Top 15 Television Shows of 2015

Television has been enjoying a golden age unlike any other in the history of the medium. With A-list actors making their way to cable programs, event series reducing the number of filler episodes, and the sheer expansion of creative programming thanks to Amazon and Netflix joining the fray, TV is no longer just TV, it is now destination viewing. From binge-watching to cliffhanger endings, 2015 was a stellar year for series and here is our ranking of the 15 best shows to grace our screens, big and small.

#1 - Fargo

Not many thought an adaptation of the Coen Brothers' film would be any good, but last year's first series was one of the highlights of 2014. With the second season, creator Noah Hawley managed to not only improve upon the first run but also deliver one of the best television seasons of all time. Totally different from the first story, season two covers everything from murder to organized crime and even aliens. Patrick Wilson and Kirsten Dunst are excellent, but supporting players ranging from Ted Danson, Nick Offerman, Bokeem Woodbine, and Jeffrey Donovan (along with a cameo from Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan) sell the slightly surreal world of Luverne, Minnesota. This is the best series of 2015.

#2 - The Leftovers

A lot of people were turned off by the first season of Damon Lindelof's adaptation of Tom Perrotta's acclaimed novel. The plot revolves around the sudden departure of 2% of the world's population. There is no explanation as to the cause but the series focuses on how the characters deal with life after the event. Season two transplants the main characters from New York to Jarden, Texas where not a single person disappeared. With a stunning exploration of faith and religion, this season took the drama up a notch and delivered a shockingly powerful story. Headlined by an awards-worthy performance from Justin Theroux, The Leftovers just became the best series on HBO.

#3 - Better Call Saul

Who would have thought that a spin-off of Breaking Bad focused on the comic relief attorney Saul Goodman would actually turn out to be as good as it's predecessor? Bob Odenkirk strikes the perfect balance between funny and dramatic in this prequel that avoids making virtually any references to the saga of Walter White while plotting a similar rise and descent for the title character. This is a brilliantly crafted series that takes us on a journey as riveting and unique as Jimmy McGill.

#4 - The Flash

With Arrow middling through a couple of subpar seasons, The CW's spin-off delivered one of the most consistent freshman seasons of any series on television. But, instead of falling into a sophomore slump, The Flash has remained invigorated through the first half of it's second season. Introducing the concept of the DC Multiverse and another Flash, this time Jay Garrick, the Barry Allen-centric series has eclipsed Arrow and given us a pulpy, fun, and well written comic book hero that rivals most shows on network television. DC may be lagging behind Marvel on the big screen, but they own the small screen.

#5 - Marvel's Daredevil

With some fans finding Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter a bit on the nose, Marvel upped the violence and darkness in Daredevil. Featuring one of the best villains in the MCU in the form of Vincent D'Onofrio's Kingpin, Daredevil populated an entire fictional world with characters that feel more than two dimensional drawings. Daredevil also showed that comic book films can be cinematic achievements, especially with a long take action sequence that rivals many feature films. This series is better than many movies and ranks close to the top of all Marvel Studios' films to date.

#6 - Mad Men

The series that put AMC on the map as more than a destination for reruns of old movies, Mad Men wrapped up it's stellar run with a stirring final season. These seven episodes do not give us a neat and tidy resolution but instead leave the rest of the lives of those at Sterling Cooper up to the imaginations of the viewer. Some characters have short lives ahead of them (Betty Draper) while others find happiness (Peggy Olsen), but it is the central arc of Don Draper/Dick Whitman that we have been waiting to conclude. Instead of ending his story, we find him reaching peace for the first time in his life which is much more fulfilling that fading to black on the impeccable acting of Jon Hamm.

#7 - The Walking Dead

After a few seasons that failed to capture the power and energy of the first couple of seasons, The Walking Dead came roaring back. Once the story shifted to Alexandria, we were able to slow things down a bit and truly explore the dynamic of Rick and his group of survivors. We lost several fan favorites (and thought we lost another in the series' biggest tease), but we also got back the immediacy of the first season. With the recent first half of season six taking place over a very short period of time and amping up the action, The Walking Dead is better than ever.

#8 - Ash Vs. Evil Dead

Fans of EVIL DEAD and ARMY OF DARKNESS have been awaiting a fourth film for a very long time. Instead, we get what amounts to a dozen short films, each of which embraces the madcap gore and humor that made Sam Raimi's films cult classics. Bruce Campbell is in the best shape he has been in for decades and gets a showcase for his quick delivery and smart ass demeanor. Expanding the scope of Deadites beyond what we saw in the cabin to include demons, monsters, witch doctors, and more, this show deserves a spot alongside the rest of the franchise. The special effects are modernized and over the top, making this feel like the highest quality EVIL DEAD film we have ever gotten. Hail to the king, baby!

#9 - Marvel's Jessica Jones

After the stellar first season of Daredevil, Netflix and Marvel could have cruised through another series following the same formula, but instead they flipped comic book adaptations and delivered a series unlike any other superhero film or series to date. Focused on the smaller scale showdown between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave, this show deals with heavy subject matter like PTSD, sex crimes, rape, gender politics, and more. Krysten Ritter is great in the lead, but the vast supporting cast and minimal use of references to the MCU make this a great and unique series.

#10 - Mr. Robot

As soon as you see the words USA Network attached to a show, you probably disregard it as generic or formulaic. Mr. Robot breaks that cycle by delivering a series that is absolutely unlike anything the network as ever produced before. With a look and feel like something from a David Fincher film, Mr. Robot is a cross between THE SOCIAL NETWORK and FIGHT CLUB with a little HACKERS thrown in for good measure. Rami Malek is brilliant as the lead character of Elliott along with Christian Slater doing some of his best work in a long, long time. Binge watch this series as soon as possible. You will not be disappointed.

#11 - The Knick

If this series were on any network aside from Cinemax, it would be one of the most talked about shows on television. With every episode helmed by Steven Soderbergh, The Knick is a master class in directing, editing, and drama. Clive Owen is astounding as the drug addicted Dr. John Thackery as he explores a potential cure for addiction itself. Class, race, religion, and science all play key roles in the 1901-set drama, but it is the grotesque medical procedures and absolutely brilliant cast at the top of their game that makes The Knick not just a period drama but as timely a show as possible.

#12 - Game of Thrones

As one of the few fantasy series on television, Game of Thrones continues to set itself apart thanks to brilliant acting and stellar production values. As the series finally begins catching up to the novels, characters meet and paths deviate from the George R.R. Martin novels. Peter Dinklage continues to be one of the highlights of the show, but it was the stunning "death" of Jon Snow that has had fans wondering whether the fan favorite character is going to appear in the next season or not. Now that we cannot turn to the books for spoilers, we are finally all on the same page as to how long before Winter finally arrives in Westeros.

#13 - The Americans

In our contemporary landscape of terrorist attacks and widespread fear of foreigners, you would think a series about sleeper agents walking amongst us wouldn't be a wise show to pursue, but The Americans has just gotten better. This season, the characters are all forced to confront what it means to be a patriot and their allegiances are tested. You feel sympathy for both sides which is a credit to the great acting of Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich. Every hour will have you biting your nails as you wait for the truth to be revealed, all the way to the shocking cliffhanger ending.

#14 - Veep

If you aren't watching this show, you are missing out on some of the funniest dialogue ever put to the small screen. Imagine House of Cards if it were written by the staff of The Office and everyone had a potty mouth. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has never been better in this ensemble series that works on every level. With the VP now the President and seeking reelection, Dreyfus and her bumbling team are joined by the great Hugh Laurie as well as a small role from Patton Oswalt. You may think the series is mostly improvised thanks to the rat-a-tat delivery, but this is an expertly scripted showcase for everyone in the cast.

#15 - Louie

Each season, Louis C.K. manages to outdo himself as a writer, editor, director, and actor. Despite being a short eight episode run, this fifth season proves that C.K. has the ability to be a modern day auteur like Woody Allen. The creative license he takes helps build the power of episodes like the nightmarish untitled episode and the bizarre first episode featuring the weirdest pot luck you could imagine. Sadly, C.K. is taking another hiatus, but I am sure when he comes back it will be better than ever.

Honorable Mentions

Silicon Valley, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Justified, Transparent, Hannibal, The Man in the High Castle, The Jinx, Show Me A Hero, Master of None

This was such an incredibly strong year for television that our honorable mentions are practically a top ten list unto themselves. From the final seasons of the vastly underrated Hannibal and the stellar Justified to the debuts of The Man in the High Castle, Master of None, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, this has been a great year for television across network, cable, and streaming services. The event series also showcased some amazing drama in the thrilling documentary The Jinx and the epic political film Show Me A Hero. Just because these series didn't crack the Top 15 doesn't make them any less excellent. I highly recommend them all.

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