Top 12 Television Specials of 2015

coat of many colors

If you’ve stumbled on this site and you’re expecting wonderful programs like Fargo and American Crime to make this list, then maybe you should read my site’s tagline. This blog is technically supposed to be dedicated towards children’s/teen/youth media…so the programs I have listed here are, for the most part, geared towards young people.

Even in an era where networks aren’t producing After School Specials, and where cable networks like Showtime and HBO have been limiting their programming for young people (esp. Showtime), many quality programs marketed for adolescents and families are still being produced and created. I actually had a pretty tough time limiting this list to twelve (I was originally aiming for 10). They range from being entertaining to educational. Anyway, without further ado…

12. The Massively Mixed-Up Middle School Mystery (Nickelodeon)
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. It’s a comedy about three middle school “detectives” who solve school-related crimes. It’s funny and, best of all, at only 40 minutes, it’s perfectly short for a television movie. I kinda hope Nickelodeon turns this one into a television series, a la “100 Things to do Before High School.” The kid cast is great.

11. Nick News: Before I Go: Living with Dying (Nickelodeon)
I’ve already written extensively and thoughtfully on Nick News and why I’ll miss the show. There’s not much else I can add. However, if there’s one episode you should watch from 2015, it’s this one right here. It’s a special on kids with terminal illnesses. It’s certainly sad and somber, but there are moments that are uplifting and inspiring. Nickelodeon, with or without Nick News, needs to continue making specials with this sort of realism, honesty, and maturity.

10. Descendants (Disney Channel)
No, I’m not talking about the Oscar winning film starring George Clooney. I was confused too when the title of this movie was first revealed. The movie revolves around the teen children of our favorite Disney characters (as if all these Disney movies were set during the same time period). Directed by High School Musical‘s Kenny Ortega, this movie features a lot of eye popping visuals and great musical numbers.

9. Teen Beach 2 (Disney Channel)
While I found the first movie to be fun, but decent, I believe this sequel took things to another level. I don’t think a DCOM has had a more polarizing ending. Personally, as someone who is out of the movie’s target age range, I loved it. I was genuinely surprised by how the writers chose to end this thing, with Brady and Mack losing their memories of each other. It’s the type of ending that’s begging for a third movie, that will undoubtedly making everything “normal” again. But I’m digging this weird, strange, semi-unsettling final note.

8. Babysitter’s Black Book (Lifetime)
I am sucker for a decent Lifetime flick about teenagers behaving badly. There are a couple of those on this year’s list. Starring Spencer Locke (Phil of the Future), this MOW is about a group of 12th grade girls who start a prostitution business in order to help pay for college. Everything that could possible go wrong, does. It’s a great cautionary tale about what can happen when one doesn’t think too far into the future and consider the consequences.

7. Mark & Russell’s Wild Ride (Disney XD)
For some reason, Disney produced not one, but two, buddy comedies involving a climactic driving test (that ends in disaster). Fortunately, both these movies are also pretty great. Mark & Russell stars Joey Bragg (Liv and Maddie) and The Goldberg‘s Sean Giambrone. The best thing about this movie is how well both lead actors work together.

6. Perfect High (Lifetime)
Starring Bella Thorne (in probably her strongest performance of her career), this movie is about a dancer who becomes addicted to drugs, like heroine, after a serious injury. When it comes to these types of movies, you can either take it or leave it. This movie won’t change the world, but there are lessons that can be learned. Just don’t do drugs, kids, alright?

5. Away and Back (Hallmark)
This movie was quietly released in the beginning of the year. It received a deserving Emmy nomination for Best Music Composition last summer. If you haven’t, you need to check this one out. It’s about widowed father (Jason Lee) and his three children who attempt to protect a family of swans with the help of a prickly ornithologist (Minka Kelly). It’s a romantic family drama about dealing with loss and moving on, featuring beautiful music and gorgeous scenery/cinematography. (Also, it’s pretty much similar to Fly Away Home).

4. My One Christmas Wish (UpTV)
Remember that news story from about a year ago about that young woman who went on Craigslist to look for a family to spend time with on Christmas? Well, a movie adaptation has already been made. Thankfully, I discovered it right before I was ready to construct this post. What a nice a surprise! The story is simple (which actually isn’t a bad thing), but the movie hits all the right emotional notes, and features a star performance by Amber Riley, who has more range than what she was given on Glee.

3. Bad Hair Day (Disney Channel)
For all the press Descendants and Teen Beach 2 received, Disney’s strongest movie this year was the hilarious, yet surprisingly poignant Bad Hair Day. It’s about a smart, yet shallow, teen girl (Laura Marano) and an ex-cop (Leigh-Allyn Baker) who spend the day trying to hunt down a stolen valuable diamond necklace. Through their adventures, Marano’s character learns that she doesn’t always need to try to please everyone. It’s a funny movie with a thoroughly satisfying ending and great performances by the two female leads.

2. Coat of Many Colors (NBC)
Dolly Parton’s childhood is finally given the Coal Miner’s Daughter treatment. This TV movie is very sweet and saccharine…but it also does a really nice job of giving a portrait of Southern poverty during the time. Scenes like when Parton’s mother loses her newborn give this otherwise sunny movie dramatic heft. Dolly Parton was all over the network’s promotions for the film, but it’s Alyvia Alyn Lind (who was recently nominated for a Critics Award) as the young Dolly Parton that really steals the show (I don’t think Parton herself would disagree with me). Jennifer Nettles and Rick Schroder as her parents also give award worthy performances. Make more movies like this, NBC! They’re getting higher ratings than your shows.

1. The Wiz Live (NBC)
In terms of television specials, this was a great year for NBC. This is NBC’s third attempt at a live musical. While their first production had ridiculously high ratings, but low critical approval, and their second production had the opposite effect, The Wiz Live finally achieved a good balance between high ratings and audience/critical approval. Shanice Williams pretty much became a star overnight. And I still think Uzo Aduba and David Alan Grier were the night’s standouts. I love these live musicals and I’m looking forward to what NBC plans on doing next year. Heck! I’m looking forward to FOX’s Grease.

There were some notable programs I left off, including MTV’s White People (good intentions, but swings and misses a few times), HBO’s continuation of Saving My Tomorrow, Jim Henson’s long lost Turkey Hollow (kind of a disappointment), and The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar among others. Any other family specials I left off?

Thank you so much for reading. This has been such a fun year for blogging. I really feel like I’m part of a community, so thank you to the ones who have been subscribing and sharing my posts through social media. I’m going to keep doing this through 2016, with more Avonlea reviews, book reviews, and more awards talk. Personally, it’s been a year of highs (yay! I have my Master’s!) and lows (Oh…where are the jobs?). But this blog has pretty much kept me sane and happy. So, thank you. Have a happy New Year.


2 thoughts on “Top 12 Television Specials of 2015

  1. Pingback: Guild Awards Recognize Children’s Television | Lifestories

  2. Pingback: The Best of Children’s Television Not Represented at this Year’s Emmys | Lifestories

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