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The Top 10 TV Shows of 2015

February 7, 2016

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In a perfect world, the shows I love would be renewed for new seasons every year and remain the best shows on TV. Television is a fundamentally different narrative medium from film because of this ability to remain consistent from year to year.

 

I start with this as a way of saying that 2015 was a good year in television…which means this list won’t be all that different from the past couple years, so those of you who have read this blog in 2014 and 2013 might not read much that surprises you here. But hopefully you will nevertheless enjoy reading about what I enjoyed watching over 2015.

 

Of course there are always shows that I want to watch that I just don’t have the time to finish. This year I really wanted catch up with Mad Men before its final seven episodes, but it was a bit too much given everything else I was watching regularly. I enjoyed the first seasons of both Halt and Catch Fire and The Leftovers, but in the former case my DVR died and I lost all of the episodes, while in the latter case I fell behind and didn’t have time to finish before writing. On the streaming side, I really wanted to watch Sense8 on Netflix and The Man in High Castle on Amazon Prime, but sometimes those streaming shows can feel more like a task to be finished than a fun experience when all of their episodes are sitting in a long queue waiting to be watched.

 

And yet, there were so many good shows last year that I forced myself to only give five honorable mentions. This means I don’t have the time or space to tell you that Brooklyn Nine-Nine was solidly funny again in 2015, Review and Silicon Valley were probably even better in their second seasons than in their first, and Broadchurch started from the emotionally powerful ground at the end of season one and only got more powerful in season two. Too bad, some of those other shows were great and worthy of discussion, but they can’t even be mentioned here. 😉

 

Without further ado, here are the honorable mention shows (alphabetical) and top 10 from 2015:

Community (Season 6)

Wow, Community survived through season 6! #sixseasonsandamovie…I can’t believe that first part actually came true. This first season on Yahoo Screens felt different than the previous seasons on NBC with longer episodes and dark/weird ending credit sequences, but it also felt more authentic and fun than the past two seasons.

 

Manhattan (Season 2)

The second season of WGN America’s tale of the Manhattan project in Los Alamos was more focused than the first with a well executed time jump episode that created a great ticking (atomic bomb) clock structure for the entire season.

 

Marvel’s Jessica Jones/Daredevil/Agent Carter (Season 1 for all)

Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, but I really enjoyed all of Marvel’s new TV shows that premiered in 2015. Agent Carter was a fun and breezy series that tackled the post-WWII era with little subtly, but a great lead character. Daredevil was the logical conclusion of the Batman Begins formula of a superhero origin tales; a dark and gritty, 13 episode build up to putting on the suit with some incredible fight sequences. Jessica Jones was the best and most original of the three shows (I’d say it’s number 11 of the year), but it was also the most difficult to watch with its unnerving atmosphere and deeply disturbing villain. The show was angry, powerful, and unrelenting in how it tackled issues of gender standard inequality, consent, and rape. The arc of the season was stretched just an hour or so too long, but it felt like a necessary raw nerve in the current climate, which made it difficult to look away at the same time.

 

Rick and Morty (Season 2)

The animated adventures of slovenly, drunk grandpa Rick with his ludicrous inventions and nervous grandson Morty and his good intentions, were equal parts goofy sci-fi homage/mash-up/satire and deeper level examination of convention and story. I guess that’s what we have come to expect from Dan Harmon (creator of Community) and Justin Roiland, and boy did this one make me laugh right along with all of the meta commentary.

 

Show Me a Hero (Miniseries)

Many actors had great years in 2015, but none showed as much range as Oscar Isaacs, the star of Ex Machina, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, and this HBO miniseries about the construction of new housing projects in Yonkers, New York. Creator David Simon kept everything moving along so briskly that it never felt like homework to try and understand the political and economic climate of the late 1980’s, while showing the deep seated ways that subtle (and not so subtle) racism played a role in trying to provide affordable housing for the entire community of Yonkers. However, it was Isaacs’ great performance that was the glue holding everything together.

 

  1. Mr. Robot (Season 1)

After Burn Notice ended in 2013 (and to a lesser extent White Collar in 2014), I hadn’t been all that interested in the program on the USA network. That all changed with this nervous, paranoid, and mind bending show from creator Sam Esmail and star Rami Malek. I have been familiar with Malek’s work since his great supporting turn in The Pacific, but Mr. Robot showcased his acting chops like never before. The show was told from Malek’s character, Elliot, perspective to the point where when he named a company ‘Evil Corp’ towards the beginning of the first episode everyone else in the show referred to it as such. As Elliot became more paranoid, everyone else appeared more paranoid. The story had a great climax and a fairly definitive end in season one, so I’m curious to see what season two will look like.

 

  1. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 1)

The closest thing to 30 Rock since 30 Rock ended in early 2013. The tale of a women who was rescued from a bunker after being captive for 15 years who then tries to find her way in New York City. You know, a classic set up for a great comedy. Things were goofy with self-contained, one episode stories for the first 10 of the season, but the last 3 hit something deeper by bringing back Kimmy’s cult leader/kidnapper and putting him on trial. And yet, the show remained light and goofy despite tackling such potentially upsetting topics. This was my favorite new show of 2015.

 

  1. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (Season 2)

After debuting in fall of 2014, I was excited to have a full year of John Oliver and his funny, political, and often infuriating weekly news show in 2015. While the uniqueness of Oliver’s style was diluted a little with the increased frequency, it still remained one of the best shows on TV. A particular highlight was Oliver’s trip to Russia to interview Edward Snowden. That interview highlighted Oliver’s unique ability to take complex issues and break them down using humor and simple analogies to make them understandable. Looking forward to more news from Oliver in the new year.

 

  1. Bob’s Burgers (Season 5:8-21 and Season 6:1-5)

Fox yanked this brilliant animated, family comedy all around the schedule in the fall to accommodate football and postseason baseball, so it was easy to forget just how great Bob’s Burgers remained through its 5 and a half seasons. Over the course of 2015, the Belcher family became obsessed with remote helicopters, attempted to find a murderer at a beach house, and set-up a haunted house to finally scare the children. The way that the family stuck together through the crazy and ludicrous was inspiring and heartwarming; a welcome reprieve amongst the cynical animated landscape of the day.

 

  1. Rectify (Season 3)

After two seasons with a fairly slow and meandering story, the third season of Rectify really accelerated the pace of the plot while thankfully maintaining the powerful emotional impact from the characters in the story. In the way that season one dug deep into the life and emotional state of the main character Daniel’s step-sister-in-law Tawny and season two into Daniel’s step-brother Teddy, season three really fleshed out the character of Daniel’s sister Amantha as she went to management training at her new job. The finale had a couple of moments, one between Daniel and Amantha, the other between Daniel and his mother, that were about as close as TV can come to making me teary. This was a powerful show and I’m glad we’ll get one last season in 2016 to relate and feel for these characters.

 

  1. Hannibal (Season 3)

As in the previous season, Hannibal was fairly neatly divided into two halves with two different story arcs and, most importantly, two different modes of feeling and communication. The first half picked up the pieces from the crazy cliffhanger at the end of season 2 as Hannibal took his brand of style to Europe, while the second half followed a more linear track while going through the Red Dragon story arc. And yet, the macabre imagery held constant throughout the whole season as creator Bryan Fuller continued to do an incredible job making everything over-the-top bloody without becoming gleefully exploitative or pornographic. I will definitely miss the most creative and inventive network drama on TV. Something else will have to step up and take the mantle!

 

  1. The Americans (Season 3)

The thing that The Americans seemed to do better than almost any other show on television was to create great weight in the small moments and temporary characters. There was a moment in episode 9 when Philip and Elizabeth, the Russian spies pretending to be the perfect American couple, chance upon an old women working late at a business where they’re attempting to plant a bug. The encounter was fraught with dread due to the gruesome things the audience had seen these spies do over the course of the series, yet somehow there remained empathy in the way the women spoke to Elizabeth that hinted at some possible hope. This tortured “American” family added a new member to the spy business this season as daughter Paige learned the truth about her parents and the show wrung the proper amount of emotional gut punches from such a revelation.

 

  1. Parks and Recreation (Season 7)

Parks and Recreation became a great show ever since it restructured its focus part of the way through season 2 and produced a perfect run of episodes in season 3. However, as with most network shows (especially sitcoms), time and the continual grind of producing so many new episodes every year dulled the powerful effect of what was singular and wonderful about Parks and Recreation. It never became bad (like its NBC counterpart The Office), but it was more of a lightweight enjoyable trifle in seasons 5 and 6. Well, happily, after the 3 year time jump at the end of season 6 and with the imbued sense of purpose due to the knowing end of the final season, Parks and Recreation produced one more all-time great run of 13 episodes that were funny, heartfelt, and a fitting end to a classic show.

 

  1. Justified (Season 6)

After the fairly abysmal season 5 (seasons 1-4 were on my top 10 lists for their respective years, season 5 was…not), it was great to see Justified return to form in its more focused final season. While there were several fun new villains in play over the course of the season (played by such great actors as Sam Elliot, Mary Steenburgen, Garret Dillahunt, and Jonathan Tucker), the power of the final moments of Justified were drawn from the final showdown between old friends Boyd Crowder and Raylan Givens with the Ava Crowder wildcard in between them. The show was so fun on a wordplay and character depth level that I looked forward to watching it more than (almost) every other show on a weekly basis. I’m sad that it will be gone, but overjoyed that it ended perfectly on its own terms.

 

  1. Fargo (Season 2)

This show is magic. After a first season set 2 decades after the events of the Coen brothers’ film of the same name (and setting and character archetypes and…), the second season of Fargo moved to the past, 1979 to be exact, to track the lives of several characters who were (much older) members of the story in the first season. I loved hearing the Coens’ voice through a different lens in the first season, and yet, somehow, the second season was probably even better. The balance between tension and humor, colorful dialogue and knowing glances, down-to-earth character moments and over-the-top confrontations was achieved by the strongest direction of any show in 2015. That this show even exists is incredible. That it was the best show two years in a row is a testament to how creator Noah Hawley had an incredible vision and the right people to help him produce that vision unadulterated onto the screen for our enjoyment.

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