Top 10 TV Series of 2015
So I’m finally forcing myself to do it close to a full month into 2016. Games list coming after I finish “Life is Strange.”
2015 was actually a ludicrously good year for TV. How good? Orange is the New Black actually didn’t make my top 10 this year and there wasn’t an appreciable drop in quality from last season. Some TV critics are calling this phenomenon “Peak TV.” There’s simply too much quality stuff out there if you take even the slightest effort to look for it. Which I did. So in horribly biased, non objective ascending order of how much I liked a series, here are 2015′s best.
10. Review with Forrest MacNeil - Comedy Central
At it’s heart, Review is a brutal, unrelenting satire of the degradation and self-deception of modern employment, Review also manages to be a similarly brutal satire of its various “Reviews” of life experiences rated on a five star scale by the ever over-committed Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly). This is a show that elicits painful, guilty laughs at an unforgiving clip. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone because many of the jokes hurt. But it’s also the show I laugh at with the greatest ease and most consistency, even as I hate myself and the universe for doing so.
9. Daredevil - Netflix
However much I like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I think the Marvel brand is actually better served by television. Comic books themselves are serialized and their stories work best when allowed time and episodes to unfold. While Agents of SHIELD is alternately excellent and the blandest thing on TV and while Agent Carter was generally very good, the Marvel formula really worked best on Netflix. This version of Daredevil is a grim and gritty crime saga with enough comic book grandiosity thrown in to remind us we’re in a superhero story. Charlie Cox owns Matt Murdoch in a way Ben Affleck never did and he carries a masochistic swagger into the role. Vincent D’onofrio is equally essential and game as the visionary Wilson Fiske who will rebuild Hell’s Kitchen even if he has to destroy it to do so. Throw in a great supporting cast and the best action sequences I’ve seen on television and you really can’t go wrong. Bring on the Punisher in season 2!
8. BoJack Horseman - Netflix
The story of a washed up sitcom star trying to become relevant again somehow manages to be an astute Hollywood Satire, and perhaps the most existentialist show on television. BoJack is a difficult character to like, and yet his mix of ambition and self-destructive hatred are all too relatable. He longs to feel worthy, but his own inability to move beyond his own sins and guilt often lead him to do wrong just to confirm to himself that he deserves to suffer. Sound bleak? Well, it is. But the show is also frequently hilarious. The Chicken episode alone makes the second season worth watching. And though Will Arnett is great, I can never mention this show without suggested that not casting Bob Saget as BoJack was a wasted opportunity.
7. Mad Men - AMC
While Mad Men went out with something closer to a wimper than a bang, its final season still shone above most other comers. Some characters ended up where they deserved, some didn’t. Some people evolved, others regressed to who they always were. And yet, even in its truncated half-season, the final seven episodes included moments of wit and grace that no other show on TV could manage. And I don’t think anyone will ever forget Peggy’s Power Walk.
6. Master of None - Netflix
I don’t know why I didn’t expect much from Aziz Ansari’s debut as a sitcom star. I’d watched every episode of “Parks and Recreation” and while I enjoyed his performance as Tom Haverford, I never got the feeling that he was the type of performer to play a lead. I was wrong. I also didn’t expect to see a sitcom in this day and age of crude, guilty laughs that was driven by honest compassion. Master of None is a show that loves its characters even as it laughs at them. It revels in differences while actually respecting them. It took time to demonstrate the joy of little things like a good barbecue sauce or a domino rally playset. I love sharp satire, but Master of None showed that comedy can dull its edges and actually be the better for it.
5. Jessica Jones - Netflix
I don’t know if Jessica Jones is an easy sell or a hard one. Best described as a feminist superhero noir, Jessica Jones features a deeply damaged protagonist who has to face her worst fears over and over and over again to protect people she cares about. And those fears? Kilgrave, perhaps the most loathsome, vile, disgusting villain to ever grace a television set. If the show has a flaw it’s that there is less story than there are episodes. But this show manages to have a heroine who is both strong and vulnerable without feeling like a checklist. Krysten Ritten deserves major points for bringing her plausibly to life. And I don’t think anyone will be able to see David Tennant the same way after Kilgrave.
4. Better Call Saul - AMC
Up against the seemingly impossible task of creating a spinoff of Breaking Bad, my personal favorite TV series ever, Vince Gilligan and co. actually manage to pull it off. Finding comedy and pathos in Jimmy McGill, the man who would be Saul Goodman, Better Call Saul managed to handle its tragicomic tone with aplomb. This series actually forced me to compare it to “On the Waterfront” based on a pivotal scene. All this built on a character who was basically Breaking Bad’s comic relief.
3. Fargo - FX
The first season of Fargo caught me off guard with its excellent mimicry of the Coen Bros. style while telling a similar yet different story of crime and hubris in snowy Minnesota. Yet somehow the second season managed to play down the mimicry while upping the mayhem and unpredictability. Fargo Season 2 was wild. Packed wall-to-wall with memorable characters, loaded with witty writing, and soaked in surprisingly well-earned pathos, this season proved that sometimes more can be more.
2. The Leftovers - HBO
I almost cancelled HBO this year, but then I wouldn’t have been able to watch this show. Even considering Fargo, the Leftovers is the most ambitious show on television with its heavy themes of loss, faith and doubt in the face of unspeakable disaster. Most critics saw season 2 as a large improvement over season 1 while I saw it as more or less on par. Of course, I thought Season 1 was astonishing so that’s not damning with faint praise. Season 2′s relocation to Jarden, TX introduced new characters and brought in new themes and questions while still maintaining the first season’s frustrating refusal to answer the questions on everyone’s minds. Hell, the new opening credits taunted us with it before every episode. And yet this season managed to reward both faith and doubt in unexpected ways. It’s a difficult, often depressing watch. But I actually felt better after watching this season’s finale than I do watching shows that were more clearly intended to be heart-warming. Few shows walk us through so much pain to allow us to earn the sublime.
1. The Americans - FX
I was a baby when this show takes place, but I’m old enough to remember the sensation of living in the Cold War during the Reagan era. I remember the fear and the sense of having an absolute enemy who really could destroy us. I remember my father and older sister going to Washington to rally for the freedom of Soviet Jews. I remember the sense of the world exhaling when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union was no more. The Americans understands the 1980s. It captures that particular paranoia. At the same time it questions the entire necessity and morality of the Cold War by showing how intensely dehumanizing the conflict was to those involved and to those who were caught as proxies in the crossfire. It portrays, with surprising sympathy, the agonizing realization that you are doing evil things that corrupt every single thing in your life and that in your future you can only hope to look forward to doing more of the same. At what point do the rationalizations collapse? Is it when your children die for no reason in wars far away? Or is it when they turn away from you in disgust? And, knowing what we know about when and how the Cold War ends, if you end up on the losing side, how do you tell yourself it was worth it?
- The Flash
- Star Wars Rebels
- Key and Peele
- Orange is the New Black
- Agent Carter