The Top 10 TV Shows of 2015

Photo Credit:

If 2015 was proof of anything, it’s that the golden age of television isn’t going anywhere. In all the years we’ve been writing these lists, this one has been the most difficult. Television has never been this widely good. As the likes of Netflix and Amazon strengthen their grip on the industry, HBO, FX, and others continued to deliver incredible shows. Throw in a few network gems here and there, and maybe a top 25 would be more appropriate for this year. But that’d be cheating. Here are our takes on the best shows of 2015.


Matt’s Take: Game of Thrones

What is surely HBO’s most profitable series was at its most comfortable in season five. But a bigger budget and some notable character meet-ups made this season stand out a bit from the rest. As this show settles into a groove and its surprises become less, uh, surprising, we still get massive rewards for sticking by it for five years. Winter finally came this year, all while Tyrion and Daenerys share their first scenes together. These moments, as well as some larger mysteries, kept Thrones one of TV’s most exciting and talked about shows in 2015.


Photo Credit: Bloodline

Netflix sort of went crazy this year with their new shows. The plot synopsis for Bloodline sounds like something out of an airport novel, but the way its story unfolds, not to mention the killer performances from the entire cast, made this an unmissable tropical noir. Ben Mendelsohn created one of TV best villains through Danny, the scarred, estranged son of an otherwise “perfect” Florida family running a resort. But what grounds this show more than anything is the chemistry the siblings share. You can feel the history between them, full of love and angst. This was the best family portrait of the year.


Photo Credit: Jessica Jones

For better or worse, superheroes continued their take over of the world in 2015. For better, we got Marvel’s first truly amazing foray into television. In fact, Jessica Jones is one of the best things Marvel has ever done, period. Krysten Ritter lifted everything compelling from her character in Don’t Trust the B* in Apartment 23 and put it into a boozin’, down on her luck superhero. Meanwhile, her adversary, a truly terrifying David Tennant as a walking embodiment of rape, ranks number one on the list of Marvel villains (sorry Loki). It may be strange to say a superhero show is a feminist meditation on PTSD, but that’s what it is, which is why it’s on this list. Jessica Jones is everything fun about superheroes while targeting serious issues that push us toward a better world for everyone.


Photo Credit: Broad City

There was no greater display of pure comedy on television this year than season two of Broad City. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have created something that feels like a marriage of everything that’s worked on comedic television since its inception. In terms of ridiculous antics and delivering a hyper-reality that still feels relatively real, Broad City echoes all the way back to I Love Lucy. But with its tighter episode order, there’s no filler between the classics. Every episode that aired this year is memorable and quotable. This may not be the most “important” show, but there isn’t a show that’ll have you routinely howling more than Broad City.


Photo Credit: Mad Men

At this point, to throw praise onto Mad Men is as easy and expected as saying, “The Godfather is a great film.” There’s no debate, these seven seasons make for one of the true television masterpieces. After ushering in the golden age of TV back in 2007, Mad Men elegantly ended its run this year with more of everything we adored about the series. Don Draper’s tailspin went about as far as it could ever go, apart from him committing suicide.  Yet, the show still ends with him in a moment of serenity. Is it because he just got the idea for one of the most influential advertisements in history? That’s for you to decide. Either way, the final eight episodes delivered exactly what the show needed to, even if it’s not what audiences perhaps expected. But maybe that was Mad Men‘s greatest lesson of all: true art isn’t expected, and now it can be found on the small screen in your living room.


Photo Credit: Louie

If you’ve been reading The Filtered Lens since we started, you know that I freaking love Louie. Louis CK has proven himself as an artist with no boundaries. Season five continued to push the limits of TV while he pushed himself as an artist. The best example of this? The episode “Untitled,” which shows that CK would probably make a pretty effective horror movie. The fact that FX has given him complete creative control once again delivers a show that feels like an artist getting very personal with his audience. His meditations on gender roles, comedy, love, and growing up are fully realized and deeply intimate. Considering the show is now on an extended hiatus (a la Curb Your Enthusiasm), this may be our last helping for quite some time. After this batch of thoughtful, beautiful episodes, he’ll be welcomed back with open arms.


Photo Credit: Looking

Looking had a shaky first season. But season two came out firing on all cylinders. The core cast got way more likable, without losing the show’s trademark shallowness. But what makes these ten episodes one of the best shows of the year is how it uses its shallowness to comment on the toxic divisions the gay community likes to put up for itself. Where most of TV is still celebrating gay characters by simply having them, Looking dares to critique the community and showcase the lingering issues faced by people within it. This year, the show took on the marginalizing gay labels (bear, twink, etc.), the belittling fear of the HIV positive, open relationships, and the weird thing that is Grindr. Of course, this was all being explored around the best/most infuriating love triangle on TV all year. HBO cancelled this one too soon.


Photo Credit: Sense8

What happens when you take everything great about Cloud Atlas and structure it similarly to the first season of Heroes? You get the biggest surprise success of the year. Just a few months after the Wachowski’s most epic failure on the big screen yet, Jupiter Ascending, they delivered their best work since The MatrixSense8 is an engaging sci-fi tale that reflects our world better than any other. Our eight leads come from all walks of life and are asked to be something larger. It’s not just the white cop from Chicago who gets to play hero, it’s the bus driver from Kenya, the trans woman from San Francisco, the pharmacist from India, you get the idea. Entering each other’s minds to face forces greater than any one of them alone (or, you know, have simultaneous orgasms across the globe), these characters show us that we are one species, stronger together than we are apart.


Photo Credit: The Leftovers

I mean, in the wide world of TV, there’s nothing to compare The Leftovers to. Sure, there’s Damon Lindelof’s other, more famous project, Lost. But even so, The Leftovers has evolved our expectations for what television can be on a much more interesting level than Lost ever did. This was a perfect season of television. With the first nine episodes each from the point of view of various cast members, the characters were more fully realized on this show than any other this year. And then, the finale just lets everything run wild. This small-town abstract art piece was frequently intense, beautiful, and thought-provoking. It’s no wonder that, despite pitiful ratings, HBO renewed it for a final season. Whatever that ends up looking like, there’s no question that season two of The Leftovers was one for the ages.


Photo Credit: Hannibal

Yes, the number one show of 2015 didn’t come from Netflix, FX, or HBO. It came from NBC. That’s not praise. They did cancel it after all. Hannibal‘s third and probably final season is what you get when you mix high art with a pulpy horror story. On the surface, Hannibal is already a great show. It’s a fun horror series featuring one of the genre’s most iconic villains. But below the surface, Hannibal has a lot more on its mind. This delicious exploration of human desire culminated in an accidentally perfect ending to a cancelled show. While the first half of the season was a wild cat-and-mouse chase across Italy, the second half was a more direct adaptation of Thomas Harris’ classic Red Dragon that never lost sight of the show’s core characters. The final scene was the most complicated and beautiful moment of television this year. Everything before that was just a damn good time that gave us so much to dissect and rewatch to catch every intricate detail. It all makes for an unforgettable piece of television I’ll be devouring over and over again for years to come.


Honorable Mentions: There was just too much great TV this year. When we were coming up with out lists, we had to make some really upsetting cuts. Veep had its best season yet this year, with Selina fumbling through the presidency amongst scandals and some inappropriate groping. Transparent‘s second season was an impactful meditation on finding yourself in both your heritage and what your gut tells you you are. South Park had its best season in a decade, opting to go a more serialized route that took down the PC police in exciting, relevant ways (Whole Foods will never be the same). The AmericansFargoOrange is the New BlackRick and Morty, and The Flash all came back with very strong seasons as well.

As for new shows, it was really hard to leave Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Master of None off my top ten (but stay tuned, the latter might get highlighted in my Top Ten TV Episodes of 2015 list). Better Call Saul also had a great debut, even if it didn’t quite live up to Breaking Bad‘s insanely high water mark. Mr. Robot also shows potential to become a great series.

The Worst: Why was Heroes Reborn even made? Not that I expected great things, but it was truly awful, though a great reminder to not revisit its predecessor’s later seasons. The biggest disappointment of the year was obviously True Detective season two, with its weak characters, overly brooding tone, and overall lack of direction. We were also shown once again that Ryan Murphy really likes attention, but has no idea what to do with it. Scream Queens was initially fun, but ended up being relentlessly oppressive and self-indulgent. American Horror Story: Hotel did the same thing, but took the scenic route. Speaking of dovetails, Girls really fell apart this year, failing to give its characters anything to do worth watching (though, “Sit-In” was actually an outstanding episode). As one final note from me, remember, this was the year that Kermit the Frog revealed he has a pig fetish and Fozzie Bear got intimate with a human. Thanks, ABC, for showing me the super sexual version of The Muppets that no one asked for.


Mike’s Take:

Photo Credit: Jessica Jones-

Marvel’s cinematic universe is entertaining for sure, but many of its entries can often be formulaic. Enter Jessica Jones; a show featuring a hard-drinking, PTSD-experiencing female lead that’s arrived just in time to shake things up. The idea of a flawed hero is nothing new, but what’s so incredible about this show is that it knows how to be both fun and serious, and is completely unafraid to have frank discussions on topics like rape and consent. Add to this a wonderful neo-noir aesthetic, a star-making performance from Krysten Ritter, and a truly terrifying turn from David Tennant, and you’ve got something truly super on your hands.


Photo Credit: Bloodline

Netflix’s Florida Keys-set drama from the creators of Damages is certainly not for those with short attention spans, but for those who are patient, this is one of the most rewarding viewing experiences of the year. Taking a soap opera storyline and turning it into a slow-burning family thriller is no easy task, but the series handles every instance of melodrama with perfect nuance and exquisite acting. All of the performances on Bloodline are awards-worthy, but Ben Mendolsohn stands above the rest as Danny, the haunted black sheep of his family. Watching the storm that brews as he returns home for the first time in years is nothing short of spellbinding.


Photo Credit: Sense8

2015 was a great year in terms of diverse representation on TV (not that there still isn’t work to be done…), but nothing that aired can hold a candle to the global sci-fi epic that is Sense8. The minds behind The Matrix trilogy and Cloud Atlas have created a story that transcends countries, race and ethnicity, religion, gender, class, and sexuality. Eight strangers from around the world are brought together when they discover that they are connected to each other’s senses and can experience life from several different points of view. Sense8 is, at times, unabashedly cheesy, but its message—we are all human, and we are all connected—is so pure and simple that it’s impossible not to fall in love.


Photo Credit: Looking

HBO is known for its stellar prestige series, so it’s a real shame that this quietly mesmerizing San Francisco dream seems to have slipped through the cracks this year. The best part about Looking is that it is both singular in its details—the series revolves around a group of gay men and deals with actual issues that gay men face—and universal in its examination on things like friendship, growing up, and the double-edged sword that is falling in love. The show is timely, honest, and totally non-judgmental. In a word, it’s beautiful, making its untimely cancellation sting twice as hard.


Photo Credit:,0,214,317_AL_.jpg6. Transparent-

Amazon’s original series about a transgender woman coming out to her family was pretty revolutionary when it debuted last year. Even more encouraging, however, is the way the show was able to open itself up in season 2, focusing not just on Maura’s (a wonderful Jeffrey Tambour) new life as a woman, but also on the thoughts, failures, and desires of her eccentric family. The show follows each member of the Pfeffermans with equal measure, and even features fascinating flashbacks that show how their lineage escaped Nazi Germany. What it all amounts to is a season rich with layered storytelling, and a large group of fully realized characters who can still stand out on their own.


Photo Credit: UnREAL-

Could anyone have guessed that the first show to expertly depict female antiheroes—sorry Olivia Pope and Carrie Mathison—would come from Lifetime? As surprising as it is, the show deserves every ounce of praise it receives. UnREAL is a total sucker punch to the gut, and I mean that in the best way possible. The dark depths that the series plunges to as it follows a group of producers manipulating the contestants on The Bachelor a popular reality dating show are gleefully shocking. The show’s heart lies in the toxic symbiosis between Executive Producer Quinn and her go-to woman in the field Rachel (knockout performances by Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby, respectively). Come for the razorsharp takedown of reality TV. Stay for the twisted sisterhood that forms in the unlikeliest of industries. Attention showrunners, THIS is how you write not one, not two, but multiple complex female characters! Honestly, season 2 cannot come fast enough.


Photo Credit: Bojack Horseman-

The first season of Netflix’s animated comedy about anthropomorphic animals working alongside humans in Hollywood—or should I say, Hollywoo—stumbled a little out of the gate, but season 2 is really where the story began to gel. The beauty of Bojack Horseman is that its premise is inherently zany, but its writing is captivatingly astute, so the show can feature poignant examinations on fear, regret, and loneliness while also centering an episode around a game show hosted by J.D. Salinger called “Hollywoo Stars And Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out!” The show is as much about its titular character as it is the people he’s come to know through his crazy, and sometimes ugly, ride in show business. Their respective journeys throughout the season are able to be both meaningful and hilarious. This may be one of Netflix’s more under-the-radar shows, but with its whipsmart writing and a voice cast of comedic all-stars, it’s one you definitely shouldn’t count out.


Photo Credit: Master of None

I personally don’t think there can ever be too many auteur shows on TV, simply because the nature of the genre insists that they each offer their own unique experience. Master of None may use the same narrative skeleton employed by shows like LouieGirls, and Broad City, but it quickly proves itself as something all its own from creator and star Aziz Ansari’s personal worldview. The show is attuned to Ansari’s lighthearted and optimistic sense of humor, but it doesn’t shy away from making sharp observations and tackling subjects like immigrant parents and their first-generation children, or the subtle, everyday differences between men and women. Ansari seems to be interested in what everyone is thinking, and so many of the episodes offer perspectives other than his own. This kind of all-inclusive storytelling is a very new phenomenon, but in Ansari’s capable hands it comes across as natural and wholly authentic.


Photo Credit: Hannibal

Bryan Fuller’s arthouse masterpiece returned for a third and final chapter this year, managing to pull out all the stops before its breathtaking goodbye. Hannibal will always be one of television’s greatest mysteries; a gorgeously surreal meditation on the human condition that was bleak, brilliant, and beautiful, and somehow survived the network TV chopping block for three years. This season featured excellent turns from the cast, including newly-minted series regular Gillian Anderson, and more of the highly-stylized and thought-provoking set pieces that have made this series a modern classic. The final episode is nothing short of perfection, especially for fans who followed the story all the way through. Hannibal Lecter will always be one of pop culture’s most reboot-able serial killers, but Hannibal is destined to remain one-of-a-kind.


Photo Credit: The Leftovers

It is never explained on The Leftovers why 2% of the world’s population suddenly vanished on October 14th. A much more interesting mystery, however, is how a series with a shaky, jarring first season returned the following year to not only avoid a sophomore slump, but to be come the best show 2015 had to offer. Instead of trying to streamline the story, Damon Lindelof took his spiritual drama and doubled down on what made it so unsettling in the first place. Season 2 breaks even more narrative conventions by zooming in on various character’s lives for entire episode, and only rarely pulling back to show the bigger picture. There are more illusory images, more metaphorical dreamscapes, and a much stronger grasp on the stages of human grief. This move risked making The Leftovers into pretentious white noise, but instead the show became a powerful and totally unmissable exploration on faith and loss. Truly, there is no other show out there as spectacular as The Leftovers, and I don’t think there will be for quite some time.


Honorable Mentions: We’re in a great era of television that’s seeing more and more unique and thought-provoking storytelling. As Drake would say, what a time to be alive. But seriously, with so much quality TV, narrowing my favorites down to just 10 proved a daunting task. Did Netflix debut a single bad show this year? Along with the series mentioned above, the action-packed Daredevil, the wonderfully irreverent Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the hilarious throwback Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, and the heartwarming Grace & Frankie were each incredibly entertaining. The CW also proved to be a network you shouldn’t disregard, and was a perfect example of how you don’t always have to go dark to be good. iZombie is perhaps the first and only charming show about the living dead. The joyous extravaganza that is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend found a smart way to talk about mental illness and the pain of growing up through musical numbers. Then, of course, there’s standout Jane the Virgin which continues to shine bright in its second season.

Elsewhere, new shows like Mr. Robot pushed the boundaries of the conventional TV thriller, while returning favorites like How to Get Away with Murder continued to be crazy, twisty good. Veep aired its strongest season yet, Broad City was as funny and fearless as ever, You’re the Worst dealt with clinical depression in a way that’s nothing short of groundbreaking, and anyone looking for some warm fuzzies should catch up on the absolutely delightful Younger before the second season premieres next month.

The Worst: A record 409 scripted shows aired this year, meaning that there were more than a few duds to be found amongst the gems. The second season of True Detective was just a hot mess from start to finish. Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens began with so much promise, but quickly fizzled out. Quantico might have one of the most diverse casts on network TV, but it also has several of the most nonsensical storylines. ABC’s “attempt” at a thought-provoking serial killer drama Wicked City was wickedly mind-numbing. The Ron Pearlman-starring Hand of God proved that not all binge shows—the series is streaming on Amazon—are created equal by giving anyone who’s sick of antihero shows another reason to hate them. Finally, there was a little sitcom called Truth Be Told that asked bold questions like, “are white people allowed to use the N-word?” Yes, this is a real show that really did air in the year 2015. Luckily, the people of America spoke up and it was quickly cancelled.


Agree with our picks? What are some of your favorite shows that didn’t make our lists? Let us know in the comments!


By Matt Dougherty and Mike Papirmeister

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *