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Best Of 2015 - TOP TEN TV

Time for a blog post I look forward to writing every year - the Top Ten TV shows of 2015. This is the fourth time I've done this, so I decided to put the previous three years into a spreadsheet to see if I could spot any trends. Did I succeed? Stay tuned to find out. And if you want to read them yourself for trends, here is 2014 and this is 2013 and (over on The Digital Fix) lastly is 2012.

Caveats? Well, this is my opinion, based entirely on the effect a show had on me rather than any scale of objective critical quality, as shown in last year's placement of True Detective. (Never even got round to watching season two.) And unlike my other recent top tens, this is going to be entirely shows that aired this year, since I watch enough TV to make that possible.

Lastly, this was fucking hard. Loads of great TV this year and a lot I thought was obvious top ten material ended up being edged out.

Right, let's get on with it.

#10 - The Walking Dead

When putting together this list, I wondered how dominated by comic book adaptations it would end up, and we're certainly starting off there - albeit a long-running horror show rather than superheroes. The Walking Dead's quality has been up and down faster than the sad lives of its characters over the years, but since around season four, it seems to have found a level and stuck to it.

It's not going any higher than this, as it still sometimes produces rambling episodes where characters talk in boring abstracts about the state of everything, but most of this year's stuff has been good and exciting, some cool playing around with time and space in the start of season six, and I think it deserves the recognition. Well done, zombies.

Stats Corner: this is the first time The Walking Dead has appeared on this list since the first one in 2012 - took a while  to conclude the run of good stuff wasn't a fluke. Did namecheck it in the honourable mentions last year though.

#9 - FlArrow (aka Flash & Arrow)

First (but not last) superhero show of the day! And there's two of them - in order to reduce comics domination, I'm cheating by combining Flash and Arrow into one FlArrow entry. But I've always watched these shows in order as a single entity, and the increased cross-continuity between them lately as they set up their next spin off (Legends of Tomorrow, coming in January) only makes that leap easier.

This year saw some fun back-and-forth. Flash launched with a bright, endearing first season that made the concurrent Arrow storylines look a little stodgy, only for the balance to flip back in the latter half of the year. I think current Flash is having a difficult-second-album stumble, just as Arrow recaptures some form.

They're not perfect, but might be the best effort yet to capture the mainstream superhero comics experience on television, complete with pointless crossovers and increasingly meaningless "death". Interested to see where they go, hope the third show won't prove to be one too many.

Stats Corner: again, only a quick honourable mention last time. First superhero show(s) ever to appear on these charts.

#8 - Game of Thrones

A drop for Game of Thrones after riding much higher in previous charts - what happened here? Honestly, I intended to put it somewhere in the top five, but other stuff kept getting ahead of it.

This particular year of Thrones included a lot of memorable storylines, as well as long-awaited hard advancement as Tyrion and Daenerys met up, Arya became proper scary, Cersei finally saw consequences to her actions and Sansa... well, Sansa just kept suffering, you can't have everything. And Jaime and Bronn went on pointless holiday.

It was well-acted, steady drama, most scenes were watchable. With the notable exception of that lame Jaime/Bronn storyline, it was still among the better things on TV. It just no longer quite felt like one of the very best, to me.

Stats Corner: From #3 to #4 to #8. Sad times. Then again, it didn't appear at all in 2012 for some reason, so it's still up on that.

#7 - Daredevil

And back to the superheroes. Daredevil (or Marvel's Daredevil if you're #brand #conscious) is the first of Marvel and Netflix's street-level superhero series, showing they can do something other than the broad Whedon-esque banter-action tone adopted for most of the movies and TV stuff beforehand.

For this first effort, it's a fairly straight one-man gritty urban vigilante show, starring Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer with enhanced senses who fights crime by night. And has no superpowers to directly help him in fights, so he gets beaten up. A lot. Seriously, his superhero alias could  easiy be Bloody Pulp.

It's straight-faced noir, a little slow-paced, sometimes gets lost in rambling subplots, arguably doesn't fully kick off until the main baddie appears a few episodes in. But still, as someone who's been reading mature-reader-superhero-comics for most of his adult life, Daredevil was hard to turn down. Great acting and atmosphere, good show, bravo, well done. Would have been higher on this list if it hadn't been outshone by its follow-up series, which we'll get to later.

Stats Corner: Not applicable, really. First ever Marvel show on these lists.

#6 - Orphan Black

You may be pleased to hear we're now leaving comic-land for a while, with Orphan Black. BBC America's clone-tastic sci-fi didn't feature in last year's Top Ten because season two.... I don't know, it didn't resonate as much with me? Felt like it lacked a clear plot, instead just played in the sandbox without much direction. Lots of exciting/heartwarming moments, but also a bit of meander.

This season really worked for me, though. The newfound male Castor clones put the story back into gear, there was a threat and a goal alongside enjoyable depictions of the many clones interacting, with the usual great acting by Tatiana Maslany behind it.

Orphan Black seems like a show that risks falling into gibberish conspiracy land with every season, but this was another year they avoided that pitfall and made an exciting story too. Cool.

Stats Corner: Debuted on #7 in 2013 before taking last year off, so this is its highest placing yet.

#5 - Last Week Tonight

As with Game of Thrones, spent a while trying to place Last Week Tonight. However, unlike its HBO stablemate, the problem was that the first positions didn't feel high enough. John Oliver's late-night news-satire show kept its momentum going this year, making even the driest issue seem funny and important.

I can't mention Last Week Tonight in 2015 without linking to Oliver's barnstorming report on televangelism, one of the best things I saw this year and probably pushing the show a place or two up the chart by itself. Yes, it's twenty minutes long, but they're such good minutes.

It's sunk a bit from last year, because it's mostly just consolidated existing success and perhaps run a little low on major internationally relevant topics to cover, but it's no less slick and hilarious and I couldn't put it much lower when I look forward to it so much every week.

Stats Corner: One of the first non-fictional shows to appear (last year, alongside Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle which hasn't yet returned), Last Week Tonight hit #3 in 2014.

#4 - Doctor Who

This is the highest placing Doctor Who has ever managed in this chart. I like this show a lot, but try to sneak some objectivity in too and there's no way I could pretend all of the last three years deserved to be top five. This time, though, with their ninth series, they cracked it.

This was Peter Capaldi's second year as the Doctor and whereas last year tried to work the abrasive grimness a bit too hard, series nine was dark without being aggressive, keeping the fun alive along with the angst. Not every episode was a winner (come on, this is Doctor Who), but there are only two or three that weren't either good or great, and that's a feat they rarely manage. And the solo-Capaldi episode Heaven Sent is one of the best they've done in years, a stone-cold Moffat time-bending classic up there with Blink and Day of the Doctor.

The Christmas special was also a highlight of its type, managing a hard handbrake turn from fun caper to heartbreak with skill. So yeah, I've got no problem sticking it up at #4. This has been an impressively polarising run, with reactions going all the way from "Stunning return to form!" to "More utter garbage!" but I'm on the good side. Which is fine by me, reckon I enjoy that more.

Stats Corner: Who is the only show to appear in all four of these charts, stats fans, and its prior positions were #6, #8 and #7. So yeah, big jump this year. Hope they keep it up.

#3 - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

From one somewhat polarising show to another - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was a comedy created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Apparently rejected by the US networks before Netflix picked it up and you can kinda see why - this sits in a weird void - not enough clearly signposted jokes to be a sitcom, probably too flat-out silly to be a "comedy-drama".

But in the new world of streaming TV, it's gone straight to the viewers and they seem to have embraced it. The breezy charm alongside surprisingly edgy humour (mostly about race and abuse survival, but they hit a range of topics) is a difficult needle to thread and the fact that it mostly works is amazing.A lot of that is thanks to the acting of Ellie Kemper, who somehow makes Kimmy's fish-out-of-water forever-happy nature likable rather than insufferable.

There are weak spots (some of the subplots starring Titus are a bit uninspiring), but the finale brought it all together brilliantly. I find it very hard to not like this show, and it's great to know there's a second season coming.

Stats Corner: Nothing, really. Yes, Netflix shows are quite well represented on this list.

#2 - Hannibal

For the third year, Hannibal scores highly on this list, but fails to make #1. And this was the final season, so its day will never come. Bummer.

There's been the usual hopeful gurble about a continuation in some form, but it fell quiet quickly and lead writer Bryan Fuller has moved on to an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, so that might be it. Still, at least they went out on an uncompromising rush of ideas, heading to Europe for some weird experimental storytelling in the first half of the season, then going back into serial killer busting territory for the tail end, adapting the Red Dragon story with Richard Armitage as the titular bastard.

I considered giving the top spot to Hannibal just because it won't get another chance, but the experimental weird shit at the start got in the way of the storytelling a little. I always applaud trying oddness in mainstream TV, but still, gotta maintain critical standards. Nonetheless, the final half of the season got the balance right again, and the final episode felt like a good and proper ending, so here it sits at #2. Goodbye, Hannibal. I was a big fan(nibal).

Stats Corner: #2 in 2013, 2014 and now 2015. Consistent.

#1 - Jessica Jones

Yeah, maybe you thought we were done with the comics adaptations but here they are again, swiping the #1 spot at the last minute. The second series in the Marvel/Netflix street-superheroes project after the afore-mentioned Daredevil, Jessica Jones is more of a super-powered noir. Krysten Ritter stars as Jones, a PI struggling with her traumatic past. Said past was inflicted on her by mind-controlling superprick Killgrave (a very creepy David Tennant) and, of course, it's only a matter of time before she has to confront him again,

Featuring noir tropes, dark humour, often-unsympathetic main characters, an interesting and diverse cast, urban fantastical stuff, a willingness to go full grim when need be, a nuanced handling of difficult topics, glossy-yet-grimy production and a few fun nods to comics continuity, I thought Jessica Jones mostly nailed it.

Like a lot of these one-story-stripped-over-13-episodes series, there's a bit of sag in the middle. They could've done a bit more with her detective agency to fill that space, bring in some non-Killgrave cases for some worldbuilding.

Hopefully that'll happen in season two - admittedly, they haven't confirmed that's happening yet. That's kinda worrying considering Daredevil had a second run confirmed within two weeks of the first being released. But considering the huge amount of good reviews out there, it seems inevitable. Hopefully they're waiting for the holidays to finish.

So yeah, best show of the year is a comic adaptation. Who'd have thought it? Very excited for at least two more series from this initiative in the next year (Luke Cage and Daredevil s2).

Notable Omission

Since I've been talking about continuity from previous lists a lot, I'll cop to this - last year's #1, Orange Is The New Black, isn't here because I didn't get round to watching the 2015 season yet. Sorry. Do feel a bit bad about this, probably more so than is necessary.. I blame the lengthy period of no internet inflicted on me while moving house.

Honourable Mentions

As I said at the start, it's been a tricky year to narrow down due to the sheer bloody volume of good TV - and that's without even watching last year's #1. So this section could get long if I let it, but I've tried to restrict myself to a few highlights.

First and foremost, yes, Agent Carter. This came painfully close to getting #10, I'm still a little in two minds about it, but I think I enjoyed The Walking Dead slightly more. Still, a great solid action series, pushed even higher by the greatness of Hayley Atwell as Carter herself. Oh, and its sister show Agents of SHIELD had a decent year too.

I also enjoyed Better Call Saul, the lawyer-focused Breaking Bad spin-off. It never felt essential and iconic in the same way the original did, more like a fun appendix for existing fans to savour, but it's a very well made one. I'm there for season two.

Lastly, I'm going to throw Once Upon A Time a prize. Yes, there've been times when I've wondered why I even still watch it, but this year's episodes - especially the opening half of season five - have been great. The writers finally located an area of the mythology they haven't yet drilled to death, and explored it in interesting, dramatic ways. Woo.

I'll make myself stop here - although the BBC adaptation of my #1 book Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell is also well worth your time. But yes, must stop typing, still have to proofread this and ram in some pictures, all before going out tonight. And this is probably the last blog post of 2015, unless I have some huge productivity spurt, so Happy New Year! Hope it goes well for you.

Best of 2015 - TOP TEN COMICS

Day two in the Nick Lists His 2015 Favourites house, and we've made the logical jump from books to comics. Once again, I've read enough of these to produce a nice structured top ten list - just spent half an hour agonising over it in Notepad.

While putting this list together, I glanced at my 2013 comics post and its 2014 follow-up and was saddened how much of the stuff I said I "must read next" hasn't yet been looked at. I gotta stop buying new stuff in Comixology sales and jumping straight into it.

But in terms of what I actually did read in 2015, here's the list. The divisions between items in this list are kinda arbitrary in some cases - for example, first item is a crossover spread across multiple comics series...

10) X-Men: Age of Apocalypse by many, many people

Once again, I've relied on Marvel's Unlimited app to supply me with their comics, and my big old-stuff reading project this year ended up being this 90s mega-X-crossover. Has serious shoulderpads/pouchs/tits/arse/grimdark issues, as with many comics of this period, but it's still one of the highlights of its type. I wrote a longer blog about AoA here if you're so inclined.

9) Avengers/New Avengers/Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman and various artists

Sticking in the Marvel megacrossover subgenre for one more entry, this is Jonathan Hickman's ludicrously ambitious multi-year epic, split across two Avengers titles and culminating in the still-ongoing Secret Wars mini. It's a bit rambly and dry, not what everyone wants from Marvel action stories, but the scale and twists are great when they work. Especially from the Infinity arc onwards, I thought this did cool stuff.

8) Spectre by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake

Moving house in summer, I had no internet access at home, so was forced to stop reading Marvel. For whatever reason, I settled on this five-year series from the late 90s about DC's WRATH OF GOD character - writer Ostrander uses him to tackle serious questions of theology and crime/punishment, and Mandrake brings twisted horror images to back him up. It's aged badly in places, but still, an impressive example of creators using a franchise character to do thoughtful, stylish stuff.

7) X-Force by Si Spurrier, Rock-He Kim and others

Si Spurrier popped up in the 2013 and 2014 top-tens as a writer of note, and here he is again, this time taking on the X-Men black ops team concept. And I don't just mean that as a flowery way of saying he worked on the book, he really does take on the concept. Sometimes aggressively. Starts slow but ends up one of this year's most interesting Marvel books, for me.

6) Batgirl of Burnside by Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr

Already a cult hit without any help from me, this reimagining of Batgirl from troubled veteran vigilante to young, dynamic burst of energy is just fun. Is this how the kids really talk? I have no idea, but it's incredibly likable, the art is beyond charming and, crucially, the lead character is always trying but allowed to screw up.

5) The Wicked And The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

A big hit from last year and still delivering great stuff with second arc Fandemonium. Big fan of Gillen/McKelvie's willingness to experiment and go in brave directions with their characters. It's a nice reminder that you can be populist without taking the easy route - if anything, it just makes you more popular. Not yet caught up on the latest arc, but excited to check that out, as well as their Phonogram continuation.

4) The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and others

Kinda veering off the current-comics track now. I've been slowly catching up on a few classic books over the last couple of years, and in 2015, I took the plunge and re-read Sandman for the first time as self-aware adult. I... quite liked it, yeah. Interesting to see Gaiman working in a slightly more raw style, before he really developed a signature approach. The slow dreamy pacing is well realised (although when a story/arc isn't working for you, it drags), and the art is lovely. Probably a good thing to have properly read.

3) Cindy & Biscuit by Dan White

As you may have spotted from the rest of this list, I don't often venture beyond the Marvel/DC/Image Big Three bubble, so full-on indie books are a rarity. But I listen to the SILENCE! podcast and picked this book up at Thought Bubble as it's by one of the presenters. And yeah, it's a great girl-and-her-dog-versus-monsters story. Charming with a dark smile (not grim-and-gritty, just... not too saccharine), this works for me. Available from the creator's website if it takes your fancy.

2) The Invisibles by Grant Morrison and various artists

Another one from the classic-catch-up-project, this is Grant Morrison's weird scifi project, in which an anarchist cell try to defend us from the weird monsters that lurk behind the Establishment. I haven't read the last two volumes, so it may fall apart, but from the place I'm currently at, this is hugely fun, fast-paced, brainbending stuff that really could only work in comics. I couldn't always tell you exactly what's going on, but I remain entertained.

1) Hitman by Garth Ennis and John McCrea

And at the top, another comic from a couple of decades ago. Hitman is a DC comic from the late-90s/early-00s in which a superpowered paid killer tries to make his way in their shared universe. It's Garth Ennis at his most OTT comedy-drama with perfectly matched art by McCrea and it's one of my favourite things I've ever read. A longer blog about it here if you want.

Potentially controversial to say I prefer Hitman (a superhero-violence-semi-comedy) to Sandman and Invisibles (two titans of the Serious Adult Comics field), but... the others are probably better technical works, but I've always been a huge Garth Ennis fan and I think it might be one of his best. Certainly the best thing by him I've read in a while.

And that, folks, was the comics of 2015. For next year, I might try and actually read some current comics again. Putting together this list, I can't help but notice I've fallen massively behind in all the Image books I was following, for example.

Best of 2015 - TOP TEN BOOKS

It's the end of the year, I'm running out of reading/viewing/listening time, should get my best-of-year posts filed away before 2015 dies and I miss the zeitgeist.

So, let's see what I can fit in before I need to cut this shit out and wrap some presents. To give these posts more structure (and recreate the glee I feel when writing my Top Ten TV post), I'm gonna mess with the format a little, possibly do a top ten for the categories I feel can sustain it, and post them as I've done them. First up: THE BOOKS.

As of this writing, I'm one book away from hitting my 50-books Goodreads challenge target, but I have a novella lined up that will hopefully take me over the top. Or I could just start counting my comic reading on Goodreads, which would win it instantly.

But what were the best of the proses?

10) Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill - and immediately we slip out of current releases, but this creeped the shit out of me. I don't read many ghost stories, so may have been an easy mark for it, but nonetheless, an easy and scary read.

9) Half The World by Joe Abercrombie - last year, I mentioned Half A King, this year it was the sequel, and as you'd expect from Abercrombie, top-notch wry action. Must read the end of the trilogy soon.

8) Rickshaw by David McGrath - full disclosure: I know the author from my MA course, but nonetheless, this is an exhilarating, visceral London dark comedy-drama about a rickshaw driver losing his grip and you should try it.

7) Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson - you're more likely to know Wilson for her (excellent) Ms. Marvel comic, but she also wrote this modern urban fantasy which really hit my imagination.

6) Dual - A Love Story by James Priest - I mostly know Priest for his comics (as Christopher Priest), but his recent self-published novels have very much captured the smart, funny, pragmatic tone that drew me to his other work, and Dual is the strongest of the two complete ones I read this year. His sci-fi series 1999 might be even better, but I haven't finished that yet.

5) Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch - this is me cheating, as I read all five of these books in 2015 and didn't want them to dominate the chart. They're great, though - a witty, well-thought-out, relatable take on magic, which has found entirely deserved success.

4) Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace - a unique, imaginative culinary urban fantasy novella that kept me hooked from start to finish. Already pre-ordered the sequel.

3) The Death House by Sarah Pinborough - a strange, spacey, atmospheric one-off book about a group of teenagers in a grim facility in the middle of nowhere. Hard to describe but good, read it.

2) The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey - a zombie book better than most, through sheer strength of character writing. Technically came out last year. Amazing stuff.

1) Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell by Susanna Clarke -  technically came out a while back, but a lovely, charming, painfully British fantasy book which packs enough plot for a trilogy into a single (admittedly very long) book, full of memorable characters and funny jokes. Also footnotes almost as long as the ones in that Stewart Lee book. (There is also a very well-done BBC TV adaptation if you can't face the brick-sized novel, but I'd recommend reading it if you can.)

And that, readers, was the books of the written word of the year 2015. Comics hopefully with you in the next few days.