2016 Calvin Awards: Best TV Show

By David Mumpower

February 22, 2016

And he says welcome to the show.

Historically, the category of Best TV Show has been an old boy’s club. A few favorites dominated the charts for many years. Alas, those programs eventually ended. In their wake, an entirely new style of television consumption emerged. Ten years ago, 80 percent of our selections aired on network television. That was still true as recently as five years ago.

Then, the situation started to change during the 2012 campaign. The top three shows as well as 60 percent of our nominees aired on cable television. Fast forward to today. Among the ten entries we selected for Best TV Show, only one airs on network television. Three of them weren’t exhibited on any television channel. Instead, they are exclusive programming available on Netflix. A seismic shift in our collective viewing behavior continues to have ripple effects in this category. Almost 60 shows received at least one vote, which means that if our readers tried to keep up with BOP’s recommendations, they’d need to watch a full season of television each week…and then some. Truly, this is the golden age of television, and we have much to celebrate. Even so, the old boy’s club still exists, at least at the top.

Two years ago, I noted that the pending disappearance of Breaking Bad from the Best TV Show category would leave a vacuum. I added that a certain HBO program was the “de facto favorite” to fill that void. In 2015, the series accomplished this feat, replacing the three-time reigning champion as the new winner of Best TV Show. This past year offered an unprecedented challenge for the leader in the clubhouse, though. A show from the creators of Breaking Bad featuring characters from Breaking Bad debuted. It seemed poised to upend the one-time champion to return the Breaking Bad franchise to its rightful place on the throne. Alas, the Throne remains Iron, at least for another year.

Yes, Game of Thrones repeats as winner in the category of Best TV Show. It was close, though. I mean nail-biting, flop-sweating, hitting-a-three-pointer-at-the-buzzer close. Last year, Game of Thrones season four almost doubled its closest competitor. Season five narrowly avoided finishing in third place by an eyelash. It also lost 75 percent of its first place votes.

These are strange comments about a category winner, but the situation is important to note. After years of killing the protagonists, the genius of the program has also become its worst problem. Passionate Game of Thrones fans no longer get to watch many of their favorite characters. In addition, the show is competing not only against every other great show on television but also its own lofty reputation. Since people care about the Starks, the Khaleesi and the Imp so much, they’re hyper-critical about any events that dare to diverge from the Holy Scripture written by George RR Martin. It’s becoming a huge problem and even when the series is faithful, the showrunners wind up spending an entire offseason discussing the fate of its multiple super-stabbed characters.

Despite all the lingering concerns, however, season five of Game of Thrones once again stood as marvelous television. Arya finally found her calling as some sort of assassin princess hybrid. The Imp finally found a realm where his reason and diplomacy were positives. Jaime Lannister got to spend some quality time with his daughter-niece. And his twin, Cersei Lannister, finally got her comeuppance, thereby setting the stage for the second major rebellion in King’s Landing since the middle of season two.

Most important, the most recent season of Game of Thrones was highlighted by arguably the greatest 15 minutes in the history of television. At the end of Hardhome, the eighth episode of the season, the true threat to the Seven Kingdoms revealed itself. An army of the undead led by the Night's King attacked Jon Snow's makeshift allies. Snow somehow did the impossible during this fight, slaying a seemingly invincible opponent. His sole reward for this victory was to watch helplessly as his former allies rose from the dead, thereby becoming his new foes.

Zombies have become such a cliche in pop culture. It speaks to the sustained greatness of the Game of Thrones production team that they presented a new twist on an overly saturated idea, thereby crafting one of the greatest television moments ever. The Night's King scene would have had a chance of winning the category of Best Scene had it been eligible. It's that iconic a moment, even to those who felt the rest of the season was not as strong as prior Game of Thrones efforts.

No matter where they stood on the subject of season five relative to the prior years, our staff was resolute on one point. We loved watching David Benioff & D. B. Weiss move the various pieces around the board. While we don’t buy the final betrayal in Mother’s Mercy any more than the rest of the internet, we loved witnessing the events that led up to it. We also can’t wait to see what happens in season six, the moment when nobody on the planet outside the show has any indication of what happens next. It’s the culmination of five years of seasons of character building. BOP proudly names Game of Thrones the second repeat champion in the category of Best TV Show, and we believe that it’s well positioned to match Breaking Bad as a three-time winner next year.

The true shock in the category of Best TV Show this year isn’t the winner. It’s the upstart program that almost came out of nowhere to win the title against much higher profile competition. The series in question is Mr. Robot, and our staff loved the stubbornly inscrutable storytelling structure that led to its ascension. Mr. Robot is about computer programming and the security of personal information in a digital world. It’s also about addiction and psychosis. There’s even some creepy sex thrown in for good measure.

Mr. Robot is the type of series that will build to its season finale cliffhanger by having a character do something so shocking that it resets the entire financial world. Then, the finale itself will never show this character nor go into detail about the act itself. It’s an exercise in enigmatic behavior for the sake of enigmatic behavior alone. Our staff was absolutely transfixed by the existential crisis that was season one, and we look forward to season two, even as we recognize that resolution is neither Mr. Robot’s strong suit nor its underlying intent.

Everyone hailed the news as the return of conquering heroes. The creators of Breaking Bad proudly stood up and announced, “We’re getting the band back together!” No, they didn’t mean Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. Instead, they were referencing Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut, beloved tertiary characters from the original series returning for a prequel. That program, Better Call Saul, almost debuted as category champion before eventually settling for an extremely close third place.

Better Call Saul focuses on the early days of its titular lead, back when he hadn’t sold his soul yet since there were no standing bids for the item. During season one, we learn that Saul was a grinder who worked by day in his brother’s mailroom while earning a law degree via correspondence at the University of American Samoa.

In the pilot, Saul’s brother is a tragic figure, a titan of a lawyer who has developed electromagnetic hypersensitivity. The man is incapable of going to the mailbox without suffering. Saul, formerly a con man, now operates as overseer and caretaker for his brother, which creates the backdrop of the story. The interactions between Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean drive the action, and the two are true magic together, which makes the season finale’s reveal that much more difficult to process. Vince Gilligan and his team have long since mastered the craft of storytelling, and Better Call Saul is the latest example of their undeniable skill. The only real surprise here is that the show finished third.

A Netflix original and the only network show we laud round out the top five. Jessica Jones is a private investigator who also happens to be invulnerable physically yet fragile mentally. She was once mind-controlled by a villain known as Kilgrave, and his ability to turn anyone near him into a living weapon makes her life a living Hell throughout season one. It’s a dazzling exploration of the psyche of a trauma victim entwined with various superhero tropes. Our staff became briefly obsessed with it and selected it the fourth best program of the year. Meanwhile, our passion for Brooklyn Nine-Nine continued to rise. After starting in ninth place in year one, the funniest ensemble cop comedy since Barney Miller jumped to sixth place last year and then finally reached the top five this year.

Netflix is in complete control of the sixth and seventh positions. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Daredevil debut in these spots after dazzling first seasons. The former program tells the story of a kidnapped woman who escapes. After years underground, the de facto leader of the Indiana Mole Women tries to make it in the Big Apple. Daredevil is a much less upbeat tale. This comic book adaptation stars Stardust’s Charlie Cox as the blind attorney who beast down thugs like its his raison d'être. Inevitably, Daredevil and Jessica Jones will join forces in The Defenders, which means you should expect that show to do extremely well in our voting. Until then, what’s important is that three of our top seven nominees in Best TV Show are all Netflix original programs. They truly have changed the collective television landscape with their focus on quality.

Cable shows perform a comeback at the bottom of the top ten. HBO, AMC and FX titles complete our list of 2016 selections. Veep repeats its performance last year by finishing eighth once again. Fargo, which narrowly missed nomination last year, earns a spot in the top ten this time, presumably due to the presence of longstanding BOP fave, Bruce Campbell.

Finally, Justified concludes its epic arc with a tenth place selection. While the series never quite won the category of Best TV Show, it came within a few points of upending Breaking Bad in 2012. That second place finish was its highest placement, and every season of Justified earned a spot in the top ten, a rarity in the history of this award. The staff is going to miss this one a lot.

With over 400 original programs aired in 2015, our staff was more divided on Best TV Show than ever before. 19 different series earned at least one first place vote. The ones that failed to earn nomination this year were The Flash, Scrotal Recall, Master of None, The Leftovers, former category champion Mad Men, The Good Wife, Gravity Falls, Catastrophe, and Empire. The titles that narrowly missed selection were Silicon Valley, Limitless, The Walking Dead, The Americans, The Grinder, and Parks and Recreation.

2016 Calvin Awards
Calvins Intro
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Album
Best Cast
Best Character
Best Director
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture

Top 10
Position Show Total Points
1 Game of Thrones 63
2 Mr. Robot 61
3 Better Call Saul 59
4 Jessica Jones 50
5 Brooklyn Nine-Nine 47
6 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 46
7 Daredevil 45
8 Veep 44
9 Fargo 41
10 Justified 40



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