There was a lot to watch this year but we’ve narrowed it down to the top 10 television shows of 2015. See what made the list ….
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
It’s almost cliché at this point to say that we are in the golden age of television because everybody seems to ring that bell when talking about the creative work put onto the small screen over the last few years, but it’s hard not to use that phrase because the writing, directing and acting on TV these days in many ways is superior as a whole than what’s going on in theaters.
There are more choices now than ever before and shows aren’t solely judged by network ratings on the night of the broadcast. Instead, many networks are starting to look more and more at delayed viewing experiences as well as critical reception.
Sure, it’s tough to find time to watch all the great television happening in the world today (I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t seen Transparent or Empire) but the options are better than ever before and there are things happening on the small screen that even the best filmmakers would be hard pressed to produce in a movie.
It’s hard to whittle down a list to just 10 shows in total — along with a few honorable mentions — but this is what we watched this year that had us glued to the TV each and every week or in many cases cost us days at a time as we binge watched without regard for personal hygiene or the phone that kept ringing and we refused to answer.
THESE ARE OUR PICKS FOR THE TOP TEN TELEVISION SHOWS IN 2015
10. Daredevil (Netflix)
When Marvel optioned Daredevil as the first of its new television series to launch on Netflix, there was a real sense of caution from fans because it’s hard to scrub out the image of Ben Affleck dressed up as the Man Without Fear from that god awful film adaptation of the character from 2003.
But from the very first episode it was clear that this was a much different Daredevil that the special effects disaster that Marvel produced during the darker days of their earlier cinematic universe.
Starring Charlie Cox in the lead role, Matt Murdock is an attorney by day, vigilante by night who is blessed with heightened senses after an accident cost him his sight as a kid but now he spends every waking hour fighting injustices on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York but he’s only aided by a lot of martial arts and a never say die attitude. Season one of Daredevil focused on Matt’s crusade to find the real power in the criminal underworld in New York and it eventually led him to the front door of a man named Wilson Fisk (in an award worthy performance from Vincent D’Onofrio) — the kingpin of crime who masks himself as a man trying to do good while bottling up enough anger that when its unleashed he decapitates former associates with a car door for interrupting his dinner date.
Daredevil was by far the darkest story Marvel has ever told and from the first time you witnessed Matt Murdock nearly getting beaten to death in a fight in one of the earliest episodes, you realized this wasn’t the typical superhero series. Daredevil was grounded in reality in so many ways that it felt genuine and that’s something that’s hard to do when the hero in the story puts on a mask and fights crime on a nightly basis.
Between this series and Jessica Jones, Marvel has redefined now to do a comic book series on television and every other company on the market should be paying attention.
9. Scream Queens (FOX)
American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy knows how to have fun, maybe more than any writer or show runner on television and that was never clearer than with his work on Scream Queens this past fall on FOX.
No one knew quite what to expect from Murphy, who redefined horror on television with his hit FX series, but this show was made for FOX and everyone knows that pushing the envelope on network TV is virtually impossible (ask Hannibal how that usually works out for edgy shows probably meant for a network like FX or AMC). But Murphy somehow pulled it off with his tribute to Halloween and Heathers with this politically incorrect soap opera about a group of sorority sisters being hunted down by a serial killer dressed in a Red Devil costume.
Murphy not only assembled a great younger cast including Emma Roberts, who pulls off entitled bitch face better than any actress working in Hollywood today, but he also got Jamie Lee Curtis back into a horror series that didn’t involve a white-masked killer who also happened to be her brother.
Scream Queens was a one-liner heaven all season long and while I didn’t particularly care for the way the show ended in the first season, essentially every episode had something fall on the floor hilarious that eventually got quoted to friends or coworkers the very next day. Sure it was over the top and campy but most of the great slasher films from the 80’s are completely filled with cheese. Scream Queens was all of that and one of the funniest shows on television to boot.
8. The Americans (FX)
Taut and tension filled with every episode, The Americans continues to showcase the very best on television year over year with the continuing saga of a pair of Russian spies living on American soil, who are not only trying to finish a job but raise a family unaware of what they are really doing in their day to day lives.
Those two worlds came crashing together in season three as The Americans started tackling the overhanging question of what would happen if one of the children kept in the dark all these years finally found out what mom and dad were really doing in this homage to the Cold War where Russia and the United States were at odds and one incident away from all out destruction.
Very few shows on television manage to end each episode with the kind of jaw dropping drama that The Americans displays, but this series has redefined the meaning of ‘cliffhanger’.
There’s a very sound reason The Americans ends up on the ‘best of’ list for virtually every journalist and critic who watches television each and every year because it really is that good.
7. Justified (FX)
Ending a beloved series with a satisfying conclusion has to be one of the hardest tricks to pull off on television because it’s amazing how one poorly executed episode can somehow unravel the hard work of writers, directors and cast over several seasons if the last one we witness falls flat.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case with Justified, which came to an end earlier this year after six seasons on FX.
Justified followed United States Marshal Raylan Givens on any number of cases in and around his home state of Kentucky but the crux of the series was based on his boyhood friendship and eventual rivalry with local crime lord Boyd Crowder (played brilliantly by Walton Goggins). These two were like oil and water by the end of the series, but the scenes they shared together were enthralling. Raylan and Boyd didn’t even need to do much of anything except talk to each other and it was mystifying television.
In the end, Justified went away from so many of its contemporary predecessors in regards to leaving the final episode with one giant pool of blood left behind and opted for a much different ending — one that was wholly satisfying and a real tear jerker nonetheless.
There wasn’t a show like Justified before it debuted and chances are there won’t be a series like it now that it’s gone and that’s truly the mark of a great television show if there ever was one.
6. The Leftovers (HBO)
The was no series as bleak as The Leftovers a season ago and the second season wasn’t exactly filled with cheer and joy, but Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta managed to somehow top themselves while also relocating the entire cast to a brand new town and introducing a slew of new characters over the course of 10 episodes.
The Leftovers pulls at your emotions from every direction and whether it’s seething rage, bitter anger or overwhelming sadness, everything on this show is amplified a hundred times over compared to the average television series.
It’s a real master class and story telling when the writers behind The Leftovers can tease a premise as juicy as two-percent of the world’s population disappeared and yet the questions about why or how it happened disappeared and now all we can wonder with this show is how the richly developed characters deal with the fallout. There’s a slight underlying science fiction element to the show and it only serves to enrich the overall execution from one episode to the next.
The Leftovers even managed to virtually forget about certain characters and stories for large chunks of the season while focusing on one aspect or another but once it all came together, the 10-episode run was powerful and gripping from start to finish.
5. Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Everybody knows what Marvel has managed to do with the cinematic universe, but their best work in 2015 was on the small screen — especially with the conflicted almost superhero series Jessica Jones that just debuted in November.
Jessica Jones tells the story of a girl with powers who isn’t as strong as the Hulk, can’t fly like Thor and drinks more than Tony Stark (comic book readers will get that reference). She’s the most conflicted character Marvel has ever featured as a lead in a series, but Jessica Jones ultimately knows what she needs to do to protect the world from a vicious sociopath named Killgrave, who can control people’s minds with every word uttered out of his mouth.
Jessica Jones was not only written and directed with flawless execution through 13-episodes, but there probably wasn’t a better casted series on television in 2015. Krysten Ritter, who might be one of the most criminally underrated actresses working today, imbibes Jessica Jones from her tattered jeans to her bed head to her no nonsense approach to detective work. David Tennant deserves an award for his psychological mastery while playing Killgrave and the rest of the cast that filled out this series was top notch from start to finish.
Jessica Jones was definitely the most binge-worthy show of the year and if you haven’t watched this one yet, stop whatever you’re doing and spend 13-hours watching Marvel stretch its legs and produce a series that’s comparable to anything you’ve seen in theaters in the past few years.
4. Better Call Saul (AMC)
No one knew quite what to expect from this Breaking Bad prequel when it was announced from AMC, but what resulted not only honors the original series (which is one of the greatest television shows of all time) but Better Call Saul created it’s own niche in the universe with tremendous story telling and some of the funniest exchanges between characters on television in 2015.
Better Call Saul focuses on Walter White’s morally corrupt attorney Saul Goodman, who started out as sensible lawyer named Jimmy McGill, who just wanted to practice law alongside his highly reputable brother and land a job at a high end lawfirm where he would earn some respect for his courtroom acumen. Unfortunately, Jimmy finds out that just having a law degree doesn’t earn you a free pass in this world and with each crushing failure, he slips further and further into the character we all knew and loved on Breaking Bad.
2015 was a great year for new series — as you’ll see with the rest of our list in the top 10 — and Better Call Saul was one of the best.
3. Game of Thrones (HBO)
Consistency isn’t easy for any show, especially one as huge and sprawling as Game of Thrones, but somehow this epic series manages to juggle more characters and story lines in one season than most shows could do in five.
And the amazing thing is they do it all in 10 episodes per season when most Game of Thrones fans would gladly watch 20 in a row without breaking a sweat.
This past season was another tour de force from start to finish with a war in the north finally breaking out, the battle between the living and the dead outside of the Wall and a religious sect invading the capitol while creating problems for just about everybody involved including the queen, who invited them there in the first place.
There’s no show on television better year over year than Game of Thrones and season five was no different. Every episode feels like you’re watching a big budget Hollywood movie but instead it’s just amazing television week after week after week.
2. Fargo (FX)
It was really tough not handing Fargo the best television show of the year award considering how good this series from Noah Hawley and company was from beginning to end. It’s nearly impossible to remember at this point that when Fargo was first announced as a series that critics and fans all let out a general groan that someone was trying to adapt the classic Joel and Ethan Coen movie into a television show.
Little did anyone know at the time, but Hawley was going to craft a series so good that it many ways it feels superior to the original film.
After a breakout first season with Billy Bob Thornton leading the way, the second season time warped back to 1979 to tell a story of an organized crime war that erupted between the Kansas City mob and a local family called the Gerhardts, who weren’t about to turn over their territory after running the area for many years. What resulted was a bloody battle that stretched from Minnesota into the Dakotas and the 10-episode season was filled with tension, laughter, outstanding performances and even a few aliens.
Original doesn’t even begin to describe the work done on Fargo and thankfully the show has already been renewed for a third season in 2017.
1. Mr. Robot (USA Network)
One part Hackers, one part Fight Club and a whole lot of originality were packed into this summer hit from Sam Esmail that focused on a computer hacker named Elliott (with breakout star Rami Malek playing the part) with the social skills somewhere south of Dexter Morgan. Elliott gets caught up with a hacker group called F-Society that wants nothing more than to bring the financial fat cats who run the world down to their knees, particularly a powerful conglomerate known as E-Corp — or fot the sake of this show ‘Evil Corp’.
Everything on the series is seen through Elliott’s eyes from his interactions with co-workers and friends to the voice that’s heard in his head from the start of the first episode all the way through the finale. Elliott is teamed up with the mysterious leader from F-Society named Mr. Robot (played wonderfully by Christian Slater), who coaches and parents the computer prodigy throughout the first season until a mind bending last couple of episodes that twist and turn the series on its head.
The casting in this show also went a long way to telling the story (that was originally imagined as a movie) with special nods to Carly Chalkin, Martin Wallstrom, and Stephanie Corneliussen for really ratcheting up the acting on this series in their crucial roles alongside Malek and Slater all season long.
Mr. Robot set the bar awfully high in 2015 and there’s little doubt that this will be one of the most anticipated shows to return next year. For a freshman run, Mr. Robot really was on par with the best single seasons in television history. It was that good.
Honorable Mentions in 2015:
American Horror Story: Hotel — It has to be noted that this show would have likely been No. 3 or 4 for the entire year if not for the fact that the season is not over. It’s impossible to judge a story until it’s complete but thus far this season of American Horror Story has been possibly the best since the show debuted in 2011.
Humans — a story about the not too distant future where synthetic humans are part of our everyday lives, but what happens when these robotic servants become self-aware? Think Battlestar Galactica meets Terminator while all taking place in a quaint neighborhood in England.
Fear the Walking Dead — The sister story to AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead except the six-episode first season managed to do better than its predecessor this year. Fear the Walking Dead showed what happened in the earliest days of the zombie outbreak and the underlying dread in this series was like clasping onto a knob each and every week while just waiting for the monster to come jumping out once you opened the door.
The Flash — The best series on television that truly embraces the full depth of a classic comic book story. The Flash grabs onto all the machinations that make readers fall in love with characters on the written page but then transforms it all into a show that defies the odds on television.
THE BEST OF THE REST:
Orange is the New Black
House of Cards
You’re the Worst
The Man in the High Castle
One more small note — while these ‘true crime’ series don’t typically fall into the kinds of shows we usually cover on Nerdcore Movement, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you all to go watch The Jinx on HBO and Making a Murderer on Netflix. As powerful and enthralling as any fictional drama except for one thing — these stories really happened.