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This article was published 29/12/2015 (2370 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
You know how it goes in the television world: the more things change, the more things... well, change.
Even for a medium in which new technology, new platforms and new content arrive and evolve at a breakneck pace, 2015 was a year of tremendous upheaval. Here’s one TV-watcher’s look back at 12 fascinating and fast-moving months, as well as a quick look ahead to what 2016 might bring:
This offbeat new CBC offering took comedian/actor Jonny Harris (Murdoch Mysteries) to struggling small towns across Canada, where he would meet with locals, learn about the communities and then create an all-new set of locally themed comedy to be performed for the townsfolk at a local venue. It is, thanks to Harris’s best-possible-guest charm, brilliant. Without question, TV’s most pleasant surprise of the year.
Late-night TV’s elder statesman called it quits in 2015, bringing an end to the era in which "talk" was the primary ingredient in the talk-show formula. Dave’s final show, on May 20, hit all the right notes and delivered a perfect balance of sentiment and silliness.
Citytv’s homegrown sketch-comedy series, which was shot in and around Winnipeg’s Wolseley neighbourhood in 2014 and 2015, debuted in prime time in January and immediately demonstrated a unique brand of weird-but-smart humour that harkened back to the late-’80s arrival of this country’s best-ever sketch shows, Codco and The Kids in the Hall. The cast is tremendous, and the local granola-belt enclave provides a perfect setting.
This critic’s personal pick as TV’s best show during the past half-decade ended its six-year run with a season that brought top-notch villainy (thanks to sterling performances by Mary Steenburgen and Sam Elliott) to Harlan County, while also bringing note-perfect closure to the complex "frenemy" relationship of Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).
One of the truest signs of television’s changing nature is the fact one of the year’s best shows wasn’t actually made for TV — Transparent, which explores a man’s late-in-life gender transition, was created for Amazon’s online-content platform (and became available to Canadians on Shaw/Rogers’ fledgling Shomi service). Smart, funny and deftly nuanced, Transparent provided TV veteran Jeffrey Tambor with the role of a lifetime.
After all the drinking and womanizing and darkness and secrets and demons, who would have expected Don Draper to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony? A final journey to enlightenment seemed to get him into just the right Zen space to create the perfect ad-pitch moment, and the show that put AMC on the map as a venue for original scripted programming went out on a very high note.
Having such a coarsely crafted, pound-you-over-the-head-with-the-joke title created some concerns about what CBC’s new sitcom effort might bring, but those doubts were quickly laid to rest when the father-and-son tandem of Eugene and Dan Levy — with able assistance from Catherine O’Hara, Annie Murphy and Chris Elliott — delivered a comedy that is much more subtle, clever and even occasionally heartfelt than its obvious moniker suggests.
TV’s most trusted fake newscaster exited The Daily Show in August after a 16-year run in which he established the Comedy Central franchise as a legitimate voice in American political discourse while at the same time providing nightly doses of killer satire and launching the careers of several major comedy stars (including Steve Carell, Ed Helms and John Oliver). His double-length sendoff amounted to a video thank-you card signed by almost everyone his Daily Show tenure touched, ending with a Jersey-appropriate dance-party sign-off by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
There’s a danger built into TV’s current trend toward limited-run series that discard everything but the title (cast, storylines, locales, timelines) from one season to the next — it can be difficult (hello, True Detective) to maintain a level of excellence when there’s only a whiff of thematic connection between sets of episodes. FX set a high standard with the first season of Fargo (featuring Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Allison Tolman); the second series had a decidedly lower magnitude of star power (Ted Danson, Jean Smart, Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson), but may actually have turned out better than the first.
The streaming-content service continued to redefine the way people watch TV in 2015, expanding its already-impressive original-content roster aggressively with such noteworthy titles as The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Sense8, Master of None, Narcos, W/Bob & David, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, F is for Family, Making a Murderer and Hot Wet American Summer: First Day of Camp. Binge-worthiness abounded.
After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.