couple of episodes for them to find their rhythm. By the third episode, however, the whole series seemed to relax and believe in its own worth — just like the characters themselves. As for Fonda and Tomlin, they had picked on a sitcom their own size: funny, sexy, real and radical in its depiction of 70-something women looking forward to the next chapter of their lives instead of pining for the past

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
(Netflix)

Long relegated to the background in comedies such as The Office and Bridesmaids, Ellie Kemper takes the lead in this sitcom that’s co-produced by 30 Rock’s Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Kemper plays a modern-day Mary Richards — a wide-eyed girl-next-door (er, make that bunker) who moves to the big city after being trapped underground with a doomsday cult. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt features a stellar supporting cast, including Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski, but it is Kemper who is finally the star.

W1A
(Netflix)

It’s amazing how funny a show can be when half the dialogue seems to consist of “brilliant,” but there you go. This British mockumentary about the inner non-workings of the BBC is a sequel of sorts to Twenty Twelve about the fictional London Olympics Deliverance Committee. (Alas, Twenty Twelve isn’t available on Netflix, but here’s hoping it will be soon.) Hugh Bonneville reprises his role as a director surrounded by chaos, a lot of which is stirred up by a publicist gone rogue, played by Jessica Hynes, who also reprises her role from Twenty Twelve. The writing is whip-smart and fast-paced, the subject matter is ridiculous but altogether believable, and the cast is, well, brilliant.

 
Plus: Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz), Downton Abbey (PBS), River (Netflix), Modern Family (ABC), Scandal (ABC), Suits (USA).

Michel Miller

Broad City
(Comedy Central)

The YouTube series that caught Amy Poehler’s attention was a breakout hit when it debuted this year on Comedy Central. Created by and starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as, essentially, themselves — single Jewish slackers whose lives revolve around sex, weed and Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons — nothing is taboo and anything goes as the hilarious besties navigate everyday life in the Big Apple. Bong and webcam not included.

Downton Abbey
(PBS)

I was woefully late to this party, but bingeing on five seasons at a rate of one episode per day (thank you, Amazon Prime) in 2015 made me an obsessive fan in no time. With the series’ final season premiering Jan. 3, I sip my tea (pinky up) and raise an eyebrow in solidarity with millions of other Cult of Downton mourners. From the Countess Dowager’s brilliant one-liners and Lady Mary’s purebred snobbery to the everlasting love between Anna and Mr. Bates despite constant tribulation, there is no such thing as too much drama where this British tour de force is concerned.

Mad Men
(AMC)

Though producers made us suffer through excruciatingly long breaks between seasons, even separating the final season into two parts, Mad Men will always be the gold standard for character-driven, haute television drama. What would become of anti-hero Don Draper was anyone’s guess but the final scene was pure redemptive gold. (Not to mention Peggy Olson’s iconic strut through the hall of McCann Erickson.) Goosebumps.

Unreal
(Lifetime)

No one saw this coming: a well-written, well-acted drama on the network known for its maudlin biopics and After School Special production values? Behind the scenes of a reality dating program that mimics The Bachelor, two female producers use their wits, charm and cunning to manipulate the cast for ratings and, ultimately, industry clout. The tension exists where their threadbare morals get tangled up with their lust for power. Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Girls) and Constance Zimmer (Entourage) are perfectly cast as the conniving, two-faced producers who occasionally question their actions, but only long enough to knock back a whiskey and lick their wounds. Unsurprisingly, it was picked up for another season.

Wayward Pines
(Fox)

You may not have heard, but Twin Peaks and Lost had a baby fathered by M. Night Shyamalan (he directed the pilot and co-executive produced) and it’s pretty damn good. Adapted from a sci-fi book series, Matt Dillon is FBI big-wig Ethan Burke who finds himself thrust into a picturesque but isolated town that’s under constant surveillance. Using all his signature overacting muscles (with a face like that who really cares?) Dillon as Burke makes it his mission to solve the puzzle of Wayward Pines and deliver its denizens from their beautiful prison where detractors are publicly executed and children are secretly indoctrinated into the “First Generation.” A second season is coming next year.

Plus: Better Call Saul (AMC), Maron (IFC), Narcos (Netflix), South Park (Comedy Central), True Detective (HBO).

Chris O’Neal

Daredevil
(Netflix)

Marvel’s cinematic universe has left a lot of meat on the bone in terms of storytelling satisfaction, but where it fails, its television branch has succeeded. Daredevil, the tale of a blind attorney turned costumed martial arts vigilante breathes life into the superhero genre that is so often flat by building a world around its masked crusader. Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of villain Wilson Fisk is disturbingly awesome. Oh, and the fight choreography is intense; a hallway fight scene pays homage to Korean revenge flick Old Boy.

The Jinx
(HBO)

They say that truth is often stranger than fiction, and in the odd life of multi-millionaire Robert Durst, the truth is only the beginning. This six-part investigative documentary delves into the macabre world of the infamous heir to a New York City real estate fortune and opens old wounds in long-cold murder cases that (spoiler alert) lead   to a rather shocking finale with real-life consequences. This, along with the podcast Serial, has renewed the long-form documentary.
 
Mr. Robot
(USA Network)

Mr. Robot is not only the most intriguing show of 2015 (it being on the USA Network is a mystery in and of itself), but it’s also a mirror reflecting our own failings as a society as evidenced by the inclusion of the audience as a character. Labeled a “hacker drama,” on the surface the show travels a familiar Fight Club-esque narrative (and its handling of hacking has been praised by the tech-community as legit), but the show is layered, giving humanity to the not-too-subtle “anonymous”-clone protagonists, not to mention its killer soundtrack.

Plus: Better Call Saul (FX), Louie (FX), Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Netflix), Moone Boy (Hulu), Rick and Morty (Adult Swim).

Michael Sullivan

Getting On
(HBO)

Set in a hospice hospital, the storyline relies on human depravity and desperation while somehow, without being overt, makes fun of all of our worst worries and fears. The best part about the show: Didi Ortley (Niecy Nash from Reno 911!) is a breath of fresh air. Worst part: This show does Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) no favors.

Leftovers
(HBO)

A large random segment of the global population disappears into the air. The rest are left trying to figure out what the bleep happened. Totally bizarre in every way. Fairly hard to follow, but Liv Tyler and Justin Theroux are enough reason to watch.

Master of None
(Netflix)

Aziz Ansari co-created it and stars in it. That’s all you need to know.

Nathan for You
(Comedy Central)

Google “dumb Starbucks.” That’s the guy. That’s the show. Some say that whole show was staged. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Available on Hulu.

Nurse Jackie
(Showtime)

Labeled an American comedy series, but only if an American comedy involves a self-destructive, manipulative opiate addict working as a skilled and caring nurse who sometimes cares about her family. The main reason to watch: Edie Falco (Sopranos) is addicting.

Ray Donovan
(Showtime)

Ray is more or less a sophisticated thug who makes problems disappear, and celebrities pay him well to sweep their miserable mistakes under the rug. But the tangled mess that is his family makes watching the show worthwhile. The premise might be boring, overdone, etc., but Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight are not.

Review
(Comedy Central)

Forrest McNeil (Andy Daly) takes real-life requests such as divorce, joining the mile-high club, murder (?!), completes them unbeknown to anyone in his life and reviews the experiences on a five-star scale. It’s as hilarious as it is tragic. Available on Hulu.

Silicon Valley
(HBO)

Tech junkies, engineers, programmers can rejoice. This show is for you. Also, probably a favorite among hipsters. But much of the population will probably find something redeeming about it as well.

Workaholics
(Comedy Central)
Three 20-something telemarketers with wild and often absurd imaginations make the most out of the mundane. If you need a break from all the bad news in life, it’s the perfect show to watch. Available on Hulu.

Plus: Broad City (Comedy Central), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox), Casual (Hulu), Drunk History (Comedy Central), Fargo (FX), Inside Amy Shumer (Comedy Central), Last Man on Earth (Fox), Mindy Project (Hulu), Narcos (Netflix), Shameless (Showtime), South Park (Comedy Central), Transparent (Amazon), Web Therapy (Showtime).


Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.  

 

Out of the Box

We watched a lot of television this year. So much so, that we launched a column devoted to it. With the birth of streaming content and the expansion of cable as well as their combined influence on the quality of standard network television, there are hardly enough free hours in a day to satiate our hunger for more.

It’s TV’s second golden age and we’re not mad.


Here is a partial list of what kept us glued to the tube (or streaming device) in 2015.

 

Emily Dodi

The Detectorists
(Netflix)

Like the ancient artifacts they seek, The Detectorists is a comedy you might miss if you’re not looking. Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones play men who spend their free time (and they do seem to have a lot of it) combing the English countryside with metal detectors. Written and directed by Crook, it dares to be quiet, odd and bittersweet. It may be about men in search of treasure, but what they’re really looking for — happiness, meaning, love — is even more elusive.

Grace and Frankie
(Netflix)

They had me at organic yam lube. Actually, they had me the minute Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin appeared onscreen. Such towering legends could have been too big for the small screen and, to be honest, it did take a couple of episodes for them to find their rhythm. By the third episode, however, the whole series seemed to relax and believe in its own worth — just like the characters themselves. As for Fonda and Tomlin, they had picked on a sitcom their own size: funny, sexy, real and radical in its depiction of 70-something women looking forward to the next chapter of their lives instead of pining for the past

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
(Netflix)

Long relegated to the background in comedies such as The Office and Bridesmaids, Ellie Kemper takes the lead in this sitcom that’s co-produced by 30 Rock’s Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Kemper plays a modern-day Mary Richards — a wide-eyed girl-next-door (er, make that bunker) who moves to the big city after being trapped underground with a doomsday cult. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt features a stellar supporting cast, including Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski, but it is Kemper who is finally the star.

W1A
(Netflix)

It’s amazing how funny a show can be when half the dialogue seems to consist of “brilliant,” but there you go. This British mockumentary about the inner non-workings of the BBC is a sequel of sorts to Twenty Twelve about the fictional London Olympics Deliverance Committee. (Alas, Twenty Twelve isn’t available on Netflix, but here’s hoping it will be soon.) Hugh Bonneville reprises his role as a director surrounded by chaos, a lot of which is stirred up by a publicist gone rogue, played by Jessica Hynes, who also reprises her role from Twenty Twelve. The writing is whip-smart and fast-paced, the subject matter is ridiculous but altogether believable, and the cast is, well, brilliant.

 
Plus: Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz), Downton Abbey (PBS), River (Netflix), Modern Family (ABC), Scandal (ABC), Suits (USA).

Michel Miller

Broad City
(Comedy Central)

The YouTube series that caught Amy Poehler’s attention was a breakout hit when it debuted this year on Comedy Central. Created by and starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as, essentially, themselves — single Jewish slackers whose lives revolve around sex, weed and Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons — nothing is taboo and anything goes as the hilarious besties navigate everyday life in the Big Apple. Bong and webcam not included.

Downton Abbey
(PBS)

I was woefully late to this party, but bingeing on five seasons at a rate of one episode per day (thank you, Amazon Prime) in 2015 made me an obsessive fan in no time. With the series’ final season premiering Jan. 3, I sip my tea (pinky up) and raise an eyebrow in solidarity with millions of other Cult of Downton mourners. From the Countess Dowager’s brilliant one-liners and Lady Mary’s purebred snobbery to the everlasting love between Anna and Mr. Bates despite constant tribulation, there is no such thing as too much drama where this British tour de force is concerned.

Mad Men
(AMC)

Though producers made us suffer through excruciatingly long breaks between seasons, even separating the final season into two parts, Mad Men will always be the gold standard for character-driven, haute television drama. What would become of anti-hero Don Draper was anyone’s guess but the final scene was pure redemptive gold. (Not to mention Peggy Olson’s iconic strut through the hall of McCann Erickson.) Goosebumps.

Unreal
(Lifetime)

No one saw this coming: a well-written, well-acted drama on the network known for its maudlin biopics and After School Special production values? Behind the scenes of a reality dating program that mimics The Bachelor, two female producers use their wits, charm and cunning to manipulate the cast for ratings and, ultimately, industry clout. The tension exists where their threadbare morals get tangled up with their lust for power. Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Girls) and Constance Zimmer (Entourage) are perfectly cast as the conniving, two-faced producers who occasionally question their actions, but only long enough to knock back a whiskey and lick their wounds. Unsurprisingly, it was picked up for another season.

Wayward Pines
(Fox)

You may not have heard, but Twin Peaks and Lost had a baby fathered by M. Night Shyamalan (he directed the pilot and co-executive produced) and it’s pretty damn good. Adapted from a sci-fi book series, Matt Dillon is FBI big-wig Ethan Burke who finds himself thrust into a picturesque but isolated town that’s under constant surveillance. Using all his signature overacting muscles (with a face like that who really cares?) Dillon as Burke makes it his mission to solve the puzzle of Wayward Pines and deliver its denizens from their beautiful prison where detractors are publicly executed and children are secretly indoctrinated into the “First Generation.” A second season is coming next year.

Plus: Better Call Saul (AMC), Maron (IFC), Narcos (Netflix), South Park (Comedy Central), True Detective (HBO).

Chris O’Neal

Daredevil
(Netflix)

Marvel’s cinematic universe has left a lot of meat on the bone in terms of storytelling satisfaction, but where it fails, its television branch has succeeded. Daredevil, the tale of a blind attorney turned costumed martial arts vigilante breathes life into the superhero genre that is so often flat by building a world around its masked crusader. Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of villain Wilson Fisk is disturbingly awesome. Oh, and the fight choreography is intense; a hallway fight scene pays homage to Korean revenge flick Old Boy.

The Jinx
(HBO)

They say that truth is often stranger than fiction, and in the odd life of multi-millionaire Robert Durst, the truth is only the beginning. This six-part investigative documentary delves into the macabre world of the infamous heir to a New York City real estate fortune and opens old wounds in long-cold murder cases that (spoiler alert) lead   to a rather shocking finale with real-life consequences. This, along with the podcast Serial, has renewed the long-form documentary.
 
Mr. Robot
(USA Network)

Mr. Robot is not only the most intriguing show of 2015 (it being on the USA Network is a mystery in and of itself), but it’s also a mirror reflecting our own failings as a society as evidenced by the inclusion of the audience as a character. Labeled a “hacker drama,” on the surface the show travels a familiar Fight Club-esque narrative (and its handling of hacking has been praised by the tech-community as legit), but the show is layered, giving humanity to the not-too-subtle “anonymous”-clone protagonists, not to mention its killer soundtrack.

Plus: Better Call Saul (FX), Louie (FX), Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Netflix), Moone Boy (Hulu), Rick and Morty (Adult Swim).

Michael Sullivan

Getting On
(HBO)

Set in a hospice hospital, the storyline relies on human depravity and desperation while somehow, without being overt, makes fun of all of our worst worries and fears. The best part about the show: Didi Ortley (Niecy Nash from Reno 911!) is a breath of fresh air. Worst part: This show does Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) no favors.

Leftovers
(HBO)

A large random segment of the global population disappears into the air. The rest are left trying to figure out what the bleep happened. Totally bizarre in every way. Fairly hard to follow, but Liv Tyler and Justin Theroux are enough reason to watch.

Master of None
(Netflix)

Aziz Ansari co-created it and stars in it. That’s all you need to know.

Nathan for You
(Comedy Central)

Google “dumb Starbucks.” That’s the guy. That’s the show. Some say that whole show was staged. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Available on Hulu.

Nurse Jackie
(Showtime)

Labeled an American comedy series, but only if an American comedy involves a self-destructive, manipulative opiate addict working as a skilled and caring nurse who sometimes cares about her family. The main reason to watch: Edie Falco (Sopranos) is addicting.

Ray Donovan
(Showtime)

Ray is more or less a sophisticated thug who makes problems disappear, and celebrities pay him well to sweep their miserable mistakes under the rug. But the tangled mess that is his family makes watching the show worthwhile. The premise might be boring, overdone, etc., but Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight are not.

Review
(Comedy Central)

Forrest McNeil (Andy Daly) takes real-life requests such as divorce, joining the mile-high club, murder (?!), completes them unbeknown to anyone in his life and reviews the experiences on a five-star scale. It’s as hilarious as it is tragic. Available on Hulu.

Silicon Valley
(HBO)

Tech junkies, engineers, programmers can rejoice. This show is for you. Also, probably a favorite among hipsters. But much of the population will probably find something redeeming about it as well.

Workaholics
(Comedy Central)
Three 20-something telemarketers with wild and often absurd imaginations make the most out of the mundane. If you need a break from all the bad news in life, it’s the perfect show to watch. Available on Hulu.

Plus: Broad City (Comedy Central), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox), Casual (Hulu), Drunk History (Comedy Central), Fargo (FX), Inside Amy Shumer (Comedy Central), Last Man on Earth (Fox), Mindy Project (Hulu), Narcos (Netflix), Shameless (Showtime), South Park (Comedy Central), Transparent (Amazon), Web Therapy (Showtime).


Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.  

 

Out of the Box

We watched a lot of television this year. So much so, that we launched a column devoted to it. With the birth of streaming content and the expansion of cable as well as their combined influence on the quality of standard network television, there are hardly enough free hours in a day to satiate our hunger for more.

It’s TV’s second golden age and we’re not mad.


Here is a partial list of what kept us glued to the tube (or streaming device) in 2015.

 

Emily Dodi

The Detectorists
(Netflix)

Like the ancient artifacts they seek, The Detectorists is a comedy you might miss if you’re not looking. Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones play men who spend their free time (and they do seem to have a lot of it) combing the English countryside with metal detectors. Written and directed by Crook, it dares to be quiet, odd and bittersweet. It may be about men in search of treasure, but what they’re really looking for — happiness, meaning, love — is even more elusive.

Grace and Frankie
(Netflix)

They had me at organic yam lube. Actually, they had me the minute Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin appeared onscreen. Such towering legends could have been too big for the small screen and, to be honest, it did take a couple of episodes for them to find their rhythm. By the third episode, however, the whole series seemed to relax and believe in its own worth — just like the characters themselves. As for Fonda and Tomlin, they had picked on a sitcom their own size: funny, sexy, real and radical in its depiction of 70-something women looking forward to the next chapter of their lives instead of pining for the past

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
(Netflix)

Long relegated to the background in comedies such as The Office and Bridesmaids, Ellie Kemper takes the lead in this sitcom that’s co-produced by 30 Rock’s Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Kemper plays a modern-day Mary Richards — a wide-eyed girl-next-door (er, make that bunker) who moves to the big city after being trapped underground with a doomsday cult. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt features a stellar supporting cast, including Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski, but it is Kemper who is finally the star.

W1A
(Netflix)

It’s amazing how funny a show can be when half the dialogue seems to consist of “brilliant,” but there you go. This British mockumentary about the inner non-workings of the BBC is a sequel of sorts to Twenty Twelve about the fictional London Olympics Deliverance Committee. (Alas, Twenty Twelve isn’t available on Netflix, but here’s hoping it will be soon.) Hugh Bonneville reprises his role as a director surrounded by chaos, a lot of which is stirred up by a publicist gone rogue, played by Jessica Hynes, who also reprises her role from Twenty Twelve. The writing is whip-smart and fast-paced, the subject matter is ridiculous but altogether believable, and the cast is, well, brilliant.

 
Plus: Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz), Downton Abbey (PBS), River (Netflix), Modern Family (ABC), Scandal (ABC), Suits (USA).

Michel Miller

Broad City
(Comedy Central)

The YouTube series that caught Amy Poehler’s attention was a breakout hit when it debuted this year on Comedy Central. Created by and starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as, essentially, themselves — single Jewish slackers whose lives revolve around sex, weed and Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons — nothing is taboo and anything goes as the hilarious besties navigate everyday life in the Big Apple. Bong and webcam not included.

Downton Abbey
(PBS)

I was woefully late to this party, but bingeing on five seasons at a rate of one episode per day (thank you, Amazon Prime) in 2015 made me an obsessive fan in no time. With the series’ final season premiering Jan. 3, I sip my tea (pinky up) and raise an eyebrow in solidarity with millions of other Cult of Downton mourners. From the Countess Dowager’s brilliant one-liners and Lady Mary’s purebred snobbery to the everlasting love between Anna and Mr. Bates despite constant tribulation, there is no such thing as too much drama where this British tour de force is concerned.

Mad Men
(AMC)

Though producers made us suffer through excruciatingly long breaks between seasons, even separating the final season into two parts, Mad Men will always be the gold standard for character-driven, haute television drama. What would become of anti-hero Don Draper was anyone’s guess but the final scene was pure redemptive gold. (Not to mention Peggy Olson’s iconic strut through the hall of McCann Erickson.) Goosebumps.

Unreal
(Lifetime)

No one saw this coming: a well-written, well-acted drama on the network known for its maudlin biopics and After School Special production values? Behind the scenes of a reality dating program that mimics The Bachelor, two female producers use their wits, charm and cunning to manipulate the cast for ratings and, ultimately, industry clout. The tension exists where their threadbare morals get tangled up with their lust for power. Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Girls) and Constance Zimmer (Entourage) are perfectly cast as the conniving, two-faced producers who occasionally question their actions, but only long enough to knock back a whiskey and lick their wounds. Unsurprisingly, it was picked up for another season.

Wayward Pines
(Fox)

You may not have heard, but Twin Peaks and Lost had a baby fathered by M. Night Shyamalan (he directed the pilot and co-executive produced) and it’s pretty damn good. Adapted from a sci-fi book series, Matt Dillon is FBI big-wig Ethan Burke who finds himself thrust into a picturesque but isolated town that’s under constant surveillance. Using all his signature overacting muscles (with a face like that who really cares?) Dillon as Burke makes it his mission to solve the puzzle of Wayward Pines and deliver its denizens from their beautiful prison where detractors are publicly executed and children are secretly indoctrinated into the “First Generation.” A second season is coming next year.

Plus: Better Call Saul (AMC), Maron (IFC), Narcos (Netflix), South Park (Comedy Central), True Detective (HBO).

Chris O’Neal

Daredevil
(Netflix)

Marvel’s cinematic universe has left a lot of meat on the bone in terms of storytelling satisfaction, but where it fails, its television branch has succeeded. Daredevil, the tale of a blind attorney turned costumed martial arts vigilante breathes life into the superhero genre that is so often flat by building a world around its masked crusader. Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of villain Wilson Fisk is disturbingly awesome. Oh, and the fight choreography is intense; a hallway fight scene pays homage to Korean revenge flick Old Boy.

The Jinx
(HBO)

They say that truth is often stranger than fiction, and in the odd life of multi-millionaire Robert Durst, the truth is only the beginning. This six-part investigative documentary delves into the macabre world of the infamous heir to a New York City real estate fortune and opens old wounds in long-cold murder cases that (spoiler alert) lead   to a rather shocking finale with real-life consequences. This, along with the podcast Serial, has renewed the long-form documentary.
 
Mr. Robot
(USA Network)

Mr. Robot is not only the most intriguing show of 2015 (it being on the USA Network is a mystery in and of itself), but it’s also a mirror reflecting our own failings as a society as evidenced by the inclusion of the audience as a character. Labeled a “hacker drama,” on the surface the show travels a familiar Fight Club-esque narrative (and its handling of hacking has been praised by the tech-community as legit), but the show is layered, giving humanity to the not-too-subtle “anonymous”-clone protagonists, not to mention its killer soundtrack.

Plus: Better Call Saul (FX), Louie (FX), Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Netflix), Moone Boy (Hulu), Rick and Morty (Adult Swim).

Michael Sullivan

Getting On
(HBO)

Set in a hospice hospital, the storyline relies on human depravity and desperation while somehow, without being overt, makes fun of all of our worst worries and fears. The best part about the show: Didi Ortley (Niecy Nash from Reno 911!) is a breath of fresh air. Worst part: This show does Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) no favors.

Leftovers
(HBO)

A large random segment of the global population disappears into the air. The rest are left trying to figure out what the bleep happened. Totally bizarre in every way. Fairly hard to follow, but Liv Tyler and Justin Theroux are enough reason to watch.

Master of None
(Netflix)

Aziz Ansari co-created it and stars in it. That’s all you need to know.

Nathan for You
(Comedy Central)

Google “dumb Starbucks.” That’s the guy. That’s the show. Some say that whole show was staged. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Available on Hulu.

Nurse Jackie
(Showtime)

Labeled an American comedy series, but only if an American comedy involves a self-destructive, manipulative opiate addict working as a skilled and caring nurse who sometimes cares about her family. The main reason to watch: Edie Falco (Sopranos) is addicting.

Ray Donovan
(Showtime)

Ray is more or less a sophisticated thug who makes problems disappear, and celebrities pay him well to sweep their miserable mistakes under the rug. But the tangled mess that is his family makes watching the show worthwhile. The premise might be boring, overdone, etc., but Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight are not.

Review
(Comedy Central)

Forrest McNeil (Andy Daly) takes real-life requests such as divorce, joining the mile-high club, murder (?!), completes them unbeknown to anyone in his life and reviews the experiences on a five-star scale. It’s as hilarious as it is tragic. Available on Hulu.

Silicon Valley
(HBO)

Tech junkies, engineers, programmers can rejoice. This show is for you. Also, probably a favorite among hipsters. But much of the population will probably find something redeeming about it as well.

Workaholics
(Comedy Central)
Three 20-something telemarketers with wild and often absurd imaginations make the most out of the mundane. If you need a break from all the bad news in life, it’s the perfect show to watch. Available on Hulu.

Plus: Broad City (Comedy Central), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox), Casual (Hulu), Drunk History (Comedy Central), Fargo (FX), Inside Amy Shumer (Comedy Central), Last Man on Earth (Fox), Mindy Project (Hulu), Narcos (Netflix), Shameless (Showtime), South Park (Comedy Central), Transparent (Amazon), Web Therapy (Showtime).


Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.  

 

Out of the Box

We watched a lot of television this year. So much so, that we launched a column devoted to it. With the birth of streaming content and the expansion of cable as well as their combined influence on the quality of standard network television, there are hardly enough free hours in a day to satiate our hunger for more.

It’s TV’s second golden age and we’re not mad.


Here is a partial list of what kept us glued to the tube (or streaming device) in 2015.

 

Emily Dodi

The Detectorists
(Netflix)

Like the ancient artifacts they seek, The Detectorists is a comedy you might miss if you’re not looking. Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones play men who spend their free time (and they do seem to have a lot of it) combing the English countryside with metal detectors. Written and directed by Crook, it dares to be quiet, odd and bittersweet. It may be about men in search of treasure, but what they’re really looking for — happiness, meaning, love — is even more elusive.

Grace and Frankie
(Netflix)

They had me at organic yam lube. Actually, they had me the minute Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin appeared onscreen. Such towering legends could have been too big for the small screen and, to be honest, it did take a couple of episodes for them to find their rhythm. By the third episode, however, the whole series seemed to relax and believe in its own worth — just like the characters themselves. As for Fonda and Tomlin, they had picked on a sitcom their own size: funny, sexy, real and radical in its depiction of 70-something women looking forward to the next chapter of their lives instead of pining for the past

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
(Netflix)

Long relegated to the background in comedies such as The Office and Bridesmaids, Ellie Kemper takes the lead in this sitcom that’s co-produced by 30 Rock’s Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Kemper plays a modern-day Mary Richards — a wide-eyed girl-next-door (er, make that bunker) who moves to the big city after being trapped underground with a doomsday cult. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt features a stellar supporting cast, including Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski, but it is Kemper who is finally the star.

W1A
(Netflix)

It’s amazing how funny a show can be when half the dialogue seems to consist of “brilliant,” but there you go. This British mockumentary about the inner non-workings of the BBC is a sequel of sorts to Twenty Twelve about the fictional London Olympics Deliverance Committee. (Alas, Twenty Twelve isn’t available on Netflix, but here’s hoping it will be soon.) Hugh Bonneville reprises his role as a director surrounded by chaos, a lot of which is stirred up by a publicist gone rogue, played by Jessica Hynes, who also reprises her role from Twenty Twelve. The writing is whip-smart and fast-paced, the subject matter is ridiculous but altogether believable, and the cast is, well, brilliant.

 
Plus: Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz), Downton Abbey (PBS), River (Netflix), Modern Family (ABC), Scandal (ABC), Suits (USA).

Michel Miller

Broad City
(Comedy Central)

The YouTube series that caught Amy Poehler’s attention was a breakout hit when it debuted this year on Comedy Central. Created by and starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as, essentially, themselves — single Jewish slackers whose lives revolve around sex, weed and Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons — nothing is taboo and anything goes as the hilarious besties navigate everyday life in the Big Apple. Bong and webcam not included.

Downton Abbey
(PBS)

I was woefully late to this party, but bingeing on five seasons at a rate of one episode per day (thank you, Amazon Prime) in 2015 made me an obsessive fan in no time. With the series’ final season premiering Jan. 3, I sip my tea (pinky up) and raise an eyebrow in solidarity with millions of other Cult of Downton mourners. From the Countess Dowager’s brilliant one-liners and Lady Mary’s purebred snobbery to the everlasting love between Anna and Mr. Bates despite constant tribulation, there is no such thing as too much drama where this British tour de force is concerned.

Mad Men
(AMC)

Though producers made us suffer through excruciatingly long breaks between seasons, even separating the final season into two parts, Mad Men will always be the gold standard for character-driven, haute television drama. What would become of anti-hero Don Draper was anyone’s guess but the final scene was pure redemptive gold. (Not to mention Peggy Olson’s iconic strut through the hall of McCann Erickson.) Goosebumps.

Unreal
(Lifetime)

No one saw this coming: a well-written, well-acted drama on the network known for its maudlin biopics and After School Special production values? Behind the scenes of a reality dating program that mimics The Bachelor, two female producers use their wits, charm and cunning to manipulate the cast for ratings and, ultimately, industry clout. The tension exists where their threadbare morals get tangled up with their lust for power. Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Girls) and Constance Zimmer (Entourage) are perfectly cast as the conniving, two-faced producers who occasionally question their actions, but only long enough to knock back a whiskey and lick their wounds. Unsurprisingly, it was picked up for another season.

Wayward Pines
(Fox)

You may not have heard, but Twin Peaks and Lost had a baby fathered by M. Night Shyamalan (he directed the pilot and co-executive produced) and it’s pretty damn good. Adapted from a sci-fi book series, Matt Dillon is FBI big-wig Ethan Burke who finds himself thrust into a picturesque but isolated town that’s under constant surveillance. Using all his signature overacting muscles (with a face like that who really cares?) Dillon as Burke makes it his mission to solve the puzzle of Wayward Pines and deliver its denizens from their beautiful prison where detractors are publicly executed and children are secretly indoctrinated into the “First Generation.” A second season is coming next year.

Plus: Better Call Saul (AMC), Maron (IFC), Narcos (Netflix), South Park (Comedy Central), True Detective (HBO).

Chris O’Neal

Daredevil
(Netflix)

Marvel’s cinematic universe has left a lot of meat on the bone in terms of storytelling satisfaction, but where it fails, its television branch has succeeded. Daredevil, the tale of a blind attorney turned costumed martial arts vigilante breathes life into the superhero genre that is so often flat by building a world around its masked crusader. Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of villain Wilson Fisk is disturbingly awesome. Oh, and the fight choreography is intense; a hallway fight scene pays homage to Korean revenge flick Old Boy.

The Jinx
(HBO)

They say that truth is often stranger than fiction, and in the odd life of multi-millionaire Robert Durst, the truth is only the beginning. This six-part investigative documentary delves into the macabre world of the infamous heir to a New York City real estate fortune and opens old wounds in long-cold murder cases that (spoiler alert) lead   to a rather shocking finale with real-life consequences. This, along with the podcast Serial, has renewed the long-form documentary.
 
Mr. Robot
(USA Network)

Mr. Robot is not only the most intriguing show of 2015 (it being on the USA Network is a mystery in and of itself), but it’s also a mirror reflecting our own failings as a society as evidenced by the inclusion of the audience as a character. Labeled a “hacker drama,” on the surface the show travels a familiar Fight Club-esque narrative (and its handling of hacking has been praised by the tech-community as legit), but the show is layered, giving humanity to the not-too-subtle “anonymous”-clone protagonists, not to mention its killer soundtrack.

Plus: Better Call Saul (FX), Louie (FX), Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Netflix), Moone Boy (Hulu), Rick and Morty (Adult Swim).

Michael Sullivan

Getting On
(HBO)

Set in a hospice hospital, the storyline relies on human depravity and desperation while somehow, without being overt, makes fun of all of our worst worries and fears. The best part about the show: Didi Ortley (Niecy Nash from Reno 911!) is a breath of fresh air. Worst part: This show does Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) no favors.

Leftovers
(HBO)

A large random segment of the global population disappears into the air. The rest are left trying to figure out what the bleep happened. Totally bizarre in every way. Fairly hard to follow, but Liv Tyler and Justin Theroux are enough reason to watch.

Master of None
(Netflix)

Aziz Ansari co-created it and stars in it. That’s all you need to know.

Nathan for You
(Comedy Central)

Google “dumb Starbucks.” That’s the guy. That’s the show. Some say that whole show was staged. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Available on Hulu.

Nurse Jackie
(Showtime)

Labeled an American comedy series, but only if an American comedy involves a self-destructive, manipulative opiate addict working as a skilled and caring nurse who sometimes cares about her family. The main reason to watch: Edie Falco (Sopranos) is addicting.

Ray Donovan
(Showtime)

Ray is more or less a sophisticated thug who makes problems disappear, and celebrities pay him well to sweep their miserable mistakes under the rug. But the tangled mess that is his family makes watching the show worthwhile. The premise might be boring, overdone, etc., but Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight are not.

Review
(Comedy Central)

Forrest McNeil (Andy Daly) takes real-life requests such as divorce, joining the mile-high club, murder (?!), completes them unbeknown to anyone in his life and reviews the experiences on a five-star scale. It’s as hilarious as it is tragic. Available on Hulu.

Silicon Valley
(HBO)

Tech junkies, engineers, programmers can rejoice. This show is for you. Also, probably a favorite among hipsters. But much of the population will probably find something redeeming about it as well.

Workaholics
(Comedy Central)
Three 20-something telemarketers with wild and often absurd imaginations make the most out of the mundane. If you need a break from all the bad news in life, it’s the perfect show to watch. Available on Hulu.

Plus: Broad City (Comedy Central), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox), Casual (Hulu), Drunk History (Comedy Central), Fargo (FX), Inside Amy Shumer (Comedy Central), Last Man on Earth (Fox), Mindy Project (Hulu), Narcos (Netflix), Shameless (Showtime), South Park (Comedy Central), Transparent (Amazon), Web Therapy (Showtime).


Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.  

 

Out of the Box

Out of the Box

Given Hollywood’s track record, forgive me if I haven’t been quick to embrace network television’s recent stabs at ethnicity. These sitcoms’ titles alone turned me off — The McCarthys, The Goldbergs, Black-ish. (Whom are these shows about? Hmm! I wonder.)

 
Then came Fresh off the Boat, an ABC comedy set in the ’90s about a Taiwanese family in Orlando. Despite positive buzz and a wince-inducing name that actually came from creator Eddie Huang’s memoir and not some ABC suit, FOTB is a witty single-camera series; sort of a jokier, Asian-American Wonder Years.

It seems incongruous that, in 2015, Dr. Ken (also on ABC) is only the second sitcom in decades featuring Asian-Americans, but that’s where we are. Asian-American leads notwithstanding, Dr. Ken is in many ways the opposite of FOTB. The Parks are not straight outta Asia, but Americanized, upper middle class, white collar and bicultural (no thick accents and pigeon English here). Dr. Ken Park (Ken Jeong — best known for his supporting roles in The Hangover movies and Community) is Korean-American while put-upon wife Allison (Suzy Nakamura) is of Japanese heritage.

Krista Marie Yu (teenage daughter Molly) and the scene-stealing Albert Tsai (young son Dave) round out half of what is two shows in one: family sitcom and workplace comedy. Ken’s professional life at Welltopia Medical Group echoes the Kaiser Permanente HMOs where Jeong once worked as a general physician. At work, Dr. Ken endures/trades barbs with his coworkers. The Welltopia crew is merrily multicultural: white, black, Jewish, gay, even Latino if you count recurring valet character Juan-Julio (Marques Ray). As Jonathan Slavin (who plays Clark) told the VCReporter, “Though we are actually one of the most diverse casts on television right now, we are not a show that comments on our own diversity.”

 

To ABC’s credit, the network has since done much to make amends for the patronizing All-American Girl with the color-blind casting of Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy (which intelligently showcased Sandra Oh as Cristina Yang) as well as the interracial romantic comedy Selfie starring John Cho (of Harold & Kumar fame). And now, FOTB and Dr. Ken.

Not that Dr. Ken doesn’t acknowledge ethnicity. Ken’s parents (Dana Lee and Alexis Rhee) are definitely old-school Korean. In “Thanksgiving Culture Clash,” the sharpest episode to date, a rift threatens their holiday after Allison calls Ken a “lapsed Korean” when he accuses her of imposing her Japanese heritage on the family.

Prior to the series’ October premiere, Jeong candidly shared with media the multi-tiered pressure he felt co-writing and co-producing his first starring series and the risk of closing the door on more Asian-American shows should his fail.

As a gay actor, Slavin was also self-conscious about playing Clark, one of the few gay characters on network television.

“I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to be both visible and also a fully fleshed-out human being,” Slavin said. “Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, there were almost no representations of gay people, and if there were, they were either caricatures or they swung so hard to the side of straight acting that they were, for me, mostly not relatable.”

After proving a ratings success and winning its time slot, Slavin feels good moving forward.

Friday night’s installment, “The Master Scheduler,” is the last fresh episode before the show goes on hiatus until late January. So winter reruns are a good time to catch up. If the three-cam/studio audience format feels dated in this post – The Office/ Modern Family/Portlandia landscape, the ABC series makes the most of the form. Jeong and his trademark over-the-top, sarcastic, slapstick energy may be the show’s driving engine but it’s Jeong’s onscreen families at home and work that balance him and lend the show its warmth and heart.

If history is to be served, Dr. Ken almost deserves to remain on the air . . . no matter how good it is. After all, how many mediocre sitcoms featuring Caucasian actors have coasted on the air for years?

But as it turns out, the mediocre sitcom featuring Asian-Americans that will drag on forever will come another day: Dr. Ken is a winning weekly half-hour of mirth.


Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content. 

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