by Matthew Thompson
Last week I counted down my top ten shows of 2015. Whittling that list down to a mere ten was difficult in a year overflowing with great television. So I have decided to shine the light on some more shows that either just missed making my ten or while not quite top ten caliber had some highlights worthy of note. To accomplish this, I have chosen seven more great 2015 TV episodes from shows not covered in my initial top ten. Well here they are (Be warned: these do contain spoilers for each episode)!
The Americans “Stingers”
The Americans has become the master at creating quietly thrilling television. In Season 3 that included one of the most intense – and slowest – car chases in recent memory, some wince-inducing at-home dental surgery and the most disturbing packing of a suitcase you will likely see. But the real game-changer was Paige finding out that her parents were Russian spies in “Stingers.” From the moment Paige starts questioning her parents to the end of the episode was just perfection. The Jennings parents’ reveal was the most jaw-dropping moment, but others like Paige asking them to speak Russian and her staring at Agent Beeman later on manage to feel incredibly impactful as well. It showed once again that an intimate conversation can be just as riveting as stealthy spy shenanigans on this show. All involved with this sequence deserve praise though I’d like to throw some extra kudos at Holly Taylor for her particularly fantastic performance.
Banshee “A Fixer of Sorts”
No show on television does action quite like Banshee. This comes in a lot of forms, but the fist fights are the best of it. Even after twenty-plus episodes featuring some of the most memorable battles I have ever seen on the small-screen, the one between Nola and Burton in “A Fixer of Sorts” managed to have my mouth agape for its entirety. It is the most brutal, visceral, and straight-up best fight I have ever seen on television. I could describe it, but I wouldn’t do it justice. Not suffice with accomplishing this feat alone, “A Fixer of Sorts” also delivers an action setpiece involving Hood escaping from capture on a mobile office set in the back of a tractor trailer. It was the best episode in a season full of excellent ones.
Better Call Saul “Five-O”
I wasn’t sure I wanted a Saul spinoff, but both the character and actor Bob Odenkirk have proved plenty capable of being the centerpiece of this Breaking Bad prequel. Still I was more excited about Mike Ehrmantraut’s inclusion. He was one of my very favorite characters in the original series and getting more of him this past year has been great. And we got a lot more of Mike in Better Call Saul’s sixth episode. Through a series of flashbacks that tied into the season’s main storyline, “Five-O” fills us in on some of Mike’s backstory revealing new layers to his character and allowing for what is likely Jonathan Banks’ best performance as the character. It was an absolutely riveting hour of television.
Game of Thrones “Hardhome”
I was a somewhat disappointed by the most recent season of Game of Thrones, but it wasn’t without its bright spots and none were brighter than “Hardhome.” It featured what was probably the show’s best large-scale battle sequence to date. Thinking back on it, there were just so many standout moments. The sea of wights hurling themselves off the cliff. Longclaw shattering the White Walker’s sword. The giant bursting from the burning building flinging wights off of himself. It was a visually spectacular sequence, but also rich from a storytelling standpoint managing to put some real oomph behind the White Walkers’ presence as the series main antagonists. And all that only accounted for about half the episode, the rest of which happened to feature Dany and Tyrion’s first conversations – something book readers are still waiting on. Game of Thrones may have been off its game in 2015, but “Hardhome” was one of the year’s – and series’ – defining episodes.
Master of None “Mornings”
I love witty dialogue, but there is a fine line you have to walk with it. Go too far and it begins to feel unrealistic. Dev and Rachel have great chemistry throughout Master of None’s first season in large part due to their sizzling back and forth banter, but it almost feels too cute. The series balances this out through a realistic portrayal of the couple’s lower moments. These two aspects are at the forefront of the success of “Mornings” which encapsulates the romantic leads’ evolving relationship over the span of months into a single episode. We see the hilarious and adorable highs, we see the sobering lows and a clever structure helps bring it all together. There were more interesting topics covered in Master of None than the relationship focus of “Mornings,” but the chemistry between the leads, the realistic examination of a modern relationship, and the interesting setup of the episode – all things that in general I tend to love seeing on television – made this one my favorite from the first season.
Parenthood “May God Bless You and Keep You Always”
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: series finales are hard. It is very rare I walk away from one fully satisfied. But I did with Parenthood. Despite the up and down quality of the final two seasons, I don’t think I could have asked for much more from the finale. It was a fittingly emotional end to a show that always had my emotions running high. The episode was littered with memorable sequences from the wedding to the quiet passing of Zeke, but it was the final one that brought the series to a finish that I loved the most – a family baseball game calling back to the pilot episode interspersed with flashforwards to the Bravermans’ futures. It was the perfect way to bring things to a close and maybe just as important felt like a very Parenthood way to end the show.
Person of Interest “If-Then-Else”
What-if scenarios can be a bit of a mixed bag in television. Handled poorly and it can feel like screen time wasted on inconsequential events. But Person of Interest’s first episode of 2015 used the concept to give us a glimpse into the inner workings of The Machine, the centerpiece of the show’s fascinating mythology. Along with this look under The Machine’s hood, “If-Then-Else” presented a high stakes situation that put our favorite band of do-gooders at risk and ended with Shaw in mortal danger. They even managed to infuse some humor into this otherwise emotional and tense hour when The Machine sped up its simulation and presented some hilarious dialog in the process. It was the clear highlight for Person of Interest this past season.
That will wrap up my personal look back at television in 2015. I was hoping to do a few more episode write-ups for this post, but to be honest, I just ran out of gas. I have one more post about TV in 2015 that I worked on with some other readers and WordPress users that should be up sometime this week which I hope everyone will enjoy. Thanks for reading!