My brothers and sisters in television,
It’s so nice to be talking telly with people I obsessively read and usually only argue with in my head. Superpsyched to argue with you by typing out words this week! Margaret, please know that you achieved something I didn’t think possible—you made me think I don’t watch enough television.
Willa, you asked about a tweet I now regret. For one thing, declaring Sense8 to be “seven hours of slog (and the occasional orgy), then three hours of utter transcendence” contains a math error. It was seven hours of slog (and orgies) and five solid hours of transcendence. Why did I sit through those initial sloggy bits when there’s so much else to watch? Because no other show made for television has ever been so boundless in its ambition.
Sure, there was an adjustment period—having the international cast speak in English meant that the line readings weren’t always felicitous (or even comprehensible, but that’s what closed captions are for). There was a tone of earnestness that, being a wicked cynic, I have a bit of an aversion to. The big bad was majorly lame. And I was irked that the writers seemed to have chosen the most obvious storylines for each part of the world—a marriage plot for the Indian woman; a corruption/AIDS storyline for the Kenyan; homophobia for the Mexican telenovela star; familial transphobia for the Bay Area trans techie, familial sexism in South Korea, etc. But, c’mon, it’s not like there were 17 other TV shows focusing on corruption and AIDS in Kenya, and NCIS has never explored sexism in a South Korean family business.
Sense8’s sloggy bits were minorly irritating, whereas the transcendent sections were maximally mind-blowing. The discovery period in which the eight people in the cluster figured out their interconnections went on for slightly too long, but it was still magical. (If you aren’t familiar with the Sense8 mythology, David Levesley summarized it as follows: “An evolutionary quirk has bred an ubermensch species known as ‘sensates,’ who are born on the same day and ‘cluster’ together, a connection that links their senses and emotions telepathically and allows them to speak the languages and perform the skills of their cluster-mates.” You can also see this in action in the clip below.) Directors Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and James McTeigue brought a grand, if slightly goofy, cinematic vision, and even if I have some cavils about the writing by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, their creative ambition was breathtaking.
Yes, there was lots of sex, including an extremely memorable, supersexy orgy (starting around the 35-minute mark in Episode 6; you’re welcome); there was a lot of beautifully choreographed fighting, and there was an episode the likes of which I’ve never seen before in any medium, which climaxed with a 10-minute birth montage that absolutely wrung me out. (By the way, this was a fantastic year for birth scenes. Sense8’s montage took the biscuit, but Season 4 of Girls—remember that show?—concluded with an amazing parturition, as did Season 2 of Transparent.)
Could Sense8 have been tighter? It could have! Could Sense8 have been a little less self-serious? Sure enough. Was it fabulously creative and insanely international and incredibly queer, and were its explorations of gender and sexuality even more cutting edge than Transparent’s? Yes, yes, yes! Even if only about half of its 12 hours brought transcendent joy, that’s a lot more transcendent joy that I got from a lot of shows that I happily watched this year.
Television was full of pleasant surprises for me in 2015, the most satisfying of which sits at the top of my top-10 list. Russell T. Davies’ Cucumber—and its interlocking companion show Banana—was entertaining, sexy, and profound, and it constantly managed to make me think it was going to zig down a familiar path only to take a sudden zag to something I didn’t see coming. Best of all, both shows were unmistakably set in 2015; their characters were obsessed with the technology, psychology, and workplace spats that real people fixate on. (I’m basically a sucker for newsiness. I’ll watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as long as it keeps ripping from the headlines, and The Good Wife deserves kudos for consistently spotting dramatically rich, cutting-edge tech stories when they’re still on Page B6 rather than A1.) Cucumber also pulled off a bravura episode: I don’t recommend watching it out of context, and I don’t want to say what happens so you, too, can experience the slowly dawning pleasure of realizing what’s going on, but Episode 6 is one of the best hours of television I’ve seen in ages.
My top 10 shows of 2015 were:
2. The Americans
3. Better Call Saul
5. The Good Wife
6. Mad Men
7. Orange Is the New Black
9. Murder in the First
10. Survivor’s Remorse
As is so often the case, I have strong feelings about some of the shows at the bottom of my list (and some—like The Great British Baking Show and a whole heap of comedies—that just missed the cutoff), but I’ll save my rousing defense of Murder in the First (in its second season, which aired this summer, it explored similar territory to True Detective and did so more satisfactorily than either season of the HBO show) and my love letter to everything about Survivor’s Remorse—except its hideous title—for another day.
Is it streaming somewhere?
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