Outkick’s Best of Television 2015

This article is long enough, believe me, so without going through the usual pomp and circumstance, allow me to intro the 2015 Outkick the Coverage television review simply by saying that there are no “number” rankings, only making the top five or the top ten. There are a few exclusions, as the first three mentioned are the top three.

With that very brief pair of sentences, let’s get to the red carpet… Here are the top ten dramas and top five comedies of 2015, which was an amazing 12 months of television.

DRAMA

FARGO

Somehow, Season 2 wasn’t just an improvement on the original; it dwarfed the first effort, which was one of, if not THE best show of 2014. Taking the story back to the 1970s, Noah Hawley told the tale of Lou Solverson, which informed upon who Molly would become later in her life. Not only was the narrative and pacing sublime, the acting was off the charts. Patrick Wilson and Kirsten Dunst led the charge, but arguably the two most important performances belonged to Bokeem Woodbine and Rachel Keller. Ten episodes, with only one that might possibly be considered dull, and while this list won’t generally be this specific, in this case it’s not enough to merely include Fargo, but also to add that Fargo’s second year provided the best drama of the year. It was the best television of 2015. And Zahn McClarnon. And Jean Smart. And Nick Offerman. And Jeffrey Donovan. And Cristin Milioti. And Bruce Campbell. 

THE LEFTOVERS

Here, as above, a show I adored since day one improved upon itself in spades and provided entertainment that rivals almost any you could dream up from this century. Season 1 was polarizing, not just with the viewing public, but also with critics. While some loved it, many bailed on it. The ratings numbers have never been impressive, but Damon Lindelof has stayed the course. Season 2 was a critical darling from moment one, and the reason why is quite simple: it was freaking incredible. The story moved to Jarden, Texas, renamed Miracle, as it was the one place from which no one had departed.

Regina King and Carrie Coon took part in what was arguably the finest scene of the season (Lens), and virtually every character had an interesting arc. We got less of Amy Brenneman, but what we did get was elite in quality. Matt Jamison’s story grew exponentially, and the idea behind the disappearance of Evie Murphy paid off in an enormous way. Patti Levin’s role was something to behold, as was Ann Dowd’s acting work. The finale was a mindblower, and the season went in so many unique directions that it became easy to just watch and let the story unfold, rather than attempting to explain, understand, or do anything other than “let the mystery be.” I will be covering Season 3 (the final season) weekly.

THE AMERICANS

Still the show the Emmys and many award shows overlook, to their own detriment. If Season 2 was full of tension, Season 3 was even more so, focusing on a Cold War ramp-up and an increase in violence and anxiety, but also on Paige Jennings. Holly Taylor expertly played a child drawn to religion, but also to activism, who finally discovered her parents’ secret. Stan Beeman’s marriage officially ended, but his mind remained on Nina Sergeevna Krilova. He never knew just how attractive his actual wife was, as she was a vision when she appeared late in S3 at EST. Oh, and poor Martha, though Alison Wright crushed that role. I’m honestly surprised she survived the entire season.

Joe Weisberg’s series has evolved from a slow burn to a more precise endeavor, but never has it felt rushed or confused in its mission. We consistently feel sympathy for Philip and Elizabeth, but can never buy into what they’re doing, because of the inherent hypocrisy involved. The weaving of the spy plot with family and duty has driven The Americans to the top of the heap. It’s as solid as drama gets, week in and week out. The acting, the story, everything is pitch perfect. Hopefully, the Emmys will wake up sometime soon, as Rhys and Russell, among others, are annually exceptional.

MAD MEN

Matthew Weiner’s epic saga came to a close in 2015 as Don Draper gained the inspiration for one of the most famous ad campaigns in history while meditating in California. It was a bit uneven, started slowly, but the season ended in grand fashion. Peggy found love, Pete and Trudy bet on themselves and the future, and the culture continued to shift in grand, sweeping ways. Some would be disappointed in the finale regardless of how good it was, but it’s difficult to be upset, because the show didn’t take some wild risk that made no sense or took the audience out of the show. Don took a trip that logically fit for the character.

At its core, Mad Men was always about the journey of Don to determine who he felt comfortable being, if that was possible. He lost his marriage, and the finality of Betty’s cancer was appropriate to encompass the sheer quantity of cigarettes smoked through the show’s eight seasons. It wasn’t the best show of 2015, but it was definitely one of the best. It also ranks as number three on my all-time list. Jon Hamm finally won an Emmy, which was long overdue, and Weiner may have saved some of Don’s finest on screen moments for his last.

BOJACK HORSEMAN

It was a drama, also a comedy, but BoJack Horseman was unquestionably one of the most rewarding watches of the year. Building off the back half of the first season, Raphael Bob-Waksberg allowed his protagonist to show increasing vulnerability and also gave him an identity crisis. While Todd found Improv…tology, BoJack got a steady girlfriend, but blew it. He searched out a memory that wasn’t what he expected it to be. He participated on his frenemy’s game show alongside Daniel Radcliffe, and while the drama rose, so did the jokes.

Season 2 was much sharper (and MUCH darker) and began to illustrate a kind of quiet confidence, one that believed in its product, its storytelling, and its cast and crew. BoJack Horseman provided some tears late, and balanced its extreme bleakness with sight gags, visual puns, and good jokes. A knockout voice cast doesn’t hurt, but BoJack Horseman’s return will be among the most anticipated in 2016.

MR. ROBOT

Sure, Mr. Robot would have been greatly lacking without Rami Malek, but luckily, he was there. It was, without question, the role of the year on television. Sam Esmail’s story is just beginning and the expectations for the future are obscenely high. It felt like Fincher, it felt like Stieg Larsson, but it all felt right. It was homage to angst, to uncertainty, and to encroaching privacy concerns. Mr. Robot attacked the wealthy, engaging in a plot to erase global debt and reset the entire system. The politics were all over the board, which makes sense, because anarchy generally follows no rules.

The cinematography and artistry of the show was untouchable. Mr. Robot was perfect for a Talking Heads album in the background, or for Patrick Bateman to mutilate a woman in the foreground. With tinges of Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk sprinkled into its world, Mr. Robot also brought an entire network into a new age. USA is no longer seen merely as the home of blue sky, but also of cutting-edge, difficult to quantify, riveting storytelling.

JUSTIFIED

Wrapping up its six-season run, the saga of Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder ended, and without the bubbly resolution that surely would have ruined it. Elmore Leonard’s Batman and Joker were works of conflict, featuring characters crossing lines in order to thwart the other. While Season 2 was the highlight of the series, Season 6 was excellent, with several outstanding episodes. And, as Raylan leveraged everything in his life – including his own freedom – to get Boyd once and for all, the secondary storylines were all interesting. Mary Steenburgen did some of the best work of her career, as did Jere Burns and Joelle Carter.

The Ava betrayal storyline was a huge success and Jeff Fahey’s inclusion was a welcome casting decision. Avery Markham was the kind of wild-west villain that filled in the holes of the uneven fifth year, and also straddled the line between modern and Gunsmoke. Also, we got some of the coalmine scenery that helped push Season 2 and also served as the true history between our hero and our villain. Justified, at its finest, felt both new…and very old. It wasn’t an entirely happy ending, but it was the right conclusion to a show that always deserved more recognition than it received. Outside of Deadwood, it’s the best western (ish) drama in history. The two leads go down as one of the most intriguing duos we’ll ever see. Goggins is incredible.

PERSON OF INTEREST

It’s a personal favorite and remains by far the most entertaining drama on network television, even as much as I enjoy The Good Wife. Person of Interest, since clinching its direction late in the first season, has been consistently brilliant. As network TV has fallen off a cliff, POI has been a shining light. The story of Finch and Reese was good enough, but the addition of Root, Fusco, Carter, and Shaw, all elevated Person of Interest into one I never allow myself to miss. Flashbacks succeed, as do the week-to-week “cases” that advance the larger narrative. Here we have a series that doesn’t sit on the DVR and collect dust. It’s always the top option.

The NSA storyline has grown into a much more well-rounded, deep mystery. It’s a suspense thriller of the highest order. Very few films have even been able to capture pieces of a surveillance state to the level of POI, which does it with horrific clarity. While it’s not always believable, it’s not supposed to be. The characters have all become far more dynamic, and even with Joss Carter’s absence, the series took the right steps. Person of Interest is ALWAYS on my short list, and Root, in particular, is a character that will stand the test of time. So is Harold Finch.

BETTER CALL SAUL

The first series I reviewed weekly for Outkick was Better Call Saul, which helped usher in 2015, making it feel eternally old. It’s been ages since we met Jimmy McGill and watched him become Saul Goodman. It’s been eons since we watched Mike Ehrmantraut’s descent into a life of crime following the suspicious death of his son. Though it ended quite some time ago, with Season 2 on the way, Saul never left my mind. Ten rock-solid episodes, even though some saw the start as a bit dull, BCS was familiar enough to keep Breaking Bad viewers satisfied, but with enough kinks to be its own show. Embezzlement, family issues, crisis of conscience, and plenty of Odenkirk being Odenkirk, including a Matlock suit and gelatin advertisements. Better Call Saul, still in its infancy, but already well ahead of the curve.

RECTIFY

Ray McKinnon continues to outdo himself. We thought we knew exactly what Rectify was going to be in Season 1, as Aden Young and Abigail Spencer led an excellent cast in a story about a troubled, wrongly convicted (possibly) criminal, released back into southern society. It’s painfully awkward nature made Rectify a study in patience, but one where you knew McKinnon had “it” behind the camera. Late in Season 2, the show shifted in a big way and the protagonist became more antagonist than hero. Then, in Season 3, the carefully plotted, almost silent Rectify conjured up another change, and with it brought Rectify back near the top of television drama.

It’s hard to describe what is often an ugly series as beautiful, but the word fits. The way it’s all executed, with an emphasis on family, also on religion and faith, and of course on the nastiness of the human condition, is breathtaking. Redemption, though gradual, continues to drive the show. It remains by far the best drama you’re likely not watching, and it’s sitting there on Netflix just begging to be binged. It’s another example of gallery-quality content on the flat screen. Young is the most underappreciated actor on television, simply because so few have experienced just how good he is as Daniel Holden. It’s the role of a lifetime.

(Also Considered: Game of Thrones, Halt & Catch Fire, Hannibal, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, UnREAL, Man in the High Castle, Homeland, The Affair, The Knick, Banshee, Narcos, The Good Wife, Orange is the New Black, Manhattan)

(Off the List from Last Year: Game of Thrones (Uneven, still #11), The Good Wife (11-20), The Honourable Woman (Miniseries), OITNB, True Detective)

COMEDY

MASTER OF NONE

For many, this is likely the surprise of the year. Not its inclusion on this list, but the arrival of Aziz Ansari on a completely different plane of existence. It was quite a year for Double A, as he put forth a bestselling book, finished a wonderful run on one of the best comedies of all-time, and then welcomed the world into his own fictional universe. There’s no “next Dane Cook” to be found here. Aziz and Amy Schumer largely owned 2015 on the comedy side. Both have Golden Globe nominations.

Master of None makes the OVERALL top ten, not just the comedy top five. It’s probably one of the five best shows of the year, period.

Comedy was prevalent, which is why it finds itself here, but was never the singular, overarching theme. The jokes were placed within the larger scope of the show, which was the story of Dev (Ansari) as he attempted to grow as an actor and also find love, also to understand the female psyche, the differences in generations and cultures, and just stay afloat in the New York City.

Ten episodes, a five-hour binge, and one of the finest experiences of 2015. It’s really that cut and dry. If what we’ve already seen was the entire show, if there were no more “Master of None presents” episodes to see, it would still be a magnificent achievement. For Anzari and co-creator Alan Yang, Master of None ensured Aziz’ spot on the A-list. Noel Wells was great. Eric Wareheim was fabulous. Yu, Waithe, and H. Jon Benjamin, all superb. And Aziz’ actual parents, Shoukath and Fatima, provided seamless chemistry. MON made me think, made me laugh, made me cry, and left an indelible imprint on my brain in numerous ways. Not just the seal, but definitely the seal as well.

I plan to write more about Master of None in January, so keep an eye out for that.

PARKS & RECREATION

Sadly, it came to an end. NBC never treated Parks correctly, similar to Community and often to 30 Rock, but Parks never phoned it in. Season 7 started well, ended well, and featured plenty of fan service all the way around. Amy Poehler will never win an Emmy for Leslie Knope, something we know, and something that’s awfully sad. Nick Offerman will never win an Emmy for Ron Swanson, something we know, and something that’s equally sad. We said goodbye to Andy and Tom and April and Donna and Jerry/Gerry/Larry, and sadly to Jamm, but all of it was full of life. The final Johnny Karate episode was such a bold way to go at the point it aired, but it echoed the end of the series as a whole. NBC never knew what they had, and the ratings never lived up to the quality of the series. But thank god we got it for as long as we did.

REVIEW WITH FORREST MACNEIL

Andy Daly had himself a year with Review. It was as funny and as clever as anything all year, big or small screen, and it improved upon a very good first season. Forrest was forced to divorce his wife last year, but watching him catfish her this time around as part of another review might have been even better. He went to prison along with his imaginary friend, tried out a haunted house, attempted life as a little person, burned down his father’s house, lost multiple relationships, and even found a blemish in the best chocolate ice cream in the world.

Review is blisteringly unique and unafraid to make you both love and hate Forrest, and also somehow upped the Curb Your Enthusiasm cringe ante. It’s an incredible show, with a premise enhanced through the improv chops of Daly and his wild crew of guest stars, including the awesome Jessica St. Clair. Even Molly Solverson made an appearance.

YOU’RE THE WORST

One of FX’s comedies was making this list, and while Louie has often been the best of just about any lot, this time around You’re the Worst was on another level. Season 1 was good, but Season 2 was great. Aya Cash was the main reason, as much of the year centered on Gretchen’s depression and how it affected all the relationships in her life, most of all her partnership with Jimmy Shive-Overly. Cash and Geere have a strange, undeniable chemistry, where they are never necessarily supposed to match on camera, but they always do. These two shouldn’t be comfortable, but they are, because they’re both such a mess. It’s why the romance flows so naturally. Add in the real WORST, Lindsay Jillian, mix in the interesting arc with Edgar and Dorothy, and Stephen Falk had a total winner.

When YTW needed it most, it could still be hilariously funny, particularly when Brandon Mychal Smith and his trio were on camera. Everybody can be funny. Everybody can be the opposite. It often went in a different direction than expected, but not always. You’re the Worst had depth for days in Season 2. Aya Cash deserves Emmy love, as do the writers. It was a tough show to do well, balancing the serious and the profane, and the result was a grand slam.

SILICON VALLEY

With room in my list for just one of HBO’s two spectacular comedies, I went with the new over the old, because Silicon was a little bit more consistent and Veep didn’t have its best season. That said; either would be worthy here. Pied Piper’s success was fleeting, as was Richard Hendricks’ happiness. Though we lost Christopher Evan Welch, Suzanne Cryer was terrific. The show didn’t go with romance, instead working through the pains of a startup, even one with a world-class idea, and lampooned the nonsense in the tech industry and the way the bigwigs attempt to squash the little guy. Gavin Belson was an insufferable jerk, but he was fun to watch and was the necessary villain.

Russ Hanneman (Chris Diamantopoulos) was a large part of the show’s ascent to the next level, as the “Nookie” scene makes me laugh every single time. Then came Raviga part deux, and the end game to the season. Once again, Silicon Valley gives very brief victories to its main six, instead always placing a pitfall or an obstacle in front. It’s very Office Space BEFORE the fact, which makes those few morsels of goodness so much more entertaining and necessary. You’re rooting for these guys, but life usually wins. TJ Miller was even better in Season 2, as were Martin and Kumail, and Thomas Middleditch continues to shine as he plays naivete. Zach Woods is some kind of magical creature, and SWOT is still one of the greatest things ever.   

(Also considered: Broad City, Veep, Louie, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Casual, Transparent, Playing House, Fresh Off the Boat, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Blackish, The Grinder, Survivor’s Remorse, Modern Family)

ONE FURTHER POINT

I didn’t include Key & Peele or Inside Amy Schumer in the comedy rankings, because I see them in a different category. But, I wanted to add that both were stellar and continued to neuter SNL. It’s sad to see K&P go, but the show ended on a high note after an excellent final season. “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” was one of the best episodes of any show, in any category, all year. Also, Last Week Tonight was the top of its niche heap; with the long form stories being can’t miss more often than not. Oliver is on the verge of something really special.

FINAL THOUGHTS

We are living in an era of what’s being called Peak TV. It’s an age where there’s so much good stuff, it’s almost impossible to see it all. It pained me to leave Game of Thrones off, but the middle of the season was slow. I hated to leave off Jessica Jones, but I thought it would have worked better as a ten-episode show. Daredevil was better than JJ in some ways, worse in others, but both were great. Halt & Catch Fire was freaking amazing, but I couldn’t quite get it into the list. Every one of the “considered” had its merits. In comedy, it was just as bad. Leaving off shows like Veep and Casual sucked, but it had to be done as I limited it to five in that category. Broad City is outstanding and I just couldn’t make it fit. That’s the case for any and all of the “considered.” I’m sure I left some off those lists as well. There’s just so much.

No one will agree with all of my picks, but luckily, that’s not required. We get to consume what we want, when we want, in what manner we want, and unless we force ourselves, we can do it without listening or reading one word about how right or wrong we are. Some people might think I’m insane to think of The Grinder in my list (even though it didn’t make the cut), but I love that show, so sue me. My boss may fire me for not including Thrones, but I have high standards for that show, and only around half of the season lived up to those levels.

Here’s what I want. Last year in the comments, I was called an idiot with a horrible list. This year, feel free to call me the same, either in the comments or directly to me on Twitter @GuyNamedJason. But, I’d rather you give me your list, because in reality, I just love to talk about television. I can debate, but I’d rather just discuss. Your opinion is your own, as is mine. I hope you enjoyed reading mine, even if I’m now a total buffoon in your mind.

2016 should be a ton of fun. I’m planning to cover several shows weekly, multiples simultaneously, and, yet again, even as network TV gets worse, cable, premium, and streaming continue to dominate. They’re killing it. It’s so much fun to watch and comment on it. A full DVR means there’s a lot there, so much worthy material. It’s a double-edged sword. I always feel like I’m way behind, but in truth, I’m rich as I play catch-up with some and stay current with others.

I look forward to the flat screen ride with all of you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to finish Making a Murderer on Netflix.

I’m @GuyNamedJason. You can DVR me…it’s going to be a deal. Let the mystery be. You are being watched. I’d like to buy the world a Coke. We work for our country. Knope 2016. Jack-of-all-trades…  

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.