Today marks the beginning of our annual Year in Review. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be looking at all the best and worst of the year, with a few topics in between. And just as we’ve done since 2010, we’re matching the size of each of these lists to the last two digits of the year. In 2014, we gave you 14 of the best, worst and whatever. This year you’ll get 15 choices for each topic.
This works out especially well for the first list, my assessment of the year in television. 2015 was a great year for television. But it was also a full year of television. It was perhaps the most year of television in the history of the medium.
It’s been so full that while compiling this list, I’ve encountered more blind spots than I’m comfortable admitting. There are a number of shows that I missed. I’m sure these will show up in the comments. I’m several seasons behind on The Walking Dead, but I’ve heard that there’s a renaissance happening for Rick Grimes. I didn’t make it more than a few episodes into the new season of Doctor Who, so I missed out on Maisie Williams. The Leftovers has shown up on a lot of year-end lists, which is a show that I gave up on very early on last year. And I doubt Bill Simmons reads my columns, but he would be disappointed to hear that I’m not watching either The Affair or Homeland at the moment.
This makes me feel like a lazy TV critic, until I inspect the massive list of television that I have consumed this year. Putting together a list of 30 great shows wouldn’t have been half as hard as cutting the list down to 15. But I’ve done it. Here it is, for your reading pleasure and discussion: The 15 Best TV Shows of 2015.
15. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)
This show represents my best hope to become the next Cougar Town. As in, a show that starts out with a pretty bad title and weak premise only to transcend and become something completely different entirely. For now, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend rides very high on the performance of Rachel Bloom. She’s manic, sweet and occasionally breaks out into hilarious musical numbers. It sneaks onto the list because it’s wildly entertaining and full or potential. I just hope that bloom and her co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada) find ways to keep it fresh when it returns in 2016.
14. The Flash (The CW)
The word I would use to describe the entire crop of DC Comics shows – this includes Flash, Arrow and now Supergirl – is confidence. They are so confidently made that even when things get weird, it usually works pretty well. In its second season, The Flash has really hit its stride. The cast continues to be a lot of fun, the crossovers with Arrow have been less of an obstacle for The Flash’s writers room and they’ve cranked up the wild DC villains pipeline. This year we got both a mind-controlling gorilla and a half-man, half-shark. And a new love interest for Barry Allen. Team Patty Spivot, all the way!
13. Humans (AMC)
Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s series about anthropomorphic robots called “synths,” who live and serve in the homes of people in the not to distant future, is one of the shows that caught me off guard this year. It started very slowly, but my curiosity (and perhaps a little android fever from the excellent film Ex-Machina) kept me in the game. I’m glad that I stuck with it, as it has really great momentum down the home stretch of its first season. Both Gemma Chan and Emily Berrington are excellent as two of the synths. And The IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson and Mr. Selfridge’s Tom Goodman-Hill turn in strong performances as the humans that end up entangled in their story. The show, which was a big hit for the UK’s Channel 4, has already been picked up for season two and honestly, it’s the kind of world that I could live in for well beyond another season.
12. iZombie (The CW)
The simple logline for Rob Thomas’ iZombie is that it’s “Zombie Veronica Mars.” And that’s true in the best possible way. Rose McIver has all kinds of Kristen Bell charm as Liv, an undead medical examiner who solves crimes by eating brains. From the opening credits – which are the best on television – this show always brings a wonderful energy, even if it’s mostly just a procedural. It’s McIver who drives the show forward, but a strong supporting cast that fill in the gaps wonderfully. It was a charming show with a fun premise in season one, but this year brought a season two in which it’s caught an excellent rhythm, delivered compelling multi-episode narratives and I suspect still has some tricks up its sleeve.
11. Broad City (Comedy Central)
There are a few shows on my list that are in the “Repeat and Random” category. Much like the “Binge Watch” category, these are shows that can be easily consumed in big chunks. The difference being that a show like Broad City can be consumed repeatedly, with episodes at random. This is what has made South Park great over the years. Any time you find it on, no matter what episode is rolling, you can jump right in and enjoy. The adventures of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are the kind that can easily be enjoyed, whenever, wherever, in all their hilarious and disturbing glory. There’s even an episode in season two that features Kelly Ripa and Alia Shawkat that might be one of my top 5 episodes of television all year.
10. Justified (FX)
This year we said goodbye to a few of the best long-running dramas on television. The one that seems to get lost below a cloud of Mad Men dust is Graham Yost’s Justified, the spectacular modern western adapted from the world of Elmore Leonard. There’s nothing quite like Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins wearing big hats, armed to the teeth, ready to wage a war of whiskey-soaked wits in rural Kentucky. The show seemed to slow a bit in season 5, but it closed out its run in 2015 with a 6th season that delivered all kinds of greatest hits. Stare-downs, gun fights, Sam Elliot, Garret Dillahunt, some Patton Oswalt and oh yes, some of that sweet Raylan and Boyd action. Not every show gets to go out in a hail of gunfire. Justified did so on its own terms.
9. Casual (Hulu)
The emergence of streaming services as networks really came full circle in 2015. Hulu, Netflix and Amazon have been making shows for years. And some of them have been very good. But this year, there was quality across the board. Created by Zander Lehmann, with directorial help from veterans such as Tricia Brock, Jason Reitman, Max Winkler and Fred Savage, Casual is the story of a bachelor who lives with his recently divorced older sister and her teenage daughter. It’s about cynical, often misguided attempts to navigate the dating world from three different perspectives. But it’s also a strong drama about being part of a messed up family, thanks in great part to the performances of its leads, Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey and Tara Lynne Bar (who I’ve not seen since she was terrorizing America’s assholes in Bobcat Goldthwait’s 2011 film God Bless America). This one pairs well with Difficult People, but ultimately delivers a bit more heart.
8. Catastrophe (Amazon Prime)
For the first time since he began storming my Twitter feed with hilarity, I’ve figured out what Rob Delaney does. He’s a very tall man who teams up with the extremely talented Sharon Horgan to co-write and co-star in a show about an American guy and an Irish girl who hook up on his business trip to London, make a baby, then decide that they should get to know each other. Together, they are effortlessly funny, contentious, eccentric and yeah, even a little heartwarming. It’s a more serious show than I expected, but it delivers on multiple emotional levels, the majority of which will make you laugh. It’s a brisk 6 episode season (with a second season on the way soon) that I can’t recommend loudly enough.
7. Master of None (Netflix)
In his new Netflix series, Aziz Ansari took a page from the book of Louie and made a show about an actor just like him. In it, he deals with the systematic racism of the entertainment business, the challenges of starting and maintaining romantic relationships in today’s world and the inherent difficulty in figure out where to eat most of the time. It was a runaway success as one of the best binge-watch comedies of the year. Ansari’s performance – along with his writing alongside co-creator Alan Yang – was smart and insightful. His co-star Noel Wells was an absolute delight. And for good reason, Master of None was one of the most talked about shows of the year.
6. Daredevil (Netflix)
These next two go together, as you might have guessed. It was hard to decide which show should end up higher on the list: Daredevil or Jessica Jones. I suppose the explanation is below. But for now, let’s talk about the kick-ass job that creator Drew Goddard and showrunner Steven S. DeKnight did in bringing a gritty, street-level Marvel hero to life in what is effectively the Marvel Multiverse’s longform martial arts movie. Daredevil found the human story behind the hero and fleshed it out wonderfully. It also delivered the action when it needed to. And until Jessica Jones came along, it had delivered perhaps Marvel’s best villain yet in Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk (the episode that delves into his backstory is still my favorite). Daredevil was proof that Marvel’s decision to create some street-level Hell’s Kitchen stories on Netflix was the right one. It was an excellent start and a promise of big things to come.
5. Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Those big things were further realized with the release of Jessica Jones later in the year. Krysten Ritter led the way as a former superhero trying to avoid her abilities and her past after a run-in with one of the most frightening creeps in the Marvel universe. David Tennant’s Kilgrave didn’t overshadow the hero at the heart of this story, but he did sort of hover over every moment. The show, under the guidance of Dexter alum Melissa Rosenberg, drove deep into far darker and more diverse territory than we’ve seen from Marvel and emerged as one of the most compelling shows of the year. It’s not just a good superhero show, but a quality noir-like detective story with a terrifying bad guy and a complicated hero. If Daredevil was proof that these Marvel Netflix shows were a good idea, Jessica Jones was the realization of the daring stories could be created on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.
4. Game of Thrones (HBO)
Thrones is the show I cover most intensely. For years, it’s been my absolute favorite. And coming off a season two season tear that was unprecedentedly shocking with seasons 3 and 4, there was bound to be a little bit of a letdown. There will some stumbles. As the show’s creators got further away from George R.R. Martin’s source material (because someone takes forever to write his books), there were stumbles. An entire storyline in Dorne that was bungled. An episode that closed with a horribly executed scene of sexual violence. And plenty of WTF moments. But the good still seemed to outweigh the bad. Episode 8, “Hardhome,” is easily the TV episode of 2015. And the two episodes that followed it were great, as well. Thrones wasn’t perfect in season 5, but when it was on, it was way on. And it continues to reign as the biggest, baddest dragon in the land of televised entertainment.
3. You’re The Worst (FX)
In its first season, You’re The Worst was strong. Leads Chris Geere and Aya Cash, alongside their regular companions Desmin Borges and Kether Donohue, were really good at being terrible humans. Their toxic, self-destructive romance was fun to watch as it was constantly on fire. But as they entered season two with Jimmy (Geere) and Gretchen (Cash) in sort of a happy place, the show had to evolve. Creator Stephen Falk resisted kicking the can of old tropes and started a slow, subtle u-turn that changed this show tremendously. What started as a mean-spirited comedy about bad people in love quickly became a show that honestly explored clinical depression, earnest love and what it means to live in the harsh reality of adulthood. It was staggering. At times gutting. And it brought out a range in its cast that was unexpected and wonderful. TV shows don’t change this drastically and survive. But You’re The Worst is a superb show that deserves nothing but the highest praise for being smart, bold and simultaneously bruising and invigorating my soul.
2. Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
This cartoon – a riff on all kinds of wonderful things from Doctor Who to Back to the Future – is something I’ve long called a special kind of madness. The creation of Community’s Dan Harmon and longtime voice actor Justin Roiland, Rick and Morty was completely bonkers in its first season. It’s the kind of show that seamlessly transitions from being a wacky comedy about a mad scientist and his simple grandson into being something dark and twisted. It’s riotous, then all at once it’s about mortality, futility, religion, injustice and survival. It’s like nothing else on television, really. Utter madness. And in season two, Rick and Morty (both voiced by Roiland) were joined by a host of wonderful guest voices ranging from Stephen Colbert to Werner Herzog. Every episode hit its mark, even the one that drew ire for being a sequel to a season one storyline. I’m not a believer that there’s such a thing as a perfect show or season, but holy shit does Rick and Morty come close every time out.
1. Fargo (FX)
Another show that tested my resolve on the “no perfect season” rule is Fargo. There’s still one episode left in this season, but I’m firmly ready to anoint it as the best show on television in 2015. Creator Noah Hawley has taken the aesthetic and spirit of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo universe and pushed it forward in a stylish, vibrant and exciting way. This season, which is connected only in small (but important) ways to the first season, has delivered some of the best performances, violence and tension of any show. Every aspect of this show – from set and costume design to score to writing and performance – is top notch. The twists and turns are one thing, but the white-knuckle tension that this show delivers is something else entirely. It has some of the best performances – Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson and Bokeem Woodbine are all phenomenal – that you’ll see on screen, cinematic, TV, or otherwise. And it’s beautifully chaotic, every scene dripping with glorious attention to detail. Like a wicked snowstorm, Fargo blew its competition away late in the year to become the best show of 2015.
Honorable Mentions: Bojack Horseman, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Narcos, Veep, The Americans, Better Call Saul, Inside Amy Schumer, Mr. Robot and Mad Men.
Share Your Own Picks: Jump down into the comments below and tell us: What were your favorite shows of the year? With the deluge of quality television in 2015, there’s sure to be a bunch that didn’t make our list.