As we deck the halls with holiday cheer, it is time for a look at the year’s best series on the small screen — be it TV, laptop or however you choose to stream "television" these days.
There was a lot to choose from this year — more than 400 reported series across the board, which is a historical high (and too much, according to some industry executives). So, narrowing the list down to just 10 entries was no easy task. But here are my choices for crème of the crowded crop.
10. "Empire" (Fox)
Dubbed a "hip-hop Dynasty," guilty pleasure "Empire" capitalizes on a dramatic formula (backstabbing and double-dealing amongst a wealthy family) that was once a staple in network primetime. Taraji P. Henson as Cookie, the modern-day version of Joan Collins as Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter, is the year’s most deliciously fearsome character. And the immediate mega-success of the fictional Lyon family proves that network television can still matter.
9. "Mad Men" (AMC)
After seven seasons and countless accolades (including four consecutive Emmy wins as Outstanding Drama Series), we leave Jon Hamm’s Don Draper — after battling a nervous breakdown —meditating atop a cliffside as he apparently dreams up that famous early 1970s Coke commercial. Like many memorable series-enders before it ("The Sopranos," in particular), the debate about what actually did happen — and what it actually means — leaves us both satisfied and longing for more.
8. "Survivor" (CBS)
Given the genre, it is easy simply to brush veteran "Survivor" aside as just another reality competition. But after 15 years (and 31 editions), this ongoing battle for survival (and a cool $1 million dollar payoff) remains the ultimate televised example of how far people will go to outwit, outplay and outlast. Always an immediate addiction, this most recent "Second Chance" edition — featuring returning players chosen by the fans — was one of the more highly anticipated gimmicks in the history of the franchise.
7. "Transparent" (Amazon)
With an initial focus on a family patriarch gender transitioning, and the effect her transformation had on her family, dramedy "Transparent" in season one was a tour de force for Jeffrey Tambor in his Emmy Award-winning role as Maura Pfefferman. Broadening its focus in Season Two, "Transparent" is now a showcase for the unconventional lives of the privileged Pfefferman offspring, Sarah (Amy Landecker), Josh (Jay Duplass) and Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) and Judith Light as their neurotic Jewish mother — and Maura’s ex — Shelly.
6. "Mr. Robot" (USA)
After a string of flops ("My Own Worst Enemy," "The Forgotten," "Breaking In" and "Mind Games"), "show killer" Christian Slater has finally found his first series hit. In this conspiracy thriller, Rami Malek plays Elliot, a nerdy and morphine-snorting IT security engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night who is hired by Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), the leader of an underground group trying to bring down corporations (including the ones his company is hired to protect). On a cable network not known for taking creative risks, "Mr. Robot" is the perfect example of why is it best to travel your own path.
5. "Better Call Saul" (AMC)
As opportunist lawyer Saul Goodman on "Breaking Bad," Bob Odenkirk in small doses was welcome comic relief. On his own in prequel "Better Call Saul," we learn the backstory of "Saul, née Jimmy McGill, who began his career as a con-man in Illinois known as "Slippin’ Jimmy." While the norm for any spinoff, particularly prequels, is to pale in comparison to its parent series ("Frasier" being the go-to exception), "Better Call Saul" more than stands on its own.
4. "Veep" (HBO)
As the sitcom responsible for ending "Modern Family’s" five-year Emmy streak as Outstanding Comedy Series, this political satire remains a mixture of smart comedy, stellar acting and brilliant writing, which adds up to a refreshing approach to Washington, D.C., politics. And with four consecutive Emmys for Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, "Veep" has finally disproved the so-called "Seinfeld" "curse"!
3. "Bates Motel" (A&E)
This unsung gem, focusing on the creepy incestuous relationship of troubled young Norman Bates and his meshugenah Mama Norma (Vera Farmiga), intensified in Season Three as the mystery of Norman’s "Psycho" past was further revealed. But viewers waiting to see Norma as a corpse in a rocking chair in that creepy fruit cellar may be surprised to learn there could be another ending, according to series creator Carlton Cuse. Seeing that ending will take at least two more years, however, now that the series has been renewed for seasons four and five.
2. "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst" (HBO)
This six-part documentary, which investigated bizarre multiple-murder suspect and Manhattan real-estate heir Robert Durst, was conceived when Durst offered to be interviewed by director Andrew Jarecki after seeing his 2010 feature film, "All Good Things," which was based on Durst’s story. "The Jinx," the culmination of more than 20 hours of conversations with Jarecki, is loaded with more twists and turns than a Coen Brothers movie. And to boot, Durst was arrested on first-degree murder charges the day before its finale aired.
1. "Fargo" (FX)
Unlike HBO’s "True Detective," which defines the term "sophomore slump," Season Two of this bloody Midwestern crime saga, set in 1979, followed the battle of two crime syndicates and the not-so-innocent couple (Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) who inadvertently get caught in the middle. Oh yah … Everything was spot on, from the acting and production to the must see plot and the crisp wintry cinematography. And there were even some close encounters with UFOs and Brad Garrett’s head in a box! Everybody loves "Fargo."