While we tend to stick with our enthusiasm for movies around here, we couldn’t help but take the opportunity to celebrate what a grand time it is for television. Some of these shows we’ve discussed previously, while others we’ve only recently caught on to. While television hasn’t come close to supplanting film, we can’t deny that some of the best best storytelling, acting, and overall filmmaking is taking place outside of our movie theaters. Prepare yourself for countless hours of binge-watching as we present to you the best TV shows of 2015:
Attractive young adults must survive on a post-apocalyptic Earth while standing up to an older generation. Sound familiar? It should. It’s a typical YA set up. The 100 will lull you into a comfort zone before pulling out the rug from underneath you with ideas of psychological trauma, politics, the price of war, and not shying away from some of the most twisted gut punched in modern television history.
Better Call Saul
The truth is that Better Call Saul is the most emotionally-rich, deftly-acted show of the year. While Breaking Bad was brilliant, even Vince Gilligan has admitted they didn’t always know where they were going. Here we get to see a show with defined start and endpoint, which plays on our knowledge of the future of this character. Bob Odenkirk has carved out a particular character over the years, but given the screentime to do so, he has now added such depth and nuance it feels more real than ever. Better Call Saul is an incredibly detailed, funny, and melancholic depiction of man doomed to fail.
Best Episode: “Five-O” – For all the wonderful writing that went in to Odenkirk’s character, the best episode of this season is centred on Jonathan Banks’ Mike. The stoic man we are familiar with from both shows is finally given a backstory, and it’s one of the most tragic, believable, and excellently-crafted episodes this year. Banks is phenomenal, and the performance is so measured and quiet that his eventual breakdown is utterly heart-breaking. – Jack Godwin
The first season was game-changing; this year’s second was life changing. The show upped its game in every way without becoming a parody of itself or resting on its laurels. A show that should have been a stupid Hollywood satire led by a talking horse has gradually become the best thing on TV.
Best Episode: “Escape from L.A.” I’ve written about this before but this is the episode when the show pushes into that hallowed ground where a TV show stops being fantastic and becomes majestic. The episode keeps zigging and zagging right up until the heartbreaking finale and we realise that perhaps Bojack’s redemption story isn’t going to come true, and maybe ours aren’t either. – Sean Fallon
Marvel has dominated the blockbuster stratosphere for half a decade. It was only a matter of time before they dominated TV. Agents of SHIELD has improved significantly and is worth the shout out just for being led by an Asian-American superhero. Daredevil on the other hand still stars a white guy but he’s blind and knows a variety of fighting styles! He’s a lawyer by day and dark, brooding potential anti-hero by night. You might think superhero shows can’t be realistic, but for those of us who were raised Catholic, nothing sinks in like that Catholic guilt. An accurate depiction of guilt, and crises of faith, proved Marvel has solid footing in the TV realm.
Best Episode: “Stick” – Daredevil is not a perfect show. It’s a superhero show with Law & Order elements to it, minus the issues that bog down that procedural show. Daredevil, once in a while came across issues on the superhero side of the affairs. “Stick” displayed none of these problems by fully embracing the comic book aspects of the series and letting us know that Matt Murdock was indeed a superhuman thanks to his abilities born out of tragedy. It also set the stage for future Daredevil stories with a possible hint of Iron Fist and Defenders in the mix. – Diego Crespo
It’s rare that the ninth season of a show is one of its best (even rarer when it’s the thirty-fifth season too), but Peter Capaldi’s second season as The Doctor is a triumph, removing all doubts fostered by his shaky debut. Having every episode be a two-parter was a masterstroke and the introduction of Maisie Williams added a fantastically layered threat/ally.
Best Episode: “Heaven Sent” – The Doctor is transported to a prison in which a nightmare from his youth stalks him amidst a castle which twists and turns like a Rubik’s cube. The Doctor, awash with grief and rage from the events of the preceding episode must escape the prison and work out who needs to receive some old-school, Biblical revenge. Directed by Rachel Talalay, this episode is a masterclass in tension and horror before delivering a twist that explains what true horror is. Capaldi, the only actor on screen for the majority of the episode, is at his best and the realisation of what the prison is is some of the best dramatic work in Doctor Who history. – Sean Fallon
Building upon the success of its immediate predecessor, which was no easy task to surmount, the second season of the hit FX show, based in part on the works of seminal writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen, is still the best television drama on the air. Blending all of the existential and absurdist themes that make the Coen Brothers’ films such a joys to watch and treasures to be unpacked after preliminary first viewings, the second season of Fargo unpacks a lot of the mystery and social intrigue of the first season, and delivers a truly masterful epic on organized crime and the syndicates that run it, with the show’s Gerhardt clan on a par thematically with Francis Ford Coppola’s Corleone’s.
Best Episode: “Waiting for Dutch” – In the cold open for the second season, all of the surreal intrigue that unfolds over the course of the series’ ten episode run unfolds in miniature. Actor Kieran Culkin plays the youngest Gerhardt, Rye, with such an overwhelming lack of social grace that it becomes almost cathartic to watch his rising star burst and fall down in flames before the show has even really started. What’s more, the fallout from such a singularly tragic series of events is a joy to watch, and it all has its start in this first, unparalleled episode of meticulously articulated narrative set-up. – Sean K. Cureton
The Flash is a godsend of superhero television. Greg Berlanti & co. have once again brought just enough gravitas to a show that functions as a serialized drama as well as the more outlandish superheroics that make these hooded figures such a staple in pop culture. No other show can have its protagonists facing off against a genius gorilla one week, and a time hopping speed demon from a parallel universe and have them feel like natural conjunctions. Barring a few select pieces of live-action superhero media (Spider-Man 2, The Avengers, The Dark Knight), The Flash is the best example of how to do a superhero property right.
Best Episode: “Fast Enough” – When you ask about payoff, some shows opt for a cliffhanger instead of concluding one story and beginning another. Flash did both in the conclusion to its first season. There’s a wedding, heartbreak, multiple deaths and closure for what remains a highlight of longform storytelling in modern television as Barry Allen finally breaks free of the Reverse Flash and decides once and for all if he can outrun the man who took everything from his family and friends. – Diego Crespo
Fresh Off the Boat
While it may not be the best source of drama and large cinematic scale, Fresh Off the Boat is always a lot of fun. Its newest season, no longer abiding by its protagonist’s novel, is chock-full of inseminations of cultural differences, nostalgia (which, though I haven’t lived through, resonate nonetheless), and a quick and constant sense of humor that is applicable to all who watch it, regardless of age, race, or gender. Fresh Off the Boat‘s newest season, now with the artistic liberty to do what it wants with its characters, has solidified it as one of the best sitcoms currently on television.
Veronica Mars but with zombies! Showrunner Rob Thomas picks up queues from his previously adored series about a young woman caught in a world of intrigue and adapts it to fit into the mold of other popular genre shows. Each episode ties into a further character arc or narrative push but also allows the cast to showcase their talent with individual “brains of the week” letting star Rose McIver play essentially new characters after every brain is devoured.
Best Episode: “Blaine’s World” – Liv’s ex-fiance Major turned zombie hunter is captured by up-and-coming zombie crime lord Blaine. What follows is a surprisingly well crafted action scene where Major gets revenge zombies from Blaine’s butcher shop front “Meat Cute.” Ravi is able to create two doses of a zombie cure before Liv has to use one on Blaine to stop his mass infection the population of Seattle and one on Major, whom she turned into a zombie to save his life after Blaine stabbed him. Yeah, a lot happened here. Not to mention the cliffhanger where Liv decides not to give her brother a blood transfusion as to not turn him into a zombie. Rough stuff, Olivia Moore. – Diego Crespo
What show-runner Melissa Rosenberg and the team over at Marvel has accomplished with this series is completely unprecedented. They have crafted a damn near flawless series around an at best c-list character. Part of what makes Jessica Jones work so well is the pitch perfect tone that can be dark and disturbing without ever being oppressive and losing track of the fun. It allows characters and premises that are expertly interwoven within the thematic and metaphorical stakes as well as the more physical genre-based stakes. All is kept in check by the strongest pacing of any show you’ll see all year, resulting in an experience that satisfies both as a complete experience and as an episode-to-episode basis if binge-watching isn’t your thing. Of course I have to mention the brilliance of Krysten Ritter who is still just a small piece of what makes Jessica Jones the best show of 2015.
Best Episode: “AKA Sin Bin” – This was a difficult decision since just about every episode is pretty much perfect in its own way. I almost went with “AKA 1,000 Cuts” if only because it contains one of the most disturbing, upsetting on-screen sequences of the year. Instead, I chose the ninth episode of the series. The extended finale of this episode is when we find the show firing on all cylinders. The stakes are sky high for all the characters as Jessica attempts to capture evidence of Kilgrave’s mind control abilities. Every major player in the show gets involved for a truly intense finale which mounts shock after shock without ever feeling forced. To say anymore would ruin the strongest single episode of television of the year. – Ryan MacLean
Man Seeking Woman
Created by Simon Rich, released on Hulu Plus, and starring that guy from How to Train Your Dragon (Jay Baruchel), Man Seeking Woman is, simply, the best show about dating. It combines the surreal and the absurd to create a comedy that has everything good that you like about Portlandia, but is just normal enough not to turn the average viewer off.
Best Episode: “Stain” – The best episode so far, really? All of them. If I had to choose one, it would be “Stain,” in which Josh (lead) attends a destination wedding in Hell. – Katherine B. Shelor
Master of None
Master of None is not only my favorite show of 2015, but my favorite thing in general of 2015. The brainchild of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, the show is cinematic, practical in its depiction of everyman plights, and has poignant interest in the social world. It is both hilarious and emotionally aware and I absolutely adore it.
Best Episode: “Parents” – Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Brian (Kelvin Yu) realize that they don’t appreciate their parents enough. As children to first generation immigrants, they learn about their parents’ struggles to make it to America in order to give their children a better life. As a son to a first generation immigrant mother, this had real life emotional weight for me. While my situation isn’t the exact same as Dev and Brian (only one of my parents is an immigrant), I found that past experiences with my mother mirror what Dev and Brian learn in the episode. It’s funny, touching, and it warms my heart. – J. Scott Shreve
Nathan For You
Nathan for You combines the unflinching anti-comedy approach of Andy Kaufman with Sacha Baron Cohen’s commitment to character and shapes the bit in a mirror format that uncovers the most absurd faults of our capitalist structures and their influence on culture. These forms of comedy-personalities typically have a short shelf life, given that the punchline is dependent upon the mark (and really, the audience) being fooled by the crafted persona. It’s hard to say how far past its third season this show will go, but this is certainly the best season yet and we all need to appreciate Nathan Fielder’s genius (and it is genius) while we all have the chance.
Best Episode: “Smokers Allowed” – When Nathan uses a legal loophole to allow a bar owner to permit smoking in her establishment, he layers his comedic approach into a dizzying rabbit hole, wherein the show says more about social identity than any 22 minute episode has any right to communicate. – David Shreve, Jr.
The third season of Orphan Black aired on BBC during the first half of 2015, and the already layered story becomes increasingly more complex throughout this season. Sharp witted dialogue, smartly crafted mystery and suspense, and a standout cast makes Orphan Black one of the best shows currently on TV. Not to mention the fact that Tatiana Maslany continues to conquer the small screen with her ability to transform into an increasing number of different character with each season. Where is this woman’s Emmy?
Best Episode: “Certain Agony of the Battlefield” – This episode rewarded viewers for sticking with what began as a slightly cluttered season by providing a series of twists, a shocking character death, and the best twerk scene ever to appear on television. The meat of the season’s storyline is fully fleshed out and given new momentum, but it never feels too crowded or fast paced. “Certain Agony of the Battlefield” fuels itself by making the audience feel almost every emotion simultaneously, which is what Orphan Black succeeds at when it’s at its very best. – Beth Reynolds
Parks and Recreation
A mockumentary that never got too involved in the mockery. Watching Parks and Recreation is akin to playing with a golden retriever as your best friend wraps you up in blankets and feeds you cotton candy made out of smiles and rainbows. It’s so sweet you’ll end up with cavities. Few shows on television spread this much cheer and sincerity in single episodes. Parks and Rec did it on a weekly basis while reminding us the most important things in life are friends, waffles, and work. Or waffles, friends, work. But work comes third.
Best Episode: “Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show” – Possibly the funniest episode in the entire run of the show, “Johnny Karate’s Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show” contains all the heart of Parks with an unhealthy dose of everything that makes Andy and April… Andy and April. High octane fun and a heartwarming sendoff to some of our favorite Pawnee citizens. It also contains an appearance by John Cena, which I am convinced kickstarted the influx of John Cena related memes in 2015. – Diego Crespo
Penny Dreadful had a hit-or-miss first season, but if you stuck with it, you’d know just how impressively it improved itself in its second, which aired on Showtime this summer. What started off as an uneven, but still very fun, mash-up of horror icons and archetypes from Victorian literature (including Dorian Gray, and Victor Frankenstein and his creation, along with some fascinating original characters) really hit its stride in season 2, with increased stakes and a scarier villain, and a more coherent, satisfying storyline overall. The fact that this sophisticated (yet still somewhat campy) Gothic genre show is finally getting some awards nominations is a testament to how great the series became in its sophomore season.
Best Episode: “Glorious Horrors” – While there is an episode earlier in the season (“The Nightcomers”) that gives us the dramatic superhero-origin-style backstory of Vanessa (Eva Green) and which features an affecting guest turn by the unrecognizable Patti Lupone, it’s arguable that “Glorious Horrors” is actually the best of the season, or at least, it is certainly the more climactic, entertaining, visually-arresting episode. It serves as a kind of turning point in the season, and it features an important reveal, a blood-soaked ball, and some of the most artistic, interesting camerawork on television this year. – Redhead at the Movies
You won’t find a braver, bolder, or better show on television than Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe. This animated adventure follows the Crystal Gems, a trio of alien warriors who rebelled against their home planet in defense of Earth, as they begin to train Steven, the half-human son of their late leader. Its subtle world-building and nuanced character development take up the torch of Avatar: The Last Airbender to an extent rivaling even that show’s successor, The Legend of Korra, going much deeper in their second season this year. And for a kid’s show, it goes further than anything else on TV in its exploration and embrace of queer identities.
Best Episode: “Alone Together” – This was a really tough call, with the heartbreaking romantic tragedy of “Rose’s Scabbard” coming in a close second. But I have to go with my gut, and my initial gut reaction to “Alone Together” was that it was the best episode of television I had ever seen. Steven and his best friend Connie fuse into a single being named Stevonnie, whose adult appearance and non-binary gender lead the two into some thrilling and uncomfortable new experiences. Is this the first non-binary character on television? In any case, it’s rare to see such a complex take on relationship dynamics – how far removed is unparalleled intimacy from total solitude? – Josh Rosenfield
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
A show with candy colored spirit and delightful content, there may be no show more entertaining than Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in 2015. The sugar coated sweetness is sincere but also serves to embrace the truth behind the series: overcoming trauma. It’s a heartwarming message to a show starring an actress with the most infectious smile in the business.
Best Episode: “Kimmy Goes to a Party!” – Pinot Noir, Caviar, Myanmar, Mid-sized car, You don’t have to be popu-lar, Find out who your true friends are, Pinot Noir, In the boudoir, In the boudoir. Pinot Noir, smoke a cigar, Revenge can be spectacu-lar, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir, leather bar. Oh, so close and yet so far. Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir. Pinot, Pinot, Pinot. Pinot Noir, you’re a star Listen to Tom Beren-gar, Pinot Noir, Roseanne Barr, Pinot, Noir, Au revoir. – Diego Crespo
In its fourth season Veep remains political satire at it’s finest. Where most comedies start running out of steam from tiring personal stories of relationship drama or jumping sharks, Veep refuses to let characters get too likable. It’s the characters from Paddy’s Pub or Jerry’s apartment running the political gamut with low effect for the country and high effect for our comedy.
Best Episode: “Testimony” – Though “Teran” has my favorite Ben line in the show “I’m so tired I could eat a horse.” the show continued to show its strength in diving headfirst into ramifications of our characters shady political maneuvers with “Testimony.” The entire episode takes place during the course of a single deposition with characters attempting to toss each other under the bus and others using other people’s stupidity to get them away from the Supreme Court’s crosshairs. – Diego Crespo
List curated by Diego Crespo, Josh Rosenfield.
Featured Image: Parks and Rec, CBS