'The Affair,' 'Mad Men' and 'Frontline' among year's 10 Best

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Posted: Dec 15, 2015 9:50 AM
'The Affair,' 'Mad Men' and 'Frontline' among year's 10 Best

NEW YORK (AP) — Sure, 10 is an arbitrary number. If we were to add an 11th show, it might very well be HBO's sublimely shrewd comedy "Silicon Valley," or ABC's unbridled melodrama "Scandal," or Fox's noir thriller "Gotham." It might even be "CBS This Morning," which continues to offer early risers a smart diet of news as opposed to the empty calories of its rivals on ABC and NBC.

But 10 it is, so here, in alphabetical order, are this year's Big 10:

— "The Affair" (Showtime). A New York novelist has an affair and creates havoc for two families — his own and his lover's. The second season of this heated drama has been even better than the first, as the rewards of his infidelity disintegrate and the consequences mount. Meanwhile, quietly among its splendid cast, Maura Tierney as the wronged wife continues to prove herself as one of the finest actresses around.

— "The Americans" (FX). Perhaps the best but least-celebrated drama on the air, it marked a third season of crafty storytelling as it continued to explore the complex, death-defying lives of two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple during the Cold War. The tangled storylines remained intriguing; with co-stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys so good in their multiple guises as undercover spies that they even escaped notice, yet again, from the Emmy and Golden Globes judges. For shame!

— "Better Call Saul" (AMC). The pain of losing "Breaking Bad" was salved for its fans by the return of Bob Odenkirk (who arrived at "BB" in its second season as welcome comic relief, then grew Saul into a full-fledged scene stealer) in this aptly quirky prequel. It was everything a "BB" devotee could have hoped for, and never less than true to the series that begat it, and yet, for anyone watching, was a constant surprise.

— "Fargo" (FX). A second season of doing the impossible — reimagining the 1996 film classic — this cycle has, if anything, improved on Season 1 with its completely new tale and slate of characters. Once again, it's a bizarre melange of heartland propriety, steely violence and pitch-black humor. And once again, the cast (including Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Jean Smart, Ted Danson and Jeffrey Donovan) is delicious.

— "Frontline" (PBS). Airing for more than 30 years, winner of more than two dozen Peabody Awards, it kept on keeping on this season with reports on the NRA, Vladimir Putin, torture by the CIA, Ebola, ISIS and the challenges faced by transgender youngsters. Somehow immune to the pressures and failings that compromise so much of TV public affairs, it continued its long reign enlightening the public.

— "The Good Wife" (CBS). This legal drama had a few false moments last spring, especially in plotting its farewell to glam gumshoe Kalinda (Archie Panjabi). But so far in Season 7, it's back in the swing. Adding Jeffrey Dean Morgan as its new investigator was a masterstroke. And the newly rejiggered storylines are as smart, snarled and zesty as ever. And funny! Alan Cumming's fitful campaign strategist scores laughs in his every scene and, thanks to the fullness of all the characters, no one is immune from daffy moments. As it has been all along, "The Good Wife" remains a sophisticated drama full of human comedy.

— "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" (HBO). Religion, chicken, net neutrality, voting rights for Guam, the injustice of bail — they're all the same to Oliver. In each weekly sermonette he sheds light on absurdities and scandals no one else is likely to be exposing, or, if they are, not with his thoroughness and/or wicked sense of humor. "Last Week," every week, is an indispensable half-hour.

— "Mad Men" (AMC). For anyone who was there, the '60s felt all-inclusive yet passed in a flash. Same for "Mad Men," whose saga began at the dawn of the '60s and closed out that decade when its final season aired last spring. Surprisingly, nearly everyone involved lived happily ever after, including the wily but often self-destructive ad man Don Draper (played by series star Jon Hamm). Most viewers were happy, too, with its slyly appropriate conclusion, but also sad to bid farewell to a TV masterpiece.

— "Narcos" (Netflix). This serialized, true-to-life thriller follows the exploits of Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, as well as the U.S. drug agents Escobar repeatedly outwits. Shot in Colombia and starring Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, it is a riveting portrait of evil, power and supreme craftiness. Happily for viewers, there's more evil to come from Escobar, with "Narcos" renewed for a second season. Until then, a warning: One taste of this first season could lead to a 10-episode binge.

— "Sense8" (Netflix). A fluid narrative takes viewers to eight cities where eight characters are somehow linked by an ability to share thoughts, feelings and visions they can't explain to themselves or anyone else. Viewers are invited to embark on this enchanting sci-fi thrill ride from the Wachowskis ("The Matrix"). Daryl Hannah and Naveen Andrews ("Lost") join a sprawling cast of mostly new faces in settings that range from Chicago to Seoul, from Mexico City to Mumbai. The visuals are dazzling, the soundtrack score is haunting, and the interlocking storylines may tax your understanding — that is, until you submit. After that, if you hear thunder on a bright, sunny day (as does one of the characters), no worries. Somewhere, it's storming and you might be there soon.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore