Top 10 TV Shows of 2015
Before I reveal my top 10 television shows of the year, I want to ask one thing: Is making a top 10 list supposed to be this hard?
Sure, this has been the year of “Peak TV.” Calculations had more than 400 original scripted series gracing our airwaves, streaming services and online retail stores in 2015. This meant there was more selection than ever.*
*Personally, by unofficial count, I watched around 70 different series from start to finish. So I can at least promise I am pulling from a fairly significant sample size here.
You might think that this glut of content would result in a sense of clarity when one show stood out from the crowd. Unfortunately – and don’t get me wrong, definitely fortunately – more than a few shows wound up doing just that.
When I first wrote down my top 10 list, it had 17 shows on it. I had to leave shows out that I legitimately loved. It physically pained me to cut some of them from this list, but top 10 lists are no fun if you have more than 10 things on them. So when it came down to it, I decided based off of some kind of personal connection I had to each show. I looked for shows that I had been most excited to share, experience or quote with other people throughout 2015. And in the end, I picked the 10 shows I simply could not live without.
Okay, so I copped out a little bit here. There were some shows I just had to mention before getting into my list. But I stand firm: They are not in my top 10.
“Veep” (HBO) – This is one of the funniest shows on TV, and it is a very tough exclusion from my top 10. My apologies to Tall McCartney. For my money, it is also the most realistic portrayal of Washington D.C. on television.
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC) – “Parks” might not have been at the height of its powers in its final season, but episodes like “Leslie and Ron” reminded me why this is one of my favorite comedies of all time.
“UnREAL” (Lifetime) – I’ve written about this show before, but there was not a more pleasant surprise all year than watching Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer ball out on some fake “Bachelor” contestants. Bring on Season Two.
“The Leftovers” (HBO) – This show didn’t connect with me as strongly as others, but it pretty much almost made my top 10 on the strength of one episode: “International Assassin.” It was hands down my favorite hour of television this year. I’ve also written about “The Leftovers” in this space.
“The Jinx” (HBO) – This show provided the most astounding, jaw-dropping ending of any show this year. And it was a documentary! Make sure you check this one out.
Now on to the list!
10. “Rick and Morty” (Adult Swim)
I’ve covered “Rick and Morty” in this space, but it wound up finding a spot in my top 10 by virtue of being the most creative comedy on television while also managing to be devastatingly human. Another fantastic season of television from Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland and company, and I don’t think there was a show I turned more of my college friends on to than “Rick and Morty.” It might not come back for a while, but hey, that’s not a bad trade for spider peace.
9. “The Americans” (FX)
FX’s Cold War spy drama has pretty much been a great show from the word “go,” and it just continued to improve in its third season. While I was watching an episode this spring, I got up to go get a snack. Thirty minutes later, I realized I had been standing directly in front of my television for most of the episode. I forgot to get a snack.
8. “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO)
As a journalist, I could not leave John Oliver off my list. There was nothing I looked forward to more each week than sitting down and letting Oliver and his team educate me on a topic I might not have known much about, whether it was food waste, public defenders or televangelists. He also landed the best interview of the year when he flew to Russia to talk with Edward Snowden. Oliver and his team are not only the funniest late-night crew on television. They are the medium’s best working journalists.
7. “Mr. Robot” (USA)
Oh man, what a ride. This thriller about a vigilante hacker journeying through a world where the walls are closing in on him and society’s darkest corners are being laid bare was essential viewing all summer long. Created by Sam Esmail, “Mr. Robot” seemed to come out of nowhere, but now it is certainly not going anywhere. I’m excited to see how long it can keep flying high in 2016. I wrote about “Mr. Robot” here.
6. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix)
“Kimmy Schmidt” definitely wins the award for “Most Jokes I Texted Verbatim to My Friend Sam.” Everything on this show was excellently crafted and funny. I rewound the television to hear jokes again and pick them apart several times per episode. For me, “Kimmy Schmidt” was easily the most joyful television experience of the year.
5. “Hannibal” (NBC)
“Hannibal” has long been the darkest, most disturbing show on television. And man, did it crank up the volume for its third (and probably final) season this summer. I’ve never watched a show quite like “Hannibal,” where I feel like I am dreaming or in a trance whenever I’m watching it. I also find myself constantly cycling between wanting to applaud the show’s visual beauty and wanting to throw up. “Hannibal” is certainly not for everyone, but I’m always hungry for the adventures of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
4. “Fargo” (FX)
There is nothing better than a “Fargo” Monday. Noah Hawley’s dark comic anthology series has now completely differentiated itself from the movie that spawned it, populating an extremely colorful world with an endless number of fantastic characters. Whether it was Kirsten Dunst, Bokeem Woodbine, Jeffrey Donovan, Brad Garrett or Nick Offerman, Fargo’s deep bench of actors gave nothing but great performances. And despite being a drama, “Fargo” is an absolute joy to watch. Week to week, there wasn’t a world I was as excited to escape into as this one.
3. “Justified” (FX)
Okay, I lied. There is one place that I was (ever so slightly) more excited to visit: Harlan County, Kentucky. “Justified” has always had a special place in my heart thanks to its clever, potent dialogue. In the show’s sixth and final season, “Justified” finally pitted its two best characters – and wordsmiths – against each other in Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder. Throw in the introduction of Sam Elliott as Avery Markham and Garret Dillahunt as Ty Walker, and “Justified” easily finds its way into my top three. There is not a TV experience as enjoyable as watching “Justified.”
2. “Review” (Comedy Central)
The dark, funny, deeply affecting journey of Forrest MacNeil somehow continued to devolve in the show’s second season. But whether he was reviewing being a cult leader, having an imaginary friend or using a magic eight ball, “Review” never stopped being hilarious, and it never stopped being human. Andy Daly should win awards for the performance he’s giving here – managing to be eminently curious of the world around him in an understandable way while also being cartoonishly funny – but it’s hard to say how many people have recognized this show’s greatness. I wrote about “Review” here.
1. “Rectify” (Sundance)
If you read my column on “Rectify” earlier this fall, you probably had a good idea where this was going. No show connected with me on as deep of a level as “Rectify.” It can provoke real, heartfelt tears and provide uninhibited, sincere laughter. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There is simply not a more beautiful or honest portrayal of human life and all its subtleties on television.