by Matthew Thompson
2015 was a banner year for television. With more and more places jumping into the original programming game, there was tons of great TV to sort through this past year. Needless to say, it was harder than ever to whittle my favorites down to a mere top ten. But with great difficulty, I have done it and now I present to you my list of the best shows 2015 had to offer.
10. You’re the Worst
When I think back on television in 2015, one of the things that really sticks with me is what You’re the Worst did with Gretchen this past season. This is in large part due to Aya Cash’s brilliant, heartbreaking performance which is one of the year’s very best. Then there is the writing which expertly handles the topic of depression in an affecting way, but also isn’t afraid to make some bold moves – like the oft-praised “LCD Soundsystem” episode – in portraying this subject matter. And for me, it is because the issue is relatable which made this storyline touch me in a more personal way than most on TV this year. You’re the Worst may not be quite as funny as it was in Season 1 – the clever, biting humor remains, laughs just don’t seem to come as often – but it still managed to strike a chord with me in a new way during its impressive sophomore outing.
9. Jane the Virgin
No show was a bigger surprise for me in 2014 than Jane the Virgin. On paper its premise – Jane is accidentally artificially inseminated by her doctor – sounds dreadful, but it turns out this was the unexpected jumping off point for a new series that would quickly become one of my favorites. Few shows on television are as cleverly constructed as Jane. It’s the way it simultaneously embraces and pokes fun at telenovela clichés, how its hilarious narrator frames events, the way the show smartly employs television’s best captions, and how the show makes me laugh more than most traditional half-hour comedies while having the sort of heart at its core that few shows on TV, regardless of genre, seem to possess. All of this was true of the show in 2014 and continued to be true as the show wrapped its stellar freshman season and kicked off its equally great second in 2015.
8. Silicon Valley
Of all the shows on this list, I am struggling the most to describe why I loved Silicon Valley so much. I really just want to say “Because it was so damn funny.” It’s true, but doesn’t quite cut it. I guess I could add how much I like the cast of characters. It is hard to choose a favorite. I’d probably go with Erlich or “Jared” but wouldn’t blame someone for choosing from the many other hilarious characters on the show. This season also scored big with the addition of Chris Diamantopoulos’ Russ Hanneman. His character could have easily been grating, but he was involved in many of the season’s funniest gags – his rant about car doors, the way he ignores Erlich and the phrase “This guy fucks” immediately come to mind. And while no single joke matched the brilliance of the first season finale’s centerpiece, it certainly had its fair share of memorable ones, most notably Episode 6’s SWOT board storyline. I feel it was more consistent in quality throughout the second season too which put it into comedy’s elite class. And yeah like I said before, it is just so damn funny.
Rectify has always excelled most in the smaller moments. The show has a knack for delivering these in a myriad of ways and Season 3 was no different. It could be in the form of small talk between Daniel and Melvin. Or a heartbreaking, tense sequence like Amantha’s slow breakdown when speaking at her work conference. They can come in quiet moments of reflection like one that saw Daniel standing alone in a field overlooking the place that he spent so much of his life. Or in flashbacks to when he was still inside. And it can even come in cute moments like the one in the finale that finds Daniel and Janet slowly creeping towards Amantha after she arrived with a box of fritters. Superb acting and some of the most realistic dialogue on TV help all these moments shine. Rectify remains television’s most criminally underwatched series as well as its most beautiful and affecting one.
6. Rick and Morty
Animated programs have a certain freedom they can explore compared to their live-action counterparts and Rick and Morty takes full advantage of that freedom again this year resulting in another excellent season for TV’s most creative series. Season 2 gave us a raptor photographer and Keith David voicing a reverse giraffe in 2015’s best comedy episode “Total Rickall.” It gave us microverses and miniverses and Rick matching wits with a rival scientist voiced by Stephen Colbert. It gave us the novel use of the split screen concept in the season’s premiere. It gave us the best use of Elliott Smith music in media since Good Will Hunting and let me laugh at myself in the process. It gave us sad moments like those found at the end of “Auto Erotic Assimilation” and the season finale proving once again that the show can deliver dark moments to go with the heaps of laughs it treats viewers to weekly. And it gave us a fantastic second season for my all-time favorite animated series.
5. The 100
There are a lot of things I enjoy about The 100, but most of all I love the world they have built here. Seeing these varied factions vie for control, seeing these clashing cultures attempt to work together, it makes for very entertaining television. Jaha’s journey this season let us further explore this world including new regions replete with new groups of people while setting up a big hook for the upcoming third season. Another really compelling aspect of The 100 is the moral quandaries they present the characters with. It has been particularly fascinating comparing and contrasting how the show’s young leaders like Clarke and Lexa approach these dilemmas. And I love that the show doesn’t let them off the hook with an easy way out. There are consequences to their actions and the show is better for it. It is surprising given where the series started, but The 100 has grown into one of TV’s most daring shows. And while it only aired the tail-end of its second season in 2015, that stretch of episodes was the show’s very best so far.
4. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
It doesn’t surprise me that the newest series by the creators of 30 Rock became my favorite comedy of 2015. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt reminded me of that all-time great often throughout its freshman outing. Part of that is the familiar faces that pop up during the season and the similar upbeat score that backs the series. But what reminds me most fondly of Fey and Carlock’s previous series is the rapid pace with which it dispenses its clever jokes. This style of humor and fast delivery is pretty rare. It is the kind of show where I find myself rewinding to catch jokes I missed while I was still laughing about the last one. Yet Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt brings plenty of its own flavor to the table as well. Most notable among them is the sensational lead performance by Ellie Kemper who plays the titular Kimmy with an unmatched bubbly attitude and just so much vigor. The show wouldn’t work without her and it’s a large part of why Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the funniest show of 2015.
3. Black Sails
In Season 2, Black Sails become the pirate show I hoped it would be from the beginning. Rollicking on seas action? It has that. Fun treasure-hunting adventure? It’s got that too. It also packs plenty of scheming, treachery, and shifting allegiances to make the behind the scenes politicking as exciting as the explosive action sequences. Oh and I love the pirates. From the ruthlessness of Captain Flint to the hilarity of Jack Rackham, from the brutality of Charles Vane to the slipperiness of John Silver, this group of swashbucklers delivers. Great acting and costuming help bring these characters and their cohorts to life. And Black Sails really knows how to keep you on your toes delivering plenty of unexpected turns along the way including one of 2015’s most well executed and memorable twists. It all comes together to deliver a non-stop thrill-ride of a television season. It was one of the best and most improved shows of 2015.
I say this every time I talk about iZombie, but it is just so my kind of show. I love the out there concept of this series that finds a zombie medical examiner using the brains she eats to help solve crimes. People seem to like ripping on procedurals – something I have been guilty of at times myself – but when one is done right it can be truly great television and no show on TV right now does it better than iZombie. This is in part due to the way Liv’s personality changes liven up the weekly cases, but also because of how deftly the show balances these procedural elements with more long-term plots. Rose McIver has been a revelation in the lead role, but the rest of the cast delivers too from her work partner and pal Ravi to on-again, off-again romantic interest Major to the super snarky villain Blaine. And then there is the dialogue which is just so good. It has the same kind of quick-witted, snappy back and forths that creators Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright used so well in Veronica Mars and I can’t get enough of it. While I ended up placing it at number two on this list, I don’t think there is a show on TV I enjoy sitting down to watch each week more than iZombie.
1. Mr. Robot
This show just seems to do everything right. Interesting subject matter. Deep characters and great acting. A wonderful score that fits the show’s cyberpunk feel and fantastic licensed music choices to compliment key moments. Cinematography that is both striking and visually unique. The show can be thrilling and exciting evidenced by its tense hacking segments. It actually has some fairly realistic hacking too. Mr. Robot also delivers twists and mysteries that have made it the most fun show to discuss this past year – as a blogger and forum goer, that doesn’t hurt. It even nails the title card placements. At the center of it all is TV’s most fascinating lead character, Elliot Alderson, buoyed by my favorite acting performance of 2015. Elliot is a man grappling with a number of issues from depression to anxiety to drug addiction. Rami Malek’s acting and some clever techniques utilized by the show do an incredible job of putting the viewer in Elliot’s shoes. And there is nothing quite like it on television. I didn’t expect a USA show to be the best of the year, but here we are. Mr. Robot is simply amazing.
Just Missed the Top Ten: Master of None and Banshee
That will do it for my personal list of the best shows of 2015. I am still hoping to do a couple more posts about TV in 2015, so hopefully you will see them within the next week. Feel free to share your favorite shows from last year in the comments below. Thanks for reading!