Allow us to say it for the billionth time: TV was way too good this year. From the big networks to the prestigious ones to the totally unexpected ones (USA and Lifetime were out here in 2015), more outlets than ever were producing great, worthwhile television. And that's even before mentioning streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, which all took big steps in quality and quantity in terms of original programming. Right now, watching TV is simultaneously better and more difficult than ever before.
Which is to say that compiling a list of the 25 best shows of 2015 is not an easy task. There's a really good chance your favorite show of the year didn't make the cut, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. But hey, that doesn't mean your show's trash. It just means we had to make some tough decisions with this one.
That being said, I'm pretty sure we nailed this thing. Here are the 25 Best TV Shows of 2015.
RELATED: Best TV Shows of 2016
Didn’t we almost have it all, Empire?
In 2015, we’ve received a one-and-a-half seasons of Empire, Lee Daniels' epic soap opera that sets the business of hip-hop and R&B ablaze. Lead by Taraji P. Henson’s mesmerizing portrayal of Cookie Lyon, the show wasn’t shy about being overly-dramatic, unraveling a massive story that dealt in all kinds of lies, deceit, sex, and hip-hop in hour-long installments. It set the world of TV on fire, topping ratings charts and turning Twitter into a shitshow every Wednesday night. The twelve-episode first season felt short to TV execs, so an 18-episode second season was drawn up, and Empire returned in September for what’s ultimately become a lackluster second season, full of more celebrities, more drama, but also more headaches.
The second season had actually started off on the right foot, at least in terms of absurdity. Not only did the premiere have Chris Rock playing against type as a kind-of cannibalistic inmate, but Lee Daniels decided to get more real world-y, weaving in references to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and Sandra Bland, for good or ill. The problem is, the show got to be a bit too heavy on the nonsense. Marisa Tomei was brought on as a lesbian billionaire who was weaseling her way into Empire Records, but after initially having Anika twerking (omg) for her in the premiere, she sat in the background until it was time for another heavy-handed almost-threesome with Lucious. Empire also got lost in the in-fighting between the Lyon family, with Cookie and wannabe rap superstar Hakeem going up against Jamal and Lucious repping for Empire. You'd like to think that every single or video or opportunity wouldn’t have to end up with the two squads competing against each other, especially when the Empire label would more than likely be operating in a bigger playing field, ie. the entire music industry.
While season two started strong, and had one of the biggest achievements that Empire has ever seen (that being the instant-classic “Snitch Bitch”), it’s depressing to see the show not only slump in the ratings, but slump in overall quality. Maybe the bar was set too high by season one, because the sluggish first-half of second season just can’t to hold a candle to it, no matter how many superstar cameos or annoying plots you weave into it. —khal
24. Silicon Valley
During the Season One finale of Silicon Valley, Jared (ehrm, Donald?) Dunn ranted about a slew of iconic tech companies that were able to survive by pivoting—by changing their perspective, style and overall mission. Before this season, Silicon Valley itself had to pivot, unfortunately due to the death of Christopher Evan Welch, whose character Peter Gregory was a bright spot likely about to step into a bigger role on the show. Season two of Silicon Valley absolutely missed Peter Gregory (let's not even talk about his replacement, Laurie Bream), but in pivoting, it proved that it's here for the long run.
After conquering TechCrunch Disrupt in Season One, Silicon Valley moved on to a much realer end game: how the hell you do start a company and survive, especially when an international tech power is suing you for everything?
The real stakes made Silicon Valley more striking, more compelling, and more biting (if less laugh out loud funny). Great guest characters like Chris Diamantopoulos as dick billionaire Russ Hanneman and Matt McCoy (Lloyd Braun in the house!) as down-and-out "lawyer" Pete Monahan brought extra life to the second season—though the core cast of Pied Piper guys didn't really need much help. And just as some worried that Silicon Valley was turning into a nerdier version of Entourage where everything just so happens to work out, the season finale confirmed that creator Mike Judge wasn't afraid to force his main character to take a big fat L, which bodes extremely well for season three. —Andrew Gruttadaro
The fourth season of Veep began with Louis-Dreyfus’ character Selina Meyer in the (unexpected) role of first female POTUS after a long and arduous term serving as Vice President. She added a few new faces to her cast (Diedrich Bader as Bill Ericsson, to name one masterfully insufferable addition) while keeping her usual team of "flying monkeys" (Matt Walsh, Reid Scott, Tony Hale, etc.) on hand. This new stew of familiar (and well acted) mediocrity and feigned excellence resulted in wittier banter, a faster moving plotline, and unprecedented comedic television.
Louis-Dreyfus of course brought the full force of her scale as an actress to her new position as President. Sharper, smarter, and a hell of a lot less patient, POTUS convinced us she was truly ready to fill the role while navigating the fragile egos of the men around her. It also afforded us some of the show’s best scripted material to date. And as for this season’s inevitable side-piece, the unrequited sexual tension between Selina and her newly elected running mate Tom James (Hugh Laurie)—a sort of Bernie to her Hillary—serves as endless fodder for hilarity.
Honestly, now is as good a time as any to join Veep’s presidential bandwagon now that Meyer has secured her place as first female president, in spite of her staff’s constant barrage of unbridled fuckery. It may not be the first show that comes to memory when reflecting on this year’s best in class, but it is without a doubt one of TV's sharpest series. —Catie Keck
The acting could be better but that's where the negatives stop for me when it comes to Power. I slept on the first two seasons as I didn't have Starz and didn't feel like scouring the net for a suitable stream—and I immediately regretted that after watching the premiere episode. My homegirl, Elena, would text me every so often to see if I got around to checking it out, so when I moved and got Starz with my new cable package, I played catch-up. The saga of Ghost and Tommy's drug empire had me hooked from the jump. I was like a dope fiend counting the hours until I could get my next fix. The tale Courtney Kemp Agboh, of Good Wife fame, unraveled in the show's second season left me at the edge of my seat. Ghost and Angela's conflicting fields of work and feelings for each other is the greatest love story on television as far as I'm concerned. I rooted for them even though Ghost has a family of his own. 50 Cent essentially plays himself as Kanan and destroys everything in his path until his—SPOILER—timely end in the finale.
Power is Carlito's Way for a new generation in more ways than one. Both are centered around the lead character's love of the game and affection towards a significant other. This show is filled with inner demon motifs in the form of mirrors, sex, violence, regret, and contradictions. It is one of the most accurate depictions of street life to hit the screen since Paid In Full. Shit gets deep, and trust that season three will be undoubtedly lit. —Angel Diaz
21. The Knick
Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) is the most savage person on television. He manages the Knickerbocker Hospital and does a damn good job trying to keep it afloat by courting wealthy, aristocratic types, most notably Captain August Robertson, who has donated so much bread he basically owns the joint. However, Barrow has finessed finances so much over the course of the series' two seasons, he has to amp up his savagery just to keep his life in order and the hospital from going out of business. You see, Herman loves to trick on one girl in particular and found himself owing the local pimp nine bands. After some fuckery he finally got her current pimp to release her and he ruined his marriage by buying her a house. Clive Owen's Thack has nothing on this guy—and he takes cocaine syringes to the dick!
Being on Cinemax holds this show back a bit being that it's not as popular as HBO and Showtime and people aren't beat to pay for cable anymore. Still, it's worth your time. The Knickerbocker is a place where medical advancements and savagery go hand in hand. The staff at this turn of the 20th century facility care about their patients, even if it means they lose money taking care of some of them. Season two deals with those ramifications as they're forced to move uptown where the money is. Each episode is beautifully shot by director Steven Soderbergh and Clive Owen is masterful as the ambitious Dr. John Thackery. The show touches on various subjects of the time (some that still plague American society to this day) like woman's rights, religion, race, class, addiction, mental health, and all parties involved do a great job in fleshing those topics out during the course of a season. Seriously, watch The Knick. —Angel Diaz
What a stupid title for such an excellent show. Thankfully, iZombie hooked viewers' interest with just the simple fact that it was made by Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas. V Mars, of course, is one of the best teen shows ever (and still deeply underrated), about a teen detective whose crime-solving skills are as sharp as her witty comebacks. iZombie is similar in that our protagonist Liv Moore is also witty with wordplay (I mean, how could you not be with a punny name like that) and solves crimes, except there's one sort of life-changing difference: She's a zombie. The show also takes after Buffy the Vampire Slayer in many ways (the actual best show EVER), especially in Liv's struggle with leading a double life. Only a couple close friends know her secret, but otherwise she tries to pass off as a human. Oh, she also has a couple undead enemies of her own.
The season one finale of iZombie early this summer was a standout for the show, thanks to that insane video game-like massacre, but season two is posing interesting new problems for Liv while she continues to kick ass and take brains (which, by the way, are cooked in an alarmingly delectable looking manner.) —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim
Hannibal will definitely go down as a show we all regret we slept on—and subsequently killed. It was always a little too dark or artistic for television, which led to swift cancelation from NBC—but maybe it was good that Hannibal went out on top with such a strong ending. In its third and final season, the Silence of the Lambs prequel ditched the procedural format for something more sinister and complicated, further blurring the relationship line between the infamous cannibal doctor, Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and the brilliant but tortured Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). Eventually their relationship reached homoerotic levels that felt more than just imaginary, and their onscreen presence almost became more of a waltz. The third season also introduced a deadly new character, Francis Dolarhyde a.k.a. the Red Dragon (Richard Armitage), another catalyst in the evolution of Hannibal and Will's relationship.
Despite being one of the darkest shows on television this year, Hannibal is without a doubt the most gorgeous. Between violent kills and gourmet presentations of human flesh, Hannibal created a surreal atmosphere, with kaleidoscopic sex scenes more primal and sexier than usual TV fare, and sound design that warped you straight into the fantastical universe that made art out of murder. While TV adaptations can go very, very wrong, Bryan Fuller's tasteful eye gave Hannibal a completely different but still respectable nod to the Thomas Harris series. What a brutal yet beautiful show. And my god that finale deserves all the applause. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim
18. game of thrones
Oh Game of Thrones, you fickle bastard, you. It was an up and down year for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, as they really ventured off the pages of George R.R. Martin for the first time. With that newfound freedom, D&D did some utterly amazing things and some things so horrendous and so awful that for the first time, people were actually saying “I'm done with this show” and meaning it. The entire arc in Dorne was probably the worst television I've seen on HBO—in the season's finale, a Sand Snake actually said, “You want a good girl, but you need a bad pussy.” But more importantly, the show's problematic depiction of rape and violence against women became more glaring than ever—a problem exacerbated by the men who make Game of Thrones being totally incapable of talking about the reasons and justifications behind what happens on screen.
But as we've pointed out several times since the show ended, we don't watch this show to feel good. We watch it because of the captivating world it has built, its ruthless storytelling, and the sweeping, epic action it captures. The eighth episode of the fifth season, “Hardhome,” which featured one of the best zombie sequences ever, on TV or in movies, might be the best episode of the entire series. And the feelings everyone felt when Jon Snow's (who is NOT dead) Valyrian blade cut through a White Walker, or when the Night's King raised his arms at Jon like, “Oh you mad, huh?"—those moments redeem whatever soap opera happened in Sunspear.
Thrones had some rough spots this year, but it finished strong—and from what I can tell, after getting through those tough moments this year, the show is ready to charge to its end, and blow our minds to oblivion in the process. —Andrew Gruttadaro
17. unbreakable kimmy schmidt
Two years after its finale, it was about time we filled that 30 Rock-sized hole in our hearts. Then came Netflix's hit new series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, from the same crazy minds that gave us Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's new wacky comedy follows the titular Kimmy Schmidt, who is rescued from a cult in Indiana and tries to start a new life in New York City. With her out-of-touch slang and new entourage of weirdo friends, hilarity ensues as Kimmy tries to fit in, finish school, and find love. Sometimes, they pack so many jokes one after another that your stomach hurts from laughing too much. Also, is “Pinot Noir” low-key the best song of the year? (The answer to that is a RESOUNDING YES.) —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim
16. jane the virgin
What does a CW pitch meeting look like? Because imagine getting pitched this as a show idea: A virgin gets accidentally inseminated, and the sperm belongs to a married man, a hotel mogul with whom she had a brief fling many summers ago. The virgin, meanwhile, is engaged to a nice policeman, who of course is not at all pleased by this new situation. Equally displeased is the man's wife, whose one chance at pregnancy slipped away with that sperm sample. Then there's an estranged celebrity dad, an immigrant grandmother, some crime lords, and it's all wrapped up in a tongue-in-cheek soap opera format—narrator and all. It sounds like a lot, I know—almost too much—but Jane the Virgin somehow works.
The drama is super juicy but it also deals with some real issues rarely seen on TV: immigration, familial relationships, maternal sacrifice, and more. Plus, the Latino representation itself is commendable. After ending season one on a high note (what a cliffhanger!), season two picked up this fall with Jane as a new mother, and in a whole new exciting situation (well, exciting for the viewers): She's torn between two lovers. The show makes it nearly impossible to pick a side, with both her love interests, Rafael (the baby daddy) and Michael (her ex-fiancé), so attentive to Jane and so good for her in their own ways. But it's not all about "which man should I pick" for our heroine. She's a mother first, but she also makes sure to pursue her own dreams of becoming a professional writer. But with those aforementioned crime lords, there are much more than just familial troubles that lurk about, which tips Jane the Virgin into slightly ridiculous category (but in the most fun way possible). —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim
Don't front: when you heard a major network was launching a black family sitcom specifically anchored around the idea of being middle-class and black in contemporary America, you expected the worst. We all did—after all, only five shows from broadcast networks made this list. Instead, lightning struck, or maybe ABC (re: Fresh Off the Boat, as well) just gets it, because Black-ish is pretty damn great, spending its 2015 finishing off a strong debut season and keeping the momentum going in season two, word to opening with an episode that tackles the N-word. In some ways it's the contemporary answer to The Cosby Show: a crop of kids each with distinguishable personalities, a wise-cracking, bemused dad (Anthony Anderson, a veteran who nonetheless just found his true groove); Larry Fishburne dropping in to son everyone as the wise grandfather, and Tracee Ellis Ross as the rare TV family woman who gets to be a healthy mix of successful and manic in her own right besides just playing straight woman to a wacky husband. But beyond that, each episode is more than just laugh-out-loud funny. It's stylistic, with cutaways that play with both time and imagination. And most importantly, it's relatable. You don't have to be black to get the jokes (although you may laugh a bit harder), because when the show does tackle cultural elements and issues, it's unpacked from all perspectives of generation (Dre's parents down through his kids) and race (Dre's co-workers). Every side gets a say, and in the end, the stories of a family like the Johnsons bear familiarity to a wider, say, ABC-type, demographic. Salute to the real modern family. —Frazier Tharpe
14. better call saul
You're playing yourself if you don't think Better Call Saul didn't have to hit big. Coming off the critically-acclaimed end of Breaking Bad, this Saul Goodman-focused prequel series was a wild direction to go in, especially considering that Saul's not a character that you'd think many could emphasize with. Leave it up to Vince Gilligan to take us back (way back) in Saul's life, when he was Jimmy McGill, trying to make his big lawyer brother proud while giving off an air of “this dude ain't shit” to everyone around him. This small-time attorney with the con man background might not sound like the perfect lawyer, and as this first season progressed, we (slowly) saw Gilligan sow the seeds for what'll eventually become the ultra corrupt Saul Goodman.
While this 10-episode first season did feel like it dragged on at times, all of the pieces ultimately fit. You saw McGill not as a slickster who aims to get the best of everyone; he had a good heart, even if his sleaze tendencies were right there. He really tried to flip his life, primarily for his brother, but continued to get beat down. What's wild is that at the end of the first season, it was evident that McGill's transition into Saul was imminent. The question is, how long will it be drawn out before we get to the epic, cheese-infested commercial Saul Goodman that we caught a glimpse of via VHS in the premiere? Time will not only tell, but will be well-spent with Gilligan's latest win. —khal
13. you're the worst
In its first season, You’re the Worst more than kept to its promise of being an anti-rom-com about two garbage people who fall for each other. Packed with realistic (and sexy) sex, a “Sunday Funday,” and perhaps two of the worst/best lead characters in Aya Cash and Chris Geere's Gretchen and Jimmy, the FX comedy was a slam dunk. With the season one finale torching Gretchen’s apartment and making her reluctantly move in with Jimmy, it was easy to be skeptical about whether or not season two would lose its bite.
It didn’t, thanks to the venomous Gretchen and Jimmy. Their equal resistance to the relationship they kept falling deeper into throughout season two provided some of the funniest moments on television this fall. But then it shifted, in a completely unexpected way.
Suddenly, You’re the Worst became one of the best depictions of depression, perhaps, I’ve ever seen on television. Gretchen’s increasing detachment from Jimmy didn’t result in a cheating plot or on any other bad behavior, she more and more just became mind-numbingly sad. It’s an arc that is played awards-worthy well by Cash and written carefully and realistically by the writers and if you’ve ever been there, in that place, it feels as though someone has finally cracked your brain open on a TV screen. So, when Cash meanders aimlessly through her relationship with Jimmy and tries just about everything to wake herself up, you feel every amount of anguish on her face because she physically can’t. It’s a huge 360 from a show that originally established itself as the anti-rom-com. Instead it became one of the most deeply human “comedies” on television. —Kerensa Cadenas
12. the carmichael show
When Jerrod Carmichael told me way before his show premiered that he wanted it to call back to the classic sitcoms—The Cosby Show, Cheers, Seinfeld—while simultaneously addressing hot button issues like Ferguson, it was hard to believe he'd be able to pull it off. But over the course of a too-short first season, he did. Flanked by strong performances by David Alan Grier and Loretta Devine as Carmichael's parents, the stand-up comedian weaved through discussions on gun control, Black Lives Matter, and religion with intelligence and humor. The Carmichael Show was quite possibly the most relevant show of the year, a counterpiece to the at-times suffocating tumultuousness of 2015.
But what's most amazing is how the show executed all of this—simply by putting a family in a small, familiar room and letting them just talk. Arguments unfurled naturally, and mirrored ones you've likely had at the dinner table with your families. And maybe most importantly, aside from actually bringing up these huge issues, The Carmichael Show made the statement that the human beings on both sides of an argument often have legitimate reasons for feeling they way they do—and the path to a better world isn't forced conversion, it's understanding. NBC has mostly bungled everything in the past five years or so, but thank God they were at least smart enough to renew this show for a second season. —Andrew Gruttadaro
At first, the most shocking thing about UnReal is that it resides on Lifetime, the network notorious for movies about sad women starring actresses who were famous in the '90s, but that fades away quickly because you’ll be too shocked by the show to even think about the network.
Created by Marti Noxton and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, UnReal follows a young producer, Rachel (an unhinged Shiri Appleby) who works behind-the-scenes of Everlasting, a The Bachelor-style reality dating show. Under her boss, Quinn (Constance Zimmerman), Rachel is more than willing to make ugly, ugly decisions and manipulate whomever to make Everlasting the most drama-filled it can be. But as she stands to the side in her “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt, she’s also working on rebuilding her reputation after a truly epic personal on-camera meltdown the season before. And she’s still not doing a great job personally—she’s broke and engaging in risky and toxic relationships with her ex-boyfriend (who caused her breakdown) and the tantalizing bachelor himself, Adam (Freddie Stroma), who is more than willing to break all the rules with Rachel.
Rachel and Quinn have a tenuous push-pull relationship and they really only continue to bring out the worst in one another. By the end of the first, phenomenal season, the list of wrongs the pair have committed is never ending, yet somehow both still remain sympathetic throughout Rachel’s fucked up relationship with Adam—and Quinn’s with Chet, the creator of Everlasting and a monster in his own right. They turn on each other, support each other and whether or not they’d admit it, get a sick joy out of the whole Everlasting world they’ve manipulated into existence.
UnReal is unrelentlessly dark and never tiptoes back into the light and for a show about two women, that feels revolutionary. —Kerensa Cadenas
Nothing on this list perhaps had as high expectations to live up to as Transparent’s second season. Ranked as our number one show of 2014, Transparent reached stratospheric heights, ones that seemed too high for any second season to hold up to. Thankfully for us, Jill Soloway’s near perfect judgment and flawless ensemble cast—joined by guest stars like Cherry Jones and Anjelica Huston (!)—came together for a season two that’s even more technically proficient than the first and perhaps with an even tighter storyline.
Season two opens with all of the Pfeffermans in varying places in their lives—Maura is finally living openly as Maura, but is back in the comforting arms and condo of Shelly, Sarah’s upended her entire existence, Josh is finally experiencing domestic bliss with Rabbi Raquel and Colton, the son he never knew he had. And weirdly, Ali, the mess of the family, is the one who seems the most centered, figuring out what she wants to do with her life and exploring a relationship with Syd (Carrie Brownstein).
Like the first season, a series of flashbacks weave throughout the narrative, but instead of just exploring Mort’s history, this explores the deeper background of the Pfeffermans—the trauma that lies at their core, that still exists within their DNA—and is a larger look at the injustices that the LGBT community has endured. Soloway never shies away from being political or exploring the fluidity of sexuality in whatever form that may be.
There’s a tenseness that exists in season two where you’re afraid each Pfefferman will shatter at any moment (and for the most part they do), but we know this is a resilient bunch. That’s why we’ve so deeply connected with Maura and co., because if they can survive, so can we. —Kerensa Cadenas
9. broad city
If Broad City's first (great) season was like a blind date, where you got to know Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer and the bizarro New York City they inhabit, then this second season was like the fifth date, where everyone was comfortable and familiar enough with each other for some real amazing stuff to happen.
There was absolutely no sophomore slump here for Abbi and Ilana, as Broad City continued to build its world while also improving as a laugh-out-loud comedy. The fact that Broad City dropped "Wisdom Teeth" (the hardest I've laughed at a television show all year) and followed it with "Knockoffs," in which Ilana goes on a quest through Chinatown with her mom (played by SUSIE ESSMAN) to find fake handbags while Abbi takes a huge step for womankind by pegging the man of her dreams, is reason enough for this show to land in the top ten. But then there's the rest of the season, full of highlights—Abbi maybe date-raping Seth Rogen, Ilana teaching "YAS QUEEN" to a wealthy, burgeoning gayby, both girls confirming that St. Mark's is the worst, Abbi toking up with a Wayne Brady-ish Kelly Ripa—that are also amazing.
What I'm trying to say is Broad City not only reached the expectations set by their first season—they blew them out of the fucking water. —Andrew Gruttadaro
8. inside amy schumer
It was hard to avoid Amy Schumer in 2015—it wouldn't be wrong to call it “her year,” with everything from a Chris Rock-directed HBO special to Trainwreck showcasing her wit. But it was the third season of Inside Amy Schumer that allowed her to truly turn everything we love about Amy and kick it up several notches.
While the first two seasons were fire, no doubt, there was something about the steps she took in season three that surpassed damn near any sketch comedy show on TV. If you haven’t peeped her brilliant “Twelve Angry Men” parody, where 12 guys judge if she’s hot enough to be on TV, or her conversation with Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette about what happens when men aren’t trying to smash you anymore, or the hilarious beauty pageant she participated in, what were you looking for when it came to comedy that wasn’t on Netflix? Amy is already unafraid to speak her truths, and whether it’s dancing to an ode to her “fudge machine” or crafting an art school love story about a barista, she’s not flinching, and hoping that you aren’t either. Inside Amy Schumer can be taken a few ways, but with season three, it felt like an easy sex joke turned into a peak into the mind of a woman who continues to come with the realness and prove herself, whether you like it or not. —khal
They done did it again—the second installment of Fargo was just as brilliant. Writer Noah Hawley is a sick fuck and thanks to the anthology format, you won't have to catch up on the first season to enjoy the second. The bottle seasons also allow Hawley and co. to employ the best actors possible (it's way easier for Ted Danson to commit to one season, rather than six). This season, all players involved are outstanding, especially Bokeem Woodbine. The veteran actor rose from the dead to deliver an Emmy-worthy performance as Mike Milligan of the Kansas City crime family. As did Kirsten Dunst, who slays as Peggy Blumquist, the ride or die hair stylist with dreams of a more extravagant life. Patrick Wilson is great in his turn as Lou Solverson, the State Trooper with a lot on his plate, and Jesse Plemons plays a naive butcher in over his head. The list can go on and on. This season was set in 1979 in the North Midwest and followed a riff between two crime families, the Gerhardts and the Kansas City Mob. Like most wars, there were winners, losers, and casualties. Well, maybe not in this case, because everything goes to shit in a hurry, like from the very first episode. Hawley and company does a remarkable job on capturing the dark humor that made the film so highly regarded. The Dakotas have never been so much fun. Fargo is easily my favorite show on television. And if they stay in this zone, season three is going to be a doozy. Okay then. —Angel Diaz
6. jessica jones
The unconventional nature of Marvel's Jessica Jones works greatly in its favor in that those who felt uninitiated with the Marvel universe could easily jump into this world, while hardcore Marvel fans were gifted with another pleasant surprise from the comic book powerhouse. Marvel fan or not, at the end of the day, Jessica Jones is just a damn good show, period. It's unconventional in that it's not immediately clear that it's about a superhero. Our titular Jessica (played by the wonderful, underrated Krysten Ritter in perhaps her best role yet) is a hard-edged private eye with a drinking habit and a storied past. That setup gives the episodes more of a film noir vibe, and Jessica's attitude is more anti-hero than hero, though it's made clear that her morality doesn't waver when it comes to other people's safety, especially that of her best friend Trish, the one person she ever really cared about, and her newfound love interest, Luke Cage.
Jessica is one of the best characters on TV right now. She's never gaudily dressed in spandex like your typical superhero—her uniform is worn out jeans, a hoodie, and leather jacket—she's quick-witted, and also one hell of a fighter. She's also faced with an enemy who's rather unassuming at first but proves to be one of the scariest villains ever: Kilgrave, a.k.a. The Purple Man (David Tennant). He has mind control powers, and anyone in his vicinity is susceptible to following his command with no will power of their own—that's terrifying if you think about it. Jessica, we find out, is a victim of sexual abuse (Kilgrave had her under his power for years), but it never exhausts the rape storyline as a cheap propeller like so many TV shows tend to do. It's nuanced in its approach to the topic, and there are even sympathetic moments for her assaulter, Kilgrave, in a way a victim himself. That past informs her current line of work, thus those action-packed scenes hold more significant meaning knowing what she went through during a more vulnerable time in her life. —Kristen Yoonsoo Kim
5. master of none
Thanks to Netflix, TV viewers have finally been able to see the real Aziz Ansari. He was great on Parks and Recreation, no doubt, but the sarcastic, boisterous-without-talent character didn’t allow him to flex what he’s been mastering in his standup for years: nuanced and hilarious commentary on relationships and the other trials of becoming a “real adult.” Master of None perfectly captures the what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-ness of adulthood by following Ansari’s Dev Shah, a commercial actor living in New York who isn’t even passionate about his craft. He’s not sure what he wants in his career, or his love life, or even for lunch. But at 30, he’s at the age where he needs to make these decisions, or at least feels pressured to as the lives of his peers become more cemented.
This pressure for decisiveness increases across the season as Dev gets deeper into a relationship with and is repeatedly frustrated by his acting gigs. Just as the season reaches its climax, the theme hits its apex with a brilliant reading of Sylvia Plath’s fig tree analogy from The Bell Jar. Each possibility in Dev's life, each fig, gets its own clip in a beautiful but too-real collage. The grid grows with options in a stellar edit, leaving you impressed by the feat itself and terrified of what it’s telling you: you can’t do it all, and if you don’t commit already you’ll be able to do even less.
This is the heaviest the show gets, but Master of None’s hilarious, less serialized storylines never sacrifice substance. Individual episodes touch on sexism, Indian stereotypes in Hollywood, parents, and even older people. Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang checked off all the points for humor, cinematography, social and cultural commentary, and diversity on their way to making one of the best shows of the year. So can we get that season two renewal already? —Ian Servantes
4. mad men
We already know who Don Draper is. Now, the final half of AMC'S arresting Rich People Problems drama set out to examine what he is. What is Don when he's systematically stripped of everything—gorgeous young wife, luxury penthouse, professional independence, kids—when all of these things fall around him as they do in the opening credits, where will he land?
The finale, in a debate not entirely dissimilar to that of Matthew Weiner's former prestige drama homestead, The Sopranos, posed two answers to viewers. Answer a.) after a cross-country road trip's worth of soul searching Don Draper's great epiphany just made him… better at furthering and exploiting American consumerism. But while Mad Men definitely spent time wallowing in the cynical pits of human behavior and adaptability, you don't need Weiner's own post-mortem comments on the finale to read it in a more optimistic light. Donald Dick Whitman Draper, in the same season in which he expressed his fear to Peggy that “he never did anything and doesn't have anyone” and in their last scene claims he's not the man she thinks he is, searched within himself and found peace… peace because of Answer b.) maybe all he is is a really good ad man. A great one. One who had to achieve peace to create, what Weiner personally deems as, the best ad of all time. Did that epiphany extend into the personal, creating a man finally comfortable enough in his own skin to not cheat impulsively, neglect his kids, and take his insecurities out on his protege(s)? We can only hope. Who would've thought this series—after a waitress-sized pothole or two—would wrap things up so optimistically, with a Coke and a smile? —Frazier Tharpe
3. The jinx
With The Jinx, the HBO docuseries following the life (and deaths) of Robert Durst, a few disturbing pictures were painted. For one, it's easy to see how Durst was able to stay free; money can make a number of problems go away (Need to beat a death and dismemberment charge? Just hire ALL of the lawyers!). The show also highlighted just how disturbing Durst's life has been—while the real story behind his mother's death seems to be shaky, losing a parent at such a young age (Durst was seven) is a terrible thing to have to go through. It starts to paint the picture that, “Hey, I could totally believe that this guy whose wife disappeared under suspicious circumstances and whose friend was murdered execution style could have a hand in both of those incidents, especially when his neighbor turns up in pieces in a body of water."
More importantly, The Jinx gave us an eerie look into the mind of a self-destructive individual. There's no reason why Durst needed to steal a sandwich from Wegman's the night he got busted, just like there was no reason for him to piss on candy in a convenience store. Even if we believe Durst's story about the Morris Black murder, saying that he was just defending himself after they got into a fight, why not just call the cops and say what happened? Why the need to chop up his body to “get rid of him?” Why knowingly talk to yourself about your lies (on two separate occasions!), being at least somewhat aware that you're wearing a mic? Has Robert Durst been unsuccessfully trying to make himself pay for whatever pain he's felt since his mother's death? Are all of these examples of the reported “personality decomposition and possibly even schizophrenia” that a psychiatrist reported seeing in Durst back in 1953? It's hard to say. For all of its flaws (including a huge issue with the timeline in the finale), The Jinx took us closer to the machinations of someone who could possibly be a serial killer without putting the handcuffs on him ourselves. What's sad is that after being arrested, it's hard to fully believe that Durst will finally go to jail, even with that disturbing audio of Durst saying he “killed them all” still ringing in our ears. —khal
2. the leftovers
Damon Lindelof has served up batch after batch of “oh shit” moments in the second season of his HBO drama, but the biggest plot twist of them all is The Leftovers becoming a formidable show. Not even just formidable. The last ten episodes have been some of the very best on television. Season one was meandering and divisive, with a compelling but misused core of 140 million people disappearing in The Departure. It spent way too much time with the Guilty Remnant, a cult with a strong argument for not forgetting The Departure but whose inner workings weren’t all that interesting. Ditto for the characters trying to figure out why their loved ones disappeared. And double ditto for Tommy Garvey and his poorly acted misadventures.
Season two trimmed the fat, moved Kevin Garvey’s non-nuclear squad to Texas, and added the neighbor Murphys. Instead of focusing on the unknowable, The Leftovers had us desperate for answers to more micro-mysteries. Is Patti really there, or is Kevin really nuts? Did Evie and her friends disappear? And where is that goddamn cricket? It played with time more successfully than The Walking Dead this season, revisiting the same events from different perspectives and delivering more standalone episodes than non. Each piece was crucial and each reveal earth-shattering without trolling us from week to week (looking at you again, Walking Dead). And though we got answers for Kevin’s woes and Evie’s disappearance, the big picture hasn’t changed. Kevin and John Murphy’s exchange summed it up perfectly. “I don’t understand what’s happening here,” John said. “Me neither,” Kevin replies. “It’s ok.”
The Leftovers has braced agnosticism to become the most improved show of 2015. Now we just need people to watch it. —Ian Servantes
1. Mr. Robot
After Walter White stared into the sky with that grin on his face as "Baby Blue" played and the cops closed in, I felt empty. There was a Breaking Bad-sized hole in my chest, and it stayed there for more than a year—it stayed there until I started watching Mr. Robot.
Sam Esmail's heart-pounding series about a hacker named Elliott (played by breakout Rami Malek) battling an evil corporation but above all, his own demons, came out of the gate in its first season and immediately cemented itself as one of TV's bravest, smartest, most self-assured shows. It had a confidence and a clarity of vision that you hardly ever see in a show's rookie year, and it never underestimated the intelligence of its audience. Cloaked in intensity and mystery for the first half of the season—spoilers ahead—as the truth regarding Mr. Robot, Elliott's hacker mentor, started to crystallize and fans began pointing to the similar plot of Fight Club, Esmail brilliantly tipped his hat—utilizing a cover of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" as if to say, "Yes, I know this story has been done before." It was when I became convinced that Mr. Robot was the best show of the year.
And the "Where Is My Mind?" moment might not have even been the best use of music in the first season—Perfume Genius' "Queen" in a bewildering dream sequence, FKA Twigs' "Two Weeks" in a haunting murder scene, and Alabama Shakes' "Sound & Color" in the finale may have all topped it.
As Mr. Robot roars into its second season, a ton of unanswered questions still remain—Esmail was also smart enough to leave his audience wanting more—but it's clear that the show has the ability to create intense fervor, the same way Breaking Bad did. Who ever thought we'd be saying all this about a USA Network show? —Andrew Gruttadaro