Let’s just get this out of the way before we start. Yes, I watch far too much television. Yes, you are better at me in life doing all your cool stuff like “going outside” or “having friends” or whatever it is you kids do nowadays. Contrary to popular belief, I actually did more things than just sit at home and watch TV in 2015, but I did do enough of that to watch as many good shows as I could, because it’s something I like doing. So screw you, imaginary detractors laughing at me.
We are undoubtedly living in a golden age of television. Baby boomers may wax poetic at The Jeffersons, and Cheers, while Millennials may pine for the days of The West Wing and Friends. But the 2010s are the peak TV decade. If you think I watch too much TV (which okay maybe I do) I only watched around 6% of the scripted programs on television. And a lot of those 350+ shows I missed are probably quite good. I’ll get to them next year.
For now, though let’s look at the Best 50 television shows I saw in the year 2015.
50. The Walking Dead
Ugh, The Walking Dead. The last four episodes of the sixth season were so weak I considered leaving it off this list altogether. I could write 5,000 words about the issues with “The Walking Dead” but really it comes down to one thing: consistency. The prior season to this one was probably the strongest the show has been, and then it changed up its tone on you and fell into a rut in season six, choosing to instead focus on the things that make the show so incredibly frustrating (undeveloped characters, long boring conversations, confusing plot advancement). And don’t even get me started on the Glenn debacle.
The reason it’s still on this list is that there is a good show in there, somewhere. It comes in glimpses, in moments, sometimes even in full episodes. Approximately 2 gajillion people watch this show every week, so it’s not going anywhere. But unless it learns to correct its fatal flaws soon, it will be losing at least one viewer.
“Blindspot” was the breakout network success of the season and it’s not hard to see why. It’s episodic, to fill those “NCIS” fans that can’t remember what happens on a show week-to-week because they’re all 76 years old, but it also has an overarching mystery of what exactly is going on with Jane and her tattoos. It’s intriguing, but it’s at times far too safe. Jamie Alexander does what she can in the lead role, but her love interest and partner Sullivan Stapleton is a dud, and the show suffers greatly because of it.
“Blindspot” is getting massive ratings and certainly has the potential to improve from a narrative perspective, but it risks jumping the shark once the central mystery gets solved if they don’t attempt to lay more ground work for the future.
A show about pro football players on HBO starring The Rock? Say no more. Ballers is exactly what it should be and nothing more. It’s an amusing, semi-realistic look on the life of pro athletes that doesn’t attempt to dive in too deep to some of the scandals that have plagued the sports world in recent years like domestic violence or CTE. Instead, it takes the lighter approach, and it’s better off for it.
Johnson and John David Washington are standouts, and if you’re a sports fan, it’s a good show to binge through on a Sunday afternoon once football season ends. If you’re not, well it still has The Rock in it.
47. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Coming off a strong second season, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” fell into a lull in it’s third, but that back half of the second year still occurred in 2015, which gets it onto this list.
Once SHIELD writers stopped trying so hard to tie into to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and instead focused on their own stories and characters, the show broke out and became one of the most surprisingly improved shows of the 2014-15 fall season. While Clark Gregg’s Coulson still feels hollow, background characters like Fitz, Simmons, May, and Daisy, all got more depth, and the inhumans storyline brought about some stakes beyond the drawn out “Hydra vs. SHIELD” angle and the Ward bad-guy turn that chewed up far too much of the early season and a half.
46. House of Cards
“House of Cards” has gone from being one of the best shows on television in its first season, to declining but still near the top in its second, to “uhh what the hell was that?” in its third. Now that Frank Underwood is the president, the show has suffered while trying to keep his reign of terror at all grounded in reality. Underwood is now a full-blown cartoon villain, and try as he might, there’s only so much Kevin Spacey can do to redeem the poor writing.
Still, the show is watchable and ranked in the top 50 thanks to the performance of Robin Wright as Frank’s wife Claire. Her role in the government and the declining relationship with her husband were central themes of this season, and her strong performance makes you wonder at times why she is not the protagonist and Frank still is. When focusing on ideas such as nepotism, sexism in government, and spousal abuse, the show remains strong. Where it falters is when it concocts more “Dr. Evil” type scheming from Underwood as he manipulates the dull and dimwitted background characters that serve below his presidency.
45. Scrotal Recall
Once you get pas the ridiculous name, British Netflix sitcom “Scrotal Recall” has a lot of heart. The six-episode first season was based around Dylan (Johnny Flynn) finding out he has an STD and being forced to tell all the women he has slept with about it, while each episode gives us flashbacks of how Dylan met his mate.
Flynn and his love interest Evie (Antonio Thomas) have a natural chemistry that lifts the show, and the laughs come in traditional British-humor fashion, if that makes any sense.
It’s a show you could knock out in less time than it takes to watch a “Lord of the Rings Movie,” and while it’s not a series that’s going to stick with you long-term, it’s highly watchable while you’re folding laundry or something.
44. The Last Man On Earth
Now that the premise of Wil Forte’s Phil Miller actually being the Last Man on Earth has been wiped permanently, the show by the same title has found a new life in its second season.
My biggest complaint about the first season of “The Last Man On Earth” was that Phil was entirely unlikable and, quite frankly a huge dick. This year, the writers have tried to make up for that, and when Phil and his now wife (again) Carol reunite with their old friends from the first season, Phil attempts to redeem himself, but of course keeps getting in his own way. This time however, he comes across more charming and dopey as opposed to sinister and mean-spirited.
Forte is great and the ensemble does a solid job. It’s not a show that makes me personally laugh out loud audibly too often, but Forte’s character work is enough to keep me watching week-by-week. Now that it seems as though Jason Sudekis’ character will finally be joining the fray soon, “The Last Man On Earth should maintain its upward trajectory as it continues to find its voice.
43. Man Seeking Woman
“Man Seeking Woman” was nothing else if not the most ambitious concept of 2015. Starring Jay Baruchel and being produced in part by Lorne Michaels was not enough to get literally anyone to watch it on FXX, but the network gave it another season and I’m intrigued to see what they come up with next.
For those who haven’t seen it (and let’s face it you probably haven’t), Man Seeking Woman tracks Baruchel as he tries to find love, except for each of his romantic misadventures, Baruchel’s character Josh gets sent on an extended metaphor of the struggles of single life.
Dating a girl you’ve been set up with but she fails to meet your expectations for attractiveness? On Man Seeking Woman she is literally portrayed as a troll. Ex-girlfriend has a new boyfriend? Well he is actually a still-alive Adolph Hitler. Trying to ask a friend what to text a girl you just met? That’s cause for a meeting of the highest powers of the American government to discuss the possibilities and potential ramifications.
Sometimes the execution failed to meet its high concept, and more often than not it was just downright weird, but “Man Seeking Woman” was always fun, and that’s about all you can ask for.
42. Breaking Ground
Reality TV shows about pro wrestlers have a bad reputation. There’s the Kardashian-esque “Total Divas” following the quite-scripted life and times of female wrestlers outside of the ring. Then there is “Tough Enough,” a American Idol ripoff in which future WWE stars train to become the real thing in front of America’s eyes and the winner is determined by a national vote.
But with “Breaking Ground” produced for the WWE Network, the WWE takes a different approach. This time it follows wrestlers from NXT, WWE’s developmental system in Florida, as they try and push through to make it to the big time. These aren’t untrained wannabe reality stars on Tough Enough, these are real performers who have earned a contract, but are still a ways away from making it to their ultimate goal.
“Breaking Ground” isn’t afraid to be real. It follows performers like Devin Taylor and Cal Bishop all the way up until they’re released (and shares that intimate moment with the cameras rolling). It takes a dive into the real-life personalities of these wrestlers as they struggle with their families and relationships, and shows the coaches of these future “Monday Night Raw” stars calling them out in no uncertain terms for their rookie mistakes.
Non-wrestling fans probably won’t ever find “Breaking Ground,” but I firmly believe that even if you’ve never watched wrestling before, it’s a show you could enjoy (did I mention it’s narrated by William Shatner?, that might help).
41. Broad City
As a 23 year-old white male living in Connecticut, I’m smart enough to realize that a show like “Broad City” isn’t necessarily made for me. But understanding different perspectives and viewpoints is important to anyone trying to get a better sense of the world around them, and “Broad City” is my pathway into the mind of two women in their 20s living in New York City.
“Broad City” is bold, and unafraid to take risks, while also being downright hilarious. It’s sexually explicit and vulgar (sometimes to a fault) and Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacbson are undoubtedly very in tune with their comedic voices.
What “Broad City” is able to do more than anything is turn gender stereotypes on their head and turn them into a punchline without being exploitative. Not every joke for me lands, but then again, it’s probably not supposed to.
The Wachowski’s are ambitious complex filmmakers that can strike big (The Matrix) or fall on their face (Jupiter Ascending), so I was watching the first couple episodes of their Netflix thriller “Sense8” in which eight people from across the globe all share a psychic connection with healthy skepticism.
I won’t exactly say that they proved their haters wrong, but the first season of “Sense8” was far from a disaster. The show struggled when trying to connect the dots of its science fiction plot, but it shined ever so brightly when focusing on the individual characters and their shared journey. Sense8 wasn’t without its thrills either, and it is a deeply visual, sometimes extremely moving program.
A second season will be the true telling point when it comes out in 2016. If Sense8 can hone in on a more organized plot and further drive the bond between these eight characters while continuing its ability to use sound and camera cuts to induce emotion, it could become one of the best shows on television.
39. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is probably the easiest watch on television. While it will never ascend to being a truly great comedy because of its inability to get out of its comfort zone, it’s nearly impossible to produce a “bad” episode of B99.
While Andy Samberg is undoubtedly grating at times, his timing has always been terrific on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Still, as the years go on, he gets out-shined more and more by his phenomenal cast mates, as Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Chelsea Peretti, Terry Crews, Joe La Truglio, and especially Andre Braugher, seem to each have their fair share of great lines in each half hour.
This year, we finally took the next step with Peralta and Santiago’s relationship as they are now openly dating, and Holt is back as force captain. Besides that, every episode is pretty much exactly the same as it’s always been, for better and for worse.
While it’s companion show on The CW, “The Flash” hasn’t yet hit the wall and continues to be one of the best produced TV shows in its genre currently on the air, Arrow stumbled greatly towards the end of its third season.
While it’s yet to completely recover, “Arrow” appears to be back on track in Season 4, as it has gone back to utilizing what made the first two seasons stand out. The Rah’s Al-Ghul storyline started hot, but by the end it had left the show without a clear narrative focus, and it took some weird left turns.
Now, we appear to be past it, and Damian Darke has proven to be a much more complete villain than Ras ever was in the Arrow universe. Meanwhile, Oliver Queen has finally started to use the “Green Arrow” moniker that fans have waited so long for.
Arrow continues to take a more dark approach to the superhero genre than any other show on TV, and at times it can feel like a drag. But the action, energy, and likability of the heroes can power it through, and the writers have proven on more than one occasion that they are more than capable of writing a devastating cliff hanger.
37. Orphan Black
Let me start by saying this: Orphan Black can be an extremely confusing show. Not only do you have to deal with nearly a dozen clones that you have to keep track of, but there is at times not nearly enough exposition to explain what is happening and I often have to read episode recaps or rewind just to try and figure out if I missed something.
With all that said, the reason “Orphan Black” continues to be one of the better shows on TV despite its sometimes mumbled story is the continued underrated performance of Tatiana Masalny. Masalny portrays each and every clone sister with a knockout performance. Each has their own particular quirks and characterizations, and in the hands of a lesser actress, a show like “Orphan Black” would have fallen on its face by season three as they all would have become a jumbled mess of similarity. But Masalny nobly keeps the ship afloat and the shows third season might have been her best effort yet, particularly in terms of the ever uppity Allison and the complicated yet violent Helena.
Orphan Black is in dangerous waters in terms of its plot, and it may need to take a hard reset in season four, but for every misstep they make, they’ll always have Masalny to act her way out of it.
Screw you, I’m allowed at least one guilty pleasure on this list somewhere.
It’s hard for a lot of people to understand why “Survivor” is still on the air, but to those people I ask: when is the last time you actually watched it?
For many it would be never. Or not since the first few seasons. Or after they introduced one of their failed twists like redemption island or the Medallion of Power.
The thing is, Survivor learns from its mistakes. The game has evolved over the 15 years its been on the air to stop being a show about a group of strangers trying to survive in the jungle and eat gross stuff in which they just happen to sometimes have to vote someone out every three days (although that physical hardship element still does exist) and instead has become a complex game show revolving around strategy, interpersonal communication, and betrayal.
In order to win “Survivor” an individual must not only balance the treacherous rains and winds of whatever island they are placed upon, they must also contend with the winds of their fellow tribe mates. Over-scheming will get you outed as a rat. Under- scheming will make you seen as undeserving of the grand prize. Survivor winners must not only convince people along the way that they have their best interests at heart only to stab them in the back at the most opportune moment, they must also convince a jury of those same people to then award them one million dollars.
Season 31 brought about players who had experienced Survivor once before but had not yet won, and the passion and desire of each to win the game was unprecedented. Yes, these people want to be reality TV stars, but more so they all want to play the game of Survivor, and while the non-fans may think thats’s one in the same, it’s actually far from it.
When Yahoo! announced it would be picking up the cult favorite “Community” for one final season, it seemed like an odd fit, and that inclination certainly turned out to be an accurate one. “Community” fans never really flocked to the streaming service like Yahoo thought they would, and the show ended on even more of a whimper ratings wise than it had during its dying days on NBC.
The thing is, if people had bothered to pay attention, they would have realized that the sixth season of “Community” was actually one of its strongest.
Even without the likes of Chevy Chase, Donald Glover, and Yvette Nicole Brown, Community continued to shine due to the bold narrative voice of Dan Harmon. The sixth season produced episodes based around themes of product placement (an episode that literally serves as a Honda commercial), and insincere acceptance of homosexuals (the Dean is asked to join the school board only because he is gay), while also not being afraid to show that classic Community throwback style with episodes that based around the gang falling into a trash compartment (ala Star Wars), and yet another Paintball episode.
Community is almost at times too meta to handle and Harmon lets his inner monologue get in the way of a good joke every once in a while, but still, if we really have seen the last of “Community,” it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever be another show that really is able to capture its spirit.
34. The Grinder
I didn’t really intend to write seven paragraphs that no one wants to read about all 50 of these entries, so let’s keep “The Grinder” nice and short.
It’s really funny. If you liked Rob Lowe in anything comedic (mostly Parks and Rec) and want to see Fred Savage return to TV, you should check it out! It’s well written, the jokes are sharp, and its goofy without being dumb.
Wow, that was a lot easier.
33. Inside Amy Schumer
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Amy Schumer became the biggest name in comedy, but it came at some point between the beginning of the third season of her sketch show “Inside Amy Schumer” and her hit summer comedy “Trainwreck.”
“Inside Amy Schumer” is one of the best sketch shows on TV and will continue to be until she outgrows it for good. Schumer is self-defacing while still being confident, acutely aware of how she is perceived without being affected by it in any way. I believe she put it best when while accepting an award she clamored “I’m 160 pounds and I can catch a dick any time I want.”
As her fame continues to rise, so does “Inside Amy Scuhmer’s” cleverness. The first few seasons of IAS had at least one clunker sketch per-episode, but this year, they were almost all hits. The standalone “12 Angry Men” parody “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” might have been one of the five funniest episodes of TV this year.
Guided by a particularly great portrayal of Kingpin by Vincent D’Onforio, “Daredevil” was Netflix’s first successful Marvel show of 2015.
I was skeptical that “Daredevil” was a character that could be correctly portrayed after the disaster that was the Ben Affleck film, but Netflix did an excellent job of staying true to the character’s tone while still telling an engaging story.
Along with D’Onorfio’s performance, the stand out in “DareDevil” was the brutal and extremely well shot action sequences, which were the best I saw on TV this year. “Daredevil” lacked an extra gear that we would see later in “Jessica Jones,” but it is a well produced and action packed 13-episode thrill ride, with a well balanced cast and strong fulfillment of source material. It’s a show that comic book and non-comic books fans alike can enjoy, and in many prior years would have been best superhero show on television.
31. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I’ve seen “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as high as number two on many year-end best of TV lists, and while I would argue that’s highly overrating it, it’s hard to argue there were too many stronger sitcom debuts in 2015.
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” took a while, three or four episodes maybe, to really find its footing, and I admit that I contemplated skipping it at times during its start. But as the show progressed, it got funnier, and funnier, and funnier, until it blossomed into a full fledged riot by the end of its first year.
Titus Burgess and Ellie Kemper will be seen obnoxious to some, but to me, they hammed it up because they had to ham it up. Tina Fey’s handprints are all over “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, and while “30 Rock” isn’t necessarily comparable, Fey’s humor and style give it the same feel, that requires over-the-top comedic performances to hit the tone (Jane Krakowski was so good at it in 30 Rock, she was essentially cast as the exact same part on UKS)
In addition, Kimmy Schmidt is one of if not the most likable main characters in recent memory, and on top of all of that, I’m a sucker for cameos, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt may have had the two best of the year.
30. The Man In The High Castle
Based on a Phillip K. Dick novel, “The Man In The High Castle” is a high concept drama about an alternate universe based around if the Axis powers had won World War II. If you’re excited about the idea of this concept turned into a TV show, you should be! Seeing Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan occupy the United States during the 60s is jarring , and there’s enough easter eggs to have you going through episodes three or four times to spot them all.
The issue is, that on occasion, the execution of “The Man In The High Castle” is lacking, and the acting far too often misses the mark. Still, there’s a lot to like from Amazon’s first major foray into the the dramatic world (unless you count “Transparent” as a drama, which we’ll get to later).
“The Man In The High Castle” certainly had it’s fair share of head scratching moments, but all-in-all it was a solid debut effort, even if it fell short of the shows tremendously high expectations. A twist in the final scene of the first season however, has set the show up for what could be a highly intriguing second go around in 2016.
29. The Jinx
As a sucker for true-crime documentaries, I was already sold on “The Jinx” before I even invested on it, and it did not disappoint when I finally gave it a go.
“The Jinx” is a six-episode mini-series chronicling the real life of estranged relative to the famous Durst family Robert Durst, who has been accused or linked to multiple murders. All the way up to it’s chilling conclusion (I won’t spoil it for you, but producer Andrew Jarecki could not have possibly imagined a better final scene), “The Jinx” does an excellent job of threading the needle of not coming off as sympathetic towards Durst, while also allowing the viewer to actually get inside his head and understand what makes him tick.
It allows the viewer to draw their own conclusion about the crimes committed, and seems to bring a new twist and turn into the story in each installment that changes your vantage point.
Certainly a more inspired effort than Jarecki’s fictional film about the subject, 2010’s “All Good Things,” “The Jinx” is a solid watch from beginning to end that will please fans of shows from “Serial” to “48 Hours.”
28. The Jim Gaffigan Show
If you just know Jim Gaffigan as “The Hot Pockets guy,” well, you’re not that far off. That’s not a slight on Gaffigan who is one of the best all around stand up comics out there, but he does certainly hammer home his favorite topics, the most popular of which is his well documented love of food.
On his TV Land series “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” Gaffigan reveals however there is more to his comedic voice than clever one-liners about processed meat sandwiches, and it was one of the most refreshing sitcoms of 2015.
Gaffigan is aided by a strong cast that includes Ashley Williams, Adam Goldberg, and Michael Ian Black (along with random cameos from the likes of Macauly Culkin, Steve Buscemi, Jon Stewart, Chris Rock and many more). Gaffigan’s portrayal of himself is that of a self-defacing stand up comic with five kids in a small New York apartment, (all of which also happens to be him in real life) but although he is certainly brings elements of his stage persona with him, he makes sure not to dive too deep into “lovable idiot” territory.
Gaffigan was clearly influenced by his peer Louis CK in his ability to tackle serious subject matter in a light and comedic tone, but he was also careful not to fall into a trap of being a copy cat show, and made sure to maintain his own unique brand of comedy while showing the world he’s also a much better writer and producer than anyone could have expected.
If you watch only one episode of “The Jim Gaffigan Show” make it “The Bible Story” in which, without giving too much of the plot away, Gaffigan deals with the theme religion perhaps better than any episode of TV I saw this year.
No show was more brutal this year than “Narcos,” Netflix’s tale about the real life terrorism set in place by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in the 1980s.
Led by a strong performance in the lead role by Wagner Moura and a clever narrative trick of using an American police officer played to fill in the narration, (thereby not forcing the Colombian characters to speak out of their native language too often), “Narcos” remained consistently surprising and horrific (in a good way) throughout its first season. While anyone even remotely familiar with Escobar’s life knows about his acts of senseless violence and the trail of dead bodies he left in his wake, “Narcos” does a commendable job of still driving home his tyranny without turning him into a fictional movie villain.
Occasionally the narrative trips forward too quickly and doesn’t allow viewers to comprehend a major plot point before moving on to the next one, and “Narcos” isn’t a show you could see running more than two or three total years considering how far into Escobar’s reign that they have already advanced. Still, all in all it’s another in the list of strong Netflix debuts this year, and a worthwhile depiction of a subject matter that was desperately looking to be told on television.
26. The Flash
No show burst onto the scene of network television more than “The Flash” when it debuted in the fall of 2014, and a year later, the companion series to “Arrow” on The CW has managed to continue its upward momentum.
What “The Flash” does better than most any superhero related entity in the last several years other than perhaps “The Avengers,” is truly capture the spirit of its comic book origins. “The Flash” just feels like a comic book show, and not just a gritty, high stakes drama that just happens to be filled with superheroes (which is often the issue with “Arrow”).
Grant Gustin does an admirable job as the title character, and while the show can be downright corny at times, Gustin is able to reign it all in. The back half of “The Flash’s” first season managed to not only tie together the season long story arc in a satisfying way, but also introduce a whole new set of problems for Barry Allen and his crew to solve in season two.
Thus far, the second season hasn’t surpassed the first, but it has maintained its tone and consistency. Finding a clever way to keep the phenomenal Tom Cavanagh on the show has been a plus, but ultimately its the solid writing and long-term vision from show runner Andrew Kreisberg that has made it one of the best network shows of the year.