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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of four posts from the site’s television writers, detailing their top shows of 2015. In order to qualify for the lists, a show had to air original episodes in the United States during the 2015 calendar year.
2015 was a banner year for television. We had more scripted television shows to choose from (409) than ever before. It this era of Peak TV there weren’t just a ridiculous number of scripted television shows, there were also a shockingly large number of good television shows. And these shows were available on a wide range of platforms and channels. Which goes a long way to explaining why I had such a difficult time creating a Top 10 list of shows.
In the interest of full disclosure, it took me several weeks to come up with this list. I started the process with 25 shows that could have easily found a place on my final list (a number that surprised me not only as an indicator of how many quality shows exist on television at this time, but also as a marker of how many shows I actually watched throughout the year- a number that is much higher than 25). To give you an idea of how many good shows were on the air this year- Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead didn’t even crack my Top 25.
A bit about my particular list. I’ve ranked the shows in ascending order, but really, most of them could be mixed and matched. The only ones I feel shouldn’t be move are my top three shows, which really were, in my opinion, the best three shows on television this season. But, like any list, this is all subjective (if you take a look at my fellow TV writers’ lists, you’ll see that’s the truth). So, hopefully, you’ll enjoy my musings on the year’s best television. And, perhaps, you’ll give one of these shows a chance if you haven’t had a chance to check it out.
This last spot on the list was a toss-up between two AMC shows (Mad Men and Halt and Catch Fire) with Mad Men’s pedigree pushing it just a bit over the line into tenth place. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show’s finale, I can’t deny that the series was an absolute delight to watch. Knowing that the show’s characters managed to survive (aside from poor Betty Draper) and potentially thrive in the coming years was a nice finishing touch after watching them struggle with their inner and outer demons for seven years. And really, nothing can top the moment badass extraordinaire Peggy Olsen walked into McCann like a boss. You go get ’em, Peggy.
I’ve written quite a bit about the show here, but Marvel’s first female led property was an absolute highlight of the year. Smart, complex, and never pandering, Jessica Jones delved into the intricacies of PTSD and didn’t shy away from painting its villain Kilgrave as a rapist (a topic other shows have been wary to address). Kristin Ritter delivered a star turn as the title character, and strong supporting work from Carrie-Ann Moss, David Tennant, and Rachael Taylor made the show sing.
This British comedy may have only released six episodes in the US in 2015, but each was an absolute joy. Deftly walking the line between comedy and nuanced drama, Catastrophe was one of the most honest comedies I’ve seen in quite a while. The brain child of Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, the series follows a transatlantic pair (played expertly by Delaney and Horgan) who find themselves thrust into parenthood after a weekend-long romance. As someone who isn’t particularly a fan of romantic comedies, Catastrophe won me over completely, and has become my go-to recommendation for friends and family looking for something new to watch.
I will admit I came late to the BoJack Horseman party, missing out on its excellent first season in 2014. But I’m glad I caught up this past summer when season two was released. You can read my in-depth analysis here, but for the uninitiated, BoJack Horseman is one of the most unique shows on television today. Smart, bitingly funny, and unafraid to tackle the darkness that lurks just beyond the shine of comedy, BoJack is the best show about a cartoon horse on television today (and one of the best comedies, period).
After the success of Fargo’s first season, many were worried that season two wouldn’t live up to its memory (just like many of us were worried about a television show called Fargo failing to live up to its namesake film). Well, all that worrying was unnecessary, because Fargo was just as much of a delight in season two. With spectacular work from Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, and Bokeem Woodbine, the story was just as complicated and fun as its predecessors. I can’t wait for season three.
I did not like the first season of The Leftovers. I didn’t like it at all. So, when I heard that season two was something really special, I was skeptical. But the chorus of praise became so deafening that I decided to give it a chance. Boy am I glad I did. Everything that was wrong with season one has been removed from the show’s second season, with the focus tightened to character point of view episodes that coalesced into a spectacular finale. The cast was in fine form, with amazing work from Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, and Regina King. If you didn’t like season one, give season two a chance. It was something really special.
People who know me are probably sick of hearing how much I love this Australian drama, but I can’t help it- it’s pretty amazing. Wentworth is a women’s prison series that is significantly darker than Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, but not as rough as HBO’s incredibly dark Oz. If you enjoyed the second season of Orange more than the other two, this is the show for you. Season three, which was just released on Netflix, contained just enough soapy intrigue mixed with complicated psychological drama that it will pull you in and not let you go until its final moments.
Again, I waxed poetic about the show’s second season here, but I still can’t get over how amazing this show remains. In its second season, Transparent widened its lens beyond Maura, giving the rest of the Pfefferman family a chance to shine in their search for their own identities. The show’s blend of comedy and heartbreaking drama was in full force throughout season two, complete with some of the best performances you will see on television this year.
In what is becoming a theme in this list, I was really late to the Parks and Rec party. So late, in fact, that I watched the entire series in February of this year, just in time to catch its final episodes. The last of the great NBC comedies, Parks and Rec had a different soul than Community or 30 Rock. Parks and Rec was all about heart- from Leslie Knope’s infectious spirit to Ron Swanson’s hidden love for his friends and co-workers, it was a joy to watch these characters. And the show’s final run of episodes put its heart front and center, giving us a spectacular finale that actually stuck the landing.
Rectify was the least watched scripted show on television in 2015, which is saying something considering how many shows aired this year. But it was the best show, bar none. Over the course of its three seasons, Rectify has managed to craft a slow moving yet magnificent story of a man’s reintegration into his town, his family, and his freedom. Throughout that time, the show’s focus has widened to explore how Daniel Holden’s return from prison has impacted those around him, turning in stunning performances from the show’s supporting cast, particularly Clayne Crawford who was especially compelling this season. One of the best things to come out of the era of Peak TV is that shows like Rectify, which have small audiences but great critical acclaim, are given a chance to grow. My wish for 2016 is that more people find and watch this gem (its first two seasons are available on Netflix).