The time has come to crown our victors (and losers). Who took the top spot on the best/worst lists for 2015 TV? Let’s bitch it out…
#5 – Broadchurch S2
#3 – Flesh and Bone
#2 – Scream Queens S1
#1 – Between S1
- Why is it so bad? Welcome to the worst of the year. This series, set in the fictional town of Pretty Lake, kicks off when all of the adults are felled by a deadly virus, leaving behind their incompetent, immature and extremely unlikable children. Between had the potential to be a modern update of Lord of the Flies, but it clearly misses the mark with shallow characters and inept plotting (character disappear for entire episodes only to reappear when it is narratively convenient). Worst of all is the emotionally manipulative fashion in which death is treated. Instead of being horrifying and carrying dramatic weight, Between routinely killed off young kids with nary an afterthought. In fact not one, but two episodes began with a child under eight being murdered solely for sensational purposes (neither death is really referenced again – they are simply there to reinforce that the kids are dying without adults present). Finally, just in case you weren’t sold on this show’s inherent awfulness, there is an episode where a young girl is stalked and terrorized by an escaped tiger (!!!) in the same vein as Kim and the cougar on 24. It’s honestly as bad as it sounds – and yet, despite this, the series can’t even be considered a guilty pleasure. Although Scream Queens suffered from the same issues, at least it could be argued that there were aspects of that series that were at least interesting to watch. I can’t make that argument here – from the hateful characters and the inert plot to the bland/depressing colour scheme and the desperate attempt at a late-in-the-series twist, everything about this series is garbage. Despite clocking in at a minuscule six episodes, I encourage everyone to stay far, far away.
- Worst episode? I’m tempted to say 1×03 ‘Crossing Lines’ for its animal stalking subplot, but the real honour goes to the finale 1×06 ‘War’ which mistakenly confuses “twists” for entertainment and ends in an ambiguous, unsatisfying and desperate-for-a-second-season fashion.
- Number of episodes watched: 6
- Returns: Shockingly enough, sometime in 2016 (Why??????!)
America’s Next Top Model Cycle 22: Instead of going out on top, Tyra and co.’s once innovative reality series went out with a whimper with a series of tired photo shoots and obviously compromised judging panels. In the end, the series looked like a pale imitation of itself.
Continuum S4: An abbreviated episode order doomed the plotting for the final season as creator Simon Barry tried to cram a few seasons worth of content into six episodes.
Empire S1: As a cultural milestone, the show is great. As a series it suffers from characters whose personalities and motivations change multiple times an episode, an half-baked King Lear template and pacing issues out the wazoo. Cookie is great, but even she can only do so much to cover up how Empire‘s flaws.
Heroes: Reborn S1: Take nostalgia + boring new character x bad CGI / WTF plotting = this “revival”, which seemingly learned nothing from the downfall of its predecessor.
The Fall S2: Nowhere near as bad as Broadchurch S2, but this second series felt unnecessarily streeeeeetched out. While the dramatic confrontation between Stella and Paul was ah-mah-zing, the final episode’s beyond melodramatic last minute shooting was most unwelcome.
The Messengers S1: This apocalyptic CW series featured laughably wooden acting, strained plot developments, pseudo-religious nonsense and the most terrifying image of 2015.
The Whispers S1: The scariest thing about this “aliens are after our children” drama was that it would be renewed and keep Lily Rabe from doing something worth watching.
Zoo S1 / Extant S2 / Under The Dome S3: CBS’ trifecta of terror reinforced the worst perceptions of summer TV, namely that it is poorly constructed, with paper-thin characters and plots. Zoo has potential if it commits to its game changing finale, but Extant (which tried something new, but didn’t really succeed) and DOME! (which hilariously introduced aliens, sexy healing goo and crystals) have already faded into distant nightmares.
Series I simply couldn’t stomach to watch for more than a few episodes and therefore didn’t make the naughty list: The Strain S2, Gotham S1/2, Helix S2
#10 –iZombie S1/2
#9 – Transparent S2
#7 – Please Like Me S3
#6 – Penny Dreadful S2
#5 – You’re The Worst S2
#4 – Rectify S3
#3 – Fargo S2
#2 – Mr. Robot S1
- Why is it so good? It sounds dismissive to say that this is the series that took people by surprise, but considering the kind of product USA Network traditionally offers, it’s not unfair. No one expected an intelligent, timely and cinematic series about hackers attempting to overthrow a giant corporation. As unreliable protagonist Elliot, Rami Malek (and his giant saucer eyes) grounds the show with a mesmerizing performance that is already garnering (well-deserved) awards talk. The supporting cast hasn’t had as much to do, though Christian Slater’s enigmatic titular character and Martin Wallström’s unhinged corporate lackey Tyrell Wellick both offer memorably antagonistic roles. Besides the great writing and performances, though, it is the series’ meticulously constructed visual aesthetic that rockets it to the top of this list: the use of negative space, the framing of Malek’s sunken eyes and the colour scheme all serve to reinforce and deepen Mr. Robot‘s themes about corporate corruption, isolation and mental illness. Each week is a deliciously beautiful mini-movie and after the premise-exploding final two episodes, there’s no indication where the show will go next. That’s how you capture the popular consciousness in the age of #PeakTV.
- Best episode? 1×09 ‘eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt’ stands out as the series’ best acted (and twistiest) episode for the revelations about Elliot’s identity and his connection to Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and Mr. Robot. My vote for best episode, however, goes to the finale 1×10 ‘eps1.9_zer0-day.avi’ for defying expectations and leaving the series on a WTF note that made me desperate to see what comes next.
- Number of episodes watched: 10
- Change in rank: New!
- Returns: Likely summer 2016
#1 – The Leftovers S2
- Why is it so good? If you’ve read the weekly reviews of this low-rated HBO gem, then you probably knew that The Leftovers would wind up somewhere near the top of 2015’s best TV. After a beautiful, but somewhat inaccessible and overly melancholic first season, series creators Damon Lindelof and author Tom Perrotta reinvigorated the series in S2. A new setting, the introduction of a brand new family of main characters and limited point of view perspectives in each episode helped to relaunch the show and the subtle shift away from the “grief porn” approach that dominated S1 made The Leftovers feel less like a slog without compromising on the emotional richness that made it so unique. What truly made S2 stand out, though, were the performances: Justin Theroux has never dug so deeply into Kevin Garvey’s tortured psyche, while S1 stand-outs Carrie Coon and Amy Brenneman continued to astound in their respective episodes. They were joined by revelatory performances by Chris Zylka, Regina King and, in a turn that no one can honestly say that they saw coming, Liv Tyler became the most complicated villain on TV. The Leftovers was an easy pick for the top spot because the series is thoughtful, complicated, nuanced, beautiful and exceptionally well crafted. It was the series that I spent the most time looking forward to and simultaneously thinking about and for those reasons, it takes the #1 spot on the Best Of list for 2015.
- Best episode? Many would single out 2×08 ‘International Assassin’, the dream-like rift on a Purgatory hotel which was unlike anything else on TV, but I prefer the simple elegance of pitting Coon vs King, two exceptionally talented actors, in an emotionally fraught stand-off in 1×06 ‘Lens’. My second pick: seeing Zylka raise his game in 2×03 ‘Off Ramp’.
- Number of episodes watched: 10
- Change in rank: +9
- Returns: Likely fall 2016
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
12 Monkeys S1: This Syfy adaptation of Terry Gilliam’s classic time travel tale was a pleasant surprise. Over the course of its first season, the show pulled out some big surprises, some nifty special effects and solid character work. Despite iffy ratings, it’s coming back for S2 so the time to binge is now!
The Americans S3: For the first time in the show’s run, I’ve actually managed to catch up on the current season and I can finally testify that this show is amazing! The quality of acting from Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as Soviet spies living a double life in Reagan’s 80s America is off the charts. This season – which began with a body being literally broken down into a suitcase and ended with a “f*ck no!!!” phone call – was incredibly impressive. At times it felt like The Americans was packing in too much for a single season, so hopefully all of the dangling narrative threads pay off when S4 debuts in March 2016.
Broad City S2: Three words: Pegging / Sex Tape. ‘Nuff said.
Casual S1: Michaela Watkins and Tommy Dewey are exceptional as messed up adult siblings in this dramaedy from Jason Reitman. It’s a very simple premise, executed in a fashion that rings true. Alternately laugh out loud and uncomfortably messed up, this under the radar Hulu show is well worth checking out.
Catastrophe S1: This UK/US co-production is basically You’re The Worst with slightly more accomplished adults. Profane, realistic and surprisingly romantic – the story of a man and woman who have a baby after a one week stand is utterly charming and enjoyable.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend S1: One of the most daring series to debut this year, CEG tells the story of a mildly unhinged woman who uproots her life from NY to West Covina, CA (just four hours from the beach!). Although the heroine, and by proxy the show, is a little too fixated on her childhood love interest Josh, the series excels in appropriating musical tropes for its litany of songs sung by its extremely talented cast.
Hannibal S3: TV’s most sumptuous series was put out to pasture by NBC this year (RIP), but not before delivering a number of beautiful, twisted and provocative final episodes. While the narrative meandering in the first half of the season kept it off the top 10 list, that gorgeous, haunting finale is the thing that Fannibals dream of.
Jane the Virgin S1/2: The continued adventures of Jane Villanueva and family remain as enjoyable, amusing and heartbreaking as ever. Hopefully Jane fully commits to breaking up the monotonous Rafael vs Michael romantic triangle for a bit, but overall – and in spite of the appearance of a baby – there’s been no second season dip in quality for the series.
Killjoys S1: 2015 was a good year for science fiction and Killjoys was a strong contributor to that. The simple premise – 3 bounty hunters journey around the galaxy apprehending fugitives and fighting the demons of their past – may have prompted some audiences to overlook the series, which is a shame considering it is filled with warm familial relationships, wry jokes and (mostly) compelling procedural cases of the week. Good, solid entertainment.
Kingdom S1/2: This MMVA show undoubtedly turns off some audience members due to its subject nature, but like the late great Friday Night Lights, Kingdom isn’t really about fighting. The members of Navy Street gym are mostly just trying to figure their shit out and the fact that they all make compulsively bad decisions makes for compelling TV.
Making A Murderer: This Netflix documentary series dropped so late in the year it missed most critics’ list. It’s an infuriating, aggravating, offensive ten part look at police corruption, coercion and conspiracy to frame a man for murder. The lies and cover-ups in this true story are so maddening, it will make your blood boil.
Marvel’s Daredevil S1 / Marvel’s Jessica Jones S1: These two series prove that Marvel / Netflix are a good fit. The fight sequences and solid casting, particularly lead Charlie Cox, in Daredevil hid its problematic depiction of females and female violence. Those issues were front and center in DD‘s companion series, Jessica Jones, which probed deeper into the nature of sex, sexuality, rape and privacy than any other Marvel property.
Master of None S1: This slice of life comedy deftly makes witty observations about race, class, age and sex as lead (and series creator) Aziz Ansari goes about his life as a 30 something actor in NY. Not the most raucous comedy out there, but Master of None scores big for tackling subjects that never come up on other series. It is both funny and important.
- Check out Carrianne’s argument about why None is “killing it right now” here
Outlander S1: This STARZ series’ exclusion from the top ten feels like a casualty of too much good TV. A lush, epic romantic drama anchored by two leads with great chemistry, Outlander is enjoyably broad in its narrative scope and intimate (and provocative!) enough to satisfy its legion of die-hard book fans. The gorgeous visual spectacle of Scotland doesn’t hurt; every episode looks co-sponsored by the country’s tourism industry.
Review S2: Another under the radar pick. Comedy Central’s uproariously funny and uncomfortable series finds lead Forrest MacNeil (Andrew Daly) reviewing life experiences on a five star scale. The result is unexpected, hilarious and horrible as Forrest’s dedication to his job ruins his life and the lives of those closest to him. This season he (accidentally) killed several people, burned not one but two houses down and ended up in jail. Unexpected, witty and masterfully performed by Daly, Review is the best comedy that no one is watching.
Sense8 S1: This expensive series by the Wachowski siblings (plus frequent collaborator Tom Twyker of Run Lola Run fame) proved to be the most experimental, bizarre and challenging series of the year. It didn’t always work, but in the moments when the Sensates sang, fucked, birthed and saved each other’s lives, it was a force to be reckoned with. Truly unique.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S1: This was the year that Netflix broke out (consider how many of their original series ended up on this list in one form or another). Kimmy Schmidt‘s rescue from NBC proved to be its salvation; the quirky, unique comedy featuring an outstanding performance by Ellie Kemper would have never lasted on the peacock network. While Kemper deserves her fair share of credit, it was the viral videos of breakout star Titus Burgess as Titus Andromedon that truly propelled the show to another level. Long live ‘Peeno Noir’ and the interview in which he farts on camera.
UnREAL S1: The year’s best reality series was actually this savage take-down of the genre. Anchored by Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer’s immensely powerful lead performances, UnREAL delighted in showing the darker side of producing a Bachelor-like series. What truly surprised me was how unlikable and complicated the series, created by Buffy vet Marti Noxon, allowed its leads to be. Rather than restricting the women to stock archetypes of madonnas and virgins, UnREAL delighted in showing the audience every shades of their personalities. In this day and age it shouldn’t be daring, but no other show this year gave us female characters in all of their unblemished glory. The fact that the series is gloriously, deliciously soapy and addictive doesn’t hurt.
Never got around to watching Better Call Saul and I’ve never watched Mad Men, Silicon Valley, Veep or The Jinx. I’m also more than a season behind on BoJack Horseman, Manhattan and Halt & Catch Fire so their strong second seasons couldn’t be considered.
That’s it for TV! What do you think of our choices? Sound off in the comments below.