And the award for most audacious move by a network goes to … the CW?
While its more established siblings spent 2015 sticking to a better-safe-than-sorry policy, the outlet best known for dealing addictive soaps to gullible teenagers sought absolution with “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The ratings-challenged series got 15 minutes of attention for daring to break into song a couple of times each episode, but it earned its groundbreaker status with so much more, including Stephen Sondheim-inspired numbers — “Feeling Kinda Naughty” makes Katy Perry’s fantasy about kissing a girl seem like a forced playdate — and eye candy that happens to be male and Asian-American, an almost unheard of combination on TV.
If you think I’m being elitist by otherwise snubbing the networks, keep in mind that of the 11 shows nominated for best comedy or drama by the Golden Globes, only one (Fox’s “Empire”) came from a network. Hitflix.com, which polls some of the country’s top TV critics every year, didn’t include a single network show in its top 10.
To be fair, all isn’t lost on network TV. I gave serious consideration to Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and CBS’ “The Good Wife” for my best-of list. But in the end, they just couldn’t compete with “Girlfriend” and the following nine shows, listed in alphabetical order, all of which were available only on cable or streaming sites:
“Billy on the Street”: If Michael Bloomberg were still mayor of New York, he’d most likely ban Billy Eichner from attacking unsuspecting pedestrians with his breathless barrage of pop-culture questions and ferocious fits. Bad for tourism, great for TV. (TruTV)
“BoJack Horseman”: American Pharoah deserves a lifetime supply of carrots for capturing the Triple Crown, but when it comes to exposing the soul-crushing sacrifices needed to make a Hollywood comeback, Will Arnett’s animated equine takes home honors as Horse of the Year. (Netflix)
“Fargo”: Expectations for the second season were as high as a 1970s Minnesota snowfall, but creator Noah Hawley didn’t disappoint, thanks to poetic scripts that didn’t sound the least bit stuffy and a cast that touchingly tapped their inner rubes. (FX)
“Last Week Tonight”: John Oliver finally got out from under the coattails of his mentor Jon Stewart by unloading his “mad-as-hell” monologues on Greece’s potential withdrawal from the eurozone, the Baron Sewel sex scandal and other issues that require a two-drink minimum and a fully alert brain. (HBO)
“Louie”: Creator Louie C.K. may have chosen to step back from the edge after mixed reaction to last year’s dark turns, but I doubt it. It’s more likely that the fearless star was just in the mood to laugh. Seeing that he remains one of our most ingenious comic minds, that’s just fine with me. (FX)
“Mad Men”: The final seven episodes were not as intoxicating as die-hard fans had hoped, but the last images of Don Draper finding his own version of Utopia successfully made the case that sometimes a goodbye toast is better with a Coke than Champagne. (AMC)
“Transparent”: Jill Soloway earned accolades for putting a transgender character front and center in the first season, but the latest batch of episodes, released this month, are even bolder, psychoanalyzing the rest of a family that has more than frocks hiding in their emotional closets. (Amazon)
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”: Tina Fey popped up only in the final episodes, but her carefree spirit was all over this “30 Rock” follow-up about a former doomsday cult member (the unsinkable Ellie Kemper) adjusting to life in the Big Apple. (Netflix)
“Wolf Hall”: The rest of America is just now discovering what Guthrie fans have known for years: Mark Rylance is a treasure, showing off his minimalist powers to the masses by stealing the spotlight from Tom Hanks in “Bridge of Spies” and bringing humanity to Henry VIII’s often vilified counselor Thomas Cromwell in this ever-so-subtle “Masterpiece” production. (PBS)