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Editor’s Note: This is the fourth 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.
I’m frustrated with the state of TV this year. Or more specifically, with TV reviews. “With so much television, shouting ‘best show ever!’ is far more convincing than demurring, ‘interesting show that can be very good but occasionally is not!'” wrote Willa Paskin of Slate. And I feel like this sentiment is incredibly true of a lot of 2015’s new and continuing series. Based on the reviews I read before jumping into both products of the Marvel-Netflix partnership, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, I expected great things. At the very least, to simply enjoy both series. But I ended up thinking that the two shows had a lot of dead weight, and glaring problems that I was surprised made the cut. Same with the two superhero shows I review (or reviewed). Same with Game of Thrones. Same with Fargo (Season 1). While my examples don’t include many of 2015’s big shows (I’ll get around to watching Mr. Robot, The Man in the High Castle, Transparent, and Veep eventually), you get the point. It just seems like it’s been a long time since we got a series that managed to be “good.” Exciting where it’s meant to be exciting. Funny where it’s meant to be funny. Which is why the following series were such a lifeline for me.
I think a lot of people were concerned that Better Call Saul would end up being a Breaking Bad-lite, but I actually felt that way about Fargo: Season 1. Better Call Saul managed to be its own beast, thanks in no small part to the wonderful performances of Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks. And there were some story beats that were so good they reminded me of how much I enjoyed Breaking Bad. Two moves in the season made Jimmy’s journey to becoming Saul Goodman a little too easy, but there were also amazing moments that made his descent into the character we saw on Breaking Bad tragically inevitable.
I caught up with Steven Universe before Supergirl premiered, but the latter show made it even clearer how special Steven Universe is. It’s a show that discusses gender politics, sexuality, non-traditional love, traditional love, and more. But unlike Supergirl, it never feels like the series is getting on a soapbox to send their message of positivity. Instead, this message is cleverly interwoven into the show’s mythology, the way the gems “fuse” together, how Steven is never ostracized for not being traditionally masculine. Not to mention the show’s incredibly cool action, world-building, and surprisingly dark moments. Though there are about five episodes that miss the mark (for most of the above statements), Steven Universe is a series others could learn a lot from. Best of all, it returns on January 4.
Simply put, One Punch Man is the best series I watched in 2015. Others have written about the way it subverts superhero genre tropes, but I don’t think this really captures how refreshing it is to see Saitama defeat his enemies with ease, rather than struggle for the sake of narrative tension. This comes from other characters in peril and the reactions of the enemies he faces when they realize they can’t hurt him. More than that, though, this series is just so damn exciting. Throughout the entire season finale, I couldn’t help smiling because of how awesome the action looked, how perfectly they characterized Saitama and Genos. Puri Puri Prisoner aside, no other series this year made me laugh and say “woah” like One Punch Man, and I’m hoping that those who give it a try have a similar experience.
I make allowances for these shows, and people might wonder why I can’t do the same for the series I decry in my introduction to this list. For me, my problems with these series don’t hamper my enjoyment of them. Better Call Saul’s missteps came closest because it seemed like they forgot the premise of the show to move things along, but my issues with these shows always seemed isolated. Kind of like the filler episodes of Naruto, they don’t influence my decision to recommend the series, whereas I felt shows like The Flash, Daredevil, and Game of Thrones took nosedives with entire plots. More importantly, Steven Universe and One Punch Man changed my perception of what stories can be. The 10 minute episode format of Steven Universe allows it to craft stories that don’t rely on characters being undermined to give them an arc. And One Punch Man makes Saitama being unbelievably strong the point of the series, creating struggles out of his boredom in the absence of any legitimate physical challenge. Superhero series don’t have to be sandbagged by tired tropes and characters, and it seemed like the world of animated television was the only one that really took note in 2015.
Featured image via mundoanimex-x.blogspot.com.