One of the best shows of all time was canceled this year due largely to low ratings, an outdated metric only useful in convincing companies to buy ad time. The only studio that had any real power to give Hannibal new life was Amazon, which holds the program’s streaming rights. They did nothing, finally, incapable of even finding some middle ground that would allow Netflix or Hulu to take the ball and run. And thus, both TV distribution and the increasingly important streaming services were complicit in the loss of one of the few genuinely groundbreaking shows, in terms of both visual and narrative ambitions, that’s ever come down the pike.
In other words, not even television’s newest leaders, among them Netflix, FX, and AMC, can make all audiences happy. Hannibal’s cancellation left a distinct sting, due to creator Bryan Fuller’s visionary sense of style and the perceptive thematic backbone of what was, in the end, a romance between two apex predators. But the NBC program’s legacy keeps the door open for similarly exhilarating shows to get picked up in the future.
One could see a propensity for visual invention and complex narrative byways in the first season of USA’s extraordinary Mr. Robot, which brandished a similar, though admittedly less accomplished, sense of visual rhythm and editing. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Master of None also showed an unerring curiosity in reflecting the perspective and inner lives of its characters through their aesthetics and the trajectory and details of their storytelling methods.
This is all to say that 2015 saw television not only taking on stories that the big movie studios and producers lost interest in a while ago, but also starting to create genuinely cinematic visions out of these stories. The Knick continued to give Steven Soderbergh the narrative laboratory in which to experiment with a seemingly endless variety of montages, cuts, and angles in its bracingly ingenious second season. And even the shows that didn’t quite invoke an illustrative, noteworthy style, such as Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Transparent, and Homeland, embraced sensitive subject matter with an unshakeable tough-mindedness and thoroughly experiential timbres.
That Hannibal offered both elements and continued to push its own boundaries makes the series all the more haunting, beyond even its grotesque set pieces, but the fanbase the series cultivated, and the mad appetite for new heights of artistic expressiveness that Fuller consistently engendered, have created a lingering assurance that shows of this caliber can foster serious devotion. In fact, many of them already have. Chris Cabin
Inside Amy Schumer
In a year that saw Amy Schumer go from television’s most lacerating comic mind to Judd Apatow’s muse and Jennifer Lawrence’s writing partner, her sketch show remains the most noteworthy part of her blossoming career. Her opus may be her 12 Angry Men parody, setting Paul Giamatti, Vincent Kartheiser, Jeff Goldblum, and nine more men as the deciders of her hotness, but all of Inside Amy Schumer’s episodes offered a plethora of proddings against the masculine gaze. The third season, which began with her “Milk Milk Lemonade” deconstruction of backside fixations, touches on aging and femininity, the false nobility of men who protest makeup, Bill Cosby, and countless other indignities suffered by women in a man’s world. Rarely does Schumer’s observations on these matters not end in riotous waves of laughter, but the comedian doesn’t align herself with a specific strain of feminism or a popular view of how men and women should act. Her views are distinct and challenging, and Inside Amy Schumer’s ultimate aim seems to be as much about female empowerment as it is about independence in every sense of the word. Cabin
In which all of Carrie Mathison’s (Claire Danes) chickens come home to roost as she attempts to get her life, and that of her daughter’s, in order while working as head of security for a philanthropic organization in Berlin. Divorced of both Carrie’s connection to Brody and, to a degree, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), Homeland started venturing into far more complex terrain as a political thriller in its fifth season, touching on the largely positive yet undeniably unseemly pact forged by Germany and America to be the watchdogs of the world. In ignoring their own complicity in the fractious state of the modern world, these major world powers were reflected in Carrie, whose attempt to go legit implodes when she realizes she’s the focus of an assassination plot, originally thought to be aimed at her employer. The politics and technical detail in the dialogue remain nuanced, well-researched, and relatable for a relative layman, but the show’s strongest power is still that of the haunted, unpredictable patterns of a brilliant woman attempting to do good, even as she seemingly wrecks and ravages everything she touches in the world. Cabin
More important than even its patient sense of characterization, Netflix’s striking adaptation of Daredevil offered the first fully cohesive style in a Marvel Comics adaptation. The show’s shadowy aesthetic, shaped by Cabin in the Woods director Drew Goddard, potently reflects the perspective of the hero himself, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), the blind lawyer turned righteous street-level vigilante. No other Marvel work, on the big or small screen, has offered such a consistent level of thoughtful imagery, including gorgeous long takes of kinetic fist fights and intimate moments between the vibrant line of characters, which often unfurl without music or quick, distracting cuts. Considering that most superheroes begin as local crime fighters, it’s astonishing that Netflix has produced the first Marvel adaptation that has the unmistakable, authenticate feeling of small-scale community and neighborhood geography, one that helps cultivate an outraged civilian into an emblematic hero. Cabin
Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh’s misunderstood slice of San Francisco life always bore the weight of expectation well, never more so than in its gorgeous second season, 10 episodes so lovingly crafted they hardly felt “crafted” at all. With naturalistic long takes and intricate compositions, however, Looking marshaled a precise and potent style in the service of its empathic narrative, as fine a meeting of form and function as appeared on TV this year. As Patrick (Jonathan Groff) embarked on a new romance with Kevin (Russell Tovey) and ambled through the East Bay with Richie (Raúl Castillo), perhaps wondering what might have been, the entire ensemble came into focus, aided by frank and funny turns from Lauren Weedman and Daniel Franzese. By the end of the series finale, “Looking for Home,” which culminated in a claustrophobic, three-minute shot that laid bare Patrick’s every vulnerability, every disappointment, Looking emerged as a tender masterpiece in the vein of Enlightened, an intimate handbook for finding one’s voice. Matt Brennan
You’re the Worst
This smart, slightly acidic rom-com was bracingly unsentimental during its first season, when Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) were a couple of millennials hardened by single life who hooked up because they were the two worst-behaved guests at a wedding, parted ways with no intention of getting together again, and were later somewhat mortified to find themselves falling in love. The series followed Gretchen and Jimmy to a deeper place this season as the two, now officially a couple and living together, gradually let down their guards and got to know things about one another—like Gretchen’s bouts of clinical depression—that add poignancy and emotional depth to their sparring exchanges. Elise Nakhnikian