2015 was a great year for quality television, especially when it came to returning TV. After a very lackluster end to a third season, Arrow bounced back strong in season 4. The Leftovers built on their excellent first season with a second, that many say, surpassed the first. Mad Men and Justified finished out their very strong multiple season runs with a final season that was among the best in their history.
When it came to new series that was a different story. There were some fun popcorn shows like Limitless and Blindspot, some solid superhero additions like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. There was even a surprisingly strong spin-off in Better Call Saul. When naming the best new drama of 2015, there is no choice but one. There was no drama, new or otherwise, that hit harder than USA’s Mr. Robot in 2015.
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Rami Malek Is a Star
Rami Malek was not completely unknown before Mr. Robot. He was featured in HBO’s The Pacific miniseries and had bit parts in the Twilight and Night at the Museum movies. Mr. Robot is certainly his biggest and most important role. The USA Network series is almost entirely reliant on Malek and his performance. It’s a challenge that Rami Malek rose to and even exceeded expectations.
Mr. Robot has a very tight focus on Malek’s character, Elliot Alderson. The majority of events are filtered through Elliot’s point of view and perspective. This is no simple thing because there is more than a little bit off with Elliot. He’s suffering from several mental disorders and Malek often has to play conflicting emotions in the same scene.
Given the nature of Eliot’s mental state, the character can also be inherently off-putting. Elliot is very anti-social so he holds other characters at bay and that can do the same for the audience. It’s hard to connect a character who is so unwilling to connect in general. Malek is able strike the perfect balance. He’s aloof enough to be true to the character but is magnetic enough in his performance to drawn in the audience. Malek plays Elliot’s anti-social behavoir with such a sadness and a regret that it garners sympathy. The audience see Elliot as a man who is suffering not selfish and rude.
It is atypical of most depictions of characters suffering with mental health. They are seen as crazy, unstable and unlikable. Malek’s Elliot is heart-breakingly sympathetic at times and it makes the audience want to connect with the character, even if the character has no interest.
It Looks and Feels Like Nothing Else on TV
As TV budgets rise, things are growing more and more cinematic. It’s often hard to distinguish between action scenes on The Flash and those of a tent pole superhero movie. Nothing looks quite as gorgeous and filmic as Mr. Robot. There’s rarely been a TV show that embraces itself as a visual medium as much as Mr. Robot. The lighting, the shot composition, the direction, they all are expertly crafted. Even some things that could be considered “bad” film making, like the odd camera angles or empty space give the show a unique quality all its own.
The look of Mr. Robot is emblematic of the show’s general attitude. There is such a high attention to detail and love for the craft. Hackers are not new to TV. There are actually quite trendy lately but USA’s Mr. Robot is one of the few shows that make sure they capture the culture correctly. Showrunner, Sam Esmail, has worked hard to make sure the series stays accurate to real hackers and real people suffering with mental health. This level of commitment ensures that Mr. Robot feels as real as possible. This, in turn, gives everything an extra layer of gravitas, something that is sadly lacking from most series.
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A Masterful Mystery
It’s hard to keep things a real secret on TV these days. In the age of the internet and social media, things are bound to leak or be deciphered. You not only have a whole team of fans working together to theorize and analyze, you also have news sources who report on things like set reports or scripts getting leaked. As a result stories with “shocking” twists are usually spoiled for a good portion of the audience months in advance. Mr. Robot had a very clever way of dealing with this inevitability.
There are several underlying mysteries on the series in season one and even close viewers were surprised by some of the revelations. The way Mr. Robot managed to pull this off was having a very obvious “mystery” at the series forefront. I won’t be specific for the risk of spoilers but suffice to say there was a lingering question from the series’ first episode. A lingering question that many fans, including myself, had figured out the answer to by the end of the first episode. Mr. Robot refused to answer it though and waited until the penultimate episode to confirm or deny fans’ theories. Mr. Robot used this central mystery as a distraction tactic so people would be shocked by the other “smaller” surprises the show had in store.
The story was always compelling though because of the characters. Thanks mainly to Malek’s aforementioned performance but also because of the supporting cast. Mr. Robot found a way to use Christian Slater, a Herculean task because the actor has been miscasted and annoyingly distracting in everything he has been in since the late 90’s. Special mention must be extended to characters like Darlene, Angela and the terrifying couple, the Wellick’s who could have one-note but were nearly as compelling and complicated as Elliot.
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But what do you think? Did you think Mr. Robot was the best new drama of 2015? Have you ever seen Mr. Robot before? Are you interested in watching it now? Is there another new drama that you would put above Mr. Robot in 2015?
Mr. Robot season 2 premieres on USA Network in 2016.
(Images courtesy of USA)