If it feels like there are more TV shows than ever before, it’s because there are. With over 400 scripted primetime shows airing this year between broadcast, cable, and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu – we are certainly living in Peak TV in America. Even professional TV critics can’t keep up with the river of content, so amateurs like me with day jobs can only hope to dip our cup in.
By the way – many people see the crazy number of shows on my end-of-year lists (and there are a bunch of shows I watched that don’t even appear below) and assume that I have no life and never get up from my couch. This could not be farther from the truth! The trick is multi-tasking. I watch shows while working out (exercise bike in the living room), while working (second monitor in my office), while dating (bring TV to restaurant and set it up in front of date), while driving (TV mounted on hood of car), and while sleeping (glue eyelids open and take six Ambien).
To the List!
- The Leftovers. My favorite show of 2014 is also my favorite show of 2015. HBO’s slow burn drama about people living in a world where 2% of the population mysteriously disappeared only got better this season, with a move to Texas and a slightly lighter tone (people who found season 1 too depressing have reported liking season 2 better). Last season the show’s best episodes were the ones that focused on a single character and told a complete story without jumping around to see what the other characters were doing. Season 2 doubles down on this approach by ensuring each episode focuses on one or two characters and keeps the focus for maximum emotional impact. With most other dramas madly hopping around between several characters and plotlines within each episode (looking at you, Game of Thrones), this focused approach is a breath of fresh air. It’s like each episode is a small, perfectly crafted movie.
- The Americans. Yep, my #2 pick is the same as last year too. I promise that subsequent picks will branch out a bit. Not much I can say here that I haven’t said in previous years. Coming in to this season I only had one complaint about this show – that they didn’t give us enough time with the “robot” (more like a motorized shopping cart) that delivers mail in the FBI office. Well, this season gave us a whole episode centered around the mail robot, so I guess the show is perfect now. The fact that neither Matthew Rhys nor Keri Russell have even been nominated for an Emmy should be the biggest issue of the 2016 presidential election.
- Mr. Robot. Speaking of robots, here’s the best new show of 2015. It does not feature any actual robots. What it does feature is gripping storylines, visually striking direction, and the most realistic depiction of computer hacking ever on television (sort of the TV equivalent of WarGames). This is the show I recommend to people who miss Breaking Bad, as the two shows capture a similar tension and narrative propulsion.
- Fargo. Season 2 of this midwest noir jettisoned the characters of season 1 and brought the action back to 1979. I took a while to warm up to it but by the end of the season I was just as enthralled as last season. Initially annoying characters (like the one played by Kirsten Dunst) were revealed to have surprising and interesting depth. Also, this is a very violent show, which is a plus for me.
- Rick and Morty. I missed the first season of this animated comedy about a mad scientist who drags his reluctant grandson on a series of traumatizing adventures, so I got to watch two seasons this year. The show is brilliantly hilarious, but also poignant and sad at times, like all my favorite comedies.
- Mad Men. To tell you the truth I was slightly disappointed here. We only got seven episodes in the final season (due to AMC’s desperate need to milk the series out) and I feel like we wasted a lot of time on another Don Draper road trip. Still – Mad Men is Mad Men. Peggy Olson roller skating around the empty Sterling Cooper office is my favorite image of the year.
- Silicon Valley. This show espouses a vital truth that I’ve learned in my career – that people in the tech industry are just as full of shit as everyone else. The second season improved on the first season both in comedic and dramatic terms, building on the characters and creating more suspense between episodes.
- Bojack Horseman. An animated Hollywood satire with talking animals seems like an odd place to explore the elusive nature of happiness, but Bojack delivered again this year. The highlight of the season was the game show episode (the show within a show is called “Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities – Do they Know Stuff? What Do They Know? Let’s Find Out!”) which was the funniest 30 minutes of TV all year, hands down.
- Justified. I left it out of the top 10 last year but the final season of one of my all-time favorite shows came roaring back with an electrifying final season featuring some heavy hitting guest star villains and a finale which brought the saga of Raylan Givens to a deeply satisfying conclusion.
- You’re the Worst. It may say something about my interests and personality that at least six of the shows on this list are explicitly about depression and/or other types of mental illness. Gretchen’s depression arc on You’re the Worst lent some gravity to one of the best “dramedies” on television.
The next five: Better Call Saul, Man Seeking Woman, Parks and Recreation, iZombie, Show Me a Hero.
Other shows I enjoyed a lot, in no particular order: UnREAL (yes, I watched a whole season of a show on the Lifetime channel), The Good Wife, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Girls, Outlander, Game of Thrones, Veep, Togetherness, Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Last Man on Earth, Deutschland ’83, True Detective (season 2 was a letdown but didn’t deserve the drubbing it received from critics), Orange is the New Black, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Fortitude, Catastrophe, The Brink, Homeland.
Shows I like but haven’t had time to finish: Master of None, The Expanse, The Man in the High Castle, Wolf Hall, Review, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, Wet Hot American Summer, Moonbeam City, Survivor’s Remorse, The Returned, Casual, Transparent, Neon Joe: Werewolf Hunter, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Another Period, Rectify, Sense8, Narcos, Broad City. There’s never enough time.
Why did I watch an entire season of this: Zoo.
If you don’t see your favorite show here, it might be because I haven’t gotten around to watching it. Or maybe I hate it and I hate you for liking it! Hit me up on twitter (@timcrockett) to find out which.