Penny Dreadful - You probably didn't watch this show but you should have. It's gothic horror set in Victorian England populated by famous literary characters: Dr. Frankenstein and his "monster" and his "bride", Dracula, Dorian Gray, assorted werewolves and demons and such. By its description it should be utter tripe, but it exceptionally well done. It just does so many things right. The cinematography really aspires to the "every frame a painting" ideal. The dialogue has a florid beauty, especially that of Frankenstein's monster who spouts the poetry of John Clare -- you can tell the writing staff understands how to use the English language. Even more impressive is the acting. Eva Green is the centerpiece and gave a tour de force, but all the actors -- including Timothy Dalton, Billie Piper, and Rory Kinnear -- were uniformly magnificent from top to bottom. No scenery was left unchewed. The entire series of three seasons (and done) was a triumph of talent over a mundane and hackneyed premise. I predict Penny Dreadful builds a following post mortem, slow and steady via binge streaming over the next few years.
Game of Thrones -- Poor Hodor. For Game of Thrones this was the year it became conventional. Gone is the show that defied the primal dramatic need for comeuppance. The show where anyone could be killed, even the most beloved characters; where evil was just as likely to triumph as good, and without consequence. This year the characters of our sympathies got wins. Even the ones we didn't really like -- Cersei -- got wins over ones we hated even more -- the High Sparrow. The annoying Tommen, the pointless Margery, the guilty Red Woman, and the execrable Ramsay Bolton, other minor villains, were all dealt with satisfyingly. The only price we paid for this jamboree of righteous closure was the loss of a big, friendly dude with a severely limited vocabulary. My main fear is that now the forces coming to bear on Westros will be dealt with in a plot driven manner; that the characters will be puppeteered around to produce certain events that will give the audience the warm fuzzies. Perhaps it's better that way. It will keep ratings up and make everyone feel satisfied about the ending (notice I didn't say happy). As Ian McShane said, "It's just tits and dragons."
I, however, will miss the daring, almost nihilistic show that violated dramatic norms (and I am not speaking of the standard HBO lurid sexual displays for shock value). Perhaps they'll pull something off -- something truly outlandish or at least inconclusive. There is fodder for it. There is no telling what Cersei's state of mind is. The theme of how Arya and Sansa have survived and adapted since their father was beheaded in front them has promise. There are a couple of eunuchs scurrying about that may have some dramatic play. There is hope. And there's no point in griping about good entertainment. I think we can count on that in any case, especially the inevitable Dragons vs. the Zombies episodes.
Silicon Valley -- certain one of the best satires (as opposed to sitcoms) in history, it's a real pleasure to watch. Especially poignant for those of us working in technology as much of the satire is dead on accurate. The plot arcs move from between success and defeat and recovery and failure. Fates are reversed over and over again, as often at the capricious whim of fate versus personal effort and insight. That too rings true. Witheringly funny moments, mostly courtesy of T.J. Miller as Erlich Bachman, combine with deep irony and, sadly, a fair share of potty humor. Not the funniest show on TV -- that remains Archer even though it is not what it once was -- but the most sharply observed, a quality common to most comedy from Mike Judge (Idiocracy, Office Space, King of the Hill). If you're not up on Silicon Valley -- time to binge.